Tucked into a far corner of San Angelo, Western Sky Steakhouse sits unassumingly between a bright orange taqueria and the Sands Motel. I’ve been coming here for as long as I can remember, and its steaks are the only ones I’ll eat when I visit home (aside from my dad’s, of course). It’s so intertwined with my life that at one point last year, a billboard with my cousin’s smiling face advertising a local pediatric clinic rose above the parking lot. With its metal roof, beige exterior, and dirt lot, Western Sky doesn’t look like much, but it might as well be Ruth’s Chris to the cowboys who come through town every rodeo season. 

When the ropers and riders visit for the stock show and rodeo that takes place between February and April, you’ll usually find them celebrating their wins at the “Home of San Angelo’s Biggest Steak.” It’s located just down the street from the coliseum, after all. 

When you walk into Western Sky, the liveliness does a number on your eardrums. You’ll hear owner Yolanda Hinojos Franco before you see her. Flitting about from table to table like a food fairy, the short, fiery woman pats the backs of patrons with a motherlike tenderness. Franco is something of a local celebrity. 

Western Sky was opened in 1967 by German immigrant Margaret Heinen. With one other owner in between, Hinojos Franco took it over in 2016 and renovated the interior with wood paneling, modern light fixtures, and a sliding barn door that divides the dining room. The menu, however, has been left virtually untouched. “[My employees] taught me how this was going to work . . . what works and what doesn’t,” Hinojos Franco said, emphasizing the growing pains of owning a business. “But I wanted to respect that because I still have employees that have been here longer than I have.” 

When I visited in late December, stockings lined the fireplace as a family of more than twenty comfortably sat in front of it, singing Christmas carols and making friends with other patrons. The fully stocked bar is usually manned by one of Hinojos Franco’s sons, either Michael (who makes a mean cucumber Chilton) or Matthew; her daughter, Annamarie, hosts and serves. “My kids help me out tremendously. I couldn’t do without them,” says Hinojos Franco, who was awarded Restaurateur of the Year for the San Angelo chapter of the Texas Restaurant Association in 2023. 

Earlier in 2023, Hinojos Franco took her family, plus six additional staff members, on the road to serve German fries (thin but hearty slices of unseasoned potato with bits of bacon) and a little more than 1,900 pounds of steak tips at Greg Abbott’s inauguration. The best part of the event was the  support Hinojos Franco felt. “My vendors and people that I didn’t even know were helping me. They were like, ‘Oh my God, we want you to go, and we want you to represent and look great,’ ” she recalled. “It was amazing how much my community came together to help me so I could go and look good in Austin.”

When I go to Western Sky, I usually get the same thing: the chicken-fried steak with a side of German fries. However, during my last trip, I decided to veer from the tried and true and try the cheekily named Vegetable Supreme. The twelve-ounce sirloin is blanketed in butter and a seasoning that faintly resembles an Italian herb blend—I guess that must be the “vegetable” part, since there wasn’t any other green thing on the plate. Paired with a choice of side and a salad, the seared crust packs a punch. 

Of course, you must order the perfectly battered, orange-tinged onion rings as an appetizer. The large order could easily satiate a small army. Or you could go for my personal favorite, the bean and cheese nachos, which are drowned in an oozing umbrella of cheddar cheese. Though the restaurant is known for its burgers and Kansas City steaks (a cut of meat from the top butt), it also offers a wide range of Mexican food, including the carnitas plate with flavorful borracho beans and sliced avocado. 

San Angelo native and Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association tie-down roper Ty Harris usually goes for the sixteen-ounce KC, cooked medium, with German fries. “I’m honored to grow up in a town like San Angelo that has such a rodeo foundation and tradition, and a steakhouse that obviously is a big supporter of it,” Harris said. “You hear about it [as] world-famous in the rodeo world.”

Tuf Cooper, whose father is “Super Looper” Roy Cooper, is also a frequent flier at Western Sky during the rodeo season. The rodeo cowboy from Childress also favors the KC steak with a side of German fries. For Cooper, the restaurant and the rodeo go hand in hand. “There’s not a better feeling in the world than winning the San Angelo rodeo or Roping Fiesta . . . [then] going into Western Skies with your family and having dinner,” he said.

That wasn’t a typo, or even necessarily a mispronunciation by Cooper. Most locals and regulars call the restaurant Western Skies, but they’re never chided or corrected. It’s just part of the local lexicon—and one of those little things that makes the dining experience special.