“Let’s go out for breakfast!” Who doesn’t love those five words? Instantly, they improve your day: you aren’t obligated to cook or even to open a cereal box; you get to shake up your mundane routine; and for one brief, shining hour, you can keep the workaday world at bay.
Some six months ago, it dawned on us that it had been ages—since February 2000, in fact—since this magazine had surveyed the Texas breakfast scene. No sooner had that realization sunk in than we knew it was time to do it again. So we assembled a task force of six staff and freelance writers and gave them their marching orders: go forth and eat your weight in waffles.
Ninety-three breakfasts later, they staggered back, having applied their critical acumen to crab cakes in Austin, Salsa Baked Eggs in Dallas, Belgian waffles and chicken wings in Houston, apfel pfannekuchen in San Antonio, and a Texas Scramble in Bastrop that can stave off hunger for three days.
Narrowing the selection to our favorite forty proved daunting. Texas is a huge state, with culinary traditions that are distinctive to every national and ethnic group that has crossed its borders. We couldn’t include them all, but we felt it was our duty to touch on the hallmark dishes from the Deep South, the Old West, and Mexico. If this required repeated visits to verify our judgment about an especially difficult bowl of yellow grits or plate of huevos rancheros, we never shrank from the challenge.
So without further ado, we hand over our syrup-stained list to you. We hope it makes your day.
BY P. SHARPE
Photograph: Jody Horton
The cooks behind the namesake counter preside in stained aprons over a massive black stove, slipping eggs into a pan of simmering water and slapping small, tall, onion-and-red-pepper-bolstered crab cakes onto the griddle. Sooner than you can finish reading local activist Amy Babich’s latest paean to bicycles in the Austin Chronicle , your plate of Cakes & Eggs will appear, along with two sauces so addictive it’s surprising they’re legal: curried peanut pesto and a tart-sweet, near-frothy lemon aioli. (Incidentally, tell your server you’re picky about your eggs, because when the place is busy, they can come out overdone.) The other dish you want here is Quail & Eggs. The grilled quail are always perfect: toasty brown outside, rosy pink inside, tender through and through, with biscuits and breakfast potatoes to round out the plate. And should you momentarily blank out on which city you’re in, the nitrate-free bacon and organic chocolate soy milk on the menu will refresh your memory.
626 N. Lamar Blvd
Open 7 days 7:30–4
The secret to good huevos motuleños is the black beans. At Curra’s they are just soupy enough so when you stab the fried eggs with a fork, you get a fabulous mooshy mix of yolk and beans. (This detail is important to the motuleño fanatic.) Chipotle sauce—smoky and strong—completes the picture. Unless you’re crazy about bananas, substitute deeply bronzed, less-sweet fried plantains. Any health-nut Austin friends you’ve dragged along will jump for joy over the Juju Plate: scrambled egg whites with sautéed mushrooms, veggie chorizo, fresh spinach, and sliced avocado. Borracho sauce—with roasted tomatoes and jalapeños—gives the decorous dish a welcome kick in the pantalones. Sometimes the service is leisurely, so order a second cup of Oaxacan coffee and enjoy the scruffy setting, with its mural of a guitar-strumming peasant and a flirtatious señorita.
614 E. Oltorf
Open Sun–Thur 7 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri & Sat 7–11
“You snooze, you lose” has real resonance at the Sustainable Food Center market downtown, starting with Dai Due, whose chalkboard menu is often papered with “sold out” signs, the better to let you know what you’ve missed, like Texas toast topped with maple pork belly and a fried duck egg. The same goes for Bola Pizza, whose wood-fired oven can churn out only so many crackly crusts bearing aged cheddar, salty speck, red onion, and sunny-side-up eggs. Then there’s the Zubik House, where they think outside the trailer with truffled asparagus Benedict and all manner of kolaches. You won’t go hungry. But you may just set your alarm come next Saturday. —CB
Republic Square Park,
400 W. Guadalupe
Open Sat 9–1
Trio, Four Seasons Hotel
Morning light dapples the magnolias outside and filters through the floor-to-ceiling windows into this modern, spacious dining room overlooking Lady Bird Lake. Nearly an inch tall, Trio’s pancakes put the emphasis on “cake”; the best of several iterations is the fluffy oatmeal version, topped with toasted pecan halves. Or have the fantastic shirred (bake-poached) eggs, sensuously dabbed with butter and cooked in a cast-iron skillet with roasted-tomato salsa and wild boar sausage from local maker Dai Due.
98 San Jacinto Blvd
Open Mon–Thur 6:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri 6:30–11, Sat 7–11, Sun 7–10
Photograph: Jody Horton
What with its devotion to today’s locavore and organic philosophies, 24 Diner could star in an episode of Portlandia: it’s very serious about what it does. And yes, you’ll feel virtuous ordering the veggie sausage—dark purple, beet-laden, and slightly, um, soggy. But why do the right thing when you can be wicked and order the steel-cut oatmeal mixed with cream and insanely sweet raisin-apple-cinnamon-brown-sugar chutney? Split it with a friend and you’ll need to diet for only three days afterward. A lesser indulgence, but still divine, the tender, crisp-ridged waffles are made from yeast-risen dough, with bourbon vanilla and raw sugar mixed in and light amber Vermont maple syrup alongside. All too often, frittatas look and taste like leftovers. But here they are made to order, so they are substantial yet airy, a bit like a scramble. And big. The cooks say each one has only three eggs; if so, they must be ostrich eggs.
600 N. Lamar Blvd
Open 7 days 24 hours, except Wed 1 a.m.–6 a.m.