30 Essential Texas Restaurants

Eat here before you die.


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."

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.

Mi Tierra
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 Steak Ranch
7701 I-40 East, Amarillo

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.

Perini Ranch
3002 FM 89 #A, Buffalo Gap

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

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

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 — 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.

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


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.


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


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.  


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 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.


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


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.


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.


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


@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 moderator editor

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


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