Diaspora

Former Houston Texans Whitney Mercilus shares favorite foods – Chron

Whitney Mercilus #59 of the Houston Texans on the sidelines during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Welcome to How Houston Eats, a food-obsessed series that asks Houston personalities what, where, and how they like to eat. Today, Chron speaks with former Houston Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus.
Sports fans may be used to seeing former NFL linebacker Whitney Mercilus taking his position on the football field, but Houstonians are just as used to seeing the pro athlete, who served a large part of his 10-year career with the Houston Texans, taking a seat at some of the city’s best restaurants. The New Jersey native is a big-time foodie, and has lived in Houston since being selected as a first round NFL draft pick by the Texans in 2012.
In the decade that he’s been here, Mercilus has been a fixture at the trendiest restaurants and cocktail bars, worthy hidden gems, and high profile food and drink events. In 2017, he even dipped his toe into the hospitality pond, partnering with Chris Shepherd, Kevin Floyd and Steve Flippo in opening One Fifth in Montrose. Soon after, he decided he would rather be a fan from the sidelines, keeping his focus on football and his nonprofit, the WithMerci Foundation, which provides advocate services and support to families of children with disabilities and special needs.
Through the WithMerci Foundation, Mercilus intertwines his love of dining and drinking with his philanthropic efforts at the organization’s annual Cocktails 4 A Cause fundraiser. During the ticketed event, he and other local celebrities, athletes and VIPs take over the bar of a Houston restaurant, crafting cocktails for guests, offering selfies, and auctioning off exclusive items, all while raising money for the foundation.
Since retiring from the NFL earlier this year, Mercilus has gone on to explore commercial real estate and is spending his leisure time traveling, cooking at home with his girlfriend, and of course, keeping up with his favorite Houston eateries.
Chron: How is your diet different now from when you played for the Texans?
Whitney Mercilus: It has completely changed. I’m not as strict with my diet anymore. I can eat as much as I want to and not think about the calories, or how much or how little I’m eating. I can discover new flavors and have new experiences. When I played, I wouldn’t even drink a glass of wine during the week—now, I can have a glass of wine every night if I want to!
What is your favorite cuisine?
Haitian food is number one. I love Caribbean food, like plantains, rice and beans. I also really love Japanese food and French food.
Can you cook Haitian food?
I do know how to cook some, but I still got a lot to learn from my mother. You know, nothing is measured, or written down when she cooks! I have only cooked myself a handful of times. Since I’ve been busy playing football and traveling, I haven’t had much time.
What are some of your favorite Japanese restaurants?
Teppay Sushi is great; it’s one of my favorites. It’s very traditional, and it has an izakaya feel. I like MF Sushi a lot, they do a fantastic job.
How about a favorite French restaurant in town?
Definitely Le Jardinier. I love that spot. The food is delicious, and it’s like what dining in a Michelin-starred restaurant would be.
Can you share a hidden gem you love?
Tacos Doña Lena is absolutely delicious! I stumbled upon it really randomly, and tried the birria taco, and I thought, “This is awesome.”
What is a standout Houston restaurant that has really impressed you?
March has brought a different element to Houston. They have done a great job on the aesthetic, and they have really pushed the boundaries with the food. It really transports you; it’s like dining in New York City or Chicago.
What are your guilty pleasures?
I have a couple. I love a really good burger, and a good pizza. For pizza, I like Pepperoni’s. I’m a thin crust guy, and I’ll do a supreme. I love bell peppers, mushrooms and olives. With burgers, I like them to be more classic. As I’ve grown older, I realized I have disliked cheese over time, so no cheese, just a beautiful, juicy burger.
Are you a breakfast person?
I’m really not much of a breakfast person now. I’ll eat a hard boiled egg, and I’m good the rest of the day. When I would play football, my nutritionist wouldn’t let me get away with that. When I had to have a big breakfast, I would have scrambled eggs, a big ol’ waffle every now and then, and a couple strips of bacon.
What’s your grocery shopping style, and what markets do you frequent?
I only shop for ingredients when I need to, otherwise I buy in bulk. I go to Trader Joe’s, I’ll shop at H Mart and Seiwa Market in Asiatown. There, you’ll find spices you’re not going to find at Kroger or H-E-B. They have different types of condiments, toppings, plus they have super fresh nori sheets, cut and ready to go.
Do you drink? What’s your poison?
I always go with wine, but when it comes to cocktails, if you make me a good Old Fashioned, I’ll be in love with you.
Do you have a favorite cocktail bar in town?
Diversion Cocktails. I really like what they’re doing over there and how creative they are.
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For more food news and features from Chron, sign up for The Feed newsletter here.
Megha McSwain is a food writer for Chron.
Prior to joining the Chron team in May 2022, Megha worked as a freelance journalist, contributing to Eater Houston, Houstonia Magazine, CultureMap and The Daily Meal. She previously served as the food editor for luxury lifestyle magazine Houston CityBook for three years, and hosted the food and drink podcast Sip & Savor.
Megha is an Indian-born American who migrated with her parents to Houston in the late ’80s and has lived here ever since. She currently lives in Garden Oaks with her husband and rescue pup, and in addition to her work at Chron, she contributes nationally to foodnetwork.com.

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