Mike Chen is a food vlogger (video blogger) with more than 3.7 million followers on his Strictly Dumpling YouTube channel. Chen was born in China but raised in the Midwest, where his parents ran Chinese buffet restaurants, giving him a front-row seat to the food business from an early age. Later in life, Chen had jobs in finance and digital strategy before becoming a full-time eater. Recently he moved from Seattle to North Texas, where he’s made quick work of acclimating to Texas cuisine.
Last week, the 40-year-old headed south to Central Texas where he had a fried chicken sandwich in Austin before waking up predawn to stand in line in the rain for Snows BBQ in Lexington.
This week’s video, however, was all about the best little gas station in the universe, Buc-ee’s. He feasted at the New Braunfels location with seemingly no regard for calories or money. ‘Atta kid!
Surprisingly, we learned a few things about the place we thought we already knew so much about. Sometimes it takes … well, no regard to calories or money … to really size a place up.
Chen committed to eating all his meals (and then some) from Buc-ee’s for 24 hours and here's what we learned.
Order hot food from the computer kiosks and skip the premade station.
Throughout all the burritos and sandwiches Chen ate, the one thing that really stood out was that the food coming out of the kitchen is much better than the ready-made grab-and-go station. Substantially. So, even though it may take a few minutes more, use the computer screens to build your own sandwiches, burritos and whatever else.
Add jalapeños to everything.
Chen added jalapeños to every sandwich he ordered. It was a natural move for him; his hand always easily and naturally swiped to the jalapeño button. It’s silly that someone who grew up in the Midwest had to make that point.
Never ever forget the sauce.
I actually knew this one, but be sure to grab sauce packets or containers before leaving. Chen awkwardly chomped through some sawdust-esque brisket. Ever had one of their turkey sandwiches? I pity the fool who learned how dry they are on Interstate 35 going 80 mph.
Change your gloves if you go from cleaning to handling food.
Buc-ee’s is sort of known for its cleanliness, so as a Texan, this was as hard to swallow as that dry brisket. But, Chen watched a crew member use a broom, clean things, then stuff his sandwich into a container without ever changing gloves. Like gloves don't get dirty.
Save a brisket’s life.
Since Chen's brisket was exposed to whatever was on that broom's handle and who knows what else, Chen wanted to microwave it before eating in order to nuke the germs. I don't think he ever did though; on the show, anyway. We never see the brisket sandwich again. Either way, microwaved brisket gives us all the sads.
Sit down or I'll sit you down, Pastrami Sandwich.
Ever drive up to a Buc-ee's thinking, "Yum! Pastrami sandwich, here I come!" Chen says that the pastrami sandwich he had at Buc-ee’s was “one of the best sandwiches I’ve had since coming to Texas.” And he’s covered a lot of ground since arriving. The sandwich is a gloppy monster of tender pastrami, juicy fat, peppered bacon, sauerkraut, mustard and jalapeños. The bun barely holds it all together — bless its heart.
Mix Buc-ee’s lemon cookies with their banana pudding.
Chen points out that Buc-ee’s goes hard on whatever flavor they’re promoting on the packaging. A container of lemon cookies are almost too tart to eat on their own, so he drops some in his banana pudding, which he loved already on its own. But, with the two together Chen says, "It’s like Aladdin and Jasmine together. It’s a whole new world.”
Balance overly sweet barbecue sauce with pickled eggs (or not).
Whereas the brisket breakfast tacos were bone dry, a brisket sandwich (not the gloved one) was overpowered by barbecue sauce rendering it too sweet. Chen popped open a jar of Buc-ee’s pickled eggs, which were face-puckering sour, and paired it with the sandwich. He says it works. We’ll take his word on that one. (Just can't with pickled eggs.)
Order anything with the word "beast” in it.
Chen has a rule when discovering new menus: Always order anything with the word “beast." In this case, it was a 17-pound breakfast "Beast" burrito, which was one of the best things he'd eaten there so far (aside from the pastrami). Good lort.
THAT WAS JUST BRUNCH.
For round two later in the day, Chen grabbed a shopping cart, which he'd failed to do the first time. Smart. He loaded up with another 10 pounds of food, and this time took it back to his hotel to enjoy the sights and sounds of a nearby river.
A koblinski by the river is a new Airbnb experience listing.
Should be anyway. Chen grabbed a pecan kolache and a sausage, cheese and jalapeño koblinski for Round 2 at Buc-ee's. This is probably the calmest and quietest part of the episode. Time slowed while he was eating the soft puffy bread that swaddled a sausage and gooey cheese, “I could just sit here by the river and slowly stuff my face,” Chen says after one bite. “I just want to cuddle up with it at night.”
We’ve been sleeping on Buc-ee’s $2 cinnamon rolls.
When chatting about Buc-ee’s at the office or lake or wherever, have you ever heard anyone say, “How about their $2 cinnamon rolls?” And now I realize that sometimes it takes an outside perspective to see the forest through the icing. Chen said that the people at the store told him to warm it before eating it, which he did. The soft pillowy swirl of dough was as big as his face and swimming in warm icing. “My new motto is IBKIT, in Buc-ee’s kitchen I trust,” Chen says. He should run for governor on that platform. He'd win.
We’ve also been sleeping on Buc-ee’s fish sandwich.
Personally, the fish sandwich looked like the best thing he tried in this feast. I didn’t even know they had fish sandwiches. This one had a crispy crust wrapped around delicate flakes of white fish. The bread looked 'not too bready' and the fish rested atop a heap of coleslaw. Who knew?
Spotted mosquitoes are dangerous.
Chen's riverside buffet turned on him as the sunset. The eater became the eaten. But, he said something interesting, “I saw some dangerous-looking mosquitos, you know the spotted ones.” Huh?
Mike Chen is a beast.
Chen topped off his evening marauding with a succulent roast beef sandwich, a cheesy jalapeño-laced pulled-pork burrito and a tender fried apple pie. He went bonkers about all of them. The fried pie was covered in sugar and cinnamon, and he said the apples didn't taste manufactured. Even if he only took a few bites of his 36-course tasting menu, he devoured a copious amount of food and never tired. He gave every bite his full beastly attention.
We have no idea how one man could even taste all this food in one day, but seeing is believing. Welcome to Texas.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.