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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?

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  1. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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


        For music or other "event" listings, the Austin Chronicle (www.auschron.com) and the Austinist (www.austinist.com) do pretty good listings. Hope you love your trip!

        1 Reply
        1. re: aziek1

          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)

        2. I was just in Seattle and enjoined the oysters there. Perhaps you should pay Quality Seafood a visit. They are an oyster bar, Cajun seafood restaurant, retail market and wholesaler in one. You'll love the Gulf of Mexico oysters. They're huge, twice as big as your Pacific Northwest oysters. Quality Seafood has the best prices for them in town: a dozen for $8.

          I also wrote a review of the place: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?s...

          1 Reply
          1. re: Kent Wang

            They really have Gulf oysters in August? I'll pass.

          2. Although hotel restaurants don't always have the best reputations, the Cafe at Four Seasons is without question one of the best restaurants in Austin. Especially since you're staying there, I'd recommend you give it a try. And the Lobby Bar at the Four Seasons is very pleasant. You'll undoubtedly see some famous faces there.

            I don't think Stubb's is "old Austin." I think it's only been open a few years and it's very trendy. Better for the music scene than it is for the food. Try Sam's for in-town BBQ.

            For your "exploring around" days, do make the run down to Lockhart and hit the "big three": Smitty's, Kreuz and Black's. And as long as you're there, it's not that much farther to Luling and a sample from City Market. The way most people do this barbecue run is to just take samples from each of these places. Nibble a little while there, and then take some home to try. Be sure to order your brisket from the "wet" (or fatty) side.

            Go to Fredericksburg. Yes, it's a little touristy, but there's a reason why folks like to go there. It's fun and interesting and there's a great restaurant: HilltopCafe.com.

            The LBJ Library in Austin, and the ranch over by Johnson City are really worthwhile.

            Take your wife to Bandera for a weekend at one of the famous Dude Ranches. Try either the Dixie Dude, or the Mayan. They both have websites.

            And of course there's San Antonio.

            Central Texas is a wonderful place to visit and I know y'all will have a great time.

            8 Replies
            1. re: ChrissieH


              "only open a few years" - damn, girl. How OLD are you?! Stubb's has been in Texas since the '30s (Lubbock) and at the location on Red River since the mid-'80's. BBQ (chicken and ribs especially) are very good, sides are super-yummy (mmmm - jalapeno spinich, okra, and spanish squash)

              Stubb's is "very trendy"...you almost made me snort milk through my nose on that one.

              1. re: amysuehere

                The current location opened in 1996 (even though their design firm did a good job of making it look older), which hardly qualifies it as being "old Austin." It is trendy and touristy, and it is general knowledge that the BBQ there is second rate. But even if it were the mid-80's, that's toddler status when it comes to Texas BBQ joints, several of which opened around the turn of the last century.

                There was no Stubb's Restaurant in Lubbock in the 30's.

                1. re: amysuehere

                  Stubb's opened in Texas in 1968 and in Austin in 1996 and I, too tend to think of it as a newer place on the Austin scene. IMO, the barbecue is just decent but the CFS and the sides are quite good. It is a fun music venue. It's not a destination 'cue spot.

                  1. re: Greg Spence

                    I'd agree with this.

                    It's not that it's not a fun place...it is. And I go there, too, from time to time. But not for the barbecue.

                    1. re: Greg Spence

                      My apologies - 1996.

                      Stubb eventually opened his first restaurant in Lubbock in 1968, across from the county fairgrounds. He made his first barbeque in the hickory pit behind his place and filled the jukebox with vintage blues music.

                      1. re: Greg Spence

                        Agreed. According to my original post, keeping in walking distance (abslutely, if you're wanted "real" bbq, you need to head out of town), I was saying avoid Iron Works like the plague and instead walk the short distance up to Stubbs.

                        p.s. - Couldn't agree more about the chicken fried steak (or chicken), but last time I went, they didn't offer it at lunch.

                        1. re: amysuehere

                          Well then, it seems we're all in agreement. Although decidedly not "old Austin" (and by that, BTW, most people mean the 60's & 70's - check Jim Washburn's post above), Stubb's is fun, and there's good food there if you know what to order.

                          But when it comes to BBQ, there's better to be had elsewhere.

                      2. re: amysuehere

                        One more quick comment about Stubb's, and then I'll bet we'll all be happy to get on with something else.

                        But Amy, I think you're right that Stubb came to Austin in the mid-80's and tried several times to sustain a bbq joint, but never was successful. I remember hearing about them, but never went to any of them. And they were all short-lived. I guess he never managed to recapture the magic he had found in Lubbock. Who knows why. Certainly there's much more competition in Austin. So much of it was about the music, though. And several famous Texas musicians have said that they were not sure they even would have had a career at all if Stubbs hadn't given them food and a place to play and sometimes even a place to stay. Some give him a great deal of credit for the whole "Lubbock sound."

                        He died in May of 1995. I remember reading the obituary in the newspaper and I think I remember reading that he really had nothing to do with the new place on Red River, although the founders paid his survivors, of course, to use the name. He may have been involved in the very initial planning, but died well before it opened. I'm not sure that's even his sauce (although I could be wrong about all of this).

                        One famous story about Stubb was the time that a Mexican fellow stuck his head in through the door of the joint in Lubbock and looked around. Seeing no other Hispanic faces, he asked Stubb, "Do you serve Mexicans here?"

                        Stubb replied, "No sir. We serve barbecue here."

                        Regardless as to what one thinks of the current incarnation of Stubb's Barbecue, the man himself certainly was a legendary figure in Texas BBQ and music history, and it's a good thing that his name carries on.

                    2. If you're looking for good mexican try Chile y Cantina at IH-35 & Manor rd. Its 1.5 blocks east of IH-35. Food is great, desserts are homemade and drinks are excellent. Try a Michelada (mexican beer with lots of lime and spices) for a beer with a twist or an Orange Margarita with spices.

                      If you're driving around, try Rudy's BBQ. You can argue BBQ merits all day long, especially in Texas, but Rudy's is great and the ambiance is very unique (BBQ joint with gas station attached). Their sauce is very peppery and the atmosphere is fun.

                      Walk over to Speakeasy one night for a drink on the rooftop terrace. You'll have a nice high-up view of the city. Have fun. Despite those people lamenting the 'good old days' Austin still is a very unique and fun city. I was sorry to move away.

                      1. Definitely check out Las Manitas for breakfast. The posole is incredible and the migas are delicious!

                        1. Just noticed this: "I like sleazy local places with great ethnic food and I'll go anywhere I don't have to carry a gun."

                          Bourdain came to town a while back for a book signing. A bunch of us Austonians asked if he'd like to get together afterwards for drinks and a meal.

                          Where did he want to go? The Texas Chile Parlor. Definitely a "sleazy local place."

                          Although it's no longer what it once was (speaking of "old Austin"), it's still fun. There are great stories about it, if you google the name.

                          It's also been memorialized by singer Guy Clark in "Dublin Blues": "Oh I wish I was in Austin, at the Chile Parlor Bar, drinking Mad Dog Margaritas and not caring where you are."

                          One funny story is that a few years after he wrote that song, he showed up at the bar. A bartender recognized him: "Aren't you the guy that wrote that song, 'Dublin Blues'?"

                          When he said that he was, she supposedly said, "You son of a bitch. Thanks to you, people come here from all over the world and order a Mad Dog Margarita, and then they take one sip and spit it out."

                          Turns out that 'back in the day,' Guy Clark and his friends did indeed sit around "the Chile Parlor bar, drinking Mad Dog Margaritas." But not because they were so good. Because they were so cheap, using rotgut tequila, at $1.50 each.

                          Maybe that's why the Dogs are so Mad.

                          1. - "I wish I could send you to Green and White Grocery for tamales..." - Jim Washburn

                            Yes, like you and cstrombe, I miss those tamales. Remember when you had to order your Christmas tamales by June to be certain you'd be on the list to get some?

                            I get my tamales now from Rosie's little tamal shack out by the lake. Not so good as Green & White, but still pretty good. And when you've got a houseful of folks at Christmastime, it's nice to have about twelve dozen or so of those beauties in the freezer.

                            1. Huh, I liked Iron Works MUCH better than Stubb's. To each their own I guess.
                              If you can make it to P. Terry's for burgers- go. (S. Lamar and Barton Springs.) Some of the best burgers in town. Next door is the Barton Creek Saloon, which is very new, but a fun place to go. Plus the last time I was there the bartender was pouring lots of vodka with just a splash of cranberry. Good times.
                              I'm still searching around South Austin for decent places to eat. We spend lots of time at Matt's El Rancho for ok Tex-Mex but that's also because it's within walking distance. There's always a crowd there though.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: carimwc

                                Please, please, please don't go to Matt's El Rancho. I would hate for that to be one of your meals. If you're going to be up South Lamar way, go to Maria's Taco X-Press. Totally fits the bill for sleazy local places with great ethnic food. Love the tacos al pastor with lots of the chimichurri sauce.

                                1. re: amysuehere

                                  Nothing wrong with Matt's in my opinion. Decent Tex-Mex. Not a destination restaurant, I agree, but still a perfectly reasonable place to dine.

                              2. Also within walking distance of the 4 Seasons: La Traviata, Manuel's on Congress.
                                The Elephant Room has lots and lots of beers on tap and great jazz.
                                Starlight is an excellent restaurant. It's kind of quiet early in the evening; well conceived and executed food. Knowledgeable service.
                                For breakfast or lunch try Las Manitas on Congress.
                                Best Burgers: Hut's. Onion rings will make you a total convert to the place.
                                Thai Tara, near Hut's, has good Thai food (in a semi-sterile atmosphere) with friendly people.
                                For breakfast or lunch try Tacodeli. You'll have to drive, but it's an authentic Austin TexMex experience with fresh, authentic food.
                                Guero's on S. Congress also has great fresh Mexican food.

                                1. This post made me really, really miss living in Austin. Every time I go back I have to:

                                  Go to Rudy's for BBQ....It's great. Some people don't like it but every out of towner I've taken there has loved it.

                                  Go to Hut's for a burger. The onion rings are to die for (though I find they do need salt).

                                  Go to Madam Mam's on Campus for Thai Food. I had never tried this place until my last year in Austin b/c I figured it would suck b/c it was on campus. I was wrong. It is realy good.

                                  For a very nice dinner (though a bit of a drive & expensive) Hudson's on the Bend is very nice. They serve wild game. The Hot & Crunchy Trout is divine.

                                  Z Tejas for Fish Tacos. They have a great spicy sauce that is really good.

                                  I am so jealous that you are getting to visit Austin and eat!!!!!