The 30 Essential Texas Restaurants: The List Is Live
East Texas (a.k.a. Piney Woods)
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt A burger and onion rings at Ray's Drive-In in Lufkin.
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
Photo by jrsnchzhrs This photo was captioned "McAllen top rated restaurant" on Flickr.
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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