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Mar 8, 2007 06:12 PM

Visiting Austin during SXSW

Last year, I wasn't well prepared with any ideas of where I should be eating in the area, and I don't want to make that mistake again. I read the "Chow guide to SXSW" and saw nothing but negative feedback from the regulars of this forum.

Seeking out a second opinion, I recently read another blog about food at SXSW:

I'd like to get some input from Austin locals on how good those suggestions are. Also, I'd definitely appreciate any other suggestions you may have! At some point in the trip, I'm planning to head over to Lockhart as well :)

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  1. Awesome, Air!

    First off, one of the writers on that site is YiMay, a old friend and a Chowhound denizen. Her tips are usually pure gold. That disclaimer aside, here are my takes.

    I'll give you my spot-by-spot tips. Please forgive my lack of massive detail, and feel free to ask for more information about any restaurant as needed.

    * Taco Shack
    I have always had a soft spot for Taco Shack's Shack Taco; please note, some folks I know think the chorizo tastes more like dry dogfood. To each their own, I guess. The Burnet Road Burrito is ample and filling, if bland: massive applications of their fresh, bright, and almost fruity salsa are absolutely required to choke this puppy down.

    * Ironworks
    Why does everyhound always hate up on the 'works? This place isn't bad at all. I like their beef ribs and I especially like their sausage -- super dry, kinda spicy, hmmm, sort of like dried dog food? Uh oh.

    * Habana Calle 6
    I have tried to find this place on two different occassions. Still haven't been. I must be an idiot.

    * Casino El Camino
    Yes, it is true, they really know how to make a delicious thick-and-hearty burger. An absolute Austin classic. I hope they can keep the quality high during the SXSW barrage they are no doubt about to undergo. If you're craving an L.A.-style skinny-and-snappy burger, this ain't the place -- instead, try P. Terry's on Lamar.

    * Las Manitas
    It ain't bad, but it ain't real good! However, this is probably your last chance to go before this classic piece of Austin is destroyed forever... just don't go expecting the world's best Mexican food.

    * The Boiling Pot
    Never been, pass.

    * Angie's Mexican Restaurant
    More-than-capable carnitas; I can't quite put this place at the top of my list, but I definitely prefer it for deliciousness over Las Manitas.

    * Stubb's
    Another Austin institution. Their serrano pepper cheese spinach is actually pretty darn good; their BBQ is by no means bad. Most times I eat here, I'm at a show and have probably had many beers. This may have warped my opinion to more positive than is deserved. Probably on the Green Mesquite level on the tasty scale (i.e. Ironworks is better).

    * Moonshine
    Decent. If you go, their baked macaroni and cheese is probably their best item overall. Their hanger steak (a great cut of beef, by the way) is pretty good, too. Their brunch is overrated, but very, very filling.

    * Chez Nous
    Best restauraunt on this list, as far as I'm concerned. I love this place. If you want lardons on the salade lyonaisse, you'll have to specifically ask for them. If your waiter doesn't know what lardons are, instruct them to request bacon on your salad. The kitchen will know what that means.

    * Casa de Luz
    Never been.

    * Star Seeds
    ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE. This should not be on anyone's list. So dirty you'll need a tetanus shot after you leave, food so mediocre you'll wish you'd gone to the Kettle.

    * Bouldin Creek Coffee House & Cafe
    Completely forgettable menu alongside very Austiny slow service; if you've come this far South, might as well trek all the way to Green Muse (Oltorf & 1st) which is better than Bouldin in every conceivable way as far as coffee houses go.

    * Magnolia
    Austin institution. Be smart. Avoid this place during SXSW, as it will be packed to the brim (as will Kerbey Lane, which is about as good). Food like Star Seeds, only much better (although really freaking far from Darn Good).

    * "Feeling Spendy" ideas...
    + La Traviata
    Wrong! Heh. Go to Vespaio instead, which is much better. However, be prepared for an epic wait.

    + Eddie V's
    Wrong! Heh, that was even more fun the second time. If you're craving a great steak, hit Mars instead for a delicious beef tenderloin cooked medium rare. The rest of their options ain't bad either. If you're craving awesome seafood, well, let me know where you found it in Austin. Quality Seafood on Airport is your best bet for affordable-but-good seafood in town. For expensive-and-worth-it, I have no idea; see MPH's reviews of Backstage Steakhouse.

    + Shoreline Grill
    No comment.

    + Roaring Fork
    Expensive and mediocre. Skip. If you're looking for a more affordable, better take on Southwestern-style upscale cuisine, Castle Hill is your friend (although some here do not agree, please note).

    8 Replies
    1. re: tom in austin

      Thanks for the reply!

      I've been to Kerbey Lane and Magnolia numerous times and it makes sense why they'd be crowded during SXSW, everyone knows about them.

      Ooh, and I should've said this in my initial post: the places towards the end of the article didn't really interest me. I'm a college student, so spendy is out of the question, moreso looking for fast and preferably cheap. Casino El Camino sounded interesting, but the idea of waiting an hour isn't thrilling.

      I also saw that it's on 6th, so another thing that might help is my itinerary. It has a little mini map of where I plan on going, and the venues I plan to hit are all pretty much along 6th or Red River. I'll definitely look out for the places around there which you gave positives to!

      1. re: tom in austin

        ironworks beef ribs
        angie's carnitas
        casino's burgers
        magnolia's love veggies
        la traviata's chicken panini and their spaghetti bolognese — but only for lunch, not worth it for dinner. (on another note, i like vespaio but for what they charge i always leave feeling like i'm missing something.)

        i don't get:
        moonshine. it's stupid. and expensive.
        the boiling pot. it's stupid. and expensive.

        not mentioned:
        las cazuelas on east cesar chavez for pretty much any mexican food you could possibly want until 3:30 am on weekends! they serve real tacos, like in mexico, with the double layers of corn tortillas. also they have the largest menu i've ever seen. everyone in your party will find something they are craving.

        1. re: yimay

          How late is Las Cazuelas open on weeknights?

        2. re: tom in austin

          Hi Tom...I was the one who wrote that guide.

          The main purpose was to give some decent-to-good choices of places to eat at, and places out of towners could go to on foot. With the key point being: you can get there without a car! These are all places Downtown, and on the eastern side of Downtown, or on Congress. It's not meant to be the "These Are Best Places In Austin" guide as I know just how how divided opinion can get!

          The "spendy" list is what I came up with after trying do to some research on Chowhound. What I wrote up is exactly the choices that other 'hounds gave in other threads -- where were you then, huh? :)

          I think Star Seeds and Bouldin Creek have great atmospheres and thought the food was pretty good the few times I've gone. More of an "experience" if you will...As for Star Seeds, I've never felt it to be super unclean or unsanitary when I've been there. Then again, it was probably late at night.

          I've been to La Traviata and liked it, in fact, I think it was Yimay who took me there. Yimay, can you remember?

          As for Castle Hill, I've also gone there and liked the food, but it was a LONG trek if you're walking.

          1. re: kathryn

            k, i love la traviata! though for what it is, i think it's too expensive for dinner. i think i did take you there (with dj?)! that was the only time i've been there for dinner and, like i said, too expensive. lunch is the way to go. i had some bean soup there one time too that knocked me out of my chair.

            another mentionable is guero's fish tacos on south congress. also they have the best margaritas in town = not sweet (which is key to a good margarita in my book.)

            1. re: yimay

              I thought I was the only one who had similar impressions about the margaritas (oh, Centenario) at Guero's–I can't stand many of the sweeter versions that prevail out there, and generally opt for a mexican martini instead. I also relegate my entree choice at Guero's to either the fish tacos (w/ cheese and guac) or the alambres. Ever had the quail? I haven't and would like to know if it's worth trying. Oops, almost forgot the al Mojo de Ajo–how could I possibly forget a dish that makes you smell like garlic for three days after?

            2. re: kathryn

              Greetings, Kathryn. Nice guide! Any friend of Yimay's...

              Re: your "spendy" list; I'm a relative newbie to Chowhound, having only showed up in the past six months or less. It is sad to learn that at some point before I got here, Eddie V's and Roaring Fork were considered Spendy Faves Near Downtown. If you've got mad cash and are on-foot only, Aquarelle is close, next door to the best scotch selection in Austin (Opal Divine's), across the street from another fun bar (Mother Egan's). I prefer Chez Nous, but there you go. Also in walking distance for those feeling spendy is Driskill Grill, which is pretty good but massively overpriced. Also worth considering in the spendyzone is Louie's 106.

              For those who have money to burn, you should also have cash for a cab. Roll down to Uchi, which should top the spendy list. If Austin was enrolled in a multi-city "Battle of the Restaurants", Uchi would probably be our best bet. Wink+Wink Wine Bar is also on Lamar and pretty darn good, although sometimes freakishly off their game. Vespaio/Enoteca is/are very excellent as well, located on SoCo in the Gueros/HomeSlice/SoCoCafe zone. Craving Indian? Near Mars is the Clay Pit; pretty tasty. Between them is a classic Austin bar, the Dog & Duck. Have a pint of Guinness for me.

              Re: Bouldin. Its outdoor atmosphere is better than Green Muse (solely due to Muse living in a strip center), but I prefer Muse as a place to spend an hour or two on my laptop, drinking coffee or draft beer.

              Finally, I think Star Seeds seems very artsy and punk, so it gets a better rep than is deserved. There is nothing exceptional about the place, other than it is affordable. Worse, after about 1 AM you can expect the waits to be upwards of 1.5 hours for seating. Absolutely lame. Hey, check it out! A mix of dirty, tattoo'd burnouts and disinterested hipsters staff the place! Great! But the food is somewhere between miserable and boring, just like the art for sale on the walls.

              Groovy website (; keep up the good work. Also, thanks for replying. I think these things are tons more fun when the author gets involved.

            3. re: tom in austin

              Vespaio, Eddie V's is the best for happy hour...Cibo is new and was good..Driskill - voted best at least 2 yrs in row, Kerby Lane I would skp on any day

            4. I am eagerly watching this thread as I will be getting in on Thursday and will be at the conference until Monday. I plan to hit Casino El Camino, Ironworks and Stubbs but was wondering if I should know any other places mainly for bbq and tex mex

              1 Reply
              1. re: starvinhungry

                Welcome to Austin! Hope you find amazing food; tell us about it later!

              2. Well I'm coming for the interactive conference, back to where I used to live. I'd say a fine choice to go if you have a car and are looking for a late-night sweet and drink is Dolce Vita, 4222 Duval St.

                Have a legato (?), a gelato topped with a shot of liqueur of your choice.

                1. also trying to get a good bowl of texas red in the downtown area. Is the Texas Chili Parlour worth the jaunt?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: starvinhungry

                    I personally really dig the chili here - though I only get the XXX or the Habanero. If you don't have a sturdy stomach you might want to get the X or XX.

                  2. The original comment has been removed