Since Chet and I have started writing a Hill Country travel book, I’ve traveled to a ton of cities across the area (from Belton to Gruene, and beyond!) I fancied myself an expert on all things Hill Country, and when I headed to Uvalde I thought I knew exactly what I’d find.
But upon my arrival in Uvalde, I instantly understood why the town’s motto is “a whole other Hill Country” — it was like I had entered a different world. It was larger than I’d thought it’d be, flatter than the tremendously hilly areas around and I even saw a few palm trees… Yet that’s not all that made it unique. You can’t compare this town to the other cities in the Hill Country, but to be fair, you can’t quite compare it to any other Texas town, either. Uvalde is filled with an interest and intrigue unlike any other city.
After learning about the town’s history at the museum in the El Progreso Memorial Library, I stopped by the First State Bank of Uvalde, the town’s understated crown jewel. Decorating the walls of this bank is the incredible art and antique collection of Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe and his wife, Janey. I was shocked to find priceless pieces from around the world like two original Rembrandt etchings from the 1600s and a gold-encrusted mirror that belonged to the 4th Earl of Sandwich just inconspicuously hanging on the walls of this little bank!
My lunch was equally surprising. Before arriving, I had learned that Live Oak Gorditas was the local foodie spot. There’s a long list of celebrities who have visited, and every single person I spoke to in town pointed me there for lunch. I was pumped to go — even though I had no idea what a gordita was.
I must admit, my confidence in it was shaken when I arrived at the little wooden shack. Yet, I uneasily opened the door and stepped into the screened-in dining room. My apprehension didn’t lessen as I stepped up to the menu and saw that it didn’t provide anymore clues as to what a gordita was, and that only meats were listed. Of course, I chose brisket.
I took my homemade meat pie to the Square and bravely took a bite. What followed can only be described as an angelic symphony of separately exquisite flavors (marinated, moist brisket, homemade guacamole and fresh, spicy jalapenos) melding into the best thing to have ever passed through my lips. I quickly devoured the wondrous gordita and instantly regretted that I’d only ordered one.
Nearby I admired the powder blue Janey Slaughter Briscoe Opera House that was built in 1891, and even peeked in the windows to see if I could spot a Phantom lurking in the shadows. No such luck.
The rest of my day was spent learning about the Briscoe’s and Vice President John “Cactus Jack” Garner at the Briscoe-Garner Museum in Cactus Jack’s old home. It showcased relics like Briscoe’s high school diploma, Mrs. Garner’s dress from Inauguration Day in 1933 and even Cactus Jack’s old gavels from his days as Speaker of the House in the 1930s. And look, John Garner was also known for wearing a Stetson, just like another Garner we all know….
I walked through memorabilia of WWII flights at the Aviation Museum of Texas At Garner Field. In the back of the museum, I stumbled upon the moon boot prints of astronaut Charles Conrad of Apollo 12, third man to walk on the moon. I couldn’t believe that the prints made by the boots Conrad actually wore on the moon were in this little museum in Uvalde!
To end the day, I ate at Vasquez Restaurant, which is as unique as the city, itself. It’s opened so sporadically that even the locals don’t know the actual hours – but they always seem to know when to show up for homemade Tex-Mex – and the walls are plastered with pictures of owner Enrique’s celeb customers (next to my booth was a picture of famous Uvalde native Matthew Mcconaughey’s shirtless father holding a fish.)
As soon as I sat down, the eclectic owner Enrique immediately introduced himself to me. While I silently enjoyed my taco dinner complete with homemade white corn tortillas and chips with fresh salsa, Enrique pulled up a chair and told me his life story speckled with tall tales of a young man rising the ranks in the army despite being illiterate and his long quest around the world in search of the perfect snow cone machine.
And, oddly enough, it was the perfect ending to my crazy, extraordinary and, at times, random day in Uvalde! Though it’s quite different from the towns that surround it, it’s full of significant history, fantastic homemade food and some of the friendliest folks you’ll ever meet! It’s hard to explain what makes this town so extraordinary, but once you visit, you’ll instantly know why this town is so indescribably fascinating!