Ray's Drive-In in Lufkin: Surpassing Expectations

raysdrivein1.jpg
Head north on Highway 59 to meet this monster burger.
On the way out to deep East Texas last week for a story, I found myself suddenly starving and in unfamiliar territory: Lufkin.

Unwilling to sacrifice myself upon the fast-food altar when I know that there's great small-town food to be had out here, I turned to the modern-day Swiss army knife, my iPhone, for help. After Googling "best restaurant Lufkin" (why not?), it quickly turned up a short Texas Monthly review for a place called Ray's Drive-In.

"We stopped at this favorite East Texas burger place three times in two weeks," read the mini-review. "No matter how juicy and tasty the burgers are in our memory, amazingly, the reality always surpasses our expectations." It seemed like a no-brainer. My photographer and I pulled off the main highway, found Ray's and pulled up.

Walking inside the dingy drive-in, however, I began to get wary. A table of locals -- all clad in red T-shirts, for some reason -- glared at us, and the women behind the counter barely glanced our way, then set about quickly ignoring us as we waited at the cash register.

Ray's Drive-In was starting to look like a bad idea.

raysdrivein2.jpg
Ain't much to look at on the inside...
Finally, after five minutes of waiting, a pleasant young man came up to the counter.

"Do we, um, order here?" I asked.

"Sure! Actually," he said with a sheepish smile, "I don't know why they've been ignoring you." He gestured with his chin to the women in the back, who ignored him too. At least it wasn't just us.

Going by the review -- "Be sure to also get onion rings and an ice cream shake, made with your choice of Blue Bell." -- we put all our chips on the table and ordered two Ray's Specials, a boat of fries, another of onion rings, a vanilla shake and a chocolate malt.

raysdrivein3.jpg
...but the retro signs outside are A+ stuff.
While we waited, I took advantage of the old-fashioned jukebox that sat in a corner near the bathrooms, queuing up some Sam Cooke, Merle Haggard and Led Zeppelin. The music seemed to perk up the locals, who stopped glaring at us around the same time as their food arrived. And we'd tucked ourselves into a slightly greasy but cozy booth. Things were picking up.

And then the burgers arrived.

Strikingly rugged and craggy at the edges, two hand-formed patties sat under a thick mantle of peppered, sauteed onions and cheese so velvety it could have (but didn't) come from a pump. Bright, crispy lettuce and tomatoes battled against the soft heft of the meat, cheese and onions, but it was the oozy mess of the latter that eventually won out, soaking the buns as we ate. The eggy buns barely hung on until the end, existing as only the thinnest gauze between meat and fingers in those wonderful last bites.

raysdrivein4.jpg
Maybe we'll actually drive in next time.
"If this burger existed in Houston," I warned my photographer, "other burgers would tremble in its wake."

He didn't disagree, although we both found the onion rings wan and wanting. Nevermind that, though, when my chocolate malt was thick with Blue Bell ice cream and the roasty, toasty flavor of malt underneath the sweetness.

Texas Monthly was right, though; if I'd had my way, we'd have stopped here again before heading back to Houston. Despite a rocky start -- or maybe because of it -- Ray's far surpassed my expectations.



Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords
My Voice Nation Help
13 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
Daniel Humphries
Daniel Humphries

I grew up in Lufkin and have to say Ray's is one place I desperately miss. When we go back, a Ray's Special is high on the list of must-haves. I've had some great food in my days, but nothing compares to the sheer, unchanging nostalgia that is Ray's.

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

But how rude!  Some yokels just hate outsiders.  I would've had a hard time staying.  If the owner wants to make money someday, he should let the Flos go and get some friendly staff to help that young man.  No wonder so many people are unemployed.  They are unemployable.

John J. Ross
John J. Ross

What ever happened to the Texas Burger Guy blog? I think he reviewed that place, he always seemed to have a pulse on the best burger places.

Burgermeister
Burgermeister

All the TBG fans need to just let him mosey on down the road.  There are plenty of current reviews around on the same restaurants he has visited and the dizzying myriad of new ones.   And it's been so long since he's posted anything that he has Lankford as number 5.  So yeah, that blog is outdated.  Lankford is so 2005.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Outdated now, for sure. But I loved reading his posts. Ah, well...

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I wish I knew! I really miss that his posts...

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

Why didn't you post this early last week? I wouldn't have bothered hauling two Antone's po' boys with extra chow-chow and mayo clear up to Lufkin...I saw that place and didn't go.

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

I did manage to hit the Livingston Catfish King on the way back. Pretty damn good stuff.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Dammit, John! I'm sorry. Catfish King is also a viable option, too, only because we don't have those down here.

Terry Alexander
Terry Alexander

But those rings look so good in the photo... Pity.TA

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I know, right? They were pretty, but tasted like they came from a replicator. Weird.

Now Trending

Around The Web

From the Vault

 

Loading...