The 30 Essential Texas Restaurants: The List Is Live
Sorry about that teaser earlier this week. No fooling around this time, though: Our list is live. Go check out this week's feature -- "Eat Here: 30 Essential Texas Restaurants to Visit Before You Die" -- before reading on. We don't want to spoil any surprises for you.
Read it yet? Are you sure you didn't just skim it?
Fine. This is on you. Because we don't have spoiler tags on this site.
After reading through the 30 restaurants scattered throughout the state -- Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, even Beaumont -- you may have noticed that a few areas of the state were, shall we say, underrepresented. And being the inquisitive lot that you are, you may be wondering why.
West Texas (a.k.a. Big Bend Country)
Granted, there's a whole lot of nothing between San Angelo and El Paso. But what about towns like Marfa, Alpine, Midland, Odessa, Terlingua, Marathon, Fort Stockton or El Paso itself? Marfa -- and, increasingly, Alpine and Marathon -- is notably cultured for a small Texas town, drawing artists and artistic types from all over the country. It's also known for an assortment of cool restaurants and food trucks: Maiya's, Cochineal, Food Shark, Pizza Foundation, Padre's Marfa. So how did spots like these get left off the list?
They didn't. Plenty of contributors listed spots in West Texas -- they just couldn't all agree on one or two places to represent the region as a whole. Here are the entries which began to approach critical mass (with more than two votes each):
Cochineal, Marfa Food Shark, Marfa The Gage Hotel, Marathon Reata, Alpine Starlight Theater, Terlingua Wall Street Bar & Grill, Midland
A burger and onion rings at Ray's Drive-In in Lufkin.
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
East Texas (a.k.a. Piney Woods)
Although much more densely populated than West Texas, the Piney Woods had an equally poor showing in the final top 30 list. How could this be so? Some of the best burgers and barbecue in the state come from East Texas, from Ray's Drive-In in Lufkin to the East Texas Burger Company in Mineola. The only East Texas-style barbecue that made it to the list at all wasn't even in East Texas: Patillo's, which is on the Gulf Coast in Beaumont.
Texas food writers show a very strong preference for Central Texas-style barbecue, an interesting point gleaned from the data. There's also an overall disconnect from or disinterest in -- however you want to frame it -- food located behind the great Pine Curtain. With half my family in East Texas, I can assure you that there are better places to eat than Catfish King and the state's oldest Dairy Queen. Start with the chicken fried steak (East Texas-style, of course) at The Shed Cafe in Edom, ribs at Country Tavern in Kilgore, brisket with homemade sauce at Pat Gee's in Tyler, seafood at Johnny Cace's in Longview, smoked turkey and sausage at Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Q in Tyler and -- of course -- burgers at Ray's and East Texas Burger Company.
There were far fewer East Texas restaurants submitted by our panel of food writers than West Texas restaurants. And of those submissions, there wasn't enough accumulation in one area. Only two places garnered at least two votes apiece:
Johnny Cace's, Longview Stillwater Inn, Jefferson
Get any further south of San Antonio, and you're looking at a culinary wasteland -- at least as far as our food writers are concerned. Only one restaurant merited one mention outside of San Antonio: Caro's, Rio Grande City.
That's not to say that other restaurants down south weren't mentioned; it's just that those restaurants all hug the Gulf Coast, like King's Inn in Baffin Bay and Glow in Rockport. The original Whataburger in Corpus Christi received a nod, too, but that's it.
I've heard anecdotal evidence from my friends who live in South Texas -- especially the border towns like McAllen and Brownsville -- that chain restaurants completely dominate the area, thanks to the Mexican nationals that enjoy crossing the border to dine at American restaurants. If this is true, it could easily explain the general lack of South Texas entries.
I'm interested to hear other theories, however, in the comments.
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