They say everything's bigger in Texas, including our burgers, pizzas and bowls of pho. OK, so the pho thing might be unique to Houston, and that's just one of the reasons that Houston eating competitions are the best: They're incredibly diverse. From Bellaire to Baytown, Sugar Land to the Woodlands, Galveston, Downtown and everywhere in between, restaurants have created challenges to test the stamina of local eaters and tourists alike.
Just the other day, I received an email from a new restaurant called Fat Boy's Bar and Grill (opening in February), which claims to have the biggest burger in Houston and quite possibly the biggest burger in the state. Weighing in at 15 pounds, the burger will be the headliner in Fat Boy's eating competition: If you can eat the behemoth in less than three hours, you'll win your photo on the Wall of Fame, a Fat Boy's T-shirt and a free meal. Unfortunately, you'll lose your dignity.
But eating contests aren't about dignity. They're about eating the biggest, the spiciest, the most calorically outrageous items bored restaurateurs can dream up, often under a time limit and with the stipulation that you can't, you know, let the food come back up when it's all over.
Here in Houston we have more than a dozen contests. These are some of the most popular.
Happy eating, friends. And remember, no vomiting.
Backyard Grill The Challenge: The Beast The Rules: Devour the entire burger in less than one hour. That's four pounds of ground beef, eight slices of bacon, four slices of American cheese, four slices of Swiss cheese, mushrooms, jalapeños and vegetables on a 12-inch bun. The Cost: $37.99 The Reward: Your meal is free. And glory. The Odds: Backyard Grill has served 154 Beasts (as of this past November). Only one person, a woman, has vanquished the massive burger.
Central Texas Style BBQ The Challenge: The Texas Challenge The Rules: In less than one hour, consume a pound of sausage, a pound of chopped beef, a baked potato stuffed with cheese, green onions and sour cream and two stuffed jalapeños. The Cost: $29.95 The Reward: Your photo on the wall and a free t-shirt, and the meal is free. The Odds: Doable, if you're really hungry.
Diablo Loco The Challenge: Inferno Wing Challenge The Rules: Eat 25 Highway to Hell wings in 25 minutes or less without drinking any water (or anything else to stifle the heat) or leaving the table. The Cost: $19.99 The Reward: A complimentary tower of beer and your photo on the Wall of Hell. The Odds: Several brave men have conquered the heat. You probably can too.
Hickory Hollow The Challenge: Wall of Fame Challenge The Rules: Eat a 22-ounce chicken fried steak with gravy and six "hot tot" tater tots in one sitting, or eat an entire Alamo platter with sliced beef, sausage, ribs and a chicken fried steak in one sitting. The Cost: $13.79 or $14.79 The Reward: Your name on the Wall of Fame and half off a t-shirt. The Odds: I wouldn't want to do it, but many others have succeeded.
Kenny & Ziggy's The Challenge: The Zellagabetsky The Rules: Finish the eight-decker sandwich on rye with corned beef, pastrami, turkey, roast beef, salami, tongue and swiss cheese with cole slaw and Russian dressing by yourself in one sitting. The Cost: $55 The Reward: A free slice of cheesecake (also quite large) The Odds: You can do it with a lot of chutzpah.
LA Crawfish The Challenge: La Crawfish Challenge The Rules: Finish an entire 24-inch diameter bowl of extra-spicy crawfish pho by yourself in 30 minutes or less. The Cost: $21 The Reward: The pho is free, and you get your photo on the wall and a T-shirt that will get you 10 percent off any LA Crawfish meal for life. The Odds: It hasn't been done yet, so the odds are it's pretty damn near impossible.
Little Bitty Burger Barn The Challenge: Charlie's 5 Alarm Fire Burger The Rules: Finish a regular burger topped with jalapeños, habaneros and LBBB's famous Nitro Sauce, which has vanquished many an overconfident eater. The Cost: $7.99 The Reward: Your photo on the wall and a tiny fireman's hat The Odds: Several people have extinguished the burger, but most have had...issues...the next day.
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The Challenge: The Challenge Burger The Rules: Finish a three-pound burger topped with seven quarter-pound patties, cheese, bacon, jalapeños, and barbecue sauce in less than 45 minutes. The Cost: $29.99 The Reward: Your photo on the wall and a T-shirt The Odds: Photos on the wall prove many people have done it, but I've never met someone who's lived to tell the tale.
Mel's Country Cafe The Challenge: The Mega Mel Burger The Rules: Eat a burger topped with one and a half pounds of ground beef, one pound of bacon, a quarter pound of cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. in under two hours without getting sick. The Cost: $24.99 The Reward: A T-shirt and your name on the wall. The Odds: Many have attempted, but few have succeeded, especially because the kind folks at Mel's will stop you if they think you're going to get sick.
Nom Nom Noodles The Challenge: E-NOM-mous Challenge The Rules:Finish a giant serving of pho with two pounds of noodles, two pounds of meat and about four cups of broth in one hour or less. The Cost:$19.99 The Reward:According to the website, you'll "receive eternal glory as a Nom Nom Ninja." That means you get your photo on the Wall of Fame, a free T-shirt and a $50 store credit. The Odds: Fifteen people have conquered the challenge in two years, but only one female has been victorious. Watch out, ladies.
Russo's New York Pizzeria The Challenge: Pizza Challenge The Rules: One person has one hour to finish a 28-inch, four-topping pizza with four and a half pounds of cheese on it. The Cost: $50 The Reward: $500 The Odds: You have to sign a waiver before you attempt it. A manager said one person had finished it in the past nine years, and that person was very sick afterward. I suggest you sit this one out.