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Where to Eat DOWNTOWN During SXSW 2008

Hi Hounds!

I'm writing my annual cheatsheet of where to eat during SXSW in the downtown area, and was wondering if there were any new, notable, and good spots that have popped up in the last 12 months.

I know that Capitol Brasserie has closed, but Las Manitas is still open, anything else downtown that you could recommend?

Yes, I know Austin has AWESOME food elsewhere OUTSIDE of downtown (especially in the hill country) but you need a CAR or CAB to get there and that's just not feasible when you are pressed for time. The worst is lunch where you have 1.5 hrs to grab your friends, go to a restaurant, sit down, eat, pay your bill, leave, and get back to the convention center early enough to grab seats for a speaker so you don't have to sit on the floor.

I've eaten outside of downtown but it's just NOT FEASIBLE logistically during most of SXSW due to the insane scheduling.

I'm looking for places that are
1. in close proximity to 6th Street and the Convention Center at 4th St and Neches (I like the Warehouse District a lot but most people won't be willing to walk all the way out there for lunch)
2. accessible by foot (cabs are unreliable and in extremely short supply during SXSW, and if you even have a rental car, finding parking downtown can be a hassle)
3. relatively inexpensive and casual (or are of good value)
4. relatively fast (get in, sit down, order, eat, pay, get out in time to snag a seat at a panel/film/etc.)
5. not national chains like IHOP or PF Chang's and the like
6. not Katz's (which I find gross) or Mekong River (which I find mediocre)

My list so far:

Las Manitas (breakfast/lunch)
Ironworks (close, convenient BBQ -- yes I know there's better but we need to stay downtown)
Taco Shack (breakfast/lunch)
Casino El Camino (although the burgers take forever)
Stubb's (not my favorite but my friends seem to like it, it's an alternative to Ironworks, the sides are pretty good)
The Hideout
Halcyon
Habana Calle 6
Boiling Pot (I know it's a chain but my friends really like it, it's fun for a big group)
Chez Nous (great hidden gem)
Jo's
Roaring Fork (happy hour in the bar ONLY)
Eddie V's (happy hour in the bar ONLY)
Moonshine (pricier but I loved their mac and cheese)
Lambert's (haven't actually tried it -- has anyone gone lately)
Go Bites (late night only)
Best Wurst (anybody know hours? only at night?)
Hot Dog King (ditto)
Kebabalicious (ditto)
Jackalope (yes? no? I have friends who keep trying to drag me there to drink.)

Again, please keep non-downtown recommendations out of this. I'm thinking of places that are a 10-15 minute walk from 4th and Trinity. SXSW is manic enough without having to worry about eating crappy food! My friends have a horror story about some Mongolian BBQ place that closed down...

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  1. Traviata, the Italian bistro. More pricey than you are looking for maybe, but still moderate range of expense. Good for lunch in a more food serious place.

    Driscoll, the sandwich shop,1889 or something like that.

    Also in the tall building that houses Guaranty Bank and AG Edwards, there is a sandwich shop, sort of a generic variety. There used to be some food places at ground level in the building on the West side of Congress. . Don't know if they are there any more or not.

    1 Reply
    1. re: singlemalt

      I've been to La Traviata for dinner before; it is a little more pricey than I was looking for.

      Thanks for the tip about the bakery in the Driskill. It is also a little more pricey than I think my friends would go for, but the menu looks good. What do you recommend there?

      http://www.1886cafeandbakery.com/

    2. Jackalope is good for eating and drinking. Their burger is almost as good as El Camino's and they have a tasty chicken sandwich.

      2 Replies
      1. re: missmitzi

        Thanks! I'm guessing service is faster at Jackalope than at El Camino...

        1. re: kathryn

          Anything is faster than that place, but it's worth it.

      2. Can you ride a bike? It might open up your radius quite a bit.

        (Most of my friends in Austin live east of downtown and don't use their cars much.)

        Your list is pretty thorough already; I'll leave the Austin hounds to it (I moved to New York last summer, so I'm a bit out of touch).

        1 Reply
        1. re: cmballa

          I can (but haven't in a while) -- also, I'll probably be with several other people, who will probably be bikeless. Oh, well.

        2. Torchy's opened up a spot on 6th - go for the Queso and the Green Chile Pork Taco.

          4 Replies
          1. re: LakeLBJ

            Ooh, nice! It's a little far west from the Convention Center but it sounds worth it.

            Torchy's Tacos at Little Woodrow's on Sixth
            520 W 6th St
            Austin, TX 78701

            1. re: kathryn

              Nope, not the one I was talking about. Skip that long walk to that Torchy's location (a trailer parked at Little Woodrow's) and head to the newest location on east 6th (east as in east of Congress avenue). It's on the south side of 6th street, maybe a few blocks east of Casino El Camino.

              1. re: LakeLBJ

                Hmm, that's odd. Because I called and asked about their 6th Street location and that's what they told me, that it was on the west side of downtown.

                Do you happen to know the exact location/corner? I can't find it in Google.

                1. re: kathryn

                  There are two locations on 6th now. One is a trailer next to Little Woodrow's. I just drove by the farther east location today, it's two or three stores west of Casino El Camino.

                  I have not been but I assume the menu is the same.

          2. Austin Java Co. opened up shop in the new city hall on Second street. There is also a salad place on Second and San Antonio called Leaf. It is good. A little pricey but it will probably be quick for lunch. http://www.leafsalad.com/

            1. warehouse district is too far? isn't everyone from new york? they are too lazy to walk our tiny streets?

              apple annie's in the basement of the chase building on 6th and colorado. i still really like this place a lot. they have delicious salads and soups (tomato brie!) and lunch specials. they have a killer meat loaf then serve them up as sandwiches the next day. only mon-fri though. i think this is a great place for a light, healthy lunch. http://www.appleanniescatering.com/

              mike's pub for really greasy burgers. also only mon-fri i think.

              sweetish hill bakery on san jacinto at cesar chavez has fresh baked goods and sandwiches/salads. good for breakfast and lunch. http://www.sweetishhill.com/the-cafe....

              marakesh is not spectacular but has decently good food for really good prices. probably best for quick lunch. this used to be longhorn poboys which i've been eating at since college. i haven't had a poboy sandwich here since discovering the falafel back in the day but i remember they were fine. shawarma/gyro is decent too. they also have sampler plate (hummus, baba ganoush, tabuoli, dolmas, pita etc). it's probably pretty good for mixed crowd of meat/veggie eaters.

              i know your feelings about manuel's and i feel for what they did to dj, but their food is really tasty. i <3 the chile relleno en nogada and enchiladas suizas. i'd give them another chance.

              there is some place called drogo's i've not been to but have heard it is pretty good. supposed to have brazilian food and sandwiches. http://www.drogoscafe.com/Drogos_Cafe...

              taco shack is a local chain. it's not the best but it is the right place and right price and probably not too much of a wait. it's in the frost tower (you know THE tower). probably go there as a 2nd to last resort (last resort being convention center food

              )

              a lot of people hate marisco grill, but their seafood items are quite good. i like their ceviche and shrimp/avocado thingie (coctel or something). i also liked their breakfast tacos a lot. (i used to work across the street and we ate a ton of these) the fresh salsa that comes with them is good. also giant margaritas.

              best wurst is evenings only i think. yelp says 8pm-3am.

              i like jackalope. the burgers definitely come out faster than casino. casino still wins though. supposedly the casino cook that doesn't overcook the burgers is now gone, so not sure what it's like now.

              there are a ton of restaurants on 2nd street in the new development at city hall. jo's will be right up your alley. austin java co. is a staple. but it may seem too far based on your requirements. secret: tons of free parking in the city hall parking garage. http://www.2ndstreetdistrict.com/tena...

              oh, i forgot. habana calle on 6th. super close and good prices for lunch. remember we had the pork sandwiched between plantains and virgin mojito sodas?

              4 Replies
              1. re: yimay

                City hall parking is no longer free, though most restaurants and businesses in the 2nd Street district will validate for 2 hours.

                If you're heading toward Waterloo for any in-stores, hit the flagship Whole Foods at 6th & Lamar, or think about the grilled pimiento cheese sandwich at the Counter Cafe just north of the record store.

                The HH bar menu at McCormick & Schmick's (4th & Congress) is pretty good and dirt cheap.

                1. re: yimay

                  It's not the length I'm worried about, it's the time constraints!

                  Habana Calle 6, Jo's, Taco Shack are already on my list and I ate there last year -- yum.

                  Apple Annie's and Mike's Pub sound great, sucks that 1/2 of SXSW Interactive is on a weekend, though. I'm hesitant to write down or recommend places that are closed both Sat and Sun.

                  And Sweetish Hill Bakery looks WAY too far to walk from the Convention Center.

                  Thanks for the recommendations! I'm definitely adding Marakesh, Drogo's, Manuel's, and Marisco Grill to the list.

                  1. re: kathryn

                    there is a smaller sweetish hill on san jacinto. it's like a block over from the convention center where the four seasons hotel is.

                    1. re: kathryn

                      D'oh Sweetish Hill is only open M-F, and only for breakfast/lunch.

                  2. have we forgotten about habana calle on 6th? remember the pork sandwiched between plantains and the virgin mojito sodas?

                    13 Replies
                      1. re: kathryn

                        sorry i didn't read your list thoroughly. so long!

                        1. re: kathryn

                          Kathryn, your list looks pretty long/comprehensive already, so I'll just add a few opinions. Of course, most of these places are likely to be overrun during SXSW, so getting in and out within 1.5 hours is not guaranteed.

                          I'd skip Austin Java Co., especially for coffee.

                          Drogos is small but friendly. I think their tropical chicken salad sandwich is good.

                          I do like the Jackalope a lot. It's an old-school dive-y bar with old electric beer signs and black vinyl booths, and I agree that the hamburgers rival those at Casino el Camino.

                          The Happy Hour at McCormick and Schmick's is a great deal, but they may suspend it during SXSW, so I'd call ahead to check. They offer a half pound cheeseburger with fries for $2 (with one drink minimum), along with other cheap items.

                          The new Torchy's on E. 6th St. only opened about a week ago. It is located at 511 E 6th St .

                          At Jo's, I like the cheeseburger. For breakfast, the granola w/ yogurt and berries is excellent--one of the best breakfasts in town.

                          Lambert's is good, but pricier than many on your list.

                          Enjoy SXSW!

                          1. re: angusb

                            I went to the Jackalope for the first time last night. One of my co-workers goes all the time and he’s always raving about it. We had a group of 6 so I got to try a few things. I tried a piece of the pulled pork quesadilla which was greasy, but tasty. Chili cheese waffle fries were good but has anyone ever had a bad version of this? Chili was good. I got a burger, the chipotle cheddar bacon version. The chipotle flavor was in the form of a spicy chipotle mayo. I didn’t notice any actual bacon slices, they must have used bits. It was hard to tell exactly what was on the burger as the patty was the size of a football. The meat totally overwhelmed whatever toppings were on the burger. Also, the meat wasn’t the best quality either, my primary criteria for judging a fine burger. Some folks might enjoy a gristly meatloaf on a whole wheat bun, but it’s not my thing. Service was pretty leisurely as well (even by Austin standards); I haven’t tried Casino’s yet so I don’t know how the experience compares.

                            I would go back again but I would stick to the chicken sandwiches and maybe try the wings…

                            1. re: angusb

                              Thanks for the Torchy's location.

                              When I went to Jo's last year, I really loved their grilled cheese sandwich. Good to hear that the burgers are good.

                              What do you like at Lambert's?

                              1. re: kathryn

                                i highly recommend the goat cheese and chickpea appetizer at lamberts. yes, i know it's a meat place, but i can't resist this dish. i feel like going over there right now and having it for lunch.

                                pretty much anything they make is delicious. the fried shrimp appetizer is also top-notch.

                                1. re: reina_de_fideo

                                  Have to agree. The chickpea and goat cheese appetizer is one of my favorites in Austin. It is the same or similar to the one they had back at the original Lamberts on South Congress.

                                  I've only sampled the bbq section of the menu. I really liked the pulled pork and the various ribs I've tried. The brisket, however, was pretty bad. Very dry and tough like it had been under a heat lamp all day.

                                  For dessert, I always get the coconut cream pie.

                                  1. re: ssouth

                                    Thanks! That's really helpful. I would have stayed away from the pulled pork otherwise (in respect to my friends who are from NC :).

                                    1. re: kathryn

                                      Kathryn, Lambert's is one of those places that revamps the menu regularly, so it's hard to guess what they'll be offering when you're here. Rather than tell you what's good, I'll tell you the few things I'd avoid. Like ssouth, I thought the brisket was pretty bad--very dry with a poor flavor to boot. I also did not care for the prime rib. The smoke flavor was so strong that it masked the flavor of the actual meat, and it was somehow soft without being exactly tender. I've really enjoyed everything else I've tried. I especially enjoyed some braised veal shanks they had as a special once. Items that appear regularly that I've liked include the hanger steak and the beef short ribs. For sides, I really like the green chili cheese grits (I like it so much that I can't imagine eating a dinner at Lambert's without it). I do also like the deviled eggs.

                                      If you are planning to have drinks, I think the caipirinhas at Lambert's are great!

                                      1. re: angusb

                                        We ate there last night--did any note that reservations are a must?

                                        Based on this thread we tried the chickpea salad and liked the smokey taste--definitely an unusual dish. The rock shrimp someone else mentioned didn't wow us at all and we didn't even finish it.

                                        Also, I decided to order the brisket because I've only had it twice there. This time it was in the middle. It wasn't dry and was moderately smokey but it wasn't fall apart tender. They also only server the flat part of the brisket which is the less fatty (aka less tender) portion so that doesn't help matters.

                                        As a general rule we've found the non traditional barbecue items to be more interesting: smoked trout and quail, pork chop, etc.

                                        1. re: Carter B.

                                          I think their mac-n-cheese is the stuff of dreams. However, I was totally unimpressed with their main dishes. Has anyone tried the sal picon?

                                          1. re: Carter B.

                                            Even on a Monday? I looked for some posts last year but I think they were only posting about needing reservations for the weekend.

                                            1. re: kathryn

                                              I went on my birthday last year (no reservation) and had an hour and a half wait on a Tuesday.

                                              I had a veal chop which was delicious. Mac and cheese, deviled eggs, etc. Don't remember what the others had.

                                              Also, I didn't know they made caipirinhas. One of my favorite drinks and hard to find here...

                          2. Austin has several strengths, primarily BBQ. With some planning, you can have a fantastic takeout from Sam's with much better food and more economical prices than any sitdown place. Sam's is a shack on the east side of town, not too far from downtown. It is rudimentary at best for eating in -- card table casual. Almost all of their business is takeout. So you need to figure out where you will eat -- picnic? hotel room? conference room? Then call ahead and send one person in a cab -- their brisket is superb. Their ribs are great. Chicken, less so. They sell by the pound. Ultimate Austin BBQ experience unless you are going to travel the 45-mins or hour each way to Lockhart or other destinations on the trail.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: nosh

                              Interesting idea!

                              I've been to Black's and Smitty's, hope to make it out to Kreuz Market this year.

                              1. re: kathryn

                                i know this might sound hokey,but when we were there in december ,we went to the huge whole foods for some good carry out sandwichs,breakfast things,pizza slice,etc,etc,etc.they have tons of seating too.Kreuz market was amazing,we got there @ 11 ,so it was early,maybe 4 tables.slide right in,unbelievable Que,just amazing.we got some brisket to go from Smittys and blacks too,but on this day in december ,Kreuz came out on top!!

                                1. re: im hungry

                                  I LOVED the Whole Foods that I went to in Austin; however, I am not getting a hotel room with a fridge this year. :(

                                  I am dying to go to Kreuz but my friends want Salt Lick, sigh.

                            2. Marakesh for greekish food on Congress, around 9th street.

                              Thai Passion, on 7th near Congress.

                              Jezebel for upscale, pricey food on Congress, around 9th street. (Breaks your Rule #3. But really delicious.)

                              Side warning: every time I have a Casino burger, it was worse than the time before. You can easily do better at home. I think they're in a quality freefall. Sad.

                              1. Kathryn,

                                Are you going to make public your "final edited cheatsheet"? I'm heading to SXSW also (first timer there and first time in Austin) and I'm staying at the Marriott Residence Inn near the Conv center (w/o car) so I'm eagerly interested.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: CFByrne

                                  Here you go:

                                  http://www.sxswbaby.com/index.php/sit...

                                  I'm hoping to some how generate a big PDF map w/ operating hours tonight.

                                2. Any comments on "Chuy's" or the "Hula Hut".?

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: CFByrne

                                    Lot's of people love Chuy's - I do not. I've found a thing or two on the menu to order if I need to be there for some reason. Hula Hut, for me, is all about the location. Being on the water, it can be very beachy and it feels like vacation to me. I believe that Hula Hut is a Chuy's company but I find the food a HH to be a little more inventive. For instance, I think they add small bits of pineapple to the salsa which doesn't make it very sweet but just adds a tropical taste.

                                    1. re: CFByrne

                                      I enjoy Chuy's enchiladas. And I was at Hula Hut this weekend and it really is a great place to hangout and enjoy some beer on the lake. If you are going just for the food, then you can probably find some other places more inventive.

                                      1. re: CFByrne

                                        I've found one thing I really like at Chuy's, that is the chichen chile relleno with deluxe tomatillo sauce. Chuy's will also sell a 1/2 order, which is one relleno with rice and beans. This is a nice thing.
                                        I like several items at the Hula Hut. The shrimp tacos, the chicken pipeline enchilada are very good, the Huli Huli luau is fun for a group. My husband swears by the vegetarian tubular taco. The Hula Hut is really nice about substituting items. If you prefer, you can ask for the chopped salad or the papas asadas as your sides. instead of the rice and beans. If it comes with refritos, you can sub for black beans. I think the food is over all pretty good, especially for those with tighter budgets and not adventuresome enough for the taco trucks.

                                        1. re: CFByrne

                                          Believe it or not, someone who really knows/likes salads works there. I order the Mexicob sub beef fajita meat, sans alvacado and add another strip of chili. Also, I like the chimichangas and hubbers loves the steak burrito and the Elvis chicken. Chuy's is good, campy fun.

                                          We feel Hula Hut is cheap in the sense that the fajitas are already $25 and they give you skimpy sides and charge $5 when you ask for extra...

                                          1. re: amysuehere

                                            You know, if you're extending your range all the way to Chuy's, I'm going to go ahead and suggest Flip Happy Crepes. Really old Austin feel. great crepes. They beat Bobby Flay in a Throwdown.

                                            http://www.fliphappycrepes.com/

                                        2. Parkside just opened on 6th St (300 block I believe) and I sent some friends there last week and they really enjoyed themselves.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: mac8111

                                            Awesome. It's a little more pricey than I'm going for, but I'm positive on the fact that they'll be on 6th Street AND open late. What did you friends have, food and drinks-wise.

                                          2. Any thoughts on these?

                                            Breakfast:
                                            El Arroyo
                                            Maria's Taco Xpress
                                            Enchiladas Y Mas
                                            Kerbey Lane Cafe

                                            Mexican:
                                            Chuy's Restaurant
                                            Hula Hut

                                            Burgers:
                                            Players
                                            Dan's
                                            Bone Daddy's
                                            Huts Hamburgers

                                            Steak:
                                            Austin Land & Cattle

                                            BBQ:
                                            Rudy's Country Store & Bar-B-Que
                                            County Line on the Hill
                                            Richard Jones Bar-B-Que & Restaurant

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: biscuit

                                              Many of those places aren't anywhere close to being within walking distance of downtown...

                                              1. re: anna_banana

                                                Guess I need to start a new thread then. Thanks.