Some things never change. And while hospitality can be a transient business, when a restaurant becomes a pillar of the local community, it’s not going anywhere. Austin’s Tex-Mex eatery El Arroyo (meaning “stream” or “ditch” in Spanish) was established in 1987 and describes itself as the “last queso stop before a bunch of yoga studios.” We’re sure the quesos are amazing, but what the restaurant is really famous for is its signage.
Patrons, residents, tourists, and passing drivers have been amused by the restaurant’s sometimes downright sardonic signage for years. Thirty years, in fact. That’s a long time to have been cracking jokes, but El Arroyo doesn’t show any sign of running out. The sign itself has grown so famous that it even has its own Twitter account, so you don’t have to be in Austin to join in on the fun.
The restaurant also has an Instagram account with 134,000 followers.
There’s something for everyone as the landmark sign, updated every single day, spans a spectrum of topics from pop culture, to current news and politics (gulp), to plain old creative word play. The sign writers were once scorned for revealing a Harry Potter plot spoiler on their board just days after the release of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (come on, El Arroyo, we don’t all read that fast!), but they were eventually forgiven, and largely, the restaurant’s angle on cheering up Austin’s peckish population is lauded.
Queso my heart. $2.75 queso on Happy Hour Mon-Fri from 2-7pm! (Add-ons extra!)#ElArroyo #ATXHappyHour #BodyByQueso
El Arroyo “sign selfies” are a daily occurrence, of course. But these jokes were made for sharing. “We can handle any number of guests. The more the merrier!” staff say.
Accompanying their online food menu, El Arroyo staff confidently advertise their collective sense of humor: “We take our food seriously, and as you can tell,” they claim, “not much else!” As proof that you certainly can’t please everyone, however, the restaurant was targeted by an arson attack back in 1998, but mercifully remained unscathed. Some have speculated that the sign’s boundary-pushing buffoonery was to blame.
Co-owner Ellis Winstanley told KVUE that the restaurant has been showcasing daily jokes for more than 30 years.
But for most, the now trademark El Arroyo humor is a source of great joy, and the restaurant isn’t backing down. Not afraid to toot its own horn, the eatery’s self-written motto from 2015 is also one of its funniest aphorisms: “El Arroyo–Our coffee won’t burn you but our sign might.”
Make yourself comfortable and we’ll treat you to more of our favorites:
The daily jokes are now so famous (and so numerous) that the best of the best have been compiled into two volumes of books titled, rather usefully, El Arroyo’s Big Book of Signs.
Winstanley said the response to the book has been quite outstanding. “Oh my gosh, I’ve been waiting for this. I haven’t driven down Mopac or exited Fifth Street in so long. I miss coming to work that way. There’s just a lot of connections with it,” he explained.
If you are curious to know who is behind the jokes, Winstanley said, “that’s our little secret.”
The restaurant even invites people to submit ideas for their joke board through their social media pages. “Think you have what it takes to make the sign?” the website boldly challenges.
Well, what do you think? Maybe it’s about time to flex your funny bone and rise to the challenge of the wittiest restaurant in town!
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