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Visiting Austin next month, please review my choices, thx

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I've read multiple posts on the board and I'm trying to narrow down my choices for our trip out there next month. Living in California, we have lots of great sushi so Uchi is out until the next visit. We're interested in some tasty TexMex, Southern cooking and BBQ, but because our time is limited we won't be able to travel too far out for the BBQ (I noticed the most highly rec'd places are 20-30 mins out of the city). I’m not going to lie; my BBQ experiences are limited to my own backyard so this is probably where I’ll need the most help.

A bit about me, I pretty much live for the chow in New Orleans, which I visit at least twice a year simply to eat my way through the city. I am a big fan of sauces and just about any and all variation of Mexican food, minus the Taco Bell kind. Hubby and I are also big carnivores and cheese lovers (any places with notable cheese plates?) A few random facts that will hopefully help you help me narrow down my choices. I'm also not completely familiar with the geography of Austin, so if you see somewhere that looks completely out of the way with respect to the other choices I've made for that day, speak up!

Friday lunch - Tony's ~ I read a post saying the cake was homemade and fabulous, and that sealed the deal for me

Friday happy hour - Manuel's or Dirty Martins? ~ I noticed it's hit and miss with the chow for Manuel’s, but seems to be a decent place for HH?

Friday dinner ~ El Chile, Fonda San Miguel or...?

Saturday lunch ~ Sam's for BBQ?

Saturday HH ~ The Roaring Fork?

Saturday dinner ~ Wink or Hudsons?

Late night hangover prevention – Magnolia Grill

Sunday brunch – Green Pastures or Fonda San Miguel?

Sunday dinner – would like another BBQ or Tex Mex rec, kid friendly as brother-in-law will be with us and bringing his 4 y.o.

Thank you so much for all of your help. :)

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  1. I like the prime steaks at the Backstage Steakhouse. I believe it's located in Spicewood off the 71. Not too far from Austin.

    Also, I think the BBQ at the Salt Lick is good stuff, especially if you need to stay close to Austin.

    1. Sam's BBQ was the clear winner in our family's mini-taste test of several places in Austin over Labor Day weekend. Do be aware it is very much a dive -- only a couple of tables inside with folding chairs, so most people order their BBQ there to go. Our brisket from there was spectacular, however, crusty on the outside and drippingly moist and tender, with a good smoky flavor.

      We also enjoyed Ruby's, which by comparison is almost upscale. Very good smoky brisket, but a bit too lean for my tastes -- I like the crusty outside fat layer and was informed to order it "moist" or untrimmed. Good ribs and links too, and the owner was quite friendly and gave us a tour of the smokers when he understood our interest.

      I've enjoyed these two over Salt Lick or Iron Horse (House?), actually Iron Works, I think.

      2 Replies
      1. re: nosh

        OMG, did I mix up Ruby's with Rudy's?!? I am NOT talking about the chain, but the single BBQ restaurant where you usually order at the high counter and then they deliver the food to your tables.

        Still, go to Sam's.

        1. re: nosh

          I've had both Sam's and Iron Works...and I prefer Iron Works. Darn tasty.

        2. Sunday brunch = Fonda San Miguel, hands down. It's a visually stunning presentation of an almost overwhelming array of dishes. The space is gorgeous and makes for a relaxing repast. Take the time to have Chef Miguel explain the dishes to you as you go around the tables. If you like it spicy, ask for some of their chipotle salsa on the side. SABROSO!

          And I could get severely flamed, but with a toddler in tow, County Line might be your best bet for Q. While I like Salt Lick's brisket, their sauce is just weird. County Line will never be the be-all end-all with Lockhart 45 minutes down the road, but for straightforward Texas Q and a decent value in a family-friendly environment it certainly fills the bill.

          1 Reply
          1. re: GroovinGourmet

            Regarding Salt Lick's sauce, it tastes like the secret ingredient is Thousand Island Dressing. Keep that in mind next time you taste it, it's weird.

          2. Wow -impressed with your research, schedule and choices! Eating through New Orleans you obviously know how to pace yourself, but Texas serves some hefty portions, and this does seem to be an ambitious endeavor!

            My comments:

            Fri: Skip Dirty Martin's (I will start a thread someday on why i think this place is SO VERY UNWORTHY) and save Fonda for Sunday. Manuel's is solid, and centrally located - but you could do better....I'm a Curra's fan...

            Sat: You are going to kill yourselves if you eat properly at Sam's, the Roaring Fork and Hudson's...Don't miss Sam's, it is most certainly a dive, and a great Austin experience. The Roaring Fork is the one you could/should drop here...it is fine, but if you wind up groaning from the great brisket, ribs and MUTTON at Sam's, you could nap or walk it off and then attack Wink or Hudson's with an appetite. Hudson's is a bit of a drive, Wink is close in the Central area, and has a decent cheese plate. Get a mexican martini at the Cedar door with no food for an Austin-y cocktail hour....

            Sun - Fonda San Miguel for all the aforementioned reasons. Gotta dis the County Line...I would take the extra 15 minutes to go to the Salt Lick (probably get flamed myself for that!), and while we are at it...I think Sunday is out for this, but I would find the time and head to Lockhart - this is what Central Texas BBQ is all about, and is a very worthy destination. Not that far, really - closer than, say, Los Feliz to Malibu....Sausalito to the Mission district....

            And Uchi is unlike anything anywhere else.

            And get some breakfast tacos too.

            And let us know what you do!

            1 Reply
            1. re: saticoy

              It is worth the short drive out FM 1826 to the Salt Lick in Driftwood. The BBQ is good and you will get a taste of the Texas Hill Country charm. Do not let the parking lot scare you off. There are always an abundance of cars however it does not take that long to get seated.

            2. Well, I have been to Fonda San Miguel and it is really good but also really expensive. My favorite Mexican place is right down the street from my house - Polvos (South First). They have interior Mexican food and really strong margaritas. This place has lots of character and is a local favorite. I like the Fajitas a Guajillo (sp?) and the Chile Relleno with the Pecan Cream sauce. Service can be "laid back".

              I also live next to Green Pastures and I think it is a good place for brunch. Expensive but you get all you can drink milk punch (like a milk shake but with alcohol).

              A family friendly BBQ place is the Green Mesquite on Barton Springs. I love their Q even though they never make any of the "lists". I think County Line is yucky.

              7 Replies
              1. re: kgahan

                FWIW, I was unimpressed with Green Mesquite. The brisket had decent texture, but very little smoky flavor. I had an appy that was OK, but not so good that I would return.

                And County Line may not be the greatest, but "yucky"? Seems a bit harsh to me...

                1. re: kgahan

                  Do you think Polvos has better margs, food and atmosphere for a dinner than Curra's, Manuels or Chuy's?

                  1. re: ljero

                    You didn't ask me, but I'll throw out that Curra's and Manuel's have better food. Of the four places, Manuel's has the best drinks (by far) and is the hippest downtown spot. Polvo's is classic Austin slacker atmosphere, complete with lazy service. Curra's has the best food. Chuy's has the heartiest food and is the campiest place -- the place is a chain, and it feels like it.

                    1. re: tom in austin

                      thanks...does it make sense to have a cocktail for happy hour at manuels and then go to curra's for dinner? what's best there? or should I do the cedar door for a mex. martini and then go to curra's?

                      1. re: ljero

                        stop over-thinking all this! enjoy the food. but instead of any of these, go to a "real" mexican place, La Michoacana Carneceria and order some of their amazing food. 99¢ tacos, amazing huaraches, gorditas, etc. far more "authentic" than any of the aforementioned joints. maybe more like the good stuff in Chicago which, though austinites can't believe it, has better Mexican chow than most place here. sorry to upset the manzana cart...manuel's food is not great, and way overpriced, polvos is nasty, and curra's used to be good, 15 years ago. just my two centavos.

                        1. re: sambamaster

                          There are many great places to get delicious and more authentic Mexican cuisine in Austin.

                          But if ljero's mission is to get Austin-style Tex Mex (termed by some "gringo mex"), places like Curra's and El Chile are excellent options. While that stuff isn't strictly authentic, it is a genre unto itself that is sometimes prone to deliciousness and perhaps even legitimacy.

                          Finally, the Cedar Door is hardly a required stop, and isn't the only place in town that makes Mexican Martinis (if that is what you're craving).

                        2. re: ljero

                          I vote for cedar door and curra's!

                  2. Great post, Ya Ya. Really gave us something to debate over. Much better than those posts about: "What's best in Austin?". Yes, 'cue and tex-mex are the way to go.

                    My opinions: Hudson's on the Bend of the great fun restaurants will perhaps the most unique of the upscale restaurants and worth a visit for you. However, as noted its a 20-25 minute drive from downtown through some hilly windy roads (depending on how you try and get there). If that's not an option for you, the Driskil restaurant may help play to any Texas sterotypes you might have though the menu isn't as brazen Texan. Have a drink at the bar and watch the lobby before your meal. If you buy cowboy boots, make sure to wear them with your suit/dress. Though, I must admit I prefer the food at Wink above all 3 of these restaurants.

                    Ditto on going to Lockhart for the barbecue. You can't do what they do in your backyard without years of practice with heavy smokers. Assuming you are flying in to AUS then it should be noted that Lockhart is closer than downtown from the airport. However, your flight has to be time right. Because of the length in time it takes to get the meat ready, I've found the 'cue is best from 11:30-1:30. If you hit it off hours it could be dry & tough and lockhart at night is something I've only done once or twice and it can be ok. Also, as noted do not attempt barbecue in Lockhart on Sunday (a lot of places are closed on Sundays).

                    El Chile is a favorite of mine but note that the wait can build up on main nights.

                    Finally if you aren't too Tex-Mexed out I've found that kids seem to really take to Chuy's. The trick to chuy's is ordering the right things. The Elvis friend chicken with the green chile sauce is great. In fact the green chile sauce is marvelous no matter the dish--ask for some on the side. The atmosphere of Chuy's is Austin to the extreme and kids will love it.

                    1. Sam's is also a great stop coming into town from the airport. I'll second the "don't be frightened by the exterior" comment. Also, it's open til 3 AM so if you get an odd snack attack it's easy to fit in. The portions are BIG (I usually have no trouble finishing though).

                      You might want to swap in Azul (East Cesar Chavez) for breakfast/lunch on Saturday, if you're having a big dinner later. Azul has very tasty poached eggs (lots of pepper) & waffles, & a big garden. Perfect place for a lazy morning. & they are shut on Sunday.

                      I'd pick Wink over Hudsons.

                      I'll second Carter's recommendation for El Chile. Be sure to try the chocolate chile cake.

                      & I agree with Polvos.

                      Chuy's can have HUGE waits--especially on weekends. Go right when they open, otherwise be prepared for 45+ waits.

                      1. It is worth the short drive out FM 1826 to the Salt Lick in Driftwood. The BBQ is good and you will get a taste of the Texas Hill Country charm. Do not let the parking lot scare you off. There are always an abundance of cars however it does not take that long to get seated.

                        1. I think County Line is a great choice, given that you have a toddler - choose the Lake location off of 2222. Your little-one will have fun chasing turtles and watching the boats drift by on the lake...BBQ is solid though, as noted previously, not the best in town. I still can't believe they charge extra for mediocre bread!

                          I just had lunch at Fonda San Miguel this weekend with a 2 year old and a 3-month old...We are recent transplants from LA and I must say that this was the most overrated, overpriced meal I've had in either location! $40 each for a buffet of mexican food? PLEASE! We used to get a three course brunch at Cafe del Rey in LA for $22 and it was infinitely better! I say skip FSM and try something else.

                          (/ready to be flamed)

                          1. Wow, I am overwhelmed and very pleased that everyone took the time to respond with such fabulous answers!

                            After reading all the BBQ responses and some independent reviews, I do think we’ll go with Sam’s for Saturday. I’m curious how far out it is as we’ll be house hunting in Central Austin on Saturday.

                            Thanks for all the other BBQ rec’s, I wrote them all in my food journal with your comments so we may try some on our next trip out. I would have liked to try the Salt Lick, but as I said we need to stay more central that day.

                            I’m also adding Polvo’s to my list for my next visit, and have decided on Manuel’s for happy hour drinks and maybe an app. and then on to El Chile for Friday.

                            Along the same lines, instead of heading to Hudson’s on the Bend (thanks for the full scoop Carter B., we are eagerly anticipating for the next trip!), and The Roaring Fork for happy hour, we will instead going to go to Cedar Door for a pre-dinner cocktail and onto Wink for dinner which gets such solid reviews from all of you. I wasn’t aware of Cedar Door’s existence and I’m very much looking forward to the Mexican Martini.

                            I’m still torn about the Sunday brunch. There are some opinions on here from posters who seem to have similar taste and it sounds like a great brunch. I’m used to paying similar costs here in San Diego for a full Sunday spread so the price isn’t a huge factor. On the other hand, the brandy milk punch is a big draw for me at Green Pastures, I could drink the stuff every day of the week!

                            Still debating on the dinner too for Sunday, County Line seems like a possibility. On the other hand, I know the little one loves his Tex Mex and Chuy’s may be a fun place to take him.

                            At some point in the weekend I’m getting breakfast tacos from Maria’s Taco Express, too!

                            I’ll keep you all updated on my final food itinerary and a trip report.

                            Thanks again. :)

                            1. if you want to try some awesome authentic tacos, try the supermarket La Moreliana (sp?) on the corner of W.Alpine and S. Congress. they have a counter in the back that you can order from, last time i was there i got 3 big tacos for like 2.50 or something. i live in Boston now but i'm visiting in a couple of weeks and i can't wait to eat those things again!!

                              1. For your Friday dinner my vote is El Chile. The regular menu at El Chile is great, but so are the specials, be sure and consider them. I've liked every one I've ever tried. Excellent salsa, pico and guacamole. If you have time, they also have a restaurant down the street, El Gringo, that has a bar in the house out back. Its a great place to have a drink or margarita before and has a great look and feel to the place. They are close enough to each other you could walk.

                                Saturday night: Zoot. I ate there this past Saturday night and was blown away. For my appetizer, I had the foie gras that was perfect. Sheared black on the outside, correct blend of flavors. It melted in my mouth. For my entree I had the steak, with one of the sides a marrow custard. Wow. My friend had the vegetarian tasting menu. My sister had the scallops and the steak. We all were very pleased.

                                Hangover prevention: Star Seeds. Way way back when, I used to go there for it's curative powers. I've heard its changed hands, been cleaned up and did way with the surly help. So its changed some, but worth it to give you a bit of a feel of what Austin used to be like.
                                Hope this helps.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: austx03

                                  Rarely have I had food as bad as my last two visits to Star Seeds,yep,they cleaned it up,painted it,powerwashed the parking lot what have you but please PLEASE,don't make the mistake of eating there.Deep frying sausage patties that were cooked the day before does not revive them in any way,Grits should not have a thick crust of mystery gunk straddling them,over medium fried eggs should not provoke a discussion as to what kind of creature they originally eminated from.In short,the worst food I've eaten in Austin.Ever.

                                  1. re: scrumptiouschef

                                    Star Seeds is a fairly miserable place. Everyone should avoid it at all times. Jim's, Kettle, Denny's, IHOP, Magnolia, Kerbey Lane, the Omlettery -- all have similar but better food, are cleaner, less rude staff, shorter wait, etc.

                                2. Hey there...as a devoted Southern California gal who now travels to Austin to visit grandbabies, I must tell you that one night at Hudson's is worth the entire flight. Your final night's search for BBQ with a child can easily be satisfied by the most casual and friendly of places...Rudy's. There's more than one location so you will have a choice. Have fun!!!!

                                  1. I agree that you should go to Hudson's on the Bend if you can take the time for the drive. If you are flying into Austin, you can get some SaltLick BBQ at the airport. it doesn't have the full ambience of the real SaltLick but the bbq is still very yummy & at the airport. :)