October 10, 2013

[Retro Roadmap] Seating Thousands (10 at a Time) at Texas Tavern in Roanoke, Va.

  • By: Beth Lennon
The Texas Tavern lighting up the late night streetscape of downtown Roanoke, Va. Credit: nickgraywfu, Flickr
The Texas Tavern lighting up the late night streetscape of downtown Roanoke, Va.

While some counter service restaurants hold true to the lunch counter name by serving that meal and perhaps breakfast, the Texas Tavern in Roanoke Virginia is a neon beacon for the hungry 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Neither in Texas nor a tavern, this sliver-sized restaurant is a local landmark, serving up its world-famous chili and classic short-order fare since 1930. With seats in this narrow eatery numbering less than a dozen, they still claim to "seat 1,000 people" -- just 10 at a time!

There’s a place for everyone at the Texas Tavern Counter. Credit: Beth Lennon, RetroRoadmap.com
There’s a place for everyone at the Texas Tavern Counter.

Easily one of the most photographed buildings in downtown Roanoke, the neon glow bounces off of the bright white wall of the adjacent building, adding drama to the nighttime view. The vintage arrow-shaped “EAT” sign makes it patently obvious what you should plan on doing when you find your space at the counter.

The succinct menu surrounded by years of ephemera and wisdom, such as: "We don’t Cash Checks or play with Bumble Bees." Credit: Beth Lennon, RetroRoadmap.com
The succinct menu is surrounded by years of ephemera and wisdom, such as: "We don’t Cash Checks or play with Bumble Bees."

The chili served at the "TT" (as locals call it) is based on a recipe that founder Nick Bullington modified from one he procured when traveling for Ringling Bros. Circus in San Antonio, Texas, in the 1920s. To this day the recipe is a guarded secret, passed down to now the fourth generation of family ownership, great-grandson Matt Bullington.

The Texas Tavern’s metal counter has worn to a glowing patina from generations of use. Credit: Eammon, Flickr; Beth Lennon, RetroRoadmap.com
The Texas Tavern’s metal counter has worn to a glowing patina from generations of use.

As you look at the menu posted on the wall you may overhear regulars ordering their food -- but with a Texas Tavern twist. You can try it, too:

  • Want onions on your chili? Ask for a "bowl, with."
  • Actually, want onions on anything? Just say "With."
  • Order a “Cheesy Western” and get a cheeseburger topped with a fried egg and their famous relish.


Even the coffee is a local delight, as the H & C Coffee served has been specially ground for the tavern for over 80 years.

Want onions on your hot dog -- or anything? Just say "With." Credit: Beth Lennon, RetroRoadmap.com
Want onions on your hot dog -- or anything? Just say "With."

The compact building and cozy seating at the counter immediately eliminates the distance between diners, and soon late night regulars in for a post-revelry meal are chatting with weary travelers looking for sustenance before returning to the road. Rubbing elbows at the counter is a wonderful way of getting a taste of local flavor. With.

Visit Texas Tavern


Texas Tavern
114 Church Ave SW
Roanoke, VA 24011
540-342-4825

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