At my first stop in Pharr, near the intersection of US 281 and Business 83, the vertical “Junction Cafe” sign beckoned from the highway just as it has since 1939, when the Tex-Mex diner served its first customers. Back then, the six-lane expressways we now call US highways 83 and 281 didn’t exist, of course; travelers took the “old” routes. These days, the old highways are lined with historic buildings, peculiar sights, and interesting attractions that offer a wealth of stories about the Rio Grande Valley.
I quickly learned, though, that Pharr’s Junction Cafe is not named for its location at the junction of two highways. That became apparent the moment I stepped inside and saw train-themed decor ranging from Lionel model trains to a vintage, striped conductor’s hat. In the early 1900s, Pharr was among many Valley cities that sprang up along the new St. Louis, Brownsville, and Mexico Railway. US 83, then known simply as “the main street,” was built parallel to the railroad, giving farm trucks a path to the freight depots.
After a hearty breakfast of huevos rancheros with piping-hot tortillas made in-house, I set off to check out an old wooden building I’d spotted across the tracks.