Brand name boredom

Cheeseburger, cheeseburger. You can't go wrong with a cheeseburger, unless you are eating a totally flava-less corporate-tasting concoction at Billy T's. (Photo by Laura McKenzie)
Brand name boredom

By Laura Fries

Billy T's specializes in processed fare lacking soul

I had always wondered why Billy T's isn't more crowded. It's fully loaded with all the burger-type options, only a short distance from the strip of busy Broadway dining choices. I had a fond spot in my heart for the place - but on more recent visits, I discovered it was the patio, not the restaurant, that I had fallen for.

The menu, is as basic as it gets: burgers, fries, chicken sandwiches, chili dogs, and a few Tex-Mex options just to throw ya, like nachos, and crispy tacos. The atmosphere is clean and pleasant, with a dining room lined with old Led Zeppelin and Grateful Dead posters. (The owner's dad was a concert promoter in the '70s, a cashier informed me.) But it doesn't do to eat inside - not at all. The wooden deck, populated with metal bistro tables and fading umbrellas, is smack alongside Austin Highway, where the action is. With a view of the electrical substation across the street, and the always-interesting traffic flowing by, the atmosphere isn't beautiful or healthy, but it makes for good conversation, and it almost compensates up for the lackluster food.

Highly recommended by Billy T's employees in years past were the chicken tacos: slices of mildly spiced chicken tossed together with diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and cheese, all on a suspiciously Mission-esque tortilla that was, quite frankly, cold. (People, this is San Antonio! Find yourself some good tortillas!) For a gringo taco, it wasn't bad, and it was improved enormously by the fresh in-house salsas, both roja and verde.

Billy T's

1017 Austin Hwy
11am-9pm daily
Price range: $3-8
Major credit cards
Handicapped Accessible
Lunchtime is the witching hour for Billy's - lines were out the door with businesspeople lusting for burgers. Always a lemming, I followed suit, only to order one of the most disappointing burgers in San Anto. The perfectly round, semi-gray patty, topped with a square of processed cheese and the aforementioned veggies, was sandwiched in a gluey-white hamburger bun. It's never a good thing if you're thinking brandnames as you eat your lunch, and in this case, I was tasting Kraft Cheese, SYSCO burgers, and Wonder Bread. A bean burger version only added to the problem, with hints of Rosarita's refried beans, Fritos, and Cheese Whiz added to the dubious culinary mix. The fries, at least, were decent: orange, crisp, and specked with skins and salt. The tots were tasty, too, but that may be because they are supposed to taste like Ore-Ida.

The chili cheese dog - to this fan of chili cheese dogs - was disappointing; a semi-withered boiled dog smothered in taco-seasoned beef and shredded cheddar, on those damn pasty buns. No onions were in sight. My companion begged off eating her half of the dog - the dog was an inch or so shorter than the bun, and she'd gotten the short end. The same meat, along with the same chopped veggies, was served in the beef crispy taco. At least the shell here wasn't the Taco Bell brand; it was nicely fried and crumbly when bit into. Our dessert, a chocolate milkshake, turned out to be a serving of soft-serve in a Styro cup.

Usually, I'd be more forgiving of a place that serves up honest fare at decent prices. But in this town, there are far too many decent burger joints to waste your time hanging out at Billy T's - unless you bring some takeout, and hang out with a beer on that fabulous deck. •

By Laura Fries