I guess I just don't know good barbecue, because according to Texas Monthly Magazine, Esquire, and even The New York Times,Willy Ray's BBQ offers some of the best barbecue in the state of Texas and in the United States as a whole. The problem is, however, that of the times I've visited this establishment, I have yet to be wowed by their barbecue.
For starters, the pork and the beef brisket that I tried was very, very dry and didn't have much flavor. The barbecue sauce was flavorful, but if I wanted to taste nothing but barbecue sauce, I would have ordered a cup of it to go. Instead, I had to drown the meat in the sauce to make it easier to get down my throat.
As for their sides, I've tried their ranch beans, potato salad, and dirty rice. The ranch beans were average. They tasted like beans you can get just about anywhere. The potato salad fell into the same category. It was just like every other potato salad you can pick up at a deli or grocery store. The dirty rice (at least I think that is what they called it, I can't remember), deserves to be stored on its on special level of Hell. This was essentially rice with a few chunks of ground meat tossed in to give it some color. It was terrible, so very, very terrible.
To top it all off, on our last visit the staff acted as if they were ready to call it a day. They must have been wearing cement shoes, because they were moving very slow. Our cashier was nice enough, and actually gave us our children's meals on the house despite the fact that we got our food to go (you had to dine-in for the children to eat free), but one nice person doesn't help the fact that the food and overall service sucked.
If Willy Ray's has anything going for it, it's the decor in the restaurant. In standard Texas style, there's a stuffed Texas Longhorn head on the wall, as well as a number of other "Texas" type things like stars, wagon wheels, and cowboy memorabilia.
Do I recommend Willy Ray's to anyone? Absolutely not. Maybe in the past they were a good restaurant, but things have certainly gone downhill. I can understand Esquire and The New York Times thinking this stuff is good because, hey, how much barbecue do they really run into? But I cannot for the life of me understand why Texas Monthly would give this joint a nod.
Skip Willy Ray's and ride off into the sunset instead. Be sure to bring sunscreen.