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30 Essential Texas Restaurants

Eat here before you die.

Fonda San Miguel
2330 North Loop Boulevard West, Austin
512-459-4121
www.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 East 11th Street, Austin
512-653-1187
franklinbarbecue.com

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.

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 West Live Oak Street, 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 North Colorado Street, 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 South Lamar Boulevard, 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 Street, Lockhart
512-398-9344
www.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 South Lamar Boulevard, Austin
512-916-4808
www.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 ten years in Japan. And in the meantime, Cole's cooking — and expansion of Uchi into smaller concepts and new markets such as Houston — 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 ten-year-old Uchi is "baby seminal," when viewed within the context of this list, it "likely will be [seminal] in another ten or 15 years."

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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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