Some of the readers with whom I talk (and text and email) have complaints about Texas Monthly—but hardly ever about our coverage of food and drink. They praise taco editor José R. Ralat’s authoritative writing about our state’s Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine, executive editor Patricia Sharpe’s knowing columns on the latest fine-dining establishments, and barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn’s expert assessments of smoked-meat purveyors. Many of our readers have, however, voiced a suggestion: that we cover the best mom-and-pop establishments, the cozy places that offer delicious, often humble fare at reasonable prices and serve as community gathering spots for a small town or a neighborhood. They’re talking about restaurants where you might find excellent chicken-fried steak or boiled crawfish, a fragrant bowl of pho or of jollof rice.
In response, I’m pleased to announce that starting with this issue of the print magazine, we will expand our food and drink coverage to regularly feature, on our website and in print, what we call local favorites. We’ve included in this month’s cover story a sampling of 31 such beloved establishments, written up by a hungry army of staff writers and freelancers, who drove thousands of miles for this assignment. Still, we know we’ve only scratched the surface. Please email us at the address at the bottom of this page and tell us about your local favorites, including what dishes you most enjoy and what you like about the staff, the regulars, and the atmosphere.
Newly promoted to oversee all of our coverage of food and drink—in print, online, and via cooking videos—is senior editor Kimya Kavehkar, who previously focused primarily on editing such stories for our website. Kimya stepped into her current job to allow her predecessor, executive editor Courtney Bond, to do more writing, even as Courtney continues to edit food coverage for our print magazine, including the “local favorites” story itself .
How does Kimya define a local favorite? First of all, she says, this rubric will be applied only to restaurants not already included in our coverage of barbecue, fine dining, and Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine. So we’re talking about places that serve everything from fried catfish or chili to those that specialize in the cuisine of a particular country such as India or Thailand. “The food needs to be good but not necessarily award-winning,” Kimya says. “What’s more important is the connection of owners and staff to customers, and of regulars to one another. “
Kimya’s own local favorites? One is Round Rock Donuts, founded in 1926 and located in the town where her family lived when they first moved to Central Texas from Houston. Another is Café Java in North Austin, which Kimya says has “the best migas ever.”
The atmosphere of a restaurant and the personal stories of its owner and chef have always been key elements in Texas Monthly’s dining coverage—in sharp contrast to many online reviews, some of which, Kimya points out, are now being produced by artificial intelligence. “I want to emphasize,” she said with a smile, “our stories are written by actual people.” These include twenty veteran freelancers who continuously update our statewide dining guide.
Also on our website is a video series called Texas Dinner Party, featuring the busy hands of several of our staffers, along with voice-overs by Kimya. The series shows, step-by-step, how to prepare everything from hot pepper jelly to a refreshing avocado-and-grapefruit salad. I hope you’ll check out the guide and the videos, as well as this month’s cover package.
This article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Specials on Our Menu This Month.” Subscribe today.