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Travelling from Dallas to San Marcos - looking for great food along the way

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I'm planning to travel from Dallas to San Marcos to go shopping. Along the way, I'm hoping to try some exceptional food. I'm from Calgary, Canada. I've been to Dallas a couple of times and have tried bbq places like Sonny Bryans. While it is good bbq compared to what I can find back home, I'm sure there are better places out there. I'm interested in trying bbq, tex-mex, tacos, diners, southern food, or whatever is the best the region has to offer. It would be nice if the recommendations where not too far off i-35 (i.e. I don't have to drive half hour off course to get to it) unless it is REALLY worth the drive in which case I will make a detour just to experience it. I plan to travel from Dallas to San Marcos on a Fri afternoon and do a couple of hours of shopping. I also plan to do a couple of hours of shopping Sat morning and then drive back to Dallas in the afternoon. I'm looking for some exceptional/great tasting food and I don't care so much about the decor as long as the place is in a relatively decent neighbourhood as I will be travelling alone.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

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  1. You will be within 20 miles of one of the great barbecue joints in Texas. Louis Mueller's Barbecue is in Taylor, which is 15-18 miles east of Round Rock on Highway 79. Going south on I-35 take the Highway 79 exit. They are open Monday-Saturday from 10:00 a.m. till 7:30 p.m. or till they are sold out.

    1. I'll second that Louis Mueller's in Taylor recommendation. Easily worth going out of your way a bit for.

      And, heading south out of Austin, get off of I35 and take 183 due south to Lockhart. There you'll find the Holy Trinity of Texas barbecue - Smitty's, Black's, Kreuz. It's genuinely a tossup as to which place will be smoking the best meat on any given day. That's why everybody hits all three for samples.

      San Marcos is only 18 miles due west of Lockhart.

      It would be a darn shame to come so far and miss it.

      But, all of this does depend a bit upon what time of day you're traveling. Many of these iconic old Texas meat markets run out of the best stuff - ie, moist brisket - fairly early on in the day.

      I'd strongly suggest you do a little research here on the Texas board and find out more information about properly "doing up" the legendary Texas Barbecue Trail.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Jaymes

        First time in Lockhart today, and I picked up food from Black's (brisket, pork ribs, beef rib, sausage) and from Smitty's (brisket, pork ribs). Smitty's was much better. Black's meat had a smokiness that seemed almost artificial; the order-taker was simple and friendly, but he clearly knew that they had a reputation; the billboard for Black's coming into town tipped me off that they are detrimentally self-aware. I drove by Kreutz, but couldn't manage passing $30 for one meal just to sample all three (Black's massive beef rib -- inexorably tasty -- was nearly $12!). Smitty's is an amazing space. I was there late-afternoon (I know, not the best time to hit Luling/Lockhart), and the corridor was dark and smoky and seemed abandoned until I turned into the small market. I liked everything about Smitty's. The brisket and ribs were clearly better than Black's.

        1. re: lachristian

          Thanks for the hint on Lockhart. At first I was thinking of checking out Black's but after doing so quick search online it seemed like Smitty's is better. I will definitely make a detour to Lockhart for lunch on Saturday. Too bad I'm travelling alone so definitely can only choose one of the 3 places as the portions I'm sure will be more than I can handle.

          1. re: miss.foodie

            Miss Foodie - You say, "Too bad I'm traveling alone so definitely can only choose one of the 3 places as the portions I'm sure will be more than I can handle."

            Here's the thing. The "portions" are not more than you can handle because these places are not like the traditional restaurants you are undoubtedly used to. All of these iconic Central Texas BBQ joints got their start in the tradition of meat markets. If you go to your local butcher or deli to get, for example, some link sausage, or maybe corned beef, you order it by the pound. They put it on butcher paper (or now, more likely into a little plastic bag) and wrap it up and say, "Thank you, Miss Foodie."

            That's how it is at these places.

            This tradition started back in the late 1800's, early 1900's when German immigrants settled Central Texas. They missed their beloved smoked meats - wursts, etc. - from home. They opened meat markets, butcher shops, to supply that demand. Naturally, since Texas is beef country, along with their sausages, they smoked beef that they sold by the pound.

            I am a single granny with relatives around Central Texas that I drive to visit, usually by myself. I would never go to Lockhart and go to just one place. Although it is true that these former butcher shops now do sell some sides, the old tradition of ordering by the pound prevails.

            So you can get just one slice of brisket, one pork rib, a half a hot link, for example, at each place. Just some samples - tastes, bites, nibbles - so that you can compare the most-famous joints. And skip the sides. None of them are memorable anyway. They're offered more as an afterthought, and they're certainly not the reason why people come from around the world to try these smoked meats.

            In fact, some of the places don't even offer you sauce. If you look around, you'll see people eating their 'cue with crackers, shaking a little hot sauce (Tabasco or Tapatio or something similar) onto the meat, forks optional.

            You don't sit down at a table and order, either. You get in line and tell the carvers how much you want. Depending upon how many folks are in front of you, that can take as little as 3-5 minutes, so it's not time-consuming, to try out several places.

            It's a completely different concept than what you're used to.

            I don't know what sort of delis, meat markets, butcher shops you're accustomed to, but let's say that you're in New York and you're on a quest for the best corned beef. You could go stand at the meat counter and ask for, say, 1/4 pound of sliced corned beef, take your little package, and go sit down somewhere and eat it.

            It's more like that.

            Except that all of these Central Texas famous joints are quite accustomed to people doing the "Barbecue Trail" and sampling as they go, so they never look askance at you if you order even as little as one slice of brisket, as they might do in a New York deli.

            So, like I said, you can tell them that you're just sampling, and ask for one slice of brisket (wet), one pork rib, one half a hot link. They'll throw it onto a piece of butcher paper, weigh it, and let you know how much it will cost. Then they'll give you a slice or two of white bread and say, "Thank you very much, M'am."

            Snack, snack, nibble, nibble, and fifteen minutes later, you're out the door.

            1. re: Jaymes

              Jaymes - thank you so much for telling me how things work with these bbq joints. I had no idea that i could order in such small quantities. I assumed that the smallest amount was like 1/2 lb per item. I didn't realize they were accustomed to customers just wanting a sample of their items. Since that is the case, I will hit as many of them as I can. I plan to hit all 3 in Lockhart and the 2 in Luling. And I'm sure glad to hear that it is not that time consuming. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. I travelled through Maine 2 years ago sampling a few lobster rolls along the way. The only problem was that each of these lobster shacks took upward of half hour to 1 hour to get the orders out (this was during mid-late June). Hence, that took a huge chunk of time out of my day that I hadn't anticipated. After that experience, I learned to not be so ambitious to try to hit so many places in a day.

      2. In San Marcos, not on the interstate are Gil's Fried Chicken, and Herbert's Taco Hut. Herberts is right by the river, so if the weather is nice, a bankside picnic is nice.

        1. Fully concur with making a Lockhart pilgrimmage, you're so close that you may as well stop by. Just keep in mind you'll likely have to sacrifice your saturday morning for this since you don't want to go too late, and find they've sold out of meat.

          Do you plan to be travelling to San Marcos during the afternoon, or actually be shopping in San Marcos during the afternoon? Just wanted to confirm what you plan to do before I suggest a bakery in West as it would depend on what time you're travelling. The kolaches at Gerik's are better enjoyed earlier in the day and once again, wouldn't want to send you somewhere that's closed for the day since they're out of product.

          If you like craft beer, there is a particularly interesting locally owned/operated brewpub that has opened in San Marcos called The Root Cellar. From what I have heard their beers are Belgian-styled, and you'll get a nice tasting glass to take home as a souvenir.
          http://star.txstate.edu/content/local...

          4 Replies
          1. re: air

            I'm getting into Dallas around 11AM and after getting a rental car, etc I figure I'd be able to leave Dallas around noon on Fri providing no delays. I figure I'd get to San Marcos area around 4pm. I was thinking of going to either Gil's for fried chicken or Southwest Market/Woody's for early dinner. Then I was going to go shipping at the Prime Outlets to walk off the calories.

            I was thinking of driving the Luling early Sat morning try some bbq from City Market. I was curious whether they were really open at 7am -6pm Mon-Sat (I read this some where) as that seems a little early for bbq. Do people really eat bbq for breakfast? I was then going to drive back to San Marcos and continue shopping at Prime Outlets if I don't get through it on Fri evening. Then I was planning to drive to Lockhart for Smitty's for lunch before starting the journey back to Dallas.

            1. re: miss.foodie

              In that case I'd suggest calling Gerik's as you're driving down. Try to convince them to set aside a cinnamon roll or two too, they're addictive.

              Yes, people really do eat BBQ this early in the morning.
              That's not a bad plan! The big 3 meats (ribs/sausage/brisket) are gonna be good at all of these places but you should also check to see if they have prime rib, especially at Smitty's!

              Also with regards to "which is better", there are so many factors that go into good BBQ that it is difficult to nail it perfectly every time thus it can significantly change on any given day. It's not a problem to try more than one place in a day if you're concerned about portion size. Jaymes elaborated further ^^^ above, but you can order small portions and they won't look at you funny if you order say one rib, half a sausage link, and a slice of brisket. And don't eat any sides or bread, that's just wasted space!

              http://fcg-bbq.blogspot.com/2009/04/s...
              http://fcg-bbq.blogspot.com/2009/04/b...

              1. re: air

                Thanks, air, for all the great information as well. I'm really looking forward to trying the kolaches. All of you have been very helpful on this board. I'd sure feel silly picking a place or two and order 1/2 lb of one item only (and what if they were having a bad day with that item) when in reality I could have hit more places and just bought samples of each item. If something is that phenomenal, I could always go back and buy more of that item. I'd definitely be skipping the sides. In fact, I have not intention of ordering sides. I'm saving the room to fit more bbq meat!

                1. re: miss.foodie

                  Sampling a few places and then going back to "buy more of that item" is just exactly what I do when on a "barbecue run." The sausage stays pretty constant, since that's easiest to control. The ribs are second easiest. But the brisket can really vary. It's difficult to control the innate tenderness of the individual cuts of meat, not to mention the inexact science of smoking it - as anyone that's ever gotten the tough steak at the cookout can tell you. So I sample the brisket and buy several pounds of it when it's good. I take that home and put it in the freezer.

                  I don't know if you have access to a freezer during your stay, but if you do, you can wrap the brisket well (not in aluminum foil because the xray machines can't read through it), freeze it until it's time to travel, and then pack it up in your suitcase to take some home with you on the airplane. Be sure that you put the entire thing into a plastic bag, because otherwise the grease will come through and get on your clothes. My son lives out in San Jose, California, and I always take at least six pounds or so out there to them when I visit.

          2. You will, o fcourse, stop in West for kolaches (plural). The Czech Stop is right by the interstate. I haven't tried teh other places, but it is definitely worth the stop.

            6 Replies
            1. re: dcbbq

              Yes, do stop in West for kolaches and sausage rolls but, although you can't go really wrong with any of the places, most folks seem to agree that, just as "air" posted above, Gerick's is the best, and where the locals go. Czech Stop has the "cute name" and the most conspicuous location, right on I35, but Gerick's isn't that hard to find. Just head west into town, and it's right there, only about a half-mile, on the south side of the road. It's definitely worth the extra two minutes it takes to find it.

              When we're traveling, we always be sure to get extra kolaches and sausage rolls for the trip. For one thing, most hotel/motel rooms have microwaves these days and it's wonderful to have those kolaches to heat up for later.

              1. re: Jaymes

                Yeah, Czech Stop is overrated and I hate the long lines there.

                And actually you head east into town from 35 and Gerik's will be to the south
                Here's some pictures of what to look for.
                http://www.roadfood.com/Restaurant/Re...

                1. re: air

                  Yikes. I did say "west." Thinking of "West," obviously.

                  And of course it is east into town. Too late to edit.

                  So thanks for catching it.

                  1. re: Jaymes

                    I definitely want to try the kolaches as I've never tasted them before. I didn't even know what they were until you guys posted here.

                    Thanks for all the great suggestions! This info is really helpful to me.

                    1. re: miss.foodie

                      When you first see a kolache, you're likely to think, "Oh, fruit danish."

                      And they are similar, of course. But I like the bread portion of a kolache better than danish. Not as sweet, I think.

                      But definitely do try the sausage kolaches also (as pictured in that link to Gerik's that "air" posted above). And get back with us and let us know how it went, okay?

                    2. re: Jaymes

                      And, air, now I note that I misspelled Gerik's. That's in addition to telling the OP to go the exact opposite direction. Obviously, I was having quite the ditz moment.

              2. Thank you all for the wonderful recommendations!

                I did go to Gerik's for the kolaches on the way down to San Marcos on Fri afternoon. Since I had a very early morning flight from Calgary to Dallas and did not get a chance to stop for lunch before I hit the highway, this was the perfect snack. I bought half a dozen of them to munch on over a couple of days and I was sure glad I did. I loved that they weren't too sweet (both the bread portion and the fruit). To me the bread portion was closer to a donut than a danish. Either way, usually I'm not too fond of donuts or danishes because they are too sweet for me. The kolaches were perfect! I'm so glad you introduced them to me as I had never even heard of them before.

                When I got to San Marcos in the evening, I picked up some fried chicken from Gill's. I loved how crispy the skin/batter was. And the best part was that it wasn't too greasy. I love southern fried chicken and the closest thing I've had to it is Popeye's (there aren't many Popeye's in Canada either and all of them are in the Toronto area).

                On Saturday morning, before going shopping, I drove to City Market in Luling for breakfast. I had a pork rib, couple slices of brisket and one sausage. I LOVED their housemade sauce!!! Too bad they didn't have any in containers suitable for travelling otherwise I would have brought some home. I really enjoyed the brisket and the pork rib. I'm not a sausage fan to begin with and while their sausage wasn't dry (thank goodness!), I found it to be a bit too greasy for my liking. I also enjoyed the fact that I got there pretty early (around 8:30) and the place was quiet with a few customers so I could enjoy my food in some peace and quiet.

                After Luling, I drove back to San Marcos to shop at the outlets. I know that wasn't very efficient but I was already full after that little bit of bbq so I needed to walk it off before heading to Lockhart for lunch. After my shopping, I headed to Lockhart and went to Smitty's. I loved how traditional the decor was at Smitty's. My original intention was to try all 3 places in Lockhart - smitty's, black's and kreutz. Sadly, I only made it to Smitty's this time as I was already too full after Smitty's to try the others. I also didn't want to overeat as it would make for a difficult and sleepy 4 hr drive back to Dallas that afternoon. At Smitty's, I tried a slice of the pork shoulder, a slice of brisket and a pork rib. The reason I picked Smitty's was because I was hoping to try their prime rib but of course they were already sold out. I totally didn't enjoy the pork shoulder as it was too dry. I wouldn't order it again. The brisket from Smitty's was ok that day.. I preferred the brisket from City Market as it was more flavorful and juicy. Out of the 3 items from Smitty's, I enjoyed the pork rib the best.

                On my next trip to Dallas (I come down every few years for a conference at the same place), I'd definitely plan to head down to San Marcos area again and hopefully spend more time in the area so I can try more bbq joints. I will try smitty's again (probably for breakfast) or go on a weekday as I really want to try their prime rib. Hopefully I will be coming with a friend to help with the eating next time so I will have the opportunity to try more joints in a day.

                Thanks again for all your help!

                2 Replies
                1. re: miss.foodie

                  Sounds like you had a great time, glad the trip went well. I live in Dallas so check out my food blog for some maps/recs (http://www.madewithair.com) or just ask for more tips in the DFW forum.

                  1. re: miss.foodie

                    Here's another source for good eats in Dallas: http://www.dallasfood.org/