The Essential Guide to Eating Texas

Everything a foodie should know about the Lone Star State

Of course, you’re bound to get hungry on any Texas road trip. Since the Lone Star State is populated by predominantly devout carnivores laying claim to about 268,820 square miles of land, there are countless restaurants to discover (or re-discover). So we rounded up a list of the best small-town places to visit when you’re making your way around the Lone Star State.

The best road trips are the ones that involve delicious food, am I right? Texas is just full of so many amazing places to eat and it seems impossible to try all of them in a lifetime—so we’re done the next best thing and tried a few of the very best, most iconic restaurants in Central Texas.

Smitty’s Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Smitty’s Market, Lockhart 

The black soot covering Smitty’s foyer and pit room is a good sign—it means the place is alive and kickin’ after all these years. Go for the Texas trinity of brisket, pork ribs, and sausage, fresh from the pit, and throw on a pork chop or shoulder clod if you’re feeling wild. This is the kind of spot where asking for sauce is welcome and it’s a tasty sauce indeed. 

Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weikel’s Bakery, La Grande

Weikel’s Bakery prides itself in making authentic from-scratch Czech pastries like Kolaches and Klobasnikies (Pigs-in-a-Blanket) and many other baked goods. The bakery has become a traditional stopping point for many travelers on Highway 71 between Austin and Houston. Some say this Czech bakery’s kolaches are the best in the state.

Black’s Barbecue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black’s Barbecue, Lockhart

Smoked Texas barbecue puts smiles on faces. Black’s is one of the most iconic barbecue joints in Texas. From brisket so tender it practically melts in your mouth to fall-off-the-bone ribs smoked in the most flavorful marinade you’ll ever taste, I guarantee you’ll be leaving the table more than a little full.

Kloesel’s Steakhouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kloesel’s Steakhouse, Moulton

It was hard to believe the locals when we were told that one of the best restaurants around was Klosel’s. After some hesitation we stopped for lunch en route to the little brewery in Shiner and give it a shot and what a pleasant surprise. The food was truly amazing and good value with great atmosphere and friendly service. We have eaten here over the years numerous times and have always been impressed with their food. Particularly love their chicken fried steak—and desert.

Black’s Barbecue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kreuz Market, Lockhart 

Kreuz Market (pronounced ‘Krites’) might be the most unique dining experience you’ve ever had. The beef, sausage, or pork is served on brown butcher paper. No side dishes here. But you can enjoy a slice of cheddar cheese, chunk of onion, tomatoes, avocado and your favorite beverage. Don’t ask for barbecue sauce. They don’t have it and quite honestly are offended if anyone asks. The owners say, ‘good barbecue doesn’t need sauce.’

City Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

City Market, Luling

There are few places we love as much as the pit room at City Market. Entering the smoke-filled, glass-enclosed chamber at the back of the dining room is an experience you will remember for decades—a trip into an iconic, sacred space in the world of barbecue.

The City Market serves brisket, ribs, and sausage rings on butcher paper. They’re great as-is but house-made sauce is significant. The brisket is terrific as are pork ribs, but City Market’s great dish is a sausage ring. A swinging door leads into a back-room pit where pit men assemble meats on pink butcher paper. They take your money then gather the edges of the paper together so it becomes a boat-like container you easily can carry back into the pine-paneled dining room.

Truth BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Truth BBQ, Brenham

Walking in we’re offered samples of brisket and a delicious side. The first bite announces the fact that youthful proprietor Leonard Botello IV has been an admirer of the handiwork of other masters of the craft, notably Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin. The pork ribs are decadently moist and slightly sweetened with a glaze. The brisket possesses an intense meaty flavor, subtle but deep smoke penetration, and a fine black-pepper crust. And the sides—can we talk about the sides? There is creamy mac and cheese with sizzling bacon crumbled on top; slow-cooked collard greens; rapturously buttery corn pudding; and bright, crisp slaw.

Original Kountry Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Original Kountry Bakery, Schulenburg

In 1979, Evelyn Besetsny and her husband Clarence started a bakery in a little house along Highway 77. Evelyn’s recipes came down from the Czech lands through her mother, Caroline Valicek. Those basic recipes for kolaches, strudel, and pigs haven’t changed, either. Clarence and Evelyn retired in 2007 but their daughter Lynn Heller carries on the tradition today. Heller has added a few items over the years like sauerkraut pig-in-the-blankets, jalapeno pigs, bacon and cheese rolls, and boudin pigs. Kountry Bakery’s stew and chilli are also lunchtime favorites. And the best part about eating lunch at Kountry Bakery are all the sweets to pick up for desert.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

I am not a glutton—I am an explorer of food.

—Erma Bombeck

A Toast to Texas History

Every drop of Shiner is brewed in Shiner

South of Flatonia and Moulton on Highway 95 lay a magical land where beer is made—Shiner. To that place two thirsty companions and a designated driver traveled.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the first grumblings of hunger appeared as we approached the little village of Moulton. It was hard to believe the locals when we were told that one of the best restaurants around was Klosel’s Steakhouse. After some hesitation, we stopped for lunch en route to the little brewery in Shiner and gave it a shot and what a pleasant surprise. The food was truly amazing and good value. Great atmosphere and friendly service! We have eaten here numerous times over the years and have always been impressed with their food and staff. Particularly love their chicken fried steak—and desert.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Brewery is on the right as you enter town—you can’t miss it. The best time to go is during the week when the Spoetzel Brewery comes to life. My fellow pilgrims that day were Winter Texans like myself.

The Spoetzel Brewery, founded in 1909, brews Shiner Beer with the pure artesian water that’s flowed beneath the ground there for centuries.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1909 the residents of Shiner, Texas, didn’t strike gold. They struck water. And shortly thereafter they learned that they could turn that water into some pretty tasty beer. Today, they still brew every drop of Shiner with the same pure artesian well water that’s wet the town’s whistle for more than a hundred years. They say some things never change, to which we say “Prosit!”

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Decisions! Decisions! At the time of our previous trip the brewery gave each visitor tokens (wooden nickels) for four complimentary beers. Well, they weren’t quite full beers. They’re more like six ounces but they’re nice for trying new flavors. During our most recent visit they charged a small $5 fee. Just happened to have unused tokens in my pocket from previous visits to which we said “Prosit!”

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And there is something deeply satisfying about drinking Shiner from the tap knowing it was brewed less than 100 yards away. Prosit! That’s what ought to come out of your mouth before the refreshing goodness that is a free beer goes into it. It’s a toast that means “good health.”

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I started out with Shiner’s new rose ale. It tasted like someone poured a Shiner in a glass that had a little red wine left in it. But it wasn’t bad. The next three were White Wing, Fresh Hop IPA, and Prickly Pear. The brewery recently introduced a new beer to the market, a Belgian white named, appropriately, White Wing. Brewed with orange peel and coriander, White Wing replaces Shiner Hefeweizen as a permanent, year-round option.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original tin brewery was founded in the center of an Austrian, German, and Czech farming community near the railroad tracks on the banks of Boggy Creek. A group of Shiner businessmen interested in appealing to new Bohemian settlers established the original stock company known as the Shiner Brewing Association in 1909. After a few years of disappointing results they hired Spoetzl who purchased the brewery in 1915. With Prohibition, Spoetzl turned to producing ice and “near beer.”

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can’t have Shiner without Bock. Spoetzl releases three year-round brands, about eight seasonal, and four Brewer’s Pride beers every year. Bock remains a favorite. Brewed since 1913, the flagship brand began as a seasonal brewed for spring then became a year-round offering in 1973. Shiner Bock now accounts for over 80 percent of the total Shiner volume.

Friday’s Fried Chicken © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After our visit to the Spoetzl Brewery we stopped for dessert at Friday’s Fried Chicken. Don’t let the name throw you off. They have a full menu and a bakery. Friday’s named after the Patek family (Patek means “Friday” in Czech), offers some of the best fried chicken south of the Colorado River—along with those Bohemian delicacies known as rosettes, kolaches, and a variety of delicious pies including pecan. I saw several customers with full meals on their table ranging from chicken to beef to salads. Friday’s Fried Chicken is about a half mile from the brewery on the left as you head into town.

Saint Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the way out of town we stopped by Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church, a towering cathedral that has anchored Shiner since 1921. Boasting a Romanesque revival style of architecture and stunning stained glass windows imported from Germany with a magnificent mural of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and an imposing square tower, the church is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Saint Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

For a quart of ale is a meal for a king.

—William Shakespeare

Best Getaway to Czech Out

This might just be the “Best Little Day Trip in Texas.”

Etched in the eroded headstones in the city cemetery and the cemeteries at the nearby “painted churches”—quaint little chapels with exquisite, spangled interiors—are the names of German and Czech immigrants who flocked to the town starting in the 1840s. With its rich heritage, it’s no surprise that La Grange is the hub for celebrating the Czech culture in Texas. Over 80 percent of the Czech Moravian families that settled in Texas at some time lived in Fayette County before they spread out across the state. La Grande is on the Colorado River between Houston and Austin on Texas Highway 71.

Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For starters, Czech out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center. Vitáme Vás is the Czech equivalent of “howdy” and you’ll certainly feel welcome. This museum gives visitors a feel for the culture and early days of Fayette County when thousands of Czech immigrants populated the area. The museum has clothes, relocated homes, and lots of musical instruments. Crank up the Polka, baby!

Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another must-see stop is the Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Site. Located on 40-acres of land on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River and La Grange this park holds two historic sites and a ton of beautiful nature. One site is Monument Hill honoring the Texan heroes who lost their lives in the Dawson Massacre and Mier Expedition where Texans were forced to draw beans for their lives. The other stop is the stone ruins of the Kreische Brewery, one of the oldest commercial breweries in Texas started in the 1860s and the house of the Kreische family which you can tour.

Fayette County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Czech immigrants incorporated different aspects of their culture into the town, perhaps the most apparent being the architecture of the buildings standing in the town square. In the center of the Square sits the most recognizable building in La Grange, the Fayette County Courthouse the fourth structure to house county business since 1838.

Fayette County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This stately temple of justice was designed by 27 year old James Riley Gordon of San Antonio and constructed in 1891 at the cost of $99,407.04. The architecture of the courthouse is Romanesque Revival style which was popular during the mid to late 1800s.

Texas Heroes Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Honor Texans who have served and sacrificed at the Texas Heroes Museum. The museum is in the Fayette County Old Jail that operated from 1883 to 1985. Located just off the Square, it is a beautiful Victorian Gothic rusticated limestone building that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside is a portion of an original jail cell, bunk, and a wash basin and commode combination. Sheriff’s memorabilia include badges, handcuffs, a hanging rope, Sheriff Will Loesin’s gun holster, and photographs.

Colorado River from Monument Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn about the volunteers from Fayette County who were killed in the Dawson Massacre and the Black Bean Lottery and are now buried in the nearby Monument Hill State Historic Site. Learn about Texas Heroes like Sam Houston, Audie Murphy, Chester Nimitz, and Chris Kyle. See how uniforms, helmets, and other gear have changed over the years. Over 1,000 books are in the museum’s reference library.

Kolaches at Weikels Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The early Czech settlers also brought with them the kolache, an open-faced pastry traditionally prepared with a sweet filling which is now beloved across the state.

Kolaches at Weikels Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just as the Czech koláč became “ko-lah-chee” on the tongues of Texans, kolache fillings evolved over time. Many Texans first experienced traditional kolache flavors that include poppy seed, prune, apricot, peach, and cream cheese. As the pastry grew in popularity bakers developed new flavors from lemon and pineapple to Philly cheese steak and the distinctly Texan sausage known as Klobasnikies (Pigs-in-a-Blanket) even though no kolache would contain meat in Eastern Europe.

Kolaches at Weikels Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the best spots to grab a kolache is Weikel’s Bakery. Here you find cinnamon rolls, strudel, cream cheese pound cake, pecan sandies, and cookies of all kinds, plus a repertoire of a dozen kolaches. The kolache is Weikel’s specialty, the shop’s motto (on the highway billboard): We got’cha Kolache.

Weikels Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t worry—you don’t have to squeeze every flavor into one trip… Weikel’s will ship these goodies anywhere in the country!

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas history is a varied, tempestuous, and vast as the state itself. Texas yesterday is unbelievable, but no more incredible than Texas today. Today’s Texas is exhilarating, exasperating, violent, charming, horrible, delightful, alive.

— Edna Ferber

Czech Please: We Gotcha Kolache!

This tasty Czech pastry is now a Texan tradition

Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.

Czechoslovakia is probably not the first country that comes to mind when people set out to identify the ethnic influences on Texas food. However, any Central Texan who has ever sunk their teeth into the soft, yeasty cloud of a fruit kolache knows that Czechs bring a delicious contribution to the Texas culinary table.

Czech immigrants began arriving in Texas during the mid-to late nineteenth century entering through the busy port of Galveston and spreading out though the central part of the state. At one point that area had over 200 Czech-dominant communities.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They settled in rural areas and became farmers and craftsmen whose society revolved mostly around family life and the Catholic Church. The Czechs rich cuisine was based on roasted meats with noodles and dumplings; homemade sausages, potatoes, and sauerkraut; and baked goods such as fruit strudels and kolaches.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kolaches came to the Lone Star State with 19th-century immigrants from Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia and continued making their native pastries over wood stoves when they settled in Central Texas. The kolache is the most prominent edible symbol of Texas Czech culture.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kolaches are made with sweetened yeast dough formed into rolls and filled with fruit or cheese before baking. Classic Czech fillings are prune, apricot, poppyseed, and cottage cheese though other fruit fillings such as cherry, peach, and apple have become popular as well.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just as the Czech koláč became “ko-lah-chee” on the tongues of Texans, kolache fillings evolved over time. As the pastry grew in popularity bakers developed new flavors from cream cheese and lemon to Philly cheese steak and the distinctly Texan sausage known as Klobasnikies (Pigs-in-a-Blanket) even though no kolache would contain meat in Eastern Europe. It is a taut-skinned, rugged-textured kielbasa sausage fully encased in a tube of tender-crumb bread that is finer than any hot dog bun we’ve ever eaten.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No true Czech wedding feast would be complete without a bountiful supply of kolaches on the dessert table and the homemade varieties are always a fixture at Czech church functions and heritage society gatherings. Now that kolaches are also available in local bakeries, they can be a delightful everyday treat.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just north of Waco the small town of West (known for clarity’s sake as “West Comma Texas”) is the state’s kolache capital where descendants of Czech immigrants make these little square pastries that hold a dollop of fruit rimmed by a puffy pillow of supple dough.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Koláče are sold warm from the oven,” assures the sign above the counter at the Village Bakery, a shop with three small tables and one circular ten-seat table that hosts a community coffee klatch most mornings. Apricot and prune are the flavors favored by old-timers along with poppy seeds and cottage cheese. Tourists tend to like fruitier versions—apple, strawberry, blueberry—as well as those made with cream cheese.

Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like any baked pastry the fresher the kolache the better it is. Philip Weikel, of Weikel’s Bakery in La Grange once had a customer pay $80 for overnight air shipping of $5 worth of kolaches. But ground service works too—Weikel’s dough defies the laws of staleness. It stays light, moist, and soft for four or five days something he attributes to the way it is made and handled. “That’s the secret that separates us from bakeries that buy kolache mix in fifty-pound bags: tenderness,” he says. “Tenderness now and tenderness tomorrow.”

Kolaches at the Original Kountry Bakery in Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Czech-Americans throughout Texas have given Weikel’s kolaches the thumbs-up.

There are no kolaches anywhere more beguiling than Weikel’s little apricot rectangles in which the fruit’s sunny sour taste accentuates the sweetness of the pastry around it.

Original Kountry Bakery in Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A word of warning: Weikel’s bears little resemblance to the charming old-world kolache shops in West and elsewhere in Texas. You could walk in for a Coke and a beef stick and not notice that there is something extraordinary at the back of the store where the bakery does business. The place looks like a gas station, which is what it is.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weikel’s Bakery prides itself in making authentic, from scratch, Czech pastries. Weikel’s second location in Brenham features a full-scale baking operation, indoor seating for 16, and a menu of an extensive assortment of kolaches, klobasniky (pigs-in-a-blanket), sweet rolls, pies, bread, muffins, cookies, and cakes as well as a coffee, tea, and soft drinks beverage counter.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering… Eat dessert first. Life is uncertain.

—Ernestine Ulmer

Halfway to Everywhere: Schulenburg

With its rolling hills and relaxed pace, Schulenburg will put a little oompah in your step

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Located at the intersection of Interstate 10 and US 77, Schulenburg may be best known as a reliable stop for a kolache fix. But with its roots in German and Czech settlement, this little town offers numerous cultural attractions including the Schulenburg Historical Museum, Texas Polka Music Museum, the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum, and the spectacular painted churches.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schulenburg, like many of the small Central Texas towns, was settled by German and Czech settlers in the mid-nineteenth century. Founded in 1873 when the railway officially came through town, it grew to 1,000 residents by 1884, and the arrival of a Carnation Milk condensing plant in 1929 put the town on the map. The plant still operates now part of Dairy Farmers of America and employs more than 200 people making dips and salsas.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area has the rolling hills and the beautiful bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes in the spring. Schulenburg is not the Hill Country and not the lakes but is nestled in between the hills. And not far from Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Victoria, or Waco either. Schulenburg is halfway to everywhere.

Original Kountry Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are a lot of locally owned businesses throughout the community that set the town apart. You can start your day by indulging in the Czech breakfast of champions: kolaches. While Texans ascribe the name to both the fruit and meat variety (pig-in-a-blanket) of this bready pastry, I’m drawn to the buttery goodness of traditional fruit kolaches at the Original Kountry Bakery.

Original Kountry Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first one melted in my mouth so quickly that I had to grab a few more to go. Kountry Bakery’s stew and chilli are also lunchtime favorites. And the best part about eating lunch at Kountry Bakery are all the sweets to pick up for desert.

Potter Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a giant squirrel sign outside shouting “How ’Bout Them Nuts,” I had no choice but to stop at the Potter Country Store offering local pecans in every form and flavor, including raw, roasted, chocolate-covered, and stuffed in pies. They even had a warm cinnamon variety ready for “grab and go” consumption.

Schulenburg Historical Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, learn about their heritage and culture by visiting the Schulenburg Historical Museum. Originally opened in 1894, Sengelmann Hall features a big wooden bar and long family-style tables. Live music is a popular draw here and the food is better than ever thanks to Momma’s at Sengelmann’s which serves up homemade pizza, burgers, and pork schnitzel. Order with a big German beer and toast “Prost”.

Sengelmann Hall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To put some oompah in your day, walk to the Texas Polka Music Museum which honors the many artists who have brought polka power to Texas. There were old records, instruments, and even some DJ equipment from a local all-polka radio station. Visit the gift shop and purchase a polka CD to enjoy some road-trip tunes on the way home.

Texas Polka Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next stop: the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum, dedicated to the local brothers who pioneered miniature aviation. Their most well-known plane, the “Tiger Shark,” was the first control-line model kit in the world. The well-designed complex was packed with drawings, old machines, and the stories of how Victor and Joe Stanzel founded one of the most-loved model plane companies in America.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cruise the countryside and follow the steeple on the horizon to St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill, one of the area’s famed “Painted Churches.” While the brick facade may seem typical for a country church, inside lies a sanctuary full of ornate sculptures, stained glass, and paintings that rival those in the cathedrals of Europe.

Driving the countryside of Fayette County St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville

The Painted Churches of Fayette County are a sight to be seen. Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors, and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubin

In total there are more than a half-dozen of these painted churches including the three others we visited: Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina (pictured above), St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha, and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville (pictured below), known as “The Pink One.”

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville

It’s not surprising that the Czechs and Germans brought their religious traditions to Texas, but it is surprising that they were able to construct such magnificent churches on the Texas frontier.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto