Visitors to San Antonio, Austin, and the Hill Country will surely want to sample the local fare, especially some of the most famous dishes that the region is known for, such as its local style of barbecue, Tex-Mex food, chicken-fried steak, and even chili con carne. The common denominator here is beef; other ingredients and other meats may be involved in making these foods, but beef remains the spotlight attraction, as befits this region with so much ranching heritage.

Of course, the last dish mentioned -- chili -- has become popular from coast to coast and even beyond America's borders, thanks to the efforts of people like William Gebhardt, an early chili enthusiast from the town of New Braunfels. The chili that you'll find in central Texas isn't that much different from what is served up in other parts, so you shouldn't make any special effort to sample some. Although if you spend any time in the town of New Braunfels, just for kicks, you might order a bowl of chili at the Phoenix Saloon, the original site of Gebhardt's grand project (and an excellent chili it is).

The rest of the dishes I mentioned haven't made it out of Texas without suffering significant alterations. So be sure to try some of these when you get a chance. San Antonio, of course, is at the center of the Tex-Mex universe. And it offers various renditions of Tex-Mex tacos, beef and cheese enchiladas with chili gravy, and the famous fajita. You could dine on Tex-Mex for your entire visit without having to stray outside of central San Antonio. Austin, too, has several good Tex-Mex joints, and you won't lack for options there.

But, Austin has a leg up over San Antonio in the matter of barbecue, both in variety and quality. The best places in town are discussed in the dining section for Austin, and if you read through the reviews, I'm pretty sure you'll find something that suits your personal tastes. But if you want to expand your horizons and try some of the most unforgettable barbecue found anywhere, you're going to have to leave the city and get out to one of the small towns that ring Austin and feature the old-time barbecue joints. Often, people who aren't accustomed to eating barbecue cooked using the dry method don't appreciate its virtues, but with time (and repeated sampling) many come to prefer this style to all others.

Good chicken-fried steak can be found both in the city and the country. It's usually served smothered in cream gravy with mashed potatoes on the side. In both San Antonio and Austin you can find excellent interpretations. But in the Hill Country, it alone can establish a restaurant's reputation among the locals. You practically have to go out of your way not to try it in towns such as Bandera and Kerrville. And, for the visitor, it is a safe choice that is rarely a disappointment.

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