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Texas longhorn cattle in a field

Mr. Harper's Travel Guide

With cultural and geographic properties of both the South and the Southwest, Texas has long been an area — and a state of mind — that defies categorization. Texas is traditional and progressive; it's home to vast rural spaces and densely populated cities like Dallas, Houston ...

With cultural and geographic properties of both the South and the Southwest, Texas has long been an area — and a state of mind — that defies categorization. Texas is traditional and progressive; it's home to vast rural spaces and densely populated cities like Dallas, Houston and San Antonio; and its diverse landscape changes from the pine woods of the east to the beaches of the Gulf Coast to the prairie and desert of the west. Texas is larger than any European country and could take a lifetime to understand. The traveler with enough time — and a reliable car — can get a good taste of the state's urban and rural charms given a week or two. 

Dallas-Fort Worth's art scene is world-class and the city's downtown cultural district is a must-visit. The legendary Austin music culture thrives on a large scale during its renowned annual music festivals. In San Antonio, the Alamo stands as icon of Texas' recalcitrant spirit, and the city's bustling River Walk lines the Rio Grande with shops, hotels and restaurants. For a taste of Texas' natural grandeur, visit Big Bend National Park in the southwest, where desert flora and fauna flourish under the sun. Houston, the state's largest city, sprawls in the southeast, and its more cosmopolitan attractions are blended with distinctly Texan ones, like the world's largest rodeo and a plethora of Tex-Mex and steakhouse venues.

bird icon Recommended Luxury Hotels in Texas

All Andrew Harper-recommended hotels offer impeccable accommodations and high levels of personal service. Only the best of the best make our list, so we rate them on a scale from bird icon 90 to 100.

Best Restaurants in Texas

Chef Kent Rathbun traveled the world for inspiration in creating his “Contemporary Global Cuisine” and now presents it in this lively modern restaurant. Among the extensive listings, you might find tamarind-seared Texas bobwhite quail with pepperjack masa stack, fire-roasted poblano ranchera and a sunny-side up quail egg; one of the intriguing sushi rolls such as the VIP roll with snow crab, spicy tuna and soy paper, wrapped in fresh cucumber; pan-fried soft-shell crab with Spanish chorizo, fire-roasted peppers, charred corn and pimentón butter; pan-seared Hawaiian striped marlin with stir-fried glass noodles, bean sprouts, scallions and a ginger-lime broth; and wood-roasted beef tenderloin with Sangiovese butter. The wine list also covers the globe. Closed Sunday.

4511 McKinney Avenue Dallas $80. Chef's tasting menus Monday-Thursday; five-course menu, $65; eight courses, $95

Austin has no shortage of Mexican dining options, but this is my favorite spot to sip margaritas and enjoy Mexican classics. With old wooden doors, dramatic lanterns, colorful ceramic tiles, hand-painted walls, intricate stained glass over the bar and a rotating art collection, this atmospheric restaurant is one of the loveliest in the city. Not to be missed is the pork relleno served in a roasted poblano with almonds, raisins and a light tomato sauce. Also an excellent Sunday brunch buffet. 

2330 West North Loop Boulevard Austin $50

This elegant offering from chef Bryce Gilmore, ideal for lunch and dinner, is located in an all-glass building with a central bar and a woodburning oven. The innovative, locally sourced, Southern-inspired menu is best for sharing plates. Offerings change frequently, but look for duck egg accompanied with duck confit, feta, peach and shiitake mushrooms, or pork belly in a pecan jerk glaze served with a cheddar rice cake and strawberries. Here, you can be assured of a civilized atmosphere and attentive service. 

1201 South Lamar Boulevard Austin $50

Set in an undistinguished shopping complex, this sushi restaurant is chef Tyson Cole’s second venue in Austin. Mixing global ingredients with classic Japanese flavors, Cole offers a seasonally changing menu that consistently surprises. 

4200 North Lamar Street Austin $55

Located in a former washateria east of downtown, Launderette is an imaginative addition to the roster of restaurants in the city. Menu highlights include a rabbit terrine starter, charred octopus and tandoori prawns cooked on a wood grill, and kabocha squash with beets, arugula, sweetened hazelnuts and ricotta. 

2115 Holly Street Austin $35

I have followed the cooking and career of Stephen Pyles with admiration for many years; his advocacy of, and adventurous takes on, Southwestern cuisine have made his restaurants high on my Dallas list. So news that he would shutter Stephan Pyles filled me with a sadness that could only be vanquished by the concurrent news that he would be opening a new place. Flora Street Cafe features such imaginative dishes as sea scallops with a coconut gelée, pineapple, chipotle-buckwheat groats and a jasmine-sea essence; lobster tamale pie with wild paddlefish caviar; and Texas wagyu rib eye with bone marrow custard, brisket, kale and a sweet pepper relleno. 

2330 Flora Street Dallas $90. Eight-course tasting menu, $115

Perfect lighting, cinnamon-colored leather seats and a fabulous art collection (just the two Rauschenbergs would render it notable) make this modern dining room one of the most captivating in Houston. Here, Tony Vallone offers superb French-Italian food. You might begin with one of the pastas, such as the orecchiette Genovese with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, prosciutto riserva and English peas. Main courses could include seared Mediterranean branzino with jumbo lump crab and a concentrated white asparagus sauce; or center-cut prime beef filet truffled the Tony's way. Closed Sunday. 

3755 Richmond Avenue Houston $85. Five-course tasting menu, $95; seven courses, $145; nine courses, $165

Part of the Austin scene since the ‘70s, Jeffrey’s remains a favorite for steaks and seasonal Southern dishes. Aside from meats, consider grilled lobster accompanied by a succotash of corn, peppers, bacon and squash, and halibut served with roasted white asparagus, sautéed morels, fava beans and lemon. The wine list is wide-ranging, and there is also a martini cart. 

1204 West Lynn Street Austin $90

Of the several dining spaces at chef Dean Fearing’s restaurant, The Gallery is our favorite. Fearing creates imaginative dishes with Southwest inflections, as seen in appetizers such as barbecue-glazed Lockhart quail and cider-braised pork belly with crispy iceberg “wedge,” Marfa tomatoes, cornbread croutons and Mississippi comeback dressing. Main courses might include maple/black peppercorn-soaked buffalo tenderloin on Brazos Valley jalapeño grits with greens and a butternut squash taquito; or wood-grilled Moroccan-spiced lamb chops and braised lamb-Marcona almond pastilla on saffron hummus with harissa-roasted heirloom carrots and tomato chutney. 

The Ritz-Carlton 2121 McKinney Avenue Dallas $75

This is an unpretentious but sophisticated Italian restaurant. Chef Marco Wiles comes from Friuli in Italy and spent many hours with his aunt learning the regional cuisine. Look for antipasti such as shaved celery salad with beets and Pecorino. Among the primi courses, you might find a single raviolo filled with ricotta, egg and truffles. Secondi might include Chianti-braised short ribs with a burrata risotto. The wine list is full of intriguing Italian regional bottles. (Jackets recommended.) Closed Sunday and Monday.

1520 Westheimer Road Houston $75

The owners here are the same Brennans of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, so, under the watchful eye of Alex Brennan-Martin, you will find culinary reminders of the Creole tradition. Look for starters such as a Texas wild shrimp remoulade with shrimp-boil vegetables, new potatoes, butter lettuce and preserved lemon. Main courses might include the Brennan classic pecan-crusted Gulf fish with crushed corn maque choux, French beans, spiced pecans and a Creole meunière. 

3300 Smith Street Houston $65
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