Texas Trip of a Lifetime Q3: Eating and Drinking Down in Old San Antone

The most common response we received when we told people about this Texas trip was, “Wow, Heather, you’re such a good wife. Matt’s so lucky! I can’t believe you’re letting him go on this trip and that you’re actually going with him! I mean, San Antonio?! There is literally NOTHING in San Antonio.”

While I’ll happily accept the compliment (I’m amazing, thank you) the part about San Antonio is a little unfair. San Antonio turns out to be a really lovely city. Sure, it may not have a long list of famous attractions like Paris or New York, but it certainly has its own charms.

First of all, it is home to the mighty Spurs.

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Then, there is the Alamo which is like, a really big deal for reasons I’ve now forgotten (something to do with Texans, Mexicans, and Davey Crockett?)

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Third, there is the famous River Walk, which lines the banks of the San Antonio river with bars, cafes, and restaurants.

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During the day, its a relaxing barge ride down the river, admiring the Spanish-influenced architecture and learning about the city’s history. In the evening, it becomes a romantic stroll across footbridges and beside water sparkling from street lamps, to the music of mariachi singers.

Oh, and when the Spurs win the NBA championship, it’s where the whole city comes to celebrate and get a little bit (or a lot) crazy.

Pop Dancing

Of course it’s touristy, but not in an obnoxious way. It’s warm, relaxed, and friendly – kind of like Sydney. Maybe that’s why we liked it so much. We were right in the middle of downtown, in the busiest area of the city, and it was still chill. “Chill” is a word that has escaped our vocabulary since moving to Korea, and I think that played a big part in how much we enjoyed this trip. It was the change of pace and scene that we didn’t even realize we were craving so badly. We were like two seventy-year-olds who just wanted to hold hands and walk slowly in a place that was small, clean, and quiet.

San Antonio isn’t really a foodie hotspot (though, I believe it is slowly growing into one). There’s no “20 Things You NEED to Eat in San Antonio” list on Buzzfeed, so I had to rely on TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews for research.

Our first stop after a lazy barge cruise was Boudro’s on the River Walk. This place had good reviews and seemed well-loved by locals and visitors alike, but what really won us were the ponchos they had laid out for outdoor diners.

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So warm and fashionable!

We ordered the “guacamole for two” ($9) which is described as “freshly prepared at your table.” Next thing we know, a massive trolley was being wheeled to our table carrying this glorious, glorious basket of avocados, limes, and oranges.

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clapping

My darling limes and avocados I MISSED YOU GUYS SO MUCH!! Avocados are a luxury item in Korea so I only get to eat them occasionally… and any restaurant that offers “guacamole” gives you a tablespoon-sized serving that you have to eat so sparingly that it kind of hurts your heart.

I’ve seen guacamole made “live” before but it was no where near as exciting as this. I mean, the avocado came on its own ROLLING STAGE! I sweetly asked the waitress for permission and she let me film the entire show.

A big juicy avo, kosher sea sealt, half a lime, a squeeze of orange juice, chopped red onion, fire roasted roma tomatoes (you can here me say “Wow” as she scoops those in) and cilantro.

WAIT. HOLD UP.

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I didn’t notice at the time, but watching the video I just realized . . . THERE IS A BOWL OF CHOPPED CHILLI ON THAT TROLLEY THAT SHE TOTALLY FORGOT TO PUT IN!

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You know what, it’s okay. I forgive her – she was clearly feeling the pressure in front of the camera. The guac was so amazing, the thought that something was missing didn’t even cross my mind. It was already packed with all kinds of superfresh flavors – the roasted tomatoes were especially good, turning this into an almost-salsa/guac hybrid dip.

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Accompanied with an American-sized cone of fresh tortilla chips.

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I ordered the Empanada Langosta ($15.50) because I saw it on someone else’s table and it looked incredible.

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Pan-seared lobster tail on a pepper jack cheese and spinach empanada, with avocado, crème fraiche and red pepper chipotle beurre blanc.

Is this Mexican/French fusion? Whatever it is, it works – the lobster was beautifully cooked and went really well with the rich chipotle sauce and fresh avocado. The empanada was a bit strange though – not sure why you would pair a doughy cheese dumpling with an elegant lobster tail.

Even though Boudro’s is “American” cuisine, most of the dishes have a Mexican influence, like Matt’s Blue Crab Tostada ($12.00).

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Gulf Coast seafood in a corn tortilla shell with tomato, avocado and melted jack cheese. Matt liked this so much he refused to share it with me.

We loved our meal at Boudro’s – service was amazing (because, Texas), and the food was a win both in quality and quantity. Before coming to America we were pretty worried at how annoyed we’d get at having to pay tax + tip on top of the menu prices, but we were so happy with the food and service at every single place we went we were just like,

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We went back to the riverside the next day on a non-game night for dinner at the Esquire Tavern, the oldest pub on the River Walk.

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The first thing you’ll notice as you walk in is the seemingly endless bar (the longest wooden bar top in Texas), with shelves packed with all kinds of colourful and highly lethal sprits. There’s a long line of cozy booth seats against the wall and a couple of bearded blokes in flannel shirts mixing drinks. It’s like wild wild west meets hipster small bar.

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One thing I really loved about San Antonio is how well-preserved their history is. The architecture, the landmarks, the neon signs – everything is, or looks, more than a hundred years old. The city seems to have very little interest in modernising itself – and why should it? I’ll take an old-timey saloon-style pub over a sleazy chic bar any day.

We didn’t make reservations, so they only had outdoor seating available for us. I was a bit disappointed about not being able to sit and soak in the dark, historic ambience inside, but the vibe on the balcony wasn’t bad at all.

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They sat us at a tiny table in a private corner of the balcony, overlooking the brightly lit river and, if you’d allow me to get mushy for a moment, it was really quite romantic.

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We started with cocktails. They weren’t messing around with the alcoholic concoctions here – this was hard cowboy liquor. The waitress warned me against my first choice because it was “quite boozy” (I must have “Lightwight with bad case of Asian flush” written all over my face) so I went for a breezy Pimm’s Cup (Pimm’s no. 1, lemon, cucumber, ginger beer). Matt on the other hand was like, “Give me the booziest you got!” so he ordered one (forget the name) that was basically three (or five?) shots of liquor served over a giant ice rock.

CHEERS!

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To start we ordered the deviled eggs ($7), which is the kind of appetiser Betty Draper would bring to a pot-luck, but seems to be making a “so daggy it’s cool now” come-back. You know how much I love my eggs so I’m always open to new ways to eat them. “Deviled” means hard boiled with the yolks scooped out, mixed with other things like mayonnaise and mustard, and then scooped back in again. These came with arugula and pink peppercorns.

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I’ve never experienced pink peppercorns as a salad topping before, and I don’t understand why because they were SO GOOD! They look like these gorgeous little berries, and give you a pleasant burst of light pepperiness as you bite into them. If they were more readily available, I’d sprinkle them on everything. And the deviled eggs, well, I already love hard boiled eggs and these were just pimped up versions of the same. I might need channel my inner 1970’s housewife and make these the next time I have dinner guests.

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We also ordered the chilli salt fries ($3) because I couldn’t resist (chilli & salt – my two great loves). They came with HOUSE-MADE ketchup. In fact, every single thing at the Esquire is house-made or sourced from local artisan suppliers. Man, I’ve missed this kind of snobbish obsession with food quality – quite common in Sydney, but really hard to get here in Korea.

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I ordered the Chicken Mole ($15) for my main. The chicken leg came out on a bed of creamed corn and candied almonds with the skin so caramelised that it was rich, glossy dark brown. I’d never tried a mole sauce before because I was put off by the chocolate element, but it wasn’t at all what I expected – just a rich, spicy sauce that went really well with the smoked chicken.

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Matt was in a “Bro Food” mood so he got the Hudspeth River Ranch Lamb Burger ($20) with caramelized onion, tzatziki, tomato, chèvre (goats cheese) on a hawaiian bun. Terrible photo but the burger was incredible – the lamb patty was medium rare and juicy with gamey baby sheep goodness, perfectly paired with the tart yogurt sauce and creamy goat’s cheese.

We were so full at this point that dessert would have killed us, so we just sat on the balcony for a while, letting the “Wow, can you believe we’re actually in San Antonio?” moment sink in and already beginning to feel sad about how much we were going to miss the place. Matt suggested, half joking, half serious, “Maybe we should just move here?” and I my gut response was “There is no way I’m going to be that person who moved to a city in another country for a SPORTS TEAM.” But you know what, thinking about it a little more, that isn’t such a bad story. People have done far crazier things. Who knows? Anything can happen.

As a sort-of epilogue to this post, I wanted to write about a cafe I checked out on our last full day in SA. I woke up that morning realising I hadn’t had a proper espresso coffee in days, so I looked up “best coffee in San Antonio” and came across this place that happened to be on the way to the BBQ place we were driving to for lunch.

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The very humbly named “Local Coffee” looked pretty ordinary from the outside – marked by a cute neon sign with only half the letters lit up.

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On the inside, it’s as hipster as hipster can be with a crowd of people who all look like smart young entrepreneurs managing their own online businesses from their laptops.

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They had slow-pour coffee “prepared at brew bar” for truly discerning coffee drinkers, but I just wanted my usual espresso with steamed milk.

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Their espresso menu was simple but absolutely genius – especially for people like me who love their coffee but are also a bit soft and can’t take it black. They had four different types of milk coffees, each with a double shot and increasing quantities of milk – starting with the Macchiato (1 oz/30ml milk) up to the Latte (10 oz/300ml milk). I’d never heard of a “Cortado,” but it’s a real thing – a Spanish version of a Macchiato with a little more milk (2 oz/60ml). Yeah yeah I know that any cafe will modify the amount of milk in your drink if you ask them (though, in Korea you’d probably just get a confused look) but I love the cute simplicity of laying it out on a menu like this. And prices also vary according to the amount of milk, which I think is fair.

I wanted something comforting but not too heavy, so I opted for the Cappuccino (4 oz/120 ml milk).

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For the second time in my life (the first being at Brother Baba Budan in Melbourne more than five years ago), I took one sip and thought, “This is the perfect cup of coffee.” The fact that I’ve been drinking coffee-flavoured hot milk parading itself as a latte for more than a year in Korea may have added to how great this tasted… but man, I didn’t want the cup to end. I was kicking myself for not having found this place earlier in the trip.

We really fell unexpectedly in love with San Antonio. You know when you ask someone where their favourite place in the world is, expecting an exotic answer like the Maldives or Machu Picchu, and they tell you somewhere completely random and ordinary like “Daejon, Korea” or “Adelaide”? I think San Antonio is that place for us.

There’s a time in life for hiking the Himalayas, bungee jumping in Queenstown, or karaoke in Tokyo, but for us, San Antonio came at the exact time we needed it. It breathed fresh air into our lungs, opened our eyes to bluer sky, serenaded us with the Cancion del Mirachi, made us fresh guacamole, and reminded us what coffee should really taste like.

So when Seoul life gets us down, we’ll just sigh and say, “We’ll always have Paris San Antonio.” When we have the blues for no other reason, we’ll know it’s because we left our hearts in San Francisco Antonio. And for the rest of our days, or until we cross paths again, we’ll be California San Antonio dreamin’… WAIT. Is it possible that someone with the same heart has actually written a song dedicated to our darling city?

*Googles frantically*

Oh wow. Uh, okay I guess my affection for San Antonio isn’t as original or unique as I thought. Well, at least now I have a perfect way to end this post – with a broken song of love for good old San Antone.

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Texas Trip of a Lifetime Q2: In-N-Out v. Chick-Fil-A

Continued from Texas Trip of a Lifetime Q1: Chuy’s Tex Mex and South Congress Cafe, Austin

The miserable weather was not letting up, but dinnertime was approaching and I thought, “I’m in Austin and I may never come back here again so I’LL BE DAMNED if I’m gonna let a little bit of rain get in the way of eating some world famous Austin food truck barbecued meats!” I didn’t care if I needed to eat it under an umbrella or stink up our rental car with the smell of smoked brisket, I wasn’t going home without trying it.

With the limited time we had in the city, Franklin was sadly never an option. As much as it broke my heart to forego what many consider to be the best barbecue in America (if not the world!) the four hour wait would have taken too big a chunk out of our precious little time in Austin and I had to make that sacrifice. It was a really tough call, but it was one I had to make.

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Lucky for us, since Aaron Franklin sparked a barbecue revolution in Austin, the city has become known for restaurants and food trucks that take their meat very very seriously and have turned smoked protein into a refined art. A bunch of places have emerged that dare to challenge Franklin’s dominance and my research put two names at the top of the list: La Barbecue and Micklethwait Craft Meats.

They’re both located around downtown Austin, so we took the car to Micklethwait first, only to be . . .

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DENIED. Closed. Only open Wednesday through Saturday. Okay, disappointing, but let’s try La Barbecue.

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DENIED AGAIN. Turns out rain wasn’t even the issue, the problem was that we had lost all sense of date and time, as you do when you’re traveling, and failed to realise it was Monday and that most restaurants are closed on Mondays. This meant that even apart from food trucks there was no viable option for a barbecue dinner in Austin that night.

Cue panic.

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I did not have a non-barbecue Plan B and I could not live with the idea of wasting a meal in Austin at some crappy random restaurant that we chose just because it was open.

This is when Matt cheerily suggested, “Let’s go to In-N-Out!!”

With all the hype I had heard about In-N-Out, I would have been happy to go there for a late-night burger run after a Spurs game but I had not planned on spending a main meal there. Even if it was God’s gift to fast food, fast food is still fast food and I didn’t come to Texas to eat a slightly fancier version of McDonalds! But desperate times . . .

Matt was filled with utter glee at the thought of In-N-Out for dinner. He had tried it for the first time on his last trip to the States and it had been immortalised in his memory as the greatest fast food burger he’d ever tasted. He was like:

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And I was sitting in the car like . . .

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“This better be good.”

Every American I’ve met in Korea gets a big moist-eyed and drooly when they talk about In-N-Out. As someone who’s (surprisingly) not that into junky fast food burgers, my question is always, “How good can it be?” They can never quite specify exactly why they love In-N-Out as much as they do, but they all seem to be in agreement that there’s nothing on earth that quite equals the burgers at In-N-Out.

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The first thing I noticed was that the menu is REALLY basic. Three burgers, fries, and drinks. And the burgers are all just variations of the same hamburger. While most fast food restaurants these days have 100-item menus that are constantly changing with seasons and trends, the In-N-Out menu has stayed the same since it first opened in 1948.

I think people love the story of In-N-Out as much as they love the burgers. It’s a family-run business that, despite its cult-status and popularity, has only 300 locations in the USA (compare that to McDonalds’ 15,000 locations) and has refused to franchise or go public. It’s recently branched out to Texas (WIN for us) but is still pretty much exclusive to the state of California. They care about quality in a way that is really rare in the fast food business, and they only use fresh ingredients – freezers are not even allowed in any of the restaurants.

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Our server was super cheery – in fact all the staff seemed genuinely happy and friendly. A nice change from Maccas servers who treat you like you’ve stolen their will to live. The friendliness is probably the fruit of the company’s strong Christian values and the fact that unlike almost every other fast food business, the workers get paid significantly more than minimum wage.

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There’s only one In-N-Out in Austin and it’s relatively new so the place was packed out.

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The kitchen is completely open so you can see the workers at the assembly station putting together the elements of each burger with tender loving care. Thanks to their dedication to hamburger excellence, you aren’t given sad, wilted burgers that make you want to take to the photo on the menu up to the counter and complain “THIS IS ALL A LIE.” You end up with this beauty:

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DOUBLE PATTY!

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Let’s zoom out a bit now:

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One Double-Double, one Cheeseburger, and two fries, ALL “Animal Style.” What is this crazy Animal Style, you ask? Well, as it turns out, while the menu may look deceptively simple on its face, behind it lies a universe of infinite permutations and customisations that In-N-Out aficionados refer to as the “secret menu.” There is an official “Not-So-Secret Menu” that In-N-Out has on their website, and this includes Animal Style (burger with extra Thousand Island spread, grilled onions instead of fresh and mustard-grilled beef patty; fries topped with melted cheese, grilled onions, and spread), but there is SO MUCH MORE that I didn’t know about and am KICKING myself for not studying earlier.

In particular, I would have liked to try:

  • Patty cooked medium-rare (pink in the middle and super juicy!)
  • Burger w/ chopped chillies (sport peppers chopped and pressed into the bottom of the burger)
  • Fries well-done (for extra crispiness – we found the fries a bit soggy and disappointing, but well-done would have cured this I’m sure)
  • Whole grilled onion (for extra stinky breath goodness)
  • 3×3 (3 patties, 3 cheese slices. Not for me, but Matt would have been game and it would have looked really sexy in a photo)

The 4×4 (4xPatty, 4xCheese) is actually listed on the official Not-So-Secret menu which I find INSANE. Not sure if even Matt could even stomach that. Wait, I just asked him if he could take it and he said “GLADLY” so I guess it’s not as crazy as I thought. And it doesn’t even stop there; you can go as high as you want. 100 x 100 anyone? Man, if I had known all this beforehand, this blog post would be a lot more fun. Oh well, I guess that’s just one more reason why I need to go back to Texas someday soon.

But what did we actually think of the burgers? Matt’s face says it all.

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(The second photo is from when we went again in San Antonio. We asked the server to give us a paper hat. Pretty sure they’re only meant to hand that out to kids.)

It was just as good as he remembered. Like a beastly Manu monster dunk in a championship winning game, it’s rare, it’s like a dream, but when you get to experience it in real life it’s the absolute greatest thing in the world.

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As for me, I liked it a lot. It’s the best fast food burger I’ve tasted and I really appreciated the attention to detail like the crisp toasted bun, melty melty cheese, the freshness of the lettuce and tomato, and the patty that actually tasted like real beef. But a burger is still . . . a burger. It wasn’t something so revelatory that I wanted to scream or jump or cry or die. It was a solid, satisfying Danny Green triple-double fist pump.

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That brings me to the next American fast food icon that I was even more intrigued to try. Chick-Fil-A was a name I wasn’t at all familiar with until I moved to Korea and made friends with people from the American South. When I asked them what I needed to eat in Texas, before the Tex Mex, before the barbecue, before any other restaurant, they told me: “CHICK. FIL. A.”

Chick-Fil-A specialises in chicken sandwiches and the classic sandwich is just a deep fried chicken fillet, with two pickle slices between two soft buns. That’s it. My expectations were set pretty darn high thanks to the overwhelming praise of my southern friends, but was also tempered by my “How good could it actually be? It’s just a chicken sandwich” skepticism.

That night (yes, the same day we had In-N-Out – we were on holiday and just rollin’ like fatties) after a really great bar-hop of Sixth Street’s live music bars, we went on a late night Chick-Fil-A run just as its doors were about to close.

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The sandwich came in this sturdy foil-lined paper bag. It opened up to reveal this…

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… and my heart just went:

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The FATTEST chicken fillet I’d ever seen in my life. It was fatter than both those buns combined! And you can’t really tell from the grainy inside the car at midnight photo, but the batter was dark gold and looked so crispy. I ripped open a sachet of the signature Chick-Fil-A sauce (a combination of honey mustard, BBQ, and ranch) and squeezed it all over the that fat fillet and took a biiiig bite.

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And my brain, my mouth, my everything just went,

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I am not a good enough writer to adequately explain to you all how good this little sandwich tasted. So I’ll try to express it through the language of Spurs gif.

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It was like, Obi Wan Ginobili half-court magic fireball pass good.

Tony Paint Teleport

It was like, Tony Parker in the paint laying it up like nightcrawler good.

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It was like, Timmy D buzzer-beating game-winning jumpshot good.

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It was like, BoBo to Kawhi with the OOP good.

Do they use drugs? Do they use magic? Do they sing Beyonce’s hits to their chickens and raise them on a diet of foie gras and champagne? It’s a chicken BREAST fillet but there is no trace of the stringy, tough, dryness that is expected from white meat. My teeth just glided through that fillet like it was a chicken-flavoured marshmallow. There MUST be some deep, dark secret to how they get their sandwiches to taste so good because if it was anything less than sorcery, everyone would copy the recipe and our world would be filled with perfect tasting chicken sandwiches.

There are a few theories floating around. One of the most popular is that the chicken fillets are brined in pickle juice, and a lot of the copycat recipes recommend using this method when trying to replicate the sandwich at home. This makes a lot of sense because it explains both the explosion of salty salty goodness that cannot come from the chicken breast alone, and the super succulent, tender texture of the fillet. Others suggest that a more ordinary brine of salt and water will do the trick. I’ve been always been a brining skeptic (mainly because I’m lazy) but when I saw the physical transformation that brining achieves, I was almost convinced that this must have been the key. But I’d still prefer to believe that the secret involves some magic breed of a chicken that bathes in milk and has a personal masseuse.

I wouldn’t stop going on and on about how good the chicken was and how I needed to eat it at least one more time before leaving the States but Matt just brushed me off, saying that I only liked it so much because I had experienced something he calls “The Drunken Munchies.” Okay, yeah I had enjoyed a glass of wine and some Sangria cocktails that night. And yes, I may have fallen asleep in the car while he was out getting the sandwiches, but it was past my bedtime and I was just tired, okay? How dare he suggest that the integrity of my tastebuds was compromised by a few measly drinks.

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There was only one way we could settle this . . .

Fast-forward to our last meal in San Antonio. We drove 30 minutes west of downtown so Matt could have In-N-Out one more time. We picked up his Double-Double and Cheeseburger order (both for him), and then went around the corner for my much-anticipated dinner at:

CHICK

This time, in full daylight and perfectly sober, I went inside myself and ordered a chicken sandwich and some of their famous waffle fries.

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I was just going to get the original sandwich again, but when I saw the spicy option I couldn’t resist. Because I like my chicken fillets the same way I like my meatballs,

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. . . SPICY!

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This time around the fillet wasn’t as giant as the one in Austin, but it was still bigger than the top bun. The crunch of the batter was actually visible and begging to be bitten into.

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The Fil-Ayyyyy was as juicy and tender as I remembered it. The spiciness added a nice kick, but I wasn’t so awesome that I would always choose this over the original. In fact, I think I liked the original (and whatever secret herbs and spices it has in its batter) better. And yeah, I’ll admit that while this had all the same qualities as the first sandwich in Austin, it didn’t blow my mind in the same way. But it wasn’t because my judgment had been impaired that first time, it was because your first Chick-Fil-A sandwich is like your first kiss. You may have it again dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times in your life, but nothing will ever compare to the moment when you first experienced that completely new and sweet sensation that was unlike anything you had felt before.

Chick-Fil-A, I bestow upon you the highest honour: the coveted, prestigious, and freakishly oversized

kawhi 5Klaw

KAWHI-FIVE.

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TEAM CHICKEN 4EVAAAA!

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Texas Trip of a Lifetime Q1: Chuy’s Tex Mex and South Congress Cafe, Austin

In March this year, Matt and I visited Texas. “Why Texas of all places?” literally everyone who we told about the trip would ask.

Well, it’s a long story. It starts with a pimply Korean wannabe gangster who became a die-hard fan of the San Antonio Spurs NBA team because he mistakenly believed that one of the coolest guys at his high school was also a fan of the team. He stayed loyal to the Spurs despite persecution and ridicule, and his loyalty would be rewarded with four championships over twelve years. For this boy, the names “Tim Duncan,” “Manu Ginobili,” and “Tony Parker” take 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place in his heart after Jesus. He would eventually go on to marry a girl (she ties 5th place with Gregg Popovich) who had no interest in basketball (except for a brief stint in the finals winning Year 11 B-team, but that’s another story . . . ) and quickly shut down his genuine proposal to go to San Antonio for their honeymoon. He kept his dream alive however, and with every year that Tim Duncan became older, his urgency to see his idols in the flesh intensified. With his hero’s retirement on the horizon, he decided that 2015 would be THE YEAR to finally make his dream a reality. Some people dream of Disneyland. Others dream of the Northern Lights, the Himalayas, or the Pyramids. My husband dreamt of San Antonio, Texas.

And Matt has a real knack for getting what he wants. Before I even had time to give the idea much thought, he had bought tickets to three home games in March, and all I could say was … “Well, I guess we’re going to San Antonio.” I’m a sucker like that. A part of me resented him for not being a a fan of the Knicks, or the Bulls, or the Warriors… you know, a team based in a city that is at least in the TOP 100 places I actually want to visit in my life time. But Texas? And not even Houston or Dallas, but dinky little San Antonio?! As much as love and support my husband, I never really got on board with the Spurs mania. Honestly, I only ever cared about how the Spurs played because it would have such an effect on Matt’s emotional wellbeing. Loss to Miami in the 2013 finals: husband depressed and grumpy for about two months, not a fun time. 2014 championship win: husband over the moon, shouted me a steak dinner, happy days.

I needed to find a way to make this trip fun for me too. So I googled “Best restaurants in San Antonio” and started to build an itinerary of my own. But ultimately, I knew this wasn’t my trip; it was Matt’s and I was just along for the ride.

Now, about two months after our Texan adventure, a lot has changed. Texas has become one of my favorite places in the world, and I’m still recovering from that intense one-week love affair that now feels like a dream. In three games, the Spurs managed to turn this sport-hating nerd into a “DEFENCE!” yelling “GO SPURS GO!” chanting superfan and both Matt and I are nursing broken hearts after our beloved team were sent home after round one of the Playoffs.

So this blog series is kind of therapy for me. I just uploaded about 70 photos so I think this may stretch out to four posts. Don’t worry, it will mostly be about food but there will also be a lot of basketball because Texas is food and Texas is Spurs and those two things played equal parts in making this trip so memorable. Like Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich, they come hand in hand; one cannot be torn from the other.

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We actually started our food adventures an hour and a half north of San Antonio in Austin. Austin is one of hipster capitals of the world – home to hundreds of food trucks, the South by South West festival, and the historic Sixth Street live music district. But being Texas, Austin is both undeniably cool yet unpretentious and approachable. Kind of like The Big Fundamental’s bank shot.

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Our first stop was Chuey’s – a Tex Mex chain restaurant that’s a favourite with locals. It was hidden right in the back corner of a strip mall but was packed with people enjoying their Sunday night dinner.

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The restaurant is colourful and kitschy – like an all-American diner meets a tequila bar meets a lucha libre museum.

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Of course the meal started with tortilla chips and salsa!

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Salsa is really just a dip, so it seems simple enough, but a TRULY great salsa is hard to come by. Chuy’s Salsa Fresca is perfect – ultra fresh tomatoes with plenty of kick courtesy of lime juice and green chilli peppers. I could just slurp this up a straw like a smoothie. It was early on the game but this salsa had already won me like…

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This over the top beauty is the Queso Compuesto: a homemade blend of melted cheese, Green Chile sauce and Ranchero sauce, seasoned ground sirloin, guacamole and pico de gallo. Kind of like a taco exploded and fell into a pool of cheese soup. Welcome to Texas!

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Matt couldn’t resist but order the famous “Big As Yo Face” Burrito. This would be menu puffery anywhere else, but this is Texas and when they say something’s gonna be “big”, they’re not exaggerating.

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Hmmm….

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That burrito is no where near as big as my face. We expected it to be massive and bursting at the seams with sloppy, meaty fillings but it was a bit sad, flat and quite underwhelming. A bit disappointing for the “famous” dish at one of Texas’s favourite Tex Mex restaurants.

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On the recommendation of our super enthusiastic and friendly waiter (“Southern Hospitality” is a real thing and it is awesome) I ordered the Chicka-Chicka Boom-Boom enchiladaaaassssss.

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Yaaaaaass come to mama. Freshly-roasted, hand-pulled chicken & cheese smothered with “Boom-Boom” sauce made with cheese, roasted New Mexican green chiles, tomatillos, green onions, cilantro and lime juice. I’m not usually an enchilada girl but THAT SAUCE! Cheese, chillis, lime – all my favorites and surprisingly well balanced.

Felt kind of bad for Matt and his sad burrito…. but couldn’t hide my excitement at my menu selection WIN.

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Our friends who took us out for dinner were local Texans, and they ordered the fajitas for two.

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Fajitas were served as your choice of grilled meats on a hot plate, with flour tortillas, Mexican rice, refried beans and a bowl of fresh toppings.

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Lettuce, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, and pico de gallo. I wasn’t sure whether Texans were as happy to share food as Koreans are, so I didn’t ask for a bite – but it certainly looked good!! I mean… just to see a big thick dollop of sour cream and an ice-cream scoop sized chunk of guacamole made me so happy (My tortilla chips may have snuck in a few dips at these when no one was looking.)

With the incredible service, perfect salsa, and yummy yummy boom boom sauce, our first experience of Tex Mex in Texas lived up the hype, only slightly let down by the limp burrito. Overall, I give it a jolly Pop double thumbs up.

Pop Thumbs Up

The next day we had grand plans to go food-truck hopping but we woke up to miserable weather and changed our eating itinerary because it wouldn’t be very fun to eat breakfast tacos in the rain or inside the car. We headed to South Congress Cafe, a place that comes highly recommended as one of the best brunch spots in Austin.

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We were, once again, greeted with exceptional service – seriously all the servers in Texas treat you like they want to marry you and it makes you feel really great. 15% tip? No problems – take all my money.

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I was surprised by the interior, just classic and modern and not at all the hipster cafe I was expecting. It was late in the morning and I was bordering on hangry, thinking to myself “if the food here is as generic as a decor… I’m flipping tables.”

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Complimentary bread came out with what seemed to be whipped garlic butter. I love when restaurants are creative and thoughtful with the little details like the butter that is served with free bread. This was looking promising… until the waiter came to inform me that their espresso machine was broken which meant I wouldn’t be getting the latte I ordered.

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I actually didn’t know how to respond… I mean I know that an espresso machine is a machine and machines sometimes break… but this has never happened to me before. It just didn’t compute… you are a cafe and you’re telling me your coffee machine is not working… so why did you even open today???

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I may have been overreacting but this is what happens when a caffeine addict doesn’t get her morning latte. They gave me a nice drip coffee with warm milk but it just wasn’t the same…

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We asked the waiter for recommendations that were distinctively “Texan” (such tourists) and he suggested the short rib hash. It wasn’t until the dish came out that I realized that I had no idea what a “hash” actually is. When I read it I thought… “Hash… like hash brown? So maybe something like potato cakes or a rosti?”

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Nope. It turns out that “hash” actually just means chopped up meat and potatoes. This is very sophisticated version, with braised short rib, fingerling potatoes, collard greens, red peppers, jalapeno, and the most beautifully shaped poached eggs I’d ever seen.

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Just look at those perfectly runny yolks…. so sexy like a Danny Green Tar Heel Triple.

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Mmmm….. yes.

The hash was much heavier than the kind of brunch dish I’m used to, but I guess this is how they do it in Texas! Not that I’m complaining, this was packed with flavor – smoky short rib, squeaky potatoes, soft poached egg and a lot of heat coming from those jalapenos. I could definitely get on board with this kind of breakfast.

Our waiter also recommended the carrot cake french toast. Carrot cake and french toast are two perfectly good brunch foods, each one already quite decadent by itself. It seemed a little bit crazy and unnecessary to combine the two.. but hey

Tony Hey

Why not?

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You can’t tell from just looking at it, but just think about the fact that this carrot CAKE (presumably packed with sugar and butter) has been battered with egg and FRIED into a french toast. And if that wasn’t enough of a toothache, they served it with PECAN CREAM CHEESE SYRUP on the side. This was BoBo level gluttony.

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Matt loved it. It’s a sweet tooth’s wildest fantasy. But as someone whose sweet cravings are satisfied by an after dinner mint, I was done after two bites. I could see the beauty in it, but it just wasn’t for me.

Despite the lack of espresso, we had a really lovely, lazy Southern style brunch at South Congress Cafe. I give it a very enthusiastic Patty Mills towel wave.

Patty Towel Wave

In spite of the rain, we wandered down South Congress avenue (or “SoCo” if you’re cool) and walked off our brunch just happily browsing the many antique stores, second hand book shops, vintage boutiques, and novelty stores that fill this very hip part of town. Our favourite was the Big Top Candy Store, a gorgeous old fashioned candy shop where we stocked up on sweets to take home for sharing (… or not).

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They even had a soda fountain! But sadly we were still too full of hash and cake to try it.

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And here marks the end of the first quarter. Team Austin has scored some major points with its friendly Tex Mex and its classy Southern brunch cuisine, and I’m excited to see what else they have in their playbook.

See you in Q2. Until then, here’s Patty and BoBo with a short lesson in the art of “frogging.”

Frogging

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