DAYTON EATS: Embrace winter wanderlust with smart planning



The winter holiday travel season is expected to break records this year. Roughly half of Americans say they plan to travel and spend money on flights or hotel stays, according to the 2023 Deloitte holiday travel survey.

With travel plans cleared for takeoff, the survey found that more people are embracing their winter wanderlust with vacations that involve staying in hotels or private rentals instead of focusing on visiting loved ones.

Just as finding solid travel-planning resources is critical to ensuring a great trip, figuring out where to get your meals from is key.

I recently had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time traveling through Texas this fall; and the varied meals my husband and I enjoyed got me thinking about the sources of inspiration we had and how we got to each location.

How did we ultimately settle on the places we dined at when the options were endless? It was an interesting process, and one that many people in the United States will be going through this month.

There’s really nothing worse than having a subpar meal in an awesome town you are excited to be in. Having a fantastic meal helps cement memories. Here’s what worked for us recently.

Family and friends’ recommendations.

We had a fabulous dinner at Este in Austin that served us some of the best fish tacos I have ever had. The restaurant was featured on The New York Times annual list of best restaurants across the country, which is promising, but the opinion of friends and family delivered us to many of the restaurants and bars we ultimately found ourselves at —including Este. Using personal social media accounts to ask for advice on what to see and do always yields fantastic results; and, for us, many of the best meals came from recommendations from folks we know.

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Travel websites and social media information.

Talk about falling down a rabbit hole. When researching travel, the internet is endless and not in a good way. It can quickly be overwhelming. Each website has its own way of rating; and if you are using local websites, it’s not really clear how much you can actually trust the review. Also, if it’s not dated the information may not be current. My favorite websites that delivered the best recommendations were,,, New York Times food, Atlas Obscura,, and This was the foundation of how I put together my initial lists for the seven cities we visited in Texas.

Not everything goes as planned.

Sure, you’re going to make the restaurant reservations that you’ve made. But not everything goes as planned and sometimes you might want to change things up. You might want to take a tour — or see something you read about the night before as you were lying in bed. If you find yourself hungry, Google maps can be helpful. When you open the app and type restaurants into the search bar, you can click “show list” at the bottom of the screen. Filter yourself and click “top rated,” and you will have a good sense of the best options that are nearby. It’s the fastest way to aggregate the best options in geographic distance to wherever you are standing.

Ask the locals.

Tip the valet, tip the front desk, tip the bartender and ask them where you should go. The results will be all over the place, but they will yield some great ideas and options. Not all are good, but it’s worth doing. They know their town better than the internet.

Foot traffic says it all.

Is the line out the door? Is it empty at peak times? Read the room, read the traffic and steer clear of cheesy tourist traps unless that’s your thing. Vacation and time off is too precious; so if you feel like you’re not going to have a good meal, call it a day and change gears. You deserve to have something delicious, so don’t settle.

Focus on specialty foods.

Texas is known for BBQ, so that was a culinary focus throughout the trip. Know what your town specializes in and seek it out. Period. My favorite barbecue by far on the trip came courtesy of Blood Bros. BBQ in Houston.

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Think outside the box.

During one of the days we spent in San Antonio, we found ourselves lunching at Southerleigh Fine Food and Brewery at the Pearl. I ordered a delightful cracker-crusted Gulf red fish with crab and a lemon beurre blanc sauce, which I was in the middle of relishing when a gentleman seated himself at the bar next to us. We overheard him telling the bartender that he had one of the best meals of his life the night before. Those are some big words — and my interest was piqued. His destination was a French restaurant called Brasserie Mon Chou Chou. A French restaurant in Texas? Not the destination I had planned on, but after looking over the menu and hearing this gentleman rave about his meal, I was going to investigate for myself.

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

And I am so glad I did. This detour turned out to be one of my favorite meals I had on the trip.

We started with a raclette cheese carved table side on bread and classic escargot. The crisp duck confit in a green peppercorn sauce with country potatoes was some of the best duck I’ve ever had. The lentils braised with garlic sausage were a terrific complement. I finished the decadent parade of flavors with a coffee and chocolate pot de crème with sea-salt caramel and Chantilly cream.

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Mon Chou Chou is an affectionate French nickname given to a person of unmatched care, love and beauty who makes your world go round. And this restaurant was my Mon Chou Chou. Our server Taylor was absolutely fabulous and sealed the deal on an absolutely perfect meal. Never would I have thought a French restaurant in Texas would be my spot, but that’s the beauty of the unknown — it’s unpredictable, surprising and beautiful.

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Whether you are traveling for the holidays or traveling any other time of year, having a diverse well of inspiration from which to draw ideas and recommendations from is key. .

Charles Baudelaire said, “a multitude of small delights constitute happiness.” That we can all celebrate and savor the small delights this holiday season — and beyond, regardless of where we find ourselves at — is truly the ultimate gift.

Dayton Eats looks at the regional food stories and restaurant news that make mouths water. Share info about your menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes and culinary adventures. Do you know of exciting outdoor spaces, new exciting format changes, specials, happy hours, restaurant updates or any other tasty news you think is worth a closer look at? Email Alexis Larsen at with the information and we will work to include it in future coverage.


Turn to us every Sunday in Life & Arts for the latest menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes, and culinary adventures brought to you by contributing writer Alexis Larsen. Bon appétit!

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