Not long ago, the Texan food brand was barbecue, burgers and Tex-Mex. Now it’s a global feast. Houston alone has 10,000 restaurants serving 70-plus different American and international cuisines. Argentina, Korea and Mongolia are among the featured players in Irving’s diverse dining scene. Even Tex-Mex is evolving, in San Antonio, to Tex-Next. Also producing award-winning wines, craft beers and whiskies, Texas is a state to savor.

Dining Districts

Plano’s expanding appeal now includes Legacy Hall. Unveiled in November 2017, this expansive multilevel facility incorporates an artisanal food hall, beer garden, craft brewery and live entertainment venue.

With weekday reservations available, delegates can sample Texan and international dishes from local chefs and restaurateurs at 24 first-floor stalls. Other rentals include the third-floor Tap Room and the Box Garden. Constructed from reclaimed shipping containers, this 1,500-capacity courtyard features Carlton Provisions BBQ, bar concepts including a tiki bar and margarita cantina, and a 600-square-foot event stage with LED screen.

 

Hub Streat, a casual “culinary entertainment center” in Plano’s Downtown Arts District, offers a casual vibe, eclectic tastes ranging from Buddha bowls to Lowcountry boil, and four event spaces, including the Bee Hive and Social Suite.

From Japanese to Salvadorian-Mexican, the culinary options keep expanding at Irving’s new Toyota Music Factory. Group venues include Thirsty Lion Gastropub & Grill, offering indoor and outdoor space.

Arlington’s once-sleepy downtown continues to awaken with the rapidly growing Urban Union entertainment area. Updating a former car repair shop, Urban Alchemy is an event-capable coffee and wine bar. Other new concepts include 4 Kahunas Tiki Lounge and hometown brewery Legal Draft.

The culinary-driven Pearl district now includes San Antonio’s first food hall, the Bottling Department, built on the former Pearl Brewery bottling site. In 2017, UNESCO designated San Antonio as a “Creative City of Gastronomy.” Renowned local chefs Johnny Hernandez, Elizabeth Johnson and Steve McHugh are developing a three-restaurant concept showcasing the city’s richly layered culinary roots. Slated for 2021, the project will transform La Villita, the city’s original settlement, into an unprecedented culinary landmark.

Home Grown

Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught are Houston’s culinary power couple. Ortega, from Mexico City, met Vaught at her Backstreet Cafe around 1984. They married and began developing an award-winning collection of event-capable venues, including nationally acclaimed Hugo’s.

In 2016, Vaught was a James Beard semi-finalist for “Outstanding Restaurateur.” On his sixth consecutive nomination as “Best Chef: Southwest,” Ortega finally won in 2017, joining past Houston winners Robert Del Grande (Cafe Annie, 1992), Chris Shepherd (Underbelly, 2014) and Justin Yu (2016).

Named for Houston-born American pioneer Howard Robard Hughes Jr., Robard’s Steakhouse debuted in 2014 as the Howard Hughes Corporation’s first restaurant. Directed by Area Executive Chef David Morris, this newly redesigned Woodlands hot spot offers private dining in the 20-person Legacy Room and 40-person Premier Room.  

Katie’s Seafood Market is a great catch for Galveston groups. Featured on the National Geographic Channel’s popular Big Fish, Texas TV show, this family business founded in 1998 provides fresh seafood to local restaurants and the public. Katie’s also offers private boat tours and fishing charters. For a fun pairing, groups can take seafood purchased off the boat at Katie’s for cooking at the Kitchen Chick. Relocated to a newly renovated 10,000-square-foot location, this boutique kitchen shop hosts group cooking classes and camps.

Locally celebrated as the “Tex-Mex Capital of the World,” El Paso’s claim to fame starts with L&J Cafe. Opened as “Tony’s Place” in 1927, this fourth-generation family-owned institution is the city’s go-to for authentic borderlands cuisine.  

Liquid Assets

It’s been nearly a decade since Maryland native Leonard Firestone and third-generation Texan Troy Robertson launched the first craft bourbon and whiskey distillery in North Texas. Housed in a Prohibition-era warehouse below downtown Fort Worth, Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. has since soared in sales, awards and customers.