Home Cookin' Highway 33 Family-Owned Roadside Joints well worth a rest stop

Above: Welfare Cafe | Photo: Wynn Myers

Texas is Vast, and the decisions are wide open when hunger strikes on those long hauls across the state. Sure, you could pull up to the nearest drive-thru window (again), but there’s nothing boldest or grandest about a bag of fast food—especially when exceptional mom-and-pop restaurants are dishing up affordable comfort a little farther down the line. Whether you’re hankering for a taste of home or the meal less traveled, sometimes you just need to get out of the car and into a diner booth.

Northwest Texas

Dutchmans's Hidden Valley | Photo: Eric W. Pohl

Dutchman’s Hidden Valley | Hamilton

Once you make your way past the old-fashioned dime-store candy shop up front, you’ll find a deli wonderland in the back where sandwiches are made on homemade bread with meats and cheeses that are sometimes cured and smoked on-site. One favorite is the Spicy Dutchman sandwich, featuring jalapeño-and-cheese beef summer sausage, pepper jack cheese, and chipotle-ranch dressing on toasted jalapeño bread. Or order the Wurst Plate, a sausage sampler with German potato salad, slices of house-smoked Gruyère, and bread. “We’ve become part of [our customers’] vacations and part of their history,” says owner Kara Chorenziak (pictured), whose family has owned the restaurant since 1983. “Oftentimes, their parents or grandparents brought them, so now they’re bringing their kids and grandkids.”

Cynthia J. Drake 3408 N. US 281. 254-386-3018; dutchmans-hiddenvalley.com

Del Norte Tacos & More | Godley

Far more than another taqueria, this eatery dishes out breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a heaping serving of creativity. Take, for instance, the blackened shrimp tacos with spiced crema and cilantro slaw; the stacked enchiladas topped with ranchero sauce and a fried egg; the smoked chile relleno stuffed with brisket; and the grilled ahi tuna torta topped with spicy slaw, pickled onion, and guacamole (a once-in-a-while special). Owner-chef Chris Garcia, whose family’s Rio Grande Valley roots inform his flavor profiles, earned his stripes cooking at high-end Houston restaurants before opening this place near Fort Worth in 2008.

June Naylor 101 N. State Highway 171. 817-389-2451; delnortetacos.com

Allen's Family Style Meals | Photo: Eric W. Pohl

Allen’s Family Style Meals | Sweetwater

Everyone simply called it Mrs. Allen’s when housewife and cook Lizzie B. Allen opened the front room of her Sweetwater home in 1952 to feed folks stopping by for lunch. Her meals—for which she charged either 75 cents or a dollar (there’s some debate among the old-timers)—became so popular that she began knocking out walls to add tables that year. She soon moved out, needing the whole house to accommodate kitchen and dining tables. Customers continue packing her place 66 years later to dig into platters of fried chicken and sides served family-style. Grandson Billy Allen, who started washing dishes for her during his junior high years, runs the restaurant today, serving chicken, potato salad, squash, red beans, green beans, buttered potatoes, okra and tomatoes, and greens just the way she did. “There weren’t any recipes—she just showed us how to do it,” Billy says, adding that his grandma worked until she passed away in 1985. In addition to chicken, the meat of the day might be pork ribs, meatloaf, or pot roast, and you can count on peach cobbler for dessert. “Once in a while, we’ll do a plum or cherry cobbler, but then customers ask for the peach,” Billy says.

J.N. 1301 E. Broadway Ave. 325-235-2060

Underwood's Bar-B-Q Cafeteria | Photo: Eric W. Pohl

Underwood’s Bar-B-Q cafeteria | Brownwood

Standing in line at this old-school cafeteria will send you back two or three generations to when a butcher in Brady named M.E. Underwood started peddling barbecue door-to-door to support his growing family. He moved to Brownwood after World War II and opened a roadside stand that evolved into today’s restaurant, which serves fried chicken, barbecue beef steak, ribs, and other classic Texas staples. The best part? The cheerful employees who push a cart and carry a tray around the dining room so you don’t have to walk back for more homemade rolls or whipped cream for your cobbler.

Pam LeBlanc 404 W. Commerce St. 325-646-1776; underwoodsbbq.com

Paul, Leonard, Leo, and Tres Underwood represent three generations of Underwood’s Bar-B-Q Cafeteria. Photo: Eric W. Pohl

Woody’s Bar & Grill | Mineral Wells

You can’t miss Woody’s Bar & Grill. The old Quonset hut exterior features an image of the famous woodpecker above the door (it’s telling that this version of the bird appears to be smoking a stogie) and a fading red sign laying claim to the “best hamburger in Texas.” A dive of the first order, this joint with pool and shuffleboard serves as many as 350 burgers daily from its well-seasoned griddle. Order an ice-cold beer and a bowl of pickled jalapeños, carrots, and onion to eat with your oversized bag of Fritos, dig into a big bacon cheeseburger with a toasty bun, and listen to some Pat Green and Kid Rock on the jukebox. Just remember, it’s a bar—so expect varying amounts of smoke.

J.N. 6105 US 180 East. 940-325-9817

Youngblood’s Cafe | Amarillo

Co-owner Tim Youngblood came to Amarillo in 1965 at age 14 after growing up in Durango, Colorado, left to study at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and then returned to Amarillo where he eventually opened his restaurant. Youngblood’s has been in its downtown area location since 2013 and is famous for its Texas home cookin’, which means huevos rancheros and made-to-order omelets, topped with green chile sauce with your choice of filling.

C.J.D. 620 S.W. 16th Ave. 806-342-9411; youngbloodscafe.com

Jake & Dorothy’s Cafe | Stephenville

Whether she’s greeting regulars or refilling glasses of iced tea, Kerry Roach keeps the coffee shop running just as it did when her folks opened it 70 years ago. Her dad, Jake, is credited with inventing a machine that cuts the popular waffle fries that arrive alongside crispy catfish, crunchy chicken-fried steak, and grilled onion-smothered hamburger steak. It’s tough, however, to pass up the golden onion rings, so you might as well order both. Just leave room for pie—customers often drive an hour or more just for some of the coconut meringue and chocolate cream.

J.N. 406 E. Washington St. 254-965-5211

Northeast Texas

Tail-on fried catfish with hush puppies, coleslaw, and sweet tea at River Bend. Photo: Dave Shafer

River Bend | Karnack

OK, so maybe it’s not a roadside joint—more like an end-of-the-road joint. But this Southern-style eatery on the banks of Big Cypress Bayou still manages to lure its share of customers off the main route through Jefferson and Marshall. Tie your boat to the dock and pull up a chair on the screened-in deck for a Caddo Lake view shrouded in Spanish moss, and do your best to choose from a menu ranging from handcut rib-eyes to shrimp and frog legs with baskets of piping-hot jalapeño hush puppies. The catfish filets, which come blackened or fried, are plenty popular, but true aficionados insist on the whole cat, which is caught fresh and fried to a crisp. “To me, if you can deal with the bones—which I can—the whole catfish are hands-down better,” says Debbi Wisdom, who co-owns RiverBend with her husband, Johnny. “It’s all about Caddo,” she says. “It’s so pretty overlooking the water, not to mention all the wildlife, and each season looks different. It’s very calming out here—unless you’re trying to run a restaurant.” Still hungry? Don’t worry, you won’t be. But RiverBend’s more famous neighbor—Big Pines Lodge, a restaurant with roots in the 1930s—is just a mile or two up the bayou.

Wes Ferguson 211 Private Road 2422. 903-679-9000

new zion missionary baptist church bBQ | Huntsville

Sitting in the shadows of Sam Houston National Forest, this joint serves up a soul food version of barbecue rooted in East Texas culture. You walk past an old smoker decorating the front yard and into a little white building, which holds the kitchen and a handful of cramped dining spaces. There, Clinton Edison (pictured)—he’s the proprietor and pastor at the church right across the driveway—and his friendly staff fix your plate to order, with thick pork ribs, sliced beef brisket, pork-and-beef sausage, and chicken, with velvety sauce ladled on the side. Sides include typical ’cue accouterments like potato salad, pinto beans, sliced white onion, sliced pickles, and white bread. Save room for a slice of heavenly buttermilk or pecan pie.

J.N. 2601 Montgomery Road. 936-294-0884

Photo: Dave Shafer

The Back Porch | Kilgore

Help yourself to free hush puppies and pinto beans as you wait for “sandmishes,” chili cheese “dawgs,” and one of the juiciest cheeseburgers in the East Texas oil patch at this longtime spot that somehow keeps things old school through near constant evolution. Completely rebuilt after a fire gutted the restaurant in 1984, The Back Porch more recently positioned itself as the go-to entertainment spot in Kilgore when owners Jackie and Vicki Clayton enclosed a large patio just beyond the namesake back porch, debuting a cavernous sports bar and music venue where live bands perform country, rock, and blues for folks sipping draft beers and longnecks. The original dining area, with its wood booths and wood-paneled walls, has changed a lot less—as have those pintos and ’puppies, tube-shaped golden-fried goodies that have been stretching meals for oilfield workers and cash-strapped college students for decades.

W.F. 904 Broadway Blvd. 903-984-8141; thebackporchkilgore.com

Grain Bin Café and Store | Seguin

While a grain bin doesn’t sound very appetizing (except to livestock), farmer and rancher Tammy Harborth and her staff have been serving delicious, homemade Texas diner food since 2009. Especially popular is the Country Breakfast, served on weekend mornings, and folks drive miles for squares of Big Red Cake and pecan pie. The Bin also provides an entertainment hotspot for the community, with the patio turning into a country music nightclub with no cover every Friday night. Plus, there’s a gift shop/boutique at the front entrance that is reminiscent of Cracker Barrel—only sassier.

Michael Corcoran 121 Dennis Drive. 830-379-2233

Church BBQ’s three-meat plate with ribs, brisket, and sausage. Photo: Dave Shafer

Czech Stop | West

The drive on I-35 between Dallas and Austin can be mind-numbing, but even weary travelers snap to attention when they see the 353 exit sign for West. In this tiny town between Hillsboro and Waco, the 35-year-old Czech Stop bakery, deli, and convenience store provides assorted Czech pastries and, mercifully, a clean bathroom. Load up on treats like kolaches ranging in fillings from cherry to apricot to pumpkin, and klobasniki stuffed with jalapeño, sausage, and cheese, and then continue on your journey with a new pep in your step.

Kimya Kavehkar 105. N. College Ave. 254-826-4161; czechstop.net

Stringer’s Lufkin Bar-B-Que | Lufkin

It’s not often that carbs steal the show at a barbecue restaurant, but Stringer’s is famous for just that. Its fried yeast rolls compel even vegetarians to settle into a cozy booth in the restaurant’s wood-paneled interior to savor a hot, crisp roll with honey. Carnivores devour these rolls as a side to brisket, chopped beef, ribs, smoked chicken, and other selections from the time-tested menu provided by the same family for more than 65 years. And dessert beckons with more golden goodness—apple, peach, and raisin fried pies.

Jennifer Babisak 203 S. Chestnut St. 936-634-4744; lufkinbbq.com

Central Texas

Sin-Nammon Rolls at Royers Round Top Café | Photo: Wynn Myers

Royers Round Top Café | Round Top

It’s smart to arrive for a late lunch or early supper if you want one of 40 seats inside this famously funky joint plastered with posters, T-shirts, and colorful, hand-painted signs in the renowned antiquing town with an official population of 90. When Bud Royer opened his place in 1987, he became known for making the best pies anywhere—you understand its following once you’ve tasted the chocolate chip-pretzel-coconut-caramel concoction called Texas Trash, or the Junkberry, mixing apples and peaches with strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Then he set about bringing in crowds for grilled pimento cheese sandwiches with tomato soup at lunch, and shrimp-stuffed grilled quail and grilled rack of lamb in the evening. Bud’s taken a back seat to let his family run the show now; patrons are still lining up for an hour or more.

J.N. 105 Main St. 979-249-3611; royersroundtopcafe.com

Aranya Restaurant | Burnet

It may not look like much from the outside, but for nearly 10 years, owner Aranya Wanapun has been serving up homemade Thai recipes at her small-town restaurant to locals and travelers alike. Specialties include the spring rolls with fresh cilantro, lettuce, vermicelli noodles, cucumber, and shrimp wrapped inside rice paper with a side of peanut sauce; plus a variety of curries and noodle dishes. “This restaurant started small, as a compact place connected to a gas station,” says Wanapun’s son, Prin, who works part-time as a server. “More and more people are getting to recognize us.”

C.J.D. 1013 E. Polk St. 512-865-9789

French toast at Hit the Road Café | Photo: Wynn Myers

Louie Mueller Barbecue | Taylor

Loyal fans agree the Muellers are the first family of Texas barbecue, and more than a few food critics have named it the state’s best. It’s hard to argue either point, with its indelible mark on Texas’ culinary history and its flawless brisket with a thick, peppery crust and supple, post-oak-smoked interior. The long line, often streaming out the screen door of this cavernous old building, is well worth enduring for the juicy, zippy jalapeño sausage and the lush pork ribs. You can sip an ice-cold Shiner (or Dr Pepper) while visiting in line with your fellow barbecue pilgrims until you reach the order counter and make your selections. Make sure to say hi to Wayne Mueller, the friendly owner seeing that his dad’s and granddad’s traditions begun in 1949 stay strong.

J.N. 206 W. Second St. 512-352-6206; louiemuellerbarbecue.com

Crossvine Market | Waelder

The sage sausage at Crossvine tastes like it has a story. The recipe comes from African American preacher Rev. Barnes, who started selling it at this same location in the 1920s. When Rudy and Deanna Orona were getting ready to reopen the grocery store/diner in 2012 (it had been called Eureste’s Grocery for 35 years), the original sausage recipe was passed down by a Barnes family friend. “We get people driving from Houston and San Antonio for that sausage, which we make right here,” says Rudy, who also sells a lot of cheeseburgers, brisket, and ribs. The locals, meanwhile, love being able to pick up a quart of milk without having to drive 20 miles to Gonzales. “The grocery store is for the community,” Rudy says of the front half of the building. The picnic tables in the back are for anyone on I-10 with a rumblin’ tummy.

M.C. 419 W. US 90. 830-788-7154

Hit the Spot Café | Garfield

With great food (breakfast all day!) and reasonable prices, this eatery between Austin and Bastrop can get pretty busy. But since the café shares its entrance with the Garfield Library, the waits can be informative and enjoyable—and library books can be taken to your table. Folks from the library approached café owner Jesse Solis nine years ago about sharing the space, and it’s worked out beautifully for bookworms and comfort food fans. The café is definitely the draw, however. Solis makes fork-tender chicken-fried steaks (served here by Maria Gomez, left, and Isabela Garcia) that have caused many an 8-mile detour from the Austin airport. Solis opened a second location in Hutto last year. Even with a third location in Cedar Creek coming this year, Hit the Spot is constantly updating its menu, with new additions including a fried chicken sandwich, chicken and waffles, and a Reuben sandwich. “We do everything by hand,” says Solis, “so it takes some time.” That’s cool. The only thing better than curling up with a good book is putting it down when your food comes.

M.C. 5121 Albert Brown Drive. 512-563-5765

Photo: Wynn Myers

Welfare Café | Welfare

The minuscule community of Welfare, deep in the lower Hill Country, boasts a café that serves more upscale fare than one might expect. Spreading within a former general store, owner-chef Gaby McCormick’s restaurant, with its squeaky wood floors and produce boxes-turned-wine racks beneath the old post office windows, oozes guileless charm. Since opening 20 years ago, McCormick has delivered her passion for fresh, seasonal food in the form of modern German dishes. Her kartoffelpuffer—potato cakes served with spiced applesauce, cream, and bacon—and artichoke schnitzel are testaments; while her bacon-wrapped quail and pan-seared grouper with pineapple pico reveal her refined palate. Take time to wander the grounds and meet the chickens and goats roaming the property, which is now a popular spot for weddings.

J.N. 223 Waring Welfare Road. 830-537-3700; welfaretexas.com

Zac Rangel with Welfare Café's Chicken Fredericksburg, a dish that harmonizes jalapeños, peaches, and pecans. Photo: Wynn Myers

Frank’s Place Riverside Grill | Fentress

The gravel parking lot of Frank’s Place is often packed with pickups, construction trucks, and delivery vans at lunchtime—evidence this comfort food eatery satisfies on a blue-collar budget. Owners Frank and Susan Hernandez estimate 80 percent of the clientele are regulars. What keeps them coming back are the barbecue plates and half-pound, fire-grilled cheeseburgers, though on Wednesdays and Sundays the Santa Fe-style enchiladas are the attraction. Frank grew up working in his mom’s Mexican restaurant in Denver City, near the New Mexico border, but didn’t open his 54-seat restaurant in Caldwell County until 2005, after retiring from Shell Oil. “There was no place to eat for miles around,” he says of his impetus to open. As he once had to drive to San Marcos or Luling for dinner, folks from those towns are now coming to Fentress to eat at Frank’s. —M.C. 13321 State Park Road. 512-878-7100; franksplaceriverside.com

Southwest Texas

Long Draw Pizza | Photo: Jennifer Boomer

Long Draw Pizza | Terlingua

This small bar and pizza joint with big flavor sits above a rocky arroyo just beyond the desert community of Terlingua. Outward appearances suggest the building could have been manufactured as an Arctic research station, then accidentally dropped onto the desert floor. But once you step inside you’ll find all the friendly comforts of a neighborhood bar. The place features a few long tables and chairs that fill quickly with backpackers, tourists, and local community groups. Join the crowd or snag a prime seat at the tiny bar (make room; the more the merrier) where you’ll get an up-close view of the pizza-making process. Witness the ladling of owner Nancy Ziese’s special (and addictive) tomato sauce and the sprinkling of toppings. Then have a cold one and make new friends while waiting for your pizza to exit the oven. Try the crowd-pleasing Six Shooter, a pepperoni/sausage monster topped with the works. Ziese acquired the business in 1998 and has served pizza here for more than two decades, establishing staying power in a remote region that sees more than its share of nomads. So what’s the secret to her sauce? “You’d have to buy the place for me to tell you,” Ziese says, “and then only after your check clears the bank.”

E. Dan Klepper 22790 FM 170. 432-371-2608

Miss Hattie’s Restaurant and Cathouse Lounge | San Angelo

Housed in a historic 1884 bank—one of the first permanent buildings in downtown San Angelo—Miss Hattie’s has a scintillating history: its now-covered underground tunnel once led to a bordello operated by a madam known as (you guessed it) Miss Hattie. San Angelo’s first female mayor, Brenda Gunter, owns the restaurant, which is known for its mesquite-smoked rib-eye topped with cilantro-horseradish sauce and its bacon-wrapped jalapeño appetizer. Operating a restaurant is “the best way in the world, particularly as mayor, to know what people are thinking,” Gunter says.

C.J.D. 26 E. Concho Ave. 325-653-0570; misshattiesrestaurant.com

Cueva de Leon | Fort Davis

Whether carb-loading for cycling the Davis Mountains or simply satisfying a craving for some fresh-made Mexican food, head to Cueva De Leon, the 42-year-old cornerstone of Fort Davis eateries. Owner Lorina Wells opened the restaurant in 1976 in a back-street café. In 1982 she built the current location downtown. “The recipes I started using were from my mom,” Wells says. “She taught me how to make stuff like enchilada sauce, and the rest I just learned by tasting and improving.” Her signature plate features chiles rellenos, large savory chili peppers that are roasted, peeled, and stuffed by hand then dipped and fried in a crispy batter. “We’ve been doing them the same way for over 40 years,” Wells says. “It’s still our most popular dish.”

E.D.K. 611 N. State St. 432-426-3801

Eggs Benedict at Espresso y Poco Mas | Photo: Jennifer Boomer

Marfa Burrito | Marfa

Finding a restaurant in Marfa that’s consistently open can be a challenge. But even for off-season West Texas adventurers, there’s always Marfa Burrito. Just a hop, skip, and a jump up the road from trendy lodging El Cosmico is the little white house where diners enter the kitchen and rattle off their orders to cook and owner Ramona Tejada (en español, if you’d like). Plop down at a table on the patio or in the small dining room, gaze at the photos on the wall of Tejada with her fans Matthew McConaughey and Mark Ruffalo, and tear into the tastiest dang breakfast burrito you’ve ever had in your life—like the Primo, made with fried potato, cheese, and beans in a handmade flour tortilla. Cash only.

K.K. 1515 S. Highland Ave. 325-514-8675

The J&P Bar & Grill | Comstock

The simple, almost comical “Eat Here” sign written in blue painter’s tape at the top of a tall pole outside the bar elicits curiosity in hungry travelers. Former truck drivers Jodie and Pete Gould and their son Duke, a mechanic who’d been cooking for his buddies out of the back room of this former convenience store, opened the place in late 2013. Most everybody now comes for the burgers—especially the Devil’s Burger, a combo of fresh ground beef, pepper jack cheese, grilled jalapeños, and homemade jalapeño mayonnaise served on an onion poppy seed ciabatta bun with a heap of house-cut fries. Sin never tasted so good.

P.L. 32137 W. US 90. 432-292-4338

Neal’s Dining Room | Concan

Where better to enjoy comfort food than perched on a cliff overlooking the Frio River? Tom and Vida Thrift Neal established their riverside restaurant in 1926. Today, their great-grandson Chase Roosa runs the seasonal business, and old family photos give the space a homey feel. The menu includes the original chicken-fried steak and fried chicken recipes, along with sides like lima beans and corn on the cob. In summer, the best seats are at the picnic tables on the open-air patio, with views of rolling hills and rollicking tubers.

Heather Brand 20720 State Highway 127. 830-232-5813; nealsdiningroom.com

Espresso Y Poco Mas | Terlingua

When native Texan Mimi Webb Miller (pictured) moved to Terlingua from California, she missed having a good cup of espresso. Locals and visitors hankered for a place to hang out, too. So she opened an open-air café (in addition to guest houses) that provided both, as well as breakfast and lunch. It’s an ever-evolving labor of love for Webb Miller and general manager/cook Noemi Aviles, who makes from-scratch pastries, breakfast burritos, salsa, and sandwiches like meatloaf and rotisserie chicken salad. They’re all served with views of the rugged Chisos Mountains under the shade of olive trees.

—Melissa Gaskill 45 Milagro Way. 432-371-3044; laposadamilagro.net

Photo: Jennifer Boomer

South Texas/Gulf Coast

Photo: Kenny Braun

Lil Rita's Grill House | Harlingen

When Sirikul Guerra, better known as Rita (pictured below), started this restaurant with her husband, Hector, in 1998, Thai cuisine was largely unknown in the region, and smoked brisket was the featured menu item. But Rita’s signature pad thai and pad wen sun noodle dishes quickly gained a loyal following. Today, Valley residents head to Lil Rita’s for their fix of flavorful curries, aromatic soups, and Rita’s off-menu extra spicy cashew chicken or shrimp. Lil Rita’s remains something of a mystery to the uninitiated. The incongruous name—nothing is grilled or barbecued, though you can still get a half-pound Angus beef burger—is part of the mystique. Due to Rita’s busy schedule in her other vocation as full-time mom, the restaurant opens only between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on weekdays, as well as on Friday nights, when it’s particularly packed. Rita cooks every dish herself, so regulars know to expect longer waits during busy times. They also know it will be worth it, as evidenced by the stream of customers who stop by the order window next to the kitchen to thank her in person for a meal well-prepared.

Daniel Blue Tyx 410 E. Tyler Ave. 956-425-6242; lilritasgrillhouse.com

Sirikul Guerra of Lil Rita's Grill House | Photo: Kenny Braun

King's Inn | Riviera

This Loyola Beach icon located shoreside of Cayo del Grullo and east of Riviera is about as authentic as it gets along the Gulf Coast. The sprawling seafood landmark evolved from a 1930s fishing pier and bait shop/snack shack called Orlando’s, a joint venture by locals Orlando Underbrink and Blanche “Mom” Wright. In 1945, cook Cottle Ware took over the place with his wife, Alta Faye, who changed the name to King’s Inn. Today, son Randy runs the place. Order from a list of standard seafood fare, like fresh Gulf shrimp, fried or broiled; all entrées and sides are served family-style. Try the Bombay Salad as a starter, a creamy curried avocado on an iceberg wedge with sliced tomatoes and a pickled pepper. And, gentlemen, don’t forget the house rules: remove your hats before dining.

E.D.K. 1116 E. County Road 2270. 361-297-5265; kingsinnriviera.com

A whole table full of fried goodness, including oysters, fish, and shrimp, along with Bombay Salad. Photo: Kenny Braun

Schnitzel | Vidor

After Hurricane Rita ravaged the East Texas coast, German native Monica Herring was able to buy a building cheap and went about opening her hole-in-the-wall, cash-only restaurant to cook up some of her grandma’s recipes. With sister Ursula in the kitchen, wunderbar things are done with pork cutlets (schnitzel), beef stew, potato salad, purple sauerkraut, and sauerbraten (beef pot roast) that fellow Germans have driven from Houston to eat.

M.C. 950 S. Main St. 409-239-3331

Rao’s Bakery | Beaumont

If you’re hunting for a towering slice of Italian cream cake with a strong, fresh cup of cinnamon-spiced coffee, possibly with a side of local gossip, look no further than the original Rao’s location in Beaumont’s Oaks Historic District. Open since 1941, this friendly little shop with long, glass-fronted cases holding exquisitely crafted cakes, tarts, and pastries buzzes with the happy chatter of young and old, fueled by the gregarious energy of owner Jake Tortorice, who’s often spotted hopping from table to table. With five stores in the region, Rao’s is also the primo spot for a lunchtime muffuletta, egg-and-olive sandwich, and an Italian soda—all testaments to the family’s Sicilian roots.

J.N. 2596 Calder Ave. 409-832-4342; raosbakery.com

The Crawfish Hole | Winnie

This family-owned roadside joint has been serving up heaps of boiled mudbugs for more than a decade, but it’s open only during crawfish season (February through June), so get there when you can (and BYOB). The combo platter gives you a taste of just about everything on the menu: the signature crawfish, infused with spicy Cajun flavors, along with corn, potatoes, sausage, snow crab, and shrimp. No utensils are necessary for this seafood smorgasbord—just dexterous fingers, plenty of paper towels, and a hearty appetite.

H.B. 510 Gulfway Drive. 409-296-9262

Nana’s Taquería | Weslaco

When Roxanna and Alfredo Treviño opened Nana’s Taquería just down the road from Estero Llano Grande State Park, it was just the two of them working out of the back of their house with a banner tied to a chain-link fence that advertised lonches—a variation on the taco, with bite-sized bread rolls in place of the tortilla. Seven years later, the delectable lonches are the same, but the formerly modest home has been transformed by Alfredo, a civil engineer, and daughter Roxy, an architecture student, into a “little piece of Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley,” Roxanna says. There’s ornate tile, vaulted ceilings, colorful murals, and a delightful outdoor patio where you can hear live Spanish music Tuesday through Friday evenings.

D.B.T. 1802 S. International Blvd. 956-447-2798


Eric W. Pohl, Dave Shafer, Wynn Myers, Jennifer Boomer, Kenny Braun

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