If wide-open spaces and herds of contented longhorn cattle turn your thoughts to dinner—as in fat, sizzling rib eyes and juicy hamburgers—then pack your appetite (and expandable trousers) and head to Texas Ranch Life. Set on a lush 1,800-acre property an hour west of Houston, this is our sort of dude ranch. Guests not only get their own house on the prairie but also have the option of their own chef to boot.
When it comes to lodging, visitors choose from among nine homes, seven of which are restored historic houses that date back to the 1850s. Each has its own unique style, including original paint and stenciling and Texas antiques. For the most privacy and magnificent views of rolling hills and a Spanish courtyard, consider the Hacienda, located on the other side of the ranch from the busy main lodge.
Lawyers Taunia and John Elick have operated Texas Ranch Life for 12 years, and recently developed six lush vegetable gardens (the area boasts a rich, fertile black soil) and expanded their beef operation. Depending on what's in season, guests can feast on beets, carrots, Swiss chard, broccoli, and leeks straight from the garden, or order "the healthiest hamburger in the world," made from the ranch's own grass-fed beef (rich in healthy omega-3 and low in fat) and topped with homemade mayo prepared from richly flavored ranch eggs, homegrown tomato, lettuce, and pickles made from the garden's cucumbers. Upon arrival, kick off a happy hour (or two) with complimentary cheese, wine, sausage, and pickled chile peppers in the show barn and stables.
If you're lucky, John might show off his lasso skills or custom saddle collection. (His ranch work demos and trail rides are among the most popular activities with guests.) Between sips of Tempranillo and bites of local venison sausage, you can plan your weekend's activities that might include mountain biking, fishing in a stocked pond, and skeet shooting.
For dinner, you can purchase the Elicks' own steaks and ground beef, as well as vegetables from their garden, and prepare everything in the privacy of your own ranch house. Or sit back, take the night off, and let the ranch chef put his personal, Texas-style spin on dinner. We guarantee his grilled steak with crispy nopalito (cactus) fries will be the highlight of your meat-lover's weekend. Rates from $140 for a historic home, $275 for a Hacienda room. 10848 Cactus Lane; texasranchlife.com or 979/865-3649