Rodeo Season has begun — and like every year at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the deep-fried, loaded combinations and concoctions on a stick are just as much a draw as the jaw-dropping mutton-busting and headlining performances.
With around 120 food vendors spread throughout NRG Center grounds, the oldies but goodies like Triple J’s Smokehouse BBQ loaded baked potatoes, carnival corn dogs, cotton candy, elote, and fried cookie dough on a stick are still on the menu, but in its 90th year, the annual Rodeo is offering up some newer, eye-catching additions.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which abruptly shut down the event in 2020, has had something to do with this, said Amanda Schlatre, the Rodeo’s senior manager of exhibits and events. A handful of vendors, still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, have not returned, but “the positive spin is we have other concessionaires who have been waiting in the wings, and with that comes new food and new opportunities,” Schlatre said.
From Hot Cheetos soda floats and cookies and cream boba tea to pickle pizza and wagyu steak served in the first fine-dining establishment in its history, here are some of the Rodeo’s newest food additions organized by location.
Bacon-Wrapped Pork Belly on a Stick: Carnivals aren’t complete without some food options on a stick. Stop by Biggy’s II for its bacon-wrapped pork belly on a stick. The pork is marinated and seasoned pork belly before being wrapped in two feet of thick honey-smoked bacon before, slow-cooked for hours, and then charred on the grill.
Donut Chicken Sandwich: Just as it sounds, Get Fried serves up “deep-fried” chicken between two fresh glazed doughnuts for a decadent fair food.
Hot Cheetos Float: Take your love of Cheetos to the next level with the Crunchy Hot Cheeto-infused soda float at Biggy’s II, which is topped with whipped cream and even more Hot Cheetos. Pair it with Biggy’s classic flaming hot pickles, which are topped with warm gooey cheddar cheese and, you guessed it, more Crunchy Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
Teriyaki Chicken Pineapple Bowl: Get Fried puts a festive spin on a typical rice bowl, filling a hollowed-out half pineapple with white rice, pineapple chunks, and charbroiled chicken topped with green onions, sesame seeds, and a teriyaki glaze.
Watermelon Dole Whip Taco: Capitalizing off of Texas’ love of tacos, Nitro Dole Whip Treats fills thick-sliced watermelon with Dole whip — offering a fruity, refreshing dessert option.
Pickle pizza — with a dill cream sauce topped with cheese, spices, and dill pickles — is Swain’s Concessions’ newest menu addition. Find their vendor right outside of the arena.
A departure from the fast or fried options typically seen at the rodeo, Berg Hospitality debuts the Ranch Saloon + Steakhouse — the Rodeo’s first fine-dining restaurant. Housed in a 16,000 square-foot climate-controlled tent on the southwest corner of NRG Astrodome, The Ranch welcomes Rodeo goers to sit down, stay awhile, and experience the service and food promised at other Berg establishments like B&B Butchers. There will be fresh seafood, hearty sides, and dishes like Chef Tommy’s Bacon — a bacon concoction baked with blue cheese crumbles and topped with truffle-infused honey; the Carpet Bagger on the half shell; and appetizers like blue crab beignets; campechana, a Mexican shrimp cocktail; and whipped ricotta dip.
The Ranch’s Steakhouse will serve up a variety of grilled wagyu and USDA prime beef steaks, and its first-come, first-serve rustic Saloon will offer a more laid-back vibe, with live music hosted daily in its main bar and the opportunity to people watch on “the Porch” — a covered patio area that sits 115 in its dining area and bar. Grab a drink at its two fully functioning bars, which mark the first time the rodeo has served liquor outside of the stadium.
Cajun Cowboy, known for its Cajun fare, will have deep-fried jambalaya rolls — a combination of chicken, sausage, rice, and Cajun seasonings that are wrapped, fried, and drizzled with a tangy dipping sauce.
Houston hip hop artist and restaurateur Bun B brings his new smash burger joint Trill Burgers to the Rodeo. (Catch him in person at his headlining performance at the Rodeo on March 11, along with a robust lineup of entertainers, including fellow Houston rappers Paul Wall, Slim Thug, Lil Flip, Lil Keke and Z-Ro).
Rodeo newcomer and national chain Joe’s Crab Shack will offer its seafood favorites, while new vendor Darlin’s Fried Chicken promises fried chicken, made fresh on-site daily.
Southern Fried Saloon by Gourmet Royale in Circle Drive will Southern-up an Italian American classic with its Southern fried chicken Alfredo balls. The golden fried balls of goodness are comprised of seasoned fettuccine alfredo, fried chicken bites, and mozzarella cheese, served with a side of flash-fried lemon pepper asparagus spears and a toasted garlic parmesan baguette.
Topped with teriyaki chicken, a light sriracha glaze, and crushed macademia nuts, Island Noodles will serve up a creamy coleslaw with mandarin oranges, crushed pineapple, and snap peas.
Hot chik’n food truck Big Hots will serve up fried vegan bites.
NRG Center Lobby
Red Barn Biscuits will offer flaky biscuits of all varieties, including biscuits slathered in gravy or stuffed with fillings like sausage, egg, and cheese for breakfast. Lunch provides comforting biscuit creations like chicken pot pie.
Get your boba fix at Teahouse Tapioca and Tea, which will offer innovative takes on bubble tea, including a cookies and cream blend.
Tad’s Bodacious Burritos, which serves up Mexican fare, and Fredericksburg Mini-Donuts Co., known for its donuts decorated in sweet toppings, will both open their second location at the Rodeo this year in NRG Center’s Lobby.
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s festivities run from Feb. 28-March 20, with its annual World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest hosted from Feb. 24-26 at NRG Center. For more information, visit the Rodeo’s website.