Just because former Top Chef contestant Tim Love made some noise on cable TV, doesn’t mean the chef is out of touch with his Texas roots by any stretch of the imagination.
In fact, if you pay close enough attention to Love’s menus, you’ll notice the subtle signs of someone who deeply understands Texas beyond its ‘bigger and better’ stereotype—the seemingly out-of-place congee is actually an ode to the Chinese railroad workers of the mid-19th century; the garlic-stuffed beef tenderloin salutes the swarms of German immigrants.
Love, who recently added Lonesome Dove Austin to his small but formidable restaurant empire, especially talks the talk when it comes to experiencing his home state the right way. That means no beans in your chili (that’s bean soup, stupid!), shooting hogs Rambo-style, and eating processed queso, not that fancy crap.
Here, Love breaks down the 10 Texas eating-and-drinking commandments to live by.
1. You are always going to stand in some sort of line for great BBQ. Otherwise, you need to get up and leave.
Love says: “When you get BBQ in Texas, waiting in line is inevitable. If there isn’t one, than the BBQ clearly sucks. The best places are always going to have a crowd, and if there’s not, it better be because it’s too damn late, or too damn early in the day. It’s a beating waiting in line at a place like Franklin (900 E 11th St, Austin, TX), but it’s worth it. Usually you’ll line up like your at a cafeteria, then grab some brisket and sides. There are, however, good sit-down places, so that would be the only exception to this rule.” (Photo: Yelp/Matthew T.)
2. Don’t eat any chili with beans in it—that’s called bean soup.
Love says: “In Texas, chili is red meat, chili powder, water, and variations on seasoning. That’s it. Here’s the thing: If you put beans it it, it becomes bean soup. That’s not even a question for someone in Texas. You never combine the two. If you can find a chili parlor on the backroads somewhere, I’d always recommend that, although those types of places have sort of fallen by the wayside. Remember, the meat should be chunks not ground up. And generally it includes something like flank or top round. There is no need for nice cuts if you’re going to braise it for a while. Just use scraps.” (Photo courtesy Serious Eats)
3. Go to a Tex-Mex restaurant and get the queso. It should be runny and slightly spicy.
Love says: “Aside from curing multiple hangovers, Tex-Mex is a staple here. It changed the way people think about Mexican food. It’s messy. There’s a lot of cheese and sauce, and you eat rice, beans, and enchiladas all in one bite. Make sure to get real queso—not queso fundido, or a bowl of cheese that coagulates. You see a lot of that in L.A. or NYC. They think they’re cool because they use fancy cheese. But it should be processed, melted, runny cheese—Velveeta with Rotel tomatoes melted down in a double broiler.” (Photo: eighteen25.com)
4. Your steak should be prime and it should be finished on corn. That’s just how we do it.
Love says: “In Texas we don’t need any fancy grass-fed steer that’s been named. At the end of the day, let’s just be honest with ourselves: We like well-marbled prime beef finished on corn, which makes it a bit sweeter. I’m not talking politics, just taste. It’s like drinking cocktails out of biodegradable cups. That’s fine and dandy if you live in Maine, but we live in Texas where it reaches 100 degrees, and the heat melts cups. So we put our cocktails in styrofoam cups, and sometimes we even double cup it so it stays extra cold. Just don’t litter the cups in the river and you’ll be fine.” (Photo: Facebook/Perini Ranch Steakhouse)
5. Margaritas are basically the official drink of Texas. Make sure yours has fresh juices and good tequila (sorry, Jose Cuervo).
Love says: “Fresh juice is imperative. The best margarita in the world is tequila, lime juice, real agave nectar (not the sugar substitute), and lots of ice. Some people make a sour mix, but as long as you use fresh juice, you’ll be okay. And forget Jose Cuervo. That’s barely tequila. Make sure it’s 100-percent blue agave. Ranch 616 (616 Nueces St, Austin, TX) makes a damn good one called Ranch Water, which also comes with a side of Topo Chico.” (Photo: Facebook/Ranch 616)
6. Get some to-go BBQ and float the Guadalupe.
Love says: “Go to New Braunfels, TX and rent a tube for yourself to float down the river. Then rent one for your cooler. And another for your food. Then you join them all together and you float. You can do this for up to four-and-a-half hours. It’s the perfect time of year to do it since there are no dry spots. You just sit in the tube with your drink, and halfway down you break out the BBQ. It’s great because you don’t need to propel yourself. The water just carries you. Plus, when you’ve reached the end, there’s a shuttle that brings you back. It’s one of the greatest day trips in Texas history. I just did it the other day with my kids.” (Photo: Tubehaus.com)
7. You have to go on one hog hunt. Be sure to have a chef with you to roast that bastard after you shoot him.
Love says: “There are tons of wild pigs that roam Texas. You shoot pigs any time you can—that’s just a given. Twice a year we do a hog hunt. By law we have to estimate how much wild game we have on our property, so we rent a helicopter, strap in Rambo-style, and shoot pigs. Then you bring them back to the house and roast them—or, you leave some of the pigs to draw in the coyotes. That way you can shoot them later. It’s all about the circle of life.” (Photo: Texaswildhoghunting.com)
8. First weekend of September is a holiday in North Texas, kicking off the hundreds of dove hunts that happen annually.
Love says: “The opening day for Dove season is basically a holiday. Bird hunting is a gentleman’s hunt. You sit and wait for them to come to you. Meanwhile, you can drink beer and shoot the shit with friends. You do a little hunt in the morning, and we’ll prepare a huge dinner. It’s a big family affair. Dove is in the same family as pigeon or squab. It has the texture of a chicken breast but the color and flavor of dark meat. You can cook it medium-rare, which is really nice.” (Photo: Texashunting411.com)
9. Pay your respects to Joe T. Garcia’s.
Love says: “Go to a taco joint in Texas. There, you can get some good BBQ like barbacoa, or braised goat head, where they pull the meat off. It’s beautiful. There’s a lot of beef-cheek BBQ as well. There’s one particular spot called Joe T. Garcia’s (2201 N Commerce St, Fort Worth, TX). Their chicharrones are entire slabs of belly that are crispy, crunchy, and super delicious. It’s old, decrepit, and big, and you stand in line with locals. In 1950 they started serving dinner, which consisted of nachos, enchiladas, chile con carne, and two fried beef tacos. They have 1,400 seats and just crank it out.” (Photo: Yelp/Dan L.)
10. The only cool touristy thing worth visiting is the Fort Worth Stock Yards.
Love says: “You can find some of the best saddle makers, boots, and hats there (E Exchange Ave, Fort Worth, TX). If you were to go there at night on a Tuesday and wake up the next day, you’d think you had traveled back in time. And as soon as you thought this, most likely there’d be some dude riding by on a horse, and it’s really throw you for a loop. While you’re there go to the White Elephant Saloon (106 E Exchange Ave, Fort Worth, TX), the oldest operating saloon in the state of Texas. Built in 1858, the White Elephant has live music every single day of the year, rain or shine. You’ll know right away when you walk through its doors that you ain’t gonna order an Old Fashioned. It’s the type of place where you get what I like to call a ‘this or that': Jack and Coke, vodka and soda.” (Photo: Facebook/White Elephant Saloon)