Don't mess with a Texas chef: Bryan Caswell stumps for Houston
November 5th, 2010
01:30 AM ET
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Chef Bryan Caswell has gotten a Best New Chef nod from Food & Wine magazine, been a James Beard Award nominee, and is currently vying for the position of Next Iron Chef. He also co-hosts radio show Southbound Food, is the chef/owner of Stella Sola, REEF and two outposts of Little Bigs, and will be opening a fifth restaurant - El Real Tex-Mex Cafe - with Texas food-writing legend Robb Walsh in 2011. He gets reeeaaaalllly cranky when his beloved Houston is overlooked by the food media.

We dig the folks at, the site Caswell is citing, but let's give the man a chance to stand his ground for H-Town. Take it away, Caz.

Yesterday, I began my ritual surfing through the better-known food blogs and happened upon where they are promoting their 2010 Eater Awards for the best restaurants and chefs in the seven cities that covers: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Miami and Austin. Once again, my hometown of Houston has been omitted – and not just from the award competition but from an entire site dedicated to good eats across the country.

And it’s not just that ritually snubs the fourth largest city in the U.S . - it’s endemic of all the major national publications, both in print and on the web.

Well, I’m sick of it.

Here are some questions for you all to answer:

– In the past 10 years what U.S. city has grown 24% (five times the growth rate of San Francisco, Boston and NYC)?
– What city has an influx of new residents equal to that of NYC and 50% higher than Boston or Chicago?
– What city did Joel Kotkin of Forbes Magazine name the most successful 21st century urban city?

The answer to all of these is Houston. That’s right, you heard me: H-Town, baby.

Those who write about food, music, culture and art are supposed to be in the know. Obviously, they’re not paying attention. Well, I’m here to put you in the know: Houston’s restaurant scene is thriving as fast as the city is growing.

What is it going to take for Houston to get the recognition it deserves from the nation’s top culinary publications? If you base your decisions on cultural diversity, I dare you to say we are not at least within the top five cities in the country in that category. Our proximity to the Gulf definitely gives us an edge on the Farm to Market phenomenon; that glorious body of water is the greatest patch of farmland I have ever set eyes on.

If it is diversity of cuisine, I will walk you through a typical day any “foodie” could easily experience in this town. Pop some Texas Star Ruby red grapefruit sections for a snack on the way to grab a few jalapeno, sausage and cheese kolaches. Wolf down a chicarron, al pastor and nopales taco to tide you over as you hit an oyster house to knock back a dozen with some cheap, frigid beer. Plunge ahead for a quick bowl of Pho and an abundant, shattering crust Banh mi as you decide on what cut from the brisket (I prefer deckle) you want for a light lunch.

An afternoon snack might include a pizza made with Tipo 00 flour and smothered with Burrata - no more then two days old - flown direct from Puglia. Dinner could range from myriad New American offerings to an Indian restaurant touted as the most creative in the United States.

Hungry yet?

Houston has it all. Our extensive and diverse food culture goes beyond restaurants and into the supermarkets. Yes, we’ve got local farmers’ markets but we also have one of the largest Asian supermarkets you can find anywhere. And when I say large, what I really mean is giant. And when I say giant, what I really mean is bigger than any I have seen in San Francisco’s Chinatown or Inner and Outer Sunsets combined, with an entire aisle devoted to different brands of fish sauce. The produce section would give a copy of 'Demystifying the Asian Grocery Store' a serious run for its money.

Of course, there is more that I could tell you about why Houston is a great town to eat, and live, in - but very few people outside of here know this. Talking to people who don’t live here about our food culture is like a true outdoorsman trying to explain a visit to Alaska to a puffy coat-wearing tourist who thinks “roughing it” is a weekend at a cabin in the Poconos.

Now that you’re “in the know,” (and everyone else), I think it’s high time you gave Houston a permanent place in your round-up of cities worth watching, writing about and voting for.

Does your town deserve a culinary shout-out? State your case in the comments below.

Previously – Bryan Caswell on 5 Reasons You Always Hire a Cook with Waffle House on His or Her Résumé

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Filed under: Bite • Bryan Caswell • Celebrity Chefs • Houston • Restaurants • Travel

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soundoff (149 Responses)
  1. Mack Jones

    I've eaten at his new "El Real" restaurant twice now. I can honestly say it's some of the worst tex mex I've had. I've had better food from a lot of places. I'm usually not brutal on restaurants but this place is just truly terrible. Add to this that they practically force you valet park and I won't be back. The service is fair but the food is mediocre at best and it's not exactly cheap. It's in the $15-20 range if you don't get booze. For that price, I'll go to Habaneros on Milam. Way better food and service for about the same price.

    May 10, 2011 at 5:37 am |
  2. Proud Houstonian

    Gotta love the Texas and Houston bashers. I love my state and my city. I don't have to make myself feel better by bashing others. We have plenty of culture here, great dining and it is a vibrant, growing powerhouse of a city. Other cities in Texas have their charms, but the ethnic diversity is one of the greatest things in Houston for me. Oh, and if you can't stand the heat.... well, we're pretty tough down here, we can take the heat, doesn't bother me a bit.

    November 24, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  3. Domestic Traveler

    While Houston has some premier restaurants with lots of local flair and flavor, the city itself doesn't warrant the attention like Bryan calls for. Obviously the residents of Houston are tolerant of the weather, but most others aren't. After trips to Houston, visitors usually immediately recall the hot, humid and muggy air. Having dined at Little Bigs, (one of Caswell's restaurants) that isn't the joint to put H-town on the map, nor does it give BC anry more credibility.

    Turning Houston into a city that is more attractive, removing some of the elitest attitudes and toning down the "I'm from the south and have more manners and class than those of you north of the Mason Dixon line" would go a long way with people.

    November 9, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  4. Kathy T

    We all just returned from Houston. Our son and daughter-in-law took us all to Bryan Caswell's The Reef for dinner. My husband was raised in a cattle ranching family and his experience with fish was dunking a line in a reservoir on a cattle ranch in the middle of Nevada. But his mom, a dietitian, was a superb cook as are his 3 sisters (and our daughter – also part of the dinner party.) My husband said that he had never eaten anywhere where EVERY dish was such a wonderful eating experience. (We all ordered different things and shared entrees and 2 different appetizers.) Wow! And Bryan Caswell, caught visiting with his daddy, was gracious enough to pen a note to our family's next generation hopeful chef, our 9 year old granddaughter. Thanks again, Bryan! She was thrilled! Snapped her picture the next day at Little Bigs by the zoo. BIG smile!

    November 9, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
  5. hardy

    Hallelujah and pass the picante sauce! I am a native Houstonian but have lived and traveled around the country and world.I can honestly say that Houston can stand toe to toe with ANY of the great food cities on the planet, for diversity, economy, tastiness and availability. I'm glad to see someone standing up for my home town's wonderful cuisine, which marries Cajun, Tex-Mex, Texas Country, Asian, Latin and European cooking into a melange of sublime fused gustatory delight.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:11 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants

      I'm drooling right now. Most excellent post.

      November 9, 2010 at 11:12 am |
  6. Joke

    Biggest bummer for me about Houston's resto scene is that everything Scott Tycer's done lately is, in my opinion, crap. I don't know it's me or it's him, but Pic/Gravitas/Textile don't do it for me. Not even a fan of Kraftsmen.

    God, I miss Aries.

    November 9, 2010 at 12:44 am |
  7. grub

    Yes I would like to know the name of this indian restaurant too!

    November 8, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
  8. indianfoodie

    What is this "most creative indian restaurant in the united states"??

    November 8, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
    • Joke

      Off the top of my head, I'd guess Indika on Westheimer.
      If it's too crowded, go to Dolce Vita next door and order a bunch of small plates and share them, tapas-style. And maybe a pizza. Fantastic.

      (Truth be told, Indika's not my favorite Indian in Houston. I prefer the greasy vegetarian south Indian places in the newly-named "Gandhi district".)

      November 9, 2010 at 12:28 am |
  9. Foodie

    As someone who has lived in several states and in several countries, I can tell you that Houston has a tremendous selection of foods and restaurants. There are so many great chefs and high-end restaurants in Downtown, River Oaks, and the Galleria area! The diversity of Houston means that there is a great amount of ethnic foods! Just look at the huge Hispanic, Asian, and Black population! Chinatown could be an entire city by itself! Whenever I visit for the holidays, I never go to the same restaurant twice....there are so many options that it would be a shame to simply eat the same foods every day. As to what there is to do, there are always events occurring all over the city. Music festivals, concerts, theatre, etc. Many Americans have no "joie de vivre" and want to be entertained at all times. Just relax and take in your surroundings! If you're at a loss for what to do, take a drive up and down Westimer or Bissonnet, you could explore both of those for days!

    November 8, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
  10. Julie

    As the song says..."I'll never go to Texas anymore...."

    November 8, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  11. txsntv

    I grew up in Houston and now live in Austin. Houston has great diverse cuisine that I have enjoyed throughout the years, but I have to admit that I have had better dining experiences in Austin. Austin also has more restaurants, bars and movie theatres per capita than any other city in the US. It seems in Houston there are too many chain restaurants.

    November 8, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  12. Truee

    honestly, Houston's heyday has long gone.

    November 7, 2010 at 11:53 pm |
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