By Emma Fingleton
Spring break flew by in a blur of food as three friends and I ate our way through Texas while visiting Austin, San Antonio and our friend’s hometown of Houston. My two other non-Texan friends are from New Jersey and Connecticut, so we ate many things not easily found in the tri-state area. My everyday diet of pizza, bagels and smoothies from Urban Kitchen was replaced with a steady stream of Tex-Mex, biscuits and drinks from Sonic. My Texan friend has a tradition of eating her first meal home at Torchy’s Tacos, the quirky Tex-mex chain and home of my friend’s favorite queso. The special taco of the month was the Roscoe, the taco of my dreams stuffed with fried chicken, a waffle square, bacon and a fried egg, complete with a side of maple syrup. Over a shared skillet of queso and platters of tacos that make me never want to eat a New York “taco” again, we all fell in love with Torchy’s, too.
As a native Long Islander who has never been to a state fair, much less a rodeo, I was amazed by the mega-fest of fried food and farm animals known as the Houston Rodeo. Dozens of stands doled out everything from classics like fried oreos, corn dogs, and french fries to deep-fried pecan pie, cookie dough and butter. Yes, butter, which one of my friends was confident enough in her health to try. I tried my first and last bite of a corndog and my first funnel cake in an attempt to get up to speed with carnival food. I cleansed myself with a caramel apple – hey, it was the closest thing to fruit on the grounds.
We road-tripped to Austin, possibly the coolest city I have ever been to (sorry NYC), and timed our arrival to lunchtime so we could devour burgers and fries at In-n-Out, the West Coast burger chain with a cult following for its retro style and cheap, delicious menu. While the fries, even animal-style, couldn’t compare to Shake Shack’s, the customizable burger and the atmosphere were both worth the hype.
We couldn’t skip eating at a food truck while in Austin, where there were at least a couple on every corner and in every parking lot selling everything from acai bowls to kimchi fries. One night on 6th St., I serendipitously stumbled across the donut truck Little Lucy’s I had been following on Instagram for weeks before the trip. Soon I was carrying a hot pink bag of half a dozen warm mini doughnuts tossed in peanut butter and banana-flavored sugar. After walking around UT Austin and the stores in the surrounding area, we ate some amazing tacos from a nondescript truck in a parking lot complete with the colorful murals every Texan city seems to require.
On the way to San Antonio, I convinced my friends to stop in Lockhart, Texas, a little town south of Austin purported by many to be the capital of Texan barbecue. After my careful research, I chose Black’s Barbecue as our destination from the handful of temples of barbecue. Within the cozy dining room, sides such as mac and cheese, cornbread and pecan pie were served cafeteria-style and the meat was sliced from the chopping board and weighed to order. None of my friends are particularly big meat-eaters, but we all loved the brisket and ribs, both of which were tender and well-flavored, and enjoyed eating somewhere that felt authentically Texan.
In San Antonio, we strolled along the River Walk after I dragged my friends to the Alamo, then ate at one of the many outdoor restaurants lining the picturesque water. The highlight of our adventure was our trip to the Pearl, a former brewery that now holds many boutiques, restaurants, a hotel and a Culinary Institute. Of course, we couldn’t leave without eating ice cream at The Lick, an ethically sourced creamery with interesting flavors such as roasted beet, Hill Country honey and goat cheese and thyme. I stuck to the classic chocolate peanut butter brownie, but wish I had tried something a little more adventurous. Where did we go right after Mexican food and ice cream? To eat a three-pound cinnamon roll, of course! I had seen Lulu’s Bakery and Cafe in an Insider video, and the diner also proclaimed an appearance of “Man vs. Food” for its mammoth chicken-fried steak. The warm cinnamon roll was heaved onto our table, dripping with icing and the size of a well-fed baby. After a mini photoshoot with the roll, we tore into it before our doubts about eating it could hold us back. Considering it is a novelty and not an award-winning dessert, the cinnamon roll was very good: fluffy, generously swirled and gooey in the center. I can’t help but end this road trip through Texas with the cliche “everything is bigger in Texas” line. The friendly people, the huge size of everything and of course, the amazing variety of food were all much more than I was expecting and I cannot wait to go back again.