by Jason Burr
As the Eat Out Amarillo journey has progressed, I have begun to crystallize some thoughts; an assemblage of beliefs about Amarillo, her people, her food and her culture. Some of these notions are particular to our great town, some of them are just broad theories you can apply anywhere. As these thoughts have appeared, I have jotted them down so that I could begin to codify them into organized collections.
The first entry into the EOA Manifesto is “How To Find A Joint.” This is by no means an all inclusive list and will be updated as I see fit; my mantra is “Have Adamant Beliefs Until They Change.” Some of these points have been rooted in me for years; some have been discovered as I make my way through Amarillo’s Joints.
1. Where There Are Three Police Cars, There Is Good Food
While they spend many hours patrolling our great city, interacting with its citizens and derelicts, our police get hungry. They have to eat and enjoy a tasty morsel just like civilians do. The first time I visited La Campana, there were a half dozen officers partaking in breakfast. I knew we were in for a treat. This rule is closely followed by the pickups and/or vans with ladders. If you spot a horde of painter’s, roofer’s, of framer’s vehicles, Yahtzee.
Side Note: When you encounter law enforcement officers in a Joint, thank them for what they do and pick up their check; they work long, hard hours for little pay. It’s the least you can do.
2. An Outside Grill
Whether is an expensive Barbecue Rig in a dedicated cooking shed or a $70 Weber out back in the parking lot, someone cooking outside is a tip-off of a Joint.
3. Yelp – Yes Yelp
Yelp catches Hell from a lot of people, but it can steer you in the right direction. I use Yelp constantly when I travel and it very seldom steers me wrong. It seems to be heavily weighted to local restaurants over chains, so it is helpful in finding a Joint. If a search for “Restaurants” in Amarillo yields local standouts Coyote Bluff, Tyler’s Barbecue, El Manantial, 575 Pizza, OHMS, Ichiban and Yellow City Street Food as the top results, imagine the nuggets you could find while travelling.
4. Misspelled Menus Foreshadow Authenticity
I am a grammar and spelling snob. I really hate it when I am the offender, which I have just now opened myself up for. It drives me insane when someone confuses Your with You’re and Sell and Sale. If I go to a chain restaurant and there are misspelled words on the menu, I am apoplectic. But, if I visit a mom & pop Thai Joint on Amarillo Boulevard and one of the ingredients in a dish is “Shrimps,” I know I am in for a delight. If the Mexican Food Truck has “Breakfask Tacos,” do yourself a favor and order 2. Bonus: If the menu contains no English, prepare your taste buds. If you have to point at the menu to place your order, you have increased your chances of success.
5. A Dirt Parking Lot Packed With Pickups
When you see a full parking lot, you have found gold; if it is a dirt parking lot full of pickups, you have found a goldmine. No Joint exemplifies this rule more than Coyote Bluff.
6. A Small Menu Means Everything Is Good
When a Joint has a niche and focuses all their attention on perfecting a few dishes, it is a gem. These places are few are far between, but do exist. Mostly they are Barbecue Joints, food trucks with limited space, or the Treasure that is Pollo Sinaloa. They offer 3 meats in a choice of taco, burrito or quesadilla along with the magnificent Mexican Hot Dog, all executed perfectly.
7. A Joint In The Correct Neighborhood
With a few possible exceptions, Joints are seldom on the main thoroughfare. I-40 has a speckling of anything resembling Joints, and I-27 has fewer. A Mexican Food Joint in a predominantly Hispanic part of town puts a checkbox in the win column. An Asian Joint in Eastridge points to a good chance of success. An address on E. Amarillo Blvd. tilts the scale in your favor.
8. A Community Table Is Great For The Community
There are very few examples of a community table in Amarillo, but I see them occasionally when I travel. My favorite is Pasqual’s in Santa Fe. I will always choose the community table if given the choice. This is followed closely by a spot at the bar. Talk to your fellow patrons, expand your experiences, share a dish. More restaurants need a community table.
9. Eclectic Patrons
If you see your banker eating next to your yard guy, you are in the right place. The best joints are places for people from all walks of life to enjoy a meal.
10. Find The Hipsters
If your server or cook is a Hipster, you will have a good meal. In their natural habitat these creatures seek out the best ingredients and mix them in new, fun, never-thought-of ways and introduce us to the best experiences. A Kimchi Burrito, Chicken Fried Steak Sushi, and Carnitas Fried Rice are all products of their weird minds. I find Hipsters to be the most polite restaurant people you will encounter anywhere. They want you to enjoy your experience to the fullest and will do their part in helping you achieve that. Bonus: Ask the Hipster where they eat when they are not at their Joint. They will turn you on to something they liked, before, ya know, it was cool.