Bill Smith’s Café is a little less than two miles north of the heart of downtown McKinney, but the 60-year old restaurant is a world away from the city square’s trendy downtown restaurants and shops.
First of all, it’s easy to miss. The outside resembles a small abandoned strip mall on a section of U.S. Highway 380 that nudges what seems like the edge of town. There is a namesake mural on the side of the restaurant, but it’s usually blocked from view because of the crowded parking lot. And the 1950s-era neon sign spelling out "cafe" is tall enough to catch your attention, but its faded appearance makes you question if it’s open.
It is open, alright — at 4 a.m. every day of the year.
Inside this cash-only diner, there is no shabby chic chevron, white subway tiles or Edison bulbs. Instead, it feels like your grandmother’s kitchen, down to the Formica countertop on the breakfast bar and the wood paneling dotted with framed family photos.
The regular customers stream in, greeting other familiar faces.
“It’s old-school Texas,” says Becky Penn, a regular customer who comes for the chicken-fried steak. “It’s like stepping back into time where all of life’s problems can be solved over a good meal.”
The popular breakfast and lunch spot is pretty traditional with its menu options. Breakfast revolves around omelets, eggs, bacon (you can order a ribeye steak or pork chops if you’re really hungry) and hash browns. The pancakes are made from scratch and are about the size of a dinner plate. Instead of dinky squares of cold butter and a tiny carafe, you get two mounds of soft butter and a coffee-cup sized pitcher of warm syrup. The eggs and bacon taste like what you’d expect, but the portions are generous. One serving of shredded hash browns was enough for two people.
The diner also has a tinge of native Texan attitude. The restaurant sells T-shirts encouraging “Secede!” and it’s offering a concealed handgun license to carry class to customers in November. It’s an interesting dynamic, considering its patrons are a mix of working class, suburban families and young professionals.
Everything about Bill Smith’s Café screams old fashioned. You can sit where you want for as long as you want. You have to pay in cash. There are suckers and gum at the cash register for kids. And closing time is negotiable. They officially close at noon on Sundays and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, but they’ll keep cooking for the latecomers.
There's something appealing about such old-school hospitality, and it draws customers. Frank Meza, who lives in the city’s Stonebridge Ranch community, says he and his son are regular breakfast customers. “It’s not, like, the greatest," Meza says. "But it’s consistent.”
Bill Smith's Cafe, 1510 W. University Drive, McKinney