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[AUS] Chicken-fried Steak in Austin

  • s

Texas Monthly said the best chicken-fried steaks in Austin were at Threadgill's, Freddie's Place, and Tony's Southern Comfort. I've been to (and concur with what appears to be the majority Chowhound opinion on) Threadgill's. I've seen Tony's Southern Comfort get positive mentions from Austin Chowhounds, but haven't been there. Haven't been to or heard much about Freddie's Place.

So, if I'm looking for a good CFS (or two or three) in Austin this Saturday, where should I go? Based on what I've read on this board, it sounds like Tony's Southern Comfort should make the list. Where else?



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  1. I may be in the minority here, but I like the Chicken Fried Steak at Shady Grove.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Mike B
      Seamus Mitwurst

      I was completely unimpressed by the "Best CFS In Texas" (or was that "The World?") at Hill's. It might have been a bad day, but the meat was tough, the crust was very close to burnt and the gravy tasted prepackaged.

      I also concur that Threadgill's, though decent, is far from good.

      I've liked Hoover's every time I've eaten it.

      I liked Freddy's for the atmosphere and the deputized dogs. The food there was decent. I haven't tried it, but I wouldn't count on the CFS to be anything special. Basic Pub Grub kinda place.

      I haven't tried Tony's.

      1. re: Mike B

        It's been a while but I had the green chili version at Shady Grove and I did everything but lick the plate.

        1. re: Mike B

          I have to second this. 'Tis been a long while since I've been to the Grove, but I remember the chicken fried steak was sweeter than Yoohoo.

        2. I concur regarding Tony's Southern Comfort, but not the other two. I'd recommend instead Hoover's or Texicalli Grille.

          1. s
            Steve in Austin

            Threadgill's has been below average for at least the past 5 years.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Steve in Austin

              Absolutely agree about Threadgill's - they're phoning it in nowadays. And the staff can be downright rude.

            2. I'd definitely recommend Hoovers, I'd have to agree about Threadgills only being so-so. I've also had a tasty CFS at Hill's Cafe, though I like their burger even more. Mmmmm... hamburger.

              1 Reply
              1. re: SirChowsalot

                Hill's Cafe does a pretty good CFS. And that "yella" gravy is good too.

              2. Another vote for Hoovers.

                I'm looking forward to their new location in North Austin to open soon. Although I may have to buy pants with elastic waists.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Nacho

                  Robert del Grande's Rio Ranch at the Westchase Hilton in Houston does a CFS using ribeye that is to absolutely die for it is so good.

                2. Scott,

                  After reading your post, I dreamed about good chicken-fried steak all night. Some chicken-fried steak in this state is downright inedible, but most falls somewhere in the middle, ranging from inoffensive to fair to good to pretty good to very good. Like hamburgers, CFS can be just “pretty good” and still be very satisfying. I think the CFS is pretty darn good at Hoover’s. I’ve enjoyed it at the Nutty Brown Cafe once; the other time it was just fair. (But, the Nutty’s side dishes and burgers were still amazing on that second visit.)

                  Obsessed chowhounds are always looking for that oh-my-god moment when they taste an excellent version of chicken-fried steak, instantly feel transported to a better world, and deeply regret all the time they’ve wasted eating mediocre versions.

                  I had one such moment at Tony’s Southern Comfort, which I posted about in October. (Here’s that link: http://www.chowhound.com/southwest/bo...). Tony’s doesn’t do the uniformly huge and crunchy, deep-fried-in-a-commercial-fryer kind of CFS served at a lot of places. But, it is really, really good. Every element of their dish (meat, coating, gravy) is flavorful and well-seasoned enough to stand on its own, which isn’t usually the case. Their down-home sides are also amazing.

                  I’ve also enjoyed superlative CFS at Lost Maples Cafe, in Utopia, Texas, between Lost Maples State Park and Bandera (not between LMSP and Blanco, as I incorrectly stated in the recent thread on places to eat in the Hill Country). Lost Maples Cafe makes the kind of fresh CFS that the best cook in your family would whip up at home—only theirs is better. It tastes so rich that you’d almost think they fried it in lard. And their homemade pies are phenomenal.

                  The other sit-up-and-take notice CFS I’ve had in this state was a special of chicken-fried veal at Boudro’s in San Antonio. A delicious thin cutlet of tender, milk-fed veal was given the CFS treatment--with a crispy, nutty batter--and then quickly fried in butter, like a German wiener schnitzel or Italian cotoletta Milanese. The pecan-cream gravy, made by a chef who specializes in sauces, blew away those gloppy diner gravies that often taste of raw flour. I’ve only had that special once, but Boudro’s regular main course of chicken-fried rib-eye steak is also excellent.

                  Since I’ve already strayed further afield than Austin, I’ll mostly refrain from raving about the life-altering CFS I enjoyed in family restaurants in Clovis, New Mexico (where I couldn’t stop eating the rich-flavored, airy-textured yeast rolls or the down-home CFS) and Little Rock, Arkansas (where the CFS, fried catfish, and corn fritters were so heavenly that I briefly considered moving closer to Arkansas—briefly).

                  Let us know what you find!

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: MPH
                    Brian Lindauer

                    My wife and I tried Tony's recently for CFS, and didn't think it was that great. My meat was tough and a little greasy (not in the usual good way). The sides were lackluster, especially the greens. They tasted like nothing but saltwater. And I don't mind some well salted food. Maybe I just caught them on an off night, so I might give it another try. We were there on a Friday. Are there certain times of the week when it's better to go?


                    1. re: Brian Lindauer

                      Boy, that's sad. I hope it was just an off day.

                      The two most recent times I've been were: lunch on a Saturday, right after they started opening for lunch on Saturday, and brunch on Sunday. Everything was very good.

                      Greens can get pretty salty if they're cooked with salt pork or ham hocks. As I recall, the regular mashed and sweet potatoes were nicely done both times. And the chicken and waffles dish was wonderful.


                      1. re: MPH

                        Tony's must have stopped opening for lunch on Saturdays, as they were closed when I tried to go there yesterday. Bummer.


                    2. re: MPH

                      Was at Lost Maples camping last week (I know - it was perfect. didn't mean to make you jealous) and talked everyone into driving the extra 20 or so miles to Utopia for LMC. Everyone ordered it and we were all very happy. Some were cooked to a darker brown than golden, but all were quite tasty. Crust was on the dense side but flavorful. Meat was mostly gristle-free (one diner had a couple of bites that were). White gravy served in a bowl on the side and was of standard variety.

                      Let me say this. We were expecting sad little salads, but ended up with a basic loaded salad shredded like cole slaw. It had cabbage and lettuce, but also had WONDERFUL little plumb tomatoes, carrots, green pepper. Nice surpise.

                      I had the onion rings and they were some of the best I've ever had. Rich, heavy, peppery batter over perfectly cut rings. Yum.

                      Afraid I didn't leave room for dessert, but really think I should have. The pies looked like what granny made so long ago and smelled out of this world.

                      I think what made this place was the ambiance. Just "homey" all over - from the building to the interior, to the staff to the patrons. Even looking/smelling of three days camping we were greeted very well and service was nothing short of old school friendly.

                      Would I go back? Heck yeah, if I'm in the area. Would I make a pilgramage? Probably not, but it was a very good summation to the trip. Thanks for the suggestion, MPH.

                      1. re: amysuehere

                        I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the chow, amysuehere, and thanks for the detailed update. It's been a couple of years since my last visit to Lost Maples Cafe, so it's good to hear that the place hasn't changed. I seem to remember that the burgers—with those onion rings on the side—were very good, too, and I believe they did a fine job with breakfast fare. I'll be in the area myself around Thanksgiving weekend. Your post has reminded me to plan to stop at LMC for lunch.

                    3. It's been several years since I tried it, but the Broken Spoke used to have a really good CFS lunch special. Cheap, too.

                      1. (let's see if this post "sticks" none have for a while...i must have made an enemy)

                        Believe it or not, I've found two really very good cfs - Stubbs (I know, what the heck?, but with the yummy spicy creamed spinich it's a real winner) and - gasp - Green Mesquite...but only on a good day. But when it's on a good day, it's the best i've ever had...except for Johnny Reb's Dixie Cafe in Hearn, Texas. Now friends, if you ever make it to Hearn or anywhere within 100 miles of Hearn you must-MUST have the chicken fried steak...stuff of fantacies.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: amysuehere

                          I'll chime in - my friend swears by the CFS at Hyde Park Bar and Grill.

                          1. re: rudeboy

                            I think the CFS at Hyde Park is good, but not great. Their gravy does nothing for me.

                            1. re: Nacho

                              Well, I probably shouldn't be a judge on this matter, because I hardly ever like CFS because it's too chewy and gristly, and when I get it, I get brown gravy, as most of the milk gravy that I get here is too grainy/raw floury flavor. Most places don't make it correctly.

                              I had the chicken fried ribeye at Z-Tejas - the coating was really good. Maybe their CFS is good as well?

                              1. re: Nacho

                                Just had the Hyde Park CFS last night and found it to be very good. Pan fried, tender, and I really liked the gravy. The pan frying I think is what makes it good.

                          2. I know it's not a stictly local joint, but I've enjoyed the CFS at Logan's.

                            1. Thanks, everyone, for the tips. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to hit them all.

                              Summary of results:

                              Threadgill's: Tough meat, but with decent flavor. Breading greasy and heavy-handed in the seasoning. Not a world-class CFS by any means, but not bad.

                              Freddie's Place: Gristly, somewhat greasy, and lots of contraction in the meat. Slightly above average flavor. A different set of flaws than Threadgill's CFS, but about the same level of overall quality.

                              Hoover's: Crisp, peppery breading, tender meat, pretty good gravy. A good CFS. A little more flavor to the bland beef and it could've been really good.

                              Tony's Southern Comfort: Very crisp (almost crunchy) breading, with too much saltiness. Reasonably tender, but somewhat bland beef. Still, it was a good CFS--about the same level as Hoover's (i.e., a big step up from Freddie's and Threadgill's).

                              Hill's Cafe: Pre-breaded frozen patty. Sent it back to the kitchen.

                              More details and photos at: http://tinyurl.com/gqrfh .


                              19 Replies
                              1. re: Scott

                                I think Hoover's CFS is much much better than Tony's. Tony's really is not very good at all.

                                My favorite CFS is RO's Outpost in Spicewood, about an hour drive from downtown Austin. It is very fluffy and can be eaten without a knife. It's not a proper traditional CFS, I suppose, but it is my favorite in the Austin area.

                                1. re: Kent Wang

                                  Can't speak to how Tony's is on a regular basis. But the one I had was at least as good as the one I had at Hoover's on the same day (which was representative of the CFSs I've had at Hoover's over a dozen or so visits over several years). And, because of the "regularity" of Hoover's chicken-fried steak (think Black-eyed Pea), I can understand how some might prefer Tony's. The CFSs I had at both Tony's and Hoover's were fork tender.

                                  Haven't tried the CFS at RO's. And I have a tough time imagining what you mean by "very fluffy." Next time you're out that way, try to get a picture of their CFS and post a link to it. I'm curious to see what it might look like.


                                  1. re: Kent Wang

                                    I'm assuming good faith here, but your contradiction of Scott doesn't tell me much if you don't explain how your criteria or your experience differ from his.

                                    I've had Tony's CFS a number of times and have found it delicious and crispy like the good fried chicken that the dish emulates by definition. It's always been good in my experience, and I have yet to find a better CFS in Austin. Their fried chicken is good in the same way. I haven't been in a couple of months, so it's always possible that the CFS or consistency has gone downhill or gotten salty since then. I'll give Hoover's another try with Scott's recent endorsement, but that one might just be a matter of taste.

                                    Last time you used "fluffy" to describe RO's CFS, I let it pass by. I'm not even as interested in the picture, but can you please explain what you mean by it? I've never had fluffy fried chicken that I can remember. The only foods I associate with the word "fluffy" are things like scrambled eggs, meringue, and mousse.

                                    Myself, I tried RO's CFS once and found it greasy, with a batter that had trouble sticking to the beef. The beef flavor wasn't bad, but the grease left the breading soggy. Needless to say, I have not felt the need to try it again.

                                    1. re: Knoblauch

                                      Good faith? Of course.

                                      I had Tony's one week before Hoover's. Only two datapoints. Your experience may vary. The meat I had at Tony's was rather tough and I preferred Hoover's slightly peppery batter. Also, I think Tony's menu is far inferior to Hoover's. A third of their items are Tex-Mex and the only items that picqued my interest were the chicken drumettes, CFS and fried catfish. Hoover's menu is much more expansive, has better sides and there are for more items that would wish to order.

                                      I've struggled in the past to describe RO's CFS. The meat is fluffy in the way that a ground beef patty is fluffier than a flat piece of meat. The meat was more aerated, more air, less beef per volume. Of course, it was not ground but I think the beef was tenderized by pounding much more thoroughly. Austin Chronicle also listed RO's as having the best CFS a year or so ago.

                                      1. re: Kent Wang

                                        Home-cooking cafes across the state (and outside of it) frequently serve Tex-Mex dishes as well as CFS, meatloaf, etc. This includes City Cafe in Elgin, which I recently reviewed. Most people don’t hold that against them, since it’s almost expected that these little cafes offer what’s popular in the community. And, of course, the mere presence of Tex-Mex on the menu doesn’t affect the quality of a restaurant’s CFS.

                                        It is, however, usually a pretty good move for chowhounds to ignore the “best of” lists in Austin’s newspapers.

                                        Note: This thread is about where to find the best versions of CFS, not about who has the "most appealing overall menu including chicken-fried steak." "Least-bad newspaper poll in town [or, the lesser of two evils]" is another topic entirely.

                                    2. re: Kent Wang

                                      Save room for the deep fried corn on the cob at RO's...they also have a pie lady who is worth her weight in gold....not sure how fast you drive but RO's is about 25 miles from downtown Austin

                                    3. re: Scott


                                      I didn't even recognize the crispy CFS at Tony's from your picture. That wasn’t my experience. In fact, when I wrote about it above, I emphasized that the batter was not super-crisp because I know that an almost-crunchy texture is what some people like most about fried chicken and chicken-fried steak. When I've had Tony's CFS, the meat and batter were tender and flavorful, but its surface texture was more like CFS or fried chicken that's been cooked at home in a skillet. Because the oil doesn’t get as hot as it does in a commercial deep-fat fryer, when you fry chicken or CFS on the stove, the batter/coating can slightly steam when cooking and, hence, get a little soft.

                                      While ideally I like a crisp coating, if the choice is between crisp and bland versus softer and flavorful, I go for the latter. I don’t like fried chicken or CFS that is all crunchy texture but bad meat. Neither am I a fan of "soft" CFS that is well-tenderized but otherwise boring. If halfway through I'm tempted to scrape off uninteresting but crunchy batter to get to the beef, or I feel like I’m eating insipid baby-food that doesn’t require me to chew and is hopelessly pablum-like, then, in my opinion, there's something wrong with the CFS on the plate.

                                      Both you and Brian Lindaeur, chowhounds whose opinions I value, have commented, respectively, that the CFS and greens at Tony’s had become salty by the time you visited. Later this week--after my cholesterol test!--I’m going back to check it out for myself. Maybe I’ll hit Hoover’s on the same day and post my comparison.


                                      1. re: MPH

                                        For some reason I cannot reply to your reply to my post above.

                                        I don't hold the Tex-Mex against Tony's. Like I said, there were only three items that I would order from their menu compared to the dozen or so dishes from Hoover's.

                                        I find Austin Chronicle's Best Of to be accurate at least half of the time. That's not as good as Chowhound and other internet forums, of course, but it's better than any other conventional publication.

                                        1. re: MPH

                                          Finally made it to Tony's today. Thanks for the tip.

                                          Split a basket of chicken drumetes and orderd the chicken fried steak. Everything was delicious.

                                          The CFS didn't look like Scott's photo. The coating wasn't massively crispy; it was slightly crispy and held excellent flavor. The meat was of good quality, although it was a little stringy at times. I ate the entire thing, and by the end of the meal I was quite full. However, the food was good enough that if you had brought another CFS and drumete basket out, I probably would have continued eating.

                                          While this isn't a fried chicken thread, I have to say: the drumetes were fantastic. I rarely eat fried chicken, but I really like it; so much so that I even enjoy fast-food fried chicken from Popeyes or even Church's.

                                          Tony's drumetes were absolutely excellent, full of great flavor, and appeared to be fried in a completely different way than my CFS -- they were much more crispy.

                                          I will definitely go back. The hard thing will be choosing between CFS or full-on chicken & waffles.

                                          Final question: has anyone tried the pork chops at Tony's?

                                          1. re: tom in austin

                                            tom in austin,

                                            I've tried their pork chops: They’re also good. I'm glad to hear that Tony's is still delivering the goods. I've been meaning to get back there, but I keep discovering new places to try. Your description of Tony's fried chicken reminds me of what I've been missing.

                                            FYI: Both Gene's and Ben's Long Branch have very good smothered pork chops, if you like that style. They're not on the menu every day, though. Gene's offers them on Thursdays. They also do pretty good fried chicken, though it can be greasy. I believe Wednesdays are when to get smothered pork chops, chicken and dumplings, etc., at Ben's.

                                            Just in case you didn’t see this recent thread about Gene’s, here’s a link to it:



                                        2. re: Scott

                                          Scott, you're obviously wrong about Hill's. Didn't you read the Statesmen?


                                          "The truth is we spent all our time in menu development concentrating on the benchmark items you expect at Hill's, such as the chicken fried steak," Cole says. "Then I had to have the best barbecue that lived up to that standard. Hamburger wasn't even on my radar."

                                          They spent TONS of time researching their CFS. (Hmmm, Sysco or Costco?) If I tried that burger, I'd want to go back and have them prove that it was never frozen. If the CFS is the benchmark... (What's wrong with frozen burger, anyway? Are we supposed to feel better that they've allegedly trucked their patties across the city while bacteria grows?)

                                          1. re: extramsg

                                            Too bad Scott wasn't pre-armed with this knowledge when he walked into Hill's!

                                            By the way, extramsg, have you ever tried Hoover's in Austin? I'd be interested to know your opinion of their chow.


                                            1. re: MPH

                                              I'll reply for Extramsg. He has tried Hoover's. His opinion (which can be found in this thread: http://tinyurl.com/m3hbw ) was that, "I don't have high hopes [about CFS in Dallas] given that what's been recommended to me, eg, Hoover's in Austin, was no better than Chili's. Maybe worse."

                                              1. re: Scott

                                                I went back and looked at my notes on the meal and my pictures and that comment was probably over-stated, but still, I was pretty disappointed. It was so hyped. The crust was too much of a loose sock, imo, and wasn't crisp enough. I also thought the gravy and meat was a bit blah. The sides were poor, too, especially the jalapeno spinach which was pretty bad. Scott's rating seems fair. I'd probably give it a B-/C+. (Although, remember, I'm a Texas tourist and have only tried it once.)

                                          2. re: Scott

                                            Re Scott[above]Is Hill's Cafe still serving the awful CFS so carefully detailed above?What is the current state of Chicken Fried Steak in Austin?

                                            1. re: scrumptiouschef

                                              scrumptiouschef, I had the CFS at Hill's twice in a month about a year ago, and it was definitely hand-breaded and fried. I looked nothing like the frozen and pre-breaded patty on that link: http://www.dallasfood.org/modules.php... That CFS is quite obviously a crappy frozen version, but Hill's must have wised up, because what I got there was pretty decent.

                                              I was on a CFS kick for a while and tried many of the places listed in that link, but the version I liked the best was the one at City Cafe in Elgin. It's not reviewed on that website, and I can't recall for sure, but I think I stumbled across it when I was looking for pie, actually (their pies were VERY good). They offer a small and large CFS, and the large was $1 or $2 more, so I ordered it. What they mean by large is that they bring you two huge patties instead of one, so it turned out to be two meals for me. The steak was a tiny bit stringier than I would have liked, but the flavor of the meat and the breading was excellent.

                                              I ate at Freddie's Place for the first time two weekends ago, and had the chicken fried steak, and, while the CFS was decent, I guess, the drinks and service were not. The margarita was one of the worst I've ever been served. There was also a dog trainer/magician performing on the outdoor stage, trying his best to shout over the music that was pretty much blaring from the speakers, and the very large dog that was with the table behind me kept whacking my arm with his wagging tail as I tried to cut the steak. Now, I love dogs. I have two myself, including one that is the size of a great dane. I love sitting on a patio on a Sunday afternoon and sipping a margarita. I love the relaxed South Austin vibe. But this place was overboard. The circus-like anything-goes atmosphere and the TERRIBLE artificial flavored drinks were enough to convince me that Freddie's Place is a place I don't ever need to visit again.

                                              1. re: angusb

                                                I've had the CFS at Hill's a couple of times and it wasn't a pre-breaded frozen patty when I got it. I thought the meat was super fork tender, and I liked the flavors. But, it's not exactly the style of CFS I like. The breading is "bready", as opposed to those that are crispy. Hill's is a little like what I've made at home, but I'm not the best CFS cook, so I look for places that can get it crispier and get the breading to stick better.

                                                The best CFS I ever had was at Louisiana Longhorn Cafe in RR. However, I went back again for it, and it was the toughest I've had. I've read elsewhere on this board about LLC's consistency problems. We haven't been back for a third try at it.

                                                1. re: angusb

                                                  I regret my defense of the CFS at Hill's Cafe. I decided to give it a try again this evening, and what I was served tonight bore very little resemblance to what I got a year ago. It was still not the pre-breaded/frozen type that Scott was served on his visit, but it was not good. The last time I had it here, about a year ago, the meat was flavorful and the breading was very crispy. Today it was a sodden mess.

                                                  The meat itself had very little flavor, and the texture was closer to a thin ground beef patty than to the usual tenderized steak. None of the breading was crisp, not even the edges that were peaking out from under the gravy. It was swimming in a pool of grease. When I attempted to lift it up by the edge to look at the bottom (the top was covered in gravy and therefore not visible), a chunk of it tore off in my fingers, leaving the rest of the limp patty to flop back down into its grease pool. And I don't mean the breading came away in my fingers--the meat itself actually fell apart. It was as if they had dipped a thin salisbury steak into breading, fried it gently at a very low temperature until it browned (but never crisped), and then scooped it and a good portion of the frying grease onto a plate, covered it with gravy, and then left it to sit for an hour, just to make sure the breading was entirely soggy. It was nothing like the CFS I got at Hill's last year. I was extremely disappointed.

                                                  Strangely, my friend's chicken fried chicken was excellent, with very juicy and tender chicken breast and a nice crispy breading. It baffles me how the same kitchen could have produced both that perfectly crispy chicken and the miserably soggy steak that I got.

                                                2. re: scrumptiouschef

                                                  After posting on this topic yesterday, I started craving CFS, so I went to dinner at Hoover's last night. I haven't been there for a couple of years. I got there at a little after 7:00. When I was seated, I looked around and commented to my friend that it seemed like boy's night out--there were three large tables near us that had groups of guys, two tables with six guys each, and another table with 10 guys.

                                                  The waitress returned to my table a few minutes after I had placed my order to apologize that they had run out of CFS! I was disappointed, of course, because that was the specific reason I had gone to Hoover's. I opted instead for the pork chops.

                                                  After giving her my new order, I looked around again at the groups of guys and noticed that one of the tables had several really huge young men, and then it dawned on me that the guy seated closest to me, about five feet away, was UT quarterback Colt McCoy, and the other guys at the two smaller tables were mostly UT football players. It was cool to see them out enjoying some down-home cooking, but I do have to say that I blame them for eating up all the chicken fried steak!

                                                  The porkchops and sides (mashed potatoes & gravy, cole slaw) were all good. The cole slaw was crisp and tangy, but just a little too soupy for my taste. It's brought in a bowl, and there was easily a 3/4 inch deep pool of dressing left in the bowl after I fished out all the solid pieces. The porkchops were tender, with crispy breading, and they went very well with the extra gravy I got. The only complaint is that the breading is so substantial, and covers the chops so well, that it's hard to detect where the bone is. One chop had a small bone that curved around its edge, but the other chop had a "T" bone that ran right through the middle of the chop, so there was a lot of poking with the knife tip and tearing the meat away from the bone. I would definitely have preferred my boneless fried steak.

                                              2. I thought I remembered reading something like that by extramsg.

                                                I know you’re looking for the Platonic ideal of CFS, Scott, but I’m starting to wonder if there is more than one distinctive style, just like Texas BBQ is distinct in Central, East, and West Texas. In other words, “good” is different based on the context. (Bad is still bad.) There are at least four categories of restaurant that serve CFS:

                                                1) all-purpose comfort-food joints that are often chains or aspire to be mini-chains. These places aim for a homogeneous—which can be more positively interpreted as consistent—product, and an easy, family-friendly atmosphere. Basically, relatively upscale and standardized versions of categories 2 and 3.

                                                In this category I’d put places like Black-Eyed Pea and Chili’s, which you and extramsg mentioned, along with regional chains like Jim’s and places like Hoover’s and Z’Tejas in Austin.

                                                2) non-chain soul-food or Southern African-American restaurants, which are often mom-and-pop in ownership and unpretentious in ambience, with sometimes quirky menus and management-style. They may run out of food by mid-day.

                                                Greens will be cooked to the point of disintegration, other vegetables until they’re very soft; pork fat will make an appearance in the “vegetarian” sides. Think stick-to-your-ribs, not fancy, food: smothered pork chops, fried chicken & waffles, spicy Creole food, catfish, chitlins, black-eyed peas, candied yams, pecan and sweet potato pies, and collards.

                                                Tony’s Southern Comfort, Gene’s New Orleans, and Ben’s Longbranch in Austin are some examples. Mr. and Mrs. G’s Home Cooking and Hill’s Soul Food Kitchen in San Antonio are others. Hoover’s roots are in this category, but it aspires to the first category. [For example, they expanded outside of Austin with a restaurant in San Antonio, which closed within a year.]

                                                3) Southern “country cafes” in small towns (and big cities) which, like category 2, are independent establishments with a focus on simple home-cooking. But they’re based on a slightly different version of what was cooked at home--and by whom.

                                                Perhaps trying to discern a different origin for non-African-American Southern cooking is pointless, since it all got creolized in the end. But it is less likely that country cafes serve chicken & waffles or chitlins. They do serve things like chicken-fried steak, chicken-fried chicken (which you see more often than bone-in fried chicken), cornbread, biscuits, yeasty dinner rolls, pot roast, black-eyed peas, and buttermilk (or chess) pie.

                                                Small-town examples of this category can be found in Elgin at City Cafe, in Brenham at Country Inn, and in Marble Falls at Bluebonnet Cafe (I’m not saying it’s good).

                                                4) “fine-dining” restaurants--with an extensive staff in front and back, a focus on training servers in both expertise and gracious service, and good reputations to protect--that serve chicken-fried something. Whatever it is, it’s made with high-quality ingredients and often is accompanied by a superior sauce.

                                                Examples include Boudro’s chicken-fried veal, Cafe 909’s chicken-fried pork loin, and the chicken-fried shrimp appetizer at The Mansion on Turtle Creek.

                                                * * *

                                                Sometime in the fall I’ll retry my six favorite chicken-fried steaks and two supposedly “best of” versions that I don’t love. Plus, I’ll sample the CFS at one or two new places, and throw in a chicken-fried pork dish, just to keep things interesting. Eventually, I’ll repost on a new thread about the different characteristics of each “style,” should there prove to be such a thing.

                                                By the way, my six favorites (in no particular order) are: Lost Maples Cafe in Utopia; City Cafe in Elgin; Country Inn in Brenham, though someone posted last fall that it had lost its way; Tony’s Southern Comfort; Cotham’s in Little Rock, Arkansas; and Boudro’s (the chicken-fried ribeye). The two versions that are supposed to be great but are overrated, in my opinion: Hoover’s in Austin and Lulu’s in San Antonio. One of the new places I might try is Hill Country Cupboard in Johnson City. And I’ll chow down on that chicken-fried pork-loin at Cafe 909 in Marble Falls.

                                                Too bad that I probably won’t be able to manage a trip to that amazing country-cafe in Clovis, New Mexico.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: MPH

                                                  This is pretty interesting. I think what's missing, perhaps, is a sub-category of "fine dining" that's an artisan establishment that doesn't seem too common in Texas. I'm talking about a place where the person goes into it just because they love the food and want to put out the best version of it they can. Getting rich isn't really a concern, just making an honest living making the food they love. However, unlike a craftsman who was trained doing it their entire life, probably having the knowledge passed down to them from their parents, this would probably be a foodie or highly trained professional who doesn't want to work in the hotel/high end environment. They essentially want to have a "country cafe", but with the knowledge, insights, training, etc, of fine dining and would still be using superior ingredients. They wouldn't be trying to make a fancy CFS with tenderloin of kobe beef in a truffle cream gravy, just a classic CFS done as perfectly as possible.

                                                  1. re: extramsg

                                                    That’s a good point. Texas does not have much in the way of artisan “country cafes,” though it could use some. The only good CFS I ever had in the Northeast was at an independent diner in New Hampshire where the owner-chefs used high-quality ingredients and sophisticated techniques to make excellent versions of simple diner classics—-meatloaf, eggs benedict, along with a killer chicken-fried steak—-and great versions of the traditional sides.

                                                    I also realized that I omitted the category of beef emporia, by which I mean chain and independent steakhouses and table-service barbecue restaurants that have chicken-fried steak on the menu.

                                                    Beef emporia that serve good CFS are the ones that start with good steaks. Ironically, however, (1) beef emporia don’t always use good beef, and (2) the beef by itself doesn’t determine the quality of the CFS. Since their specialty is grilling steaks or smoking 'cue, these restaurants may lack frying skills.

                                                    And beef-emporia chains have similarities with the same types of restaurants from category 1--in terms of economies of scale, standardization, etc. Breaded and fried appetizers may come pre-frozen, and side dishes may taste like they came straight from a can [I’m excluding baked potatoes].

                                                    Examples include: Texas Land & Cattle and Saltgrass Steak House (both chains); Salt Lick Barbecue (which actually serves chicken-fried turkey and has expanded to Las Vegas); and Austin Land & Cattle (not a chain).

                                                    1. re: MPH


                                                      We're getting off the topic of discussing where to find great chow in Texas. For a more wide ranging discussion of the subtleties of the Texas dining scene, please start a new thread on the General Topics board. We'd recommend leaving a "heads up" post here so the locals can find the discussion. Thanks.

                                                2. Might I suggest the Chicken Fried Venison at Mesa Ranch on Mesa? Probably one of the best "chicken fried - Category 4"

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: amysuehere

                                                    Thanks for the tip, amysuehere. I'll add it to my list. I've been meaning to try Mesa Ranch.


                                                  2. Be sure to go to the place across the street from Miribelle. Apparently, there's a Mesa Cafe down the road that stinks.

                                                    1. Just tried the CFS at Hoover's. Not the deep fried envelope of batter you tend to see but a hand breaded version reminiscent of pan fried chicken. Real good. And tasty gravy, not yeasty white mix gravy. And with the jalapeno cream spinach and the blackboard fried green tomatoes a memorable meal. And the NW place isn't crowded!

                                                      1. Just do me a favor- please RUN to Salt Lick 360 and try the chicken fried turkey. It is smoked then fried...

                                                        1. The best chicken-fried anything I've ever had was the chicken at Gene's (http://www.genesrestaurant.com/). I don't think they actually have chicken fried steak, however.

                                                          They have some damn good gumbo, too. You just have to get there on the right day, as their menu changes.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: nighthwk1

                                                            Are you referring to fried chicken or chicken-fried chicken (which is a flattened boneless chicken-breast that's prepared as if it were a chicken-fried steak)?

                                                            FYI: Nothing other than a space should follow a hyperlink for it to work properly. I found this out the hard way after clicking on my own link to make sure it worked.

                                                            I re-pasted it for you: http://www.genesrestaurant.com/

                                                          2. I love a good CFS, and I've got to say the Chicken Fried Ribeye at El Gringo is hard to beat.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: Willisinaustin

                                                              I had the opposite experience. I thought El Gringo's CFS was bad, though bad in a different way (like everything I ordered there).

                                                              Here's a link to that earlier review:


                                                              1. re: MPH

                                                                I dunno, maybe it's one of those love it or hate it places, but I love it as does everyone I've taken there so far. *shrug*

                                                            2. Hoover's is good, but Kent is right about R.O.'s Outpost by near the turnoff to Pace Bend Park. Only been there once, and specifically for the CFS, and it was well worth it. You have to wait a little longer, as the meat is prepared at the time it is ordered. I think it's time for another trip...

                                                              1. I like the CFS at Texicali off of Oltorf the best thus far in Austin. It's the deep fried variety. I did not really like the CFS at Threadgills, though I do like many of their other dishes. I haven't been to Hoovers in ages so I can't remember what their CFS was like. As for the other that just rank in the middle and wouldn't mind ordering the CFS again: Hyde Park grill off of Westgate Blvd, Opal Divines at Pennfield, Green Mesquite off Barton Springs Road, and Freddies Place. Can't remember if I've tried it at Shady Grove or not.

                                                                1. The Walburg Restaurant in Walburg has awesome (maybe our favorite) CFS. Also have had awesome Chicken Fried Pork Chops at Hill Country Cupboard in Johnson City.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: sweetbasil

                                                                    I'm considering making the trek to the Walburg Mercantile! How is their food, in general? Their German food, in specific?

                                                                    I had heard wonderful things from a couple people, but read several fairly dubious reviews (including one in the Fearless Critics guide). This has given me pause in my quest.

                                                                  2. I've had *great* homestyle German food -- although we've found it's best when you don't go on an extremely crowded night -- Friday nights in the winter are nice. I believe they're also open Thursdays but the band doesn't play.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: sweetbasil

                                                                      OK, great. I'll give this place a shot.

                                                                    2. The Best CFS is Austin, Texas is at Shoreline Grill, off their lunch menu, hands down.

                                                                      Regardless of partisan considerations, if the President of the United States has the secret service close portions of Caesar Chavez coupled with SWAT snipers floating town lake as security measures so he can eat CFS, you know it has to be good.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: StagirasGhost

                                                                        Can you describe what you like about this CFS and how it compares to others you've had in and around town? Since you're a relatively new poster, that would help in understanding how your preferences mesh with others.

                                                                        In general, the biggest aid in finding delicious chow comes from descriptions of the personal experience of other 'hounds. The second-hand preferences of others, whether celebrities or critics, are just hearsay. They can speak for themselves if they like.

                                                                        Looking forward to seeing some detailed posts on delicious dishes.

                                                                        1. re: Knoblauch

                                                                          I concur. W/o a track record of tastes to gauge against, being descriptive really helps.

                                                                      2. My vote is for Hoover's: pounded thin, lots of breading, and gravy that's almost as good as mom's.

                                                                        1. I'm gonna catch flak for this - what is the big deal about chicken-fried steaks? A bad cut of meat, breaded, fried, and then covered in goop. Have I just haven't had a good one?

                                                                          1. Communicating interpretation of any kind is difficult, if not impossible, Knoblauch. And if you consider that most if not everyone here has limited or no experience in food production, most of the reviews you read leave off or totally ignore the finer points that make a dish truly outstanding or (on the flip side) truly disappointing.

                                                                            For instance, a recent restaurant review described table service as "iffy," only to briefly elaborate that the restaurant was new and certain elements of service could be forgiven if reconciled once the waitstaff matured.

                                                                            My motivation to post on this thread was more about a [different] place to find a good CFS. I mentioned Shoreline's lunch CFS because not only was it NOT mentioned in prior posts, but because I had tried every other CFS and all of them paled in comparison. This said, I'll thrown caution to the wind and offer a description and why I think it is one of the best, if not the best CFS in town.

                                                                            For starters, Shoreline's CFS is a variation on a theme. Though it honors all the CFS standards, the chef developed this dish to standout as a CFS experience, as opposed to some old CFS stand-by. I mentioned the President because the dish is so good, not only has it developed an institutional memory all its own, it has a cult-like following. (I've even known the smallest of Southern Belles to order it during a power lunch, never-minding the chance of getting grease on their power suit.)

                                                                            As far as descriptors, a caveat: Any good CFS has to have things.

                                                                            Steak quality and correct process (in taking an ordinarily forgettable cut of meat and making it savory, tender and relatively easy to enjoy.
                                                                            a Flash fryer (and the corresponding process) , and the proper oil (minus trans fats) that will not smoke at the highest of temperatures. Flash frying at the highest temperature is essential for CFS (and here I would venture to stay that it is even more important than any other process, because the wrong temperature for the wrong time will produce a tougher steak with far less pop, leaving the CFS tough and flaccid.)

                                                                            Good gravy.

                                                                            Shoreline uses the highest quality skirt steak. They pulverize the cut thin, eliminating the stringy texture that is common in CFS. They marinate the cut in cream and egg, overnight, or at room temperature hours before the lunch crowd arrives.

                                                                            The breading is standard, though they add additional spices and sea salt to the mix.

                                                                            Their CFS is flash fried so that it is crisp enough to withstand an ocean torrent of gravy and additions to the point that the CFS stays crisp over the course of the meal.

                                                                            The gravy is not unlike Hoover's, though it has a thicker consistency. The difference is, Shoreline finishes and garnishes the CFS and gravy with an ancho-chipotle inlay and flashed fried onion-strings. The dish is sided with your choice of garlic mashers or skin-on, homemade french fries. The plate presentation is excellent--piled high and clean like good architecture--though it will not remind you of "sittin' down to supper with Ma and Paw."

                                                                            On top of this, the portion is huge; and dining in that environment overlooking town lake, all for $12 is simply a great experience.

                                                                            Does this help?

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: StagirasGhost

                                                                              "Does this help?"

                                                                              It helps tremendously. The more detail, the better!

                                                                              "...most of the reviews you read leave off or totally ignore the finer points that make a dish truly outstanding or (on the flip side) truly disappointing."

                                                                              Have you read any of MPH's reviews?

                                                                            2. Today's visit to Hoover's revealed a very mediocre chicken-sausage gumbo special (with a fairly jacked roux), some boring red beans and rice, some extremely capable takes on catfish (both fried and broiled), and a completely delicious plate of chicken fried steak + mashed potatoes.

                                                                              This CFS was better than your usual Hoov fare; it was at the ideal point between crispy and gooey, and it had that practiced subtle goodness that the neophyte mistakes as blandness. Overall, while the batter had less flavor than Tony's, the Hoov CFS had two edges over Tony's: the batter was more balanced as far as salt goes, and the cut of meat was ideal for CFS, with no undue stringy or tough patches.

                                                                              Pretty impressive. Not indicative of their average CFS (in my experience), but good to know that some days they still whip those puppies up right.

                                                                              1. It is definitely off the beaten path, but if you have a CFS weekend get-away planned without a destination, I highly suggest Royer's Round Top Cafe'.


                                                                                Ridiculously good. And the pies. "OMG x 4"

                                                                                1. You are all overlooking one of the area's best CFSes: Randy Osban's version at R.O.'s Outpost, out on 71. The perfect meal there: start with a pound of smoked rib ends, have a CFS (tender, and covered with a crispy and thin golden-fried batter) with an assortment of their magnificent sides (especially the deep-fried corn on the cob (no batter, perfectly caramelized niblets). Finish with a selection of Kathy's incredible pies! Hot damn!

                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: chowmick

                                                                                    We had an exchange on RO's in this thread back in July, so I would not go so far as to say it was overlooked. (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/93088... for easy reference) It was also mentioned in June on another thread (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/93405... ). I enjoyed the pies there, but the CFS itself didn't make it into my upper tier.

                                                                                    1. re: Knoblauch

                                                                                      Ro Outpost- obviously scratch made and fried in a skillet
                                                                                      Shady Grove - with green tomatillo
                                                                                      Mesa Ranch- Venison (small , but good) Shiner beer batter
                                                                                      Nutty Brown ( a little greasy)
                                                                                      Dot's ( simple flavor , but tasty)

                                                                                      Hills-yuck a QTF (quick to fix ) patty, I used to sell 'em
                                                                                      Threadgills - below average
                                                                                      290 cafe , average
                                                                                      Anyone remember The Stallion? Worst CFS in town for only $3.95 (you got 2 QTF patties, green beans , and masheds)! It stayed open till like 3 am . it was the post club hangout on N. Lamar

                                                                                      1. re: Rustcat

                                                                                        Tried Freddy's last night ...good cfs....liked the thick flavorful gravy.breading was perfect balance of crispy and flavorful,meat was tender taters wereseasoned well, but dry (the gravy helped overcome that),and the greenbeans were salty mush.It doesn't hurt to be sitting under a big oak with friends and 70 f temperature

                                                                                        1. re: Rustcat

                                                                                          yeah, I think they're trying to go for the "warm fuzzy" with some of the sides, which can be a bad thing (I've never liked the cream of mush/fried onion version of green bean casserole), but the onion rings are fantastic and I don't mind the spinich casserole (although Stubbs has the bestest-best version ever)

                                                                                  2. i cant speak for tony's...but i've had almost every other cfs listed below. unbelievably, Trudy's has killer CFS,good gravy,and sides w salad,too, for a low $7.95...fork tender and great breading-good cold out of the fridge,even! you may have to unscrew the top of your pepper to get enough on it all, but its a labor of love.

                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: alysabeth

                                                                                      Yes, I second that. Trudy's does have some great CFS

                                                                                      Plus their margaritas rock!

                                                                                      1. re: whizdog

                                                                                        Just avoid the mex marts...especially at the campus location. They are watery and have little to no alcohol. I'm not really sure why they have the limit of two with the way they have tasted lately.

                                                                                    2. I have eaten hundreds if not thousands of CFSs in my time. I have lived in Austin for 17 years and ended my long search for the best at the Bakehouse restaurant on Manchaca Road. The CFS is sort of overlooked on their menu but it is a winner. The meat seems to be a highly tenderized round steak. Not processed and i doubt if it was ever frozen. The steak is battered at the restaurant not at a factory. The crust adheres well, doesnt separate from the meat as much as I have encountered elsewhere, and it is expertly seasoned. The gravy is sublime. The menu is so eclectic that I doubt if many people come here for a downhome Texas item - but they should.

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: toppertx

                                                                                        If this is true, it is excellent news, as I live very close to this place.

                                                                                        I'll give it a shot as soon as possible and report back.

                                                                                      2. I favor Shady Grove. The crust seems to be the right consistency and their gravy has more stock flavor. I also like to get a side of green chile and cover the top of the gravy as is more available in the southwest. Hoovers is good although I think their gravy has more of a flour taste which tends to be a little heavy. About a year ago I tried a place in Pflugerville called Gradma's Kitchen or something that had really good one. Hills is kind of strangeIMO.

                                                                                        1. i agree hovers is excellent cfc and its alos tried their chili burgers with elgin sausage

                                                                                          1. 1.Freddies cfc (chicken) is quite good. I like it better than the cfs.
                                                                                            1.RO Outpost has one of the best cfs ..plus fried corn and okra.....mmmmmm
                                                                                            2. Shady Grove with the tomatillo topping
                                                                                            3. ZTejas has a good chicken fried ribeye......that'd be my 4, tonys or hoovers would be 5th or 6th

                                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: Rustcat

                                                                                              I'm sure that Z Tejas has a good chicken fried ribeye, but to me there is just something wrong with chicken frying a ribeye.

                                                                                              1. re: TroyTempest

                                                                                                non -rolled ribeye is about the same price as cubed steak , just different in texture, quite good

                                                                                                1. re: Rustcat

                                                                                                  What is non-rolled ribee? I searched for it but came up with nothing useful. Thanks!

                                                                                                  1. re: Rene

                                                                                                    The term is "No Roll" means not graded the inspector doesn't roll those purple quality grades across a side or primal cut of beef. No Roll can be similar to choice or a lot tougher, so those cuts are often just fine because the flavor's there, but the toughness needs to slow cook out. Sending them through a "tenderizer" one time like a chicken fry cut gets rid of the toughness. In the Midwest, they are cut thin and pounded slightly and grilled and then sold as a "steak sandwich" (on a nice Kaiser roll) and are much better than a burger--especially when you slather them with Wisconsin butter and it mixes with the charcoal flavor.

                                                                                            2. wow.. just had CFS at Angel's Icehouse... fantastic! They're out a ways on 71 past the 620/71 intersection.. keep going - worth the drive. Burgers looked yummy too!

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: burgirl

                                                                                                There is NO good CFS in Austin, however I'll try Dirty Martins as someone said it wasn't bad.

                                                                                              2. I still think Jim's is good.

                                                                                                1. Want a really good CFS - Marie Callender's! No kidding. Large, tender, flavorful, perfect breading, the whole deal. I've had it around town at most of the marquee locations, and they don't stack up against the CFS at the Marie Callenders near the Arboretum. May not be "cool", but damn tasty.

                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: ubilam

                                                                                                    You guys probably won't believe me, but the best chicken fried steak I ever had was at... Trudy's.

                                                                                                    1. re: EricDC


                                                                                                      You have some strong opinions, which I appreciate. I would really like it if you would be a bit more descriptive and mention what experience your opinions are based upon.

                                                                                                      Just a thought...


                                                                                                    2. Freddie's Chicken Fried Steak was really quite good. Definitely fresh made. My only complaint about it was that the crust tended to not adhere to the meat very well. .

                                                                                                      1. Ok, well I tried to read through this whole thread but it is long! I want to throw out Bill Miller BBQ's CFS. Yeah its kind of a fast food type place but it stays crispy and not soggy and is a pretty good deal for the price. Any other experiences with this?