Towards the end of the year, Esquire magazine offers a slightly different take on the national restaurant scene. In place of another best-of list, the men’s lifestyle publication shares its opinion on “100 Restaurants America Can’t Lose”.
The list recognizes “these places around the country – old and new, scruffy and chic – that we consider to be restaurants America can’t afford to lose,” writes Jeff Gordinier, editor of Esquire Food and Drinks.
Only three Texas establishments make the cut, including two in the Austin area: Franklin Barbecue and Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor.
Deputy Editor Ben Boskovich explains that Franklin Barbecues signature line (prepandemic) from owner and pit master “Aaron Franklin [giving] Damn it about what he does, who he does it with and who he serves. “
Gordinier tells a story of the joy his daughter experienced when she devoured a rib of beef at Louie Mueller’s. “They say a father is only as happy as his children. At that moment I was happy, ”he writes.
While Franklin and Louis Mueller are nationally recognized suppliers of typical state cuisine, Houston’s entry comes as a bit of a surprise. No, it’s not a classic The Original Ninfa’s or a facility of a Beard Award winner like Hugo Ortega, Chris Shepherd or Justin Yu – all of these would have been worthy participants. Instead, the magazine recognizes Huynh, the Vietnamese staple food in Houston’s EaDo district.
“There’s always a wait for a seat at this family-owned gem, but the tables spin fast and anyone with a purpose in Houston will tell you you won’t find a more satisfying meal than that for ten dollars Herbal duck salad known as Goi Vit, ”writes Gordinier.
Overall, the list features a similar mix of high-profile, no doubt institutions – Seattle’s Canlis, New York’s Keens Steakhouse, New Orleans’ favorite galatoire – mixed with more modern foodie favorites like San Francisco’s Angler seafood restaurant; Brooklyn Pizzeria (and more) Roberta’s; and The Gray, Savannah’s acclaimed Mediterranean restaurant. Some of the picks are obviously personal favorites of individual authors, like the Vermont pizza place, which is described simply as “crazy people, unique cakes, craft beers”.
No such list could ever hope to be comprehensive, which makes criticism inevitable. As with any national list, it leads heavily towards coastal and tourist destinations. New Orleans (approx. 400,000 inhabitants) has more entries (six) than the entire Lone Star State (approx. 30 million inhabitants).
José R. Ralat, taco editor for Texas Monthly, tweeted on Gordinier to inquire about the lack of any of the state’s Mexican restaurants or taquerias. “Isn’t Vera’s, the only restaurant in the state allowed to cook barbacoa, worth rescuing?” he asked.
Not that Texan restaurants need Esquire recognition to be confirmed in existence. Perhaps the magazine will send Gordinier here as soon as it is safe to travel again to broaden its perspective a little. After all, this state’s restaurants offer so much more “worth saving” than really great grills and super great duck salad.