Here in the Rio Grande Valley, we’ve been lucky enough to have a bunch of very talented, interesting, influential people come to South Texas and get a slice of how we live and to contribute to the dining aspect of our culture. This guide of international restaurants in the region features perennial favorites that demonstrate enduring quality, diversity, and excitement surrounding the new and unknown tastes of our beautiful melting pot of cultures. This guide is by no means exhaustive and serves to list my favorite places in no particular order:
German food – Schneider’s German Gasthaus & Beergarden, McAllen
German cuisine is maybe not the most famous in the world, but at Schneider’s you will find traditional German dishes such as the quintessential schnitzel. The classic dish is meat, usually thinned by pounding with a meat tenderizer and is fried in some kind of oil or fat. The term is most commonly used to refer to meats coated with flour, beaten eggs, and bread crumbs, and then fried. It is then served with a heaping ladle of mushroom gravy and a side of roasted potatoes. The main dining room features long tables and chairs but the true experience and atmosphere lies in its cozy and ideal outdoor seating space. The outdoor dining area is complete with German flags and decor, German music, and a stoney fire pit. It’s a great place to get a tall hefeweizen (German wheat beer), a soft pretzel, or a cup of coffee.
Vietnamese food – Basil Asia Chinese & Vietnamese Cuisine, Weslaco
Pho is the go-to Vietnamese dish for many people, but I prefer the bold and pungent flavors of bún bò Huế from this spot located at the southern end of Texas Street in Weslaco. Bún bò Huế is a vermicelli soup dish featuring four kinds of beef: brisket, tripe, steak and meatballs. It is incredibly savory and has the familiar basil-cilantro taste to it. You can get pho in a lot of places in the Valley, but a really good bún bò Huế is hard to find. The establishment features family-friendly booth seatings, an outdoor seating area, and a bar offering Vietnamese beer and other Southeast Asian spirits.
Filipino food – Kusina, McAllen
If you’ve eaten at Kusina, you might have crunched into fried lumpia rolls or marveled at the deep flavor of tangy, garlicky chicken adobo. “Kusina” is the Filipino word for kitchen, similar to the Spanish word “cocina.” The food is a huge melting pot of influences from the Pacific Rim, Malaysia, China, South America, and Spain. The restaurant serves the food cafeteria-style and in to-go plates. Kusina also features a grocery store located in a building next door. The food is flavorful, cheap, and the portions are huge. The fact that the food isn’t labeled made me unsure of what I was eating but thankfully they allow you to sample the food.
Korean food – Seoul House, McAllen
At Seoul House, get ready to feel at home. The establishment more closely resembles a house than restaurant. The “Bibimbop” is a classic Korean dish and safe bet if you’ve never tried this place. The word “Bibimbop” literally means “mixed rice” and is served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with namul (sautéed and seasoned vegetables) and gochujang (chili pepper paste), soy sauce, doenjang (a fermented soybean paste), raw or fried egg, and beef. So pick a seat and watch some Korean drama on the TV while you eat. Seoul House is honestly one of the best, authentic international restaurants in the Valley and I never leave unsatisfied.
Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food – Lebanese Bistro, Mission
Lebanese Bistro is simply a great place for middle eastern food and a good spot for vegans. This restaurant features authentic, fresh-made foods like falafel (spiced mashed chickpeas formed into balls or fritters and deep-fried), kebbeh (bulgur, minced onions, and finely ground lean beef, lamb, goat, or camel meat with Middle Eastern spices) and kafta (Lebanese beef kebabs). As in any Middle Eastern restaurant, there is a familiar lineup of hummus and mixed grilled meats, but I encourage you to try the classic Lebanese dessert known as baklava, which is a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped pistachios and sweetened and held together with syrup or honey. Lebanese cooking is an interwoven mix of cuisines from cultures situated around the Mediterranean Sea.