A Drool-worthy Destination
By Kyle Whitecotton
For far too long, many travelers have mistakenly regarded Amarillo as little more than a halfway point between North Texas and the Rocky Mountains. Motorists stop for the night, grab a chain restaurant dinner and then head out in the morning with a stale sausage biscuit for breakfast. This was my experience, anyway—until recently. This summer, my wife and I headed to Amarillo, where we met up with some old friends of ours, Andy and his wife, Brooke. Together, they helped Aubrey and me discover Amarillo's unexpected cuisine scene—one that was bursting with distinctive flavor.
When Andy and Brooke suggested pizza and beer for our first night, I was expecting the usual suspects found in most towns. Instead, we arrived at the trendy 575 Pizzeria.
“You’re going to love this place,” Andy said. “They use only fresh ingredients and the dough is handmade.”
The beer menu read like a tour of the country’s best craft breweries (New Belgium and Odell, for example) with Texas brews like Community Funnel Cake Ale from Community Beer Co. in Dallas and Lakewood Raspberry Temptress from Lakewood Brewing Company in Garland.
“Wait until you taste their signature sangria,” said Brooke, smiling.
“I still can’t get past the cider list,” Aubrey returned. “Rhubarb cider? Pomegranate cranberry cider?”
Drinks decided, it was onto perusing the list of nearly 40 pizza toppings, including candied almonds and meatballs. Instead of designing our own pizzas, we went for the Mooney—which is heavily topped with ground beef, red onions, pepperoncini peppers and fresh-cut tomatoes with a vibrant red sauce—as well as the Momo, a white-sauce pie topped with parmesan and creamy feta cheese, chicken, eggplant, Kalamata olives and pine nuts that had turned golden brown under the fire that cooked the pizza. The charred edges of each pizza’s thin crust called to mind the style of a classic New York pizza. Pair the warm pizza with a cold Texas beer? Gravy.
Ok, so Amarillo has a pizza joint, I thought as we left 575 Pizzeria. But that’s not that unusual. This is still Amarillo, and we know it’s all steaks and potatoes in the panhandle, right?
We headed to It's a Punjabi Affair the next night. When we pulled up to the petite building perched right off an intersection I was not expecting much, but Andy and Brooke chose I great place the night before so I was optimistic. Guests can pick their food up through the drive-through or they can order at the window outside and eat in the covered patio. We opted for the patio option. The patio was surprisingly modern and completely covered on all sides. No worries if you want to eat there in the wintertime, the patio is equipped with enough patio heaters to keep you comfortable. We settled at our table and not long after the food was ready. Per the chef's suggestion, I went with the Nakh-Rah Naan and Aubrey had their most popular dish, Butter Chicken. I can’t say I’ve ever had a dish with such a depth of flavor. The steak was cooked so perfectly it melted in your mouth. The open-face naan at the bottom of the dish soaked up all of the umami flavors from the meat, pickled onions, and yogurt that were layered on top of it. Of course, I had to snag a bite of Aubrey’s Butter Chicken. It was absolutely incredible. I’ve had a lot of Butter Chicken in my life but I’ve never had any like this. The tender chicken had soaked up all the buttery, creamy, spicy sauce so that every bite was bursting with flavor. There’s no doubt that It’s a Punjabi Affair will be a place we go to every time we visit Amarillo from here on out.
The remainder of our culinary tour convinced me to fully reconsider Amarillo’s anything-but-bland cuisine scene. The next afternoon, Andy was excited to show us Yellow City Street Food, a chef-owned restaurant inspired by street food from around the world. The food truck scene in Austin especially influenced the owners, Andy explained to us.
Yellow City’s menu changes daily, but every item looked like a winner. It tasted like it, too. Aubrey got a braised pork taco that was packed with meat and topped with a spicy sauce, green onions, cilantro and cotija cheese. No matter how much I hinted that I’d like a bite, my wife wasn’t sharing. No worries, I munched on the pork arepas, with a fluffy, pillow-like base topped with burnt-end pork and melty cheese, with color added from the red onion, green onion and cilantro. Brooke went for the eggs benedict, with a poached egg that looked ready to burst and a tortilla instead of an English muffin, which she shared with Andy, who got the animal fries (covered in a bright orange sauce that was magical).
Whether it was the day of hiking through Texas’ backcountry, the friendly staff or premium ingredients—or a combination of all three—our dinner selections at Bangkok Tokyo that evening proved to be some truly delicious Asian cuisine. After an appetizer of salted edamame and simultaneously crispy and velvety cream cheese wontons, we collectively feasted on Chicken Pad Kee Mao, with sliced carrots as well as crunchy bamboo shoots and peanuts; authentic Pad Thai with flavorful green onions; shrimp fried rice with bright green broccoli and juicy shrimp with fried egg; incredible pineapple curry with red and green peppers and a distinctive curry broth; and soft shell crap tempura with a sesame dipping sauce.
Looking back, I wonder what the staff must have thought of our foursome of ravenous day hikers stretching our chopsticks across one another with little more than a few words spoken between us. We were so famished and the food was so delicious, eating took precedence over conversation.
That night, as we raised our sake and toasted the end of our Amarillo stay and this unexpected culinary tour, I suddenly regretted all those times I had skirted the heart of Amarillo on my way north through the panhandle. What gourmet treats had I missed while settling for far less under the false assumption that Amarillo was little more than oversized steaks, baked potatoes and side salads?