Best Dishes in Texas
Ham-and-Cheese-Stuffed Pretzel, Odd Duck, Austin
Odd Duck grew out of an incredible food trailer. I love their pretzel sticks stuffed with house-cured country ham and Texas Gouda—a take on a snack sold at state fairs. Instead of mustard, they serve it with mustard-chile béchamel.—Chef Tim Love
1201 S. Lamar Blvd.;
Crudo, Qui, Austin
Top Chef winner (and F&W Best New Chef 2014) Paul Qui opened his ambitious restaurant last year. Do not miss his hearty, bold takes on crudo. They change every night; one recent version paired black grouper with ponzu, wasabi and miso. He gets sweet, spicy and savory flavors and amazing texture contrasts in every bite.—Tim Love
1600 E. Sixth St.; quiaustin.com.
Whole Pig’s Head, CBD Provisions, Dallas
The brined, steamed and roasted pig’s head is a showstopper—a head presented in grand style, just like St. Francis. You lift up the skin and pull out the buttery cheek meat. It comes with salsas, cilantro and tortillas. It’s an outlier on the steak-and-burger menu, and a challenging dish for Dallas, no doubt.—Tim Love
1530 Main St.; cbdprovisions.com.
Porterhouse for Two, Da Marco, Houston
It’s hard to stand out as a steak house in this state, but Da Marco does, with Italian touches. The porterhouse is velvety in the middle and rubbed with olive oil, herbs and a bunch of vinegar that adds a punch of acidity, with fried garlic on top. What else do you want?—Tim Love
1520 Westheimer Rd.; damarcohouston.com.
Brandade, The Pass, Houston
This dish was perfect on a rare cold night in Houston. Dotted among spoonfuls of smoked trout roe and fingerling potatoes confited in olive oil are dollops of “brandade”: They cook salt cod in cream, onion and herbs, then discard the cod and aerate the liquid into whipped cream. —Tim Love
807 Taft St.; passandprovisions.com.
Mesquite-Smoked Roast Pork, Underbelly, Houston
Chris Shepherd cooks a lot like I do: big pieces of big things. He has a way with large cuts of meat. The mesquite-smoked roast pork is almost a whole pork butt. For a restaurant to get that right every time is a coup. There’s some good, punchy chile flavor in there—it’s not a shy dish. —Tim Love
1100 Westheimer Rd.; underbellyhouston.com.
Brisket, Franklin Barbecue, Austin
The long line here turns into a party: People bring chairs to sit on; someone sells beer. No one is waiting for the spareribs—they’re here for a pile of fatty brisket on butcher paper. It’s the best brisket in Texas, so why would you fill up your belly with other things? It has that perfect balance of smokiness and beefy flavor, and it’s also eminently moist. You’re never going to get a dried-out hunk of beef. —Author Daniel Vaughn
900 E. 11th St.; franklinbarbecue.com.
Three-Meat Plate, Micklethwait Craft Meats, Austin
This place has great brisket, ribs and unusual sausages—the lamb chorizo has got some good kick to it. You can’t complain that the sausage is fancy, because it’s so good. Many barbecue joints focus their attention on the meat alone, but this trailer pays attention to the entire menu. A baker on staff makes white bread and buttermilk pies. They also make pickles and serve great slaw. When you put it all together, it’s one of my favorite meals. —Daniel Vaughn
1309 Rosewood Ave.; craftmeats.com.
Open-Face Beef Cheek Sandwich, Knife, Dallas
John Tesar opened this steak house in the Hotel Palomar, where he serves affordable cuts of meat—chuck flap, tri-tip and this cheek. I’ve eaten plenty of beef cheek in barbacoa tacos, but I’ve never tasted any as tender as Tesar’s. Normally, if you roast it for that long, it won’t have any flavor. Tesar cooks his sous vide and then dresses it with a creamy, rich morel gravy. —Daniel Vaughn
The Highland Dallas, 5300 East Mockingbird Ln.; knifedallas.com.
“The Big Rib,” Smoke, Dallas
Tim Byres is going to hate the fact that we are highlighting his giant beef rib—he makes almost no money on it because beef ribs are so expensive. But it is a sight to behold. It’s giant, served on green-chile hominy with chimichurri on top. To me, the chimichurri is Tim’s way of saying: “Screw you, barbecue purists. I like chimichurri, so I’m going to put it on my beef rib. Deal with it.” —Daniel Vaughn
Belmont Hotel, 901 Fort Worth Ave.; smokerestaurant.com.
Lamb Brisket, Woodshed Smokehouse, Fort Worth
Brisket is a mild cut for lamb, so it’s not too gamey to begin with. And then Tim Love adds the smoke and rosemary seasoning. Woodshed is a fun place; it’s right on the Trinity River, with a lot of picnic tables. There are dogs and live music and plenty of people drinking.—Daniel Vaughn
3201 Riverfront Dr.; woodshedsmokehouse.com.
Bone-In Pork Belly, Killen’s Texas Barbecue, Pearland
Ronnie Killen owns a famous steak house in this suburb of Houston, and he decided he wanted to open a barbecue joint. Everything is flawless. The bone-in pork belly is Killen’s way of adding flair to the menu while still keeping it traditional. It’s a sparerib bone with a thick layer of pork belly on top that’s not too fatty. I don’t know anyone else who serves pork belly this way. —Daniel Vaughn
3613 E. Broadway St.; killensbarbecue.com.
Texas Toast, The Granary ’Cue & Brew, San Antonio
The Granary has barbecue at lunch and composed plates at dinnertime. People gloss over the Texas toast on the menu. They think, Toast and butter? Why would I pay for that? Well, they should. Tim Rattray fries thick slices of toast in beef tallow at a low temperature, so they soak up those flavors. He serves it with “barbecue butter”: drippings from the smoker whipped into butter. I couldn’t believe how much was going on in that little scoop. —Daniel Vaughn
602 Ave. A; thegranarysa.com.
Thai Fried Chicken, Tuk Tuk Tap Room, San Antonio
At this tiny place, they have a basic, solid fried chicken that comes with a garlicky lemongrass-chile sauce that you spoon on top. So your chicken is crispy when it comes to the table, but you still get that sugary, spicy bath. There are also interesting beers on tap, as you might guess from the “tap room” part of the name. — Daniel Vaughn
1702 Broadway St.; tuktuktaproom.com.
Turkey Sub, Home Slice Pizza, Austin
I really believe this is the best sandwich in Texas, and it’s at a pizza joint, no less. It’s all about getting the turkey-to-condiment ratio right. Shaved roast turkey and provolone cheese come on warm toasted homemade bread. They shred the lettuce—that’s really important—and there’s mayo and oil and vinegar, and tons of hot cherry peppers. You squeeze it all together and it becomes one single thing.—Hotelier Liz Lambert
1415 S. Congress Ave.; homeslicepizza.com.
Steak Frites, Josephine House, Austin
This place started as an adjunct restaurant for Larry McGuire, whose super-popular Jeffrey’s is next door. But the chef, Alex Manley, was cooking such unbelievable food that it took off. Manley is young; this is her first time as head chef, and I swear to God you should watch her. Monday nights are steak frites nights: Niman Ranch tenderloin or strip is cooked over aged oak chips on the outdoor fire pit and finished with a big pat of lemon zest–shallot compound butter. —Liz Lambert
1601 Waterston Ave.; josephineofaustin.com.
Date Pudding, Cochineal, Marfa
It’s amazing to find a restaurant of this caliber in West Texas. The guys who started it, Tom Rapp and Toshifumi Sakihara, ran Etats-Unis in New York City. Toshifumi made a date pudding to order—the same one that’s now served at Cochineal. He stays pretty true to the British classic, a toffee-sauce-laden steamed pudding. It’s a little salty and not too sweet, dense but with light whipped cream and warm caramel. It’s the perfect size for sharing—everyone will want to share it with you. —Liz Lambert
107 W. San Antonio St.; cochinealmarfa.com.
Bean Burrito, Elva’s Taco Casa, Odessa
I grew up in Odessa, and when most kids went to McDonald’s for lunch, my friends and I would go to Taco Casa, a shack in a parking lot. There might be five tables inside. But these ladies in the back make fresh tortillas and cook chicken and beans and beef. The bean burrito has nothing but a flour tortilla of excellent handmade quality and refried beans—no cheese—and then you add salsa, which they make daily. —Liz Lambert
807 Royalty Ave.; 432-333-2831.
Chile Relleno en Nogada, Liberty Bar, San Antonio
The original location of Liberty Bar was an old house with slanted floors, so if you put a marble down it would roll across the floor—quickly. Liberty Bar relocated to a different part of town, taking over an old convent. The chile relleno en nogada survived the move. The classic Pueblan dish is on the menu as a starter, but it’s big enough for a meal. Texture-wise, it’s awesome: A poblano chile is stuffed with a lovely mixture of beef, potatoes and onion, and it’s covered with a walnut-brandy cream sauce. Then they sprinkle beautiful pomegranate seeds on top. —Liz Lambert
1111 S. Alamo St.; liberty-bar.com.
Barbecue Plate, Louis Mueller Barbecue, Taylor
My first summer job was at a big downtown Austin law firm, and on Fridays, they would take us to Louie Mueller for a leisurely lunch. Part of the appeal is the 40-minute drive through Hill Country. The no-frills storefront has been untouched by time—and it still puts out such a solid plate of brisket with a nice char on the outside. You don’t need sauce—it never even occurred to me to ask for it. —Liz Lambert
206 W. Second St.; louiemuellerbarbecue.com.