As the year draws to a close, Esquire magazine offers a slightly different take on the national restaurant scene. Instead of another best of list, the men’s lifestyle publication submits its take on “100 Restaurants America Can't Afford to Lose.”
The list’s recognizes “these spots around the country—old and new, scruffy and spiffy—that we consider restaurants that America can’t afford to lose,” Esquire food and drinks editor Jeff Gordinier writes.
Only three Texas establishments make the cut. Austin’s Franklin Barbecue and Taylor’s Louie Mueller Barbecue are nationally-recognized purveyors of the state’s signature cuisine, but Houston’s entry is more of a surprise. No, it isn’t a no-doubt classic The Original Ninfa’s or an establishment from a Beard Award winner like Hugo Ortega, Chris Shepherd, or Justin Yu — all of which would have been worthy entrants. Instead, the magazine recognizes Huynh, the Vietnamese staple in EaDo.
“There’s always a wait for a seat at this family-owned strip-mall jewel, but the tables turn fast, and everyone with any sense in Houston will tell you that for ten bucks, you’re not going to find a more satisfying and delicious meal than the gingery, herbaceous duck salad known as Goi Vit,” Gordinier writes.
Deputy editor Ben Boskovich explains that Franklin Barbecue’s signature line (pre-pandemic) stems from owner and pitmaster “Aaron Franklin [giving] a damn about what he's doing, who he's doing it with, and whom he's serving.”
Gordinier shares a story about the delight his daughter experienced while devouring a beef rib at Louie Mueller. “They say a father is only as happy as his children are. In that moment, I was happy,” he writes.
Overall, the list offers a similar mix of high profile, no doubt institutions — Seattle’s Canlis, New York’s Keens steakhouse, New Orleans’ favorite Galatoire’s — mixed with more modern foodie favorites like San Francisco seafood restaurant Angler, Brooklyn pizzeria (and more) Roberta’s, and The Grey, Savannah’s acclaimed Southern food restaurant. Some of the picks are obviously personal favorites of individual writers, like the Vermont pizzeria that’s simply described as “kooky people, unique pies, craft beers.”
No list like this could ever hope to be comprehensive, making criticism inevitable. As with any national list, it skews heavily to the coasts and tourist-friendly destinations. New Orleans (population: approximately 400,000) has more entries (six) than the entire Lone Star State (population: approximately 30 million).
Texas Monthly taco editor José R. Ralat tweeted at Gordinier to inquire about the absence of any of the state's Mexican restaurants or taquerias. “Is Vera's, the state's only restaurant licensed to pit-cook barbacoa, not worth saving,” he asked.
Not that Texas restaurants need recognition from Esquire to validate their existences. Maybe once it's safe to travel again, the magazine will send Gordinier here for a visit that might broaden his perspective a bit. After all, this state’s restaurants offer so much more that's "worth saving" than really great barbecue and a super awesome duck salad.