Don’t you like it when you find a hometown connection when visiting a new destination? This is exactly what happened to us, during our stay in Amarillo, Texas, but we will talk about that in a minute. Part of our focus, on this trip, was finding stops that are perfect for Route 66 travelers. (Here’s some we discovered in Springfield, Illinois.) This city is filled with opportunities, but one that cannot be missed is The Big Texan. To call this place a restaurant is an understatement. It is much more than that, as it exudes the cowboy spirit throughout the space. Since 1960, this Texas-sized eatery has sat alongside the Mother Road, welcoming weary travelers.
We want to thank Visit Amarillo and The Big Texan for their hospitality. Rest assured all opinions are our own.
Kansas City Connection
R.J. “Bob” Lee had his roots in the Midwest. After spending time at the Savoy Grill, a Kansas City landmark steakhouse, he knew what it takes to make a great steak. Like many of us, he grew up watching westerns and listening to stories of the cowboy spirit on the high plains. The urge to see the land firsthand forced him to move his wife and kids to Amarillo, Texas. Here in the Panhandle region, he would get a hankering for a first-class steakhouse. Since he couldn’t find one to please his expectations, he decided to create his own. It was important to him that it not only fed the body but offered a taste of the old west. His desire was to keep the spirit of the cowboy alive, and it certainly looks like he built a lasting shrine.
The Early Days
When Bob Lee opened The Big Texan it was a welcome sight to travelers along Route 66. Drivers would see the huge cowboy sign from a distance and knew they were about to arrive. It wouldn’t be long before Big Texan signs were erected all along the Mother Road. Much like the old Burma Shave signs, only these hinted of the FREE 72 oz. steak dinner. Of course, we all know nothing is truly free, so there was a price to be paid. Even without the huge steak offer, people would still flock to the restaurant to experience some true Texas hospitality.
So why such a big steak? The story has it that Bob Lee held a contest to see which local cowboy could eat the most steak in one hour. While a few took him up on it, one stood out above the crowd. That cowboy devoured four and a half pounds of steak, a baked potato, one dinner roll, a salad, and a shrimp cocktail. To top it off, he accomplished this feat in one hour. (We’re guessing he didn’t go bronc busting immediately afterward.) Bob Lee decided then and there that anyone who can match that accomplishment gets their meal for free. As I stood there looking at the massive slab of beef, along with the sides, I knew that this was a challenge meant for someone besides me.
As we nestled into our booth, we could feel the history around us. As we explored the menu, I wondered if Crystal would step up to the challenge. Lol, Of course, she wouldn’t! Her dinner choice was exactly what she imagined. Picking from the Big Sandwiches portion of the menu, she landed on the Char-Broiled Chicken Sandwich. An over-sized grilled chicken breast is served up with all the fixings. She offered me a taste, but this is a steak house, so I had to decline. I was saving my appetite for a juicy slab of beef.
The Big Texan Vegetarian Plate?
While I may not be stepping up to the 72 oz. steak, I was pretty pleased with my order of the Big Texan Center Cut 8 oz. Sirloin. Sure, it would take nine of these to match the slab I saw on display, but it was plenty for my appetite and would satisfy my cowboy spirit. Besides, it comes with a baked sweet potato and a side of Coleslaw. While we were dining, Bob Lee Jr. dropped by our table to welcome us to his restaurant. When he spotted my meal, he noted that he likes to call this dish the “vegetarian plate”. Okay, maybe an 8 oz. steak isn’t Texas-size after all. No matter, it was still delicious, and I ate every bite!
Welcome to Texas
While we dined, we watched strolling musicians playing for the crowd. Afterward, we found Bob Lee Jr. sitting out in the bar area, along with his craft brew-master. We joined them for a chat and listened to the stories of how The Big Texan has changed over the years. This family ran business is just that, a family business designed for families. By keeping to this basic principle, they have seen a consistent stream of satisfied customers. Every aspect of the business screams Texas and the old west cowboy spirit. This isn’t just a restaurant, it is an experience. Even without the 72 oz. steak challenge, this place would still be a landmark. But since they have it anyway, would you be willing to take the challenge?