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AUSTIN must haves

My husband and I will be visiting Austin for a few days in February. Are there any places that we absolutely must try? We are adventurous eaters and love all kinds of food. Some non-touristy/local options would be great. We are staying in downtown (the Driskill). Thanks in advance.

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    1. re: Chicago Wine Geek

      i saw this post already and was hoping for some additions.

      1. re: kotter

        Kotter: Where are you visiting from?

        Also, if you'll only be in town a couple days, you might want to set some parameters. Please answer these questions:
        * How many "nice dinners" do you want to have?
        * How many "casual dinners"?
        * Are you planning on having breakfast out? How about lunch? Would there be a day that you have brunch instead?
        * Any cuisine requirements -- do you want to make sure you have BBQ at least once and Mexican at least once, for example?

        In the meantime, some recaps that you've probably already read...

        Dining:
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

        Places to get drinks, with the restaurants they're near:
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

        Ideas for upscale dining:
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

        Finally, if I was to have only one dinner in Austin and had no culinary requirements or budget constraints, I would probably pick Uchi.

        1. re: tom in austin

          We're visiting from L.A. Is Uchi really worthwhile, esp. since we're from L.A. and have a ton of really great sushi places here? I guess I don't think of Austin as a place for great sushi.

          We're not usually breakfast eaters, but we will be eating lunch and dinner out. I have also heard about a place for brunch - Green Pastures? We thought about trying it. I also believe the 4 seasons has a buffet brunch. As far as casual vs. nice, I don't really want to go anywhere that we have to get dressed up (except for maybe the driskill grill), so I'm ok with nice but not dressy.

          1. re: kotter

            Great, thanks for the info!

            First, consider avoiding hamburgers in Austin. Los Angeles has better burgers than Austin. We aren't even close. Especially avoid Hut's -- many Austinites love it, but reasons are mostly a mix of historical inertia and a lack of really great hamburger joints to compare against Hut's. If you do get a burger here, try Casino El Camino, which is also a great place to kick it with the locals.

            And while Uchi stacks up well against West Coast sushi, you have enough at home that you can skip it. But if you have a sushi craving, Uchi is definitely the place to go in Austin.

            I recommend brunch at Fonda San Miguel, which is a little dressy but not too much. If you're not up for that, lunchtime at Curra's on Oltorf is a good idea; so is El Chile on Manor. I haven't done the Green Pastures brunch, although I have heard good things. I also recommend East Side Cafe's brunch, on Manor Rd.

            If you want an experience you definitely can't get in L.A., I'd make the trek to the Sacred BBQ Triangle in Lockhart. (Kreuz, Smitty's, Black's.) If you aren't willing to make the trek, I recommend Ruby's BBQ on Guadalupe, which has some University of Texas charm thrown in.

            Another fun place you might want to try is Clay Pit for top tier semifancy Indian cuisine. For a neat Austiny experience, I recommend going there for dinner and then crossing the street to get pints and throw darts at the Dog & Duck.

            For French food, Chez Nous is Austin's classic -- a true Austin institution. The layout and appearance will remind you of several restaurants in San Francisco.

            If you're craving Chinese, Din Ho on 183 is your best option. In fact, I don't know if there is any other great Chinese food in Austin; if there is, I haven't had it.

            Thai is easy: Madam Mam's. Even though you're staying downtown, avoid Thai Passion (just down the street from your hotel). Also avoid Thai Kitchen and Thai Noodle House. I review the Westgate location here, but my comments apply equally to the University location: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
            Then again, like Chinese and sushi, you can get excellent Thai back home, so maybe skip this unless you have an uncontrollable craving.

            1. re: tom in austin

              Thank you for the suggestions. We will certainly try some of them. Odd about the hamburgers. . . Bad beef in Texas?

              1. re: kotter

                As far as I can tell, the beef is fine. The burger culture here is just stunted. Many places serve burgers that are fat and tasteless; often these burgers are overcooked to the point of being just this side of a hockey puck.

                This isn't a rule. There are many exceptions. But in my experience, L.A.'s burger culture is superior.

    2. You may return to your native soil and die a blissful,contented death if you go to Tam Deli on North Lamar and have a DEEP FRIED GARLIC BUTTER SHRIMP SANDWICH.It will please you greatly if you wash it down with a glass of YOUNG COCONUT JUICE.

      1. One "must have" would be at the Driskill Grill where you are staying.

        http://www.driskillgrill.com/

        1. Most of my "must try" places have already been mentioned in other threads but I'd say my #1 must eat at restaurant is Uchi, followed by Vespaio.

          1. Manuels is within walking distance of your hotel and don't miss their trotilla soup. This may sound odd, but get to the Whole Foods which is almost within walkkng distance, go for lunch.

            1. I think the prime steaks at Backstage steakhouse are wonderful.

              1. tom in austin knows the drill.

                If you are in town on Sunday and consider yourself a foodie and are not at Fonda San Miguel then we'll just have to tear up your membership card. It's an exquisite meal in an exquisite setting, totally Austin/Texas and unlike anything you'll find short of Mexico City.

                And if you have wheels, the Lockhart/Luling swing is an absolute must. You can grab meats from 3 or 4 of the Texas legends and be back it your hotel in about 3 hours. City Market in Luling is worth the extra hour added to the trip if you have the time. Think meat, meat, meat and nothing but meat. Don't worry about sauces or sides. Grab some beers or Cokes or DP's and enjoy jamming shards of beef and sausage into your mouth with your hands while make the drive back north.

                6 Replies
                1. re: GroovinGourmet

                  Kotter,

                  Lockhart is always a worthwhile detour. You can search for more information on what’s good there on both this board and the Texas one.

                  Despite its reputation among foodies, FSM is not beloved by all local 'hounds. I’d agree that brunch is a better bet than dinner, however.

                  Here's a link to one recent thread that covers similar "must have" meals in Austin.

                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/353241

                  Best,
                  MPH

                  1. re: GroovinGourmet

                    Agree about FSM brunch, but it's imperative that you go for brunch, not dinner. Also, know that it's very expensive, I think about $40/person before drinks, tax, & tip.

                    1. re: Brian Lindauer

                      I've had dinner at FSM 3 times, and all were absolutely great. Last time was with 8 of us (glad it was my buddy with the expense account) and everybody loved everything about the experience.

                      That being said...brunch is indeed the bomb.

                      1. re: Brian Lindauer

                        If you're planning on 40 bucks a head for brunch please consider The Four Seasons,there will be nearly a dozen fresh seafood options,there will be roast prime rib,the Ostrich Carpaccio is worth the price of admission alone.Sit on the banks of the Colorado on the patio and allow a minimum of two hours.FSM is good but not in the same league.

                        1. re: Brian Lindauer

                          Is there any brunch worthwhile that is less than $40? Not sure I want to spend $40 on FSM given the mixed rws and love four SEasons, but have done before...looking for something more low key but with fabulous food on a Sunday..

                          1. re: ljero

                            East Side Cafe's brunch is amazing, affordable.