It’s easy to write off suburban food as all Southwestern eggrolls and fajita rollups, two chain dishes blander than a This is Us subplot. But that doesn’t mean the edges of town are the wasteland some snobby city dwellers claim them to be. Make a detour off the highway and you’ll find locally sourced fare, innovative barbecue, and some of the most delicious global cuisine around.
Greenhouse Craft Food
Chef Ron Snow recently brought the gospel of farm-to-table to Georgetown with a second location of his Round Rock favorite. Both outposts specialize in sustainably sourced comfort food, but the new addition to the family plays with smokey flavors in dishes like crispy ribs with a sweet tea glaze, a meatloaf with smashed red potatoes, and a chopped brisket cheese steak loaded with poblanos, onions, and mushrooms. A local craft beer is the natural pairing.
The all-day cafe isn’t just a phenomenon in the city’s core. Restaurant consultant Harlan Scott and Cafe Josie’s Cody Taylor and Todd Havers have brought the concept to San Marcos with this stylish eatery dedicated to making every guest feel like a service industry insider. The cuisine ranges from lunchtime staples like grain bowls and inventive takes on classic salads to more robust fare like beer can chicken with charred vegetables and chimichurri. In keeping with the theme, the menu is arranged in cheeky sections like “after shift” (desserts) and “upsells” (sides). It’s all priced reasonably, so make sure to leave a big tip.
Jenna’s Asian Kitchen
There’s a little something for everyone at this chic Cedar Park restaurant. A lengthy menu makes room for tasty renditions of everything from American-Chinese classics like crab rangoon to Japanese miso soup. Even amongst those winners, the Korean dishes still manage to stand out. The dolsot bimbimbap, served in a hot stone pot to give the rice a crunch similar to a good paella’s soccarat, is a delight with a kaleidoscope of vegetables and spicy pork bulgogi.
A pioneer of suburban dining, this Georgetown restaurant serves interior Mexican cuisine in a fresh contemporary setting. Gaze at the San Gabriel River from the patio with a refreshing cucumber margarita and queso flameado specked with rajas. Or dine on heaping plate of carnitas in the hacienda-inspired dining room. Either experience feels miles away from the chains that dot Interstate 35.
Nancy’s Sky Garden
This healthy mini-chain, now with locations in Austin, Georgetown, Round Rock, and Cedar Park, is the perfect stop for a pre-workout fuel up. Build a balanced plate from a rainbow of choices starting with proteins like almond ginger chicken salad, spicy teriyaki tofu, or grilled salmon. Then pile on the the veggies, sweet potato noodles, super grains, and vibrant sauces. The Prism Rolls, just as colorful as the main entrées, are a balanced afternoon pick-me-up.
As one might expect from a restaurant owned by the team behind Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew, this Dripping Springs spot excels at smoked meats like turkey and pulled pork. The real surprise is the Cajun fare made in collaboration with Lenoir chef, Todd Duplechan. Don’t skip out on the bayou beef rib and grits or a scoop of potato salad piled high with brisket and sausage gumbo.
Taste of Ethiopia
With the opening of the South Congress Avenue location in 2016, Woinee Mariam’s vibrant Ethiopian fare is only a short jaunt away no matter which side of the city one lives. While both serve the same menu of of crusty sambusas, spongey injera, and deeply spiced beef stews, the Pflugerville original is where we were first swept off our feet. From the warm hospitality to the jazzy decor, Mariam has done the impossible — making a humble strip mall location feel deeply personal.