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Best Cheap Eats in Austin?

I have really enjoyed following this board for the last 6 weeks. We will arrive in Austin next week to visit our daughter who goes to school, and works and lives in the Pleasant Valley area(I think that's what it is called, near Pleasant Valley Dr and East River Dr) As we have the pleasure of 3 other fine scholars, in college now as well (and 1 out). We have a dilemma. We want to eat out as frequently as possible and as cheaply as possible. We'll also be treating our daughter and her boy friend too(a Corpus native). Can you help generate a list of other great cheap eats other than Tex Mex? I got that down thanks to an earlier post. How about bergers, dogs, BBQ, Cajun,diners, other ethnic, etc. No big chains please. Thanks.
I plan to report back to ya'll afterwards.

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  1. I recommend these guys a lot: Ruby's BBQ (on 29th St and Guadalupe). The BBQ sandwiches and black bean and cilantro tacos (for vegetarians) cost less than $6/each.

      1. re: mkwng

        Thanks, that pretty well covers it. It is snowing outside all day. It's been a tough winter, we have 5' banks of snow along the driveway since Thanksgiving. Boy, are we looking forward to visiting Austin!

      2. Hi Passadumkeg - I think you responded to a lobster roll thread i sent around after a Maine trip last July on my trip up from Portland and inland up by Newport and on to Mooshead. I'm sure Austin will be a treat this time of year for you from a good Maine winter. I changed my CHOW sign-on to be a tad more "mysterious".

        My recommendations for cheap food that's not tex mex, and most of these are in good searchable threads.

        1. BBQ in Austin: Brisket especially at Ben's Long Branch http://www.benslongbranchbarb.ypgs.net/ Takes Visa.
        2. BBQ 30 min. south: Brisket, Ribs, Prime Rib especially at Smitty's Market in Lockhart, Texas. So so very good. Cash only.
        3. Thai - Look at the many threads for Little Thailand, about 10 miles east on HWY 71 in a tiny town of Garfield.
        4. Schezuan / Chinese. Asia Cafe, a cafe in the back of Asia Market (www.asiamarketaustin.com). Look up this here too, it's fantastic - go for the spicy fish fillet, but be prepared, it's zippy.
        5. Indian - Bombay Bistro on 183 and Braker has a reasonable lunch buffet for 10 bucks - but on the weekend they serve some south indian favorites with coconut chutney - it's a decent Indian joint for Washington D.C., but pretty darn good for Austin. Swad is a more interesting south indian variety on North Lamar on the right in a little strip mall -
        6. Taco truck tacos - El Pastor on East Riverside just east of downtown. A little silver taco truck on your right about a mile away from HWY 35 in a shopping center parking lot. get the Pastor Tacos. this is as cheap as it gets - and be sure to get them on the homemade corn tortillas.
        7. Guajillo Fajitas Pork and Chicken - Polvos is a controversial joint with my favorite fajitas on the planet - and usually consistently fantastic. service can be suspect. not expensive !!

        8. Smoked pork shoulder or pulled pork sandwich - Whole Foods downtown - it's really melt in your mouth pork inside a BBQ stand inside a grocery - grab this cheap sandwich and sit outside and people watch. it's good meat.

        9. Top Notch Hamburgers on Burnet, forget about it. Or Sandy's on Barton Springs Road. lovely solid great burgers.

        10. Amy's Ice Creams all over town are fun - but I don't eat ice cream.

        Have fun!


        3 Replies
        1. re: slowcoooked

          For cajun, we go to Cafe Evangeline on Brodie Lane south of William Cannon. It is not as good as going to LA, but probably far better than anything you get in MA. I think the Oysters Contraband are excellent.


          I would also add the burger at Casino El Camino on East 6th Street. It is in a seedy bar and be prepared to wait, but man they are good burgers. Top Notch closes early (around 8 pm, I think) and CEC is a nice late night alternative.

          In Austin proper, House Park BBQ near 12th and Lamar (lunch only) is a good, cheap option. Even better, in my opnion, is Sam's ribs on East 12th.


          Enjoy and please report back.

          1. re: Honey Bee

            La Hacienda Carniceria, right on Riverside before Pleasant Valley has GOT to be one of the cheapest&tastiest ways to feed the family. Definately not TexMex.

          2. re: slowcoooked

            Ted, it just hit me, you are the Austin, professor, who really liked the clam roll at the drive- in ice cream shop in Newport(the only port in Maine not on the water.), Me. Well thanks for all the great cheap chow tips. If ever back in Maine, do a post and I'll be there. But I think I'll take a pass on the Austin chowder thread!
            Ciao & Chow!

          3. I live in this neighborhood, too, and will limit my discussion to the area (so disclaimer: there are better places further afield).

            Java Noodles (on Oltorf just west of Pleasant Valley): very good Indonesian food. They have a Sunday buffet, but I've never tried it. My favorite items there are chicken satay, beef rendang (I love this), and shrimp and green beans in coconut sauce (can't remember the Indonesian name).

            El Pollo Regio: on East Riverside, west of Pleasant Valley. It's drive thru or eating on picnic tables. Delicious marinated, chargrilled chicken. 1 whole chicken comes with tortillas, red and green salsas (that green is lethal), grilled onion, and rice and beans. Order extra rice.

            Hai Ky on S. Oltorf west of Pleasant Valley but east of I-35 (all these are east of I-35): a variety of Asian dishes, but I really like the rice vermicelli dishes, especially the beef one. They do a good Singapore noodle and respectable pad thai.

            Pho Oanh on S. Oltorf (very close to Hai Ky) for good pho.

            If you need a basic meal and want a view of Texas cooking, there's a Luby's cafeteria on S. Oltorf near I-35. It's kind of a funny place, but I'm very fond of their liver and onions, fried okra, and mac and cheese. They have lots of old-school foods but are also trying to revamp their image with grilled fish, etc. You can get what's called the LuAnn platter for $7.99 (small portion of entree--though its usually served larger than you expect--plus 2 sides and choice of bread).

            Other than Mexican places, most of the food in the area comes from fast food chains. The only one I can recommend is Church's Fried Chicken (on Riverside, towards I-35). Their spicy chicken is pretty good. I like their honey biscuits but I don't know if they're "good" in an objective sense.

            7 Replies
            1. re: renz

              Is Java Noodles still open? I heard that it closed, but I'm not sure if the source had the right place.

              1. re: rudeboy

                It was open a couple of weeks ago. I haven't checked since (but I hope it's still there). When did you hear this?

                1. re: renz

                  Oh, I heard it from someone who said that it closed a while back. To avoid any possible misinformation on this board, I called them. THEY ARE OPEN!

                  I should have called first before asking here.

                  1. re: rudeboy

                    Here are my suggestions: Threadgills downtown is just a straight shot down Riverside drive. They have a great chicken fried steak and a great selection of home cooking and vegetables out the wazoo. One of my favorite Austin places is Hyde Park Grill, which now has a location on South Lamar and Ben White. I love the egg sandwich and my wife is partial to the steamed vegetable plate. The best burgers in town require a bit of a drive for you, to Phil's on Burnet near 51st. Great burgers, and great sweet potato fries, not to be missed! There is a great breakfast place called The Omletry, but that is also north, near Phil's. Those are a few suggestions in the moderate to low price range and all delicious.

                    1. re: gntlmn6464

                      Since you mention Phil's, I thought I would post about the fantastic chili dog. It's huge and, ordered with mustard, cheese and onion, it's as good as any that I've had in Texas. It's also big enough to share with the addition of an order of fries / sweet potato fries.

                      1. re: gntlmn6464

                        I can't not pipe in here: I went with my brother and his wife to Threadgills, and as pysched as we were about the menu, it turned out to be the blandest food I've ever paid for. My CFS was also oddly shrunken in the middle (brother's too): the meat was significantly smaller than the crust. Chili's does a better version than what I had. Potatoes were good, though.

                        Maybe it was an especially off day, but from what I've read elsewhere, there are better places for chicken fried steak (I remember the name Hoovers, for example, but haven't been there myself).

                      2. re: rudeboy

                        If it's on the specials board, get the ginger milk tea at Java Noodles.

                2. bergers, dogs, BBQ, Cajun,diners, other ethnic, etc

                  I'll list my cheap favs for your requested categories:
                  Burgers - Casino El Camino. It's a dark, seedy looking but friendly bar on 6th. Burgers are huge enough to split and cheap anyway, making for a cheap meal. They also have wings, chicken sandwiches, etc. If you're looking for something not as seedy looking, but cheap still, I'd go to Players up by UT Campus. Hut's is popular with the tourist crowd, expect a wait.
                  Dogs? Austin is not a big player in the hot dog arena, though I'm sure most hamburger places offer this. Not sure if we have any renowned dog spots. I've had a good one at the Jackelope on 6th.
                  BBQ: Salt Lick in Driftwood is a popular place for out of towners, with decent q and a nice drive south in the hill country. County Line BBQ is technically a chain, but with only a few locations. Big meals = split a big plate for even more savings. Smitty's and Kreuz are popular (40 minute drive to Lockhart) but remember they don't offer sauce. Good meat, but I prefer sauce with my q. If a drive is in order, head to Coopers in Llano, TX (90 miles west of Austin).
                  Cajun: Po-Boy's at Gene's in East Austin. I believe they have Oyster, Shrimp, Catfish, and others....
                  Diners: Not sure if I've eaten at a true dinner in Austin. Frisco Shop is the last resturant in the NightHawk Chain, been in Austin for milenias and it's good grub. It's on Burnet Rd.
                  Other Ethic: I'm not a Indian fan, and i don't know of any "cheap" italian food that is all that great here. Probably Saccone's Pizza would be my choice. For a quick lunch, try Torchy's Taco's on west 6th in the Little Woodrows parking lot. Green Chile Pork Taco is great there, cheap, and filling. Get one taco each and split a bowl of queso.

                  Enjoy your visit to our city.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: LakeLBJ

                    I second the recommendation of Gene's. The Po'Boys are the real deal and the Gumbo was tasty. The live Blues guitar sealed the deal - all Austin, affordable, and close to downtown.

                  2. Mark - welcome to Austin! I know that you asked for non tex-mex options, so I'll give you a different option. Definitely go to El Regio (grilled chicken) on Riverside. Eat it out at the picnic tables. Or go to the little place next door called Regiomante. It aint tex mex. Order half chickens in order to get more beans, rice, and salsa. Or maybe think about a picnic on the grass S of the river at Auditorium Shores. El Regio would work perfectly for that. Hide your wine, as there is an alcohol ban on Town Lake. They won't mess with you at all if you aren't whooping it up.

                    Also, if you are interested in vietnamese, I think that Austin can boast a fair amount of good, and cheap, viet offerings. Let us know and we can recommend. El Regio, banh mi, and a CFS should be on you agenda if your parameters hold true.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: rudeboy

                      Thanks, y' all! I'm gonna print this off and put it my carry on, to prevent computer glitches. I almost have the Taco Journalist's sites memorized. I'm learning the geography of Austin via the Chowhound board. Awesome. As a New Mex. deportee, I almost feel like I'm coming home. I've already booked 4 concerts and Patty Griffin is from Old Town, Me 40 min. from where I'm sitting. Michael Ramos and Charanga Cakewalk rules. I do a latin music show that can be listened to at www.weru.org at 9 am, your time tomorrow(Sat) morning. Last Tues night I did a 2 hour show, Southern Winds of only Austin based musicians!

                    2. Well I was reading my Austin Chowhound print outs on the Philly - Dallas flight and left them in the seat pouch. Duh.
                      Thus far, my family wants to know if there is a local chapter for TA (Tacos Anonymous for me. ) Every morning I phone Tacos al Pastor for a load of 5 for $5 tacos al pastor. fine way to start the day.
                      Rudeboy, took your advice Regio's chicken, beer, kids, dog picnic at River Park. Great time.
                      Hit Java Noodles; good flavor and food value. Funny, I used to eat a lot of Indoneasian in Albuquerque 30 years ago, but have gotten sooo used to Thai, it took some getting used to Indo again. Also been hitting the taco truck across from Al Pastor tucked in an alley. Luckily found ourselves in Lockhart for a Smitty's BBQ feast. Vini Vidi Vici! Viet sandwich today?

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                        Hey Passadumkeg, I forgot to recommend to you Berry Hill. And so glad you went to Smitty's. The serious real deal for meat.

                        The grilled fish tacos are quite good, as are the deep fried fish or shrimp versions - although other hounds may strike me down because they don't use homemade corn tortillas. Their pickled veggies on the free salsa bar are lovely and spicy as well. Best of all, it's a killer view of the hill country and a very family friendly place. You can see for what seems 30 miles westward off of their back deck. Really lovely place to grab a few tacos - and on weekends they have a live band for lunch. Corner of WestLake Drive and HWY 360. Also, if you take westlake drive from townlake (lakeaustin blvd, to redbud, to westlake) all the way out there - you'll see some ridiculously priced but really cool neighborhoods (15 min. drive or so).

                        Professor T

                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                          Hey - it is always nice to hear that I helped someone have a good time. Hope you did the picnic during the nice weather we were having.

                          Forgot to tell you - the best burger that I've had in a while, for the price, is at Artz Rib House on S. Lamar, with cheddar and jalapenos. The place is "rustic," which means run down and kind of dirty, but they have music at night (check the Chronicle).

                          There are banh mi posts galore - should be easy to find.

                        2. One word: Rio. Rio is right on Pleasant Valley (near 5th) and has THE BEST food! We love their tapas-style foods. Chef-style spin on Rio street food. Not too pricey and soooo good. If you want to have an adult beverage, recommend going to a liquor store first and buying Cuçhasa. Rio can provide you "set ups" for do-it-yourself caipirinhas (Brazilian margarita-esque drink).