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Nov 28, 2007 02:09 PM

40th birthday for visiting hound and friends..

I am taking my husband for his 40th to Austin for 5 days in Barton Creek where we are renting a home. We have 6 other people ages 35-40...all a lot of fun.

I will need to schedule dinners for Thur/Fri and Sat nights for the group. What are some fun places for us to go with great food? We love BBQ, Mexican, Sushi---everything--like unique places.

Last time I was here, I went to Uchi, El Chile, Curra's (not enough atmopshere for a group birthday), Salt Lick, Lockhart BBQ spots, South Congress Cafe, Cedar Door...

Thinking Uchi again, but may be hard to control the bill there with so many people..maybe Enoteca Vespaio (but Italian seems strange to have in TX)....

Any thoughts?

New places?

Unique dining experiences?

Thanks so much for the help...

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  1. You have to go to Lamberts. It is next to the new 2nd street distict by City Hall. It is described as fancy BBQ, great live music upstairs that pours down to the dining room. Service, food and quality always spot on. Be sure to make a reservation. also, for an upscale evening out Four Seasons opened their new restaurant TRIO. Really nice new design and innovative food.

    1 Reply
    1. re: gulch

      Second Lamberts. I went there for my 40th earlier this year. I had a veal chop special that was delicious.

    2. I'll recommend Backstage Steakhouse. It's at the end of a scenic drive southwest of Austin, and the food is delicious.

      More info here:
      and here:

      1 Reply
      1. re: Twill

        Backstage Steakhouse is on Texas Monthly magazine's (December 2007) list as one of the 38 best steakhouses in all of Texas.

      2. Welcome back to Austin. Hope the Saints fans don't annoy you this time.

        Uchi is fantastic. If your gang can afford the absurd prices, you're in for a treat that is justifiably called the "best restaurant in Austin". Uchi rocks. I know Chicago has good sushi. Uchi matches up well with Chi-town's best. You've been there, you know what I mean.

        While I dine at Enoteca a lot (way too much!), I must sadly report that their food quality has declined over the past year. Meanwhile, many of their items have increased in price. I would not recommend Enoteca to out-of-towners looking for Austin's best. Where I once called this place a great value, the new news is that an increase in price and decrease in quality makes it an OK option for locals but a bad bet for visitors. (Vespaio is more expensive and more delicious; maybe better for your group birthday?)

        I advocate the holy trinity of BBQ in Lockhart, like everyone else, and I'm on board with the prevailing opinion that Black's is the worst of the bunch. Cooper's in Llano rocks, and there are many local options: Sam's, House Park, Ben's Longbranch, Lambert's, and Ruby's will all do you nice here in the city. Lambert's Sunday brunch especially will provide you with the "atmosphere" you seem to be looking for.

        If you're craving "comfort food", I recommend Tony's Southern Comfort. This place is awesome, and near downtown. Other jam sessions on the east side include Gene's and Nubian Queen Lola's. I really dig these places.

        For some tasty Mexican food, I recommend Curra's (which you've said doesn't meet your atmospheric requirements), Fonda San Miguel (which will *definitely* meet your atmospheric needs), El Meson (a delicious hole-in-the-wall), and Rosita's Al Pastor (ditto, plus open 'til 3 AM). I haven't tried several places that the local folks have raved about: if you're craving authentic Mexican food on the cheap, peruse the recent posts of MPH, Twill, and scrumptiouschef. Also, if you're craving classic "Tex-Mex", I recommend Enchiladas Y Mas, Tamale House (on Airport), and Jorge's.

        If you're looking for "fine dining", I still advocate Backstage. For French, I still recommend Chez Nous (w/ Aquarelle as the more expensive, more fancy option). For fresh "austiny" foods or just a great brunch, Eastside Cafe can't be beat. And while Wink is still erratic, my last two visits were freaking awesome -- delicious, melt-in-your-mouth duck worth every penny.

        If you're up late and downtown watching live music, consider Casino El Camino for a burger jam. Note that the staff are basically jerks, and don't be put off by their "mean" ways as that is part of the schtick. The burgers are good, and maybe even worth the abuse.
        Craving Thai? Little Thailand in Garfield is a bit of a drive, but it is affordable, delicious, and has a unique atmosphere that will likely impress. In town, Madam Mam's is still the best. If you don't mind absurdly hot foods, their Pud Cha catfish will do the job!

        Finally, I don't know what Chinese options you have back home, but if you're craving Chinese, take the gang to Din Ho. If you have folks who *haven't* had authentic Chinese food, it'll definitely blow their minds. Go family style and get the pork char siu and the duck "tacos" at the very least. When dining family style w/ a big fish on the table, whoever eats the fisheye is the big winner. Don't let those babies go to waste!

        Good luck!

        13 Replies
        1. re: tom in austin


          You have given some great recommendations that will no doubt prove helpful.

          The only thing I would throw out there is that lots of Hounds, myself included, have had some pretty diappointing experiences at Fonda San Miguel lately. Beautiful restaurant, but the food has been poor quality as of late (especially considering the cost). It is off my list for meals, but remains an option for a margarita and queso flameado as the atmosphere is so pleasant.

          1. re: Honey Bee

            Good point. My last two trips there were for brunch; both were really good. I can't speak to the quality of their dinners of late, and other 'hounds can.

          2. re: tom in austin

            Tom: I was hoping you'd post on this! We are so excited to be returning to Austin, as we both absoltely love it there!

            The most inportant criteria is atmosphere---something uniquely Austin, kooky, unique (Uchi) or just plain fun (i.e. I thought Geurros was fun, but really disliked the food). Half of the group is single. All are a lot of fun--so nothing quiet and nothing without ambience. What would your top three be?

            Uchi is too expensive, so I hope to go alone with my husband before others arrive Wed evening.

            Otherwise, want one BBQ spot--should we do Lamberts--is the 'cue that good? We may drag everyone to Lockhart (for the fab food, Smitty's to be precise), or Salt Lick Driftwood for the fun drive, cool ambience, and local wineries nearby. but, if we do not make it out of town, then which is best for the total experience (i.e. not jsut a dining hall)?

            Want one Mexican night. Is El Chile still good? I really enjooyed the food there, and thought it was cute, as well. I like its proximity to the Red Room Bar next door, which I really liked. I did not have great food at Curra's (and had such high hopes). Nor did we like the any other recs?

            Third we are open...could do one comfort food, although I am not so into that type of food. Is tony's really worth it for the total experience? sounds cool. otherwise, we could always do Maria's or something...

            Anything else I am missing that is new or fun?

            How about lunch spots?

            We need some bars, too as this crowd likes to drink...

            Finally, the week fell over Super Bowl Sunday, anywhere that would be fun w/o being miserable? We get kicked out of the house sun and will be staying at Hotel San Jose, so anythign walking distance is preferred.

            Thank you so much!

            1. re: ljero

              Re: bars, what do you think of Mean Eyed Cat or Freddie's on First?

              1. re: ljero

                Also is Lambert's better for Sun brunch or dinner one night? I was thinking dinner, as it is in an area with bars that we could go to on 2nd St, but am open to ideas?

                Generally, would prefer restos in three diff areas, each with own charm. Woudl be fun to eat one night on SoCo, would only place be Vespaio? Looks great, but not sure I want Italian in Austin...and did not really like South Congress Cafe...

                1. re: ljero

                  If you want something on SoCo I would highly recommend Mars, very eclectic, good atmosphere, and great food. I keep hearing the mean eyed cat is going to close so you may want to hit that up as it could be the last time. As far as Mexican, I always see mixed reviews on Polvos. However, I absolutely love their Mexican martinis, best in town in my opinion. Love to sit out on the patio with my BF for hours drinking Mexican martinis and sharing choriquezo, perfect night!

                  1. re: chowinginaustin

                    If your looking for something unique one night, I think Little Thailand in Garfield operates in an entirely different plain of existence from the rest of us. They are very friendly and cater to groups, even if it is a fairly long trip.

                    Plus, 40 is getting pretty old....perhaps your husband needs a living will prepared while you eat? Or possibly he is wanting to take home a few live chickens? This is all possible at LT.

                    1. re: Trhosion

                      and don't forget Dick[the owner is now ordained to perform weddings]so if there's a couple in the group that have been putting off the big day perhaps the entire group could adjourn to the patio for an impromptu wedding ceremony?

                      The new couple could leave with a dozen or so free range chicken eggs and contemplate their new existence with a belly full of the best Thai they ever tasted,ears ringing from all the David Allan Coe and Dean Martin on the jukebox and their entire lives in front of them....

              2. re: ljero

                If y'all are looking to "go out" after dinner and want it to be within walking distance, you're probably thinking about the Fourth Street zone. For that, Lambert's and Starlite would both be strong choices for atmosphere-location-quality: after dinner, you're just a stroll to the region of downtown of bars and venues that Austin's late-twentysomethings-and-up seem to visit. (These places include the pretty decent Gingerman, the really-really-fun-for-EPL-football-at-7-AM Fado, the cougar den called Cedar Street, the tapas-and-wine funspot Malaga, the mysteriously-still-in-business Saba, the Elephant Room, Antone's, Red Fez, and many more.) Also near this area are Mother Egan's (which usually has a band and often features karaoke on Sundays) and Opal Devine's (best Scotch selection in Austin as far as I know), both which are fun but more low-key and less of a scene.

                If you insist on going to the 6th street area instead, you won't beat the atmosphere of Casino el Camino for a grungy dive w/ amazing hamburgers served by standoffish jerks. You also won't beat the atmosphere of Chez Nous, a classic Austin option serving some darn good French food. You'll be surrounded by 6th Street's mixed bag, of which I'd recommend Lovejoy's, Club De Ville, Side Bar, and Casino for drinking and Emo's, Beerland, and Mohawk for music. If you want to go to a semi-goth goofball joint that has an early-80's alternative music dance night, Elysium on Sunday is your premier (uhhh only?) choice in town.

                For a "destination", dinner at Little Thailand can be especially awesome if you bring a posse. Taking over the back room to struggle with the jukebox (you'll see what I mean) and throw darts while pounding beers and "Thai" bloody mary's is always great pre-dinner fun. This place has true Texan character and delicious home-cooked Thai food. Highly recommended, much moreso than Salt Lick (although that can be fun, too).

                (Obviously, Smittys + Kreuz is a great "desination" as well, but Thai-in-Texas ain't a bad curveball to throw.)

                For a quiet brunch on Saturday or Sunday, or an elegant-but-unpretentious lunch, I'd seriously consider the Eastside Cafe. Again, atmosphere is great, and the food ain't bad. Another impressive location for that sort of thing is Green Pastures -- prettier grounds, w/ peacocks and all, but also more expensive and worse food.

                If your party is craving amazing Chinese food, reserve a large round table at Din Ho and go crazy. Lots of things here are really good, but the duck and the pork take the cake for me. Strongly recommended.

                Below, you mention Mean Eyed Cat. I think it is a fun spot, and worth a visit; another place near there is Deep Eddy, which has a similar vibe (but is a more authentic Austin spot). Freddie's is alright on the atmosphere, and your group might get a kick out of it if the weather is really nice. The food isn't anything special. If you're dying to play washers (something they do at Freddie's), Ginny's on Burnet is a more hilarious venue, with other Austin goofiness such as betting on where a chicken will poop. (Not kidding.) Then again, if non-cramped outdoors on a gorgeous afternoon is what you're after, Red's Scoot-Inn, recently acquired by the owner of the Longbranch Saloon (a mixed blessing), has a large outdoor area to enjoy a breeze and the added benefit of a Full Bar. Peacock on the eastside mixes decent drinks and has (on weeknights, anyhow) a strange-but-interesting mix of patrons and plenty of charm. Lastly, the Dog & Duck is always a glorious option, especially for a pint in the middle of the day. Clay Pit and Hog Island Deli are both very close.

                For dining walking distance to San Jose, Vespaio is your best choice, followed by Enoteca, Mars, and Home Slice. Guerro's is near, as is El Sol Y La Luna, but I can't recommend either. If you need to watch football, Doc's is right there, but be warned that the food ain't good. Nearby cavelike bar Ego's is a fun place to grab a beer and watch a band.

                Best of luck, and let us know how it turns out.

                1. re: tom in austin

                  Good lord, Tom - this is one of the best posts I've seen in a long time. I second these recommendations (and those above).

                  1. re: tom in austin

                    Boy, are you guys going to get a great report when I return...thanks so much, esp, you, Tom for the posts!

                    One night: Lamberts

                    Second night: Vespaio OR Uchi...depending on crow choice

                    Third: I really want a fun Mexican spot...has to be good food, even better margaritas with a cool/fun atmosphere...still have not filled this spot yet...

                    Any particular order best for thur/fri/sat, maybe b/c lamberts has better music one night than others, etc?

                    Still also looking for best Mexican martini in the city...actually enjoyed the drink at Cedar Door?! If that is the name of the spot I recall....

                    Anything else as far as must dos/eats?

                    thanks, everyone...getting excited...hoping to miss the snow storm this time! :)

                    1. re: ljero

                      Polvos=Best Mexican Martini!!!!!!! My BF and I found ourselves there almost every weekend during the summer. We would crave the martinis and choriquezo.

                      1. re: chowinginaustin

                        Polvo's would be a quirky "fun" (if the owner has calmed down his drunken rants) place for Mexcican, especially if it's warm enough to sit on the patio.

                        Hands down best potato vodka martini is at the Driskall and that is about as "Austin-y" as you can get.

              3. If you want something Austinish I like Ranch 616 for southwestern food, then would walk to Opal Divines for the malt scotch tasting or over to Z Tejas to the porch for dessert.