Visiting Austin: What cuisines is Austin known for?
I'm a foodie visiting from NYC for ACL, and I'm wondering what cuisines are particularly strong in Austin. My first guesses would be BBQ and Tex-Mex, but you never know.
In terms of BBQ and Tex Mex (or just Mexican.. not even sure the difference) what are the best places? I'm excited to visit your city! Everyone says it's a great place.
Really, for what Austin is known (and I say this as a chowhound who grew up there, and visits regularly) you must experience "old Austin" Tex-Mex. My choice is El Patio. It is not - decidedly not - trendy. You will not find fajitas, or the esoteric tequila, or goofy styles of margaritas. What you will find is superb Tex-Mex. Cheesy, oniony enchiladas, topped with a superior chile gravy, greaseless, comino-infused taco meat, smoothe, fresh, guacamole, unemcumbered with the usual tomato, onion, cilantro, and God knows what all, and velvety chili con queso. Unique to El Patio are the tostadas, each freshly formed and fried in the kitchen. Order them prior to your meal. You'll not find another like them in Texas, or anywhere else. The chicken enchiladas are chock full of chicken, and covered with a terrific sauce (not quite ranchero) which, when combined with a side order of pickled jalapenos, lets you know how delicious this usually bland dish, prepared by lesser hands, can be. Order a plate of them, and an order of cheese enchladas with refried beans, an order of Taco Supreme (beef tacos with guacamole on top) and a chili con queso plate and you'll know what Austin Tex-Mex is all about.
As usual, I agree with Greg regarding most things, and I have been disappointed with Kreuz's brisket every single time I've been there over the last few years.
Although the bottom line, I suppose, is that it really doesn't matter since I seem to be incapable of going to Lockhart and just visiting one place. I always "run the line," I guess you could say -- Smitty's first, then Black's, and then, even though I say I'm not going to stop at Kreuz, can't help but be drawn in, primarily to see if things have improved.
The food at Kreuz is good, won't deny that. Particularly like their pork chops.
But for me, the best is the brisket at Smitty's and Black's, the sirloin steak, med rare, at Smitty's, and the pork chops at Kreuz.
Just so happens I was down there a short time ago. Our group included a visiting 'celeb chef.' There was some considerable discussion as to which brisket was better -- Smitty's or Black's -- and we couldn't reach a definitive decision. But on one thing, we did all agree: Kreuz brisket was the worst of the bunch: dry, and salty.
I don't know. Maybe, since it's an organic product, it's hit and miss, and I just happen to keep hitting the miss.
Hi Greg, been a while since I've spotted you about town...
So Smitty's is your current Lockhart favorite? I must have missed the conversion from Kreuz's. I've done the double 'cue at both places about 3 times now and every time Kreuz's has won--the place is soulless and more expensive but the taste of the brisket still draws my yearnings
I second House Park for being the best 'cue in Austin but we should note it is only open for lunch M-F.11am-2pm, I believe. Sam's is probably my second favorite place though I don't go that often.
My favorite Tex-Mex is El Chile on Manor. While trendy (we did a drive-by last night and the ACL Fest/hipster wait looked daunting), the food is always top notch and the menu diverse.
I think breakfast tacos are an Austin instituion as well. There are two main camps as I see it. The Taco Shack people and the Maria's people. Taco Shack has locations scattered throughout town north of the river (including in the base of the well-labeled Frost Tower downtown) and their Shack Taco is my favorite in town with the chorizo, potato, egg and cheese. Their other tacos are merely ok.
The other contender is Maria's on South Lamar. I haven't been to her reopened location but she makes a mean taco for sure. She seems to have captured the South Austin market and Taco Shack has made little effort to move south river.
re: Carter B.
Great point about House Park, Carter. The smoke at lunch must have clouded my thinking. As for my Kreuz to Smitty's conversion, my last three side by side comparisons of the two showed Smitty's to be better. Most of the difference was caused by problems at Kreuz. The brisket was consistently rubbery as a result of undercooking. The sausage had a wierd "mushy" texture, which I'll blame on the convection oven they now use to cook the links. The pork chops were roughly equivalent.
Austin is indeed known for Barbecue and Mexican food. As for barbecue, my favorite in Austin is House Park Barbecue, just east of 12th and Lamar. I had lunch there today and the smoked pork loin was incredible; the exterior a perfect George Hamilton bronze and the interior nicely pink with a pronounced smoke ring. It was nicely moist and had a pronounced smoke flavor. The sausage had experienced a similarly deft hand on the pit. The sides are commercial and not very good, although that's unimportant.
A 25 minute drive from downtown Austin is Lockhart, the barbecue center of the universe. My favorite there is Smitty's and the things I always order there are fatty brisket (brisket is the king of Texas barbecue meats), rings of smoked sausage (aka "hots") and pork chops. Because sides are unimportant in Texas barbecue, there really aren't any here. Well worth the trip.
The misinformed and the lazy concierge will try to guide you to Stubb's, the Iron Works and the Salt Lick for barbecue. DON'T GO. None of these are any good; you'll be wasting your time.
For Tex-Mex, I highly recommend Polvo's on south 1st street. The margaritas here are very good and at $17 a pitcher, they're a great deal. I love the Choriqueso appetizer, with its layers of chirizo, melted white cheese and tomatoes, onion and cilantro topping. Try it with corn tortillas; six will get you through the bowl. Another great item here is the chile relleno, stuffed with chicken and topped with the creamy pecan sauce. If you have to have fajitas in Austin, this is the place to do it. They're delicious.
Another local invention is the breakfast dish "migas." It's basically scrambled eggs with tortillas, cheese, peppers, onions and tomatoes. Las Manitas, between second and third on Congress, has an excellent version and serves some of the best Mexican in town, besides.
Enjoy your stay, Austin is a great place.