The abundance of cutting-edge eateries in McAllen is a foodie’s dream come true, but let’s take a moment to remember the classics that have stood the test of time and should never be forgotten. These are the restaurants consistently dishing out good eats and tirelessly serving the city for years…the places you’re not hearing a buzz about on social media, but should be.
(Editor’s Note: I intentionally left out the countless, delicious Mom-and-pop Mexican dives we’ve all grown to know and love because that’s a losing battle. Sentimental value will always win that fight.)
MS. G’S TACOS N’ MORE – 2263 Pecan
There is no taco spot with more hidden-gem street cred than Ms. G’s. The McAllen institution has been running the breakfast taco game since 1974, and I challenge any of our fellow Texas cities that claim to be the king of the breakfast taco to prove otherwise. Okay, now that I got that out of the way, allow me to continue. The legendary restaurant might not be long on atmosphere, but ranks high in the authenticity category, serving up made-to-order tacos on homemade tortillas daily. The no-frills, no-seat, drive thru spot also dishes out impressive traditional Mexican plates, but it’s the tacos that keep its legion of loyal followers coming back for more.
Pro-tip: Love tacos, but hate the guilt? Ms. G’s offers wheat tortillas as an option.
LOTUS INN – 1120 N. 10th St
Lotus Inn is the forgotten middle child of Asian restaurants in McAllen. Since opening its doors in 1983, Lotus Inn has paved the way for its chopstick-wielding counterparts, and continues to be a family-tradition eatery passed down through generations of devoted General Tso lovers. The family-owned restaurant is hidden in plain sight, and is a prime pick for a quick, affordable lunch that comes with soup, fried rice and an egg roll.
THE SODA FOUNTAIN – 5120 N. 10th St
Tucked away inside Lee’s Pharmacy, The Soda Fountain pays homage to the early 1900s when soda jerks and pharmacies went hand in hand. The 50s diner-like atmosphere is known for its juicy burgers and Bluebell Ice Cream milkshakes. Arrive early for lunch and post up on a stool at the counter or grab a booth, but wherever you sit, make sure you do it quickly because its lunch crowd is prompt and loyal. Here’s what you need to understand: people don’t stumble upon The Soda Fountain and decide to give it a shot. They go with intent, and that should say something about the multi-napkin worthy bites. The next time you’re picking up your Lipitor prescription, make sure you grab a cheeseburger combo to go. It’s called balance.
Pro-tip: Don’t sleep on its less talked about breakfast tacos. They’re the real deal.
LAS ROCAS – 617 S. 15th St
The torta is the often-overlooked food in Mexican cuisine and definitely the most underrated member of the sandwich world, but it reigns supreme at Las Rocas. The downtown McAllen eatery has been supplying loyal patrons with the finest tortas in town for 23 years, and unless you got a good tip from some locals, you might not know this place exists. I’m of the firm belief that a sandwich is only as good as the two slices of bread holding everything together, and its soft, sweet and perfectly toasted French bread makes the perfect vessel for silverware-free eating. Sure, there are plenty of delicious Mexican food favorites on the menu like tacos, enchiladas and botanas, but you will order the torta or you will forever regret it. The move here is simple: pick your protein and order it “con todo” with lettuce, tomato, onion, sour cream and avocado. The torta at Las Rocas is the kind of sandwich your friend will ask for a bite of, and you will delightfully oblige because life-changing food tastes better when it’s shared.
STARLITE BURGER – 820 N. 23rd St
In an era where food is religion and gourmet burgers are all the hype, Starlite flies under the radar, but those who are in-the-know flock for its skillet-grilled burgers and deliciously greasy fries. As soon as you step foot into the 50s style diner, you can taste the nostalgia, and it’s been feeding families for 45 years. Burgers are the star of the show here, but loyal patrons rave about its fried fish and fried shrimp baskets. Do yourself a favor and pay your respects to this noteworthy burger spot.
REX CAFÉ & BAKERY – 321 S. 17th St.
Long before 17th Street became known as McAllen’s Entertainment District, Rex Café was feeding its faithful following daily. The downtown McAllen mainstay is possibly the oldest restaurant still in operation, opening its doors in 1947 and is the leader of the hidden-gem restaurant subculture. Stop in on a weekday morning and you might get lucky and catch an open table, but forget about showing up late Sunday morning. Rex Café is a traditional post-prayer family favorite, and generations of breakfast lovers have made this the go-to spot for morning chisme over coffee.