BBQ, crawfish & more:
The best food in Texas

Texas seafood restaurant with crawfish, Gulf shrimp, oysters, poboys

Leave no culinary stone unturned. This was one of my top goals on a recent Texas Gulf Coast road trip.

If you've never been to Texas, well, there are just so many things that are special about this state.

There's the awesome history of the Alamo in San Antonio; the go-big-or-go-home excess of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, where the Dallas Cowboys play; and NASA Space Center in Houston, where you can see artifacts like the original speaker from which the words "Houston, we've had a problem" were emitted.

But one of the very, very best things about Texas is its food. Down-home or upscale, it is fresh, it is unique, it is constantly amazing. Love me some Texas cookin', honey!

Here are my eight favourite foods that you absolutely must eat in Texas:

1. Texas BBQ

Texas mesquite-smoked BBQ barbecue brisket ribs turkey sausage beans
Me with my pal Melissa. Note the cup-of-beans appetizer and the pitcher-sized drinks. Because, Texas!

When you go to Texas, you think Texas BBQ, right? Be prepared to release your inner caveman; there's meat, and lots of it. However you like your meat prepared, it's usually served with beans and coleslaw, and almost always with a slab of white bread. There's no standing on ceremony with a Texas BBQ meal; just roll up your sleeves and dig in.

One of my favourite places to eat was at the Longhorn Cattle Company in San Benito (incidentally, the city is also the proud home of the late country star Freddy Fender). Here, with my friend Melissa, I had a great meal of tender barbecued sausage, turkey, brisket and ribs. My appetizer was a cup of pinto bean soup, and the mesquite that was used to smoke the meat came right from trees behind the restaurant.

Texas mesquite-smoked BBQ barbecue brisket ribs turkey sausage beans
If you've ever wondered what a mesquite tree looks like, this is it. They are ubiquitous in Texas.

I had pretty much made it my mission to eat all the Texas BBQ I could, and here are a couple of other great meals I had.

Texas mesquite-smoked BBQ barbecue brisket ribs turkey sausage beans

Texas mesquite-smoked BBQ barbecue brisket ribs turkey sausage beans

2. Crawfish

If you're lucky, your visit will coincide with crawfish season, which usually runs from December till June. Yes, it's a long season, but timing is important. Crawfish is a little tougher to get at the start of the season and, consequently, more expensive. 

Crawfish is sold by the pound, and a good price at the height of the season is about $5 per pound. The crawfish comes served in a giant tub, with short ears of corn and boiled potatoes. Turn over the tub onto the sheets of paper that cover your table, or your tray, as the case may be, and dig in. Wipe your hands between rounds on the rolls of paper towels that are placed on each table. Then, dig in again! Tip: When the server asks if you want your crawfish spicy, say no. Regular is plenty spicy.

Thanks to another friend of mine, Margie, who lives in Kemah, Texas, I was introduced to crawfish at Crazy Alan's Swamp Shack on the Kemah Boardwalk. The restaurant is a real local favourite, and the crawfish was SO GOOD. We ordered five pounds, at $5 per pound, plus a few extra ears of corn and potatoes, and that was plenty for three adults.

Crawfish, crawfish boil, corn, crawfish season, Crazy Alan's Swamp Shack Kemah Texas
Crawfish boil from Crazy Alan's Swamp Shack on the Kemah Boardwalk in Kemah, Texas. This is five pounds.

Another favourite restaurant for eating crawfish and any kind of seafood, really, was the Ragin' Cajun. This is a chain, and it was recommended to us by our hotel concierge when we asked him where locals ate. The Ragin' Cajun is remarkable, and I'm pretty sure I'd eat here non-stop if I lived in Texas.

Ragin Cajun crawfish seafood Gulf shrimp oysters

Ragin Cajun crawfish seafood Gulf shrimp oysters
The interior of the Ragin' Cajun. The lineup, against the wall, was always 15-20 deep.

Ragin Cajun crawfish seafood Gulf shrimp oysters
Here's how you do crawfish: Just eat.

3. Gulf shrimp

There are so many delicious ways to cook succulent Gulf shrimp and I ate it whenever I could. 

Food to eat in Texas
In a sweet and spicy Cajun sauce

Food to eat in Texas
In a ceviche

Food to eat in Texas

Food to eat in Texas
Blackened and pan-fried
Food to eat in Texas
And finally ... plain ol' steamed and served with butter and a few spices. Yum!

4. Gulf oysters

If you love oysters, Texas is the place to eat them. Gulf Coast oysters are plentiful just about all year, and they are caught in the morning and on your plate by lunchtime. And so cheap, especially by Canadian standards! This order of six Oysters Rockefeller, from the Water Street Seafood Co. in Corpus Christi, cost $9.49.

Texas Gulf Coast oysters Food to eat in Texas

There are so many ways to cook oysters! I also loved these Gulf oysters roasted in chipotle butter.

Food to eat in Texas

5. Catfish

Catfish is not unique to Texas, of course, but they love it down there. And, after having sampled this moist and tasty seafood, count me as a fan. It can be baked, or pan-fried, or cooked any number of ways, but I saw it most often served deep-fried.

Food to eat in Texas

6. Frogs legs

Is it the Louisiana influence? Probably, because frogs legs are on the menu more than I thought I'd see in Texas. If you're ever doing a Texas road trip, as I did, I highly recommend stopping in at Hardheads restaurant in Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula. Hardheads is an unpretentious straw-thatched structure that sits up on stilts (as all buildings do in that area, post-Hurricane Hugo), and the menu is fabulous. I have to admit I was slightly taken aback when our server told us that the frogs she catches and cooks up are plumper and juicier than the ones served in the restaurant! Note the catfish that's served with the frogs legs (below).

Food to eat in Texas

Frogs legs and catfish
The interior of Hardheads. There are also booths and tables around the perimeter of the restaurant.

7. Texas-stuffed baked potato

What's the potato stuffed with, you ask? What's it not stuffed with, is the answer. However, the version I saw most often had beef brisket as a topping. The brisket, in turn, is topped with mounds of sour cream and cheese.

Food to eat in Texas

8. Tex-Mex

Get your Tex-Mex on, in the very state where the cuisine had its origins. Some cities in Texas - for instance, Brownsville - are so close to the Mexican border that it's possible to walk right across into Mexico from the city's downtown. Consequently, you'll find Tex-Mex all over Texas - even in breakfasts such as this Chile Verde and Eggs and desserts like this Mango Ice Cream in a Chamoy Syrup.

Food to eat in Texas
Chile Verde and Eggs 
Food to eat in Texas
Mango Ice Cream in a Chamoy Syrup


For more travel inspiration check out my Instagram, @JuanitaNg.