San Diego CH looking for Austin CH help
This place specializes in down home comfort food. Portions are huge, anything smoked is bound to be good. Save room for dessert.
An old fashioned real "Texas Style" place. Friday Night Lights has been filmed here. I have been disappointed on occasion, but overall petty good. Voted Best burger in town. Tons of memorabilia on the walls, a real "Austin Experience"
-House Park BBQ
This diamond in the rough is only open for lunch, and only serves six items. I always get the sliced beef. So good. Small place, in business since the 40's. Great old school decor.
Not great.. but beloved by locals. Open all night, Breakfast anytime. A good place to go after last call to see Austin's night owls. Try the Magnolia Queso.
Decent TexMex. Unique atmosphere.
-Bars: Shoal Creek Saloon, Deep Eddy Cabaret, Sholtz Beergarden, The Tavern, Broken Spoke, Horseshoe Lounge, Cloak Room, Hole in the Wall, Elephant Room, Texas Showdown, Donn's Depot.
It's great that you're getting a number of responses during what is often a vacation period. You're bound to find any number of additional suggestions if you use the "search this board" link at the top of the page.
How specific is your "Austin" when you say "Only in Austin"?
It may be that all the Lockhart suggestions are just what you mean, and barbecue, whether in town at Sam's or Ben's (may it be open again next time I drop by), or further afield at a place like Smitty's in Lockhart, is something that does not seem to exist with the same deliciousness outside of central Texas.
If your scope is a bit wider, then a search for "Tex-Mex" on the board will get you a range of foods that fall into that category, from trailers to markets to restaurants, with offerings from simple tacos and menudo to plates with lots of cheese and sauce. Throw "MPH" into that search for one 'hound's growing atlas of the topic. Chow like those offerings will be found other places in Texas, but not in quite the same form outside the state.
If you'll go for things that are plentiful throughout the south but may not be as common in San Diego, a place like Tony's Southern Comfort might fit the bill. I've enjoyed the chicken fried steak and chicken and waffles there many times.
If you're really looking for an experience that can't be found outside of Austin's city limits, there's not really a cuisine that is a signature of the city. You'll probably need to look for unique atmosphere with delicious food, which can be a hard combination to come by. Austin likes to call itself the live music capital of the world. Your best bet for a uniquely Austin experience may just be to hunt up a performance that appeals to you, and then pour out into the street to find some of the food that scrumptiouschef and others have explored on threads like this: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/454641
Threadgill's, unfortunately, has been kind of uneven in the last decade. Not sure why. The CFS is quite good most of the time, and my fave side there is (unless they've botched it) the Texas Caviar. Last time I ate there, however, it was outstanding; it was October 2004, and they had an "Octoberfest special" with Bratwurst that was easily the closest tasting to the real thing, i.e. in Germany.
I'd second East Side Cafe--they have, for my money, the best salad in this city. Pretty simple, really, just very fresh mixed greens with goat cheese and raspberry vinegar. Not that unique, but about as perfect a salad as you're gonna find here.
BBQ in Lockhart, it's a must-do. Kreuz's, Black's and Smitty's BBQ, I love all three, and these places were close to the top of the list of reasons I moved back here from California. Best BBQ in Austin City Limits in my not so humble opinion is Sam's--definitely try their mutton; Ben's Longbranch is just as good as Sam's, they also have outstanding BBQ mutton (which is more an African-American thing; the way they do BBQ in Lockhart is more a German-Czech thing).
On Salt Lick: opinions are very divided on that place, as is mine. I think some of their stuff (mainly the ribs) is outstanding, other fare (the sausage) pretty mediocre at best.
Also you've gotta try the variety of Tex-Mex and Interior Mexican places: Fonda San Miguel (gourmet interior Mexican food; where else can you find Duck with green mole in town?), Curra's on Oltorf (the other locations don't measure up), Sazon on South Lamar (several incredible huitlacoche dishes; about the best Pollo con Mole I've ever had), La Michoacana on E. 7th, Pastor Restaurant & Taco truck on East Riverside, just west of Royal Crest.
There's plenty of great Asian place here, but one really stands out, and this is one place that's been garnering a lot of national buzz. Uchi, on South Lamar, primarily Sushi, but they use that as a take-off point. I've had Wagyu steak there that's incredible (I usually don't bother ordering steak in restaurants as I can easily find and cook prime steaks; there's not much cooking skill in those cuts; Wagyu is another story). Thinking about Uchi right now has me thinking maybe I shouldn't spend money on new top of the line chef's knife, and instead go there to eat.
Agree -- If you aren't going to drive the 45-min to an hour to do the BBQ outside of town, Sam's is my clear favorite. Concentrate on the brisket, order some pork ribs if available, and you should probably plan to take out and eat elsewhere. Sam's is pretty much a shack or cabin-type house just east of downtown, with women who have brisk but friendly attitude taking the orders and slicing up and weighing the meat -- in the front it is pretty much folding tables and chairs.
Uchi is indeed spectacular, and sushi is just a starting point for small cooked plates of very creative food. It can be very crowded and get expensive -- you can reduce both of these by going very early when they open and ask if they are serving any discount "happy hour" items -- must be ordered before 7 (?) if I recall correctly. SD has sushi, but this is not the same.
I hate to be redundant, but it would have to be the bbq. Whether you pack a cooler full of beer and head out to the Salt Lick, or drive down to Lockhart and eat at any of the old standards down there, you'll be having a uniquely Austin experience. You can run a search on bbq, and you'll find MANY conversations.
There's something wrong with us if they have to go out of town to have a uniquely Austin experience. Although the BBQ is totally worth the drive.
For a Uniquely Austin Experience, I would go to any of the <a href=http://www.originalalamo.com/>Alamo Drafthouse</a> theaters, especially for a special event (look for Buzz Moran, Master Pancake, or a Something-Along). On the 9th downtown, they're showing Napoleon Dynamite with Uncle Rico live. As for the food, they don't have any of the major dinner-and-a-movie events (I still want to try the daylong Lord of the Rings with five meals served, one of these days), but the regular menu is tasty. I would recommend any of the burgers or pizzas.