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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.
Although it's hard to imagine today when you're seated inside the enormous gardens and grounds of Joe T. Garcia's in Fort Worth, there was a time when the restaurant seated only 16 people instead of 1,000.
Erika Wilkins
Although it's hard to imagine today when you're seated inside the enormous gardens and grounds of Joe T. Garcia's in Fort Worth, there was a time when the restaurant seated only 16 people instead of 1,000.
Kreuz Market may not be the oldest barbecue joint in Lockhart, but it's our food writers' top pick in the Barbecue Capital of Texas.
Wyatt McSpadden
Kreuz Market may not be the oldest barbecue joint in Lockhart, but it's our food writers' top pick in the Barbecue Capital of Texas.

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/

Long before Houston's Lower Westheimer was ground zero for hot new restaurants, there was Hugo's — the critical favorite from chef Hugo Ortega and his restaurateur wife Tracy Vaught. After their success with eternal brunch favorite Backstreet Cafe, Vaught and Ortega decided to take a shot at making the sort of interior Mexican food that Ortega and his brother Ruben, the pastry chef, had grown up eating in Mexico. The result was the best Mexican restaurant Houston had ever seen, a title that Hugo's still holds 11 years later. The humble Hugo Ortega's story of finally making it after crossing the Mexican border three separate times and working his way up from a dishwasher is the American dream personified.

Ninfa's on Navigation

2704 Navigation Blvd., Houston

713-228-1175

voiceplaces.com/ninfas-houston-2928773-l/

"Mama" Ninfa Laurenzo is popularly credited with inventing fajitas and inspiring an entire nation to embrace Tex-Mex food in the form of flat beef strips delivered on an iron comal so hot it's hilariously and wonderfully unsafe. And although other Tex-Mex restaurants picked up on and diluted Ninfa's fajitas over the decades (and although all of the other Ninfa's were sold off to franchisees), the original Ninfa's on Navigation still makes its fajitas the old-fashioned way — the right way, if you ask many die-hard Tex-Mex fans — with outside flank steak. Although the patio has been greatly expanded and modernized, inside you'll still find that familiar jangly maze of rooms and abuelitas making tortillas as you walk in the front door.

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

5839 Westheimer, Houston

713-780-7352

voiceplaces.com/pappas-bros-steakhouse-houston-2379533-l/

"Any list of essential Texas restaurants must include at least one upscale steakhouse," says Edmund Tijerina, food critic at the San Antonio Express-News. And although he was referring to Bohanan's in San Antonio, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse rocketed to the top of our list with by far the most votes from our panel of food writers. This Houston-based steakhouse with possibly the best wine list in the state is the gold standard when it comes to high-end steakhouses, and although it's from a family that's made a business of exporting Houston concepts throughout the state (Pappadeaux, Pappasito's, Pappas Bar-B-Q and more), this clubby, ultra-plush steakhouse has only one other location — in Dallas.

Patillo's

2775 Washington Blvd., Beaumont

409-832-2572

Owing to its proximity to Louisiana, this Beaumont barbecue joint offers a geographically appropriate blend of East Texas-style barbecue and Cajun cuisine. Patillo's is also "one of the few barbecue joints left in Southeast Texas that hand-makes the classic East Texas 'juicy link,'" says freelance food writer J.C. Reid. Houston Chronicle food writer Syd Kearney calls it simply "East Texas barbecue and white bread" and defends Patillo's famous links, saying simply: "No bitching about the tough sausage casing. You should have to work for sausage this good."

Sartin's Seafood Restaurant

3520 Nederland Ave., Nederland

409-721-9420

sartinsseafood.com/

Sure, Kim Sartin Tucker's restaurant sells food other than barbecued crabs. But that other stuff isn't why people make hours-long drives to this cutely shabby seafood shack in Nederland where the motto is: "We got the crabs." Sartin's is "home to one of the only native dishes of Southeast Texas," Reid says. "Barbecue crabs." And Kearney remarks that Sartin's is at its best when "you're digging into a huge plate of crabs, catfish, stuffed crabs and fried Gulf shrimp."

Tony's

3755 Richmond Ave., Houston

713-622-6778

voiceplaces.com/tonys-houston-2375822-l/

Tony Vallone has hosted everyone from exotic royalty and sitting heads of state to Tony Bennett and Oscar de la Renta since opening his namesake restaurant in 1965, and although Vallone's focus hasn't always been Italian, he was instrumental in elevating that cuisine to fine-dining status with a restaurant that's held its coveted "see-and-be-seen" status for decades. Today, Tony's is still widely recognized as one of the top — and correspondingly most expensive — restaurants in the state. "Not only is Tony's one of the best Italian restaurants in the U.S. today," said Mariani in 2011, "it's one of the best restaurants period."

Underbelly

1100 Westheimer Road, Houston

713-528-9800

voiceplaces.com/underbelly-houston-4539207-l/

Although it's still an infant by this list's standards, food writers across the state and the nation heralded chef Chris Shepherd's ambitious restaurant in Houston, which combines the city's tapestry of ethnic cuisines with an impressive array of locally produced, caught, raised or grown ingredients. Shepherd's unique and innovative menu bills itself as "The Story of Houston Food" and revels in remixing them in dishes such as Korean braised goat and dumplings, in a warm, casual setting that makes the open kitchen feel like a natural part of the wood-and-steel dining room.


Prairie & Lakes

Babe's Chicken Dinner House

104 N. Oak, Roanoke

817-491-2900

babeschicken.com/our-kitchens/roanoke/

As its name would suggest, chicken is Babe's signature dish. Babe herself — Mary Beth Vinyard — passed away in 2008, but husband Paul still runs the place they started in a 100-year-old warehouse in Roanoke two decades ago. People swear by Babe's original recipes for chicken-fried steak and fried chicken — and these are the only options at the original Roanoke location — although the restaurant chain is now equally famous for its Mamma Jo's roast (based on Paul's mother's recipe), the green chowchow that comes with its catfish and — believe it or not for a fried-chicken place — its vegetables.

Cattlemen's Steakhouse

2458 N. Main St., Fort Worth

817-624-3945

voiceplaces.com/cattlemens-ft-worth-steak-house-dallas-fort-worth-2322404-l/

It's said that Fort Worth is where the West begins, and that sense is always keenly felt as you approach the Cattlemen's Steakhouse, located smack in the middle of Fort Worth's still-bustling stockyards. The restaurant that Jesse E. Roach opened on a whim in 1947 has become internationally renowned for its aged beef and massive steaks. These days, it's a clamorous riot of a restaurant that's so proud of its charcoal-broiled steaks it refuses to recognize the validity of "medium-well" or "well done" as serious options. Although Roach passed away in 1988 and Cattlemen's was bought out in 1994, it remains a Fort Worth favorite and a monument to Texas' Wild West sensibilities.

El Fenix

1601 McKinney Ave., Dallas

214-747-1121

voiceplaces.com/el-fenix-dallas-fort-worth-2662026-l/

There were cries of foul when El Fenix was sold in 2008 to an investment group after 90 years as a family-owned business, but the legacy of the Dallas-based restaurant chain remains intact. El Fenix perfected the Tex-Mex combo plate and helped popularize the food throughout the state and eventually the nation as chains popped up in other cities and emulated the El Fenix model. Generations of families have dined at El Fenix since it was first opened in 1918 by Mike Martinez and return regularly for heart-melting portions of cheese enchiladas and tortilla chips that are perfectly crunchy down to the last crumb.

Fearing's

2121 McKinney AVE., Dallas

214-922-4848

voiceplaces.com/fearings-at-the-ritz-carlton-dallas-fort-worth-2347037-l/

Kentucky-born Dean Fearing is credited as the father of Southwestern cuisine thanks to his 20-year tenure at the glitzy Mansion on Turtle Creek, a Dallas institution. In 2007, however, Fearing moved away from his signature cuisine and the Mansion to open the equally glamorous Fearing's inside the imposing Ritz-Carlton hotel. The lavish eight-roomed restaurant quickly secured itself a spot in the Dallas culinary firmament with Fearing's upscale Texas fare and earned plenty of national accolades along the way. Want to splash out like a modern-day oil baron? Fearing's is the place to do it.

Louie Mueller BBQ

206 W. 2nd St., Taylor

512-352-6206

louiemuellerbarbecue.com

Louie Mueller has a history in Taylor that extends beyond his barbecue joint, first arriving in the little town to manage its newly opened Safeway grocery store. But it's his barbecue he's famous for, cooked the same way since 1949. Although Louie himself passed away in 1992, his son Bobby has carried on the family tradition in such fine form that Louie Mueller BBQ was awarded an America's Classic award by the James Beard Foundation in 2006. The black-pepper-rubbed fatty brisket and pork ribs fall apart before they reach your mouth and melt on your tongue once there.

The Mansion on Turtle Creek

2821 Turtle Creek BLVD., Dallas

214-559-2100

voiceplaces.com/rosewood-mansion-on-turtle-creek-dallas-fort-worth-2921161-l/

Even if its full name is "Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek," true Texans will always refer to this timeless restaurant as simply "The Mansion." This is where Dean Fearing established New Southwestern cuisine during the high-spirited '80s in an estate-like setting that — to this day — oozes class. What was originally built in 1925 by cotton magnate Sheppard King as a sophisticated Italian Renaissance-style residence remains, according to Bill Addison, formerly the food critic at The Dallas Morning News and now at Atlanta Magazine, "a classic that keeps reinventing itself brilliantly." And although new chef Bruno Davaillon promised to remove The Mansion's famous tortilla soup after taking over in 2010, it remains on the menu to this day.

Tei-An

1722 Routh St., Dallas

214-220-2828

voiceplaces.com/tei-an-dallas-fort-worth-2314652-l/

"This is my favorite restaurant in Dallas," recalls Addison, "and certainly one of the finest Japanese restaurants in Texas, if not the country. Owner Teiichi Sakurai is a chef who keeps his head down and concentrates more on his cooking than his national reputation. He studied the craft of making soba in Tokyo and blesses Texas with his seasonal riffs on hot and cold noodle dishes. His omakase — ever changing, frequently surprising with unusual ingredients — is an immersion course in Japanese cuisine."

Joe T. Garcia's

2201 North Commerce St., Fort Worth

817-626-4356

voiceplaces.com/joe-t-garcias-mexican-restaurant-dallas-fort-worth-2661612-l/

Although it's hard to imagine today when you're seated inside the enormous gardens and grounds of Joe T. Garcia's in Fort Worth, there was a time when the restaurant seated only 16 people instead of 1,000. That was when Joe T. Garcia himself established one of the state's most famous Tex-Mex restaurants with his wife on Independence Day in 1935. Nearly 80 years later, it's still family-owned and -run and the lush patio the Garcias installed in the 1970s is just as popular as the restaurant's chile rellenos and fajitas. In 1998, an America's Classics award from the prestigious James Beard Foundation all but solidified its standing as one of Texas' truest institutions — even if it still doesn't accept credit cards. "Bring cash, reverence," notes Kearney. "It's considered a holy place by many."


Hill Country

Blue Bonnet Cafe

211 Highway 281, Marble Falls

830-693-2344

bluebonnetcafe.net

This precious diner only a few blocks away from a limestone cliff that tumbles into the Colorado River below (or, as it's called in these parts, Lake Marble Falls) is the epitome of a small-town restaurant. This means you can't leave without ordering a piece of pie, which has been Blue Bonnet's claim to fame — along with breakfasts that will keep you full for days — since 1929. There's even a daily happy hour that features pie and a drink during the week. Breakfast is served all day, which means you can have a piece of German chocolate or peanut butter pie for dessert. Just remember to bring cash.

Fonda San Miguel

2330 N. Loop BLVd. West, Austin

512-459-4121

fondasanmiguel.com

Since Fonda San Miguel opened in 1975, no other restaurant in the United States has been more important in shaping the often-nebulous definition of Mexican food. "Diana Kennedy consulted on this," notes Tijerina, "and it has played a crucial role in shaping the growth of interior Mexican food in the state and in the United States." The riotously colorful Austin hacienda from Tom Gilliland and Miguel Ravago was "seminal in that it completely changed the conversation about what constitutes 'Mexican food' in Texas," agrees Virginia Wood of the Austin Chronicle. Despite moving to Spain in 2008, chef Ravago returns to his Austin kitchen every month (although it's in the capable hands of Oscar Alvarez, who — like many Fonda staff — has been there for decades).

Franklin Barbecue

900 E. 11th St., Austin

512-653-1187

franklinbarbecue.com

This is the stuff that changed Anthony Bourdain's mind about Texas barbecue, which the chef and author had formerly maligned. After being brought to Franklin by barbecue evangelist Daniel Vaughn, Bourdain had to admit that the brisket Aaron Franklin smokes in low heat over post-oak wood for 18 hours was "the finest brisket" he'd ever had. "I can't imagine anyone could surpass this," Bourdain told the Huffington Post last year. Bon Appétit agreed, naming Franklin the best barbecue in the country in 2010, calling the young Aaron Franklin himself "a prizefighter in the prime of his career." And it's a young career — Franklin has been open only since 2009, but seems destined to become a Texas legacy.

Green Pastures

811 W. Live Oak St., Austin

512-444-4747

greenpasturesrestaurant.com

Mary Faulk Koock was a famous cookbook author whose Austin restaurant was a bit like an early version of The French Laundry. Koock lived at Green Pastures before eventually turning the sprawling estate — her ancestral home — into what is now known as the "grande dame of Austin restaurants." Koock was the state's premier hostess for three decades in the mid-20th century, and James Beard himself was sent from New York City to help her publish the Lone Star State's "definitive" cookbook in 1965, The Texas Cookbook. "Koock entertained presidents and ordinary folk," says Wood, who also notes that Green Pastures was important for another reason: It was one of the first integrated fine dining restaurants in the United States.

Kreuz Market

619 N. Colorado St., Lockhart

512-398-2361

kreuzmarket.com

Known as the "Church of Kreuz" both for its massive, cathedral-like structure and for the devotion with which its supplicants line up outside on Saturdays as if for church service, Kreuz Market may not be the oldest barbecue joint in Lockhart, but it's our food writers' top pick in the Barbecue Capital of Texas — although Virginia Wood is quick to note that both Smitty's and Kreuz should make the list, "in recognition of both sides of the family feud that erupted in the '90s." You get no sauce or even utensils here, all the better to appreciate the obsessively smoked and richly scented meats that derive all of their flavor from the oak chips that seal in the ribs' and pork chops' juices and softly rendered fat with a wonderfully thick, black smoke ring.

Matt's El Rancho

2613 S. Lamar BLVd., Austin

512-462-9333

mattselrancho.com

Former prizefighter Matt Martinez opened the first Matt's El Rancho in 1952 and moved it to its current South Lamar location three decades later — complete with a not-so-humble, blazing red sign that proclaims Matt's the "King of Mexican Food" in blaring neon. People pack the dining rooms every night to order old-school Tex-Mex favorites like El Rancho's own Bob Armstrong dip — named for former Texas Land Commissioner and El Rancho regular Bob Armstrong — that layers queso, taco meat, sour cream and guacamole in one delightfully over-the-top dish.

Smitty's Market

208 South Commerce St., Lockhart

512-398-9344

smittysmarket.com

The once and former Kreuz Market underwent a name change in 1999 when Nina Schmidt Sells — daughter of Edgar "Smitty" Schmidt — allowed her brother Rick to take the original Kreuz name (and some of its coals, from a fire which is said to never die) and open a "new" Kreuz Market down the street. Smitty's still occupies the same century-old store in which Charles Kreuz first began smoking meat in 1900. What began as Kreuz's way of preserving meat prior to refrigeration is now a bona fide legacy. And although Smitty's has made it unscathed into the 21st century, you still share communal tables under smoke-stained pressed-tin ceilings and you still have to pay with cash (or a check).

Uchi

801 S. Lamar BLVd., Austin

512-916-4808

uchiaustin.com

In the 1980s, chefs like Robert Del Grande and Stephan Pyles were busy transforming the way the rest of the nation viewed Texas cuisine. Today it's Tyson Cole who's at the helm of a new movement that started with seminal Austin restaurant Uchi in 2003. In the intervening decade, Cole won a coveted James Beard award (after being nominated for three consecutive years prior) for his "Japanese farmhouse" cuisine that combines Texan ingredients with the Japanese ideals and techniques he acquired while training for 10 years in Japan. And in the meantime, Cole's cooking — and expansion of Uchi into smaller concepts and new markets — has once again changed the way the nation casts an eye on modern Texas cuisine. Addie Broyles of the Austin-American Statesman notes that although the 10-year-old Uchi is "baby seminal," when viewed within the context of this list, it "likely will be [seminal] in another 10 or 15 years."


South Texas

Biga on the Banks

203 S. Saint Mary's St., San Antonio

210-225-0722

biga.com

Tijerina jokingly refers to chef/owner Bruce Auden as "the Susan Lucci of Beard nominations." With seven under his belt, Auden is clearly doing something right here at Biga on the Banks, which is by far the best spot to dine along San Antonio's touristy River Walk. That's because the stunning multistory restaurant serves legitimately dazzling food instead of overpriced tourist-trappy dishes. Auden's "blend of South Texas and Asian influences was groundbreaking at Charlie's 517 in Houston," recalls Tijerina, and "even after all these years, he still produces an excellent vision of South Texas on a plate."

Mi Tierra

218 Produce Row, San Antonio

210-225-1262

mitierracafe.com

Even if the market surrounding Mi Tierra is "a little sad," Kearney says, "once inside the doors, this 24-hour margarita-fueled spot is a merry place." Tijerina agrees, asking of the festive restaurant that's served patrons for over six decades: "Where else can you get huevos rancheros 24 hours a day?" Between the strolling bands of mariachis, Christmas lights blooming across the walls like creeping ivy, an aesthetic that can best be described as a piñata-and-papel-picado explosion and a full-service panadería in front, Tijernia says: "This is the best example of the more-is-more ethos that is San Antonio."

Ray's Drive Inn

822 Southwest 19th St., San Antonio

210-432-7171

"If you want to start an argument in San Antonio," Tijerina says, "just ask who does the best puffy tacos." Our food writers agreed that Ray's Drive Inn does the best turn on San Antonio's most popular native food — narrowly edging out Henry's Puffy Tacos — something sure to fan the flames of the ongoing feud between the two restaurants' followings. With its scruffy West Side setting in a deliciously retro drive-in and its neon-lit claim as the original home of the puffy taco — on the menu since 1966 — Ray's is "a piece of puro San Antonio," Tijerina says.


Panhandle Plains

The Big Texan Steak Ranch

7701 Interstate 40 East, Amarillo

806-372-6000

bigtexan.com

The Big Texan is one of those terrifically larger-than-life restaurants that — like Mi Tierra — wave their "everything is bigger in Texas" flag with emphatic zeal. The yellow and blue exterior — fronted by a giant bull advertising its notorious 72-ounce steak — looks almost circus-like under the wide-open skies of Amarillo off the famous Route 66, and the atmosphere inside isn't all that different. If you can eat that steak — nicknamed "The Texas King" — and its sides in less than an hour, the $72 meal is free. This decades-old challenge is why Kearney calls it "the spot where competition eating was born." If you're into voyeurism, you can even watch competitors take on the challenge daily on webcams via The Big Texan's website.

Perini Ranch

3002 FM 89 #A, Buffalo Gap

325-572-3339

periniranch.com

There's something reassuring about a restaurant whose address is simply a bunch of numbers before and after a Farm Road designation. Perini Ranch is classic country at its best, as the rural address would indicate. And as its location on the cattle-dotted West Texas plains would suggest, Perini Ranch is best known for its beef. Its mesquite-smoked peppered beef tenderloin combines two of the state's best ingredients — Texas beef and mesquite wood — and the impressively authentic ranch setting in tiny Buffalo Gap gives the impression that dusty cowboys fresh off the trail will wander in for some fried catfish or chicken at any moment.

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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 topcommenter

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 Brooks Folmar
Robyn Brooks 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 topcommenter

@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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