Don’t mess with Texas, especially when it comes to food. The second largest state in the U.S. by land area is the originator of Tex-Mex cuisine, is at the forefront of food truck technology and mobile culinary acumen, and is home to some incredible steak. But that’s not all the birthplace of such larger-than-life characters as Lyndon Johnson, Willie Nelson, George Foreman, and Beyoncé has to offer. See why the Lone Star State is a total standout in our first annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
Everything is bigger in Texas, even the cocktail menus. Texas is home to many steakhouses, hot dog places, and taco joints to ensure that residents and travelers get their beef fix. But people visiting Texas for the first time may be shocked to also find excellent seafood, sushi, and even Italian food all over the state that was the setting for (and seemingly a character of its own in) the popular TV show Friday Night Lights.
How did we compile this assortment of restaurants from the great wide expanse that is Texas? After comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs, we’ve been able to make definitive slideshows celebrating the best food and drink in every state, and you can find our Texas slideshow here.
Anvil Bar and Refuge was one of the first bars in the United States to serve classically styled cocktails like The Brave (mezcal, tequila, amaro, Curaçao, and Angostura bitters, served at room temperature) at lower prices. There are 110 cocktails on the menu, but the bartenders can make far more. The lively space, opened by Bobby Heugel in 2009 when he was just 24 years old, features a bar running the length of the space and a huge spirit collection. Heugel is also one of the bar owners behind OKRA Charity Saloon, a not-for-profit bar. There is a small food menu of nibbles like cheese, charcuterie, and snacks.
Unfiltered, unpasteurized and 100 percent bottle conditioned, Jester King’s Atrial Rubicite is a sour brew that won’t make you pucker your lips. Raspberry undertones shine to give this beer a beautiful balanced taste.
Estância presents its rodizio dinners in an upscale but relaxed setting. Their wine list covers many regions — Chile, France, Brazil, Italy, Argentina, Australia, and the U.S. — complimenting the varied food selections. The beautiful salad bar is so well-presented it may rival the meat service; indulge in the marinated vegetables and pretty salads like arugula with sliced mangoes. Chocolate molten cake and crème brûlée with fresh berries are two dessert specialties here.
Maple & Motor
Maple & Motor has been known to serve its signature attraction with a side of attitude, although it certainly isn’t the first casual spot with a following to develop a little arrogance. But Big D’s burgerphiles will tell you it’s worth braving the fray, and hey, you don’t mess with Texas, right? The cheeseburger is really where it’s at, and we’ll let the menu description speak for itself: “A half-pound of finely ground American beef flat-grilled in its own juices. Dressed in traditional Texas fashion with mustard, lettuce, red onion, and dill pickle. Served on a toasted, grill-shined bun. If perfect ain’t enough, add a slunk of America, Cheddar, or Pepper Jack.” We’re booking our plane tickets now. Find more details on Maple & Motor here.
Goode’s Armadillo Palace
Real Texas chili can be found at Armadillo Palace in Houston, which celebrates old-school ranch-style cooking. The chili here is made with big chunks of venison, served in a thick and spicy cumin-kicked chili sauce and topped with a handful of shredded cheese. Onions and jalapeños are served on the side, but you’ll definitely want to add those into the mix.
Asia Café was made for takeout (the space isn’t exactly super-welcoming), but that doesn’t mean that it’s not slammed most nights. Austinites flock to Asia Café for its steamy bowls of ground beef and cilantro soup, spicy honeycomb tripe, and pan-fried shrimp with crushed peppers. Find more details on Asia Café here.
Toot Sweet Cupcakes & More
This bakery has major design prowess and the flavors to make its cakes taste as beautiful as they look. Toot Sweet’s expertise expands far beyond cupcakes (try the artisanal breads and breakfast pastries), but the cupcakes are where the true joy lies. The Lemon Lusty cupcake — made with fresh lemon juice, lemon zest, and lemon curd, topped with lemon buttercream — is the perfect way to celebrate spring.
Considered one of the absolute best dives in the nation, Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon in Austin is iconic. On Sundays, come in and drink cheap Lone Stars, eat free hot dogs and play chicken bingo. If the fowl poos on your number, you win! Does it get more Texas than that?
Round Rock's doughnuts are known for their orange-yellow color and their puffy, yeast-risen appearance. The color comes from the high-quality eggs that are used in the dough, and the “rustic” appearance is a result of using the same recipe since the 1920s. Opt for the classic plain glazed for the most wonderfully simple doughnut.
With perhaps one of the cleverest food truck names on our list, Easy Slider serves creative mini burgers that use certified Angus beef and farmers market produce out of their red, white, and electric blue vehicle. They introduce sweet flavors into savory sandwiches in not-too-sneaky ways: by using strawberry jam in their burger with bacon and goat cheese, peanut butter instead of cheese in their bacon burger, and sea salt caramel with grilled red onions in their Sugar Derby burger. You don’t want to miss their Baby Bella, with a Texas-born portabella mushroom patty topped with the basic components of a caprese: mozzarella, tomato, and basil pesto.
Lucy’s Fried Chicken, Austin
A dark horse candidate, Lucy’s Fried Chicken soared to the top of this year’s list. Why? It might be because they know when to stick with the classics and when to experiment. Their menu offers fried gizzards and fried livers alongside the expected fried chicken basket, with no fancy explanation as to why the chicken tastes so good. They even serve a cold fried chicken that’s also delicious, and that’s saying something. It’s in their other menu items that they get creative: see the grilled diablo oysters, Mexican Coke sweet potatoes, and sweet tea cheese pie.
Courtesy of Hope Farmer’s Markets
Described by some as "dripping with Austin attitude," the Hope Farmers Market is a gathering place for everyone. Visitors come to shop for fresh food and one-of-a-kind crafts, and to listen and dance to music performed by local musicians. With market food like wheatgrass, lavender, and mix-and-match ice cream cookie sandwiches, as well as handmade crafts like wooden rocking chairs and beaded jewelry, there’s something here for every free-spirited hipster in Austin. Click here for more information about the market.
Texans are just wild about their H-E-B grocery stores. In a Thrillist article about popular grocery stores, author Dan Gentile said he was “severely disappointed that H-E-B isn't the most popular chain in Texas.” (Texas’ choice? Walmart. Reasonable observers unanimously agree that H-E-B is wildly better.)
To reinforce this H-E-B love, another reviewer said of the store, “HEB is the best grocery store in town, bar none. Which is probably why it's always so busy. Truthfully this is the only downside to shopping here. Weekends are especially bad with pretty long lines at every open register. They do the best they can however, and the staff is always friendly, so I don't mind the wait. A byproduct of being great is that you are also popular.”
This sausage-centric restaurant is an Austin gem, serving sausages made in-house or by a local sausage-maker with brilliantly creative toppings. While they also serve regional dogs, like Chicago dogs and Sonoran dogs that are faithful to their forebears, it’s the custom creations where they really shine. Take the “Carolina Pork It,” for example: a 100 percent Vienna beef hot dog, stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon, deep-fried and topped with grilled horseradish coleslaw and house-made pimento cheese. It’s cheesy, smoky, crunchy perfection, and you can have it wrapped up in a corn pancake instead of a bun if you prefer. Find more details on Frank here.
Dunston’s has been around since 1955, making it the city’s oldest steakhouse, and it’s also its least expensive. Six- or nine-ounce bacon-wrapped fillets go for just $12.95 and $16.95, respectively; an eight-ounce rib-eye costs $15.95, and an eight-ounce New York strip costs just $14.95. And if you want to try one of the city’s finest chicken fried steaks, that will set you back just $8.95.
AustinReaPhoto / B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub
Named for Bessie Dee Riley, the daughter of an Irish immigrant to Texas, B.D. Riley’s boasts an impressive selection of beer and Irish whiskey. Sourcing much of the interior directly from Ireland, the bar’s proprietors have succeeded in making the place both authentic and unique. The award-winning menu is a favorite of Irish expats, and of course, it being Austin and all, there’s great music as well.
Chef-partner Ziggy Gruber is a third-generation deliman, having plied his trade for literally his whole life, with a stop at London’s Cordon Bleu along the way. He’s run delis in both New York and Los Angeles, but today he calls Houston — and Kenny & Ziggy’s — home. Houstonians pack into his deli for housemade pastrami, corned beef, softball-sized matzo balls, knishes, smoked fish flown in from New York, blintzes, stuffed cabbage, and other traditional Jewish favorites, all made with love to Gruber’s exacting specifications.
On an oak-shaded patio in Austin’s South Congress, you’ll find one of the best lobster rolls in America. Perla's chefs/owners Lawrence McGuire and Thomas Moorman Jr. ship in seafood from both coasts daily, and the lobster here comes from — where else? — Maine. The lobster is blanched before being tossed with a house-made lemon mayo and herbs, and then it’s placed into a homemade bun with some Bibb lettuce and served alongside drawn garlic butter. Find more details on Perla's here.
Hugo’s opened in 2002 in a restored Latin-inspired building designed by Joseph Finger (also responsible for the art deco-style City Hall) and launched into a diverse regional approach to Mexican food. Chef Hugo Ortega, a finalist for the 2013 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest, cooks food that’s elegant, inventive, and inspiring. Order the much-heralded lamb barbacoa braised in garlic and chiles then slow-roasted in agave, and, for the name alone, the manchamanteles, described on the menu as the “tablecloth stainer,” a sweet mole stewed pork and chicken dish.
Texas’ most expensive restaurant can be found just south of Houston, in chef Ronnie Killen’s hometown of Pearland. Steaks at Killen’s start at $42 for an 8-ounce wet-aged fillet, and top out at $175 for a flight of four different four-ounce wagyu New York strips. In between you’ll find an $85 42-ounce porterhouse, a $125 six-ounce Japanese wagyu New York strip, a $125 American wagyu rib-eye, and several other luxury cuts for those looking to burn a whole lot of cash.
La Traviata’s lineup of pastas is classic and comforting, but the one to order is the rigatoni with spicy lamb meatballs. Complemented with roasted tomato sauce, roasted bell peppers, basil, and pine nuts and kicked up with a touch of cream, it’s about as soul-warming as it gets. Find more details on La Traviata here.
With a pedigree that includes a degree from the Culinary Institute of America and stops at The French Laundry and Café Boulud, it’s not a surprise that chef Shawn Cirkiel found success with his restaurant Parkside. But culinary degrees and hifalutin restaurant experience don’t necessarily mean you can make great pizza.
Lucky for Austin, Cirkiel can and does, serving pizza cooked in a wood-fired brick oven from Naples at 900 degrees. There are seven pies at The Backspace, featuring toppings like fennel sausage, kale pesto, and picante salame. According to the restaurant, the most popular pie is the Bianca, a pizza with arugula, mozzarella, ricotta, and pecorino romano.
Whether it's downed with an aranciata like in Naples, or Texas-style with a glass bottle of Mexican Coke, well… that’s up to you.
Chefs like Underbelly's Chris Shepard have helped galvanize the Houston dining scene in recent years. He insisted on an in-house butcher shop here in his first restaurant, and he works with Houston’s finest ranchers and farmers for the best possible product. Underbelly's farm-to-table approach isn’t the only thing that makes it stand out in a sea of Bayou City restaurants, though: The restaurant is dedicated to telling "the culinary story" of its city, reaching back all the way to its Creole roots. Expect dishes like homemade charcuterie with pickles and toast, smoked beef shoulder with pimento mac and cheese and comeback slaw, and Korean braised goat and dumplings; each dish is a nod to the city, its history, and its immigrants.
Less than a 40-minute drive from Austin is the small town of Taylor, Texas, and in Taylor, Louie Mueller Barbecue. This barbecue spot features big, meaty beef ribs, which they rub with salt and cracked pepper before slow-cooking them over post oak wood; pork spare ribs, which get salt-and-pepper rubbed just like the beef ribs; and their newest entrée, baby back ribs, which are dusted with a “magic” spice mix and basted with a sweet glaze. Let’s not kid ourselves here — just order all three, because you know you want to. You can blame it on us; we won’t mind.
This sandwich, from Austin's Noble Sandwich Company, is a work of art. Start with the bread. It’s your choice of white or wheat, made fresh in house. It gets a light layer of whole-grain mustard and aïoli, both also made in house. Some bacon, cured in house for five days (sensing a trend?), is then added, then topped with a little pulled pork that’s slow-roasted overnight. Then the real star of the show is added: house-cured ham, rubbed in ancho chile, dried chile flakes, sugar, salt, and pepper and brined for six days before being baked and sliced paper thin. Finally, the top slice of bread. This sandwich is a beauty, one of the country’s finest homages to, well, the noble pig.
Snoopy’s Pier is swimming in a seafood shack vibe — no surprise, given that it was once an old fisherman's hangout. Its menu is small and simple, with fried fish, fried shrimp, crabcakes, fried drum fish, and fried oysters receiving a heap of praise from the locals — probably because Snoopy’s has an on-site fish house and shrimp-breading facility. Grab some of the state’s best seafood and take in the view from a table on the pier.
This local hangout has been slowly establishing a great reputation since it opened in 2011, largely thanks to its comfortable vibe and scratchmade dishes. Its soups are made in-house daily, and the must-order is the broccoli beer cheese soup, with chunks of fresh broccoli, several types of cheese, and Shiner Bock, served in a bread bowl.
The Hay Merchant chef/owner Chris Shepherd has made a name for himself in Houston with restaurants Underbelly and the shapeshifting One Fifth, but this casual gastropub isn’t one to be overlooked. The burgers, brunch fare, and family-style dishes like half a roasted pig head are worthy of renown, but in-the-know locals drop by on Tuesdays, when an eight-ounce Angus sirloin from 44 Farms served with seasonal vegetables costs just $15.50. Get there early, though; they sell out fast.
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
If you’re in Dallas or Houston and you find yourself in need of a perfect steak, a red leather booth, wood-paneled walls, and a wine list that boasts about 2,300 options, head over to Pappas Bros. At this shrine to beef, which has repeatedly been lauded as one of the state’s best restaurants since it opened in 1976, the meat is dry-aged in house and served bone-in or bone-out. There’s something for everyone, from a 40-ounce porterhouse carved tableside down to an 8-ounce filet mignon, with stops along the way including an 18-ounce bone-in New York strip and a rib-eye of Texas Akaushi Kobe beef. They’re seasoned with just salt and pepper and finished with some butter. The entire experience is about as classic steakhouse as you’re likely to find. Find more details on Pappas Bros. Steakhouse here.
Teiichi Sakurai is single-handedly elevating Dallas’ sushi game at his Tei-An, which was recently named one of America’s 38 Essential Restaurants by Eater‘s Bill Addison. Teiichi is a master of soba noodles, which he makes by hand and serves both cold and hot, and it’s best enjoyed at the end of a seven-course omakase, which you need to call ahead to request. The fish he serves will undoubtedly be the freshest and highest quality possible, and don’t be surprised if you also get served a slice of A5 wagyu.
Austin without Tacodeli, which has six locations around the city, just wouldn’t be the same. Its made-from-scratch sauces are works of art, and its most popular taco, El Conquistador, is a perfect showcase for the house chile pasilla sauce. Mixed in with shredded, slow-roasted pork shoulder topped with avocado, cilantro, and onion, all wrapped in a fresh flour tortilla, it's the star of a taco you’ll be dreaming about. Go for lunch — all Tacodeli locations are only open until 3 p.m. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2018.