Friday, January 28, 2022
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VSA ballots are rolling in

20220126 Valley Star Awards HMiller 41Ballots for the Valley Star Awards are rolling in – make sure your voice is heard and vote for your favorite Wintertainer™. This year’s categories include Male Vocalist of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year, Family Vocal Group of the Year, Musical Group of the Year, Duet Musical Group of the Year, Rock n Roll Band of the Year, Country Western Band of the Year, Novelty or Comedy Act of the Year, and Individual/Small Band/Variety Act of the Year. As always, you have a write-in option for your favorite Entertainer or Group of the Year.

Read more: VSA ballots are rolling in

Pier 19: An unforgettable dining experience

20220113 133557I am not keen on seafood, so in seafood restaurants I often have few options. That was not the case at Pier 19 on South Padre Island. While there was plenty of seafood options, there were ample options for me.

My husband and son are seafood lovers, and found it difficult to choose. They started with ceviche and then each had a platter. My son had the Small Grilled Platter while my husband opted for the Large Fried Platter.

20220113 134317My husband said the ceviche was the best he has ever had. The onion, jalapeno tomato and cilantro were fresh and vibrant; shrimp was bursting with flavor; and the creamy avocado provided a perfect finish. Pier 19 makes their own corn chips which were light and crispy yet sturdy and well suited to scooping copious amounts of ceviche.

20220113 134341The boys shared their platters which combined included oysters, scallops, fish, shrimp (3-ways), stuffed crab, fresh steamed veggies, coleslaw and hushpuppies. The coconut shrimp really impressed my husband as he had never had coconut battered shrimp that actually tasted like coconut like at Pier 19. My son said the coleslaw and seafood were the best he has ever had.

I started with some fried mushrooms, then enjoyed the Hawaiian Burger. The mushrooms were well battered and crispy outside while firm, plump and juicy inside.

20220113 134415The Hawaiian Burger was topped with a tangy-sweet barbecue sauce, bacon, cheese, and pineapple. Who would have thought to add pineapple to a burger? It was a nice combination of tart and sweet. I added a side of onion rings. These were hearty slices and, like all the other fried fare, coated in a light batter that complimented and never smothered the food.

It was a dining experience I will not soon forget, and one we plan to repeat regularly when we are on South Padre Island.

Pier 19 is open 7 days from 8 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. and located at 1 Padre Blvd on South Padre Island. You can contact them at (956) 761-PIER (7437) or at

Ranch House Burgers: Come Hungry

20211229 ranch house pic 08 webI arrived at Ranch House Burgers in Mission recently extremely hungry.

This was the right place at the right time.

The host and my server both highly recommended the fajita fries so that easily became a no-brainer. Ordering a burger wasn’t so easy. The choices are plentiful, and the creative options and descriptions not only can make your mouth water but can make you forget you already ordered a large appetizer.

I chose the 420 burger – chorizo, bacon, fried egg, Swiss cheese, refried beans and avocado – sounded like a perfect combination to remove the extremeness from my hunger. The specialty burgers are fun just to read from the menu – the John Wayne, the Pancho Villa, the Fire in the Hole – are just some of the names for these mega-size burgers.

I dug into a deep bowl of fries smothered with tiny, tender pieces of fajita mixed in with pico de gallo, melted cheese, guacamole and sour cream. It was a flavor-filled journey. The fries were fresh, seasoned to perfection and it wasn’t served with all the toppings just sitting on top. They were all spread throughout the dish, so every bite had a smorgasbord of tantalizing tongue and taste appeal.

The burger was everything I expected. The creamy flavors of the avocado, melted cheese and egg combined with the crispy bacon, and beef patty complemented one another and it wasn’t long before I knew I had a challenge as my extreme hunger dissipated and the fear of not finishing displaced it.

I continued to look over the quite large menu and realized that while this establishment is known for its amazing burgers, it also has a tantalizing mix of other foods from BBQ to Tex-Mex, sandwiches, chicken fried steak and seafood. There’s also a kid’s menu, and a separate list of sides. (It has salads as well, but for some reason my vision goes bad whenever I get to salads on a menu).

Don’t let the lunch crowd scare you away. The kitchen operation must run as smooth as melted butter. I arrived at noon, placed my order, ate and then ordered to go for my daughter, and I was still out before the typical one-hour work lunch was over.

I walked in extremely hungry, left extremely happy and then took an extreme nap when I got home, thinking about what burger I would get when I visit the Weslaco location.

It’s not just any omelet

20211217 VictoriaPalmsRest HMiller 01 webThe great ones are known by just one name.

There’s Tiger, Ali, Kobe, Brady and.... Dave?

Well, it’s more like Omelet Dave after making more than 100,000 omelets during his first 13 years at the Victoria Palms restaurant in Donna. So, maybe he doesn’t have the worldwide appeal as Woods or Jordan, but he’s known among Winter Texans, and travelers who stop in for one of his fantastic creations - whether it’s an omelet or a tantalizing waffle masterpiece

Dave’s gift for gab is as great as his cooking. There’s no charge for a good conversation with Dave. In fact, it's highly encouraged.

This morning, I had an omelet with the works - bacon, ham, sausage, green peppers, jalapenos, onions and, of course, mushrooms – but no spinach (don't want anyone to think I'm super healthy). As usual, it was a perfect way to start the morning. It came with hash browns, sourdough toast and salsa (and a cup of coffee). Not sure why, but I can make an omelet with the exact same ingredients, put a chef’s hat on - probably even Dave’s hat, and cook it all in the same spot Dave cooks it and it just won’t be as good. Why is that?20211217 VictoriaPalmsRest HMiller 04 tov

I also had a round two. A waffle that doubled as dessert - that’s how I justify it. This tasty morsel was put in front of me to the chorus of angels. It had to be the fluffiest and tastiest waffle I’ve had in recent memory. The waffle was as smooth as the mound of strawberries and whipped cream on top. Chewing is just an option.

It was a perfect complement to go with the working man’s omelet.

Dave said he figured that he would be 84 years old about the time he reaches 200,000 omelets and said he would probably still be doing it if he is still able.

“I like it. It’s not hard and I can talk to people,” he said.

That’s great news for Victoria Palms. It’s also terrific for all those who go by the RV Park, hotel, and restaurant, which is open to the public.

The food is definitely worth the trip. Being part of the great Omelet Dave experience is just an added bonus - at no additional cost.

Lobo del Mar: Tantalizingly good

20211210 LoboDelMar HMiller 02 webThe last time I ventured into Lobo Del Mar on South Padre Island, I ended up remembering an old comment my dad would make to me – don't let your eyes get bigger than your stomach. Of course, with their Caveman Burger, it's hard not to keep your eyes off of it. It's amazing – both in taste and size.

Unfortunately, I remembered that statement after ordering a lunch fit for a king – and his family. But it was so good.

This time I turned down the quantity a bit and started with the small order of ceviche and a bowl of seafood chowder.

On this day, which started kind of cool, but was in the low-60s when I arrived, that chowder hit the spot. Each spoonful was loaded with shrimp or other goodies, the temperature was great, and the consistency was spot on, and that's key – you don't want your chowder thick like pudding, or watery.20211210 LoboDelMar HMiller 06 web

After enjoying the ceviche, which I enjoy here more than just about anywhere because of its freshness, and because of how much they cram into the cup, I kept it in the seafood world and ordered blackened shrimp tacos. One can order shrimp or fish tacos one of three ways – blackened, fried, or grilled – and they come on a grilled corn tortilla stuffed with shredded cabbage, onions and diced tomatoes. Then it's topped with a creamy remoulade and mama's “Wolf Fire” salsa.

As I waited for it, I talked with the waitress, who explained to me about the daily entertainment, including the belly dancers on Wednesday nights during a usually packed house. In my few minutes there I saw a group of tourists, talked to some locals from McAllen and found some Iowa Winter Texans.

When the main course arrived, the first thing I realized is that this was gonna be a messy meal – just how I like it. But it was tantalizingly good. The veggies and the sauce mixed in well with the generous portion of blackened shrimp. The tortillas couldn't hold in all the yumminess (if that's a word).

This was my third visit to Lobo Del Mar, the other two were on the dock overlooking the Laguna Madre. Despite that area not being open while I was there, it was still extremely pleasant inside. And, while my eyes weren't bigger than my stomach, I'm guessing part of that reason is that my stomach has grown eating at delicious places like this.

Stuart Place: Like Cheers, but it’s Golf

Stuart Place 02 webGolf is not just a game to enjoy. It's an entire experience to be a part of, especially at Stuart Place Country Club and Shary Municipal Golf Course.

At least that's what the voters decided in the annual Winter Texans Times Favorite Golf voting.

Stuart Place, a nine-hole course, located at 155 Highland Dr. in Harlingen, won five of the seven categories that people could vote on. Those categories include Favorite Hole (No. 9), Favorite Amenities (the clubhouse), Favorite Putting Green, Favorite 19th Hole (again, the clubhouse) and Favorite Menu Item (hot dog).

Read more: Stuart Place: Like Cheers, but it’s Golf

Great lunch specials at Las Vegas Cafe

Las Vegas Cafe HMiller 05 webI’m not a fan of lunch specials. I believe that you don’t get the same portion – or a large enough – portion. And, as y’all know, I like big portions.

I, however, went against my long-term – and stubborn – belief and decided to check out one of the lunch specials at the Las Vegas Café.

This long-time and highly popular restaurant in Harlingen now has me believing I’ve been wrong all these years.

As I sat at the counter and ordered my plate, which included two cheese enchiladas and a pair of tacos – one beef fajita and the other carne guisada – I couldn’t help but notice the line still out front at 2 p.m. on a weekday. About six to eight people were patiently waiting for a table. But the line wasn’t stagnant as the host and servers kept people moving like a factory, but without the stressful feeling. It was a work of art.

When my plate arrived, topped with fresh onions, rice and a jalapeño, and a couple cups of salsa, I was highly impressed. The plate was large and the contents on it left no white space to be seen – just food, and more food.

The enchiladas were delicious. Then I bit into my fajita taco – and the tortilla as I’ve known it forever changed. I’m the guy who doesn’t understand why people wait so long in lines for tortillas. Before this day I rarely noticed any difference other than soft, or doughy or crispy.

Something about these two tortillas though was clearly…special.

I asked one of the kind ladies working about their tortillas. She said, “they’re the best, and they are homemade.”

I humbled myself. I didn’t know what made these tortillas so special. Usually, I’m focused more on the contents, and trying to not spill them. And while the beef fajita and the carne guisada were delicious, there was something about the tortillas that made me start thinking about their value as more than just a place-holder for the food. On this day, it seemed that the tortillas enhanced the flavor of the food and vice versa.

I left there happily full and contemplating what just happened. My beliefs about lunch specials had been changed, and my ignorance of tortillas had been challenged. I still won’t wait in hours-long lines to purchase tortillas, but I’ll definitely mark off the different lunch specials that I go through, now like a bucket list, and when I get to the meatloaf, I may just ask them to put it in their special tortillas.

Stefano’s: Great atmosphere and food

20211127 Stefanos HMiller 02 webThere’s something about Stefano’s Brooklyn Pizza in Harlingen that is so welcoming.

It could be location, nestled in a scenic and relaxing tract of land. It could be the service, friendly and intimately aware of the items on a large and varied menu. It might also be the ambiance, peaceful and inviting.

On top of it all, however, is the food. A plethora of choices that, so far in my visits, have been nothing but spectacular. 

On this trip, I took the big boy route and ordered the “Discover Italy” dish, a large plate with fettuccine Alfredo, lasagna and chicken parmigiana. I’ll probably still be eating it while you’re reading this. It was large and it was lovely. What stood out immediately were the three different types of pasta and the variety of flavors that came along with this tongue-tantalizing dish.

Each one of these “smaller” portions of their bigger brothers and sisters on the menu, was a meal in itself. The taste and the texture of each item ran the spectrum of joy and happiness. My biggest concern was how long it was going to take me to get my Sunday nap. All other worries just evaporated.

The hostess also recommended the cheese bread as an appetizer – it was more like cheese pizza. A large, round flattened pizza-like dish with warm bread, delicious melted cheese and some of the best marinara I’ve tasted, with chunks of tomato and cooked onion, it was a fabulous way to start the meal.

The only thing was that I didn’t start the meal with it. With temperatures “dipping” to the high 50s and low 60s at this point, I thought a bowl of wedding soup sounded like a perfect beginning. It was hot – not burn-your-face off hot, but hot. Any chills left quickly like if sitting by a fireplace in the middle of winter – anywhere but here in the Valley.

The soup, in a rich chicken broth was chock full of pasta, fresh herbs, and tiny meatballs. I can’t remember ever eating wedding soup, but this experience kicked off a trip where any stress was removed by pasta, cheese, sauce and more.

Golf Favorites: Last week to vote

cottonwood creek webThe weather in South Texas is pretty much always great for a round of golf during this time of year. Therefore, we come to you to ask you what your favorite golf course, amenities, golf hole and more are each year.

This is our third, and final, week of coverage. Please look at the two previous week’s issues online. This week’s coverage starts on page 14.

The Golf Ballot is on page 13. Be sure to fill that out and send it in, or fill out our online version at, by December 8. By submitting your favorites, you will be eligible to win free rounds of golf, dining, and more.

Read more: Golf Favorites: Last week to vote

Ranch House Burgers in Weslaco

Ranch House Weslaco 02 webI walked into Ranch House Burgers in Weslaco with a rebellious mindset.

I refused to get a burger.

I sat in a corner and immediately asked two ladies what their favorites, other than burgers, were. I already know that burgers are at a dreamy level of taste, so my rebellion was at full force.

“I really like the chicken plate,” one of them responded without hesitation. “We will order it and share it.”

When my server arrived, I asked him what is great that's not a burger.

“Either the chicken fried chicken or the chicken plate,” he said, as if he were being mind-controlled by the two ladies sitting near me.

So, I succumbed and order the grilled chicken plate. I was already intrigued when it said topped with grilled onions, mushrooms and Swiss cheese. I also asked for the coleslaw and loaded mashed potatoes.

When my plate came out, it was placed in front of me and I couldn't see the plate underneath. It was covered with two small cup/bowls of coleslaw and the mashed potatoes, and there was some rabbit food on the side. But the main theme of this story took center stage... well, the full stage.

First, the combination of Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and mushrooms are foods from Paradise Island. I could've eaten this without the chicken. However, the chicken gave it a solid feel and had a wonderful flavor of its own. The taste from each of the four items that make up this plate could all be singled out and wasn't in any way a mishmash of flavors.

While Ranch House Burgers may be best known for their wide variety and creatively named, and prepared burgers, suddenly this dish shot to the top of my “oh my goodness, I have to get this next time too” list. The fact that two people picked this from a large menu carrying options for everyone says mouthfuls about this establishment.

With Johnny Cash playing from the speakers, all of life's stresses seemed to take some time off. Oh, and the coleslaw and loaded mashed potatoes were the perfect sides to go with this afternoon of joy.

I walked in as a rebel and left as a sleepy and content genius. Now, where's the nearest place to take a well-deserved nap?

Taste of the Valley
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Valley Star Awards
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