travel bite: Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas

April 23, 2023

Last February, we went to Texas hoping to escape New England winter. We didn’t. It was really cold, but we did have some amazing food. This April, we went back and the weather was great. We didn’t get to eat as much but we did have some memorable food. Here’s what we liked.

Daily Gather
I found Daily Gather on Eater’s list of 21 Essential Brunch Spots in Houston. The menu is creative with dishes like Venison Hash or Ranch Style Eggs (huevos rancheros with brisket). The vibe is cool but family friendly, and there are plenty of brunch cocktails. We recommend the Deviled Eggs with a spicy mustard and bacon bits. It’s a traditional preparation but very good. We also suggest the chocolate donuts which are very rich. They aren’t on the a la carte menu, but if you order them, you can get a plate of three with a side of espresso caramel. Daily Gather is located in the stylish CityCentre and offers free garage parking nearby.

S & J Bakery
The people of Corpus Christi swear by S&J, and they have good reason to. We didn’t stop there, but got to try their cinnamon rolls and kolaches as takeout. Kolaches are a Texas staple and a must try if you are visiting the Lone Star State. S&J makes them both sweet and savory. I had a sausage and cheese kolache which was like a jelly donut with a sausage patty and American cheese in place of jam. Even better was the cinnamon roll. It wasn’t loaded with frosting, but it didn’t need it. The outsides were as soft and flavorful as the center. S&J is an absolute must if you are in Corpus.

Tacos el Patron
By the fourth day of our trip, I still had not had a taco. I hardly go four days without a taco at home, and going that long without one in Texas seems extra wrong. We were staying in Cyprus, northwest of Houston, and yelp pointed us to Tacos el Patron, not far away. We walked in about 2:00 p.m. to an empty dining room. I was a little concerned, but quickly put to ease when they showed up right away with fresh chips and salsa alongside four different hot sauces. The habanero sauce, which we were warned was very hot, was amazing. It packed a lot of heat, but also good pepper flavor.

After that, delicious margaritas and a tray of tacos came out. I ordered the happy hour special, three carnitas tacos on soft corn tortillas with onion and cilantro. My wife got the Taco de Pescado which had fried fish with pico, cabbage, and chipotle sauce. She also got the Vampiro, not sure why it’s named that, which is a tostada with cheese, steak, guacamole, cilantro, and onion. I only was able to get a bite of that, but it was my favorite bite of the meal.

Additionally, we got an order of charro beans. These are free if you order two or more tacos, but you have to order them. They don’t just bring them automatically. Make sure you don’t forget. In addition to good food, the service was very friendly. If I lived near by, I’d be eating here once a week.

The Original Ninfa’s
On Thursday, we had dinner reservations, but after a day at Johnson Space Center, we needed to ditch them for something a little more low key. My goddaughter suggested Ninfa’s and Eater backed her up naming it on of Houston’s 15 Essential Tex-Mex Restaurants. There is an uptown location, but the original Ninfa’s on Navigation is the historic location which has been serving fantastic food since 1973.

Ninfa’s claim that they “introduced the fajita to North America” with their tacos al carbon. While claims like that are often dubious, there is no doubt that Ninfa’s is a large part of the fajita’s popularity. Whatever the history, this is a great dish. You can get one or two Tacos a la Ninfa in chicken or steak. I got one steak which was wrapped in a tortilla with a side of queso, rice, pico, guacamole, and beans.

I also got a side of woodfire grilled quail. This came on a skillet atop sizzling onions. The quail was perfectly tender with deep smoky flavor. It was the best thing I ate on my trip to Texas. For dessert we got the tres leches which is topped with torched marshmallow. It is a very moist version, almost like a pudding.

It is a great experience dining at Ninfa’s. The waiters and waitresses are all dressed in traditional Mexican attire, but it feels natural not kitschy. They are friendly but efficient, attending to both big groups and couples on dates with ease. The food is fantastic, and one thing is certain, you won’t leave hungry.

For more see our travel bites page.

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