Listicle wellspring Thrillist has turned its attention to suburbia, naming the “coolest” edge city in each of America’s 35 most populous metropolises. To rack up those cool points, instead of usual suburban measuring sticks like safety and schools, Thrillist sought out a sense of history/place beyond generic planned suburban sprawl, decent proximity to the big city, and “a good (or at least respectable) food/drink scene.” Your Texas winners: Round Rock (Austin), McKinney (Dallas-Fort Worth), Pearland (Houston), and New Braunfels (San Antonio). We weigh in on the ‘burbs’ merits and drawbacks, and add other suggestions for the list.
Round Rock, a haven for families and “defeated young professionals priced out of Austin proper,” was praised most lavishly for its dining scene, which includes former food trucks-turned-restaurants Svante’s Stuffed Burgers and Veracruz All Natural; Hopdoddy outposts; and Round Rock stand-bys Greenhouse Craft Foods and Round Rock Donuts. Amenities like the Round Rock Express minor league baseball team and Flix Brewhouse (a microbrewery/first-run movie house) were listed as the double-R’s prime cultural and recreational attractions.
What Thrillist didn’t tell you: Putting this mildly, Williamson County police have a certain reputation for zeal that some have deemed over the top. On a somewhat related note, those expecting Round Rock to be an extension of liberal Austin will be in for a shock. Austin is Austin. Round Rock is Texas.
And if you plan on commuting anywhere south of town, go ahead and start researching Rage-a-holics Anonymous in advance. Or perhaps invest in access to the entire Library of Congress on tape. Take up Zen. (Or all three.)
Other good options: Georgetown (a more civilized Round Rock), rocking, riverine San Marcos, and the hippyish artists’ colony of Wimberley, which comes complete with the enchanting Blue Hole. If you never, ever tire of ‘cue, there’s Lockhart, which is also home to Loop and Lil’s, a pizzeria named after the two parakeets who cameo in “If I Needed You,” Townes Van Zandt’s most famous love song.
McKinney’s “legitimate and very old-school Downtown” gives it the edge over aging Plano and upstart Frisco, the new ‘burb with all the bells and whistles. Thrillist loves McKinney’s varied food and drink scene, from nineteenth century brothel-turned-Irish pub The Celt to comfort food joints like Square Burgers and Cadillac Pizza Pub to fancy-schmancy places like Zin Zen Wine Bar and Harvest.
What Thrillist didn’t tell you: Actually, they do tell you this: McKinney “has its share of Planoian/Friscoite homogeneity.” And there was that ugly pool party incident last year. And the fact that McKinney also made a Thrillist compilation of Dallas’s worst ‘burbs a couple of years ago. (But then so did every other Dallas suburb, so we think they were joking.)
Other good options: If living in suburban DFW, give me Denton or give me death. The music-lover’s haven has one of the liveliest nightlife scenes for any Texas town its size. Places like Lewisville, Waxahachie, and Grapevine have nice downtowns, if not as lively as Denton’s. Stretching the distance limits a bit, there’s Granbury. Unlike Denton, those towns are more family-friendly than they are “cool” by Thrillist’s standard, though.
Thrillist’s selection of Pearland as Houston’s coolest suburb is something of a head-scratcher. Pearland’s historical identity and sense of place is pretty much wrapped up in its name: it was once, but is no longer, a land of pears. It never had a downtown to speak of. And its cool points pretty much rest on the shoulders of one mighty man: meat maestro Ronnie Killen, whose steakhouse and barbecue joint are nationally renowned, the latter a prime factor in elevating the Houston area out of its long-time Texas barbecue backwater status. But what would happen should this sensei of smoke and sizzle move on? Thrillist does say that Pearland offers “very underrated pho joints” and unspecified “other non-mixed-use-affiliated spots.” But life-restoring bowls of pho can be had in many a Houston ‘burb, and Thrillist rightly points out that aside from those and Killen, Pearland is mainly a vast sprawl of “what city-planning types like to call ‘mixed-use shopping and lifestyle’ complexes, which just end up becoming cluster beacons for national retailers.” Not to mention some of the gaudiest, most opulent entryways to gated communities in the state. “I’m flabbergasted,” says Pearland resident Toni Pellis Carter. “Killen’s was the ONLY justification. So, if you want to eat meat every night and don’t want to drink in a bar, I guess….”
What Thrillist didn’t tell you: Not much. No Killen, no cool.
Other good options: Galveston if you crave history and the gulf and enjoy the thrills that come with the knowledge that each hurricane season is an existential threat to your way of life. And Richmond if you crave an Old South courthouse-town feel. (The square transports you back to Alabama.) Unlike DFW, San Antonio and Austin, Houston is not ringed by lots of historic reasonably close-in towns with jewel-like, old-timey downtowns, so I’ve included a few places that don’t fit in the Thrillist “cool” box. Like The Woodlands, a history-less town with a grafted-on new “town center.” If you want to reside in an Abilify ad come to life, The Woodlands is the place. As the onetime home of Texas’s sugarcane industry and a good-sized prison farm, Sugar Land has a wee bit more history, and if minor league baseball and astounding ethnic diversity are your things, it’s where you want to be. At the other end of the spectrum, there are the raffish bayside communities of Bacliff/San Leon (or the seaside Bolivar Peninsula). Texas City, LaMarque, Pasadena, and Baytown, all of which beckon those who enjoy bouquets of varied chemical aromas.
Tubing is listed as the prime factor in New Braunfels’s selection as San Antonio’s coolest ‘burb. And there’s all that German history and beer, sauerkraut, and pastries. There’s the OG Schlitterbahn, and the alt-schule Faust Hotel, with its ground-floor brewery complete with “beer-inspired menu.” Live the Oktoberfest dream year round! And unlike all the other cool ‘burbs Thrillist listed, you would be within striking distance of both San Antonio and Austin.
What Thrillist didn’t tell you: Well, you won’t have the Comal to yourself, obviously, and in recent years floating the river has become increasingly bacchanalian, pitting police and environmentalists against raucous rowdies from Austin, San Antonio, Houston, San Marcos and points farther afield. Tourists will be underfoot on dry land as well; New Braunfels is one the most popular mid-sized tourist attractions in the state. What’s more, that proximity to Austin and San Antonio is a decidedly mixed blessing. It’s growing so fast, it won’t be the same New Braunfels you bought into just a few years from now. And you will quickly tire of telling people its New Braunfels, not New Braunsfels.
Other good options: Boerne with its nearby caves and main street lined with limestone buildings housing galleries, wine bars, beer gardens and antique stores. And Castroville, an Alsatian New Braunfels, minus the tubing but with greater proximity to San Antonio and easy access to some of the loveliest parts of the Hill Country. Stretching the distance factor to the limit, there’s rootin’ tootin’ Bandera, with its rodeos, honky-tonks, dude ranches and the best cheese enchiladas on the planet at the Old Spanish Trail Restaurant. Immortalized in Doug Sahm song, Seguin has its supporters, who cite its 81-year-old The Oak Tavern and a surprisingly tasty and varied dining scene. Things they are so mellow indeed…