Texas small towns are often overlooked as cuisine destinations, but hidden gems are scattered across the state! We found six top-notch, destination-worthy restaurants along some of Texas’ most unassuming backroads.
204 Thomas Street
Winchester, Texas sits halfway between Austin and Houston. What used to be a flourishing railroad town surrounded by a prosperous cotton farming community has dwindled in size to a whopping 50-person population. Visitors are drawn by Winchester’s scenic views and small-town charm, but the one thing that keeps them coming from all over – the steak.
People drive for miles to eat, drink a Lone Star beer at the long wooden bar or to mail a letter. Murphy’s Steakhouse is not just the town’s bar and restaurant, it is also the post office.
On any given night, the restaurant is packed with people hungry for the bigger-than-the-plate chicken fried steak or the chargrilled ribeye steak big enough to feed an entire family. Those failing to make a reservation might wait up to two hours on Friday and Saturday nights. The all-you-can-eat salad bar is synonymous with country restaurants, but the filet mignon topped with stuffed crab and frog legs puts it in a class of its own.
619 North Colorado Street
Lockhart is a quaint town of 13,000 residents about 35 miles southeast of Austin. In addition to the historical downtown square, town is known for its barbecue. It is so good in fact that the Texas State Legislature deemed Lockhart the official Barbecue Capital of Texas in 1999.
While there is an ongoing debate about which barbecue restaurant is the best, Kreuz Market comes out as the winner in several Best BBQ in Texas lists. Its famous flame-scarred brick barbecue pits have been smoking meats for more than a century. House specialties include handmade jalapeño sausage, succulent pork chops and juicy beef brisket. Kreuz smokes meats slowly like they did in 19th century German meat markets. As the sign on the wall indicates, forks and barbecue sauce are not available. The pit master serves the meat of your choice on a sheet of brown butcher paper and visitors eat with white bread as their only tableware.
200 E. 3rd St.
The elegant 15-story Settles Hotel rises up from the flat West Texas oil fields near Big Springs. Will R. and Lillian Settles opened the hotel in 1930 after the discovery of oil on their property. The opulent hotel housed visitors for decades until the oil bust of the 1970s forced the hotel to close. It sat vacant for 30 years until a local resident invested to restore the hotel to its original state, in 2006. On the ground floor of the historic hotel, the Settles Grill serves Texas comfort food with the Southern elegance of a time gone by. Start with fried pickles topped with green Tabasco butter and blue cheese, followed by entrees such as crab stuffed grilled trout on top of tomato thyme rice and baby kale, duck confit with balsamic fig compote and charbroiled beef tenderloin with Oak Barrel Bourbon Steak Sauce and Tobacco onions.
Rancho Pizzeria: Coleman
414 S Commercial Ave.
If you are looking for pizza anywhere near Abilene, you should only visit one option: Rancho Pizzeria. This gem of a restaurant is in a tiny farming community about an hour south of Abilene called Coleman. The desolate downtown buildings are not typical of a foodie destination, but Rancho Pizzeria is the real deal. The hotelier couple that founded famed Rancho Loma, a boutique hotel in nearby Talpa, opened the pizzeria in May 2015 to rave reviews. Texas Monthly called Rancho Pizzeria one of the best new restaurants in Texas. In a state this big, you know that is a big deal.
The wood-fired pies are baked to perfection in a brick oven. Don’t look for a Plain Jane cheese pizza here. Choose pies like the fungi with roasted shiitake, béchamel, fontina, and roasted garlic with white truffle oils or arugula with béchamel, truffle oil, mozzarella, wild arugula and prosciutto.
316 East Austin Street
Even though it is small, Fredericksburg is no stranger to good food. Thanks to its booming wine and tourism industry, the town of 11,000 people has one of the best culinary scenes in the state. The German Otto’s Bistro is no exception. Located a block away from the hustle-and-bustle of Main Street, the quaint bistro serves seasonal farm-to-table meals sure to delight both cowboys and urbanites alike. Staying true to the German roots so deeply ground in Fredericksburg, Otto’s serves traditional favorites with ingredients that have been “grown, raised or pickled” in-house or nearby. The hand-breaded duck breast in the Duck Schnitzel comes with spaetzle, apple mustard Lyonnaise sauce and duck cracklins while the Wurst Plate includes house-made sausage, kartoffelnsalat, sauerkraut, senfgurken and mustard.
When it comes to dessert, it is too hard to decide between the Schokoriegel, a flourless chocolate torte, meringue, kirsch cherries, crème anglaise and the Cambozola Cheesecake with guava coulis, caramel and candied pecans. It is best to get both to avoid any regret.
12 Gage Restaurant
102 NW 1st Hwy 90w
The blink-and-you-miss-it town of Marathon, on the northern edge of Big Bend National Park, does not have many dining options. But what it lacks in quantity, it makes up in quality. The town of 400 people has one of the best restaurants in a 200 miles radius. The 12 Gage Restaurant is part of the historic Gage Hotel. The cowhide, leather chairs and warm fireplace give the restaurant a cowboy chic feel. Using locally sourced wild game, beef and fowl alongside vegetables grown in the restaurant’s garden, the menu provides Texas-inspired specialties with a gourmet twist. The Shiner Bock mac and cheese with white cheddar cheese and Cavatappi pasta is a crowd favorite. Other popular entrees include blackened scallops with black-eyed pea fritters, elk and buffalo meatloaf and the beef tenderloin filet. For non-meat-eaters, try the vegan pozole.
Photo Credits: Murphy's Steakhouse: Courtesy of Jennifer Simonson, 12 Gage Restaurant: Courtesy of Gage Hotel