The University Star is proud to support and recognize our local businesses. We used a combination of Yelp, Trip Advisor reviews and word of mouth to create a list of nominees for our readers to choose their favorites in 19 categories. The businesses listed were either locally-owned or limited to fewer than 10 franchise locations in Texas.
Voting was open during the month of March. 663 voters select the winners listed below, choosing their favorites in categories from best coffee to best tattoo shop.
We are proud to announce the Stars of San Marcos and runners up!
Mochas and Javas
Mochas and Javas is a local and home-grown coffee shop and the first choice for many Texas State students and San Marcos residents who are looking for not just a place to study, but a shop that serves high-quality food and coffee alongside top-tier customer service.
The shop has been serving the San Marcos community since 2003 and has five locations. It is a self-proclaimed home-grown, honest coffee shop that works to support the San Marcos and Texas State community.
Mochas and Javas is a community favorite because it aims to create comfortable gathering places with an atmosphere that aids both professional and leisurely meetings. It is dedicated to providing top-notch products and maintaining a hard-working staff that creates lasting and loyal friendships with their customers.
Members of the San Marcos community visit Mochas and Javas weekly, or even daily, not only to support a local business but also because of the bonds that workers strive to build with customers. The shop even offers an extra shot of espresso on the house with any espresso beverage in order to better serve its patrons.
Mochas and Javas also offers catering services, gift cards and rewards for its customers. To find store hours, locations, and other information, those who are interested can visit mochasandjavas.com.
2) Wake the Dead
Alvin Ord’s Sandwich Shop
Alvin Ord’s has been serving the San Marcos community for over 30 years. Opened as part of a franchise, the sandwich shop is able to combine the convenience of fast food with the originality of Alvin Ord’s sandwich selection.
Ord’s has been in the same location for 33-and-a-half years, giving the students of Texas State a consistency that is lacking with the whirlwind of events that come with college. The chain has only had a handful of menu changes over the decades, so the same thing fans ordered years ago still has good chance of being an option.
Another unique aspect of the location is the chance for customers to make a lasting impression. The location just across the street from the Edward Gary Parking Garage lets customers write their names on the walls if they bring their own sharpie, giving customers to leave something other than a tip behind.
The owner of Alvin Ord’s said one of the reasons that customers keep awarding them is simply that they are the best in San Marcos. With over 30 years of business, there is a good chance that generations of Bobcats have enjoyed Alvin Ord’s.
2) Root Cellar Cafe
3) Spud Ranch
Taproom Pub and Grub
Known and recognized for its family-oriented environment, Taproom Pub and Grub has been serving burgers, chicken, alcoholic beverages and more for 20 years. The establishment has provided San Marcos residents, students and tourists with quality food.
Taproom’s approach to its business and food is what differentiates it from other burger restaurants in San Marcos. It has specialty buns, priority meat that no other restaurants in town can purchase and some of the best ingredients that no one else can get.
According to the manager, taproom has been the best burger winner in the category for the last 18 years.
Taproom’s goal of being a burger joint that offers the best service that one can get has been nothing short of a success. The restaurant has continually experimented with several items on the menu to find the things that customers like.
Taproom’s classic Works Burger continues to be a customer favorite. The burger features cheese, mushrooms, jalapenos, tender grilled onions and crispy bacon.
2) Centerpoint Station
3) Gil’s Broiler
Hays Co. Bar-B-Que
Hays Co. Bar-B-Que and Catering has been twice named as one of Texas Monthly’s top 50 BBQ joints in the world. The 11-year-old BBQ venture is founded on four pillars: excellent customer service, high-quality food, cleanliness and consistency.
“We think this shows in everything we do and [it] may be the root of why we were lucky enough to be chosen by our customers,” pitmaster and owner Michael Hernandez said.
The mom-and-pop owned joint started after Michael Hernandez and his family vacationed in San Marcos and fell in love with the city, prompting the move here. In 2007 the family took over the already-established Woody’s, a barbecue joint that had been open since 1984. They changed the name to Hays Co. Bar-B-Que and Catering in 2011.
With a family-friendly atmosphere, Hays Co. Bar-B-Que and Catering prides itself on its slow-smoked brisket that takes “up to 24 hours of tender loving care before it is sliced and placed on your plate.”
2) Kent Black’s BBQ
3) San Marcos BBQ
Since 2014, Pie Society has been serving up fresh pizza to San Marcos. Texas State students especially love the prime post-class hangout spot.
Pie Society is a New York style pizzeria that sells large pies, salads and local beers. The managers believe it stands out because they use quality, fresh ingredients in their dough, cheese, sauce and toppings.
Pie Society is owned by Texas State alum, brothers and San Marcos entrepreneurs, Chase and Seth Katz. the first business opened by the duo was Dos Gatos Kolaches, started in 2009.
Pie Society is known for its pie “Balance of Power,” a pizza topped with spinach, spicy sausage and local San Marcos honey.
2) Gumby’s Pizza and Wings
3) Italian Garden
When looking for a taco in Central Texas, there are a lot of options. However, none compare to the tacos students can get while going from class to class.
Bobcat Quickie, located inside the Exxon gas station off North Guadalupe street, gives students and San Marcos residents the chance to grab a bite to eat while going about their day.
A staple of the San Marcos community since 2010, many students may ask themselves how anyone went that long without the breakfast tacos that make you miss home a little less. Bobcat Quickie enjoys the community almost as much as the community enjoys them saying that they like the college environment and small town feel.
They work hard to bring together the best products available and transform into the fresh and tasty items available on their menu every day. Bobcat Quickie may be the only Instagram famous place in town, following the rise of the #exxontacosalsachallenge and its Roja salsa.
There is no place in town that can give students a better taco than Bobcat Quickie.
2) Loli’s Cafe
3) Fuego Tortilla Grill
Root Cellar Cafe and Brewery
The Root Cellar Cafe has called San Marcos home for 14 years, with the intention of filling the niche of a restaurant that matched the creative and vibrant energy of the town.
In fulfilling that niche, The Root Cellar branded itself as a new American restaurant, meaning the restaurateurs take classic recipes and put a “Root Cellar” twist on the traditional style foods in order to elevate pallets.
Root Cellar cafe makes all of the menu items from scratch. Owners and the restaurant operators report that all recipes include love and are all made with fresh ingredients.
Items on the menu like the beet burger are always original. Restaurateurs believe people who are vegetarian or vegan should not be limited to only being able to eat a salad when they go out to eat.
Fun fact about The Root Cellar Cafe: “We have opened a lot of great new business ventures lately! We now own and operate the Coffee Bar, Rhea’s Ice Cream, and Gruene Grove.”
2) The Buzz Mill
Kobe Japanese Steakhouse
Kobe Japanese Steak House, better known as simply Kobe, is a San Marcos staple for two reasons: a witty twitter account (@kobe_smtx) and all-you-can-eat sushi. A student favorite, the family-owned restaurant has been around since 2005.
“We started doing that maybe four years ago. It has taken off really well for us, allowing us to outgrow our old restaurant and move into this new space which is a lot bigger for us. It’s been really good for us.”
The current location is just across from where it was originally built, and the business is now run by the son of the original owner following his death. The Japanese-concept sushi restaurant offers hibachi-style seating, traditional dining and endless sushi, which is a big hit.
“A lot of people think that we are a big corporate restaurant, it’s individually owned, we only have this one and one in Live Oak. Originally my father started the restaurant, he passed away a couple of months ago and it’s a family business that we have been running together.”
2) Wok and Roll
3) A-tan Asian Bistro
Best Sweet Shop
Rhea’s Ice Cream
Central Texas’ eccentric scoop shop has been thriving in San Marcos for close to 10 years.
Rhea’s Ice Cream, with two more locations running South on I-35, Gruene, and New Braunfels, boasts 15 flavors – some vegan – all homemade.
Rhea Ortamand, the mother of Rhea’s Ice Cream, started teh shop in attempt to repay San Marcos for all the city has done for her. Ortamond’s attempt to create a “simply happy experience” proved successful, and the small business has grown its identity as a refreshing environment in San Marcos.
Shop visitors have ice cream options ranging from just one scoop to a half gallon and can get their favorite flavors in a milkshake or served alongside a hot homemade brownie, not to mention the homemade waffle cones and plenty of toppings to amplify the ice cream’s eclectic flavors.
Somewhere along the line, Rhea’s began offering espressso with the ice cream as the Italian dessert, affogato. This specialty dessert has expanded in Rhea’s Ice Cream to even more espresso-based sweets, and the shop shows no sign of losing steam.
Visitors can’t miss the little shop – just look for the bright teal storefront with a chalkboard easel advertising the flavor of the month.
2) Dos Gatos
3) City Bakery and Icy Rolls (TIE)
Ivar’s River Pub
Ivar’s River Pub is the quintessential post-river hangout spot. Located at 701 Cheatham St. just off the San Marcos River near the Rio Vista Park, the river-facing patio invites all to bask in the sun.
“Right now, we are sitting on our patio overlooking the beautiful San Marcos River, and I hate to say no-brainer but it is just a great spot,” the owner said. “I am really honored but it’s kind of obvious in a way, I can’t think of a better patio in town. There are great ones, there are great spots but nothing like this location that overlooks this beautiful river.”
Before becoming Ivar’s River Pub, the venue was the San Marcos River Pub and Grill for 20 years but closed following a horrible flood. After that there was a change of ownership to the current owner, Curtis Gunnarson, a San Marcos native. The name, Ivar’s River Pub, and logo, which has a maple leaf on it, is in recognition of Gunnarson’s father, who was an immigrant from Canada.
“I am from here, I love this community, I love this town,” Gunnarson said. “We own this property, so I figured it was just right to come back and open this property again and create an even better bar and restaurant than it was before.”
2) Palmer’s Restaurant and Bar
3) Blue Dahlia’s Bistro
Best Music Scene
Located right in the heart of the iconic Square, The Marc was voted San Marcos’ best live music scene.
Originally a movie theater, it is San Marcos’ largest live music venue and opened more recently in 2013. the Marc was also voted best music venue in 2016 and 2018.
The Marc has maintained popularity among Texas State students for years due to its wide variety of musicians, drinks, theme-nights, and Instagram-worthiness.
Performances come in a great variety, ranging from electronic to hip-hop to country, and has housed artists like Marshmello, Waka Flocka Flame and 2 Chainz. The venue is also famous for hosting Latin and emo nights.
It is one of the few bars that allows guests under 21, provided they pay a varying fee.
The Marc is located at 120 E San Antonio St. and is open nightly from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and closed on Sundays. For more information visit their website at themarcsm.com
2) Cheatham Street Warehouse
3) Zelicks Icehouse
Zelicks Icehouse was opened in 2011 by two brothers, Chase and Seth Katz, who fell in love with San Marcos while attending school at Texas State. The icehouse serves cold beer and stiff drinks and focuses on quality by providing customers with fresh juice for cocktails, local beers and delicious homemade food.
Zelicks has been voted best bar in previous years, and the bar caters to the diversity of San Marcos by being a favorite stop for locals, students, professors, and professionals.
The popular icehouse has a rich history by their conversion of a 1930’s gas station to create the restaurant. The gas station was a staple in San Marcos for decades, with Duane Berry and later Rogers Mobil running the store for decades.
Zelicks incorporates its love for the San Marcos community by integrating the building that holds significant value to the city into their business aesthetic and preserving it for years to come.
Chase and Seth Katz opened their first business, Dos Gatos Kolache Bakery, in 2009. The brothers named Zelicks after their grandfather, Jack Zelick Katz, as a tribute to his life and confidence in their ventures.
3) Mayloo’s Bar
Best Tattoo Shop
When Bobcats want to make a memory, they go to Classic Tattoo. Located on the corner of N LBJ and E Hutchinson Street, you can’t miss the shop with the “Artistic, Friendly, and Efficient” motto painted on the front window. A part of San Marcos for almost 20 years, Morgan Egan and her husband Pat are part of the community they fell in love with.
While both students, the pair fell in love with not only each other but also the beautiful campus and knew they wanted to plant roots in the community that shared a river with the campus.
Classic Tattoo also has the Star of Texas Tattoo Convention State Championship under their belt, winning the award in January 2019 to go along with their San Marcos Stars award.
Classic Tattoo is also involved with the overall beauty and preservation of the community, urging students to help keep the jewel of San Marcos clean. When you go in for your first tattoo, don’t forget to ring the bell.
2) Mystic Marks Tattoo Co
3) Twisted Rabbit
Best Smoke Shop
Marvelous Smoke Shop
Marvelous Smoke on 350 N Guadalupe Street has been fulfilling the smoking needs of students and providing affordable accessories to the San Marcos community for the past seven years.
Driven by a lack of “quality” smoke shops in San Marcos, the owners and operators strive to provide quality service to customers, regardless of experience level.
In part, the operators of San Marvelous attribute their success to maintaining a welcome, organized environment with quality products.
Shop operators also believe the shop’s friendly atmosphere, staff’s customer service and product selection add to continued positive customer feedback.
2) Fatty’s Smoke Shop
3) Connoisseur Smoke Shop
Paper Bear, a local staple known for its weird, wild, and wonderful items, has won “Best Boutique” for this year’s Stars of San Marcos awards.
The self-described “mixed” boutique has been surprising San Martians at its location on the square for 41 years, leaving a permanent mark on local culture and gift shopping.
Paper Bear was founded after the owner was struggling to find a job shortly after her time at the University of Texas. She was inspired to create a boutique from her friends in Mississippi and decided that San Marcos would make a great home.
The shop sets itself apart from the rest for more than its unique and sensibly priced ensemble, however. Paper Bear also has a store cat which has developed a cult-like following in recent years. The cat is the latest in a legacy of “shop kitties,” and Paper Bear has had four throughout the boutique’s existence.
Paper Bear was nominated for the 2019 Star Awards for its jampacked and whimsical gift items as well as its unmistakable impact on the community. Needless to say, locals agree that Paper Bear is a treat that will hopefully continue to serve the area for years to come.
2) Two p’s and Calli’s
3) Barefoot Campus Outfitters
Best Thrift Shop
Behind painted windows sits racks of tie-dye shirts and denim jackets. Downtown San Marcos is home to Vagabond, Stars of San Marcos’ recent Best Thrift Store winner.
This vintage, retro, resale store offers a variety of clothes and accessories. After almost 18 years of business, it has won the hearts of San Martians looking for an off-the-wall style.
It began as one of the first vintage clothing stores in San Marcos when Texas State had around only 26,000 students. Its original location was across the street on LBJ but has remained in the vicinity ever since.
David Mars, Vagabond owner, offers his own eccentricities to the store that gives it its character.
“I’m an old kid and customers know that,” Mars said.
Mars regularly makes 10-hour road trips in order to find clothes to sell at the store. He said his goal is to find unique items students want and make them affordable.
2) San Marcos Thrift Store
3) Twice Blessed Consignment Shop
Best Tube Rental
Enjoying the San Marcos River is a tradition not only for Texas State students but the entire San Marcos community. Whether river-goers decide to tube solo or float with friends to relax the day away, San Martians voted the Lion’s Club as the best place for tube rentals.
Lion’s Club has been in business since 1977 and was opened as the fundraising arm of the San Marcos Lions Club. The tube rental was originally started to serve as a weekend fundraiser to help raise money for local charitable causes.
As a nonprofit organization, The San Marcos Lions Club’s proceeds from Lion’s Club Tube Rental go to multiple other nonprofits, college scholarships and several other causes benefiting people in need. Most importantly, however, a good chunk of the profits go directly back to the San Marcos community.
The Lion’s Club Tube Rental owners pride themselves on running efficiently and inexpensively, all while helping people within the area in a big way for 42 years. A family of five can spend the day tubing with Lion’s Club for $70, which beats the prices of any waterpark.
When the Lion’s Club Tube Rental opens in May, over 900 tubes will be aired up and ready for people to rent.
2) Texas State Tubes
3) Don’s Fish Camp
Best Hiking Trail
Located right alongside the Greenbelt, San Marcos is the perfect place for enjoying the outdoors.
Purgatory Creek Natural Area won Best Hiking Trail in the Stars of San Marcos. It offers a break from mundane routine. Sunshine, nature and exercise are a recipe for relaxation any time of day in this purgatory paradise.
Purgatory Creek has three access points. Its largest access point is off of Wonder World Drive. The trail wraps around the 570-acre creek. Visitors can meander through meadows, canyon bluffs, juniper, oaks and a flood control dam. It is a generally dry area that is home to golden-cheeked warblers and black-capped vireos.
New visitors might enjoy landmarks like a hidden cave near the upper entrance and Dante’s trail. Fallen rocks have closed off the cave’s mouth but it is still a sight worth seeing.
Beyond the fun the creek can provide, its environmental impact can be easily overlooked. Areas like Purgatory Creek clean the water and air, provide home for a variety of wildlife and ease flooding; so it’s important to keep things clean during visits.