In winter, many RVers enjoy the sunshine and balmy temperatures of snowbird destinations like Florida, Arizona and Texas. It’s a time when many of us travel less, but, in some ways, enjoy our RV lifestyle more, because we can really get to know our winter community and explore the local food scene. One of the more popular places for wintering over is the Rio Grande Valley (RGV), located in the southernmost tip of Texas. Last December, I wrote a feature, “Fly Away to the Magic Valley,” about this phenomenal place.
The food in Valley towns close to the border has a definite Northern Mexican influence. If you’re a lover of great Mexican food like I am, you won’t be disappointed in the RGV. You’ll find plenty of traditional Mexican dishes like enchiladas, soft handmade tortillas and queso fundido con chorizo (melted cheese with Mexican sausage). You’ll also find Tex-Mex food — regional cuisine that blends American food products like yellow cheese with Mexican culinary creations. Popular dishes like chili con carne and mixed beef and chicken fajitas are common Tex-Mex dishes in this part of the world.
This is also ranching country, on both sides of the border, so the cowboy culture of South Texas and Northern Mexico has also had an impact on cuisine here. You’ll find plenty of dishes like cabrito (kid goat), barbacoa de cabeza (barbecued beef heads), carne seca (dried beef) and other meat
One place to find great cabrito is La Fogota, an upscale Mexican restaurant in Mission. (Don’t be afraid of goat; it tastes like a juicy pork chop.) La Fogata’s cabrito comes as two thin, bone-in goat steaks sautéed with sliced onion and served with a baked potato topped with melted cheeses and handmade corn and flour tortillas. For carbrito to be juicy and tender, order it medium or medium rare. If it’s cooked too long, it dries out.
Botanas is an RGV regional specialty that comes with chips, beans, cheese, meat, tomatoes, onions, guacamole, bell peppers, quesadillas, jalapeños and tortillas. You can find a wonderful version of botanas for two at Trevino’s in the little town of in Edinburg. This authentic and affordable Mexican restaurant also serves delicious chicken enchiladas and chile relleños with citrusy tomatillo sauce and melted white cheese. Trevino’s refried beans have an earthy flavor and the Mexican rice is perfectly fluffy. You’ll leave with boxes of leftovers and a tiny bill that will inspire you to come back again and again.
Another RGV area specialty is handmade tamales. Delia’s is a small chain that specializes in tamales. In McAllen (two locations), Pharr, Edinburg, Mission and San Juan, customers line up for pork, chicken, beef, bean, and specialty tamales like cream cheese and jalapeño by the half-dozen ($3.89-5.49) or by the dozen ($6.79-9.29). These are traditional tamales wrapped in corn meal (masa) and steamed in corn husks. They also serve large Veracruz-style tamales (chicken
or pork) that are steamed in green banana leaves. They are absolutely delicious.