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  1. Micklethwait Craft Meats 2021: This place remains everything that it ever was. A spot in the top ten of Texas Monthly's previous Top 50 list gave them long-deserved notice, but the wait times have never grown to the unmanageable status of their neighbors down the street. On the right Saturday, you can still stroll up a half hour before opening and be one of the first dozen people served. Most essentially, the food remains as well-crafted as always. A three-meat plate ($20) of trinity yields a perfectly moist slice of brisket, a pork rib you can leave a bite-mark in, and a genre-defining sausage that remains the best I've ever had in the state. The other meat choices are as well-done and more interesting. Pulled lamb is juicy, subtly smoked but also unquestionably flavorful; the barbacoa is a mixture of all the best barbecue textures and has provided me as much delight in a tortilla as any taco shop I've been to. There are usually multiple sausage options, and a lamb red pepper link tasted exactly how it reads, with the two foremost ingredients amplified by a master's blend of background additions. (Micklethwait does beef ribs on Saturdays, and I was tempted to order one due to my place in line, but the math no longer adds up for me. For various reasons, brisket prices are up 44% from 5 years ago, and beef rib prices are now orbiting in space. I would only recommend spending the requisite $65-80 if you have never had one, ever.) It's the sides that make a barbecue plate into a meal, and nobody does them better than here. Lemon poppy coleslaw cuts through the heaviness of rendered fat and a high noon sun. A weekend special of green bean salad was al dente beans, quickly charred then tossed in a vinaigrette. Mac and cheese was the loose version, with a pinch of spice, but if you want decadent just order the always superb jalapeno cheese grits. I like the thin, vinegary barbecue sauce -- it's not much by itself, but goes with all their meats without any clashing. There's also the requisite slice of their own fresh-baked bread that mops up everything savory at the end. My favorite barbecue spot in Austin, and for that matter, Texas. And one of my favorite places to eat anywhere.
  2. I was excited to try the Pineapple Upside Down Cake flavor this summer. It was fairly appalling, and did not represent any of my favorite parts of a pineapple upside down cake. It was so bad it soured me on the brand as a whole -- if that flavor was approved, it's hard to trust them moving forward.
  3. Tacodeli always sounds better than it tastes, but agreed -- the fillings are quality and cooked well enough. Speaking of Austin, have you been to Veracruz All-Natural? Also agreed that I would not spend a "trip meal" eating at Torchy's. But a Trailer Park taco (basically just a chicken tender, salsa and pico) with a side of queso is actually pretty satisfying.
  4. Having to cook a dish and work front of house with inexperienced servers isn't fair, but neither is having to use "flavor shooters, a new savory product by Philadelphia Cream Cheese" (C) Padma. Top Chef is more of a competition with cooking, rather than a cooking competition. And to their credit, they have consistently judged the contestants based on their most recent performance -- it was 11 years ago that Trey Wilcox and his dry bread pudding fell victim to the Restaurant Wars curse. Nini deserved to go based on what we saw (edited), and most importantly I was entertained.
  5. I had a rough go eating on the River Walk but a second vote for Esquire Tavern. They made me a perfect Manhattan and the atmosphere is just right during the week.
  6. Avoid eating on the River Walk in general. Pearl Brewery is a 10-minute Uber from downtown and a much better bet. It's one of those "Eat-Shop-Live" mixed use areas, but done on the grounds of a 135-year-old former brewery. There you'll find: The Granary -- A very good barbecue restaurant that helped popularize barbecue pastrami in Texas a few years ago. Their pastrami beef rib is a Tuesday special and worth the trip alone. They also do composed courses for dinner and make their own beer. Cured -- I would not argue with anyone who proposed this as San Antonio's best restaurant. I don't get excited for charcuterie at most places, but they put real effort into it and have great variety. Make sure to load up on the small plates; chef Steve McHugh does an incredible job taking familiar dishes and giving them one or two lovely surprises. I had a blood sausage pain perdu that remains fond in my memory, and a simple couscous with grilled lamb liver, lemon and parmesan that ate like one of the best risottos ever. Great drinks and rustic desserts as well. Bakery Lorraine -- Worthwhile bakery that specializes in French staples, breakfast and light lunch. Perfect stop to begin or end your day around Pearl. Lick Ice Creams -- An Austin export but I've had good experiences at all their locations. It's June in Texas, so you'll want ice cream.
  7. Even after 15 years, this still the place to be in Houston any day of the week. The space is anything you want it to be -- romantic, casual, a party -- but above all it’s a fun restaurant to be at. You have that warm feeling when you’re inside, when you know you’re about to eat a really good meal. And Hugo Ortega’s kitchen, with years of fine-tuning, delivers exactly that. I don't have a comparison point for my chapulines ($10), but if there are better versions than Hugo’s I’d be very impressed. Not overly crunchy, with a salty-sour filling. If you’re squeamish there is plenty of guacamole and salsa to overwhelm them with, along with delicious blue corn tortillas -- noticeably superior to the ones I ate at Xochi. Insects are still not quite a craving for me, but these are well-executed and worth experiencing. The lechon ($13) however, is a treat I would return from Dallas for. Wrapped in a banana leaf and with beautiful crackling on top, this was braised suckling pig at its best. I would use a very light hand with the accompanying habanero salsa, as it is legitimately hot (and overwhelming). Regular corn tortillas on the side for taco-making, again exemplary versions of the handmade variety. A taco de langosta ($12) was the only misstep for me. It reads beautifully on the menu, but upon arrival, conception and execution were both to blame. A smaller corn tortilla really cannot handle the heft of a small lobster tail (it’s that awkwardness I hate about oversized burgers), and the lobster itself was overcooked. So a struggle in several ways to finish. Blemish aside, it's still very easy to fall in love with Hugo's after all these years. Despite Ortega's growing restaurant expansion and the personal accolades, there remains a great energy to the place -- an excitement that cannot be manufactured.
  8. Houston got a lot of love and attention for sure this year. Good to see, with national awards being so Austin-biased in years past. Dallas was almost completely shut out, by comparison.
  9. Anecdotally, it was dead as a doornail when I visited last August. Typically slow month for restaurants and I was there on a weekday, but I saw one two-top in the entire restaurant from 5:30-6:30 pm (I was at the bar). One Fifth Steakhouse seemed to be super successful the year it was open, so I guess Shepherd is keeping that as his moneymaker with Underbelly 2.0 as the smaller footprint.
  10. The gas was out when I opened the cumbersome castle door (seriously, it's weird) to Pondicheri, Anita Jaisinghani's nationally-recognized, modern Indian café. I was really looking forward to her kitchen's renditions of breakfast -- I hardly stray from the reliable American breakfast, as it's the only meal the United States can defeat all comers in, so trying an Indian version would be an interesting change. The persistent construction along Westheimer made that not possible, so I marched upstairs to Jaisinghani's Bake Lab. There, my disappointment faded with a bite of the cherry upside down cake ($4 per slice), which was a spongy, tart slice of love. Light enough to eat several slices, this is your tea or coffee's new best friend. Moving on to the main course of chai pie ($6 per slice), I understood why it's so locally renowned; tall as a meringue pie, but with dense spiced custard responsible for the height. Buttery biscuit crust that reminds one why pie is superior to cake. Skip the whipped cream on top, do not pass on the cashews. Very happy at this point, my chocolate chip, coconut and mint cookie ($3) was the final glory for the Pondicheri baking team. A simple combination but done better than most. I hope to try a savory breakfast at Pondicheri one day. I know for sure I will be back for everything else that comes out of their baking ovens.
  11. As soft as Wisconsin's schedule is, an undefeated P5 team will always get into the CFB Playoff. The only rankings that matter are the final ones. Funny thing about this part of year is the same scenarios are always brought up. It's fun water cooler banter and part of the sport (polls!), but ultimately it nearly always works out.
  12. Dusty is an older-school players coach, which was a great fit for this current club. I don't blame him for the past two NLDS losses -- Nationals had plenty of chances to win both on the field, and they didn't. That predates Dusty. I also believe managers make the least impact across all the major sports when it comes to tactical decisions.
  13. "The trend is clear: Most elite high school QBs think they’re going to beat out whoever is front of them."" If you're good enough to be considered one of, if not the best quarterback in HS, you don't think about losing a competition. Call it hubris or naivete or that alpha dog mentality so treasured in football, but these guys only see themselves as competition. If I grew up loving Clemson and Clemson loves me, and I've outperformed every other quarterback I've ever been put up against, I'm not going to my second choice because somebody else with a high star ranking is already there. Of course, as anyone who follows college football regularly can tell you, there are plenty of times that these highly ranked recruits turn out to be not that good. Especially at quarterback. So an abundance of riches ends up being one viable starter. That reminds me of USC's 2006-2007 recruiting classes, at the height of the Carroll dynasty. In 2006 they signed four of the top 13 running backs in the class. In 2007 they signed the top 1 and 2 running backs in the class, the former being the number one overall player in the country. None of them turned into an All-American, a few transferred out, only one was drafted by the NFL and at the end of their careers it just turned into the familiar recruiting tale that the next big thing may never come -- even if you have a bunch of them.
  14. Loved my visit here. A great taco stand is one of the best ratios of price-deliciousness-efficiency in the world of food. I especially appreciated the no-nonsense cashier to weed out gawkers asking irrelevant questions. Barbacoa was wetter than my favorite editions, as I live for those crispy bits (tripa dorada forever), but all the flavor was there. Pastor was indeed sweet, but I’ve got a forgiving range when it comes to pastor (no trompo here, though). Chicharron was ordered because it’s often done poorly, but passed the test as well. Homely and tasty corn tortillas for all. Salsa verde had that perfect balance between spice, cilantro and acid. Highly recommended anytime meal. These tacos would play well in Dallas, Austin or San Antonio.
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