Texas-Based Restaurant Chains Worth Your Money
If you’re going to eat at a chain, it might as well be a Texas chain
By Jessi Cape and Rod Machen, Fri., Jan. 3, 2020
Austin is an international food destination with hyperlocal options galore, and we celebrate our homegrown eateries daily. That said, many people – including foodies – eat at chain restaurants, and in a state this large, there are plenty of special Texas-based options. Last year marked the sale of one of the Lone Star State's most treasured chains to a Chicago-based firm (why, Whataburger, why?), so here are some still-Texan-owned chains we're unapologetic about that have at least one Austin location.
We love Lupe! Brothers Judson and Peter Holt (both Culinary Institute of America graduates) have grown this family business-turned-Tex-Mex superstar from two locations to more than 20 since 1997 – and they still boast a small, 25-person headquarters. Known for their delicious lime pepper marinated fajitas and the complimentary frijoles with the table salsa, Lupe also nails the seafood, taco, and enchilada (get the stacked!) menus and features a surprising number of lower-carb dishes. Our favorite is the Chicken Flaca with marinated grilled chicken, spinach, artichoke, and tomatillo sauce with an option for a side of seasonal vegetables. www.tex-mex.com.
Still a family biz after all these years, Perry's Steakhouse is a spin-off of Bob Perry's original 1979 butcher shop, and it's most famous for their iconic seven-finger- high pork chop. Just last month in Austin, Chris Perry opened new concept CARVE American Grille, which will also showcase comfort-food-inspired grill-fired options from land and sea – meatloaf cupcakes, lobster corn dogs, and even vegan Salisbury steak – as well as a beast of a cocktail program. Thursdays will host prime rib specials, and Fridays are for smoked N.Y. strip. The Butcher Room pays homage to their butcher shop beginnings with prepared cuts for dine-in or take-home. www.carveamericangrille.com.
Best not to think of La Madeleine as a French restaurant. No brasserie, this. Understanding it's a chain that began near Southern Methodist University in Dallas sets the table much better, and with that said, there's treasure to be found. The star of the party is the tomato basil soup – gluten-free but cream-rich. Free bread, you say? A bottomless supply of sourdough and country wheat lies just beyond the cashier, with butter and jams. The chicken friand with its puff pastry and mushroom sauce is another good option, along with a chicken Caesar salad. Bon appétit, y'all. www.lamadeleine.com.
When a chain as big as this one eliminates high-fructose corn syrup and MSG and boasts a significant number of gluten-free, wild-caught, and organic menu items, it's worth a mention already. Even better, factor in piled-high po'boys, muffulettas, stuffed baked potatoes bigger than your head, and a meat-free salad bar (you can add it on). Our favorites are the Papa Joe sandwich and the seasonal lobster chowder, which, shockingly, features actual lobster at the standard soup rate. www.jasonsdeli.com.
Yes, it's the butt of many culinary jokes, but the menu has some winners mixed in. Owned by the same Metroplex-based corp as Maggiano's, your local neighborhood Chili's is worth a stop in a pinch for the Oldtimer with cheese. Decent margaritas, Southwestern egg rolls, and ridiculously cheesy chicken enchilada soup round it out. www.chilis.com.
The corporate overlords of Schlotzsky's modern incarnation might be in Atlanta, but this born-in-Austin sandwich shop will always have a Texas connection. Now branding itself "Schlotzsky's Austin Eatery," their original sandwich is still called "The Original." Based off the muffuletta, this sandwich features the standard bread – full of holes and loaded with chewiness – encompassing a black-olive tapenade, ham, salami, and cheeses. It still holds up after all these years. www.schlotzskys.com.
More favorites that spread their wings but remain Austin-based:
Chuy's: Yep, that Barton Springs classic you walk by during each ACL Festival has birthed a kabillion new stores, but they stay true to spicy ranch and Elvis. www.chuys.com.
Freebirds: A college favorite that made eating massive customizable burritos into its own genre. www.freebirds.com.
Torchy's Tacos: With monthly specials and tried-and-true stars like the Independent, it's always fun to go trashy. www.torchystacos.com.
Hopdoddy: They reinvented the burger chain and added meatless, chicken, and turkey patties; killer salads; and shareable fries with green chile queso. www.hopdoddy.com.
Lick Honest Ice Creams: Texas-inspired flavors using ingredients from regional sources. www.ilikelick.com.
Pluckers: You'll always find a crowd at this wing palace. www.pluckers.com.
Others from around the state:
Pappas (Houston): Parent company of Pappasito's and Pappadeaux – serving juicy fajitas and Cajun-style seafood, respectively – this group is still one of the largest family-owned and -operated restaurant companies in the country. www.pappas.com.
Fuddruckers (Houston): Take a shot of hot cheese with that customizable beast of a burger! www.fuddruckers.com.
Taco Cabana (Addison): We bet you can't count how many late nights you've stopped here. (And now we've got a margarita cantina, to boot.) www.tacocabana.com.
Pei Wei (Irving): They brought Pan-Asian food worth eating to the masses. Don't skip the Thai selections. www.peiwei.com.
Sushi Zushi (San Antonio): The Domain now boasts this fast-casual Japanese wonderland. www.sushizushi.com.
Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Q (Lakeway): Gas station, barbecue masters, and swag slingers: We're okay with Rudy's on a road trip. www.rudysbbq.com.
Luby's Cafeteria (Houston): Originally from San Antonio, this homestyle chain is chock-full of nostalgia and mac & cheese. www.lubys.com.
Maggiano's Little Italy (Dallas): Since 1991, this family-style spot has been making red-sauce Italian dishes worth sharing. www.maggianos.com.