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SF hound visiting Austin, looking for recs

Hi folks,

My gf & I will be in Austin this Friday through Wednesday and were wondering if y'all could give us any pointers on good local eats.

We'd prefer local specialties (Tex-Mex, non-burrito Mexican, BBQ, Southern, etc) over the types of food we can get at home. We'll probably budget for one nicer dinner out, and be cheap'ish the rest of the time. I positively love migas for breakfast, and we don't really have anything comparable here, so breakfast pointers would be especially welcome, as well as anything funky and fun.

We're staying with friends in north-east Austin (near the junction of Hwys 183 & 620), but we'll get to downtown once and definitely SoCo at least once. Looks like we'll actually be closer to Round Rock than downtown Austin, but I'm not familiar with this area at all.

We plan a daytrip to Lockhart for the BBQ mecca, but will not want to travel too much otherwise.

It's been years since I was in Austin, and I've become a bit more discerning in the meantime, but I recall enjoying the migas at Trudy's South Star on Lamont. I think I ate at Chuy's (if that's a quasi famous, but not all that good, funky Tex-Mex joint near a bunch of shops (SoCo? Lamar?) in S. Austin, or maybe that was Curra's?).

In looking through this board, places that sound possibly-intriguing so far include
Top Notch for burgers
Artz Rib House
Dirty Martin's
Polvo's
Ironworks

Thanks in advance, and I will report back with my experiences.

Best,
_Adam

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  1. Adam,

    You will be staying in NorthWEST Austin and can be downtown within 15 to 20 minutes from the intersection that you mentioned.

    I have a few suggestions.

    Since you are already a big fan of migas, there is a family place about 5 minutes from 620/183 in Cedar Park (on 183) called Jardin Corona. They do something that they call "chorimigas" which are done with chorizo. They are incredibly flavorful but not too spicy. I get the taco version at least once a month. If you decide to try this make sure to visit the one in Cedar Park. They have 3 restaurants but this one is by far the best... although it is a dive so don't expect much regarding ambiance.

    Lucy's Boatyard on Lake Austin has consistently awesome burgers as well as other fine menu options. There are large decks over the water and are usually bustling on weekends. I think it's a fun place for good food, cold drinks and people watching.

    Finally, I was very pleasantly surprised to find the pork baby back ribs at the County Line (on 2222, also on the water) are outstanding. I'm a super babyback snob, as it's one of my own specialties. When I had these, they were as tender and flavorful as my own (almost). I hope it wasn't a fluke.

    There are many unique options. I hope to hear about your finds and dining experiences.

    1. hmm. You'll be in my neck of the woods, more or less, which we fondly call "the land of the bland"...

      I'd probably suggest you stop in at North by Northwest (360 and Mopac) for a beer or two/sit on the deck/listen to a funky local band. Pizza and steak sammich are good, but I wouldn't recommend anything else.

      YES! Go to Polvo's, order the guajillo (sp?) fajitas and corn tortillas. Don't forget to grab all the salsas from inside.

      For a fun/funky time down south as well try Maria's Taco X-Press on South Lamar. Miga tacos are quite good. Also the carbon with lots of the chimichurri sauce on top. Fridays/Saturdays usually also have a funky band on the patio.

      I'm gonna get flamed for this, but if I had to only go to one bbq joint, I'd go to Cooper's out in Llano, but I can see the Lockheart mecca reasoning to get a sampling.

      Oh! Can't believe I almost forgot this - go to Manuel's on Great Hills up near where you'll be for happy hour! They have very good Mexican Martinis and 1/2 price appetizers that are extremely good. I like the hongos queso and the chiviche. The chicken mole is to die for, but you can just ask for a side of mole sauce as well (and you should). Enjoy.

      2 Replies
      1. re: amysuehere

        Amy, I think that Manuel's is on Jollyville near Great Hills. Also, a trip down 620 to the Oasis (for drinks only, the food sucks) might be worthwhile.

        1. re: Greg Spence

          Instead of Oasis or Iguana, I have begun going to Cafe Blue past Volente...on the lake, much better food than Oasis, smaller, friendly..

      2. Hi Adam,

        Since Rene didn't mention it this time, I'll suggest the Roaring Fork downtown for either burgers at lunch or your nicer dinner out.

        From your list I really like the burgers at Top Notch. And Dirty Martin's. My favorite spot for Southern food is Tony's Southern Comfort. Great chicken and waffles, CFS, etc. (I personally am not a fan of Ironworks or Polvo's. I haven't tried Artz.)

        As for BBQ, you can't go wrong with a trip to Lockhart. There are many threads on the topic of where to stop. You can scroll down to see them all. This link will take you to the most recent one: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

        As for Tex-Mex, keep in mind that "funky and fun" joints often serve the worst chow. Places like Chuy's, Trudy's, Güero’s, Maudie’s, etc., are really popular with mostly white middle- to high-income locals and tourists—-plus students (WM2HILT+S). These places are fine for chips with salsa and strong drinks, but not so great if you want authentic Tex-Mex.

        Better options among places frequented by the same audience include:

        El Chile (very good Tex-Mex, plus regional-Mexican offerings
        )El Chilito (their separate take-out taquería with outside tables)
        Habañero Cafe (great-tasting food--breakfast and lunch only)
        Las Manitas (a downtown classic for breakfast--through the end of the year)
        Taquería Arandas (a good approximation of down-home Tex-Mex)
        Maria’s Taco Xpress (like an intro course for the uninitiated)

        Even more options are available on the east/southeast and north sides, but these restaurants don’t cater to WM2HILT+S in terms of menu (no vegetarian beans), service (often Spanish-speaking only), and aesthetics. I’ve posted on some lesser-known east-side spots: Abarrotes Mexicanos, Seis Mesas, the Taquería Piedras Negras trailer, Taquería la Tapatia. Rudeboy and others have posted on hidden gems on the north side. Some chowhounds love Evita’s Botanitas in south Austin, though I haven’t tried it. You should be able to look up these older threads by using the new advanced-search function.

        I hope this info helps you make good chow choices.
        Enjoy your trip!

        1. Thanks much Rene, Amy & MPH - this gives me more to work with!

          Rene - yes, we'll be in NW not NE Austin, brian freeze on my part. Jardin sounds right up our alley.

          Amy - Your suggestions for happy hour & libations will be much appreciated! I didn't figure there'd be all that much in the way of great chow real near where we're staying

          MPH - I know what you mean about funky & fun being inversely proportional to the quality of the chow - it's mostly the same deal here in SF. Good food is much more important to us than the location itself. My spanish , broken as it is, is at least good enough to stumble through food ordering, and while on vacation, I'm not too concerned with the lard content of my beans :) I look forward to visiting Lockhart (Smitty's & Black's are on my list) - there's not a lot of BBQ in SF (or most of the rest of California for that matter)!

          Speaking of BBQ, is Cooper's in Round Rock any good? It doesn't seem to be highly spoken of on CH, but it's close to where we'll be.

          I'll what I can dig up for N. Austin tex-mex gems.

          Can't wait to be there - I've enjoyed Austin the other times I've visited (I just wish I could come some time other than July - the heat & humidity are going to kill us - it's foggy and 55deg. here right now!).

          Feel free to chime in with more recs - too many is better than too few! Spicy food is great too, as long as I'm not biting into whole habaneros.

          Thanks again!
          _Adam

          3 Replies
          1. re: adampaul

            don't waste your time/tastebuds on Coopers in Round Rock - not even close to the "real" Coopers. We were very dissapointed.

            I don't know if this is any better for you drive-wise, but there is a very authentic Mexican place over at Lake Travis just over the hill from the dam on Hudson Bend is Los Pinos. Great conchita pibil and chile rellenos (and I was born and raised in El Paso, so I'm a bit of a Mexican food snob)

            1. re: amysuehere

              As amysuehere has said elsewhere, Los Pinos is owned by the same people who brought us Polvo’s (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...). That could be a strong recommendation for devotees of the latter. The quality of Polvo’s has been debated (if you search, you’ll see comments both pro and con). I've never been that impressed. When I’ve been there, the most interesting parts of the meal have been the salsas and the drinks. Just some context as you decide whether to make the drive out to the lake.

            2. re: adampaul

              Hey Adam,

              I looked up one of Rudeboy’s former posts about Mexican and Tex-Mex food on the north (or maybe north-central) side of town:
              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

              swamp also makes an interesting suggestion below about Oaxacan Tamaleo, which has gotten a lot of buzz after opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant. To date I’ve only had the tamales they sell at the farmer’s market. I thought their tamale fillings were pretty good.

              Best,
              MPH

            3. Artz Rib House - great choice for pork ribs and hamburgers, especially every evening when there is free Austin type entertainment... 7:30-9:30

              1. I recently visited Austin on business and twice visited Oaxacan Tamaleos at 1300 W. Anderson Lane. While the place is less than glamarous located in a rather rundown corner market the food was fantastic. The tamales which are steamed in banana leaves were fantastic, I had the pork with green chiles. I returned for another visit and had their albondigas which made for a great lunch. I would recommend if you get a chance.

                1. I'm sorry that I can't point you anywhere special up there in North Austin. I don't think there is anything up there, to be perfectly honest.

                  I second many of the comments about Mexican restaurants here. I have a soft spot for Polvos, although the food is hit-or-miss, and the service can be almost entertainingly lousy. I can recommend Chango's. It's a local chain with a location near UT on Guadalupe and one on S. Lamar towards Ben White. They have great tacos al pastor and an amazing pollo salad. I also can't praise El Regio highly enough. Also a local chain, they are magnificent in their simplicity. They run according to the philosophy of doing only one thing, but doing it well. They have a series of trailers scattered around town that do nothing but roast chicken. Your choices on the menu are a whole chicken or a 1/2 a chicken. It comes with a melting roasted onion, corn tortillas, and a spicy green sauce. You take it away, find a tree to sit under, and rip into the chicken with your fingers to make little tacos. To die for! The furthest north I know of a location is at the corner of I-35 and Rundberg lane.

                  For barbeque, you are much closer to Mueller's in Taylor Texas than Cooper's in Llano. They are similar in ambiance and food. If you are going to make the trip to Lockhart, don't bother with anyplace but Smitty's. In my opinion, Smitty's wears the crown of Texas Barbecue. I take all my out of town guests there.

                  For your budget blowing night out, I would recommend one of the following:
                  the Driskill Grill - elegant and eclectic. One of the best chefs in the country
                  Uchi - mindblowing Japanese. Chef was voted one of the 10 best new chefs in America by food and wine magazine. Very stylish and while the sushi and sashimi are excellent, it's the cooked dishes that stand out.
                  Wink - fun and intimate. They do a fabulous tasting menu.

                  Some of my other favorites are:
                  The Roaring Fork - sit at the bar, the bar menu is limited but cheap and tasty.
                  Casino El Camino has the best burgers in town, by far.
                  There used to be a Bangladeshi hole-in-the-wall on Anderson Lane that was top-notch. I'm not sure if it's still open, though.
                  There's a new Argentinian restaurant at the corner of Oltorf and S. 1st. I've only been once but we scored 100% on the 4 different entrees we ordered, and there was a delicious rich and flaky dessert that I don't remember the name of.

                  That's all I can think of for now.

                  1. It's become something of a tourist desitination, but the Whole Foods flagship on 5th and Lamar is worth checking out. There are 8 or so restaurants scattered throughout the place, as well as other boutique eating spots. My personal favorite is the cheese counter. The cheesemonger will prepare a custom cheese plate for you and recommend a wine from their ample reserves, and it's pretty cheap. Austin is the birthplace of Whole Foods, and they really went whole hog with this new store.

                    I wholeheartedly recommend UCHI, too. It's the best restaurant, hands down.

                    There is surprisingly good Dim Sum at Marco Polo on the weekends. It took me a long time to try it out because the place looks crappy from the outside, but the food is excellent. I've been about a dozen times, and it's always solid. They just changed menus and offer Malaysian food at night. My first and only experience was great.

                    1. Hey - you have a ton of great suggestions here....as a San Francisco ex-pat, I would steer away from Chinese/dim sum here - Marco Polo IS great, but I pine for Ton Kiang and Yank Sing, the regional tastes are the thing to aim for. Also, there are burritos here that are a whole different animal from the old SF standbys (that I bring home in ice chests when I visit!)...they are eaten with a knife-and-fork, smothered by different kinds of sauces...Arandas has them, and they are VERY different but good. Enjoy your trip!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: dee lannon

                        Thanks Dee! I was indeed noticing in the online menus I've been able to find that the burritos/tacos contain many unusual (from a SF standpoint) fillings (and are a whole lot cheaper) - can't wait to try 'em out!

                        Ton Kiang's great indeed. Haven't made my way across town to Yank Sing yet. My focus is definitely on the SW, Mex, BBQ and Tex-Mex for this visit - although I'm sure Marco Polo and Uchi are great.

                        Thanks again everyone for the great tips - I will definitely post my thoughts after I get back from your fair city.

                        Best,
                        _Adam

                      2. So, Adam...

                        Let us know what you discovered!

                        Rene'

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Rene

                          Hi Rene and the rest of y'all,

                          I will post tomorrow in a separate topic with my thoughts, but in short, thanks to you great folks, we ate like pigs and had a wonderful time :) Our hosts were very happy to find some good places they didn't know about (especially Manuel's, which we all quite enjoyed, and is pretty darned near to them). We stuck to only places mentioned here except for our first meal after landing, and a dinner at Catfish Parlour (which was fun and funky).

                          More soon, I promise.

                          Thanks again!
                          _Adam