Beaumont is known for being “Texas-friendly, with lots of bayou fun.” For many en route to and from Houston, this southeast Texas town offers a welcome break from I-10 for some good food, colorful murals, world-class art, and a taste of Texas’s oil history.
But it’s the taste of pure Texan chow and Texas-sized hospitality that brings me to visit for more than just a little while. Here are some of the fun places to park your cowboy boots and sit a spell.
1. Rao’s Bakery
A hometown bakery with a definite personality, Rao’s has been mixing up southern tastes with international influences for 80 years. Come here for a morning kolache, an authentic Italian espresso, and a scoop of Italian gelato. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner treats are all on offer including homemade paninis and muffins “the size of your head.” If you’re visiting during Mardi Gras season, Rao’s makes the best King Cakes in town. Bite into the multi-colored cake and see whether you’ve gotten the plastic baby — if you did, you’ll have to come back to throw your own Mardi Gras party. Give owner Jake Tortorice your address and credit card info, and he’ll ship you a cake in your favorite flavor. Rao’s is a family affair, too. During the summer, they offer their Bake Camp to get the kids ready to make their own cakes and cookies.
Pro Tip: Take note of the egg beater sculpture in front of the bakery. It’s part of Beaumont’s public art program. You’ll find vibrant murals and painted transformers throughout the city as well. All are done by both local and national artists.
2. Crazy Cajun
You don’t want to wear white when it’s crawfish season. I don’t know anyone who goes here and doesn’t eat at least 5 pounds of these oversized, messy red crustaceans. These mudbugs, as they’re called, are different from others that you might have tried in other states. True to their Texan heritage, they’re Texas-sized. It’s a gala evening when the entire family sits around a Crazy Cajun table with mountains of red on their plates in the open-air restaurant. Music is important here, and the stage — with its bright mural of a crawfish playing an accordion by local artist Ines Alvidres — is the home of bands and singers that will have you tapping along as you break back the crawfish body and suck out the meat. (Yes, that’s really how you do it.) Add some boudin balls, shrimp etouffee, a frosty mug of Abita, and finish with a slice of key lime pie with shortbread crust. The mood and tastes are crazily Cajun: a perfect Beaumont meal.
Pro Tip: Don’t confuse this with Krazy Kajun. They may sound alike and have similar menus, but the one with the Cs gets my vote for the most fun dining in Beaumont. Plus, it gets daily shipments of fresh crawfish in season (November–July), and you definitely don’t want to miss out!
3. Katharine & Company
Lines form here early for the creative and oversized sandwiches that Katharine & Company is known for. Housed in the Mediterranean Revival-style Mildred Building, a designated Texas Historic Landmark, Katherine & Company is only open for lunch. The vibe feels very European, both in menu and decor. Homemade soups (try the fabulous tomato), entrée salads, breads, and desserts complete the sandwich menu. There’s a wide range to choose from, and it’s best to figure out your order before you reach the counter. Try a chicken salad sandwich with a surprise addition of red grapes, or try their house specialty — a crab cake salad. You may decide that this “lunch stop” covers you for dining as well, and you can plan for your next meal with their extensive pre-packaged items or dishes by the pound.
Pro Tips: Katharine & Company has many vegetarian, low-fat and gluten-free options. Extend your visit after lunch with shopping in the adjacent boutiques.
4. Tia Juanita’s Fish Camp
You’re in the South near the Gulf Coast, so you should definitely visit Tia Juanita’s Fish Camp for some local seafood. A stop on the Cajun Trail, this local restaurant serves up dishes with Mexican and Cajun flair. Mix up your dinner with a gumbo starter brimming with gulf shrimp and crab. Throw back a frozen margarita or two and grab some boudin quesadillas, the total embodiment of fusion cuisine. Shrimp and grits, tacos, crawfish, boudin balls (it’s Cajun after all), and fried fish baskets — there’s pretty much everything you’d want to eat after a day of fishing. Today, you don’t need to be a sailor to enjoy this tradition — just bring your appetite. Add some rocking music, and you’ve got an instant party!
5. J. Wilson’s
A neighborhood hangout, J. Wilson’s offers a relaxing evening of bourbons and brews plus a fun made-from-scratch menu. I had to try the Man Candy simply because of the name. It turned out to be smoked pork belly tossed in habanero jelly, a rich savory dish with a burst of heat. A perfect companion, the Grown Man Grilled Cheese raises the bar for the humble sandwich by blending American, smoked gouda, and jack cheeses with a side of smoked tomato dipping sauce. Taking its proximity to the coast very seriously, J. Wilson’s oyster nachos are a choice of beauty: cornmeal-crusted gulf oysters on a corn tortilla with Fresno chilies, remoulade, pesto aioli, and corn salsa. You’ll have to trust me — it’s hard to go back to ordinary beef and cheese nachos after trying these, but they’re on the menu, too, if you prefer. Entrées are equally delicious. J. Wilson’s version of red beans and rice combines slow-cooked Camellia beans and popcorn rice with ham hocks and andouille sausage. The signature Chef Burger adds even more “Man Candy,” with Man Candy-smoked onions atop smoked gouda, lettuce, tomato and pickles in a truly man-sized sandwich.
Pro Tips: There’s a rotating selection of beers. If you like bourbon, J. Wilson’s has more than 25 choices. Grab a seat at the bar, strike up a conversation with a local, and try a flight.
6. KO Korean Grill
Family-run KO Korean Grill is a visit to Korea, right in Texas. The grill brings the best of Korean cuisine and tradition to Beaumont… with mom at the helm. The beautiful restaurant is modern and bright with cook-at-your table grills set under silver pipes and vents. The menu is designed for sharing by couples or groups of four (or multiples thereof). You can start your feast with an assortment of double-fried chicken wings or seafood. Or try a house specialty, the messy Ko-Gi fries topped with bulgogi (barbecue beef), spicy gochujang pepper sauce, house aioli, and green onions. Then the Korean barbecue begins. Choose a beef, pork, or seafood combo, or maybe mix it up with all three and watch as your dinner is cooked in front of you. Completing the experience, an assortment of Korean kimchi adds a mix of fermented and spicy small plates. Be adventurous and try a potent soju from a bottle or a soju cocktail. Whether you choose flavorless or flavored, Korea’s answer to sake helps tame the heat of the meal. For a perfect Instagram photo, the Supamelon Bang punch is made with soju and watermelon and served in a tapped watermelon.
Pro Tips: If you’re so inclined, you can try cooking the barbecue yourself. Happily, KO Korean Grill stays open from late morning to late evening. When you’re done, walk next door for a nightcap from popular rooftop bar Pour09.
A welcome break on the 75-mile drive from Beaumont to Houston, Buc-ees in Baytown is an institution. You may know Stuckey’s, South of the Border, or recall a Howard Johnson’s of yore, but there’s truly only one Buc-ees. You can peruse their rows and rows of goods and souvenirs, and take a welcome break at the cleanest, most elegant restrooms you’ll ever see by the side of the road. But Buc-ees is a must-stop for their brisket sandwich, a gorgeously juicy pile of barbecue-sauced beef on a lightly buttered roll. When they invented the term “melts in your mouth,” they definitely had Buc-ees brisket in mind. Don’t confuse it with their pulled pork — while that’s also good — the brisket is the standout. Around the bend from the station where slicers in bright yellow cowboy hats work non-stop, there are piles of nuts, candies, and other sweets to take home. If they have key lime fudge, try it; it really does taste like key lime pie. There’s a full range of beverages to add to your takeout meal. Now you can hit the road again in peace.
Pro Tip: Since Buc-ees also masquerades as a truck stop, it’s a great place to fill up your car.
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