Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Eating with the Family at Papa's Pantry

Travelers heading through Van Horn may never notice the humble, mustard-colored building next to the Pilot truck stop on Hwy 90, and that’s a shame because inside Papa’s Pantry they’d find family—sometimes three and four generations of Van Horn families enjoying good home-cooked meals together.

Stop in Papa’s and chances are good you’ll be served by one of David and Adela McBirnie’s children.  Since it opened in 1995, all six of their children have worked in the restaurant.  Daughter Tina says, “I believe the reason why families have regular meals together at Papa’s is because of the relationships we have amongst coworkers.  No one employed with us is ‘just a worker,’ we are all family!”  Spend enough time in Papa’s and you’ll realize that’s not just lip-service, it rings true.  Yesterday’s waiter may be seated at the table next to you – having dinner with their children, parents and grandparents.
The food brings customers back, too.  Our standby favorites include chicken tacos, simple yet tasty assemblages with fresh lettuce and tomatoes and peppery chicken; green chicken enchiladas; and the hefty, hearty chicken fried steak. Each meal is served with homemade salsa and chips.

Adela McBirnie is responsible for the restaurant’s specialties—homemade bread and desserts.

Our favorite is Papa’s swoon-worthy coconut cream pie. If you’re lucky enough to taste this perfect balance of never-too-sweet custard and hand crushed almond crust, you’ll likely feel you’ve experienced the work of a true craftsman. Tina McBirnie explains, “The ‘oh so famous’ coconut cream pie!  It takes two days to make and much stove time. I have tried to assist my mom in making these pies, but after much failure she insists ‘I have my father’s hands and patience.’  She regrets not being able to make pies more often, because of lack of time. Plus, for each pie it takes two
Papa's chicken tacos
days of preparation, and we only make two at a time…they sell out in 10 minutes! So it is overwhelming to keep up!”

Here’s a tip:  Increase your chances of tasting Mrs. McBirnie’s legendary coconut cream pie by joining Papa’s facebook community, and check their page as you approach Van Horn.  The restaurant posts when the homemade pies, cakes, and cookies are ready for customers, along with their daily changing specials.

Papa’s Pantry is located just south of the intersection of I-10 and Hwy 90 in Van Horn.  They are open Monday through Saturday for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Most entrees cost $7-10.

Review by Beth Nobles, Executive Director of Texas Mountain Trail.  This review originally appeared in

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