Updated: Apr 29, 2019
When I first heard we were going to Texas, I had a few opinions and assumptions of what I'd be getting myself into. Before I go through some of these, I want to make a few things clear. I grew up in a small town in California, somewhere between San Bernardino and Barstow (wait, where?... Yeah, exactly my point).
I grew up with chickens and a pig; one neighbor had goats, another had a cow. People used tractors. People rode horses and shot guns. And... people did drugs; a lot of drugs. So, why does any of this pertain to my modern-day trip to Texas? Well, I wanted to give a little perspective. I think people, who have never been to California assume that all of us grow up on the beach in affluent neighborhoods with wavy blonde hair and sun-kissed skin. My point is; my assumption of what Texas would be like was something similar to how I grew up.
Our trip started off with a flight into Dallas. We then drove into McKinney, where my aunt lives. I didn't get too see much of Dallas, except a long-time friend from my childhood who I hadn't seen in literally 15 years. We went to school together from preschool through High School. That was pretty awesome!
McKinney is where I saw my first Texas cow. (Yay!) They were grazing some pastures in somebody's HUGE backyard. I feel that this is sort of the idea that people get when they hear the term "free range". Sorry, guys, but not too many cows actually get this much freedom. In fact, I'm pretty sure this cow was somebody's companion animal rather than future burgers and steak.
After 3 nights in McKinney, we stopped in Waco, then down to Austin; home of the Longhorns, live music, food trucks and the famous phrase, "Keep Austin Weird". Yup, my kind of city. There was literally street art on almost every main street. There were so many vegan food trucks and live bands, it was almost overwhelming to make any decisions.
We got a cute little Air BnB a few miles from downtown; close enough to walk, but far enough away to avoid some of the loud nightlife if we wanted to.
During our stay, we were able to hit up quite a few food trucks, including The Vegan Nom, Arlo's, Plow Burger, Cool Beans; all of which were AMAZING! The Vegan Nom has an eclectic selection of tacos (pictured above). There menu has a large variety of options from Tofu Scrambled Tacos to "Fish" Filets and "Barbacoa". It's hard for me to pick a favorite, so I won't.
Arlo's had been recommended to me by multiple people, so it was on my must-visit list. It's a food truck that's parked right in front of The Grackle; a local bar with both inside and outside seating. I ordered the Bac'n Cheezeburger with Mac; and it was INSANELY good. The burgers taste kind of like Beyond patties, but they make them in house from scratch.
If you haven't been to Austin, you may have the same confusion I had about how the food trucks operate. Although I'm definitely no expert on the subject, what seems to be the case is that most of them rent either a lot that holds a number of them, or share a spot next to a restaurant or bar. A perfect example of the latter was Plow Burger at Buzz Mill Coffee. Buzz Mill is an interesting place; kind of like the rest of Austin. It's a bar and a coffeeshop with a few random food trucks in the parking lot, but food to order where you would order drinks.
The food is prepared by Plow Burger, but you order at Buzz Mill. The whole idea makes sense to me now, but was confusing at first glance. Buzz Mill offers a wide variety of infused alcohol, including Strawberry Cranberry Hibiscus Gin, Pecan Whiskey and Pickle Vodka. Plow Burger has a few Beyond Meat Burgers, fries and some OUT OF THIS WORLD vegan "wings". They were made from what looked like wheat gluten that was intensely marinated, deep fried, and covered in tangy BBQ sauce. They were made complete with a severed sugar cane "bone" that almost made me feel guilty eating them.
There weren't any food items that I'm disappointed I ordered. There was one small "bad" experience I had while there, but it was completely made right by the staff. I'll explain. There's this weird little place called TSO Delivery; they're not a vegan restaurant, but they have a HUGE vegan menu, which was distinctly labeled and organized. You can order online, then they deliver it to you, free of charge. They're not allowed to accept tips either! The prices were good, and the food was amazing.
We ordered the Sesame Balls, Spicy Garlic Edamame, General TSO Tofu and the Kung Pao Tofu. Unfortunately, there was a small piece of steak in my food that was easily distinguished the second I bit into it. I pulled it out of my mouth, took a photo of it and contemplated calling the restaurant. I have never been one to raise a fuss, but I wanted to at least let them know.
Conveniently, they have a quick-response chat located on their website that allows you to address any problems. I was very cordial about it, but explained to them that there was contamination; who knows.. maybe I could prevent it from happening to someone else. The girl in the chat apologized quickly and shortly after, brought in the owner of the restaurant to hear me out. He was so nice and offered us the next meal free of charge, and promised to be sure the cooks had better training to not cross-contaminate vegan dishes. I was satisfied with his response, so we ordered our free meals the following day.
There were three sweet shops that we ordered from while we were in Austin; Capital City Bakery, Voo Doo Doughnuts and Sweet Ritual. Capital City Bakery has the cutest shop in town! Their walls are painted pink and dusted with glitter, polka dots, and all things girly! The girls there were just as sweet as their cupcakes. We ordered the Cherry Limeade cupcake (pictured on the left), along with an iced cinnamon roll and a Salted Caramel cupcake (pictured below). I could've probably eaten everything in the store. Thank god, I didn't.
Sweet Ritual is a cute little shop, a bit further from downtown area, but still in Austin. They're a 100% vegan ice cream shop with something like 24 flavors (I think). They had a large selection of toppings from chocolate syrup and Oreos to "Unicorn Poop" (glossy rainbow sprinkles) and a few choices of cones. I ordered the Waffle cone with one scoop each of Sun Seed Crunch (a sweet and salty sunflower cream) and Chocolate Olive Oil, and of course I topped with with some sprinkles!
Ok, enough about food for a while. Let's get back to my experience. On a Tuesday night, we went out to a few bars that were featuring cover bands, and everything we heard and saw was GREAT. There's really some true talent walking through that city!
Downtown Austin reminds me a lot of downtown San Diego; busy streets, homeless people, UBERs and bars, however, the demeanor of the people is quite different.
I've been to New York City, I've lived in Los Angeles, and I currently work not far from downtown San Diego. People in the cities always tend to be in a rush and are often rude... not in Austin!
I don't think I've ever been called "ma'am" so many times in my life. I've never had so many men open doors for me, and I've never had a passerbyer say "hello" for no reason. People stop at stop signs and wave at you with all five fingers! Even the homeless population seemed a bit more calm; I think only one person asked me for change.
In the outskirts of Austin, there's beautiful Lake Travis with shops and food. which was appropriately named "The Oasis", and bordered one side of the lake. They offered a selection of local craft beers along with Beyond Meat burgers and sliders. Below The Oasis was a nice trail that followed the same side of the lake which can be accessed with a $10 parking fee. Our visit there marked the last day in Austin.
The next morning, we woke up early to volunteer at Rowdy Girl Sanctuary; one of the reasons we went to Texas in the first place. At the moment, they're located in Angleton, about a 3 hour drive, Southeast of Austin. We drove through a few towns that resembled my depiction of the Wild Wild West. with nothing more than run-down liquor stores, barbeque restaurants and the occasional bank. There must've been a school because we saw a few buses pass us. On both sides of the highway were cows, cows and more cows. They were beautiful, but it made me sad thinking they were going to be somebody's dinner one day.
Finally, we made it to Rowdy Girl, where we were able to volunteer on the farm. The animals there were BEAUTIFUL, free and loving. Renee and Tommy have almost 100 cows, along with some pigs, chickens, goats and dogs. They're moving the rescue up closer to Austin to get out of the dangerous flood zone area that they've already had to evacuate in the past. For more information about the sanctuary, or to volunteer, be sure to visit www.RowdyGirlSanctuary.org
The best part of the visit was when we were able to feed the cows. We loaded up one of the little carts with bags of feed, and the second we started driving towards them, they knew it was feed time. They all gathered around and started following us to each of the feed bins as we filled them up. It was so much fun watching them gallop towards us like a bunch of giant grass puppies! After about 6 hours at Rowdy Girl, we jumped back into the truck to head down to Houston area to visit some more friends, and wow, I'm greatful Houston wasn't the first city we came across.
The word "vegan" seemed like a foreign language to the culture. The streets were littered like downtown Los Angeles, or Tijuana. Almost every medical clinic or Weight Watchers clinic was neighbored by a BBQ restaurant, which is how I'm guessing both places keep their business. Ugh.
I don't want to generalize the entire city of Houston, because obviously I didn't meet everyone who's from there, nor did I spend enough time there to get the best opinion, so I'm not sure how accurate my opinion is. However, I'm still going to share how I felt; There's kind of a weird, eerie vibe of racism and hate combined with the Bible-thumpers and a stuck-in-the-past idea that animals were put here for us to eat. None of the restaurants or homes semed to have recycling bins or even understand why us "odd Californians" didn't just throw everything in the same trash can. Nobody seemed to know what the word "vegan" meant, and there was a clear self-segregation between races. The first guy I talked to there "joked" about having herpes and being an in-bred before I knew his name.
Sorry, Houston. Not a fan of what I saw, but that's okay because Austin was definitely more my style.
In summary, I liked most of what I saw of Texas, and was extremely surprised with the amount of vegan options in Austin and parts of Dallas. Overall, gas was over $1 cheaper per gallon, than in San Diego, but groceries seemed pretty similar. Despite their overall closemindedness, people seemed more courteous and slower-paced with more manners than typical Californians. Every time we asked people's opinion on Texas, the one thing they complained about was the heat, however, we visited the last week of April, so I didn't have the "pleasure" to feel those humid high 100's. There's kind of this weird claustrophobic feeling I felt while in Dallas and Austin, just because I'm used to the San Diego beaches being a quick drive away, but you also get what you pay for. If you're ever in Texas, I HIGHLY recommend the food trucks listed above along with a volunteer day at Rowdy Girl Sancutary!