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Feb 18, 2007 09:29 AM

Five day visit--what's great?

Hey there,

We’re two NYC hounds (well, one ‘hound and her non-hound but happy to eat well partner) who’ll be in Austin next week for five days. We’re staying at 2nd Street and San Jacinto and won’t have a car. One of us is vegetarian. Inexpensive and super tasty is ideal.

Would love local (or cheaply cab-able) recommendations on:
--Cafes and lunch spots in which to linger (I’ll be busy conference-ing; my SO will be working and itching to get out of the hotel) do work, eat good vegetarian stuff, and drink adequately robust coffee
--Mexican (huitlacoche, fish tacos, sopes, gorditas a plus)
--BBQ for me (but must have something with which to construct a veg meal for my partner)
--Not-to-be-missed-places when coming to Austin. (Sorry, as someone who frequents the Manhattan boards, I know this is an obnoxious request. But direct me to your favorites, and I can search the board for details. Knowing nothing whatsoever about Austin, I don’t really know where to start).
--A colleague set up a dinner at Eddie V’s and it looks like it gets pretty good reviews from Austin hounds. Any favorites there?
--Outdoor eating near bats? Hell, outdoor eating at all. 70 degrees sounds really exciting coming from icy nasty NYC.
--Iranian food places? This post made Pars seem promising. Anything better out there?
--Unmissable food markets?

Good notes for travellers:

Thanks, all! I appreciate it, and promise I'll report back!

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  1. rose water, I don't believe the bats are back from their annual jaunt down to Mexico. I think they come back in like mid-March or so.

    I'm racking my brain to come up with a place that's "super tasty" with vegetarian options that will allow you to linger.

    Please bring some Spicy Mina's down for me.

    1. Did you see this recent thread?

      It contains a pretty good discussion of what shouldn't be missed in Austin.

      Scrolling back I also found this trip report from a New Yorker who used to live in Austin ( ) and a thread started by someone visiting from California ( ).

      I hope these links are of some help.


      1. nu age cafe is a very nice place for veggies and non-veggies alike. the name is cheesy and the decor is a little too, but the food is great. very haute vegetarian with lots of world flavors

        as for food markets, you don't want to miss central market which is unbelievable. i teared up the first time i went. and of course whole foods is based here and the one downtown is huge, but probably not that exciting...

        1. Ruby's on Guadalupe and 29th is a great bbq compromise. They serve an all natural brisket, and they also have some yummy veggie options: veggie chile or jambalaya and yummy black bean tacos. I like their sides and salads as well. They serve Elgin sausage, brisket, ribs....and of course the combo platters are the way to go. Not A+ bbq, but yummy.

          Mexican: Los Comales on E 7th.

          Not to be missed: burger at Casino El Camino (bar downtown...but seriously..yum!)
          Also, read reviews on the Manor Road restaurants (just east of UT campus) and pick the one that you like best: Vivo (yummy veggie enchiladas. I lurve that sauce), El Chile, El Chilito, East Side Cafe (great for vegetarians, visit the garden in back where they grow the food you eat).

          Outside/markets: Central Market at 38th/Lamar has a nice cafe and outdoor eating overlooking a parkish area.

          Enoteca (Italian) is the affordable sister restaurant of the very pricy (and yummy) Vespaio. You can get a delish lunch there. It's on South Congress and also has a small outdoor dining area.

          Guero's on South Congress is decent Tex Mex. I"m not sure why it's so wildly popular, but freely admit I frequent it happily!

          West Lynn Cafe, Mr. Natural, Cosmic Cafe, Mother's are vegetarian restaurants, if your partner just wants to have a meal and not know what to order.

          have fun!

          12 Replies
            1. re: onomatopoeia

              OH MY GOD. Had the burger at Casino El Camino last night and it was completely unbelievable. THAT is what a burger should be. Charred on the outside, juicy on the inside, incredibly tasty. Served with a piece of perfectly crisp pickle (what i used to call half sour, but the pickle guys in nyc call new pickles). if my stomach could handle all that food, i'd eat there everyday. but i think i need to move on to salad now.

              i read through all the threads MPH linked to above on the plane ride, and i think that Casino El Camino is the single place in Austin that all of you Austin 'hounds agree on. Everything else--Q, Tex Mex, Uchi, etc--have more positives and negatives. But their burger deserves your love. Fries tasty, thick cut, skin on. Oh, and they do have vegetarian options, including a sandwich called the politically correct:

              For the rest of our trip, Uchi's and Enoteca sound appealing, but we have such great Japanese and Italian options in NYC that I'd prefer to hit Mexican/Tex Mex more. My head is spinning about all of the options: Guero's, Matt's El Rancho, Chuy's, La Fonda San Miguel, Curra's Grill...could somebody break down what the differences are between these places? And given MPH's comments here, which of these are worth going to on their chowish excellence merits, and not just the experience?

              Now more than anything, I'm craving hole in the wall Mexican. Easily cab-able or 20 minute walk from downtown hotel land would be best. Angie's sounds great (lunch only?), Las Comales, what else?

              Thanks, all!

              1. re: rose water

                If you want hole-in-the-wall Tex-Mex, none of the places you named really count. Angie's is the closest. If Las Manitas is still open, that will be more hole-in-the-wall.

                While El Chile is probably the best of the places you listed, it is sort of upscale.

                I recommend El Meson on Burleson. It is definitely a dive, and offers some of the best tacos in Austin. If you're looking for "classic Tex-Mex", this is NOT the place to go. However, if you're looking for a more authentic Mexican hole-in-the-wall, go there and get their pipian, pibil, pastor, and calabacitas (vegetarian) tacos -- all are excellent. I cannot recommend their beef or fajitas, and their barbacoa is best avoided as it is very erratic.

                MPH covers this establishment on this thread:

                Avoid their beef enchiladas / fajitas. I also have to recommend

                1. re: rose water

                  Heh, glad you liked Casino. It's without a doubt one of the best bars in town and certainly the best burgers in the state.

                  1. re: rose water

                    i've only been to taqueria arandas #5 but i've also seen #3 here mentioned as good. it's pretty hole in the wall-ish. and damn good food.

                    1. re: rose water

                      Hi rose water,

                      Your question inspired me to update my response to the “best taquería in Austin” thread from last summer ( ).

                      Because I’m on a mission to methodically try every Tejano-style Tex-Mex place on the east and southeast sides of town, I haven’t yet made it to some of the places suggested to me by other ‘hounds (like Angie’s), nor have I returned to places to try new suggested dishes (like the pierna at Taquería Arandas).

                      If I leave off a category (like guacamole), it’s because I’m still searching for a version that rises head and shoulder above the rest. Other ‘hounds have made some good suggestions for my omitted categories—in the original thread and throughout the board.

                      I also left off touristy concessions, unless they’re very good on their own merits, since you asked about holes in the wall.

                      *** Best All-Around***

                      best tourist-friendly but not touristy restaurant, especially for grilled meats: Habañero Mexican Cafe

                      best Jaliscan take on Tex-Mex: Taquería Arandas [an eat-in restaurant and local chain, also tourist-friendly but not touristy


                      best Tejano-focused take-out store and counter: Abarrotes Mexicanos

                      best lunch spot with a Tejano-focused menu, north side of town: Don Luis [an eat-in restaurant, owned by a guy who used to have a taco truck]

                      best taco trailer: Taquería Piedras Negras

                      best drive-through: La Regiomontana and El Regio

                      *** Best Versions of Individual Dishes ***

                      best carne guisada: Taquería Piedras Negras and Seis Mesas

                      best chile en colorado: Taquería Piedras Negras

                      best refried beans: Seis Mesas

                      best rice: La Pasadita [a nightclub that serves food during the day]

                      best breakfast tacos: Abarrotes Mexicanos

                      best really cheap breakfast tacos: Taquería la Tapatia

                      best menudo: Abarrotes Mexicanos and Seis Mesas

                      best barbacoa de cabeza: La Monita

                      best barbacoa, greasy San-Antonio-corner-takeout-shop-style: Don Luis

                      best tacos bañados [barbacoa tacos drenched in a hot tlaquepaque sauce]: La Regiomontana

                      best pollo al carbon: El Regio (my favorite is the E. Riverside location)

                      best use of El Regio’s leftover chicken: the Tostada Siberia at La Regiomontana

                      best mole en pipian (chicken): El Mesón Taquería

                      best grilled lengua: Habañero Mexican Cafe

                      best chicharrones: Taquería Piedras Negras and La Hacienda Meat Market

                      best pierna [like carnitas]: Taquería la Tapatia

                      best tacos al carbon: Habañero Mexican Cafe

                      best beef fajitas, regular and rancheras: Habañero Mexican Cafe

                      best al pastor: [Rosita’s] Al Pastor

                      best torta: La Regiomontana (I prefer the pork filling to the chicken)

                      best corn tortillas: El Mesón Taquería

                      best flour tortillas: [Rosita’s] Al Pastor

                      best flour tortillas, of the greasy variety without baking powder: Don Luis

                      best hot and unusual (for Tex-Mex) salsas: La Regiomontana

                      best queso compuesto: Janitzio

                      best Friday Lenten meal (fried-to-order fish, shrimp cakes, and traditional lentil soup): Abarrotes Mexicanos

                      best nopalitos: Abarrotes Mexicanos

                      best chicken-filled chile relleno: Janitzio

                      best pan de huevo: La Michoacana

                      Enjoy yourself!

                      1. re: MPH

                        Thanks for the detail- that's nice. Two questions:

                        1) where is the stand Taquería Piedras Negras?
                        2) have you been to the Al Pastor stand at St John's, one block W of I35?
                        2) does Rosita's do the "gyro style" al pastor?
                        2) what makes El Regio Riverside better. I'm actually leaving for the ohlen location right now, because it is 75% closer.

                        ok, I admit I came up with 2 additional questions after thinking of the first two!

                        1. re: rudeboy

                          Hi Rudeboy,

                          Here’s an answer to your “two” questions:

                          1) The Taquería Piedras Negras trailer is at East César Chávez and Pleasant Valley. Here’s a link to an earlier thread on their chow:

                          2) I haven’t been to the Al Pastor stand at St. John’s. Thanks for letting me know about it. Do you think it’s run by the same people?

                          2) No, the al pastor at Rosita’s isn’t true gyro-style. I’ve yet to find one that is, I’m afraid. What really makes it stand out is their bright chile and citrus seasoning. Here's a link to an earlier discussion on its merits:

                          2) The main reason that I prefer the El Regio on East Riverside is because they go through chickens more quickly; thus, the odds are better that you’ll get a juicy, freshly charcoal-grilled bird. Plus, since sister-restaurant La Regiomontana is right next door, I can get chow from both places without leaving the parking lot. Here’s a recent post about La Regiomontana:

                          By the way, to bring up something from another thread, I believe Taquería la Tapatia also offers two kinds of pozole, though I haven’t tried it personally. You might want to check it out sometime. If they don’t have great pozole, you could always console yourself with three breakfast tacos for $1.99 (between 6 and 11 in the morning).


                          1. re: MPH

                            MPH - I've checked at tapatia - they do use the red stock for the posole. So no luck there. However, if you get the chance, get their sopa de mariscos. On friday, it is a special....for $3.99 you get an amalgam of seafood in a substantially spicy broth (for Tapatia - most of their food is bland in my opinion). The sopa is laden with fish, mussels, shrimp, and PULPO. Plenty of tender pulpo......they don't overcook it (at least at the 183/Anderson Mill location.

                            The taco stand at St Johns is the gyro style - they slice it off the rotiserrie - you get nice flanks of pastor rather than the stewed facsimile. At least as of six months ago, anyhow. Tons of fresh cilantro and white onion accompany the pastor.

                            I just wolfed down some Ohlen El Regio. There were birds on the grill, but when I ordered, they pulled mine from the steam cabinet. I asked how long it had been cooked, and she said 10 minutes....Anyhow, it was excellent and didn't seem old. I made up a nice pico to go along with it, as the red sauce is just ok and my wife said she wanted tomatoes....I'm going to have to ask for an extra green sauce with it - we almost ran out. She ate five tacos and I ate four, and for $12 we still have even another meal to enjoy.

                        2. re: MPH

                          Fantastic list! One question:

                          Can you recommend the places with good vegetarian options: nopalitos, hongos, huitlacoche, sopa de elote, etc; or seafood: caldo de mariscos, campechana, seafood mojo de aho, etc?

                          Will check out your recommendations above - thanks for all the research!

                          1. re: zencohen

                            Hi zencohen,

                            Of the places on the east and southeast sides that I've reviewed to date, El Mesón Taquería has good vegetarian options. Quesadillas with huitlacoche are sometimes on the menu, along with calabacitas—the kind without pork—and hongos guisados, too, if I'm not mistaken. This place caters to both Spanish- and English-speakers.

                            Janitzio on East Riverside has a great queso compuesto and good, cheap seafood, both fried and grilled, along with caldo de mariscos, various ceviches, etc. I went back recently and enjoyed a very good seafood fideo, which is kind of like soupy Mexican spaghetti, with shellfish, in a fish-based broth. Janitzio is a typical Mexican-seafood joint in many ways, with a mostly Spanish-speaking clientele.

                            You can also get pretty good seafood dishes (shrimp nachos, shrimp enchiladas, pescado entortillado) at the more tourist-friendly, but still good, El Chile.


                            1. re: MPH

                              and while at Janitzio grab a couple of their very fine carne asada tacos....and true dat on the queso,damn if it ain't fine.Also the waitresses are the bartenders and they will make you a margarita to your precise specifications[these girls have heavy hands from all that hard work so two will be the limit]

                    2. heh, you're right! sorry, it's true. You can't go to both cosmic cafe and West Lynn cafe without a time machine ;)

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: onomatopoeia

                        I also like Nuage, the Thai tofu wraps are a must.

                        Sunflower Vietnamese has a huge selection of vegetarian delights.

                        Manuel's downtown is near to where the bats would be if they were here, and has a sophisticated Mexican menu with several vegetarian selections, and half-price appetizers before 7:00.