Everyone in Texas tells the same horror story about L.A. food: It’s a barren wasteland entirely devoid of Texan favorites. I heard plenty of versions of it before I made my move here from Austin in 2014. My aunt pulled me aside and told me, “They don’t have queso,” in the same frightened whisper that you might use to tell someone that your neighbors’ son has killed and is thinking about doing it again. My dad told me that people in California knew not of barbecue brisket, for instead they worshipped at the altar of something called “tri-tip.” I could’ve sworn I saw his hands tremble at the thought.
But when I finally made the move, I discovered that most of the warnings I'd heard were wrong, because people like Briana Valdez were rewriting the horror stories to have happy endings. In 2013, Valdez opened HomeState, a Los Feliz breakfast and lunch spot that serves exclusively Texas favorites, including breakfast tacos, queso that my scared aunt would love and brisket sandwiches. The opening lit a culinary Bat signal for Texans living in Los Angeles. “In the beginning it was way more Texans that were coming to check it out and were coming to see if it met their expectations, if there was finally something that represented them here,” said owner (and fellow relocated Texan) Valdez. “I’d say now it’s a really good mix. L.A. in general is really excited about breakfast tacos.”
Not only did L.A. have the Texas food I was warned that it wouldn’t, L.A. considered my comfort food cool and was “really excited” about it. HomeState has lines out the door almost every day of the week, and has even spawned copycat menus (acclaimed local taco chain Guisados added breakfast tacos to its offerings in 2014, a year after the opening of HomeState).
HomeState isn’t alone in this, either. The same year that spot opened, Wade McElroy and Russell Malixi (also former Texans) opened Horse Thief BBQ, a Texas-style barbecue joint in downtown’s Grand Central Market. That same year, Compton barbecue darling Bludso’s BBQ expanded up north to an upscale gastropub-ish space on La Brea and Melrose. Bludso’s pitmaster Kevin Bludso hails from Corsicana, Texas. I don’t know what was in the L.A. water in 2013, but for little ol’ me, it certainly felt as if the Texan Illuminati was rolling out the red carpet when I moved here in 2014.
No one I talked to would confirm the existence of said Texan Illuminati. McElroy pointed to a vacuum that he saw in L.A. barbecue as the reason behind Horse Thief. “I had seen in other cities where guys from Texas had opened barbecue restaurants. And I was like, that’s a great idea, that’s just something that’s so ubiquitous in Texas, in Houston and Austin and Dallas. And that’d be great to offer to people in L.A.” The people have responded to the offering, placing Horse Thief on several “Best Barbecue in L.A.” lists.
With HomeState, Valdez sought to bring not just Texas food but a Texas attitude to L.A. Each time she went home to visit family, she was shocked by the hospitality of the people there. “It was so startling to me; I would walk into a place and someone would look me in the eye and say, ‘How are you?’” She wanted to capture that warmth with HomeState.
Three things are certain for Texpats: death, taxes (Texas doesn’t have a state income tax, so that’s always a surprise when we move) and wanting a food from home that we can’t have. I wanted a kolache, a Czech pastry that came (along with its people) to Texas in the mid-1800s. The Texas version of the kolache comes in two primary varieties: sweet, which is a round, slightly sweet bread with a divot in the middle to hold fruit or cream cheese, and savory, where the same dough completely encloses a filling of sausage and cheese. Some people might call the savory ones “klobasneks,” and they’d be right, but as with most things, Texans like to keep things super simple even if it means being wrong.
I lived in the throes of kolache-less horror for almost two and a half years until I happened across something interesting on my Instagram Explore page. Hidden amongst my usual algorithmic offerings of exciting baseball plays and cute dogs was a picture of some beautiful, beautiful kolaches created by Morning Boys, an L.A. bakery started by Texan brothers Mark and James Morales. Started as a catering operation in 2014, the brothers made the move to a delivery/pop-up model earlier this year, with plans to start work on a physical storefront later this year.
After moving to L.A. to pursue music in 2000, the Moraleses started swapping that same old horror story back and forth. “Since we’ve been here, like every transplanted Texan, you kinda long for your comfort foods,” Mark said. Eventually, they decided to take action. The brothers opened Morning Boys in 2014, originally just fulfilling orders to craft service people whom Mark had met through his film accounting job. In 2017, they decided to open up orders to the public via their website or by phone. Place an order by 2 p.m. (for at least two dozen) and the pastries will be delivered to you the next day. HomeState’s Valdez called the friendliness and ease of ordering “very Texan.”
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The kolaches themselves live up to my memories and expectations, though the boys of Morning Boys have made some concessions to the L.A. market. One egg-filled kolache, called the Artistic Type, has feta and pesto, while a vegetarian option uses soyrizo.
The Texas invasion does not and will not stop there. Hopdoddy, the Austin-based craft burger and beer joint, opened up a pair of locations in Playa Vista and El Segundo in 2015. Alamo Drafthouse is set to finally open an L.A. location of the famed dine-in cinema chain in 2018. And last year, jumping on the trend, the owners of Big Wangs opened El Tejano, a Texas-themed bar in North Hollywood, which represents the “everything is bigger in” side of Texas with giant 2-for-1 margaritas at all times.
I told Valdez I thought it was strange that these Texas places weren’t just opening but gaining a lot of attention from the average non-Texan L.A. resident. “Until you come out of Texas, you don’t really realize those things that make it super special,” she said. Texas is super special, and these restaurants have done a good job of showing L.A. some of the reasons why. Even if those reasons are melted cheese and fatty, smoked beef.