10 Things You Have to Eat in Texas

If a trip to Houston or Austin is in your future, be sure to check out these incredible must-taste dishes.

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Photo By: Jeff Stafford

Photo By: Jeff Stafford

Photo By: Jeff Stafford

Photo By: Jeff Stafford

Photo By: Jeff Stafford

Photo By: Jeff Stafford

Photo By: Jeff Stafford

Photo By: Jeff Stafford

Photo By: Jeff Stafford

Photo By: Jeff Stafford

Roasted Duck Pumpkin Puffs at Yauatcha

Anyone who follows the current food scene in the U.S. knows that some of the most creative and exciting multi-cultural cuisine is being created in Texas, particularly in the Houston-Austin region. Take, for example, Yauatcha, a dim sum tea house in Houston. Offering a contemporary spin on Cantonese cuisine, the restaurant/bar utilizes European techniques with Asian ingredients as in these succulent roasted duck pumpkin puffs. The dessert pastries are delicious works of art in their own right and include such specialties as peach melba mousse and a matcha and yuzu tart.

Barbacoa Street Tacos at Meridian 98

Offering sweeping views of Hill Country outside Austin, Meridian 98 is a rooftop lounge/bar in the Sonesta Bee Cave hotel and specializes in small plates and a tapas-style menu. The lounge has the relaxed, intimate feel of a neighborhood pub but the offerings are decidedly superior to typical bar food and feature bacon-wrapped stuffed dates, mojo chicken sliders, grilled portobellos and taco samplers like the house barbacoa street tacos with braised beef, grilled corn and goat cheese crema (pictured).

BBQ + Smoked Meat Platter at Southside Market

Texas is famous for its BBQ but Southside Market claims to be the oldest BBQ restaurant in the state (the business started in 1882) and it is certainly one of the most popular. The original location is in Elgin but a second location popped up in 2014 in Bastrop (approximately 34 miles from Austin). People travel from around the country to sample Southside Market’s legendary smoked beef brisket and homemade beef sausages. Other signature meats (pictured) include moist smoked turkey, pork and lamb ribs and jalapeno cheddar sausage.

24 Karrot Cake at Poitin

One of the most exciting new restaurants to spring up in Houston’s trendy Washington Avenue Arts District is Poitin, which takes a bold global approach with a menu that reflects the many immigrant cultures in the city. Some of the innovative dishes that are winning rave reviews are espresso-rubbed flank steak and Poitin’s homemade crunchy pork skins. The bar/restaurant is named after the ancient Irish spirit Poitin (the restaurant also offers numerous versions of the potent liquor which has been described as Irish moonshine) and their cocktail list is as adventurous as their food. The desserts are also knockouts and include a citron brown butter financier and their 24 Karrot Cake (pictured), adorned with toasted coconut, pineapple, cream cheese and honey yogurt.

Smoked Duck and Quail Over Acorn Squash at Alice's Restaurant

The brewery and distillery business in Austin and the surrounding area is enjoying an unprecedented boom. One of the emerging winners is Treaty Oak Distillery, which was founded in 2006 and is now renowned for their Texas bourbons (try their Ghost Hill label) and gins. Situated in Dripping Springs, the distillery is open to the public but what you need to know is that Treaty Oak has an on-site eatery, Alice’s Restaurant, that serves superb food which pairs well with creative libations from their cocktail lab. On a recent visit, we enjoyed an unforgettable lunch of smoked duck and quail over roasted acorn squash with beet microgreens.

Ahi Tuna & Foie Gras Appetizer at Table One

If you are looking for a unique, one-of-a-kind dining experience for a special occasion in Houston, Table One has the perfect solution. Located in the Royal Sonesta Houston, chef Robert Graham encourages diners to customize their own dining adventure, whether it is a ten-course tasting for 8 people, a four-course meal for two or some other variation. You get a front row seat in the kitchen as your meal is prepared and served with wine pairings. Highlights from my four-course dinner included an appetizer of ahi tuna with foie gras torchon (pictured) and an amazing goat milk panna cotta with raspberry gelee.

Duck and Rabbit Dumplings at Hudson's Hill Country

A longtime favorite of Austin diners, Hudson’s on the Bend first opened its doors in 1984 but is now enjoying a rebirth as the newly named Hudson’s Hill Country. Many of the original menu favorites are still on the list in this lovely refurbished farmhouse that specializes in wild and exotic game dishes. Among the standout dishes are the cast iron duck and rabbit dumplings (pictured), wild boar lollipop chops, an addictive appetizer of hot and crunchy avocado bites and a killer ancho pecan pie with Mexican vanilla ice cream.

Crispy Red Snapper at Superica

Located in "The Heights" neighborhood of Houston, Superica is the latest offering from chef Ford Fry who has previously launched several successful restaurants in Houston and Atlanta including a Superica at Atlanta’s Krog Street Market. The Houston Superica has already become a hot spot for lunch, dinner and brunches and part of the draw is the extensive Tex-Mex menu. All kinds of tacos, enchiladas, tamales, ceviche and nachos are available but don’t overlook some of their speciality entrees like the crispy whole red snapper (pictured) or tampiquena (marinated wood-grilled skirt steak with cheese enchiladas topped with a fried egg and rice). You’ll also want to check out their margarita offerings and mezcal cocktails. Crispy whole fish Gulf red snapper with avocado, tomatillo salsa, homemade flour tortillas, bacon and charro beans is not-to-be-missed.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts at Eunice

After serving as executive chef at Luke, a Creole-inspired Brasserie in New Orleans, Drake Leonards opened his own restaurant in Houston called Eunice where he serves up contemporary Cajun-Creole dishes using locally sourced ingredients such as seafood from the Gulf Coast. His southern Louisiana take on appetizers, entrees and desserts is truly inspired and showcase dishes include BBQ lobster, chicken liver mousse with figs and country bread and crispy Brussels sprouts with hazelnuts, chilis, fresh cheese and mint (pictured).

Oxtail Croquettes at Plate by Dzintra

Located in Bee Cave, Texas outside Austin, Plate by Dzintra is a stylish neighborhood restaurant that has become well known for their creative and tasty small plates, specialty entrees and desserts. They have recently opened the speakeasy Omakase at the same location that excels in small hot and cold Japanese dishes. For me, the highlights were Plate’s appetizer-size tastings which included smoked salmon with jalapeno corn cakes, spicy tuna nachositos (crunchy risotto cakes) and oxtail croquettes (pictured) which were savory delights filled with braised oxtail and mushroom rage and topped with mustard aioli, pickled onions, mustard seeds and microgreens.

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