What to Eat in the Texas Suburbs

No, not Austin.

Gerald Herbert / AP

In my daily life as an East Coast journalist, pretty much all I eat is lentils, salad, and lentil salads. The thing is, I recently returned to my homeland, Texas, for a reporting trip. Before you ask, hipster, I’m not from Austin, or even Houston. I’m from the gosh-dang suburbs of Dallas, where lentils and salads are less plentiful, and beef and cheese are ... more so.

Midway through it, I traveled to the small town of Wichita Falls, in north-central Texas, where my stomach microbes were further exposed to things they’ve never witnessed in their precious, coddled, organic Washington, D.C., lives. I’m talking ice cream that isn’t Halo Top and tap water from a La Quinta bathroom.

I have returned with, for now, a brief travelogue of things I ate. I had limited time, limited cash, and limited options. Some of my stops were quintessentially Texas; others were maybe a standard deviation more Texas than the average fast-food meal, yet might be accessible in your impersonal, master-planned suburban home. But they were all delicious, and I’m not dead, so I can only assume the same experience would hold for you.

I say this not as a health reporter, but as a friend: Here is what you should eat if you ever find yourself in North-Central Texas.

Square Burger—My hometown of McKinney has not many outstanding non-chain restaurants, but this is one of them. Very good hamburgers, and even—in a surprise move for Texas—a salmon one. They were out of the pea soup when I went, but the waitress assured me that “people like the cauliflower soup just as well,” so I ordered it, and, sure enough, it was just as good as the pea soup of my imagination.

In-and-Out—North Texas got this cultish burger joint in 2011, and now every time I’m back, I drive through, roll up my windows, and pretend I’m in California, where I first enjoyed In-and-Out on one of my brief rumspringas from veganism. Except in Texas the servers are less stoned.

Chick-Fil-A—The company’s purpose is to “glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us.” I entrust them to make chicken, and God, do they steward it successfully. I had the chicken minis, which are essentially chicken nuggets laid respectfully on butter-sodden biscuits. Nearby, two children whined and their mothers threatened to take them home, and I learned the meaning of the phrase Kids these days don’t appreciate what they have.

Taco Bell—Because Wichita Falls doesn’t have many other good lunch spots, and because Doritos Locos Tacos are a miracle of modern engineering. I got the “fiery” flavored shells, which are as red as a patriot’s heart. The cashier seemed to know everyone in the place, which just goes to show you that fast food is soulless only if you already don’t have a soul.

DQ—When I was a kid, this place was called “Dairy Queen,” but some locations have since been rebranded to “DQ Grill and Chill.” I suppose those are two things you could do there, but I paid homage to the original name and ordered a blizzard: soft-serve ice cream embedded with various types of candy. Texan cashiers tend to ask “What else?” at the end of your orders, which, as I wrote on Twitter, must be good for sales but helps explain a lot about the obesity epidemic. In any case, after the blizzard, I wanted nothing else.

Flying out of Dallas Love Field, the world’s best airport—Stop by Dickey’s Barbecue for some beef brisket (not pork, this isn’t North Carolina). They will give you a beer, but you have to drink it right there in front of them. (Not walk all around the airport with it, this isn’t Europe).

Return to the East Coast and do a cleanse.