Men Who Like to Cook - David Latt

Thursday, July 14, 2011

West Texas Barbecue Joints and Steakhouses

The Barbecue Trail

It's summer. Time to follow the sweet smoke that drifts from smokers and grills in rural Texas, Alabama and North Carolina all the way to the busy streets of Brooklyn and Chicago.
The basics are the same everywhere. Slabs of meat and poultry spend hours in giant metal ovens until, stained by heat and smoke, they are sliced, chopped and pulled, served with an assortment of salads, sides of steamed, braised or roasted vegetables and slices of white bread or chunks of corn bread. The application of barbecue sauce--sweet, tangy or tongue-burning hot--completes the experience.

Something about barbecue creates fanatics.

Diners with sticky fingers, wave their bones in the air as they debate whether or not dry rub by itself or a combination of dry rub and sauce brings out the best flavors in the meat.
Hunched over a plate of pulled pork, people can argue for days about how long to smoke, which sauce is best (sweet and hot and thick or thin with a vinegary bite), and what kind of wood to use.

With a far away gleam in their eyes, travelers talk about going miles out of their way for an encounter with a plate of fatty brisket, the smoke having penetrated just below the surface of the meat but not so far that the flavor of the sweet juices are overwhelmed.

Can anything in life be better, they ask, than eating  a rack of pork ribs cooked to the point of tenderness, the meat threatening to fall off the bone, needing only the touch of a hungry mouth to grab  all that deliciousness?

'Cue Joints and Steakhouses

In some parts of the country, barbecue shares the table with other local specialties. That's especially true in West Texas.

Barbecue brisket, pork and beef ribs, ham, chicken, turkey and sausage links often find themselves shoulder-to-shoulder with thick cut bone-in steaks, fried catfish and chicken fried steak.
On a recent trip to Abilene and Fort Worth, I followed the Barbecue Trail into West Texas and discovered the melding of  'cue joints and steakhouses.

The first stop was the Wildcatter Ranch, a working ranch on top of a plateau overlooking the small town of Graham. Because of low humidity, even temperatures in triple digits aren't uncomfortable as long as you hydrate frequently. It's not by accident that the 1.9 liter Big Gulp was invented by 7-Eleven, a Texas company. Texans know hot.
You know you aren't in the city any more when there are warning signs--"DANGER Rocks Snakes"--outside the cabins. And that's apparent too when you find Wildcatter Steakhouse's chef, Bob Bratcher, self-trained and a cowboy at heart, doing his smoking outside on a home made rig.
With a view overlooking the 1,500 acre property, locals gather at the Steakhouse because there's a great bar, a comfortable deck and a really good restaurant.

The appetizers are either deep fried or smoked or both and all, happily, are very tasty. Chef Bob will spend time with you, talking about the Ranch and the food, about which he's very proud.

The first lesson of barbecue, West Texas style is dry rub is king. No wet sauce touches the meat during cooking. Sauces are available but only applied by the consumer.
Chef Bob's baby back ribs are dry rubbed and cooked until tender and smoky. Because his kitchen is more full-service than most, he offers up appetizers of fried calamari, cheese, mushrooms, and onions. And, since Texas isn't Texas without Mexico, salsa and chips are on the menu as well as chili con queso with beef chili and jalapenos smoked and stuffed with cream cheese ("snake bites") and wrapped in bacon.

Greens appear on the menu in the form of fresh broccoli and a couple of salads, the best of which is the Wild Mustang salad, livened with field greens, candied Knox county pecans, bacon bits Bob makes in the kitchen, blue cheese and a house made balsamic vinaigrette.

For side dishes there are lots of choices, including some delicious smoked cream corn. The local favorite is the old-school baked potato, loaded with everything your cardiologist hates but your mouth enjoys.

But the reason locals fill the restaurant is the beef. Chef Bob is rightly proud of his hamburgers made with ground tenderloin, chicken fried steak with gravy (very delicious!), bone-in ribeye (10-12 or 16-18 oz), filet, t-bone and Porterhouse steaks.
The ribeye comes garnished with a Texas star carved out of a thick slice of pineapple just in case you forgot where you were. The meat has a great dry rub-grill crust, tons of flavor with juices spilling onto the plate.

Wildcatter Ranch is an hour and a half from Abilene or Fort Worth. Close enough to be a great getaway for a long weekend of relaxing around the pool, canoeing, doing a bit of archery or skeet shooting, enjoying the Western landscape and eating.

BBQ by the side of the road

Every foodie-traveler's dream is to discover a gem of a restaurant on a dusty, god-forsaken highway. Fitting the bill rather nicely is the improbably named, Hashknife on the Chisholm Trail in Peadenville (population 6) at the junction of Highways 281 N. and 254.
Big Jim McLennan and his wife Lesa are proud of their restaurant in the middle of nowhere. "We have a little menu and what we do, we try to do well," Big Jim tells us as we're hunched over paper plates filled with brisket, sausage, pork ribs, ribeye steaks, chicken fried steak and "big ole burgers."
On his menu, Big Jim has found a happy balance of barbecue, country cafe and steakhouse dishes.

Like many cooks in the area including his buddy, chef Bob at Wildcatter, Big Jim grinds his own hamburger. The "Trail Burger" features a patty with hamburger meat mixed with grilled onions, barbecue sauce and cheese. Nice.
His 'cue is first rate. The pork ribs are sweet with the proper amount of fat. Along with the extremely large portions, we were encouraged to have a big cup of sweetened iced tea or a long neck Lone Star, which local Brian Briscoe told us "tastes better in a bottle than on tap." Several bottles later, we couldn't agree more.
One of the best dishes at Hashknife isn't meat at all but poultry. Big Jim puts his barbecue smoker to good use when he makes a delicious smoked chicken salad sandwich on toasted white bread.

Another treat was a special dessert made by his wife Lesa. Her banana cake was moist with lots of flavor. Surprisingly, she uses plantains instead of regular Chiquita bananas. A break with tradition and a good one.
Insider's Tip: about "Hashknife," that was Big Jim's granddad's cattle brand.

Abilene

Abilene is a good sized town with plenty of attractions and all kinds of restaurants, perfect for families and couples wanting a Western experience.
With displays of native bird species, the Abilene Zoo is fun, as are the many museums appropriate for kids, especially Frontier Texas! with its sculptures, dioramas and holographic figures telling stories about 18th and 19th century prairie life.

Abilene has dozens of barbecue, steak and burger joints. A must-stop is Harold's Pit Bar-B-Q for an encounter with old school 'cue.
The restaurant is about as stripped down as you could imagine. The rectangular cinderblock building has a screen door and window in front. The smoker and serving counter are all the way in the back. In between are picnic tables filled with people eating big plates of food.
You won't find steak, shrimp, chicken, fish or chicken fried steak at Harold's.

In a barebones setting, Harold's menu focuses on barbecue classics: sausage, ham, pork ribs, brisket, turkey, cornbread, cole slaw, pinto beans, collard greens, flat green beans, potato salad, fruit cobblers and sweetened ice tea.
The sausage and thick sliced ham are nicely smoked, sweet and chewy with a salty finish. The beans have heat. The ribs are tender and fatty. The sweet and creamy potato salad has a good relish-crunch.

In his heyday, Harold would come out from behind the counter and sing for the customers. He loved people and they loved him back. Unfortunately, these days Harold is taking it easy and doesn't come by much, but the food's the same, watched over by Russell, Harold's son.

Another Abilene favorite, Sharon's Barbecue has a modern, country cafe atmosphere. The restaurant is bright and clean. The brisket is good, as are the sausages, chicken, jalapeno creamed corn and minced cole slaw. There's sweet ice tea and peach cobbler.
Everything at Sharon's is made in the restaurant and that includes the sauces. Locals know that because Sharon makes her food fresh every day, thirty minutes before closing, she sells all the meats and sides for 50% off. You have to buy take-out quantities--pints, quarts and pounds--not plates, but that's a good thing.

If there is barbecue royalty in Abilene, in addition to Harold and Sharon, it would have to include Joe Allen.

When they were young, Sharon and Joe started Joe Allen's in 1980 and as Sharon tells the story, "we worked ourselves to death with eighteen hour days." In 2005 when they split up, Sharon started her own restaurant and Joe moved to a new location.

In Texas, Fatty Brisket Reigns Supreme


The old Joe Allen's was a rundown joint. The current restaurant has two dining rooms and a spacious good-time bar with big game trophies on the walls and twinkle lights circling the room. Joe Allen's has the feeling of a rambling, Texas roadhouse. A place you want to sit and spend time eating, talking and drinking.
With a larger restaurant comes a more expansive menu that includes fajitas, quail, seafood, steaks, chops and country favorites like chicken fried steak with gravy. But just as at Harold's, the reason people come to Joe Allen's is the barbecue.

As explained by Joe's son, Josh Allen, the general manager, the smokers use mesquite, the wood of choice in West Texas. The brisket stays in the smokers 12-16 hours depending on the size of the cut.

That's the second and third lesson of West Texas barbecue: only use mesquite and do your cooking slow and easy to bring out the best of the meat.
The tricky part of barbecue is the balance of smoke, heat, fat and seasoning. Too much smoke over-powers the flavor of the meat. Too much heat and not enough fat, the meat dries out. Too little seasoning, no kick.

Like the other 'cue joints in Texas, Joe Allen's only uses dry rubs. Some dry rubs are complex mixtures of a dozen herbs and spices. Not at Joe Allen's.
According to Josh, the dry rub, which is sold separately at the restaurant, is a simple mix of salt, black pepper and garlic powder. Slow cooking pushes out the meat's natural sweetness. The dry rub enhances that flavor.  The result is, not to put too fine a point on it, incredibly moist and delicious. The pork ribs, large enough to be mistaken for beef ribs, and the fatty brisket are outstanding.

Insider's Tip: If you are taking notes while you're eating 'cue, you might find it interesting as I did, that there are different potato salad and cole slaw styles. At Joe Allen's the potato salad is creamy, almost like mashed potatoes. Cole slaw might be minced, as it was at Sharon's and Harold's, julienned or, as at Joe Allen's, somewhere in the middle.

With two locations, Betty Rose's Little Brisket has a strip mall look. The dining room has plastic tablecloth-covered picnic tables and a self-service steam table with hot sides. Everything eaten at Betty Rose's is made in the kitchen. The ribs are especially good--tender and moist--with that perfect balance of smoke and heat.

According to Terry Stewart, co-owner with Kyle Johnson, the struggle for everyone in the barbecue business is keeping prices down. "Since 1997, the price of brisket has doubled because the ranchers are getting out of the cattle business which means our prices are going up." The effect of drought and the cost of ranching--grain, fuel, land, insurance--has made the cattle business unattractive.

Insider's Tip: If you need a cup of coffee in the morning, don't waste time looking for a Starbucks or Peet's. There are only a couple in Abilene. Locals get their coffee from cafes serving breakfast. The corporate-chain thing never caught on in West Texas, not when there are friendly, eccentric places like The Dixie Pig to stop by in the morning.

Judging by the crowded counter and tables, a lot of people start their day at the Dixie Pig. As a waitress was overheard to say to Dave, a regular customer, "You had your coffee yet?" His nod said "no". That's all she needed to pour him a cup, "Here you go." Now his day could officially begin.

Speaking of the The Dixie Pig, the breakfast's are inexpensive, country-style, big plate affairs, loaded with fried potatoes and a biscuit with gravy.
The cashier's glass fronted counter displays an eclectic assortment of pig-centric figurines. That obsession is matched by an exceptionally tasty pulled pork sandwich, available any time of the day, even at breakfast. I highly recommend it.
A favorite of locals in the area and always crowded, the Beehive Restaurant has locations in Abilene and nearby Albany. Primarily a steak house with steaks cooked on an open pit, mesquite fired grill or as chicken fried steak, the Beehive has an upscale, clubby feeling, the kind of place that attracts friends wanting a big meal and some cocktails, families with their kids, and couples out on a date.

10-14 ounce filets, ribeyes and New York strip steaks are grilled with smoky flavor on the blazingly hot pit in the kitchen. The bar has a good selection of wine, beer and cocktails. The kitchen turns out plates of pork chops, fish, shrimp and chicken as well as steaks.
Owned by the Esfandiary brothers, Ali and Neiman, who arrived from Iran decades ago and, incongruously, decided to open an American-style country cafe. The story goes that the day before they opened the original restaurant in Albany, an elderly woman came in to eat. Sorry, they told her, they weren't open until tomorrow. Before she could leave, they asked if she could settle an argument they were having. Which part of the chicken, they wanted to know, did you use to make chicken fried steak?
As Ali tells the story, the woman said they were idiots and dragged them to her house for a lesson in Texas-cooking. Chicken fried steak, as everyone knows, is made with beef. From the long lines waiting to have lunch and dinner, they were clearly quick learners.
Cypress Street Station in downtown is the only microbrewery in Abilene. Ordering a flight of 4-5 small glasses of beer is a good way to sample the wide range of beers, varying from light, delicate pale ales to thick, dark malt porters. Bottled beers are available, but it's a lot more fun to try brewmaster Brian Green's latest creations along with his inventive appetizers.

The Mexican Connection

Even without visiting a Mexican restaurant, you'll encounter Mexican ingredients in West Texas cooking. Jalapeno peppers will heat up creamed corn, cornbread and cheesecakes. Dried chili powder spices up candied pecans in a wild greens salad and the barbecue sauce you pour on your fatty brisket.

In many western towns, restaurants begin their lives in someone's home. That was the case with El Fenix Cafe. Olivia Garcia and her kids run the restaurant her parents started in their home.

Her mom, Maria Luisa, cooked in the kitchen and served customers in the dining room and, later, the living room and bedrooms. Years ago the Garcias moved to the current location, a rambling space decorated with papel picado banners--paper cut outs--and decorative lights hanging from the ceiling.
Formaica topped tables and Mexican tiles on the floor keep alive the homey feeling.

The menu, like many in Texas, exploits the cooking of the Mexican interior (as opposed to the coasts), the most notable example of the cuisine from Guanajuato is the carne guisada. In Los Angeles that would be carne asada or grilled beef. At El Fenix the beef is not grilled but braised. The result is tender, moist and flaky meat.
Olivia makes everything served in the restaurant--the tortillas, salsa, sauces, rice and beans--with the result that the food a El Fenix tastes like home cooking, if your home was in the Mexican interior.

Buffalo Gap
Buffalo Gap is only a few miles south-west of Abilene. The small town (population 463) has a fascinating Historic Village, a must for any western history buffs.

Lola's, like El Fenix Cafe, started life as somebody's home. The difference is, Lola's still looks that way. Newspapers and magazines are scattered on the tables as if the owners had left suddenly. The living room and side rooms are jammed full of discarded thrift-store dining room and picnic tables.
When you walk through the screen door and it slams behind you and you wonder if you've mistakenly walked into someone's house.

If you sit down and wait to be served, you'll wait a long time. Lola is the cook-waitress-and-dishwasher. If you want to place your order, go into the kitchen where she'll be stirring a pot of beans or making fry bread.
According to the gregarious Lola, President George W. Bush and Oprah have eaten at her restaurant. George, as she calls him, likes her green enchiladas with ground beef, green chiles and fresh garlic rolled in two corn torillas, fried and topped with raw onions, cheddar and mozarella cheeses.
Ask her why she serves Native American fry bread in a Mexican restaurant and she'll smile and tell you, "I don't know. I like to mix things up." And so she does.  Overall, the food is ok, the ambience is terrific and Lola is a hoot.

The jewel of Buffalo Gap is Perini Ranch Steakhouse. Located down a twisting dirt road, the steakhouse is in a converted barn with an outdoor patio cooled by lazily turning overhead fans.

Perini's is the brainchild of Tom Perini (on the right in the photo), born and bred a Texas cattleman. He loves cattle ranching but confesses there is no money to be made that way.
Faced with losing the ranch because he couldn't earn enough raising cattle, his mother told him to turn to cooking, something he had been doing for years on cattle drives. Everyone loved his down-home, ranchhand-pleasing dishes.

That's what you'll get at Perini's. Steaks, fried chicken, ham, chicken fried steak, hamburgers, catfish, and ribs come out on huge plates, designed to satisfy the hungriest of cowboys.
There are all the usual sides you'd find on the barbecue trial--corn, flat green beans, corn bread, mashed potatoes, red beans and biscuits--as well as some excellent additions like black bean and corn salad, romaine and head lettuce salad with blue cheese and minced bacon and delicious, creamy green chile hominy with bacon and cheddar cheese.
For dessert, locals insist the bread bread pudding is a must, the combination of Jack Daniels whiskey sauce, sourdough bread croutons and pecans is to-die-for. I had some myself, so I can testify to the truthfulness of that statement.

Perini's serves lunch and dinner and--a really great way to experience the setting--Sunday brunch. Locals testify to the pleasures of a leisurely Sunday morning spent at the ranch, a cowboy bloody mary with horseradish and pickled okra in one hand and a piece of crispy fried chicken in the other with the prospect of enjoying more of the chuck wagon favorites outside on the patio buffet.

Fort Worth

More often than not, people have heard about Fort Worth but haven't visited Dallas's little sister. Dallas, the richer, larger destination, gets most of the attention, but for travelers-in-the-know, Fort Worth is a great place to visit.
One of the most popular attractions in Texas, the Fort Worth Stockyards looks back to a time when railroads and cattle ruled the west. Commemorating that rich tradition, twice a day at 11:30 am and 4:00 pm, a symbolic cattle drive of 15-20 Texas longhorns ambles down E. Exchange Avenue to the delight of families with kids and travelers from all over.

This must be the most sedate cattle drive in the history of west, so nothing to worry about if you have young children. The cattle move so slowly, you'll have plenty of time to grab some photographs. The cattle drive is over in ten to fifteen minutes, after which there are a dozen places to eat along E. Exchange.

To build up your appetite and broaden your horizons, walk around the Fort Worth Cultural District, a complex of art and science attrractions as varied as the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Kimbell Art Museum, Museum of Science and History, National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Botanic Garden & Japanese Garden.

A must-stop is the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth which has a small but excellent collection. The museum building is as much an attraction as the art. The geometric lines of the galleries and ponds outside are soothing, helping visitors enjoy a few hours of quiet contemplation and self-reflection.
Park at any one museum and walk to the others, they are that close.

If you want to spend your time out doors, a few minutes from the Cultural District, the kid-friendly Fort Worth Zoo is south of I-30.

Now that you are in need of refreshment, it's time to look for a place to eat. Luckily, Fort Worth has a number of fun restaurants. A good starting point is back at the Stockyards.
Around the corner from E. Exchange Avenue on North Main, Cattleman's Steak House opened just after WWII. The dark wood interior and long bar announce Cattleman's as a great place to hang out, casual, friendly, a no-tablecloth kind of restaurant. The kind of place where strangers will reach out to one another with "Where you folks from?" as if everyone in the restaurant could be a neighbor, no matter where they are from.

Because Cattleman's and the other stockyard restaurants cater to travelers, the large menus throw barbecue together with steakhouse and country cafe cooking: barbecue pork ribs, lamb fries (rocky mountain oysters), chicken fried steak, grilled pork chops, fried catfish, chicken fried steak and steak just about any way you could imagine: sirloin strip (New York 10 oz., K.C. 13 oz. and Texas 18 oz.), porterhouse, t-bone, ribeye (bone-in or boneless), tenderloin, pepper, teriyaki and filet mignon.

On E. Exchange Avenue, H3 Ranch adds Mexican favorites like guacamole, nachos, tacos and quesadillas to a menu similar to Cattleman's. Steaks are offered from a petite 9 oz. filet mignon to a 32 oz. porterhouse for two or, as the menu says, "One Hungry Cowhand". 

For fans of barbecue, brisket and pork ribs can be ordered at H3 Ranch with sides and on combination platters of grilled chicken, sausage or shrimp. Rounding out the menu are hamburgers, chicken fried steak, rainbow trout, spit-roasted pig and chicken, fried catfish, Alaskan king crab, cedar planked salmon and prime rib. In a phrase, something for everyone.
H3 Ranch is also open for breakfast, a good time to enjoy the expansive interior with a collection of cowboy art and many mounted animal heads, including a trio of buffalo who loom over the booths in the dining room. Part of the restaurant, Booger Red's Saloon has a long bar where half the stools are topped with saddles so even a barfly can ride the western spirit without walking outside.
With two locations on E. Exchange, Riscky's--a family run dynasty with more than half a dozen restaurants in Fort Worth--has long been a destination for visitors to the Stockyards District.

Riscky's Barbeque has a large, covered patio cooled on blisteringly hot days with cold water mists. Inside, the restaurant looks like everybody's image of a roadside joint, a big rambling shamble of a space with a honky-tonk, neon-laced bar on one side and the crowded restaurant on the other.
All the barbecue favorites are available: pork and beef ribs, brisket, smoked sausage, turkey and ham, as well as barbecued shrimp and bologna (bolonga, yes, you heard that right!). To round out the menu there are Mexican tacos and country cafe fried pickles, cheese sticks, onion strings, okra and corn as well as a variety of green salads, potato salad, cole slaw, red beans, mac n' cheese, green beans, french fries and rocky mountain oysters again, called "calf fries" here.
Down the block, steaks are the focus at Riscky's Steakhouse. There's a friendly rivalry between Riscky's, H3 Ranch and Cattleman's. Their menus share a love of Black Angus Beef.  Steaks are grilled the way you want them with lots of sides, salads, soups and "surf"--lobster, shrimp and catfish. Like the others, Riscky's Steakhouse is a friendly place to hang out, have a cocktail or a few bottles of Shiner Bock.
Angelo's Barbecue couldn't be more different. By comparison, Angelo's menu seems downright skimpy, focused as it is, like Harold's in Abilene, on barbecue classics.

On the trip, in the parking lot near the entrance smoke billowed out of a rusty oil barrel.  Assistant Manger, Lowell Brown explained that they burn off the still smoldering ash from the wood fire pits in the oil barrel. Was this good houskeeping or a sly marketing ploy to attract more customers? You could smell that delicious barbecue aroma for miles around.
Inside, Angelo's is all business. No wait staff attends to your every need. All the serving happens behind a chest-high counter. You slide your tray along, cafeteria style, while you wait for your turn in front of Lowell and his helpers.
He asks you what you want. You choose your meat. Lowell slices or dishes it out. One of his helpers adds your sides and two pieces of white bread. You reach up and grab your paper plate of food, put it on your tray and push your way to the cashier to settle your bill.

The first time you visit Angelo's you might be distracted by the hundreds of mounted animal heads on the walls. The next time you come, you probably won't even notice.

You'll be too focused on eating your plate of fatty brisket and the excellent mashed potato salad with poppy seeds, relish and red pepper. You'll dig your fork into the creamy cole slaw made with red and green cabbage and you'll never look up at the buffalo, elk, deer and elk staring down at you.
Needing no sauce whatsoever, the pork ribs are, for me, the best dish at Angelo's. The ribs are cooked until tender, with enough smoke to bring out the meat's sweetness.
The fatty brisket is good too but best enjoyed as a sandwich with a generous helping of homemade sauce. In any other context, white bread is bland and uninteresting but here it compliments perfectly the spicy, smoked meat and tangy sauce.

If you want to splurge on an upscale western restaurant, head to Reata.

White tablecloths are on every table. The subdued lighting encourages polite conversation. The waiters happily describe the ingredients of each dish. Everything about Reata is designed to be classy, including the subtitle to the name: "Legendary. Texas. Cuisine." 
Some might be put off by Reata's pretensions, but for a fine dining experience, Texas style, the restaurant is very good, albeit pricey.

The chicken fried steak is massive and salty enough to require the mellowing effect of the pan dripping-black pepper gravy. The pat of  jalapeno and cilantro butter on the ribeye steak is a nice, finishing touch. The heat of the pepper-herb mixture heightens the flavors of the bloody medium-rare beef.
Reata also has a great collection of upscale versions of Mexican dishes--chicken chile rellenos with roasted corn chowder, carne asada with cheese enchiladas, tenderloin tamales with pecan mash and stacked chicken enchilades.

Unlike her country cousins, Reata's kitchen uses gas grills not mesquite-fired open pits. A little something is lost in the difference, but the ribeye was excellent none-the-less.

Reata shines in many ways, especially in the desserts.
If you're hungry at the end of the meal, definitely order the dessert tacos with caramelized bananas and chocolate gravy. The pralene tuile taco shells are a crunchy way to enjoy what is, essentially, a banana split. Be careful to lean over the plate as you eat, otherwise expect to find chocolate sauce on your shirt in the morning.

The double layer ice cream cake is also good. With an oreo cookie and chocolate ganache crust, the cake has a thick layer of rocky road and one of vanilla ice cream, definitely a dessert to share.
For the last stop on the West Texas barbecue-steak trail, we ate at El Asadero Mexican Steakhouse and Seafood, a mile and a half south of the Stockyards District. The down-home, neighborhood Mexican cafe serves a big menu of Mexican dishes as well as a great steak, the bistec ranchero.
Often chuck steak is chewy, a bit tasteless. Not so at El Asadero. The bistec ranchero is pounded thin and charbroiled on a gas grill. The enormous steak arrives at the table covered with caramelized onions and, if you want (I didn't), jalapeno peppers. The bistec comes with a good sized helping of rice, refried beans and a salad. All that for $10.99.
The meat was juicy, tender and full of the flavor of the grill, smoky and sweet. Eaten by itself, the steak was delicious but slices could also be eaten in a tortilla with the onion, some rice, beans and salsa.

After so many stops in a short amount of time, El Asadero was a delightful conclusion to a remarkable trip.

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