Where to eat, drink in College Station, Texas
Heading to College Station soon? Trying to figure out the best places to eat? Whether you’re looking for street tacos from a Texas A&M staple or incredible chicken fried bacon, we’ve got you covered right here with a list of the tastiest destinations to hit while you’re in town.
Fuego Tortilla Grill
108 Poplar St, College Station, TX 77840
This review of Fuego Tortilla Grill originally appeared Aug. 8, 2016
I'm shocked I haven't reviewed Fuego Tortilla Grill before, because I’ve eaten there at least once on every trip to College Station since 2012. It’s a street taco joint across from the Texas A&M campus that stays open 24 hours, cooks its own rotisserie chickens for the tacos and generally is everything a restaurant should be within walking distance of a large state university. Get the El Presidente (fried avocado, pulled chicken, bacon, jack cheese, pico de gallo and chipotle ranch), the Dr. Pepper Cowboy (brisket, grilled onions, Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce, chipotle cream corn and jack cheese) or have breakfast anytime with the Tesoro De Jordan (eggs, chorizo, grilled jalapeno, grilled onion, jack cheese, cheddar cheese, potatoes and fried tostadas).
Fuego has expanded to Waco (two locations) and San Marcos. That only leaves a few hundred more college towns that still need a Fuego.
404 Jane St, College Station, TX 77840
This review of Mad Taco originally appeared Aug. 31, 2015
A restaurateur has to be stupid or great to open a taco shop across the street from Fuego.
It serves a staggering variety of quality folded tortilla creations quickly and for a reasonable price. There should be a Fuego in every college town, and the existence of the actual Fuego should suck the air out of the taco market in the general vicinity. (Not to mention the existence of a new branch of Torchy’s, the Austin-based fast-casual taco behemoth, a little further down Texas Avenue.) Yet chef Peter Madden, a staple of the local dining scene thanks to his full-service place in nearby Bryan, opened Mad Taco a few months ago on the other side of University Drive from the Aggies’ favorite taco shop. It’s utterly insane, and it will only work if the tacos are excellent.
It’s going to work.
How much does Madden believe in his food? My visit provided a window.
I try never to tell anyone where or when I’m visiting a restaurant I’m going to write about in this column. I want the exact experience someone who reads this will get when they go to a place I’ve written about. If the service or the food is horrible, I want to know so I can warn you. And if the employees know they’re getting written about on SI.com or any other national platform, they might provide a different experience than the average diner would get. The man behind the counter at Mad Taco had no idea the place was getting reviewed when I asked if I could get half an order of Par-Gar (parmesan-garlic) fries and half an order of Chili-Cilly (chile and cilantro) fries so I could try them both. “I can’t do that,” he said. “But I can give you one order on the house so you could try them both.” Before I handed him my credit card, I placed a chocolate-chile cookie on the counter. “I’m going to give you that on the house, too,” he said. “I want you to try it.”
The staff at Mad Taco didn’t want me to try these items because they knew I’d write about them. They wanted me to try them because they knew they tasted great. They knew that when I or any other new visitor tasted them, I would tell friends about them. If I happened to live in College Station, that order of fries and cookie would multiply into more customers who would also taste the tacos and the fries and the cookies and return.
Of course, none of this hospitality would matter if the tacos didn’t pass muster. Fortunately, they were also excellent. Instead of the usual flour tortilla, they come wrapped in tamale bread. Corn tortillas are also available, and I usually prefer corn, but the thicker tamale bread proved the perfect foil for the chile oil that comes on most of the tacos. It soaked up the oil without getting soggy, giving every bite an extra kick.
I tried a braised pork taco, a jerk pork taco and a short rib taco. The jerk pork taco, which was the only one that didn’t include the chile oil, is comparable to the jerk chicken-fronted Brushfire at Torchy’s, but the Brushfire also includes mango to add sweet to the savory and spicy. The other two tacos I ordered have no analogue nearby. The tamale bread and the chile oil produced a taco with the heft of a gyro. This is not a bad thing. Thick chunks of braised pork or short rib made each one feel like a meal even though the braised pork cost $3.55 and the short rib cost $4.50. The roasted tomato salsa on the short rib taco gave it just enough sweetness to check all the flavor sensation boxes.
The man behind the counter was correct to encourage me to try both varieties of fries. I’m normally vehemently anti-skinny fries, but the fresh ingredients covering these fries created a one-time exception to my fry thickness standards. The Par-Gar fries were salty and savory with slivers of fresh parmesan and garlic. The Chile-Cilly fries were coated in that chile oil and sprinkled liberally with fresh cilantro, which makes just about everything better.
The man behind the counter was correct about the cookie, too. Those who love the chocolate bars that contain just a hint of chile will adore these cookies. They’re big, soft and chocolaty. But just before the chocolate kicks in, the chile applies a little heat. The brief rise in temperature makes the eventual arrival of the sugar that much sweeter.
The folks at Mad Taco believe in their offerings for good a reason. They’re delicious. If I lived in College Station, I’d tell everyone I knew. Instead, they’ll have to settle for me telling you. Opening a taco shop across the street from Fuego required stupidity or greatness, and it’s quite obvious after visiting that the answer is the latter. It also probably helps to be a little Mad.
The Republic Steakhouse
701 University Dr E #406, College Station, TX 77840
This review of The Republic Steakhouse originally appeared Oct. 3, 2016
Billy Liucci insisted. “You’ve got to try this soup,” said Liucci, the proprietor of TexAgs.com and unofficial guide to all things College Station. That Liucci got so excited about soup wouldn’t have seemed odd but for the fact that we were eating in a steakhouse. Huge cuts of beef waited in the kitchen to be thrown on the grill. All manner of whiskeys lined the walls. And we were talking about soup?
So I ordered The Republic’s smoked pork Posole, because a soup that gets someone more excited than steak and/or whiskey is a soup worth trying. Liucci wasn’t wrong, either. Out came a bowl filled with smoked pork loin, hominy, Chimayo red chile, lime zest crema and cilantro-infused salsa. The smoky broth made the perfect precursor for a steak, and the chunks of pork melted on the tongue. That this was a soup with a history didn’t hurt, either. As I slurped my soup, executive chef/owner Wade Barkman came over to say hello. Then he offered a history lesson.
“You know that used to be made with people, right?” he asked.
According to some historians, the Aztecs—who invented Posole (or Pozole)—would, on special occasions, use the meat of recently sacrificed people in the soup. This remains the subject of scholarly debate, but it makes for one hell of a soup story. STEAKHOUSE SOUP WAS PEOPLE. At any rate, the Aztecs switched to pork, and that concoction is a great way to prepare the palate for the 24-ounce bone-in ribeye The Republic serves.
That steak was excellent as well. I always order a steak rare, and anyone who orders one cooked longer than medium rare should be forced to write a letter to the cow’s family members and apologize for wasting their relative’s sacrifice. The folks in the kitchen at The Republic nailed rare (cool, red center), and all that beef washed down some quality soup.
Soup which was made with pig. Not people.
Sodolok's Country Inn
9711 FM 60, Snook, TX 77879
This review of Sodolok's Country Inn originally appeared March 9, 2012.
The lord gave unto you 10 commandments. Heaven is a Buffet has only two.
1. There is nothing on earth that can’t be improved by adding a few slabs of bacon.
2. There are precious few things in this world that can’t be improved by deep frying.
Frank Sodolak* knows these truths, and at some point late in the last century, divine inspiration struck the proprietor of Sodolak’s Country Inn in Snook, Texas, roughly a 15-20 minute drive from College Station. Forget the steaks and pork chops and assorted fried appetizers on the menu at Sodolak’s. You are there for one dish and one dish only.
Chicken fried bacon.
With a side of cream gravy.
Go ahead. Scoff. Gag if you must. Declare that you are too good for fried bacon, that your arteries are too important to you. You’re lying to yourself. None of us is too good for fried bacon. Fried bacon is too good for us.
Before the fall of man, before Adam and Eve went bobbing for an apple, fried bacon grew on a tree in the Garden of Eden. For thousands of years, humans weren’t worthy. Then we must have done something to make the big man happy, and through His servant, Frank Sodolak, He showered us in the glory of fried bacon. Then, because He loves us, He inspired Frank Sodolak to add a side of gravy.
Every time the bell rings at Sodolak’s to tell the waitress that another glorious, smoky, impossibly light batch of bacon has emerged from the fryer, angels sing. Can you hear them? They’re warning you. Nothing you ate before was good enough. Nothing you’ll eat afterward will compare.
So enjoy that first bite, and pray that you live a virtuous enough life to make it past St. Peter’s velvet rope.
Because this is what every day tastes like in heaven.
*Sodolak passed away in May 2012 at age 68. Rest in peace, you beautiful, beautiful man.