Smokey Mo’s – Austin, TX

On a recent trip to Austin, Texas, we rediscovered a BBQ joint that we first tried in Conroe: Smokey Mo’s. While I may have been enjoying them for a while and somehow never managed to blog about them, they are still producing very appetising and satisfying meals in multiple locations around Texas.

The run of side dishes is pretty standard, and everything is complimentary to BBQ meats, of course. Fries, potato salad, beans, fried okra, corn on the cob, right down to the self-serve bread, onions, pickles and jalapenos.

Trust me, I helped myself to the pickles.


Two trays of pickles, just like this!


My partner helped himself to not one, but two chop sandwiches. The chop is loaded with sauce and chopped bits and pieces of meat. It’s mostly beef with the occasional turkey or sausage bits mixed in.


Chop Sandwich before any fixin’s were added.


The three meat plate is an indulgent sampler of meats and sides. There’s plenty to choose from, too. I picked the turkey-sausage-sliced brisket combination with a double side of slaw. The second slaw was really for Christopher, but it sure makes the plate look as full as my belly got after eating all this.


Three meat combo plate with two sides.


It’s always pleasant to find a bit of the familiar when travelling that’s not your run of the mill fast food. Visiting Smokey Mo’s was definitely a fit of comfort food in a weekend full of exploration.


— Ann Cathey


Pho Lee Vietnamese – Austin, TX


On a recent trip to Austin, some friends directed us to a little strip center restaurant to appease my partner’s craving for a traditional Vietnamese dish: pho.

Pho Lee Vietnamese Restaurant is a small, strip center restaurant. It is immaculately clean,t eh staff is friendly and the jasmine tea is always fresh. In spite of it’s seemingly small size, the menu is full of delights from pho, bun, mi, com chien, and Thai offerings to a small number of Chinese dishes. A little something for everyone who enjoys the savory, good-for-the-soul nature of Vietnamese foods.

We took it easy on our carb intake on this trip, sticking to spring rolls and pho. There’s so much more to try that we will just have to visit again, such as the Cafe Sua (Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk, served hot or cold).

Shrimp Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce

Spring rolls with shrimp.

The spring rolls were unexpectedly well done, with a thin and tender rice membrane containing lettuce, cilantro, bean sprouts, boiled shrimp, and served with a light peanut sauce.


Pho Tai Nam Gau

Pho Tai, Nam, Gau

Pho Tai, Nam, Gau
Pho noodle soup with thin slices of eye of round steak, well-done flank steak, and marble brisket.

Marble brisket has thin layers of fat like bacon, making it quite tasty.


Pho Ga

Pho Ga

Pho Ga
Pho noodle soup with thin slices of white meat chicken, and thinly sliced onion that melts in your mouth.


Side VeggiesCilantro, basil, lime, jalapeno and bean sprouts on the side, giving you the options of adding flavor and texture to your pho.

Hoisin, sriracha, a hot chili sauce and soy sauce were available at the table. By adding a bit to each spoonful, rather than the entire bowl, splendid combinations of flavors will keep your pho from homogenization on the palate.

When you are next in Austin and have some time for lunch or needs a hearty, satisfying supper, stop by Pho Lee and indulge your senses.

On the 1-5 scale, Pho Lee has earned:
Cleanliness – 4.5
Service – 4
Quality of food – 4
Flavor – 5
Pricing – 3.5
Overall experience – 4.5

Pho Lee Vietnamese Restaurant
2601 N Interstate 35 Frontage Road
Round Rock, TX 78664
(512) 310-8585


–Ann Cathey

Mighty Fine Burgers – Austin, TX

We’re doing a repeat this week. It’s been three years since we first visited a Mighty Fine Burgers location, and we figured it might be time to go back and check up on them.

With five Austin locations, now, it’s not hard to “Keep Austin Mighty” by visiting this place when in town. We’ve only been to the University Oaks location, but it has been consistent every time, over a period of several years. that counts for a lot in our dining considerations.

There are three dining areas at this location – indoors, indoor patio, or outdoor patio (dog friendly). The indoor areas are filled with long trestle tables, benches and chairs, family style. The outdoor patio has picnic tables with umbrellas, presided over by a monstrous spreading oak. There’s also a play area for the kids beneath that ancient tree.

A refresher on the simplicity of the menu:

Not counting the kids’ menu, the burgers only come in two patty sizes – 1/2 pound and 1/4 pound. You may, of course, double up, but that’s up to you and your stomach. There’s also a crispy chicken breast available to grace your bun if you prefer.


Half Pound Cheeseburger

Burgers are alternately available on a gluten free bun for a dollar more, or in a bowl without a bun at all at no extra charge. The place can get a bit noisy around the lunch and dinner rush times, so be sure they hear you if you ask for these options.

Burgers or chicken come with your choice of shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, sliced onion, crinkle cut dill pickles, and grilled onions. Condiments are known simply as Red (ketchup), Yeller (mustard), or White (mayo) so don’t get confused when the person taking your order uses those terms. For a little extra you can have cheese, jalapenos, bacon, chili, or avocado added.

They offer crinkle cut fries and light and crispy onion rings deep fried in 100% trans-fat free peanut oil. Either may be ordered with cheese or chili.


DSC_0476Hand-dipped shakes come in the standard vanilla, strawberry or chocolate. The lemonade is fresh squeezed on site either original or strawberry. Specialty bottled sodas and beer are available. Fountain drinks and tea have unlimited refills, and depending on what you order you may need them.



Half Pound Chili Cheeseburger with extra pickles.

Don’t forget the napkins. Lots of napkins.

If you are wanting some nutritional information, I suggest checking it out after you’ve tasted their food. A PDF containing the relevant statistics is available online.

About those pickles? My money is on them being the fat cut kosher dills from the Mt. Olive line.

On the 1-5 scale, Mighty Fine gets:
Cleanliness – 5
Service – 5
Quality of food – 5
Flavor – 5
Pricing – Moderate
Overall experience – 5
Mighty Fine Burgers
201 University Oaks Blvd
Suite 1380
Round Rock, TX 78664
(512) 381-3310

–Ann Cathey

Mighty Fine – Austin, Texas

We were introduced to this place (which we might otherwise have never found) by a good friend who lives in the area. Mighty Fine was a gamble, but it was indeed, a mighty fine burger.

Burgers here come in two sizes: the Classic (1/2 pound re-cooked weight), and the 1/4 pound (no special name). Either way, it comes with your choice of lettuce, tomatoes, crinkle dill pickles (strip cut), sliced onion or grilled onion, and includes Red, Yellow or White condiments. That would be ketchup, mustard or mayo for the uninitiated. Cheese, jalapenos, bacon, chili, and/or a gluten free bun may be added for an additional charge. They are cooked medium-well unless you request otherwise. We did, and the medium was nicely pink.


Burger #1 – Bacon, Cheese, Pickles, Lettuce, and White


Burger #2 – Bacon, Cheese, Lettuce,
Tomato, Pickle, Red and White

The only sides they offer are French fries and onion rings, which are also available with the same add-ons as the burgers. I can’t speak for the fries, though I did see them. They are a thin crinkle cut, and are apparently quite popular. The onion rings are an absolute delight. The breading is thin and crispy, and the onions sweet and tender and don’t slide out of the breading when you bite into one. Even if the burger had been crap, the onion rings would have made the trip worth it.

Insanely Good Onion Rings

Insanely Good Onion Rings

There is also a children’s menu that offers burgers and dogs, grilled cheese, drinks and shakes, and ice cream by the scoop.

The regular run of drinks are available, as well as sweet and unsweet tea, fresh squeezed lemonade in original and strawberry, and hand-dipped shakes in vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. They also offer a variety of bottled sodas and beer by the bottle. A far cry from some other minimalistic burger joints we’ve experienced.

The shakes, while not nearly as thick as Katz’s, are a nice consistency. The flavors we tried – chocolate and vanilla – are rich and smooth on the tongue. There is no powdery texture in the chocolate as is prevalent with a lot of Hershey’s based shakes. These shakes would get a 5 all on their own for being rich and smooth and creamy.

A burger alone at this place is a meal, though if you are a big eater, or sharing with a friend, be sure to add a side of fires or onion rings.

My Cohorts in Burger Exploration

My Cohorts in Burger Exploration

On the 1-5 scale, Mighty Fine gets:
Cleanliness – 5
Service – 5
Quality of food – 5
Flavor – 5
Pricing – Moderate
Overall experience – 5

-Ann Cathey

In-N-Out Burger – Austin, Texas

I’ve heard a lot of hype about In-N-Out Burger from various friends and reviews. It is not a franchised chain, but a privately owned and operated one. Does this make a difference? I don’t think so.

DSC_0726In-N-Out started back in 1948 in California, a fact they are extremely proud of. They have manages to keep prices pretty low, and the menu pretty skimpy, but it seems to be working. We lucked onto a location in Austin, Texas, that had just opened a week or so before. To say it was packed is an understatement. The drive-through was more than 30 cars long with orange comes keeping them in order while they waited to place an order. Inside was even more crowded. The line to order was split into three, and each one was a minimum of 8 people deep. The rest of each party were haunting the indoor and outdoor  dining areas looking for seating. Some of them gave up and started picnicking on the grass, at the large planter boxes holding trees along the sidewalk, and tailgating on pickup trucks in the parking area.

The patrons came in all flavors! We saw your typical range of hippies to well-to-do folks, Longhorns fans, Japanese fashion plates, families, old, young, walking, biking, driving, with at least six different states represented in the parking lot other than Texas. There were kids everywhere, in spite of there being no children’s menu options.

You would think the crowd would be an indicator that the food was just that good. We had high hopes. While my partner stood in line to order, I hunted up a table. I was lucky enough to find a table for four that the current occupants were willing to share. We later did the same for another couple.

The restaurant itself is very light, bright and white with accents of red and yellow. The noise of so many people was definitely noticeable, but not obtrusive. Bathrooms were relatively clean and neat for such heavy usage. It should be noted that no smoking is allowed – neither regular or e-cigs, and they will prosecute.

The menu is very limited: french fries, drinks, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and the “Double Double” cheeseburger. Lettuce, tomato, and “spread” come with any burger; onions upon request. While the veggies are very fresh and hand torn/cut, there are no other options – no pickles, no avocado, just the basics. The “spread” is… well, I won’t blow the surprise, but it’s easily recognizable.

The entire other half of the menu lists drink options from the soda fountain, tea and sweet tea, and lemonade. There are shakes, though we did not try them during this visit. There is also bottled water for those who prefer it.

There was about a half hour between the time we walked in the door and the time we picked up our order. The crowd made getting drinks and ketchup an adventure. The olfactory and visual appeal was immediate and favorable. The bag smelled of burger and fries before we took anything out.

DSC_0725We ordered double doubles with fries.They were hot and fresh when our to-go bag (rather than the signature red tray) hit our table.

The burger was a nice surprise. The bun was butter grilled and crispy, a nice additional texture to the experience. Veggies were very fresh and colorful. The meat patties were on the thin side and well-done, but had great flavor. The cheese was a good melting cheese, even if it was of an individually wrapped processed cheese food type. In spite of being FDA portion sized, the burger was a very tasty experience.

The burgers were individually wrapped in brown paper, a practice that In-N-Out has used since it opened. If they think this makes them environmentally friendly, they are right but only to a point. The amount of grease that collects in the wrappings makes the paper ineligible for recycling.

The fries… what can you say about fries. They advertise that the fries are cut daily from Kennebec grown potatoes. I’m not sure that helps or hinders. The fries are slender, square cut, and moderately dusted with a salt/pepper combination. The thinness means they go cold quickly. They have a flavor like canned potato strings which was a nice discovery. They would have been vastly improved by the addition of chili and cheese, neither of which was an option.

My table companion was pleasantly impressed with the burger but found the fries to be “uninspired” at the least.

On the 1-5 scale, In-N-Out Burger gets:
Cleanliness – 4 (in spite of the crowd)
Service – 3 (because of the crowd)
Quality of food – 3
Flavor – 3
Pricing – Moderate to Low
Overall experience – 2.5

-Ann Cathey

Wendy’s – Austin, Texas

This blog is not just about new and exciting places. It’s also about the tried and true.

Wendy’s is a national chain out of Georgia that’s been around for years. Some of it’s locations are aging badly, and it sadly reflects in the atmosphere and employees. The old saying, “If you’re going to do a thing, do it well,” has gone by the wayside at a particular Wendy’s location in Austin.

We chanced to visit the location at 6428 South I-35 at William Cannon recently. It was disappointing in so many ways. Our order was rung up properly only after several repetitions. The cashier was cute, but her brain must have been on hold.

When the order was ready, we picked up a tray that was missing a few things. I was forced to go back and ask for the chili I had ordered with the cheese and crackers. After receiving the chili, I had to ask again for the cheese and crackers. I received the cheese and a vapid look. I had to ask yet again for the crackers.

The carpet was just gross, being obviously old and quite dirty. The tables had not been wiped down – we had to do that ourselves.  We spread napkins out as place mats. The cashier came out to clean up tables, picking up napkins and straw wrappers left on tables and straightening a few chairs. There was no sweeping, no wiping down tables or chairs, and no consistency in straightening the chairs. She seemed to get distracted and leave the dining area after just a few tables.

Don’t me going about the bathrooms. I’ve seen cleaner bathrooms in truck stops. The roll of toilet paper on the floor between the stalls in the women’s was likely a good indicator of the upkeep on the location. In the men’s room the hand dryer was broken, and the toilet paper was propped on a hand rail.

They were out of things like sweet tea and the little cups that hold ketchup, and made no move to replace them even after having it called to their attention.

The dining area was warm enough to be uncomfortable. This was called to their attention by another patron, but it was quite some time before the air conditioner came on. Whether that was due to human delay or old equipment, I don’t know.

I am happy to report that the food was good, hot, fresh and tasty. I dread to think of what condition the kitchen was in, and don’t want to know about the number of health code violations. My stomach was happy and i didn’t get sick – that’s enough for me at the moment.

On the 1-5 scale, this Wendy’s location gets:
Cleanliness – 2 (including the bathroom)
Service – 2
Quality of food – 3
Flavor – 3
Pricing – Moderate
Overall experience – 2

-Ann Cathey

The Cotton Patch Cafe – Round Rock, Texas

The Cotton Patch Cafe in Austin is just what it looks like when you first step in the door. It’s a family restaurant in the vein of Black-Eyed Pea or any of dozens of mom-and-pop places that serve “home cookin'” style foods.

The entire place was clean as a whistle, bathrooms and all.

The menu was well organized and easy to read. Between my self and my party, we were able to order a wide variety of foods to taste and share. No one went away disappointed.

Our appetiser, the Bacon Cheese Fries, are for the win! The potatoes had a good flavor, even after being fried. They were emplated with a smother of grated cheddar and real bacon crumbles. A small dish of Ranch dressing was served on the side. They also do a sweet potato fry that may be treated this way.

I was in the mood for chicken, so I ordered the Chicken Fried Chicken. The breading was nicely crunchy, and not overly salted for my palate. The meat inside was a pleasant surprise, being tender and juicy. The standard cream gravy with black pepper is normally served on top, though I asked for it on the side. The pepper was noticable in the flavor, but not overpowering.

0343 Cotton Patch Austin TX 2013 0428

My first choice of side was Macaroni & Cheese. This is a menu staple across the South. In this case, it was rich and creamy with plenty of cheese coating aldente  elbow pasta. To say that the dish was also sticky, gooey, and yummy should go without saying. This is how I remember my grandmother’s mac and cheese from when I was a kid.

My other side was Broccoli Cheese Rice, which was also very heavy on the cheese. This is never a bad thing for me. It included long grain white rice and chunky, tender broccoli florets without a lot of stem. Another throwback to my grandmother’s cooking.

The sweet tea was light and refreshing, rather than being of the heavy Southern variety.

One of my fellow foodies ordered the Turkey Melt with Fries. This is a warm sandwich with smoked turkey on toasted rye, with Swiss cheese and slicedd tomatoes. While I did not get a great photo, I did get a bite. Tender, tasty, with good textures; it was an extremely friendly sandwich.

0342  Cotton Patch Austin TX 2013 0428

The staff was so friendly that our waitress went out of her way to give me her heart!

0344  Cotton Patch Austin TX 2013 0428

On the 1-5 scale, Cotton Patch gets:
Cleanliness – 4
Service – 5
Quality of food – 5
Flavor – 5
Pricing – Moderate
Overall experience – 4.5

-Ann Cathey