By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Catherine Gillespie
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Mai Pham
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Kaitlin Steinberg
Biga on the Banks
203 South Saint Mary's Street,
San Antonio, 210-225-0722
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."
218 Produce Row, San Antonio
Even if the market surrounding Mi Tierra is "a little sad," says Kearney, "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 panaderia 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 Street,
San Antonio, 210-432-7171
"If you want to start an argument in San Antonio," says Tijerina, "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," says Tijerina.
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 under 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 Web site.
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.
Bill Addison, Atlanta Magazine
(formerly at the Dallas Morning News)
Jodi Bart, Tasty Touring
Leslie Brenner, 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, J.C. Reid, Texas and 29-95.com
Scott Reitz, Dallas Observer
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 — by far — 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.
Watch the Eating...Our Words blog for much, much more on the 30 Essential Texas Restaurants.
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.
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.
Tei-An is nice. Really.
But Tei-Tei Robata bar kills it. Sit at the bar and order a whole fish. Fish Charcoal Salt. That's it. I never got Japanese food until I had a scorpion fish there. http://www.voiceplaces.com/tei-tei-robata-bar-dallas-fort-worth-2317991-l/
Patillo's on 11th Street in Beaumont was torn down a year and a half ago and replaced with a Jack in the Box.
Well, I can see by this list ( and the comments section ) I'll have a few road trips to make this Spring. Thanks !!!
Great article, thanks for putting this together. Question: did you snub Alison or did she not respond?
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.
You've got the wrong cut of meat for Ninfa's fajitas.
Per your newspaper and Robb Walsh, it is USDA Choice Outside Skirt: http://blogs.houstonpress.com/eating/2010/07/robb_walshs_100_favorite_houst_96.php
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).
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.
@spenser.harrisonThis is a Texas list, not a Houston list.
@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.
@Nathan Augh, fat fingers over here messed it up. Thanks for pointing that out. We'll get it fixed.
@kcothroll Funny you should mention that; here's an answer for you (along with addressing East and South Texas too). http://blogs.houstonpress.com/eating/2013/01/the_30_essential_texas_restaur_1.php
@Jalapeno Touche haha. Well I stand corrected, but also stand by the belief that Aladdins should still be on the list.