Home to the Frio, Nueces and Sabinal rivers, Uvalde County is an outdoor-lovers paradise. Here’s where you should eat while in Uvalde, carnivore style.
About an hour west of San Antonio and an hour east of the Mexican border sits Uvalde county, an area studded with cotton fields, crystal clear spring fed rivers and some of the most exclusive hunting ranches in Texas (we hear Ted Nugent is a big fan). Most folks end up in the county to spend summer vacation in a cabin by the gorgeous Frio river, or attend Utopia fest, or perhaps even to make pilgrimage to the home town of Matthew McConaughey (though to be honest, I suspect that last one doesn’t happen too often).
There’s lots to see and do in this beautiful part of the Lone Star state, but here’s where you need to eat while in Uvalde county:
Nora’s Tacos, Sabinal
As hole in the wall taco stands go, Nora’s is has all the classic signs of it being a seriously great choice, particularly if you subscribe to the theory that the more run-down the appearance, the better the tacos. At Nora’s you order off the extensive menu at a tiny window and wait in what is actually the parking lot, right next to the offset smoker that is counterweighted with string and rocks. What is most surprising about the tacos here is the size- forget your puny 6″ breakfast taco, these babies come in a housemade tortilla that’s more size appropriate to a burrito! The brisket taco is just like a brisket sandwich but in a tortilla, BBQ sauce, pickle and all! I recommend the chorizo breakfast taco and the barbacoa – make sure you add a healthy dose of their incredible salsa.
Live Oak Gorditas, Uvalde
Personally recommended by the Pope Of BBQ, Ernest Cervantes (who hails from Uvalde), Live Oak’s gorditas are kind of like a Tex-Mex pita pocket, easily eaten with one hand, which is perhaps why they offer a drive-thru service. Made from corn masa, the small round breads are fried until they puff up, then opened and stuffed with a variety of different meats. Don’t be fooled – they may look small but they are almightily filling! If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Mollejas (sweetbreads) gordita, made famous by omnivore Andrew Zimmern. Otherwise, do like I did and order the brisket one, because it’s freakin delicious.
Neal’s Dining Room, Concan
Concan is a tiny town of about 200 people, that swells to over 10,000 during the summertime, and there’s no better place in town to be fed than at Neal’s Dining Room. Opened in 1926, it first served as the actual dining room for folks renting vacation cabins from the Neal family, and is still family owned and operated today. Neal’s main menu has all the staples of classic country cooking, but peppered with Tex Mex options, and their side dishes are made fresh and rotate daily. Their fresh salsa is fantastic, as is their fried chicken, but if you’re going for one meal there’s really only one option, the famous chicken fried steak. Ask you server about the special – it’ll include sides, rolls and sweet tea, just made sure you wear your stretchy pants. And for a bonus photo opportunity, don’t forget to head out to their deck, which sits right above the Frio river.
Evett’s BBQ, Uvalde
While visiting, a local lass exclaimed to me that Evett’s was the best barbecue she’s ever had. She is of course entitled to her opinion, but at the same time… just, no. Particularly if you’re used to Central TX style BBQ, you may freak out a little when you see your cutter pull away bark and fat with their hands, then serve the brisket in big cut-with-the-grain chunks. Folks down there seem to like it just fine, but for the more travelled meat aficionado, my recommendation is to head to Evett’s for their Frito Pie or Brisket, rather than the traditional “by the pound” meats. Both come in at under $5, and hit the perfect combo of meaty goodness and super value.
Lost Maples Cafe, Utopia
Just within the county line you’ll find the teeny tiny town of Utopia, and truly Lost Maples is one of the most charming small town cafes you’ll ever eat at. The cafe was opened in 1986, in a building from the turn of the century, that still brims with historic charisma. They serve simple diner fare in the mornings, and a Tex-Mex/Burger themed lunch and dinner menu, as seems to be ubiquitous throughout the county. They’re known for their hotcakes (which you of course must order with bacon), have homemade jellies in wild flavors like jalapeno, lemon & fig, but most of all you just gotta save room for the pie.
Uvalde Meat Market
While it’s not a place to come and eat, it’s certainly a place to pick up core ingredients for one helluva supper. Owned and operated by Pat & Gail Jackowski, the market has over 70 years of history within the town, and is one of the few small independent places left in the state that are a full processing facility for everything from wild game to beef. Pat actually comes from rich BBQ lineage, his family being the operators of the Gidding’s City Market.
As with many businesses in the county, Uvalde Meat market is quite a seasonal trade, a little slower during the summer, but then processing as much as 5000 deer per season. What makes them perhaps most unique, is that there is no display counter here – all the meat is kept hanging intact on the carcass, which helps build flavor and tenderness. That means that all their steaks are cut to order, so you can absolutely dictate the size and thickness. Need to pick up a bunch of 2″ thick ribeyes? No problem, they can take care of that. Make extra room in your cooler for a few packets of their bacon-wrapped quail.
Other must-do activities in Uvalde County:
- Get a photo with the Liquor N Guns sign: thanks to a grandfather clause, until very recently Liquor N Guns actually did sell both liquor and guns. Though these days they trade in just liquor, the sign remains and is a popular spot for snaps. Head inside and grab yourself a t-shirt, and ask the clerk to show you the bullet holes from an infamous 80’s shootout.
- Float the Frio: the beautiful spring fed Frio river runs thorugh the middle of the county. Head to Concan for the best river access, grab an innertube and float the day away.
- Try the Pie: while in Concan, make sure to get your hands on some Concan Pie (the pecan is crazy good!). Don’t get there any later than 11, they sell out quickly!
- Eat at a gas station: well, eat tacos from a gas station, to be exact. Taco Way in Uvalde make a great Steak Ranchero taco that has a pretty serious kick of heat.
- Buy ammo & meat at the same time: Oasis Outback is a pretty badass store. Half outfitter, half BBQ and grill joint, I think I could happily live there for weeks at a time. Their staff are super knowledgeable and helpful (they helped me bore sight by scope and add a rail), and as if that wasn’t enough, they also have a feed and beverage barn on site, so you can drive through to pick up a tub of vodka-soaked gummy bears!
- Get your hunt on: There are so many quality ranches to hunt in the Uvalde area, and if you’re into bow hunting then 3P Ranch is a stellar example.
- See a music show: House Pasture in Concan is a great semi-outdoors venue that hosts some of the biggest names in Texas country. I was lucky enough to see Pat Green while I was there, so be sure to check their schedule during your stay.
- Relax in a cabin: from basic accomodations to modern luxury, it’s nice to be able to stay in something other than a chain hotel. I stayed at Against The Grain guest house, where I watched wild Axis deer meander peacefully from the comfort of the stone-surround hot tub!
- Hit up a BBQ competition: there are two major BBQ comps that take place in Uvalde county – check out the Fall on the Frio BBQ Cook off which happens on Oct. 7&8, or roll into town for the 9th Annual Briscoe Ranch Cook Off, held December 9&10.