Folks coming to Austin often ask me for recommendations of things to do and eat. Here’s my most recent write up. Feel free to leave comments and additions, someday I’ll polish it up real good like.
There’s two foods you need to eat, of course: BBQ and Tex-Mex. Austin has it’s own type of Tex-Mex (according to me ;>) which is not exactly the traditional stuff you’d expect, and definitely not the Cali-mex you’d be used to if you’re from that way: we don’t do that many “giant burritos” style stuff and we call tostadas chalupas. You’ll also want to sample margaritas (always get top-shelf, never whatever bullshit they have in well) to get a sense for what “real margaritas” are like.
Tex-Mex and Aus-Mex
For Aus-Mex, as it were, I’d visit:
- Polvo’s on South 1st – this is actually more “real Mexican” than
anything else, but it’s become a bed-rock of Aus-Mex nonetheless.
- Chuy’s on Barton Springs – I like to think of them as “patient zero” of Aus-Mex – also, this is where George W. Bush’s daughter got busted for under-aged drinking.
- Taco Shack (various locations)
- “Crazy Maria’s” Taco Xpress
There’s many, many others, but that’s a good mix for out-of-towners.
If you have a car, Tamale House on Airport is my “place I’d eat breakfast on the perfect day” hole-in-the-wall. Get some tacos and drown them in the salsa. The have old-school Tex-Mex there served up in Styrofoam containers (see above). And if you want dirty, old-school Tex-Mex, Enchiladas y Mas is hard to beat: as they say, “never trust a skinny cook.”
BBQ in Austin proper is OK – to get the good stuff, you need to drive about 30-40 mins out of town.
- Green Mesquite – nothing that’ll blow your mind, but good and solid, and near downtown. Good sides selection too.
- Lambert’s – while so called “fancy BBQ,” this place is pretty good and also in walking distance downtown.
- Iron Works – this is right next to the convention center, so very popular for conventions. Thankfully, it’s pretty good. Get beef ribs.
- Ruby’s – up near campus, this is a sort of “organic BBQ” place that’s been around a long time. It’s pretty good, and their sauce is spicy. This was the place I’d go at least once a week for a long time. Also, check out all the blues 8×10’s and such.
- Franklin (my review) – part of the food trailer craze, this place is all right. They have weird hours and bourbon bread pudding. Update: Franklin’s is now in it’s own building on East 11th. They currently have the best BBQ in Austin: it’s what I call Hill Country style vs. city-style. While it’s worth your time to drive out to the country (see below) for the real Texas BBQ experience, Franklin’s is a good, in-town substitute.
- Artz’s Rib House – another old-Austin favorite that’s still good. Beef ribs!
Outside of Austin:
- Salt Lick – this is the cliche place to take out-of-towners, but it’s good. They have several interesting sauces. Get the beef ribs if you can, or just the all you can eat. It’s actually kind of movie-esque if you can eat there while it’s raining. As you’re driving down there, see if you can spot the Hindu (or is it budhist?) temple in in the middle of no-where Hill Country. Make sure you sit on the side with the big open pit, don’t let them seat you in the new section that lacks Hill Country BBQ charm.
- Kreuz Market & Smitty’s – these are the two Lockhart BBQ places, both are “real Texas BBQ” places. One has no sauce, the other does. As I recall, they used to be one place, and then the family had some sort of feud, and they split. I get mixed up which is which but they’re both good.
- The Counter Cafe – open until 4pm every day, this is one of my new favorites. Their chicken burger is phenomenal (it’s got curry in it!), as is their regular burger. It’s a tiny place, but they serve great good, quail even! This is a good stop too because it’s within walking distance to Bookpeople (across the street, once the largest bookstore ever), Wholefoods HQ & Homeaway.com (see below), Waterloo Records (one of the only indy-ish record stores left), and a tolerable trek to Town Lake.
- Threadgill’s – chicken friend steak with a slice of pie. Margaritas are good too. The one close to downtown is the old location of the Armadillo World Headquarters which was a really popular music place for the hippies and “cosmic cowboys” of the 70’s and early 80’s. Free bread-basket!
- Frisco – the last of the Night Hawk diners. It’s exactly what you’d expect from that description: comfort food and old people.
- Burgers – there’s a lot of “gourmet burger” places around town, P. Terry’s is a popular one. For a genuine old school experience, there’s Sandy’s on Barton Springs with frozen custard!
- The Driskill Bar – in one of Austin’s oldest hotels downtown, this place is a good for hanging out if you’re downtown (though the AT&T reception is bad). Their Manhattans are good, and the burgers are excellent. Also, the decor will make you shit your pants with how Texas it is.
- South Congress – this is the official (old) hip part of town, but only a few blocks. You can walk along here with plenty of places to eat and vintage/crafty shops to look at.
- East 6th Street – sometime over the past 2 years, East 6th street became a popular bar street, kind of hipstered out, but not in a too annoying way (Austin hipsters aren’t really, you know, “pro” like they would be in Williamsberg or even SF). There’s Shangri-La, East Side Show Room, The Good Night, and Rio Rita Lounge has an amazing bloody mary (a title an older bar, The Longbranch Inn on E. 11th used to have).
Make sure to have breakfast tacos every day, for any meal, or snack, they’re marvelous.
Other than eating
The problem with Austin is it’s either all about eating & drinking, or being outside. We don’t have many tourist attractions or museums. During the summer and early Fall, being outside is terrible, while the rest of the year is OK.
- If you like running and such shit, the paths around Town Lake (or “Lady Bird Lake” as we’re supposed to call it now) are great.
- If you get the chance, check out Barton Springs, it’s really worth it – a giant, spring-fed pool that stays the same 68-72 degrees year round.
- The Capital is actually kind of cool if you like that sort of thing.
- There’s two Apple stores, at opposite ends of town, you’ll need a car to get to either.
- The airport food is actually not bad, compared to other airports.
- Check out 6th street at night (Friday or Saturday) because it’s pretty bonkers.
- On the other side of 6th street, the 4th street area is more “mature” (read: not college kids and under-age drinkers) in the evenings. There’s a place called Frank where you can get hot-dogs and bacon infused bourbon – and poutine!
- The newly built Blanton Museum on campus has a nice collection of Renaissance etchings and greek statue casts, if you like that kind of thing (which I do).
Most of the tech stuff in Austin is hidden away in the north west part of town which is, really, pretty boring. IBM is up there, but you don’t get the historic feel of it. There’s some stuff over near the 360 bridge, and Dell is up I-35 in Round Rock. It’s not like Silicon Valley where you can drive around and see headquarters and campuses for every tech company you can think of. That said:
- Homeaway (Lamar and 6th) – they have their own building with a dot.com bubble style corp. art taking up two floors. It’s caddy-corner to Wholefood Headquarters (the Wholefoods is fun to visit if you like grocery-store tourism).
- [I should have more – got some?]