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Queue up for the 8 best Indian buffets in Dallas

We Are All Fatlords

  • Plate from Muglai in North Dallas.
    Courtesy photo
  • Bins from Taj Mahal in Dallas.
    Photo by Teresa Gubbins
  • Plate from Udipi Cafe in Richardson.
    Photo by Teresa Gubbins
  • Buffet line at Madras Pavilion in Richardson
    Photo by Teresa Gubbins
  • Exterior of Madras Pavilion in Richardson
    Photo by Robert Bostick

If you want to be an Indian restaurant in Dallas-Fort Worth, you pretty much have to do a buffet at lunch. It's the price you pay for serving a cuisine that's unfamiliar to a segment of diners reluctant to order from a menu without knowing what the food looks or tastes like. Luckily, many Indian dishes such as rice, curries and stews successfully withstand the vicissitudes of a buffet steam table.

Most of our Indian restaurants are located in the two suburbs with the largest Indian populations: Irving-Las Colinas and Richardson. But we didn't let geography stop us as we sampled Indian buffets across DFW to narrow down the list of our favorite Indian buffets. Some are vegetarian; others offer goat curry. Best comes first.

Madras Pavilion
Wild scene at this longtime Richardson restaurant, with throngs of Indian families, clanging dishes and a preoccupied urban buzz. Selection was extensive, with soups, lettuce salad, chutneys and 15-plus items, all vegetarian, all excellent — from three-bean stir-fry to potato curry with carrots and peas. Medu vada, or savory lentil doughnuts, had neat crunchy crusts, and there was a pan of creamy mango ice cream sprinkled with chopped pistachios from which you could help yourself.
Buffet pick: Aval upma, a thick porridge-like dish with onion and black sesame seeds
Buffet hours: 11:30 am-3 pm daily
Price: $11.99

Udipi Cafe
Part of a loosely constructed chain with branches around the country, Udipi's buffet is entirely vegetarian and of very good quality, with quite a few one-of-a-kind offerings not seen on other buffets, such as beet poriyal, a.k.a. stir-fried beets, and pineapple gojju, which are pineapple chunks in a spicy gravy. The selection is limited to 10-12 items, but everyone gets a dosa, the large flat crisp Indian crepe, made-to-order, in your choice of plain or spicy. The dining room is clean and bright, the staff crisp and efficient.
Buffet pick: Idli, a moist rice disc that's both dense and fluffy
Buffet hours: 11 am-3 pm, Tuesday-Sunday
Price: $8.99 weekdays; $10.99 weekends

Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal gets instant points if only for its location south of 635. But it also has the TLC that comes from a conscientious owner who is also the chef: Charanjit Gill. The buffet table was compact, clean and tidy, with a vibrant selection of chutneys; a trio of soups; and a dozen items ranging from popular staples like chicken tikka masala to less common items like kadhi pakora, onion fritters in a spicy yogurt sauce.
Buffet pick: Ground chicken kebab with onions and peppers
Buffet hours: 11:30 am-2:30 pm daily
Price: $11.99

Bawarchi
Former Clay Pit space hosts a significant buffet with a dozen items, meat and veg, plus three kinds of rice (one being an unusual mint rice), soups, salad, and five desserts. A rather chatty server brought naan to the table in a basket, as opposed to it sitting on the buffet — a nice touch. "Chilly veg" were chunks of cauliflower, bell pepper and other vegetables in a fiery red-hot sauce. Tindora fry, made with an Indian vegetable, resembled blistered chilies. Decor is a trip with a blue-sky mural on the ceiling.
Buffet pick: Mango kesari, a rich, extra-thick pudding flavored with cardamom
Buffet hours: 11:30 am-2:30 pm daily
Price: $10.99

Mughlai
Tucked behind Galleria Dallas, Mughlai has become a critical favorite not only for its food, but also for its classy atmosphere and attentive service — two things that you don't usually encounter at Indian restaurants. The buffet was medium-size, with four meat items (white-meat chicken, mostly), five veggies, desserts, and a lettuce-and-tomato salad that was noticeably fresh. Presentation was fancy, with shiny domes — sharper than the usual steam table. The crowd included lots of office workers. Servers were sweet.
Buffet pick: Aloo tikki, aka spicy potato patties, flecked with seeds and Indian spices
Buffet hours: 11:30 am-2:30 pm, Monday-Friday; noon-3 pm, Saturday-Sunday
Price: $12.99

Kalachandji's
Restaurant at Hare Krishna temple is officially vegetarian, but if it had a certifiable cuisine, Indian would be it. The menu changes every day, but there is always soup, rice dish, vegetable curry, vegetable pakora, wafers and chutney, plus a few non-Indian dishes and a couple of Indian desserts. Divine atmosphere.
Buffet pick: Cinnamon swirl bread
Buffet hours: 11:30 am-2 pm daily
Price: $8.95

Vindu
Vindu comes from the owners of Pasand in Irving, who closed the Richardson Pasand after opening this nicer spot in Far North Dallas. Its saffron-colored walls and booths with granite tabletops are a step up, but service was hilariously bad, with a manager on his cellphone who gestured toward a table brusquely. The buffet held neon-pink tandoori chicken and many fried things, including potato-and-pea-filled samosas and vegetable fritters (a.k.a. pakora). Customers were mostly groups of Indian males, looking for a cheap, filling lunch.
Buffet pick: "Cabbage fry," spicy stir-fried shredded cabbage and peas
Buffet hours: 11:30 am-2:30 pm daily
Price: $8.99

Mumtaz
Mumtaz in Richardson was a big place with a couple of big-screen TVs in the corner, and yet it had a homespun feel, with hand-written signs on the buffet table. It specializes in Punjabi food, including spicy curries, tandoori meats and veggie items. The buffet had about 12-15 items total, with attentive staffers who replenished the naan bread regularly.
Buffet pick: Andhra-style eggplant, with chunks of soft eggplant and onion in a chunky tomato sauce
Buffet hours: 11:30 am-2:30 pm, Monday-Friday; 11:30 am-3 pm, Saturday-Sunday
Price: $8.95

  • Sundown at Granada makes its own veggie patty from a mix of quinoa, sunflowerbutter and soy sauce. The avocado on top is almost unwieldy.
    Photo courtesy of Sundown at Granada
  • Liberty Burger's veggie version is made with a blend of grains, vegetables andseeds bound together with hummus.
    Photo courtesy of Liberty Burger
  • Elevation Burger merits mention because its veggie burger is made of actual veg:corn kernels, chopped bell pepper, carrot and bits of broccoli.
    Photo by Marc Lee
  • Houston's/Hillstone achieves the most burger-like appearance, thanks to thesmart use of shredded beet.
    Photo by Marc Lee
  • Old Monk veggie patties are made with cashew butter, bulgar wheat and egg, whichmakes them vegetarian but not vegan.
    Photo by Teresa Gubbins
  • Spiral Diner has three veggie burger options, but we prefer the nut patty madewith sunflower seeds, carrots, brown rice and spices.
    Photo by Marc Lee

The 6 best veggie burgers in Dallas more than satisfy the craving

Nutty Buddies

Burgers are a quintessential part of our culture, up there with apple pie and baseball, a symbol of who we are. But from a flavor standpoint, what makes a burger a burger is not so much the burger as it is everything else: bun, lettuce, tomato, pickle, whatever else floats your boat. If you've ever eaten a hamburger patty unadorned, you know how flavorless it can be.

That's why veggie burgers are one of the easiest, most popular substitutions for meat. Throw a veggie burger on the grill, and it'll acquire the same sear and charbroiled flavor as your old-school cow patty. Most veggie burgers also have some seasoning to add extra zing.

For the list of our favorite veggie burgers around Dallas, we went for places that put together their own mix. No Garden Burgers, portobello mushroom or marinated tofu. We favored veggie burgers made with grains such as rice or oats. Black bean burgers, the other common recipe, are usually overdosed with cumin and have textural issues, i.e., they squoosh out of the bun as soon as you take a bite.

These six veggie burgers best satisfy that craving for a burger loaded with toppings on a toasted bun.

Liberty Burger
This nascent North Dallas chain hand-forms its own patties from a magical mix of grains, veggies and seeds including quinoa, carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, chia and flax seeds. Held together with hummus, it had a fabulous crusty, brown edge and you could see the little seeds. It came with a stack of nicely dressed greens, tomato and thick slices of avocado on a cracked wheat bun. (It also comes with Swiss cheese, which we skipped and didn't miss.) The patty had zesty, peppery spice that was a good counterpoint to the fresh lettuce-and-tomato and made Liberty our top veggie burger.

Spiral Diner
Dallas-Fort Worth's original vegan restaurant is so into veggie burgers, they have three options: soy protein, nut patty or portobello mushroom. The soy is the most like a burger, but we like the nutty one made from sunflower seeds, carrots, brown rice and spices. The patty had perfect little edges, and came on a righteous whole-wheat bun with a big spoon of guacamole. The texture of the burger was a bit soft, and the flavor was very "veggie." No way this would be mistaken for a "real" burger, but it had its own cool persona.

Sundown at Granada
The vegetarian-friendly restaurant next to the Granada Theater makes its own veggie patty from a power-packed mix of quinoa, sunflower butter and soy sauce. It came topped with avocado, chile-lime slaw and chipotle cream. The quinoa was a persuasive burger stand-in with its crumbly beef-like quality and dark edges. The slaw was almost droopy, but you wouldn't want crisp slaw on a burger. The avocado was almost too thick, but too much avocado is a good problem to have. It came with tomato, red onion, pickle and some sprigs of arugula — nice touch.

Houston's/Hillstone
This veggie burger often makes "best" lists, and it looks like the real deal, with a rare-red center they achieve by adding an unusual, smart ingredient: shredded beet. Visible char marks on the patty and the barbecue sauce on top were strokes of brilliance. The texture was a little soft and crumbly, but it mostly held together thanks to the large, soft sesame-sprinkled bun. It came with a huge mound of shredded lettuce, tomato slice and melty cheese. Accompanied by your choice of fries, couscous or coleslaw, it looked and felt like a big meal.

Old Monk
The Henderson Avenue pub makes its own patties from a mixture of cashew butter, bulgar wheat and egg; the egg makes it vegetarian but not vegan. The patty had clean-cut edges and an impressive sear. The spices included a bit of cumin, just enough, not too much, and a hint of spicy heat. The bun was pretty with glossy top. On the side came good red slices of tomato, red onion, lettuce and a pickle, plus your choice of fries, side salad or German potato salad.

Elevation Burger
This fast-food chain does not fit the criteria listed above but merits mention because its veggie burger is one of the few made of actual vegetables: corn kernels, chopped bell pepper, carrot and bits of broccoli floret. The texture was a bit rubbery, and the flavor of the patty was very "cream of celery," but the edges were nicely browned. Bonus points for the paper wrapper. The presentation of the restaurant, however, not so much, with trash on the floor and stale French fries on the work counter. But it is a novelty to see a true veggie burger.

  • The enviable address at Inwood Village makes PoGo's the liquor store pick forPreston Hollow.
    Photo courtesy of Pogo's
  • Monticello Liquor is probably best known for its collection of scotch andbourbon.
    mi9.com

The 6 best indie liquor stores in Dallas to stock the bar

99 bottles

In November 2010, local booze hounds popped their corks when Dallas finally turned wet, i.e., voted in favor of allowing beer and wine sales across the city. We can thank Kroger for being the primary mover (so buy your wine at Kroger); the initiative made Dallas prime turf for a slew of liquor-selling enterprises to swoop in, including Trader Joe's, Spec's, and Total Wine and More.

Those big-box places are convenient and often have muscle that secures discounts or hard-to-get items. And don't forget veteran local chains like Sigel's, Goody Goody, Centennial and PK's.

But as part of our Best of Everything series, we're here to celebrate the standalone indie: the one-stop shop that serves and reflects its neighborhood. Here are six, in alphabetical order.

Hall’s Wine & Spirits
Quirky gas-station-convenience-mart-liquor store in Colleyville used to be out in the middle of nowhere; but then Colleyville happened. As Hall's Grocery, it always sold a little beer and wine along with gas, smoked meats and assorted tchotchkes. But since it became a licensed liquor store, it has stepped up its game, with more organized shelves holding a big selection of spirits. The weirdness factor has partially faded, but the ability to get rare craft beers has not.

Kegs & Barrels
Unassuming shop in Plano sells beer and wine only, but what a selection — especially craft beer, and way before craft beer became A Thing. It stocks more than 400 beers from around the world, including lots of rare imports, plus ale, cider, fruit beer, organic beer, mead and microbrews. You can mix your own six-pack, and the store hosts tastings on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5-7 pm. The claim to fame is kegs: They keep a selection on hand so you don't have to pre-order. (But pre-ordering is still a good idea.)

Kindred Spirits
This Lakewood store is so Lakewood, with its small-town, family-run charm; owner Eric LeBlanc's mom helps out with the wine, and co-owner John Whitaker's 14-year-old son often lends a hand at the register. The theme is boutique wines that no one else has. They sometimes contact wineries directly, so theirs is the only place in Dallas to stock that particular wine. Kindred also goes against the pack: When everyone else is swimming in New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, Kindred turn to French Chenin Blancs.

Monticello Liquor
Uptown shop has a primo location at the foothills of Highland Park, with accessibility to US-75 that makes it convenient for homebound commuters as well. Service is crisp and attentive, and the wine selection is well-edited, with a little something for everyone. Monticello also has one of the biggest assortments of sake. But it is probably best known for its collection of scotch and bourbon, with exclusive, allocated, one-of-a-kind bottles that are no longer available.

PoGo’s Wine and Spirits
An enviable address at Inwood Village makes PoGo's the liquor store pick for Preston Hollow — a niche that any store would love. It fills the role ably by stocking esoteric spirits and fine wines that aren't found everywhere else. They back it up with service. The staff is heavily invested in its merchandise, attending tastings so they can offer knowledgeable advice on every bottle in the store.

Spirits Dallas
Spirits makes the list if for no other reason than it's in Deep Ellum, where it has stoically weathered the neighborhood's ups and downs for nearly 20 years. Its bare-bones, utilitarian atmosphere — just bottles on shelves — matches its urban environment to a T. There are more spirits than wine, but it has what you need if you're in a pinch — and at a slightly lower price than what you'd find elsewhere.

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Stunning Latin restaurant El Carlos Elegante makes Dallas Design District debut

Opening News

The latest super-chic restaurant from Dallas-based Duro Hospitality has arrived. Called El Carlos Elegante, it's their Mexican-inspired restaurant in the Dallas Design District, at 1400 N. Rivertfront Blvd., just a taco fling from its sibling restaurant The Charles.

According to a press release, El Carlos aims to capture the essence of Latin culture, in food, cocktails, and interior design.

Diners can expect large cuts of Argentinian-style wood-fired meats and fish, crudo, house-made tortillas, traditional masa-based dishes, seasonal craft cocktails, and a standout Mezcal program, including no-additive natural Mezcals for true enthusiasts, as well as a global list of wines and champagnes.

Menu highlights include:

  • Surf & Turf One-Hitter: A5 Wagyu, Ostera Caviar, Crispy Shell
  • Beef Aguachile: Charred Onion, Soy, Fresno
  • Mole Negro Masa: Ricotta Tamale
  • Chorizo Molotes: Refried Beans, Salsa Roja
  • Mayan Hummus: Sikil Pak, Baby Carrots, Pepitas
  • Pork al Pastor: Pork Blade Chop, Pineapple, Adobo
  • Osso Bucco Carnitas: Veal Shank, Costeño Rojo
  • Whole Fish: Mint Mojo, Fennel, Herbs

Duro Hospitality Group has become one of the hottest entities in Dallas restaurants right now, with a portfolio that includes The Charles, Bar Charles, Sister, Café Duro, and Casa Duro.

Duro's Benji Homsey says in a statement that on this one, they "colored outside of the lines."

"Each one of our concepts possesses unique personalities, and El Carlos represents a new character in our portfolio, whose story is told throughout the design of the space as well as represented on the menu," Homsey says. "The entire experience at El Carlos is unlike any other in Dallas, and we hope everyone loves it just as much as we do."

El Carlos Elegante The space is designed to feel multi-generational and cozy.El Carlos Elegante

Rendered by Corbin and Ross See of Sees Design, the inspiration for the restaurant's design came from the idea of a Mexican hacienda handed down through multiple generations. Decorative elements include midcentury modern pieces, unexpected color combinations, eclectic textiles, and furniture sourced almost exclusively from Mexico.

A front courtyard contains an oversized fireplace and retractable roof, while the interior features a second fireplace, plus colorful custom wallpapers, ironwork, and a tableau of El Carlos "Family Portraits."

A private dining room houses a custom Pierre Frey mural and opens to the back courtyard, which also includes a retractable roof.

Ross See says they started with four walls and built from there: front and back courtyards, fireplaces, and fountains. Corbin See says their vision was similar to Sister in some regards.

"We wanted it to feel multigenerational and cozy," Corbin says. "The space has a residential feel, and we aimed for the pieces to feel collected and added over time. The dishes, for example, aren’t all matching. It’s an eclectic mix so it feels replaced over time."

Check it out at dinner: El Carlos is open Sunday-Thursday from 5-10 pm and Friday–Saturday from 5-11 pm.

These are the 10 best food & drink events in Dallas this week

This week in gluttony

Tacos and margaritas come with a motorcoach-led Christmas light tour this week, but tickets are going fast. Also on the menu is a whiskey pairing dinner, release of a popular bourbon barrel-aged beer, the launch of holiday afternoon tea service at a five-star hotel, and one of those silly but festive Christmas-themed bar crawls. But don’t sleep on the mezcal pairing dinner happening Monday.

Monday, November 28

Meet and Greet with Pastry Chef Molly Wilkinson at Bisous Bisous Pâtisserie
Mentioned on NBC Today as "Instagram's answer to Julia Child," Molly Wilkinson is a Dallas native and pastry chef currently based in Versailles who's been published in the Wall Street Journal and other media. She was one of the very first employees at Bisous Bisous, the award-winning bakery known for its macarons, cruffins, croissants, tarts, eclairs, and custom cakes. Wilkinson will be selling and signing her 2021 cookbook, called French Pastry Made Simple, from 5-7 pm.

The Pinky Cole Experience: Eat Plants B*tch Tour at Echo Lounge
Aisha "Pinky" Cole is the celebrated owner and operator of Slutty Vegan, a plant-based burger restaurant chain based in Atlanta, with a big following among non-vegans as well as vegans. She's launched an extremely limited five-city tour in celebration of her first cookbook, called Eat Plants, B*tch, which includes a stop at Echo Lounge (owned by the very vegan-friendly Mark Cuban). The show includes celebrity moderators, DJs, chefs, and Slutty Vegan food trucks. Tickets are $70. Doors are at 6 pm and the all-ages show begins at 7 pm.

Tuesday, November 29

Central Market Feast of Sharing at Fair Park
Central Market/H-E-B brings back its annual Feast of Sharing after a two-year hiatus. This free holiday celebration typically serves 10-15,000 residents with a traditional holiday meal paired alongside a celebration with live music, kids' zone, and Santa & Mrs. Claus. The event takes place in the Automobile Building at Fair Park, at 1010 1st. Ave. It runs from 3-7 pm and is open to all.

WhistlePig Pairing Dinner at Whiskey Cake Plano
Indulge in blue cheese fondue with tortellini, cream of mushroom soup with crispy pancetta, pot roast with gristmill polenta, and more during this five-course whiskey pairing dinner featuring WhistlePig whiskey. Save room for bacon cannoli with butter pecan filling. Dinner is $100, plus tax and gratuity, and begins at 7 pm.

Friday, December 2

Lakewood Brewing Co. Bourbon Barrel-Aged Temptress X Release Party
Lakewood Brewing will release the 2022 edition of Bourbon Barrel-Aged Temptress during an exclusive VIP Party. The brew is the 10th iteration of Lakewood’s annual barreling project. Tickets are $65 and include an eight-beer sample card, box of the brew, limited-edition glass and knit beanie, and private brewery access with samples of past editions. There’ll also be live music, and the event begins at 6 pm.

Tacos, Margarita, and Christmas Lights Tour
See the radiant Christmas lights of Park Cities and other posh Dallas neighborhoods during this motorcoach tour that starts with tacos and a marg. Guests will get a taco dinner and margarita at Desperados Mexican Restaurant then board the bus to a secret dessert stop before embarking on the light tour. Tickets are $86 and the event will run from 6:30-10 pm.

Saturday, December 3

Holiday Afternoon Tea at Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas
The Las Colinas hotel and golf resort will begin its weekend holiday tea service starting Saturday. Guests can enjoy fine hot teas paired with sweet and savory bites at the hotel restaurant LAW while overlooking the resort pool and manicured grounds. Reservations are $50, plus tax and gratuity, and tea service will run on Saturdays and Sundays through December 18, and on Thursday and Friday, December 22-23. Also, Santa will make appearances during breakfast on Saturdays through December 17 and Sunday, December 11 from 8-11 am.

Fifth Annual 12 Bars of Christmas Crawl
Holiday onsies, Santa suits, ugly sweaters, and elf costumes are encouraged for this Christmas-themed bar crawl, which will guide participants to Dallas bars for drink specials and holiday cheer. The $18 ticket ($16 each for a group of four or more) includes a color-changing Santa stadium cup, Christmas light necklace for the first 50 at registration, Santa hat while supplies last, and a wristband good for free entry and drink specials at participating bars. Start at Playground Uptown – registration is from 12-2 pm and all specials run through 8 pm.

Monday, December 5

Del Maguey Mezcal Dinner at Te Deseo
The downtown Dallas Mexican restaurant will showcase mezcal during this prix-fixe dinner from chef Ryan York. Dinner will be paired with Del Maguey mezcal cocktails. Dinner is $140 and will run from 6-9 pm.

Repeal Day Prohibition Party at Bourbon & Banter
The Statler’s underground speakeasy celebrates the day the 21st Amendment was ratified – December 5, 1933 – with a big party. Guests are encouraged to don flapper garb and zoot suits to enjoy traditional Prohibition-era cocktails (Pisco Sours, Harvey Wallbangers, Sidecars) for $10 all night, plus Osadia Tequila specials from 7-9 pm. The party starts at 4 pm; reserve here.

Texas parks beckon throughout 2022 holidays with festive events and peaceful escapes

Silent nights

If roasting s'mores and hiking in the great outdoors sounds fun, pack up your family and visit one of Texas’ state parks this holiday season.

Texas state parks and historic sites are ringing in the holidays with a number of festive events. There are drive-thru light tours, special holiday hikes, arts and crafts for the kiddos, and more.

Reservations fill up quickly, so be sure to visit an individual park's website before you head out. And check the Holidays in the Parks page for many more fun options, pricing information, and more information.

Dallas-Fort Worth-area parks

Tyler State Park
Enjoy Reading Ranger Campfire Stories around a cozy campfire at 3 pm December 3. Head back December 9-10 for A Pineywoods Christmas, when you can stroll or drive through the Lakeview and Big Pine campgrounds to take in campers' elaborately decorated sites and take a Winter Wonderland Hike.

Lake Tawakoni State Park
Drive through or stay at the park and decorate your campsite with your favorite Christmas decorations to receive your second night of camping free during your stay. There will be a decorating contest, complete with awards, as well as a reading of The Night before Christmas — all part of Twinkle Tour 2022, 5-8 pm December 3.

Daingerfield State Park
Drive through the park lit up like Santa Land during the 10th annual Christmas in the Park drive thru lights tour December 14-17 (times vary). Marvel at the decorated campsites and lights, and enjoy hot chocolate and cookies while waiting for a chance to visit with Santa.

Eisenhower State Park
Help those in need and spread holiday cheer — and as a bonus, get free entry to the park — by bringing one unwrapped donation item to the park’s Holiday Donation Drive through December 19. Visit December 9-10 to visit the Light Up the Park drive-thru lights event, featuring milk and cookies with Santa. This year, the park is taking unwrapped toys to donate instead of collecting entrance fees for the event.

Cleburne State Park
Enjoy Pancakes With Santa and make pinecone bird feeders 9-11 am December 10.

Cedar Hill State Park
Search for birds taking their winter break at the park during their Winter Birding Walk, which takes place 7:30-8:30 am December 13. Explore Christmas on Penn Farm on December 17: Learn about the history and pioneers of the Penn Family and the farm they built 150 years ago.

Lake Mineral Wells State Park
Experience Christmas, cowboy style, at Cross Timbers Cowboy Christmas, December 3. Park ranger and cowboy poet David Owens will gather guests around a campfire at the Lone Star Amphitheater for an evening of cowboy culture through songs, stories and poems.

Dinosaur Valley State Park
In partnership with Toys for Tots, the park is hosting Christmas in the Valley, a full day of ranger-led events, programs, family friendly activities, arts and crafts, food and more. Bring a new and unwrapped toy for free admission for the whole family. The event takes place 1-4 pm December 17.

Austin/San Antonio-area parks

Bastrop State Park
Follow ornaments with clues through the park every day in December during the annual Fa La La Through The Forest Scavenger Hunt. Enjoy the Lost Pines Christmas Parade, a collaborative event with Bastrop and Buescher Parks, at 6 pm December 10. Tour the inside of the historic Refectory and see how the Civilian Conservation Corps celebrated Christmas away from home during A Lost Pines CCC Christmas 9 am-12 pm December 17.

Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site
Visit the popular attraction during December to learn how the farm staff get ready for das Weihnachten (Christmas). Return to the park at 5:30 pm December 18 for the 53rd Annual Tree Lighting, a holiday tradition started by President and Mrs. Johnson.

Garner State Park
Join the Buffalo Soldiers program and friends as they stop into Garner State Park before leaving for Christmas break during the Marching Towards Christmas event 10 am-2 pm December 10. Christmas activities will include hand-dipped candles, frontier Christmas painting, Christmas-themed hard tack in Dutch ovens, and stories of the Buffalo Soldiers.

Buescher State Park
On the Fa La La in the Forest Scavenger Hunt, you can follow ornaments with clues through the park to secure a prize at the end, December 1 to January 1. Enjoy the Smithville Festival of Lights and Lighted Parade, a collaborative effort between Buescher and Bastrop parks, on December 3.

Hill Country State Natural Area
See how art, history and state parks are connected; learn some basic watercolor techniques and paint a card or two to take home during the Watercolor Christmas Cards event 2:30-4 pm December 3. Come back for Horses in History & Ornament Craft from 2:30-4 pm December 22 and learn how horses played important roles in the lives of vaqueros, native people, ranchers and more. Then, play a round of horseshoes and paint a horse ornament to take with you.

South Llano River State Park
At Christmas at the Ranch, 2-5 pm December 3, guests can warm up with hot chocolate and cider, listen to live entertainment, enjoy crafts and cookie decorating, and anticipate Santa's visit while taking in the twinkling lights and Christmas decorations at the historic Ranch House that now serves as Park Headquarters.

Houston and Gulf Coast-area parks

Brazos Bend State Park
Holiday in the Park is an all-day affair on December 10. Events include a self-guided "Elf Hike," Christmas crafts, "Pup Parade," s'mores, and more.

Goose Island State Park
See the park in lights, enjoy holiday activities, and camp for free when you decorate your campsite during Christmas in the Park on December 17. Guests are invited to "Santa's Village" at the CCC Recreation Hall for holiday crafts, games, hot chocolate around the campfire, and to drop off letters to Santa in the North Pole Mailbox.

Lake Corpus Christi State Park
Get in the holiday spirit with the second annual Holiday Light Drive Thru, 6-9 pm December 10. Visitors can enter the park for a drive through the lighted areas of Javelina and Opossum Bend camping loops, plus the Old Pavilion.

West Texas and the Panhandle-area parks

Franklin Mountains State Park
On December 3, make ornaments and holiday cards with recycled materials as part of the Art in the Parks series. During Cookies and Cocoa, you can decorate and take home your own Christmas treat while sipping on a cup of hot chocolate 2-4 pm December 23. Come back on Christmas Eve for a guided, two-mile Santa Hike at 11 am.

Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site
Bring your family out for Home for the Holidays guided family hike on December 10 and moderate hike on December 17.

San Angelo State Park
Enjoy a drive-thru tour of lights and optional pictures with Santa and Smokey Bear during Holly-Days in the Park, 6-8 pm December 10.