Even a Texan of the boot-wearing, Aikman-adoring, Willie-worshipping variety sometimes gets reluctantly waylaid into a work or family situation that requires spending significant time away from our fair state. When that happens, cravings for the familiar foods of home are unavoidable.
This seems particularly true of the varieties of barbecue and Mexican food peculiar to Texas. Other places have their own approaches to those cuisines—the ketchupy ribs of Midwestern BBQ, the mountains of pulled pork of the Carolinas, or San Diegans’ penchant for stuffing french fries into burritos—but those regional variations don’t provide the same comforts of home. Fortunately for Texpats who find themselves in Los Angeles, the not-quite-right local versions of barbecue and Mexican fare are offset by restaurants offering innovative takes on some Texan favorites.
The place to start is HomeState, a Los Feliz institution that bills itself as “A Texas Kitchen,” serving breakfast tacos, queso, and chopped beef sandwiches. The brisket is fine. The queso is good. The flour tortillas, made in-house, are fantastic—and they help explain how HomeState has expanded into a mini-empire, with additional locations in Northeast LA (Highland Park) and on the Westside (Playa Vista). When the original restaurant opened in 2013, it drew heavily on Austin vendors—the tortillas, then, came from El Milagro and the coffee from Cuvée. These days, the most familiar sight to displaced Austinites might be the line that’s usually snaking around the front of the restaurant. Still, the prices are reasonable (tacos start at a cheap-for-LA $3.50 each, while a large queso will set you back $8), and—like at a lot of places on this list—you can enjoy a Topo Chico with your meal.
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It may or may not be possible to live a happy life on breakfast tacos alone, but there’s something to be said for variety. To that end, there’s no shortage of LA spots promising Texas barbecue—but what they serve varies dramatically.
All of the meat at Maple Block Meat Co. in Culver City is good. Like seemingly every Texas barbecue joint in Los Angeles, the place charges notably higher prices than you’d find in Texas, but the product is satisfying, moist, and flavorful. It’s the rare LA spot that does turkey in addition to brisket and ribs, and it rounds out the menu with sausage, chicken, and pulled pork. There aren’t many Texas barbecue spots in Los Angeles that would be worth stopping in for brisket if they were in Central Texas, but Maple Block is at the top of that list. (It might be alone on that list, in fact.) It’s good enough that we don’t even resent them for charging a buck for two slices of Wonder Bread out of the bag.
Beverly Grove’s Slab, which pitmaster Burt Bakman opened to much hype in 2018 (the Los Angeles Times, in an October review, asked in its headline, “Is this the best barbecue brisket in Los Angeles?”), serves $28-per-pound brisket, about the same price as Maple Block and every other spot in the city. On my visit, even the fatty brisket was dry and tough. That’s a common affliction among the city’s barbecue joints, but especially disappointing for a spot that still prominently displays a poster for an all-star barbecue event last May, featuring Bakman’s name alongside Aaron Franklin’s. Bakman’s brisket is served alongside a tangy house-made sauce, which was more necessary than it should be. His eye for detail, which includes serving bottled Big Red, Mexican Coke, Topo Chico, and cane sugar Dr Pepper, makes for a decent experience, so long as you’re not there for the brisket.
Up the block from Slab, Bludso’s BBQ opened prior to the golden age of Texas barbecue we’re currently enjoying. Owner Kevin Bludso’s first location in Compton in 2008 drew on his experiences working the pit in the summers at his grandmother’s place in Corsicana. That Compton location closed in 2016, but another sit-down, table-service location in Los Angeles is going strong, and while the brisket—available on the menu as “brisket” and “lean brisket”—is on the tougher side no matter which you order, Bludso’s smoked chicken and ribs are both great. An extra $1.75 will get you a hunk of the restaurant’s cornbread, and like Slab and Maple Block, you can get your meal with house-made pickles.
The aesthetics of downtown LA’s Horse Thief BBQ, meanwhile, are perfect. Not only are there Shiner Bock signs that signal to Texans that this place is meant for them, but the massive outdoor patio just outside of the Grand Central Market food hall is inviting. The food itself, though, doesn’t match the expectations the space sets up. The brisket is dry and grainy, and while I’ve got nothing against vegetables, putting a “California Kale” salad on the menu can make you question the place’s loyalties. It’s a fine spot if what you really miss about Texas is the experience of walking up to a counter to order a beer and then sitting under a winding shade tree, but not a top choice if you’re missing the meat itself.
On the other hand, if you find yourself in the San Fernando Valley, Dr. Hogly Wogly’s Tyler Texas BBQ in Van Nuys does not aspire to make you think you’re in Texas. While some of the other Southern California spots offering Texas barbecue miss the mark when it comes to serving Texas-style brisket, the local institution (it opened its doors in 1969) doesn’t even aim for that. The meat is served thick-cut, in a thin juice, more like a pot roast than something you’d find in Tyler or anywhere else in Texas. (And when was the last time you saw macaroni salad listed as a side on a Texas barbecue menu?) Still, every meal comes served with a side of the restaurant’s tasty house-made bread, and fans of getting a lot of bang for their buck could do worse. While the beef ribs might not feature the dry rub you’d get from a John Mueller, you do get three of them for $20.95.
If you find yourself exhausted after finishing an (incomplete) Texas barbecue tour of Los Angeles, it’s possible these days to get back to Texas Mexican food. (We’ll avoid saying Tex-Mex here, if only so you can send this to your LA dining companions for whom the term conjures up thoughts of flavorless fajitas and tasteless tortillas from Taco Bell or Chili’s.) San Antonio native Josef Centeno is one of the higher-profile chefs in Los Angeles—check out the carne guisada he’s been serving to Southern Californians—and he’s opened a companion restaurant to his well-regarded downtown spot, Bar Ama: Culver City’s Amacita. The restaurant isn’t interested in transplanting San Antonio to LA, but instead focuses on serving Mexican food filtered through a Texan’s experiences—that’s flour tortillas with your pork pibil, or red cabbage and crema on your potato and egg breakfast taco. It’s a creative vision of what you might find at home, and it usually works well (the menu’s Tex-Mex queso, made with rich Brebirousse d’Argental, is more like a fondue than a traditional Texas queso). Amacita, like Bar Ama, might not scratch the nostalgia itch of HomeState, but if you’re missing the Texas culinary tradition of serving innovative versions of our regional Mexican cuisine, this is a good place to wind up.