Churrascos, Houston

Seems like ages ago when I was in Texas last. If you couldn’t tell, this KbK has been in some sort of extended hibernation as I began my graduate program in England and got settled with my new living situation.

This is the latest part of my Texas series, about 8 months delayed. Stephen took me here for my 22nd birthday, recalling positive dining experiences with his father when he still lived in Houston.Image

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Chuys, Houston

I had the best steak fajitas when I was in Houston. They were so good that when I crave steak fajitas now, I am specifically craving Chuys’ steak fajitas. Chuys, a chain that started in Austin, is another one of Stephen’s top spots. Boasting a cantina vibe, deep margaritas, funky decor, and honestly fantastic Tex-Mex cuisine, this is a place that makes the Tio Lio’s or the El Torito I know a few miles away in San Diego as interesting and tasty as stale white bread.

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Becks Prime, Houston

One of the things that I find awesome and unexpected about traveling regionally in the US is the wide range of popular “chain-type” eateries to which I am completely oblivious. Californians are often cited for their self-centric tunnel vision in many areas, and I am not an exception. As a teenager, after having visited a Potbelly and a Soup Box (this was in Chicago), the experience was both eye-opening and left me wishing they each had locations somewhere in LA or San Diego (they didn’t).

These are the sort of chains that everyone nearby loyally knows and loves, but might not have national infamy (like McDonald’s or ChickFilA) or be so individualistic that they land on city culinary lists targeting visitors. Nonetheless, they warrant a mention and a visit because they are just good, solid places to eat. This is what a place like Beck’s Prime means to me.

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Nobhill Tavern, Las Vegas

Having driven past Michael Mina’s XIV several times while on the Sunset Strip, I was disappointed to hear that the space is now for many private events and is no longer a fully functioning restaurant. Of course, I say this as though it happened yesterday, but it’s actually been almost a year. Thankfully, Stephen and I tried out one of his Las Vegas establishments, Nobhill Tavern, and had a delicious meal with excellent service. Unlike XIV, which was supposedly marred by an identity crisis in menu (and service), Nobhill Tavern shines in its creative interpretations of classic American fare.

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Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, Las Vegas

Growing up in California (and in a Chinese family) meant that many family vacations involved Las Vegas. Chinese people love Vegas. I have lost count of the trips I have taken with my parents and the number of buffets in which I have indulged. For my boyfriend however, who was born and raised in Texas, Las Vegas existed only in movies and television shows. So for his first trip, we planned an array of sights and dining for experiential diversity. For me too this first trip to Las Vegas would have a few firsts. In particular, this would be my first trip without my parents so it would be a good opportunity to try places other than the usual haunts.

A longtime staple for fans of the Southwestern-inspired chef, Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in the Caesar’s Palace was an ideal place to have brunch after wandering around the Strip for several hours. Mesa Grill is casual, intimate, and relaxing. It’s the kind of restaurant you wish you could transplant back home and make it a part of a weekly tradition.

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Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak, Las Vegas

My boyfriend and I have always enjoyed watching Tom Colicchio, head judge onĀ Top Chef, call people out on various culinary sins, such as sub-par butchering skills, too-stiff risotto, and over-salting. Our experience at Craftsteak was definitely not marred by any of those missteps. After a good 6 hours of driving, we craved a hearty steak. Craftsteak certainly delivered, though various service-relate hiccups prevented the experience from being flawless.

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Small Tacos, Big Flavor

I’ll admit, I’m usually not that impressed with tacos. They are one of the least inspiring items on Chipotle’s menu, for instance. And unlike burritos, there is an awkward, head-tilting, neck-cramping, back-hunching, posture required so that gravity does not totally undo the taco’s unsteadily upright structure.

Now the way this story goes, I accidentally bought ground sirloin instead of ground chuck this past week. I was thinking that burgers might be a good dinner food, but I ended up with a package of meat I have little experience cooking. Because of sirloin’s leanness, I didn’t want to make burgers that would only turn out to be dry. So my boyfriend and I poked around his refrigerator a bit and ultimately decided that some kind of beef taco would be the most economic use of all the ingredients we consistently have.

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