Every fall they make the journey. Clad in their game day finest and packed into SUVs adorned with collegiately-affiliated license plates and window flags, thousands of Texans return “home” to cheer on their alma maters’ football teams.
Just as each Texas university is home to unique programs and traditions, each community in which these schools are located is home to unique culinary establishments. So while touchdowns, field goals, and sacks on the gridiron take precedence, fans usually find time before or after the game to visit favorite hotspots and watering holes. These restaurants, diners, cafes, shops, bars, and food trucks wait, with doors wide open, to help fans celebrate a victory or drown a sorrow.
Texas A&M University, College Station
Home of the Aggies, Texas A&M University was the state’s first public institution of higher education when it opened in 1876. TAMU is located in College Station, which while small in comparison to its surrounding cities, offers a plethora of dining options for the thousands of football fans who flock to Aggieland on home game weekends.
Featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, the Hullabaloo Diner is one of the few registered authentic diners in Texas and a must for those with hearty breakfast appetites. Whether patrons opt for gigantic pancakes inside the diner’s famous airstream trailer or mimosas on the outdoor covered patio, none will leave Hullabaloo disappointed.
In a chicken finger culture, Layne’s Chicken Fingers is king. The menu is simple – chicken, potato salad, french fries, and Texas toast – but done right, and when combined with a unique atmosphere and courteous service, it keeps chicken lovers coming back.
When The Dixie Chicken opened in 1974, it quickly became known as THE place to grab a cold beer and a delicious burger. Forty years later, it is still known for the same… and so much more. The original home of the Aggies’s ring dunk tradition and the only restaurant in College Station with a (safely contained) pet rattlesnake, The Dixie Chicken is an Aggieland tradition.
After a long day of football, relax with a glass of chardonnay or pinot noir from Messina Hof Winery or indulge in one of Café Eccell’s famous strawberry tarts.
Baylor University, Waco
Filled with history and pride, Baylor University in Waco is the longest continually operating university in Texas, chartered when the state of Texas was still a republic. It was not until 1997, however, that the fun really began; since that year, Baylor students have celebrated “Dr Pepper Hour” – complete with free Dr Pepper floats – every Tuesday.
Though some might consider breakfast from a food truck unconventional, Co-Town Crepes will undoubtedly satisfy those in search of a unique, affordable, and definitively local meal. Co-Town’s sweet and savory crepes have earned a Best of Waco Farmers Market award three years running, and its trucks can be found at both the Market and the Magnolia Silos.
A hidden gem near campus, The Mix Café is known among college students and Waco residents for its welcoming vibe and healthy yet delicious sandwiches, entrees, sides, and desserts. Not-to-miss menu items include the Dr Pepper pulled pork sandwich, sweet potato fries, and “Beast” flourless chocolate cake.
Do not be fooled by the name; Jake’s Texas Tea House is no Tea Room. The diner’s name comes from a reference to crude oil, once called “Texas Tea,” and the décor pays homage to the 1950s. Enjoy classic American diner food with a southern twist – including unlimited family-style side dishes – while listening to live music performed by Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley impersonators.
At the end of the night, indulge in a treat from the Hey Sugar Candy Store. Known for its unusual ice cream flavors, artisan chocolates, and novelty candies, Hey Sugar has something to satisfy every sweet tooth.
Texas Christian University, Fort Worth
Located in Fort Worth, Texas Christian University is the only school in the United States with a horned frog – which is actually a lizard, not a frog – as its mascot. The horned frog’s position of honor all but guarantees it will not appear on any local menus, but that does not mean restaurants near TCU do not have plenty of appetizing options available.
Though technically a chain, the Yolk Restaurant in Fort Worth offers a hip, urban atmosphere and a fresh, creative breakfast menu. Start with a glass of frothy strawberry orange juice, and then dive into the chicken and waffles or an egg skillet entrée with a side of red velvet French toast.
Two restaurants rise to the top for lunch. The 2016 Best of Fort Worth award winning Swiss Pastry Shop offers fantastic burgers and sandwiches and is widely known for its delectable macaroons and rich black forest cake. Dutch’s Hamburgers, named after TCU coaching legend Dutch Meyer, also offers a variety of burgers, along with hand-cut french fries, hand-dipped and beer-battered onion rings, perfectly blended shakes and malts, and ice cold beer.
When dinnertime rolls around, roll on into Buffalo Brothers, a neighborhood-style Buffalo Bills-backer bar. Even those not cheering for the Bills will root for Buffalo Brothers’s award-winning pizza and chicken wings.
For an afternoon snack or to tame the flames after Buffalo Bills’s hot wings, swing by Sol y Luna Snowball food truck for a shaved ice snowball. Classic flavors, unexpected combinations like dill pickle and wedding cake, and plenty of toppings and add-ins are available.
University of Houston, Houston
Given the University’s proximity to many of Houston’s most popular culinary establishments, it is only fitting that the school’s fight song is called and contains the lyrics, “Eat ‘Em Up.” Visitors will find plenty of opportunities to do just that at the many restaurants, diners, cafes, and bakeries near campus.
Expect long lines, but do not be discouraged – they move quickly and the wait is worth it — at The Breakfast Klub. The Klub turns first-timers into regulars with its commitment to good food and fellowship, bottomless cups of perfectly brewed coffee, and two signature dishes: Katfish & Grits and Wings & Waffles.
For students and alumni alike looking to head off-campus for lunch, try Mandola’s Deli, Houston’s “little deli that started it all.” The atmosphere is as relaxed and welcoming as the Italian sandwiches and specialties are scrumptious and comforting.
Ray’s Real Pit BBQ Shack shares a building with a gas station, but do not be deterred. After just one bite of Ray’s tender, flavorful, hickory-smoked meat, even the most skeptical will never again judge the taste of the food inside by the look of the building outside. Try Ray’s Real Pit BBQ Shack’s ribs and sausage, and add a fried corn on the cob on the side.
Do not leave town without experiencing El Bolillo Bakery. This traditional Mexican bakery offers an extensive selection of freshly baked desserts and treats; from the empanadas, churros, and bolillos to the ravely-reviewed tres leches cake, El Bolillo will not disappoint.
Southern Methodist University, Dallas
Situated in the heart of vibrant Dallas, Southern Methodist University is surrounded by activity, culture, and yes, food. From American and Italian to Irish and French, unique restaurants and menus are available on every block and to suit every culinary preference.
Starting off the day with a Bubba’s Cooks Country breakfast is like starting off the day with a warm hug. The menu at Bubba’s is simple, but the eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, biscuits and gravy are all cooked to perfection and served up in huge portions at reasonable prices.
A quaint pizzeria situated across the street from SMU, Olivella’s Neo Pizza Napoletana’s legacy goes back almost 100 years to Naples, Italy; Olivella’s award-winning pies are made according to homemade family recipes and with ingredients imported from Italy. Come with an empty stomach, and then sample Momma’s Homemade Meatballs, savor the black truffle or dream pizza, and top off the meal with the Nutella Mousse.
Known for its cold beers, massive whiskey selection, and vast and varied menu – which includes a host of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options – Trinity Hall Irish Pub invites friends old and new to awaken their “Inner Irish.” A pint of Guinness and the traditional fish and chips make a satisfying dinner, but the bangers and mash and lamb chops with white pepper and raspberry glaze are worth considering as well.
For a nightcap, pop into Toulouse Café and Bar to enjoy a champagne, classic, or craft cocktail or a glass of vino from the extensive wine list. Dessert is also an option; from profiteroles and beignets to dark chocolate mousse and vanilla crème brulee, Toulouse has the market cornered on traditional French desserts.
Sam Houston State University, Huntsville
Named in honor of the Lone Star Republic’s first president and the man who secured Texas’s independence from Mexico, Sam Houston State University is not actually located in Houston. Sam Houston is nestled in a small, quiet community called Huntsville, where strangers become friends, friends become family, and every restaurant serves up meals that look and taste like mom’s.
For a traditional Mexican breakfast, locals and visitors speak highly of El Gordo Taqueria. This warm, cozy, and colorful café offers an assortment of Mexican juices and breakfast tacos, along with mouth-watering queso, salsa, and hot sauce, to help diners start the day off right.
From the name to the atmosphere to the food, everything about Farmhouse Café invites diners to pull up a chair and relax. Farmhouse serves up all of the favorites one would expect to find at a hometown restaurant, including chicken and dumplings, chicken fried steak, fried green tomatoes, and an assortment of luscious homemade pies; those with room for dessert should try the coconut cream and or the strawberry.
More than just a restaurant, Steakhouse 1836 was named in honor of the year Texas declared and won its independence and proudly stands as a tribute to “the men and events of Texas legend and grandeur.” This rusticly charming plantation home turned Texas-themed steakhouse is known for its quality entrees, but also its delectable appetizers, flavorful demi-glaze, and homemade dressings.
A fresh, made-from-scratch pretzel from Sweet Dough: Hand Twisted Pretzels & More hits the spot as a mid-morning, afternoon, or evening snack. Sweet Dough offers sweet and savory pretzels and pretzel dogs, along with unique dipping sauces to complement each and every flavor.
University of Texas, Austin
Known in many circles as a foodie’s paradise, Austin is home to a plethora of dining establishments, many of which are easily accessible from campus and cater to UT students and fans.
Though a couple of miles from campus, Magnolia Café is worth the drive. Better yet, it is also worth the walk to prepare for indulgence in gingerbread pancakes, the T-Rex omelet, or Mag Mud queso. This decades-old Austin original is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Rumor even has it that after a manager lost his keys, the doors never locked again. Magnolia Café is a favorite of locals, visitors, and even presidents!
Some of Austin’s best sandwiches can be found inside the walls of a cozy converted house on West 34th Street. FoodHeads’s “miraculous” creations combine roast beef and brie, grilled squash with spinach and mozzarella, and grilled portabella mushrooms with bleu cheese, spinach, tomato, and a blackberry balsamic glaze. Make sure not to overlook sides and condiments, such as the made-from-scratch pickled cucumbers, jalapeño mustard, and red pepper eggplant mayonnaise.
Diners celebrating a special occasion should consider the comfortably elegant Carillon for the “Bubbles and Bites” small plates and champagne special. But if fancy is not in the cards, try visiting Kesos Taco House for fresh, filling Mexican meat with a “weird Austin twist.” Try the Pecan Festival, Islander, or Bluebonnet taco topped off with homemade salsa from the extensive salsa bar.
For a late night snack, cruise over to The Best Wurst food stand in either the 6th Street Entertainment District or on South Congress. Widely recognized as the best street food in Austin, Best Wurst’s bratwursts on toasted buns with onions, sauerkraut, and curried ketchup cannot be beat.
Texas Tech University, Lubbock
Texas Tech football fans have a creative (and widely unheard of outside of Lubbock) way of combining and showing their love for football and food. When the Red Raiders kick off and score touchdowns, they throw flour tortillas into the air. However, if tossed tortillas do not hit the spot, check out the options below.
Warm, comforting, and homey describe both the menu and the vibe at Pancake House. From the cow patty cinnamon roll and funfetti pancakes to the huevos rancheros and biscuits and gravy, each and every Pancake House entrée is better than the last.
A cheerful hometown diner, Cast Iron Grill specializes in classic southern specialties. Savor chicken fried steak sliders or flame-grilled pork chops paired with mouth-watering fried okra, green beans, or brussels sprouts, and then top off the meal with made-from-scratch banana pudding.
Located less than two miles from campus, La Diosa Cellars is a cozy bistro with “enough warmth and flavor to honor the owner’s Spanish heart.” The ever-evolving menu offers a wide selection of globally inspired drinks, tapas, and entrees, and La Diosa serves wines made by Lubbock’s own McPhearson Cellars. Those who prefer beer with dinner should try the high-end beer selections – alongside the fish sticks, Spanish burger, or soft shell crab sandwich – at Crafthouse Gastropub.
Last but not least, a visit to Lubbock is not complete without sharing a platter of Spanky’s world-famous fried cheese with friends.
Texas State University, San Marcos
Texas State University alumni George Strait said it best. “I ain’t here for a long time, but I’m here for a good time.” Even the shortest visits to San Marcos can and should revolve around good times … and good food.
For a quick but leisurely breakfast, pop into Casa Maria Mexican Restaurant and Bakery. Casa Maria diners will appreciate the casual atmosphere, warm and friendly service, and generous portions of authentic Mexican dishes. Start the day off with chorizo con huevo, machacado, or migas topped with a healthy spoonful of Casa Maria’s five-star red or green salsa.
A quintessential hole in the wall on campus, Alvin Ord’s is widely known for serving up the finest sandwiches in town. Robust, hearty, freshly baked bread rounds come topped with generous portions of meat, cheese, and veggies. While even the most basic sandwiches receive rave reviews, “The Salvation” is by far the most popular.
To sample the largest variety of beers – 42 on tap and 60 bottled – in San Marcos, visit the Taproom Pub and Grill. Pair a cold one with hearty onion rings, crispy french fries, guacamole queso, or a mac and cheese burger and then sit back, relax, and watch all of the weekend’s football games on big screen televisions. For those who prefer Italian, Pie Society is an equally satisfying casual dinner option. Garlic knots, calzones, and both slices of and full pizzas topped with fresh toppings will hit the spot.
Authentic Czech and Texas kolaches from Dos Gatos Kolache Bakery make the perfect snack at any time of day. Bacon and cheese, pepperoni and swiss, and sausage and pickled jalapeño fly out the door, as do the bakery’s fluffy cinnamon rolls with pecans or raisins.
University of North Texas, Denton
Located 36 miles north of Dallas/Fort Worth, Denton is the best of both worlds: a quaint and comfortable college town situated in a dynamic metropolitan area of the country. Denton has plenty to offer visitors by way of entertainment, culture, shopping, and of course, fine, fast, and fun dining.
For a hip twist on a wholesome country breakfast, Loco Café has diners covered. The list of not-to-miss menu items goes on and on, but a few highlights include French toast with cinnamon apples, eggs lunatic, breakfast nachos, and blueberry lemonade. Loco Café also serves up the best biscuits and yes, chocolate milk, in town.
Those with an adventurous palate will fit right in at The Bowllery, an Asian fusion restaurant with a focus on healthy versions of traditional Asian-American dishes. The Bowllery uses only high quality ingredients from local organic farmers, and offers a host of options for every dietary style including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free. The curry tomato lentil soup, coco-petzo bowl, and kale waffles in particular keep diners coming back again and again.
Nestled in the Downtown University District, Yummy’s Greek Restaurant knows how to “wow” diners with its friendly service, generous portions, and delicious falafel, gyros, pita bread, and fried cauliflower. And for a completely different take on dinner, Fera’s Italian Restaurant is known for its hearty Stromboli, comforting spaghetti and meatballs, and delectable tiramisu.
There is no wrong time of day for ice cream, so whenever the mood hits, visit Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream on the Historic Courthouse Square. Step through the door and back in time – the décor and the equipment on which the ice cream is made are authentically 1920s – to enjoy Beth Marie’s more than 100 premium quality flavors.
Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches
Home to Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches is considered the oldest town and one of the most historic communities in Texas. As a result, Nacogdoches and SFA attract visitors from all over the world, and make guests feel right at home by feeding them extremely well.
What better way to start the day than at Dolli’s Diner, where the motto “always fresh, always friends” always rings true? After a cup of piping hot, richly brewed coffee, indulge in fluffy pancakes, French toast, or packed omelets, the recipes for which have been passed down for generations.
If authentic, affordable Mexican food served in a quirky space sounds intriguing, hit up Tacos Dona Pancha for dinner. Whether in the mood for a quick bite or a filling meal, every diner can find a combination of tacos, tamales, burritos, and fajitas to satisfy.
To start the day or for a pick-me-up midway through the afternoon, sip on a hot cup of Joe from Java Jack’s Coffee House. In addition to their signature and seasonal coffees, Java Jack’s makes a highly recommended café caramel, crème brulee latte, and Almond Joy mocha.
Rice University, Houston
Rice University in Houston is frequently ranked at the top when it comes to both quality of life and happiness among students. The area around Rice University is home to a host of restaurants frequently ranked at the top when it comes to both quality of food and enjoyable atmosphere. Coincidence?
A neighborhood favorite in the Rice Village area since 1975, the recently-renovated and updated Hungry’s has been described as a combination of comfortable café and elegant bistro. If weather allows, dine on the patio while enjoying a flight of mimosas and the crab cake eggs benedict, croissant French toast, or sunrise sausage wrap.
As one might guess given its name, Local Foods offers homemade, healthy, and locally-sourced fast food. Try the gulf shrimp and crab, truffled egg salad, or turkey confit sandwich served alongside house-made chips or Tuscan kale, and finish off the meal with a butterscotch blondie.
The Raven Grill serves delicious salads, burgers, and entrees – consider the popular honey-glazed pork chops or pecan-crusted chicken – but diners should not leave The Raven without trying the Tower O’Rings. These lightly battered, hand-cut onion and poblano rings come served alongside a side of spicy ranch and could make a meal on their own.
One of the first businesses of its kind, SMOOSH Cookie Sandwiches makes and serves custom ice cream cookie sandwiches. Freshly baked cookies topped with premium ice cream and dressed to the nines with toppings ranging from M&Ms and chocolate chips to bacon and Nerds … these delectable treats will bring out the kid in every visitor!