The rich scent of real hickory, apple, cherry, and oak wood drifts from low smoldering fires, infusing the racks of meat above with flavor in a Southern Pride smoker. Drawing inspiration from all over the south, SuzyQue?s BBQ & Bar?s cooks apply spicy dry rubs to every ounce of meat before slow-smoking them, then diners can either enjoy it au-natural or slather plates with one of their signature sauces. Their sauces are inspired by recipes from Texas, North Carolina, and St. Louis and built upon a Vinegar, Tomato, or Molasses base. They also whip up an Orange Habanero sauce full of peppery spice.
The resulting mountains of melt-off-the-bone ribs, smoked wings, sausage, and brisket come to table alongside fine dining entrees, including rib-eye steak, fried chicken, and grilled salmon. Eight on-tap and 18 bottled beers lodge at the full bar, along with glasses of craft cocktails and wine, preparing palates for dessert and punctuating the sound of live bands, comedians, and poker games.
Though they can grill up tender pork ribs and make a mean barbecue sandwich, the chefs at Pepe’s BBQ really shine with their authentic Peruvian cooking. Within their smoky kitchen, they fold tender slices of steak into traditional dishes such as lomo saltado and bisteck a lo pobre. They pluck plump chickens straight from the spears of fiery rotisserie grills, then serve the birds Peruvian-style: dressed in spices and hand-knitted alpaca caps. To craft their ceviche dish, the chefs marinate fresh seafood in lime juice, onions, and cilantro. Diners await meals such as this next to the lofty windows in the seating area while sipping on fizzy Inka Cola—a sweet soft drink imported from Peru.
Mary and Shelly Withers let more than two decades of cooking together shine through in the kitchen, which fills with the crackling of hot oil and the slower contralto bubbling of stews and gravy as the two work in concert. Flanked by berry-colored walls, diners take seats at raw-wood tables and benches to dig into soul-food favorites such as baked mac 'n' cheese, fried catfish nuggets, and jerk chicken. Caterers laden with trays bound for weddings and other events rush past diners slowly working through cups of coffee and Mary's red velvet cake, which lets feasts end gradually, unlike picnics in wind tunnels.
Chicken Delight is open 363 days a year, closing only on Christmas and Thanksgiving. It's a good thing it's open almost every day, serving locals heaping servings of their golden-fried chicken, mac and cheese, buttery rolls, wings, and homemade coleslaw. Not to mention the cookie-crusted Oreo mousse cake, or the buckets of ribs pulled up daily from the restaurant's sauce well. Family specials stock multiple bellies at once with piles of chicken, ribs, shrimp, and sides, while lunch specials pair favorite foods into hearty single-servings.
Yes, Hill Country is a restaurant, but no hostess will seat you and no server will come by to take your order. Instead, arriving patrons are given a meal ticket, which they carry into a Texas-style market. At one counter, they order meats by weight, watching as pitmasters pull their selection from smoking pits fueled with Texas post oak and the menus of lesser barbecue restaurants. The menu includes the signature moist brisket—juicy, fatty morsels that New York Times’ reporter Pete Wells is said to order a pound of every time because it shows “Hill Country’s rotisserie barbecue pits at their finest.” Whatever meat guests choose, it’s carved onto sturdy sheets of butcher paper they carry with them as they stop at additional counters to collect sides and desserts.
Though all meat is served with white bread or crackers, a lineup of sides includes corn pudding, Longhorn cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese, and sweet potato bourbon mash. The dessert case displays temptations such as banana pudding, which Wells gushed is “built upon a custard so thick with eggs and cream it brings Paris to mind.” Guests can return to the counters as many times as they like; each item ordered is noted on their ticket, which they turn in to the cashier at the end of the meal. The menu has some devoted culinary fans—renowned food critic Frank Bruni named Hill Country one of his five favorite restaurants, for instance—but the eatery attracts a musically inclined audience as well. Downstairs in the Boot Bar, a state-of-the-art stage hosts nationally touring blues, alt-country, and honky-tonk acts that have included Dale Wilson and Roseanne Cash. The shows take place Tuesday–Saturday nights, and are often free of charge.