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30 Essential Texas Restaurants

Eat here before you die.

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Check out our slideshow of the 30 Essential Texas Restaurants.

For all its enormous range of space, climate, and physical appearance, and for all the internal squabbles, contentions, and strivings, Texas has a tight cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section of America. Rich, poor, Panhandle, Gulf, city, country, Texas is the obsession, the proper study and the passionate possession of all Texans.John Steinbeck, 1962

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.
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.
Courtesy of Joe T. Garcia's
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.

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 make up 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, Texas — 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 brand-new pits were christened with hot coals from Schmidt's timeworn pits after being carried there in a ceremonial display of reverence.

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 where 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 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 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 significant — documenting Texas food history one column at a time.

GULF COAST

Gaido's
3800 Seawall Boulevard, Galveston
409-762-9625
www.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. With a long, elegant set of dining rooms draped in plush period attire, it's 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 Street, Dickinson
281-339-3813
www.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 chargrilled 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.

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21 comments
soltar
soltar

Tyson Cole of Uchi didn't spend 10 years in Japan.

grinch
grinch

Gaido's is WAY overrated.  Maybe it was the place to be 80 years ago, but not today.  It's expensive and not that good.

OldGoat7
OldGoat7

I am pleased to see that Sylvia's Enchiladas was not included in this list.

spenser.harrison
spenser.harrison

This is a damn fine list with one glaring absence. ALADDINS mediterranean grill.

Its is by far the best Mediterranean in Houston and instead you choose like 7 different beef / steak places. Granted I don't eat red meat so I'm not the fairest of judges but I will say its by far the best Mediterranean restaurant in Houston. It should be in there. Go there. Now.  

mycatbarney
mycatbarney

Patillo's on 11th Street in Beaumont was torn down a year and a half ago and replaced with a Jack in the Box.

WestSideBob
WestSideBob topcommenter

Well, I can see by this list ( and the comments section ) I'll have a few road trips to make this Spring.  Thanks !!!

Joshua Justice
Joshua Justice

You know what I am surprised got shut out? Texas Chili Parlor. I figured it would earn a mention.

Houstess
Houstess

The picture at the top is great!  Love it!  Good article too!  

Jeff_in_Seabrook
Jeff_in_Seabrook

Great article, thanks for putting this together. Question: did you snub Alison or did she not respond?

nechlaw1
nechlaw1

I've been to 24 of 30 on this interesting list. I would find a place for Houston's America's, Indika, This Is It, and Kim Son in place of Hugo's, Pappas Bros, and Underbelly.  This Is It and Kim Son aren't the best of their genre, but they are legendary and have had huge impact on Texas--Vietnamese and soul food have to be somewhere, as should Cajun--B&B's or Crawfish Shack in Crosby, perhaps!  I would also love a place for El Real in Houston. I just ate at Perini Ranch a few weeks ago, and their standards have fallen considerably since prior visits. I've loved Campisi's in Dallas since I was a kid and would include them in place of Tei An.  El Paso's H&H Car Wash and/or Chico's Tacos should have a place as should Cotulla Style Pit BBQ in Laredo.  And Frenchy's Chicken and Lankford Grocery! Alright, pretty impossible task.

kcothroll
kcothroll

I would have liked to see some West Texas entries, but that's ok. We're always forgotten out there. BTW, West Texas (Big Spring to El Paso).

HTownChowDown
HTownChowDown

Very good list - I was pleasantly surprised by how well it lined up with mine. Key missing entries were Royer's in Round Top and Hudson on the Bend.

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

That Blue Bonnet Cafe is crazy!! As long as it is open, there is a line out the door!

HTownChowDown
HTownChowDown

@Joshua Justice I lived in Austin for 20 years, and was never impressed with Texas Chili Parlor. I think it was last good in the 70's.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

@Nathan Augh, fat fingers over here messed it up. Thanks for pointing that out. We'll get it fixed.

spenser.harrison
spenser.harrison

@Jalapeno Touche haha. Well I stand corrected, but also stand by the belief that Aladdins should still be on the list. 

 
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