Visiting Austin..downtown suggestions..& beyond
I will be visiting Austin in March, staying in Soco, and need some meal planning. I'm really looking for the best/authentic Mexican, Texmex, and BBQ. Coffee, deli, bakery, etc I shouldn't miss are welcome too.
First, what are the must eat spots I can walk to in the downtown area? I am willing to walk, so neighboring areas with in a few miles are fine.
Second, I really don't want to rent a car but am willing to cab-it for the right food. So what are the spots I can't miss and should hop in a cab for?
Thanks so much.
As a caveat, the following are mere suggestions and do not represent favorites. I think Soco is great, but it is often over-priced, under-served, and over-populated-- Vespaio and Enoteca being the only two exceptions that first come to mind.
If you're here on a Sunday, I highly suggest you check out the Gospel Brunch at Stubb's. This said, YOU MUST make reservations and call ahead to ensure that SXSW festivities are not changing their regular Sunday schedule.
Most everyone in Austin and abroad forgets about Shoreline Grill. Shoreline was founded over 20 years ago by Jeffrey Weinberger--the namesake of the heralded "Jeffrey's". Definitely sit on the patio, center-left. If you go, order the Cravado app, the spinach salad, and the Tenderloin (MR) with the ancho cajeta demi. Ask for Jason Teis as your server, and have Jason get John Michael or Jan to the table. John Michael manages and serves there and has done so for over 18 years. He knows every good meal in Greater Austin--especially mexican and tex-mex, generally, and downtown,specifically, as he is one of the rare few that has seen it blossom. He can even tell you who to ask for and special "off-the-menu" items that Austin reidents do not even know about.
Try Cisco's in East Austin for Saturday morning breakfast. You'll need a cab. Cisco's is a must-see dive that has served the who's who of the Texas political scene for decades. The walls are adorned with the greatest bipartisan effort since the inception of the Dixiecrat--hundreds of autographed photos from Presidents to musicians. You must get the biscuits and gravy and the Wolf omelet. They also have decent, bottomless drip coffee.
[as mentioned] Casino is definitely one of the best burgers.... great jukebox too... as long as you can wait out the 30 minute ticket time and have no problems mingling with some of the hottest goth/emo/rockabilly folk in the US. (Just FYI) I usually order my burgers below temp at Casino--the beef is that quality.
You cannot walk ten feet in Austin without spilling a good cup of coffee. On the other side of the same coin, check out Tea Embassy on 9th and Rio Grande. It might be a bit of a trek, but the proprietors' knowledge and their loose tea selection is a great experience. They'll literally spend hours allowing you to taste various teas that they'll brew right in front of you, gratis. The building they're located in also has a story and a song.
I will get a lot of crapola for this, but The Flagship Whole Foods sit-n-go food modules are great, especially the sandwich shop. "The Longhorn" roast beef sandwich, grilled, on foccacia bread, with the chipotle spread (ask them to throw on some provolone) and grilled peppers and red onion with a side of salt and vinegar chips with bottled water is great...especially if you finish with some panna cotta gelato. I was stuck on this lunch rut for about three weeks last year and I still salivate after alluding to it. You can also find some decent pastries and an excellent cheese selection coupled with a bottle of wine for late evening. It is not unlike me and mine to get some cheese, a couple of plastic cups and a nice bottle of wine and hang out over-looking town lake as the sun sets. It is illegal, but what the fuzz doesn't know, heightens my short time here on Earth.
If you're looking for something in particular, post it here and I will tell you where to find it here in Austin.
Towards something close to nothing but different than the day before,
Big thumbs up for drinks at the San Jose Hotel! Last time I was there, we were serenaded by two guys on guitars doing excellent Everly Bros covers.
For a general view of Austin and Hill country food (and other things), I spotted this little piece in the NY Times a while back.
you need to go to Las Manitas between 2nd & 3rd on Congress. forget the other places, they are not any better. it's going to be torn down at some point to make way for a high rise. it may not be the best TexMex you have ever eaten, but it is a real part of Austin as it once was, since there is no more G&M Steak House. it is run by 2 no nonsense sisters. so eat up and move on. but that said, the feel of the place is great. it's a breakfast and lunch kinda place. they don't server booze. I think they close around 2:00. I've been going there for over 20yrs that I've lived here.
For BBQ, Rudy's is great too. Stubbs (on Red River) is OK but you could combine it with music and that would make it worth it. Don't miss a fried apple pie at Jo's when you get your morning coffee. For Mexican you could go to Guero's, which is more about the atmosphere/landmark nature than the food, but the setting is fun with all the little shops along the block. Better food tho is down the street at El Sol y La Luna - perfect for migas or even dinner - I miss Texas!
You mentioned "bakery" in your post, cocolucia. Texas French Bread is right there on South Congress. I've never been there, but have heard that it's good.
Also...and this is very much my own personal opinion.... steer clear of Beck's on Congress. I had a terrible meal there not too long ago: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/351589
If you're staying in the SoCo area, there's a few restaurants right around there that would be good options. For Mexican, Polvos Mexicanos is over on South 1st Street, a great little "dive" Mexican place, and should be within walking distance (since you don't mind walking) Walk down to Johanna St and go west to 1st. You didn't ask for Italian, but on Congress is Vespaio & Enoteca, sister restaurants that are quite popular with many Chowhounds, Vespaio (IMO) being one of the best Italian places in the city. They would be very close to you (the 1600 block of Congress). It can get crowded, so be forewarned. Also on Congress is Jo's, a fun, very Austin-ish coffee shop (more of a walk-up coffee bar with outdoor seating) - that has good coffee (pastries are pretty good as well). If it's a nice morning you should definitely go hang out there for a little while (1300 block of Congress). Jo's is right next to the San Jose Hotel, which is a great place to have a drink later in the day.
For BBQ, the best is really outside of the city in Luling & Lockhart. But for in the city, and based on where you are staying, you may consider Ironworks (100 Red River, just north of the river and east from Congress). BBQ is one of those very subjective cuisines, and for some Ironworks isn't their favorite, but I've always had good luck there. There was a recent thread on them you can review (look for Bababooey's comments 1/22/07).
Enjoy and have fun.