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All Puffed Up at El Real Tex Mex

Photo by Laurie Smith

Photo by Laurie Smith

Daily Meal’s 35 Best Tacos in America feature came out Monday and it listed El Real’s Chicken Puffy Taco as #7 in the nation. It’s a little embarrassing to be rated higher than Henry’s Puffy Tacos in San Antonio, the taco that we modeled ours on, but we aren’t complaining.
Here’s what they had to say:

7) El Real Tex-Mex Café, Houston: Chicken Puffy Taco
Located inside a restored theater in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood, El Real serves Tex-Mex classics like chile con carne, nachos, and Frito pie, but we recommend you head directly for the San Antonio Puffy Taco Plate, with smoked chicken. The deep-fried shell gets a smear of refried beans, then the smoked chicken (which is smoked whole before being shredded) is liberally applied. Lettuce and tomato come on top, and it’s a taco you’re not likely to forget any time soon.

Hot Sauce Cookbook Signing


This Just In:


From Juneteenth at Mama Sugar’sGastronaut blog at

The food is one reason why the Juneteenth BBQ at Mama Sugar’s little horse ranch just south of Pearland on Trammel-Fresno Road is one my favorite parties of the year. This is where I first met photographer O Rufus Lovett while we were both working on an article for Gourmet magazine in 2006. The article with Lovett’s haunting photos appeared in Gourmet in the June 2007 issue.


The state holiday known as Juneteenth (short for June 19th) commemorates the anniversary of June 19, 1865, when Union general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and read a proclamation announced the freeing of the slaves. The slaves had actually been free for over a year, but nobody told them until Granger showed up with troops to enforce the law.

For over a century the date was celebrated among African-Texans with Juneteenth parades, pageants, and barbecues. Because blacks were barred from congregating in public parks, Juneteenth celebrations were often held out in the country on private ranches. Horseback riding and cowboy riding gear became a part of the Juneteenth tradition.

The black holiday had largely died out by the early 1960s. But Juneteenth was revived on June 19, 1968, the final day of the Poor Peoples’ March on Washington, when Reverend Ralph Abernathy called for people of all races to show solidarity. Since then, Juneteenth celebrations have spread across the country. The holiday is big in Milwaukee and Minneapolis, among other places. In 1980, it became an official state holiday in Texas.

The spirit of Juneteenth is sort of a cross between Martin Luther King Day, Passover, and the 4th of July—a celebration of African-American heritage and freedom from slavery. At Mama Sugar’s, that means barbecue, music, and dancing.

Shipley’s Boudin Kolaches

Homespun Houston: Robb Walsh from Contemporary Arts Museum Houston on Vimeo.

“Robb Walsh is a Three Napkin Name”

Much obliged to Paul and Angela Knipple for the review of Texas Eats in their blog from the southern table.

There was one passage in the review that really made me smile. The authors were discussing the various kinds of cookbooks on the market and what makes one stand out from the others, here they noted:

“The right name on a cookbook cover will practically make you drool. Robb Walsh is that kind of writer. Robb Walsh is a three napkin name.”

Can’t imagine a nicer compliment.

Praise for Texas Eats!

A new review of Texas Eats by Mick Vann appeared in the Austin Chronicle today:

Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook
by Robb Walsh
Ten Speed Press, 304 pp., $25

51DiUddSQwL._SL500_AA300_“For 20 years or more, food writer and culinary historian Robb Walsh has branded himself as the culinary expert on all things Texan, successfully carving out a place as the definitive source. He’s published a slew of award-winning cookbooks covering a wide range of topics, but with Texas Eats his knowledge of cooking in Texas coalesces into a unified whole, providing a colorful culinary amalgam of history, anecdote, and 200-plus rock-solid recipes from the five culinary regions of the state. He divides the state into East, West, Central/Hill Country, South, and Coastal Bend, the most obvious separation geographically and ethnically. Rather than sort by courses, Walsh organizes by category, such as seafood, Tex-Mex, etc., with a rough alignment by historical timeline. The arrangement works well for what can be a widely varied yet cohesive cuisine.

Each section opens with a historical section to frame the populace, the cooking styles, and the ingredients. For example, there is an illuminating section describing life on a Texas shrimp boat, with details about bycatch and what used to be considered trash fish by pre-Vietnamese shrimper standards. The recipes included here would make Bubba Gump proud. There are sidebars in each section that feature well-known food producers, culinarians, and restaurants, and the recipes are derived from famous cooks both professional and casual, from winners in local cooking contests as well as from Walsh’s own research. The numerous and lush illustrations reveal the delectable character of Texas cuisine.

All of the standards are included, as well as some of the more modern fusion dishes that combine elements of two ethnic cuisines. The bottom line is that the recipes are easy to follow, not too fussy, and yield damn good food that any Texan granny would be proud to serve. Walsh has managed to produce a cookbook that is honest to the varied foods of Texas and shows why Texas is “a whole ‘nother country.” Published in March of last year, this is the Texas cookbook that I refer back to in my own kitchen, and the one I give as a gift to non-Texans.” -Mick Vann

Update: Kudos for Hot Sauce

Review in the Oregonian: “In a nutshell: If you like to pour on the heat, you’ll dig the firepower in this new cookbook of pepper sauce recipes. Rather than offering creative uses for bottled sauces, hot sauce authority Robb Walsh shows how you can create fresher versions using chiles, fresh veggies and basic kitchen tools. Then he uses them to ramp up everything from Bloody Marys and buffalo wings to ice cream. And the hot stuff isn’t limited to American palates — there are dishes representing the spicy fare of African and Southeast Asian cuisine — proof that hot sauce has global appeal.” -Grant Butler

Robb Walsh is the founder of the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival, now in its 23rd year. As the former editor-in-chief of Chile Pepper Magazine, he is a recognized authority on all things piquant. His new combination cookbook/fermentation project manual/food history will appeal to the legions of chileheads around the world. With chapters on the history of hot sauce, tips and recipes for making your own sauces at home, and more than 50 recipes using hot sauce- ranging from Nuclear Wings to Carolina Sloppy Joes to Spicy Bloody Marys to Pickapeppa Pot Roast – The Hot Sauce Cookbook is the ultimate cookbook for pepper sauce aficionados.

Order the Hot Sauce Cookbook now!

Sneak Preview: Houston on Burger Land TV

A sneak preview of the Houston Burger Land episode that will air Monday, May 6 at 8 p.m on the Travel Channel.

The Ramen Tsunami: Tatsu-ya Austin


Tatsu-ya Ramen has taken Austin by storm. Rumor has it the owners will soon launch a second location in Houston. Here’s a few impressions from a recent visit to the Austin ramen hot spot.

Saturday Ramen

By  Katie Walsh

Early on a Saturday night, the line at Tatsu-ya is manageable. We seem to arrive at just the right time; by the time my friends and I take our first slurp of cream-colored pork bone tonkotsu, the line is very long and the crowd is getting loud and rowdy.

Tatsu-ya was the first of the ramen tsunami to hit Austin back in September, and it made quite a splash, drawing steady lines ever since and scoring a 2012 Eater Austin “So Hot Right Now” award.

Many have raved about their tonkotsu, the main menu item; ramen with a rich, milky colored broth that they reduce for anywhere from 12 to 60 hours. The tonkotsu comes three ways, so we ordered it three ways (they also serve a veggie ramen, but only on Sundays).

The Number 1 Original ($8.50, pictured above) is the straight-up classic tonkotsu. It comes with a slice of chashu pork belly, naruto maki fish cake, curls of woodear mushroom and fresh scallions.

Oh, and a super silky ajitama soft-boiled egg, which is soaked in a seasoned soy sauce marinade until the white deepens in color, and then sliced in half to reveal an almost jam-like, sultry golden yolk.


My friend ordered hers with the Corn on the Bomb ($1), one of many flavor “bombs” you can mix into your broth. An indulgent ball of sweet butter and fresh corn kernels, we stirred small bits into spoonfuls of soup for sinfully creamy bites. The broth is deeply rich on its own, so a little of this bomb goes a long way.

I went for the Number 2 Sho-yu ($8.75), made with a special house-made soy sauce, bamboo shoots, peppercorn, and roasted nori seaweed. I added a topping of roasted Brussels sprouts and a homemade chile garlic Spicy Bomb, both of which I strongly recommend.


Our dining companion chose the Number 3 Mi-So-Hot/Mi-So-Not, ($9 for not, $10 for hot), which has miso mixed into the broth and is served with ground pork, cabbage and bean sprouts. While the first two are pretty similar, this one really has a unique flavor; earthy and malty from the miso and heartier on the pork flavor.


Tatsu-ya also serves a dipping ramen with lime called Tsukemen, citrus-shichimi-jalapeño edamame, mochi ice and other little bites. But looking around the place, jam-packed and bumpin’, almost everyone is twirling noodles and slurping that pearly broth—the tonkotsu is clearly the star.

Don’t bother trying to skip the lines by getting your ramen to go. The restaurant is known for firm, al dente noodles and the owners discourage to-go boxes and flatly refuse take-out orders–they want to insure you eat your noodles fresh and not soggy.

Come hungry. Get comfy.