The best (and worst) food at the Houston rodeo


With the first week of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo officially wrapped up, there’s been plenty of time to start eating through the city’s largest event. Over three days and with the help of four tasting assistants (i.e. friends bribed with free food), I ate 27 rodeo food items so you don’t have to.

When we write our guides before the rodeo kicks off, we haven’t had a chance to try the food yet to check that it’s good—or that it’s even available. Rodeo food is expensive, and you need to know if something is worth seeking out and spending money on. This is why I took this investigation very seriously.

Here’s a rundown of the best bites, the good bites, the forgettable bites and the bad bites.

The best bites

Viet taco ($13)


Viet taco at Asian Streetness

Viet taco at Asian Streetness

Emma Balter

This was by far my favorite bite of the entire rodeo. This taco comes with a choice of chicken or pork; I chose the latter. Thin grilled pork strips, like the ones found in a banh mi, were perfectly seasoned and tossed with carrot, cabbage, onions and cilantro. The tortilla is made with sesame oil and has a flaky quality, almost like a paratha. The entire thing slapped, as the kids say.

Where to find it: Asian Streetness in front of NRG Arena


Brad’s BBQ sundae ($18)


Brad's BBQ sundae at Saltgrass Steakhouse

Brad’s BBQ sundae at Saltgrass Steakhouse

Emma Balter

Despite being called a sundae, this item is not a dessert at all. It consists of extremely creamy mashed potatoes topped with delicious chopped brisket, sour cream and jalapeños, plus a giant sausage on a stick … all served in a plastic cowboy hat. The price is a little steep, but you get to keep the hat.

Where to find it: Saltgrass Steakhouse inside NRG Center


O.G. Trill Burger ($15)


O.G. Trill burger at Trill Burgers

O.G. Trill burger at Trill Burgers

Emma Balter

Bun B’s smashburger concept is remarkably consistent—everywhere I try it, it’s really, really good. The Houston rapper’s stand returned to the rodeo this year after making its debut in 2022. A thin crispy-on-the-edges patty is smothered with melted cheese and Trill sauce (a secret recipe, according to Bun). The potato bun is soft and lightly sweet, but for me, it’s the caramelized onions that truly tie this together into the perfect bite. You can add crinkle fries for $5.

Where to find it: Trill Burgers at Rodeo Plaza (go on a weekday to beat the line)


Deep-fried BLT sandwich ($16)


Deep-fried BLT sandwich at Texas Size Pizza

Deep-fried BLT sandwich at Texas Size Pizza

Emma Balter

This basket is more potato chips than sandwich, but the BLT itself was quite successful. I had anticipated an entire sandwich dropped into a deep-fryer, but the contraption is a little more creative than that: Deep-fried bacon is used instead of bread, which makes for some nice texture, even though the tomato and lettuce get a little lost.

Where to find it: Texas Size Pizza and Burger & Chili Shack at Rodeo Plaza at Rodeo Plaza


Un-PHO-gettable burger ($15)


Pho burger at Asian Streetness

Pho burger at Asian Streetness

Emma Balter

Another one from Asian Streetness, this burger contains shredded beef that’s infused with pho flavors, and the meat tasted remarkably similar to the Vietnamese soup dish. The sesame bun was a little sad and dry, but the combination of the aromatic beef with the bright green onions and cilantro, and spicy-sweet hoisin and Sriracha sauce mix made this a great bite.

Where to find it: Asian Streetness in front of NRG Arena


Cap’n Crunch chicken sandwich ($15)


Cap'n Crunch chicken sandwich at Biggy's II

Cap’n Crunch chicken sandwich at Biggy’s II

Emma Balter

I was ready to hate this, but it was actually quite good. The chicken was nicely fried and melded well with the honey raspberry sauce (I know it sounds weird, but trust me, it works). The Cap’n Crunch cereal added, well, some crunch. The sandwich was quite difficult to eat, though, with its contents sliding out of the bun with every bite.

Where to find it: Biggy’s II at Carnival Midway


Deep-fried bread pudding ($12)


Deep-fried bread pudding at Cajun Cowboy

Deep-fried bread pudding at Cajun Cowboy

Emma Balter

This delicious dessert was diced into small cubes, then fried, making for really moist insides and a perfectly crispy exterior. The heavy-handed cinnamon and syrup added some oomph, leaving us wanting a little ice cream on the side, but this bread pudding was great nonetheless.

Where to find it: Cajun Cowboy at Rodeo Plaza


Chocolate-covered strawberry waffle balls ($10)


Chocolate strawberry waffle balls at The Finer Diner

Chocolate strawberry waffle balls at The Finer Diner

Emma Balter

I wasn’t sure what to expect based on the one-line description of this item, but I was sure glad to find out. Three strawberries are covered in chocolate, just like the classic Valentine’s Day candy, then deep-fried with waffle batter, dusted with powdered sugar and served on a stick. The juiciness of the strawberry mixed well with the melted chocolate, and the waffle batter tastes much nicer than the typical fair food fry.

Where to find it: The Finer Diner at Rodeo Plaza


The good bites

Rattlesnake corn dog ($9)


Pioneer Wagon serves rattlesnake corn dogs.

Rattlesnake corn dog at Pioneer Wagon

Pioneer Wagon

Chris Taylor and his two sons travel the country selling rattlesnake meat items to fairgoers. I’ll try anything once. The corn dog was well-executed, the snake sausage lightly peppery and spicy from jalapeños in the grind. This item was much better at showcasing the rattlesnake than the snake bite nachos from the same vendor (review below).

Where to find it: Pioneer Wagon on Circle Drive


Chocolate bacon ($6)


Chocolate bacon at Spring's Country Kitchen

Chocolate bacon at Spring’s Country Kitchen

Emma Balter

This item is exactly what you’re thinking (hoping? dreading?) it is. It is chocolate-covered bacon. It needs no further introduction. What’s not to like about chocolate-covered bacon? One of my tasting assistants that day didn’t like it, and the other couldn’t partake due to Judaism, but I have the final say and I’m saying that you need some chocolate-covered bacon.

Where to find it: Spring’s Country Kitchen at The Junction


Deep-fried tres leches ($9)


Deep-fried tres leches at El Patio Mexican Restaurant

Deep-fried tres leches at El Patio Mexican Restaurant

Emma Balter

This didn’t quite have that spongy moistness that great tres leches has, but it was a great bite overall. The fried balls are served with whipped cream and blueberries, adding some brightness to balance the dish out nicely.

Where to find it: El Patio Mexican Restaurant at Rodeo Plaza


Banana split ($12)


Banana split at Swirl Ice Cream

Banana split at Swirl Ice Cream

Emma Balter

I don’t think too much credit needs to be given to slicing a banana and topping it with ice cream and whipped cream, but this is a classic palate cleanser that really hits the spot when you’re baking under the Houston sun and on your 10th food of the day.

Where to find it: Swirl Ice Cream at Carnival Midway


Ice cream sandwich ($13)


Ice cream sandwich at Totally Baked Cookie Joint

Ice cream sandwich at Totally Baked Cookie Joint

Emma Balter

There were no frills to this dessert, but just like the banana split, it hits all the notes you want it to. Subtle vanilla ice cream is studded with chocolate chips for sweetness and crunch, sandwiched between a soft cookie that was a tad too crumbly, but did the job nonetheless.

Where to find it: Totally Baked Cookie Joint at Carnival Midway


Honolulu hog spud ($16)


Honolulu hog spud at Spud Ranch BBQ

Honolulu hog spud at Spud Ranch BBQ

Emma Balter

After the ordeal I went through to lay my hands on this spud, it better be good, I thought, when one finally came into my possession. Well, it was. I visited the rodeo on Wednesday and Saturday, and on both days tried and failed to order the Honolulu hog spud, which was listed on the menu and advertised on the side of the stand. Despite a spokesperson for RCS (the company contracted by RodeoHouston to produce the carnival) falsely claiming it was there the whole time, the cashiers told me it was unavailable. When I returned on Sunday after spurring an internal investigation into the missing spud, it was magically on the menu. The baked potato was huge, the pork inside was tender and flavorful, well-complemented by the sweet barbecue sauce and actual fresh pineapple chunks. If you were looking for this item last week and weren’t able to order it, try again this week.

Where to find it: Spud Ranch BBQ at Carnival Midway


Deep-fried jambalaya roll ($9)


Deep-fried jambalaya roll at Cajun Cowboy

Deep-fried jambalaya roll at Cajun Cowboy

Emma Balter

You can’t really go wrong with jambalaya in egg roll form. The insides needed a tad more seasoning, but the texture and flavors were great, and the roll was the right amount of crispy on the outside. This comes with a sweet and sticky dipping sauce that adds a nice contrast.

Where to find it: Cajun Cowboy at Rodeo Plaza


The forgettable bites

Rodeo donut cheeseburger at Texas Steak Out Grill

Rodeo donut cheeseburger at Texas Steak Out Grill


Emma Balter

Snake bite nachos at Pioneer Wagon

Snake bite nachos at Pioneer Wagon


Emma Balter

Fruity Pebbles shrimp fried rice bowl at Get Fried

Fruity Pebbles shrimp fried rice bowl at Get Fried


Emma Balter

Rusa drink at Fruteria Cano

Rusa drink at Fruteria Cano


Emma Balter

Donut cheeseburger, snake bite nachos, Fruity Pebbles shrimp bowl, rusa drink (Photos by Emma Balter)

Rodeo donut cheeseburger ($18): This item could have made it into the good bites had it not been so impossible to eat. The burger is built too tall, a predicament you would usually solve by smashing the bun down into the patty. But how exactly am I to smash down a bun that is made of a glazed doughnut? It’s a shame, because the doughnut, bacon and onion ring tasted good together, but I had to completely deconstruct it to get a bite. And please get that lettuce and tomato as far away as possible from glazed fried dough. (Texas Steak Out Grill at Carnival Midway)

Snake bite nachos ($14): I never thought I’d utter these words, but there was not enough rattlesnake meat on these nachos. The tortilla chips had long lost their snap, although the “venom sauce” avocado salsa was nice and tangy. Yet still, you need more of that ground snake meat to showcase what people are ordering this item for. (Pioneer Wagon on Circle Drive)

Fruity Pebbles shrimp fried rice bowl ($18): Putting this item in the “forgettable” column is not entirely accurate, as I don’t think I’ll soon forget something called Fruity pebbles shrimp fried rice bowl. However, this hollowed-out pineapple is more style than substance. The fried shrimp was nice, but there were only three of them. It’s not actually fried rice, rather two piles of waxy boxed rice topped with Fruity Pebbles (as opposed to shrimp rolled in the cereal, like RCS promised). And ranch mixed with Fruity Pebbles and pineapple is really not what I want. (Get Fried at Carnival Midway)

Rusa drink ($8): This was one of the few decked-out drinks—much needed for refreshment as it’s somehow already early summer in Houston—that delivered what you want without breaking the bank (I paid $16 for an agua fresca at another stand). Topped with fresh fruit and a tamarind stick, it did the trick, but the agua fresca was a little too watery and lacked flavor. (Fruteria Cano on Circle Drive)

Bacon mac and cheese egg roll at The Finer Diner

Bacon mac and cheese egg roll at The Finer Diner


Emma Balter

Birria bun-ritto at Asian Streetness

Birria bun-ritto at Asian Streetness


Emma Balter

Garden salad at Enzo's Pizzeria

Garden salad at Enzo’s Pizzeria


Emma Balter

Cricket pizza at Swain's Pizza on a Stick

Cricket pizza at Swain’s Pizza on a Stick


Emma Balter

Bacon mac egg roll, birria burrito, garden salad, cricket pizza (Photos by Emma Balter)

Bacon mac and cheese egg roll ($7): This has promise, but the roll wrapper was too greasy and soft to make this enjoyable, and the bacon mac and cheese inside lacked seasoning. You only get one egg roll per $7 order. (The Finer Diner at Rodeo Plaza)

Birria bun-rrito ($14): I loved everything else I had from this vendor, but this burrito disappointed. The birria dip was very greasy and not that flavorful, the pork inside was quite fragrant and well-cooked, but the tortilla wrapping it was too thick and chewy. (Asian Streeness in front of NRG Arena).

Garden salad ($10): Why would I order a garden salad at the rodeo? I really don’t have a satisfying answer for you, other than its mere existence was daring me to. Well, as you might expect, it was an airport-quality iceberg salad with a light sprinkling of carrot strips, cabbage, sweet peppers and cherry tomatoes, plus ranch. (Enzo’s Pizzeria at Carnival Midway)

Cricket pizza ($15): I’m a fan of the chapulines tacos at Hugo’s, so I was happy to dive into a cricket pizza. The bugs were comically planted upright into the slice, with some of their legs sprinkle across it. It just tastes like a decent slice of cheap pizza (but one you pay $15 for) with some crunch, and the crickets tasted a little stale when eaten alone. (Swain’s Pizza on a Stick at The Junction)

The bad bites

Mac dog at Mustard's Cafe

Mac dog at Mustard’s Cafe


Emma Balter

Hot Cheeto burger at Biggy's II

Hot Cheeto burger at Biggy’s II


Emma Balter

Deep-fried scone at Sweet Cheeks

Deep-fried scone at Sweet Cheeks


Emma Balter

Loco ramen elote at The Corn Shack

Loco ramen elote at The Corn Shack


Emma Balter

Mac dog, Hot Cheeto burger, deep-fried scone, elote ramen (Photos by Emma Balter)

Mac dog ($12): My tasting assistants and I laughed when this came out. It’s just a serving a Kraft mac and cheese spooned onto a large hot dog. How do you eat it? A fork is given to you for the mac but that’s not practical for the dog, yet it was impossible to pick up with your hands and take a bite without the noodles going everywhere. One of my tasters said he’d perhaps eat this drunk at 2 a.m., but could make it himself with a quick trip to 7-Eleven. (Mustard’s Cafe at Carnival Midway)

Hot Cheeto burger ($17): There were several levels of scammery here. RCS materials had promised a Hot Nashville Cheeto Chicken sandwich, but the vendor only had a normal Nashville hot chicken sandwich and what they were calling a Hot Cheeto burger. I ordered the latter, which according to the picture on the stand was meant to have a Cheeto-crusted bun. Despite confirming twice that I had ordered the right thing, I instead received a normal (bad) burger with a bunch of (stale) Hot Cheetos inside the bun. (Biggy’s II at Carnival Midway)

Deep-fried scone ($12): I was excited to try a deep-fried dessert that was different from the usual, but was sadly disappointed. The dough inside was pasty and undercooked, and the middle was still frozen. (Sweet Cheeks at Carnival Midway)

Loco ramen elote ($12): This was not bad—it was awful. It has haunted my thoughts every day since. Mushy noodles swim in a tasteless broth topped with mayo, corn and Hot Cheeto dust. Digging in results in the Cheeto sprinkles to fall in the broth and turn it into an unappetizing bright-red sludge. I have never been so sad to eat for a living than in that moment. (Corn Shack at Carnival Midway)





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