On The Road With RL Reeves Jr: Top Notch Restaurant In Austin Texas

On The Road With RL Reeves Jr: Top Notch Restaurant In Austin Texas

When I’m fortunate to return home to Austin, Texas, perhaps twice a year, the list of restaurants I absolutely have to visit grows ever shorter. The passage of time felled Travis County’s best Thai restaurant: Little Thailand, as well as Montopolis’ best Mexican kitchen: El Taco Rico.

But we still have the old town’s single best burger joint; Top Notch is running strong as ever, and she’s nearly 50 years old.

On The Road With RL Reeves Jr: Top Notch Restaurant In Austin Texas

Horace Burkhart opened Burkhart’s Motor Dining in 1962 at 7525 Burnet Road in what was then far north Austin. Ray Stanish bought Burkhart out in 1971 and did not miss a beat other than renaming the old restaurant Top Notch.

On The Road With RL Reeves Jr: Top Notch Restaurant In Austin Texas

Ray and his wife Frances would serve thousands of diners fried chicken boxes, Kingsford grilled hamburgers and “Weight Watcher Specials” over the next four decades before Ray passed away in 2004 followed by the legendary Frances’ death in 2011.

The Stanish heirs sold Top Notch a few years back but thankfully the new owners did not see fit to overhaul the concept. In fact, other than a price hike across the menu the restaurant is virtually the same as it was when I first ate there in 1988.

On The Road With RL Reeves Jr: Top Notch Restaurant In Austin Texas

I always get the ‘Little Leaguer’ plus onions at Top Notch. It’s an exercise in simplicity: Kingsford charcoal grilled beef, a slather of mayo, a soft, white flour bun and a dash of chopped white onion.

Fries are the skinny sort, and invariably arrive too hot to eat. More mayonnaise for dipping is required to get the full experience.

On The Road With RL Reeves Jr: Top Notch Restaurant In Austin Texas

There are plenty new faces at Top Notch these days. I mainly miss Frances Stanish of the old clan as she was one of those classic Austin dames who gave as good as she got, and always had a sharp response to any query she felt was less than well thought out.

The new cashier is bashful, and young and not of Frances caliber.

But where the rubber meats the road is that old grill right behind the cash register and it’s still firing hot as the asphalt parking lot just outside the doors. The thin beef patties that Top Notch’s reputation rides on are rolling fast off the cast-iron beast on this day.

I’m double hungry so I get an extra Little Leaguer to see if I can sate my appetite. That plus I only get to hit Top Notch perhaps once a year so I have to make the most of my visit.

It feels good to sit back in the old wood-paneled dining room and dream of what a groover’s paradise Austin must have been back when the Stanishes were young and hopeful, and working long hours to carve out their little piece of the American dream.

7525 Burnet Rd,
Austin, Texas

telephone (512) 452-2181

Hours of operation
always call ahead

7525 Burnet Rd, Austin, TX 78757

About RL Reeves Jr

I'm a writer living and working in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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18 Responses to On The Road With RL Reeves Jr: Top Notch Restaurant In Austin Texas

  1. Jim Washburn says:

    I love Top Notch. Used to eat there often when I worked right down the road during the ’80s and ’90s.

  2. RL Reeves Jr says:

    I love it too, one of the restaurants I miss the most in Texas

  3. Pingback: Field Report: Top Notch Restaurant In Austin Texas | Scrumptious Chef

  4. Glen Witteman says:

    I worked for Ray and Frances in 1964 while going to high school at McCallum High. I worked every other night, keeping the inside clean. My favorite was a double burger that was huge. It cost 79 cents. My favorite hamburgers are still cooked over Kingsford. At that time, everything west of the MoPac railroad was cedar and rocks. Good times.

  5. RL Reeves Jr says:

    I love hearing about those old Austin days. What was your hourly wage back then man? RL

  6. Glen Witteman says:

    RL, if I remember correctly, I was paid 75 cents an hour. I would work about 15 hours a week because Frances was very conscious of us part-time kids and our schoolwork. She knew if our grades dropped, our parents would make us quit. Then she would have to re-train someone else. Looking back, that wasn’t much money, but I could fill the tank on my 54′ Chevy for $2. And then drive a week. I graduated in 1966, and have only been back twice to Austin. In 64, Vietnam was just a low cloud on the horizon and none of us realized it was a tornado that would take us away. I served in the Marine Corps and have been married for 50 years.

    I was an army brat. We came to Austin in 1962 from West Germany. My step-dad was assigned to an army reserve center on the north side of Camp Mabry. He was on active duty, so we would go to Bergstrom AFB for medical, dental and to buy groceries. I hear that’s the municipal airport now. I remember the rows and rows of B-52s.
    I won’t continue to rattle on. Glen

  7. RL Reeves Jr says:

    Where are you living now, and were you going to shows in Austin back in those golden days? If so, who did you see and where? rl

  8. Glen Witteman says:

    I live in Oklahoma and yes we went to all the shows we could afford or sneak into. At the UofT student union in those days, there would be a dance every Saturday night.I remember one night there was a wheel of about 500 couples doing the cotton eyed joe in a huge circle. Across the street on the west side of Guadaloup(sp?) was a beatnik bar and coffee house in the basement. It was called the Id. You can’t make this stuff up. We went there to listen to bad poetry and even worse coffee. The venues where we as high school kids could enter were very few. In the summer, carloads of kids would drive to either Corpus or Galveston to catch groups like the Righteous Bros., etc. that would be down on the beach. What can I say? My memory is just a little fuzzy. Glen.

  9. RL Reeves Jr says:

    Ever make your way to the Jade Room near campus. Heard that one got pretty wild and wooly back then.

  10. Glen Witteman says:

    We heard of the Jade Room, but entry was tough. We were 16 and 17 and it was hard to pass for 21 even if you had an altered ID. At that time you had watch for the LCB (liquor control board). They had agents with arrest powers. At my high school, they were serious about party. In the spring, especially, the kids would pool money and hire a place like a Moose Lodge or Elks, then hire a band. And do it again 2 weeks later. I think that might have been the beginnings of the Austin music. There were quite a few musicians around and if you couldn’t play all kinds of music, you didn’t eat. I never heard a just average band. Good music. Glen.

  11. Jim Washburn says:

    I used to hang out with friends at Scholz Garten nearly every night in the ’60s and ’70s. Could hear music coming from the Jade Room but never went there. Sometimes a rumble would break out and 10 to 15 cop cars would jam the street. Often ate enchiladas at San Jacinto CafĂ© at the same intersection. Memories.

  12. Glen Witteman says:

    The guys I ran with came from 2 different high schools, the old Lanier up Burnett Road and McCallum. One guy, Danny Nardeccia, his family had a place on Gudalupe named Victor’s Italian Village. I learned about pizza from a real pizza oven, real garlic bread painted with garlic butter, real veal scallopini, and 12 layer lasagna. So good. There were also 4 Mexican restaurants owned by the same family, maybe? One was named El Mat (El Matamoras?) On certain days, they had all you could eat for $2.95. The tacos started with a handmade tortilla tossed into hot oil. It would puff up and then the top was crunched in and the cavity was filled with beef, chicken, turkey, or pork. They then filled it up with a green salad with diced tomatoes and cheese. Good food.

  13. RL Reeves Jr says:

    El Mat was The Matador. I love this window into old Austin by the way. Did you ever eat at El Carnivore? It was in West campus way back when. One of the cooks is a produce guy at Fiesta Mart now. I love talking to him about that era.

  14. Glen Witteman says:

    Yes! We ate at the Carnivore. Is Fiesta Mart a Mexican Grocery? I’d love to go there. I love Mexican and Tex-Mex. Do you remember a local chain of hamburger joints named Holiday (something?) In my memory, they were good. Most of my friends and I were in an Explorer Post. We would spend a weekend camping at the city park almost up to the Travis dam. Sometimes my friend Danny would find a payphone and call back to Victor’s and order a boatload of pizza. One of us would drive back toward Austin until we met the pizza delivery truck. A very important hand-off. I had a very good childhood. And it really didn’t involve food all the time. Austin in the 60s was a very good place to be a kid. G

  15. RL Reeves Jr says:

    Fiesta Mart is a grocer. They have two locations in Austin but over 50 in Houston. Holiday House is what you speak of, ate there many times but they are now defunct. Do you remember the old Tamale House on Congress? They opened in 1958 and had a long run til they sold the property to Wells Fargo.

  16. Glen Witteman says:

    Yes, we went to a tamale place on Congress. I couldn’t have pulled the name up without your help. I just went to an Austin website. They had a picture of Congress from the capitol looking south. I recognized no buildings at all. The bus station was gone for sure. The Driscoll Hotel seemed to be gone. We had our senior prom there. Lots of newish buildings. We would go to Lake Travis, Lake Austin, Zilker Park, and Barton Springs. Other than swimming south of the river, we mostly stayed in the north end of town. At the north end of Burnett at the Glastron Factory, where they made the first Batmobile, it was open country all the way to Round Rock. Big changes.

  17. RL Reeves Jr says:

    There is no open country between Austin and Round Rock now. Nor between Austin and San Marcos. Austin and San Antonio will be conjoined within the next 5 years. It’s scary how fast it’s all going away. The Iron Gate was one of the oldest most successful Tejano bars on e.6th and it’s long gone. Progress.

  18. Cindy(Baker) Watkins says:

    I was going there since 1966 best everything loved the welcoming atmosphere and the shrimp. Some of the best memories were made there.

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