30 Essential Texas Restaurants to Visit Before You Die

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Texas is defined in many ways by many different people. But there are at least three things anyone can agree on when it comes to the Lone Star State: barbecue, Tex-Mex and steaks. This is the holy trinity of Texas cuisine — foods that compose our most firmly entrenched food heritage. These are the foods we invented or perfected. They are our exports to the world, our richly flavored history, and although we may agree on them in broad strokes, they are also our favorite things to fight over.

In tiny Lockhart — a town long known as the Barbecue Capital of Texas — a decade-long family feud was sparked in 1999 at Kreuz Market, just shy of the barbecue joint's 100th anniversary, after patriarch Edgar "Smitty" Schmidt's death. The squabble led to the creation of a brand-new Kreuz Market just down the street, where its pits were christened with hot coals from Schmidt's timeworn pits after being carried there in a ceremonial display of reverence.

Coldest days are often best at Gilhooley's, as the oysters are at their plumpest and the fire pits outside on the ramshackle patio are at their warmest.
Robb Walsh
Coldest days are often best at Gilhooley's, as the oysters are at their plumpest and the fire pits outside on the ramshackle patio are at their warmest.
"A classic that keeps reinventing itself brilliantly" is how former Morning News food critic Bill Addison describes Dallas' venerable Mansion.
Sara Kerens
"A classic that keeps reinventing itself brilliantly" is how former Morning News food critic Bill Addison describes Dallas' venerable Mansion.

Details

The Voters Bill Addison, Atlanta Magazine (formerly at The Dallas Morning News) Jodi Bart, Tasty Touring Leslie Brenner, The Dallas Morning News Addie Broyles, Austin American-Statesman Teresa Byrne-Dodge, My Table Magazine John DeMers, Delicious Mischief Teresa Gubbins, CultureMap Dallas Syd Kearney, Houston Chronicle and 29-95.com Bud Kennedy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram John Mariani, Esquire Matthew Odam, Austin American-Statesman Hanna Raskin, Seattle Weekly (formerly at the Dallas Observer) J.C. Reid, Texas Monthly and 29-95.com Scott Reitz, Dallas Observer Ron Ruggless, Nation’s Restaurant News Patricia Sharpe, Texas Monthly Edmund Tijerina, San Antonio Express-News Daniel Vaughn, Full Custom Gospel BBQ Robb Walsh, Houstonian Magazine Virginia B. Wood, Austin Chronicle

How They Voted Voters were asked to choose the 30 Texas restaurants that they believed every Texan should eat at once before they die and that any visitor to the state should have on his or her hit list. The rules were loose, except for the following requirements: The restaurant must still be open and the general public should at least have a shot at being able to eat there (i.e., no members-only restaurants or private dining clubs). Voters were encouraged to consider restaurants across every price range, every cuisine and every part of the state. The results were entered into an Excel spreadsheet and tallied, with the restaurants listed above receiving ‚ÄĒ by far ‚ÄĒ the majority of the votes across the board. Geographical regions for the purposes of the list were aligned with the seven regions traditionally defined by the Texas Department of Transportation.

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The old Kreuz was renamed Smitty's, and although the feud wasn't particularly fierce, it wasn't uncommon to hear Lockhart residents align themselves with either Smitty's or "The Church of Kreuz," as though barbecue was their one true religion. The dispute ended this past year when the family came together once again ... to open yet another barbecue joint, this one in Bee Cave. Food is what can separate us — whether along cultural lines or not — but it's also what brings us together.

For as much as we may love to squabble over food, we love to eat it even more. And every Texan worth his boots has his own personal list of restaurants that represent Texas at its best. These are the places we recommend to visitors and the places we take long road trips to visit ourselves. These are the places where every Texan should eat at least once before they die (preferably with those boots still on) and the restaurants that define the essential Texas dining experience.

But does that holy trinity of barbecue, Tex-Mex and steak still define Texas? Or is it our state food, chili? Maybe seafood from the Gulf Coast, or the ultramodern blending of local Texan products and international cuisines as seen at restaurants like Tyson Cole's Uchi or Chris Shepherd's Underbelly?

"Texas restaurants have come a long way since myopic New York editors thought it was strictly barbecue and chili," says John Mariani, longtime food writer for Esquire. "Texas, and Houston in particular, is rich in every kind of cuisine and many express it with a Texas swagger."

Mariani is one of 20 food writers whom we polled to determine once and for all what foods — and, just as important, what restaurants — define Texas. What are the 30 seminal Texas restaurants that everyone should visit at least once? we asked them. Not the best, per se. But the essential restaurants that have shaped our culinary landscape and continue to shape it to this day. The restaurants that, as Daniel Vaughn, a barbecue writer and author of the upcoming Texas barbecue book The Prophets of Smoked Meat, puts it, "help to tell the story of Texas cuisine."

"These are the restaurants where I'd send Texas newcomers who wanted to understand the state," said Hanna Raskin, a former Dallas Observer food critic who still reflects fondly on the state although she's now helming the Seattle Weekly's food section. "Or at least the state I like," she added jokingly.

We could have asked chefs or restaurant owners, but we asked food writers for a reason: Their lives and careers revolve around traveling and eating, comparing and contrasting and — most important — documenting Texas food history one column at a time.


Gulf Coast

Gaido's

3800 Seawall Blvd., Galveston

409-762-9625

voiceplaces.com/gaidos-houston-2941528-l/

Although this 102-year-old restaurant is surprisingly amenable to beach attire (facing the Gulf of Mexico across only a thin stretch of pavement and sand will do that to a place, no matter how dignified), good luck simply walking in from a day on the island in the evenings. Gaido's is perennially popular for its Watkins' Bisque — a secret recipe that's kept people returning for decades — and shrimp plucked straight from the waters off Galveston Island. A long, elegant set of dining rooms draped in plush period attire makes it easy to envision the days in which visitors arrived at Gaido's on the old interurban line streetcars that used to crisscross the island.

Gilhooley's

222 9th St., Dickinson

281-339-3813

voiceplaces.com/gilhooleys-raw-bar-houston-2947507-l/

It's difficult to find oysters much fresher than the ones at Gilhooley's, which pulls its bivalves off boats only a few blocks away in the sleepy coastal burg of Dickinson. Gilhooley's has also famously banned children — all the better to enjoy the gruff, bawdy atmosphere over a char-grilled batch of Oysters Gilhooley and a beer with your buddies. Coldest days are often best here, as the oysters are at their plumpest and the fire pits outside on Gilhooley's ramshackle patio are at their warmest.

Hugo's

1600 Westheimer Road, Houston

713-524-7744

voiceplaces.com/hugos-houston-2359929-l/

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53 comments
therowdydog
therowdydog

Marble Falls is the only location on the "Hill Country" list that is actually in the Hill Country. Just sayin'.

elizabeth.joslin
elizabeth.joslin

I do not feel much pity for those in cities that have/cuisines that have already been well represented. If you re-search, I am sure you will find food in east and west Texas that also has deep roots and is delicious. Maybe do something on those areas in the future? Or small town food? Something, to make up for this representational oversight.

bsmith37
bsmith37

Where is Austin the the Salt Lick Bar-B-Q located?

melissamyers2
melissamyers2

Go to perini ranch and you will be amazed! Incredible food / perfect sharing sizes! Incredible authentic flavors and great atmosphere! Their beef is incredible and this place makes one proud to call Texas home!

Vndallas
Vndallas

When I first moved to Dallas, I was constantly told to head over to Fort Worth for Joe T's.  I finally went after being here for about two years, and boy was I disappointed.  I've never seen a place so over-hyped. The food tasted as if it came out of a supermarket freezer.   Then after that, I found that every hyped place I tried in Fort Worth was the same, a major disappointment..Kincaids, Cattlemen's, Angelo's BBQ, and Reatta were all nothing special.  No wonder the last time I was in Cow Pie, all the new restuarants are either chains or Dallas area transplants.  Fort Worth is a lousy restaurant town.

cbren30301
cbren30301

What......no chili on the list. I'm a D@# Yankee and I love me some Texas chili. My place of choice, Tolbert's in Grapevine. I take any fellow Yankee that visits to Tolbert's for a great bowl of red. I love to share the stories of Frank X and Terlinqua. 

mycatbarney
mycatbarney

I live in Beaumont, and the Patillo's BBQ on 11th Street has been gone for a year and a half.  It was torn down and replaced by a Jack in the Box.

wood.scott
wood.scott

How could you not include City Market in Luling?  Better than Kreuz's or Smitty's and a real restaurant rather than a hobby like Franklins.

Scott Cessac
Scott Cessac

All right for my hometown of Nederland making the list!

Trey Covington
Trey Covington

El Ranchito and La Calle Doce!!!! For REAL Mexican food!!

douglas.davis
douglas.davis

Sorry if this is double-posted... I'm a little disappointed that South Texas (the coast and Valley) and pretty much overlooked.  I would at the least add Kings Inn located in Rivera Beach, just south of Kingsville and on Baffin Bay.  Family-style fried seafood (locally caught speckled trout, shrimp and oysters) and sides.  True, its fried, but damn its good and steeped in tradition and history.

Chubby_Kid
Chubby_Kid

I have serious problems with Cattleman's Steakhouse & Joe T. Garcia's being on this list.  I've eaten at both, knowing about their reputation and renown, and was very disappointed.  Cattleman's had some of the worst steaks I've ever had, and Joe T. Garcia's food is bland, uninteresting, and I always feel sick after eating there.

There are much better food choices in Fort Worth (Lonesome Dove, H3 Ranch) which are curiously absent from this list.  

cweichmann1
cweichmann1

Excellent choices I agree.  These top places show the wide personality of Texas cuisine from barbecue Texas style to finest dining establishments to Tex Mex to southwest cuisine to a STEAK.  Come to Texas but bring your appetite when you do.

BobDobbs
BobDobbs

The only one on this list worth the trip is Mi Tierra. I love that place.

And I am so ticked off that you didn't include THE BOILING POT in ROCKPORT, TEXAS. 

mcdallas
mcdallas

Here's a template for responding to this article:


Dear (insert cuss-word or other denigrating name),

I am so (insert word to cover your emotional state) that you didn't include (insert restaurant name here).  (Repeat restaurant name) is by far the best (style of food) in the world/country/state/region/city (select one or more).  

Obviously you have never traveled to city/county/region (select one or more) because you failed to include this establishment.  If you had been there you would have enjoyed (signature dish/off-menu item/drink) prepared with (insert emotion) by the (insert adjective) chef/cook/food preparation/owner (pick one) expert, (insert name of chef/cook/food preparation/owner).

I'm never going to read one of these ridiculous lists, until you publish next year's list.

Without respect,

(your name here).

cajunscouse9
cajunscouse9

I have to ask if any of the contributors to this list have ever been east of Dallas? What about Stanley's Famous Pit BBQ in Tyler? Johnny Cace's in Longview? The Big Pines Lodge in Karnack? Country Tavern in Kilgore? These are all legendary places that have shaped the food and eating habits of our state.

Ed Dravecky
Ed Dravecky

El Fenix is on the list as a cultural touchstone. Move on.

Jon Eckberg
Jon Eckberg

When will you be doing the West Texas/RGV version of your list? Or am I to assume there are no restaurants there that are worth visiting? If you had actually tried, I'm certain you'd have found any one of 1,000 Mexican restaurants there that put El Fenix to shame.

joneckberg
joneckberg

When will you be doing the West Texas edition? Or am I to assume there are no restaurants in that part of the state worth visiting?

Erik Hanson
Erik Hanson

WasSalt Lick BBQ in Austin missed? Shame...

Kristin Scott Dorsey
Kristin Scott Dorsey

I am originally from Kentucky and our mexican is way better than El Fenix. Yuck, that place sucks!!

Robyn Folmar
Robyn Folmar

The article states "restaurants that define Texas" - El Fenix deserves a spot. Glad to see Houston getting big food props- it's a dynamite food town and has been for 25+ years. I credit a lot to the lax zoning laws.

Michael Mercedes Rice
Michael Mercedes Rice

I'm seriously disappointed that food writers though El Fenix should be on this list. If I was going to take someone visiting from out of town out for Tex Mex, it would NOT be to El Fenix.

Ambelleina Warwillow
Ambelleina Warwillow

I WILL say that speaking on seminal Texas restaurants, not the best restaurants, yes, El Fenix does deserve a place on there. Then again, so would places like Luna's, Sonny Bryan's and definitely Stubb's. Not only are those quintessential TX restaurants, they actually serve good food, unlike El Fenix.

Marcus Watson
Marcus Watson

I've been to most of these restaurants and can only give most of them an "eh" rating....and I agree with Kendall....El Fenix...barf.

Randy Johnson
Randy Johnson

Have been to six of those on the list. Of course, there are others that should be on the list.

wherryranch
wherryranch

@Vndallas You are so wrong...that's what I hate about Dallas people...so snobby and hateful!!!!  Fort Worth is an awesome city with great food and friendly people!!!!  Unlike Dallas!!!!

cbren30301
cbren30301

Allow me to repost using the correct template as suggested below:


Dear Are you a Texan,

I am so ASTOUNDED that you didn't include TOLBERTS. TOLBERTS is by far the best CHILI/BOWL OF RED in the region (I'll refrain from saying the world since I have not yet had what the entire world has to offer as far as Texas chili).  

Obviously you have never traveled to GRAPEVINE because you failed to include this establishment.  If you had been there you would have enjoyed ORIGINAL BOWL OF RED, FRITO CHILI PIE and DONKEY TAILs prepared with LOVE & RESPECT to the original FRANK X TOLBERT. 


Nictacular
Nictacular

@Chubby_Kid I don't get down with Joe T's myself, but it is a quintessential Texas place. I think that's what the article was going for.

Nictacular
Nictacular

@cbren30301 You gotta read the follow-up articles. Tolbert's is one of the places that just missed the cut...

mcdallas
mcdallas

@douglas.davis @mcdallas Well if there's one thing you'll consistently get here on the DO comment system, it's kind words and encouragement.  You can count on that!

 
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