Hill Country

I swore off restaurant reviewing a while back, and yet I really like talking about restaurant experiences. Unfortunately, a singular experience can somehow morph into what seems like a review and that’s not my intention. With that in mind, here are simple facts about a meal I had last week with Craig and my friend Lauren at Hill Country on 26th Street between 6th Ave. and Broadway.


First, a needless fact: I used to live across the street from Hill Country on the corner of 6th Ave. and 26th Street and moved right before Hill Country opened.

“We don’t care.”

Fine. Here are the relevant facts:

1. Our original plan was to eat at Shake Shack but the line was so absurdly long that Craig said, “No hamburger is worth this long a wait.” I suggested Hill Country.

2. When we arrived at Hill Country, there were a mass of people in the front area and it was difficult to know where to go.

3. Once it became clear that you put your name on a list like at a normal restaurant, even though it’s a self-service restaurant with tickets that they punch much like at Katz’s Deli, we put our name on the list and they handed us one of those buzzer thingies. They said the wait would be 30 minutes.

4. We waited in a corner of the bar and Lauren and I had tequila drinks: she a traditional margarita and I some signature drink that was a distant cousin of a margarita.

5. Finally, after the promised 30 minutes, our buzzer buzzed. We approached the stand and a woman led us inside.


6. The woman asked if we’d been to Hill Country before. We told her “no” and she explained how it worked: after she takes us to our table, we get in line at one of the counters and order our food. They stamp our ticket and we pay on our way out. “Lost tickets cost $50,” she chirped. “So don’t lose yours!”

7. She then led us down a staircase where a band was playing incredibly loud covers of 80s songs. The table where she wanted to seat us was right next to the stage and we all experienced moments of deafness before we were able to ask her to seat us upstairs. “That’ll be an additional wait,” she warned us. We said that’d be ok.

8. Apparently, we called her bluff because back upstairs she sat us right away.

9. We left our bags at the table and approached the line at the meat counter.

10. A menu hung from above and everyone who joined the line at that moment had the same reaction: “What the f**k??” We all had that reaction because they were out of the very thing most of us wanted: pork. No ribs, no pulled pork (though, looking at their website, it doesn’t look like they normally have pulled pork.) What they did have was brisket and chicken.

11. The brisket cost $22 a pound. When I asked the man at the counter how many pounds would feed 3 people, he said “one and a half.” So I ordered 1.5 pounds of brisket and Lauren ordered 3 chicken pieces. Craig went to the “Sides” table and picked up coleslaw and mac and cheese. Lauren picked up sweet potatoes.


12. At this point, we were all a little disgruntled: the wait, the noise, the lack of pork, the expense.

13. Then I served myself a piece of brisket:


14. This is not a fact, it is an opinion: I loved it. “Wow,” I said. “You know, I didn’t want to like this because of everything else that happened, but this is amazing.” My companions agreed. The brisket was moist and tangy and packed with flavor.


15. Also not a fact: The sides were just ok, though Lauren and Craig praised the mac and cheese.

16. Opinion: The chicken was superb: also moist and smoky and tangy and a perfect option for someone who doesn’t eat red meat who wants to experience BBQ.

17. Craig disliked the atmosphere but loved the food. Lauren concurred.

And that is my non-review of Hill Country.

21 thoughts on “Hill Country”

  1. http://thefoodmonsterblog.blogspot.com

    This was almost humurous. I would love to see more non-reviews from you. The brisket sounds and looks delicious.

    Fact: I used to work in the Credit Suisse building, next to Shake Shack. My mission once a month (sometimes more frequently) was to get lunch from everybody from the Shack where it is worth it to stand in line. Give it a chance. Also, try the custard.

  2. Try Hill Country for brunch – get the brisket without the hassle. Also – the jalapeno sausage is delicious.

  3. Great review! About Shake Shack: I haven’t been there yet, and I wanted to try it last night. BAD IDEA. 7PM and I swear the line wrapped all the way around Madison Square Park. I don’t think I’ll ever get a chance to try this place. Can it really be THAT good?!

  4. I concur, though the mac & cheese was pretty good, the beans were phenom… and I’m really sad for you that you didn’t get to try the pork ribs. (No, there’s no pulled pork, which disappointed me as well.) http://feistyfoodie.blogspot.com/2008/06/hill-country-bbq.html

    And to anyone who wants to know: yes, the burgers at Shake Shack are *that* good, though personally, I won’t wait on such long lines. I tend to go at off times so that the line is only about as long as the gravel – if I’m not standing on gravel or pretty close to it initially, I’m not waiting. (Because I’m a brat) This is excellent for my waist though – I’ll be in the area and not wait for it, so it saves me calories. Their frozen custard is AWESOME, too- and there’s a separate custard-only line so your wait time is significantly shorter :)

  5. Laryssa: Yes, Shake Shack is THAT good. IMHO It’s one of the only places in NY with an exceptionally good burger. There are lots of good burger places but SS is great.

    As for Hill Country, it’s a decent place to squash a craving for BBQ but I’ve found that Fette Sau in Williamsburg is waaaay better.

  6. I love your posts. Even though I don’t live in NYC, they are so amusing and well-written. Keep it up!

  7. I don’t think I have to tell you that you should just come down to Texas for great brisket. But I will anyway.

    Oh yeah, and it doesn’t cost $22 a pound.

  8. I don’t think I have to tell you that you should just come down to Texas for great brisket. But I will anyway.

    Oh yeah, and it doesn’t cost $22 a pound.

  9. I don’t think I have to tell you that you should just come down to Texas for great brisket. But I will anyway.

    Oh yeah, and it doesn’t cost $22 a pound.

  10. It really looks like they captured the look, feel and sound of a Texas BBQ joint, not to mention the taste. Even their website looks like it shouldn’t be representing an establishment from any other state.

    I have no idea why I would choose to eat Texas BBQ while in NYC, when I can get it at home, but you have certainly made me hungry. =)

    By the way, anyone who comes to San Antonio and wants restaurant recommendations, just ask!

  11. That picture of the brisket is humorous. I mean what self respecting BBQ joint sees that skimpy half-assed serving of brisket acceptable!

  12. I agree with the above comment by Sarah. I just about laughed my behind right off when I saw the price you got charged for brisket, and Texas is THE place to go for beef brisket.

    As a New Yorker-turned-Texan who travels a lot, I can say that there are things that New York does best, and things Texas does best, and things California does best, and so forth.

    The bagels here in Texas are abysmal, and the pizza utterly insipid (so much that I’ve taken to making my own when I want them)… but likewise, you’d have to hold a gun to my head to convince me to eat tex-mex or smoked beef brisket in NYC.

    I can tell just from looking at your picture that both the char and the smoke ring are amateurish, and instead of a proper cut perpendicular to the grain, it was cut on the bias, which is a big no-no for those who actually know what’s what when it comes to brisket (bias LOOKS pretty, yes, but due to the pervasiveness of the fat marbling of the cut you’re basically making the meat tougher for no good reason). Lastly, in addition to the telltale inferior ring, you can see the large glob of subcutaneous fat under the char, which is indicative of a smoke at too high a temperature.

    And again, $22/lb. Hah, wow! Then again, I don’t know why I’m surprised to hear that from the city that charged me $8 just to cross a bridge!

    Anyway, keep up the good work! I’ve been reading your blog since right after Janet Jackson Boobiegate, and it’s been a bookmark ever since!

    Kind regards!

  13. Nice CSI segment there Bean, you almost had us believing you knew what you were talking about.

  14. The foods sounds good, okay.

    But with all the amazing places to eat in NYC I just don’t understand why people put up with all this hassle to eat out.

  15. Food is regional. I agree with Bean on the pizza and bagels in Texas….conversely, being from Texas, and you would just about have to kill me to eat the following things in New York: 1) barbeque, 2) mexican food, and 3) chicken-fried anything. That being said, we have a very strong tradition of barbeque in Texas and for whatever reason the smoked meats gods decided, we don’t really do pork, pulled or otherwise in our barbecue unless its involved in some sort of jalapeno sausage. Sweet tea never made its way here either. But we can smoke the hell out of a brisket.

    I guess its just a matter of knowing that when you are in a restaurant with Texas style barbecue, expect unsweetened tea and no pork but lots of beef ribs and brisket with dry rubs. If you are eating at a place that specializes in, say, Carolina style, then pulled pork and sweet tea are pretty much legally required to be eaten.

    I would totally consider doing some sort of PhD dissertation on this phenomena if it entailed driving all over the south eating barbecue. Seriously….anyone know where I can major in this???

  16. I had just went there with my gf just a week before you did. There were pork ribs and pork chops. We didn’t try the chicken, but the ribs and chops were excellent. We went there when it was relatively quiet, so we there were no lines to get in and no live music. I concur about the food, but I feared our experience in seating and waiting would’ve been similar to yours if we had went during a busy weekend. :)

  17. I just today heard about this restaurant and had to laugh! Reading your review made me laugh even harder. Anytime you want to come to Austin, we will be happy to take you to the real Hill Country and all of the amazing BBQ joints, where just about the only sides you will find with your meal are pickles, onions and a loaf of white bread!

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