First Plates Extra Helpings: Hit the Road & Eat Like a Local

Five cafes a conversation away from Austin

Find out which Austin restaurants made the critics' list of top picks this Thursday when our 2015 First Plates awards issue hits the stands. In the meanwhile, Capt. Day Trips kicks-off our online Extra Helpings series with some restaurants worth a short drive.


Taking a drive into the country is a nice way to fill a lazy weekend afternoon. Sunday drives don’t have to have a destination, but when the road less traveled leads to a discovery, the trip seems so much more satisfying. Any journey is better if it includes food.

Here are five cafes within an hour’s drive of Austin (drive times are approximate):

Palmers Restaurant Bar & Courtyard

San Marcos (40 minutes)

Palmer's Restaurant Bar & Courtyard (photo by Gerald McLeod)

This little bistro hidden in a stand of live oak trees just off the Texas State campus has quietly maintained a reputation for quality and ambience for more than 37 years. To the locals, this is a popular place for business lunches or a quiet dinner. There is a fireplace in the bar, a fountain in the courtyard, and the dining rooms are partitioned to add a sense of intimacy. When the A-team is on duty, and that seems to be most of the time, the service is warm and the food is memorable. There is even a gluten-free menu.

What to try: Roasted Pecan Pesto Pasta with a house Mexican Martini
218 Moore, San Marcos, 512/353-3500, Monday-Sunday, lunch & dinner, $$

Blue Bonnet Café

Marble Falls (55 minutes)

Blue Bonnet Café (photo by Gerald McLeod)

The blue building on the hill overlooking Lake Marble Falls has served visitors to the Highland Lakes since 1929. For almost that long they have made legendary meringue pies. The home of the “pie happy hour” has survived this long by serving home-style food that is great. So great that weekends around lunch and dinner the café can get packed. Stop by early or late, and you’ll experience home cooking like mom only wished she could have accomplished. They also sell whole pies to go.

What to try: Mama’s Famous Pot Roast and chocolate cream pie
211 US281, Marble Falls, 830/693-2344, Monday-Sunday, breakfast, lunch & dinner, $

Andice General Store

Andice (30 minutes)

Andice General Store (photo by Gerald McLeod)

Any argument over who makes the best burger in Texas should include this little convenience store out in the country. Road cyclists and motorcyclists show their affection every weekend for this semi-secret grill about four miles off of US 183 north of Austin. The extensive selection of beers in the cooler adds an exotic feel to any menu item. Lots of veteran diners swear by the pulled pork sandwich, but the burgers are too good to pass up.

What to try: Cheeseburger and onion rings
6500 FM970 at FM2338, South of Florence, 254/793-3971, Monday-Sunday, lunch, $
Andice General Store's Facebook page

Murphy’s Steakhouse

Winchester (55 minutes)

Murphy's Steakhouse (photo by Gerald McLeod)

True to their name, the cooks here make a great steak. They also offer fresh Texas oysters in season, and pasta and shrimp dishes that are more than just a sideline. The portions are country-sized, and the wait staff is charming. The real charm of the small café is the 1913 building with pressed tin ceilings and an antique bar. Peak dinner rushes can get pretty noisy when everyone is enjoying the food and company. Reservations accepted.

What to try: Sirloin steak with a slice of apple pie
204 Thomas St., Winchester, 979/242-3433, Tuesday-Saturday, $

Walburg Mercantile Restaurant

Walburg (45 minutes)

Walburg Mercantile Restaurant (photo by Gerald McLeod)

Head north of Georgetown to step across the pond and sample authentic German food. The tin building was once a supply station for Bavarian immigrants who filled the empty Texas prairie and named the settlement for their hometown in Germany. The current restaurant was started by two more recent immigrants and the recipes come from their German upbringing. All of the traditional old-world specialties are on the menu or the buffet, from homemade bratwurst, schweinebraten, sauerbraten, and Wiener schnitzel to sauerkraut and spaetzle. There are also a number of American foods available for those not interested in exploring. The biergarten out back is an after dinner treat when the Walburg Boys take the stage.

What to try: The dinner buffet
3777 FM972, Walburg, 512/863-8440, Wednesday-Sunday, lunch & dinner (Biergarten: Friday & Saturday, April-November), $

Read more Extra Helpings at The Austin Chronicle’s First Plates food issue hits stands Thursday, February 5.

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First Plates 2015, Texas Hill Country, Texas cafés, Palmer's, Walburg, Murphy's Steakhouse, Andice General Store, Bluebonnet Cafe, road food, road trip

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