Seattle hound, coming to Austin
I'm coming to Austin with my wife on November 5 - 8, then we'll rent a car and explore for a couple of days. She's at a conference, I'm drafting along. I have all day to play, she'll be along for dinner. I like sleazy local places with great ethnic food and I'll go anywhere I don't have to carry a gun. She likes good food, but nicer ambiance.
I'd like to connect with whatever makes Austin special, which I suspect (possibly incorrectly) means Tex-Mex and Barbeque. We're staying at the 4 Seasons near the Convention center downtown, and if I can walk to the restaurant so much the better.
1) Recommendations for breakfast and lunch for me?
2) Recommendations for dinner for us?
3) I have a couple of months, what should I read about Austin so I can appreciate it when I get there?
Hi. I hope you get lots of replies. I'll take a shot at part of it. Bbq is right. You'll find lots of references here to the mighty four of Kreutz's , Smitty's, Blacks and Chisolm Trail in Lockhart. Get out there for sure. Taylor and Elgin have two and three real good places too, respectively. She wouldn't mind Chuy's, the original on Barton Springs has a really cool vibe and all your Tex-Mex favorites, our HQ of Margarita culture and the coolest staff.... Fonda San Miguel is high end interior Mexican in a fab setting, you might try that. As far as the hole in the walls (don't carry a gun everybody here is a better shot I'm sure, this IS Texas) check MPH's southside Bible of Mex Mex in this post:
And from a north sider don't forget Enchiladas Y Mas for carne guisada and other humongous TexMex entrees. Or to eat what you should eat the lunch specials at Oaxican Tamaleo's, especially if it's a Monday: Chile Relleno's to die for. We call them Fat Mexican and Skinny Mexican respectively and are always in the mood for one or the other.
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Jim, I too yearn for Green and White tamales. They were simply the best.
I'd recommend breakfast or lunch at Las Manitas. Before it's gone too. Within walking distance from your hotel, on Congress.
I also like the migas for breakfast at Cisco's.
TexMex & BBQ are certainly part of what makes Austin so great, but even more so are all the bands playing (everywhere - so much that sometimes it's hard to find a bar or restaurant without live music) and the beautiful parks. If you can get out and about, I highly recommend breaking out of the downtown area a bit. It's about a 15 - 20 minute walk from your hotel to 6th & Lamar, where you'll find Whole Foods's new palace, BookPeople (love this place), Waterloo Records, and an Amy's Ice Cream. A short drive will get you to any of the grand parks or down to the trendy S.Congress, S.Lamar, and S.First St. strips. Lots of good wandering to do.
Walking distance of your hotel:
Noodleism on 5th St, just west of Congress is pretty good. If you want to walk for BBQ, there's Stubb's and Iron Works BBQ. I haven't been to Iron Works, and some people HATE it, but others say it's decent, if not on the level of Lockhart's best. Stubbs is also walkingish distance - again, not fab, but some folks swear by it (they have good sides). Chez Nous is one of my favorites - good french food, quite decent pricing, not at all pretentious. Moonshine is tasty, too, but a little fancier (kind of chi chi american comfort food) - good brunch on Sundays. Casino el Camino is supposed to have some of the best burgers in town - I can only vouch for the tasty, greasy fries. Also, I haven't been in a while and have heard rumors that they've tarted their food up, but I like Malaga for tapas in a nice, but not too nice, setting. Ditto to the other posters on Las Manitas (and El Azteca - great, even for vegetarians).
A long walk (more of a short drive, really) will get you to Angie's, just east of I-35 - very good corn tortillas in a cute old house. Thai Tara, about 4-5 blocks west of Congress on 6th St. is solid. And, I love food enough that just wandering Central Market (35th & Lamar or down at Westgate) or the new, way over-the-top Whole Foods (6th & Lamar) is a delight, and Fiesta (I-35 & 35th) is a different spin on the grocery store wander.
The new and very upscale 2nd St. District seems to be hopping, but other than Jo's (original location is on S.Congress), I can't vouch for any of it - lots of imports from Dallas which are probably perfectly good, but....
For just Austiny fun, there's the Cedar Door (not as fun as it was before it moved (and moved and moved), but good mex. martinis just the same) and the Alamo Drafthouse - if you have time to check out a show at the Alamo, I highly recommend it. The downtown Alamo (walking distance from your hotel) does bizarre shows all the time, and the other 2 locations (S.Lamar & Anderson) do mostly new releases, with a bucket of beer and fairly decent food brought right to you in the theater. The Broken Spoke down on S.Lamar is fantastic (I recommend Chaparral on Thursdays). If you can, go on a pilgrimage to Barton Springs & Zilker Park - lovely, lovely, lovely, even if the Springs are having a hard time these days. Sounds like you may be here for First Thursday down on S.Congress. It's kind of a zoo and has gotten rather crazy, but good people watching and a nice wander on a Thursday night. On non-1st Thursday nights, a quiet drink at the Hotel San Jose bar is quite nice.
If you want to get around some without a car, you can Dillo (free shuttle service) around downtown pretty well, and can even use the Dillo to get across the river and down to the very trendy S.Congress area. (www.capmetro.org/riding/routes_400.asp)
Keeping in the walking distance...
Stubbs, absolutely NOT Iron Works. great sides, agreed, and usually a fun band playing at night. Great slice of "old Austin"
Chez Nous, great prefix dinner.
Moonshine has a pretty good brunch and does a real fun cross-section of Texas comfort food. I'd highly recommend this place to someone wanting to get a real feel for the food here. (same as Stubbs if you aren't planning on travelling out of town for bbq)
As to Mexican, I really-really think you should walk over to Manuel's on 4th(ish) and Congress for the happy hour if you can. 1/2 price appetizers (love the chiviche, chicken mole and hongos guisados!!!). Mexican martini. Yes, it's a bit loud and I'd rather you go to the one in Great Hills, but you'll thank me for sending you at happy hour. (please get there before seven, cuz happy hour is really worth it)