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A foodie experience in the Lone Star State

Food writer William Leigh takes us through a culinary trip of fried chicken, Tex-Mex and BBQs in Texas

11 JUNE 2012 Now – Texas might not be on your top ten places to visit. And that was precisely what intrigued me about it – the fact that it was off the beaten path, off the tourist maps and was famous for two things: the TV series Dallas, and barbecue.

Over here in the UK we imagine every rootin’, tootin’ Texan would be sporting a six-shooter on their hip; at least that’s the image I had – of ten-gallon hats and cowboy boots – but after touching down in the Lone Star State this image soon dissipated.

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Being British, the first thing that struck me was the weather; I’d left a cold, rainy Britain and hit this lush, verdant, 30-degree spot – gorgeously sunny and full of life.

Shorts on, it was time to hit the town.

San Antonio is, by all accounts, a pretty funky town. It’s a charming blend of Mexicans (Texas was originally part of Mexico), old time Americans and hip kids.

The food reflects this too – true ‘Tex-Mex’, a million miles from what we get over here. Fresh salsas, slow-cooked spiced beef stews, pork tacos; grilled cheese topped with home-made chorizo, deep-fried chicken stuffed crispy treats topped with vivid, punchy green sauce, sour cream and queso fresco (a milky white subtly flavoured unaged cheese).

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The joys of this cuisine in this beautiful hot state were twofold for me: the first is eating al-fresco, and the second is the raw ingredients – the tomatoes are stunningly sun-ripened, the fruit, fresh and zesty, and my favourite ingredient of all – the fresh jalapeño chilli, just hot enough to give you a tingle, but packed with all those fruity, heady notes you get from a bird’s eye. 

Remnants of Southern cooking abound too – fried chicken pops up all over the place – from fresh, new hip joints to old school, middle of the sticks soul food spots.

Then there’s the burgers – the American favourite – from the hole-in-the-wall joints to the seriously out-there spots that you can find only in America.

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And of course the Texan barbecue, packed with great big hunks of meat, expertly slow-cooked for hours over indirect heat in giant smokers – pulled pork, juicy beef brisket, ‘links’(sausages to you and I), pork ribs, beef ribs, turkey – all served simply with chopped white onion, pickles, crackers and housemade BBQ sauce.

Puds aren’t forgotten either – any of our regular readers will know that I’m a complete ice cream nut – and I think I may have found my ice cream super-spot in San Antonio.

Alongside the food spots, there’s the fact that San Antonio is both beautiful and charming – a river runs right through the heart of town which you can walk along for miles. Soon, the city gives way to green countryside and wildlife. There’s also a spot of history in the Alamo, the site of one of America’s most famous battles. It’s a spot that might not be on your radar – but definitely should be – Texas actually also has a beautiful coast-line for those of you who love to be by the sea.

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With no further ado, here are my San Antonio eating and drinking hotspots:

La Gloria – perfect Mexican street food, in the sunshine by the San Antonio river; tacos, tortas, ceviche, sopes and much, much more – all delicious, fresh, zippy and filling

The Cove – a little bit out there but definitely worth it – this is a burger joint, car-wash and laundrette all rolled into one in a big outdoor space. Alongside organic sandwiches and salads expect some hot and happening live bands

Earl Abels – Earl’s has been serving food up to San Antonians in the know since 1933. Reputedly where Colonel Sanders developed his KFC recipe, this place is a real piece of Americana, unspoilt, and does cracking fried chicken

The Esquire Tavern – San Antonio's oldest ‘river-walk’ bar, this also lays claim to the longest wooden bar in the state; cocktails are well made in a cool-as-a-cat environment, but expect a bit of a wait

Brindles Awesome Ice Creams – amazing flavours smashed together on marble slabs at this privately owned ice cream joint – lavender and honey and bourbon bacon caramel are but a couple of the flavours on offer here. Check out the ice cream laser gun behind the counter

CIA – not the Central Intelligence Agency, this is actually a branch of the Culinary Institute of America – where you can learn to cook some classics and then eat them for lunch. Don’t miss their gorgeous bakery

Mr & Mrs G's Home Cooking – an old school soul food joint out near the city limits. Blink and you'll miss it – and don't judge a book by its cover. This place may not look like much but their fried chicken is a must-eat. 

Gonzalez Food Market – don’t overdo it at Mr and Mrs G's as this spot is just next door; classic barbecue staples include brisket and pork ribs – but the specialties here are their lamb ribs (a rarity in barbecue restaurants) and sausages – a cut above the rest we tried. And trust me, we tried a lot.

 For more information on visit San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau.

 

Report by William Leigh

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