Posted on August 13th, 2014

Every few years I make a point of scheduling a travel article for the Panhandle region. It ranks pretty low on the list of top travel destinations in Texas, but that’s not entirely fair. Although the climate is harsh and the “attractions” widespread, there’s genuine appeal in a remote getaway to the ruggedly picturesque Caprock Canyon landscape.

My themed itinerary focused on the Quanah Parker Trail, a collection of Panhandle communities with sites related to the last Comanche Chief Quanah Parker. Parker thrived in the region as a warrior and eventually an “assimilist,” who adopted the White Man’s Ways (and found some success as a businessman and rancher). Though many of the small communities on this trail are desolate, there are others that offer a time warp to decades past, before downtowns were homogenized with Starbucks and Wi-Fi hotspots on every corner. In the Panhandle, you’re more likely to encounter a 25-foot tall metal arrow sculpture “pinpointing” a significant spot on the Quanah Parker Trail.
While traversing the trail, I stumbled upon a previously undiscovered gem: Caprock Canyons State Park, home of the official State of Texas buffalo herd. It’s worth making a half-day’s drive just to see these magnificent creatures and learn about their story—the several dozen buffalo at the park are the only remnants of the once-great (as in 5 million strong) Great Plains Herd, decimated by settlers more than a century ago. Plans are in the works to bolster this herd and (somewhat) return them to their former glory.

Posted on April 20th, 2014

I decided to schedule a family vacation to my favorite part of the state—Far West Texas. I booked a room at the historic adobe Indian Lodge in Fort Davis, and packed an itinerary with heritage tourism attractions (so much for taking a break from my normal work routine).

It was nice to have my family in tow for one of these trips, since I (sometimes) find myself missing them when I’m flying solo on business—especially when I’m eating a memorable meal or watching little kids play with their parents. My wife and young sons tend to notice things that might not register on my radar screen (like a surprisingly refreshing flavor, a colorful bug on the hiking trail, etc.).
Although we didn’t get to experience all my favorite spots in the region (guess we’ll have to go back…), we managed to squeeze in a lot of fun stuff, from the Marfa Book Company to Kokernot Field in Alpine to Fort Davis National Historic Site to the Marfa Pizza Foundation. I have a feeling we won’t wait for another book release celebration to go “on back to Way Out West…”

Posted on November 17th, 2013

When I first started thinking about my research trip for an article dedicated to the history of Tex-Mex cuisine, my instincts took me straight to the border—the Rio Grande Valley, in particular. Surely this region was overflowing with epic historical sagas of intertwining cultures and the resulting traditional dishes now featured on Tex-Mex menus across the country. Not so much.

But that wasn’t necessarily bad. Turns out, most of the time-honored combo plates we know and love originated in San Antonio. Although these cheesy, beefy, greasy items are Alamo City natives, the Valley is responsible for refining and perfecting traditional Mexican foods and variations, such as fajitas, chile rellenos, and carnitas.
Throughout the Valley, these types of authentic dishes await in unassuming locales, such as McAllen’s El Posito and Rex Café, Rio Grande City’s Caro’s, and Brownsville’s The Vermillion. Since travelers aren’t making border runs these days, this is as close as they’ll probably get to experiencing genuine Mexican comida.

Posted on May 12th, 2013

Central Texas is generally accepted as the state’s barbecue capital, and therefore (in the eyes of Texans) the barbecue headquarters of the world. There’s some truly tasty stuff around here, and the smorgasbord of top-notch restaurants to choose from can be mind-boggling.

Barbecue aficionados around the country are drooling uncontrollably over a relative newcomer to the Central Texas scene. Franklin Barbecue has received rave reviews (including a “best in the country” nod from Bon Appetit magazine). With lofty expectations like that, it’s often hard to live up to the hype, but Franklin’s ‘cue is indeed incomparable. There aren’t too many places where you can say it’s worth waiting more than an hour for the food, but their perfect post oak-smoked brisket, sublime sausage, and premiere potato salad are worth waiting in line for two hours.
Another personal favorite is Louie Mueller Barbecue, just north of Austin in Taylor. Open since the late 1940s, Louie Mueller’s has been featured on food programs across the globe and was famous way before Franklin’s for its succulent smoked brisket. The place oozes weathered, smoke-drenched, rustic charm and serves up tender beef with a slightly peppery sauce and accompanying sweet sides of potato salad and cole slaw.

Posted on November 11th, 2012

El Paso isn’t the first place that comes to mind when considering a dynamic travel destination. Most people immediately associate this Wild West border town with unruly activity like gunfighting. Not the ol’ fashioned gunslinger kind, but the modern Mexican drug cartel variety.
Hold your fire: believe it or not, El Paso was recently named one of the country’s safest cities. Now there’s no reason to avoid this unexpectedly charming West Texas metropolis—especially for those intrigued by a region’s distinctive heritage and food. Even if you’re not a history buff, the mission trail offers a fascinating glimpse into the area’s Spanish colonial past, with three extraordinary adobe missions dating to the 1600s.

Food-wise, El Paso is the Mecca for my favorite Mexican dish: chile rellenos, prepared with velvety white cheese encased in a tangy and lightly breaded anaheim pepper. One of the most memorable places to experience this regional delicacy is at H&H Car Wash, an actual car wash with a tiny restaurant inside offering the tantalizingly smooth yet spicy chiles heated on the same grill as the tasty (and greasy) burgers.

Another area worth exploring in El Paso is Segundo Barrio, a resurgent neighborhood near downtown filled with historic adobe homes and charming corner stores. Be sure to experience Bowie Bakery’s traditional Mexican pastries: empanadas de pina (delectable pineapple turnovers), esponjas, and a cream-filled swan pastry that tastes as sweet as it looks.

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