For many people, driving through Amarillo means stopping at a quirky display of spray-painted Cadillacs or the restaurant where you get your 72-ounce steak free if you can eat it in one sitting.
I like to think I drilled a little deeper in this oil boom-shaped town, venturing a bit off of Interstate 40 to discover its beautiful downtown architecture and a less touristyTexas Panhandle Cafe.
I’ll definitely come back.
Our lunch spot, Youngblood’s Cafe, was just a few blocks from downtown, It was so inconspicuous on the outside that we passed it by initially, but boy are we glad we turned around.
I bet I’ve eaten in 200 Texas restaurants during the past 35 years from Daingerfield to Pecos, but this has got to be one of the most authentic Texas cafe experiences that I’ve had. To get to our table, we passed by three massive dining rooms with its walls covered in Texas decor (from a longhorn skull painted like the Texas flag to a cactus Christmas tree. We were served by a “sweetie-saying” waitress wearing a T-shirt saying: “I’ve got glitter in my veins and Jesus in my heart.”
The chicken-fried steak came topped with green chili sauce. After lunch, I read this cafe was once at the Amarillo Livestock Auction, one of the largest cattle auctions in the world. The owner was trained at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and was once executive sous chef at the Plaza Hotel in New York, but don’t let that deter you. Our two meals were great and totaled only $20.30 tax included. We would have gotten free banana pudding if we had gotten there earlier.
To walk off a little of that hearty lunch, I took in a few blocks downtown to look at the historic buildings. Amarillo had a building boom right before the Great Depression, and many of those buildings have been restored.
The most iconic of the buildings is an Art Deco high rise built in 1930 as the regional headquarters for Santa Fe Railroad. It now houses county offices. Another landmark building is the old Paramount Theatre, which has been restored with its neon shining bright at night. Two classic Five & Dime buildings are well preserved.
Early afternoon on a late autumn day, the West Texas sky was as blue as I’ve ever seen it. I liked the way this bank sign looked surrounded by it.
I only had about 20 minutes, so I didn’t see all of the historic buildings. Just before I left, I found this classic parked outside of a lawyer’s office: A man and his dog and a 1930 Chevrolet pickup.
I’ve heard the food is really good at the bright yellow Big Texan Steak Ranch, the steakhouse with the big steer at front and gaudy billboards and signs pointing the way along the interstate. We may stop some time on our way through.
Who knows maybe I’ll pull over at Cadillac Ranch for a photo op.
But I’m really looking forward to a return trip to see the progress downtown, maybe even checking out Old Route 66 Historic District, a mile-long stretch of art galleries, antique shops and restaurants, along the old Mother Road.
For more information, check out this Amarillo Visitors site.