Liz Lambert wasn’t the only person in Austin who thought a flophouse called the San José Motel had potential. When she told her brother, chef Louis Lambert, that she’d purchased the dilapidated South Austin building, he said he had been looking into buying it himself. That was in 1995. Today, the revamped (and renamed) Hotel San José is the hippest boutique property in Texas—and, thanks to Liz’s connections in music and showbiz circles, a favorite hangout for musicians and actors.
Liz has befriended so many performers that her house in Austin has become a favorite hangout for them, too. On a clear, mild night, a few of them are gathered for a down-home dinner prepared by Louis. The guests include Tift Merritt, a Grammy-nominated country-soul singer who got to know the Lamberts when Liz asked her to play at the San José. Also present are Amy Cook—Liz’s girlfriend, a blond, tattooed singer-songwriter and the first artist signed to Marfa Records, the label Liz recently launched—and Leisha Hailey, a star of the Showtime TV series The L Word and Liz’s partner in Marfa Records.
Under the enormous oak in Liz’s backyard, guests sample one of Louis’s favorite salads, which includes buttery avocado, juicy Rio Grande grapefruit, local goat cheese and toasted pine nuts in a honey vinaigrette; enchiladas filled with two cheeses—melted Monterey Jack and queso blanco—and topped with a smoky West Texas salsa roja flavored with ancho chiles, cider vinegar and cumin; Louis’s signature side dish of chickpeas sautéed with kale, smoked ham and garlic; and a thick grilled strip steak marinated in a mole sauce spiked with sesame seeds and Mexican chocolate.