Headin' Out to Ausin (First Time in TX)
I'm catching a plane to your city tomorrow morning for five days. I'll be staying in a B&B in Hyde Park and I'm looking for recommendations for restaurants and music. I'll be on my own for most of the days and the better part of the evenings Friday through Sunday, but I've never let that slow me down. Any places I shouldn't miss? I'm not looking for tourist traps, but I'd love to drop in on some local joints.
And now for the seriously newbie questions: Is Austin walkable? Is there reliable public transportation or available taxis? Should I rent a car? Any reasonably-priced car services?
'Preciate any advice. Looking forward to getting out there.
This is my standard cut and paste answer:
Austin is definitely a BBQ and Tex-Mex kinda town. Regarding Tex-Mex you have two ways to go (1) an actual restaurant or (2) a taco trailer. Where you end up partially depends on the type of experience you desire. Do you want drinks and a nice atmosphere or are you purely looking for tasty food?
If looking for a Tex-Mex place with a fun, trendy atmosphere then you may want to consider dinner at El Chile on Manor or Polvo's on South First. Polvo's is not universally loved on this board, but I have always had good experiences and really enjoy their spicy beef fajitas. Both of these places will be busy and have an Austin vibe to them. Someone is likely to recommend you go to Chuy's and I'll tell you right now that I suggest you head to El Chile or Polvo's over Chuy's.
There are a number of less trendy Tex-Mex places in town that are only open for breakfast and lunch. These places are often family run and a great option for a casual meal. Of these, I really like Habanero Cafe on Oltorf. Personally, I am also very fond of the carnitas tacos at Angie's on East 7th. However, this is the only menu item of theirs that I love, but I get cravings for them if i go more than a month without eating them. SOOOO good and bad for you.
In category number 2, the taco trailer:
A local Austin hound, MPH, has slowly been chronicling his adventures in East Austin working his way through little known taco trailers and small restaurants. Most of these places are not in the trendy parts of town, but can offer amazing food. Here are a couple links to his threads:
Part 11 in the series:
Part 9 in the series:
Regarding BBQ you also have two categories in-town and out of town. In town, I like Sam's BBQ on East 12th which is open until 2 am. It is a hole in the wall, but I find that is has great character. Also in town is House Park BBQ at 12th and Lamar which closes around 2:00 each day and is only open during the week. I personally recommend against Salt Lick, County Line, and Stubb's.
Around 2nd street is a place called Lambert's which markets upscale BBQ. I have had fun there and find their food decent, but not outstanding(excellent fried pies though). Some hounds have had more praise for the place. However, they have an upstairs bar that has live music and I have always had fun there.
If you can get out of town, drive to Lockhart (about 30 minutes) and take a little BBQ tour of Smitty's, Black's and Kruez. Gte a nibble at each place to find your own personal favorites. Each one has a fan base:
For upscale dining, I really do love Uchi. It is in a little house on South Lamar and is always packed. Take a look at the menu:
Whole Foods started in Austin and the flagship store on 6th street is unlike any other WF I have visited. It has many eat-in counters located within the market (ie, eat at the seafood counter among people buying their fish) as well as an area of to-go food at the north end of the store. There is a buffet, cheese counter, roasted nut station, dessert bar, etc.. And the store is near Zilker Park which makes it a great place to buy things for a picnic.
Flip Happy Crepes is an airstream trailer off Barton Springs road. They offer breakfast (on the weekends) and lunch. A great on the go option:
As for other cuisines well-represented in Austin, they all lag way behind the Mexican and BBQ offerings. There is a Vietnamese community up north on 183, but I would not make a special trip out there.. However, there is a new airstream parked on South Lamar near Oltorf called Lulu B's which sells bahn mi. I have not been there yet, but here is a recent thread:
Have fun in Austin!
In Hyde Park, a good choice for dinner (Italian) is Asti. Also a good Margarita can be found at Julio's. Their specialty are the Mexican Martinis.(even though I loathe the practice of calling everything in a "martini" glass a Martini) The Tex-Mex fare there is ok, but you can do better. Vino Vino is a nice wine bar that also serves food (never tried the food) that is close by.
For music, the Continental Club on South Congress is usually pretty reliable, as is Antones (usually, but not always blues). Closer to you is the Carousel Lounge (Beer and setups only), a real kitschy place, but in kind of a marginal neighborhood. Get a copy of the Austin Chronicle (free weekly paper available all around town) to see who is playing where. There is a lot of music in town, in all sorts of styles.
If you are vegetarian, or are willing to be veg for one meal, I would recommend Casa de Luz. It's a crazy hippie macrobiotic place. Crazy. Hippie. But you walk in through this gorgeous garden, and it's just a nice space to be in for a bit. It's just a prix fixe kind of thing (though you can ask for seconds) and my husband likes it because he can stuff himself and still feel healthy. Sometimes the food is amazing, sometimes merely good, but it's a weird, fun, old-skool Austin kind of place.
And no, Austin is not walkable. Buses can be 30 minutes plus between, which is killer, in this heat.
Since you're in Hyde Park, HP Grill might be an easy dinner place one night. And try Quack's, a good bakery.
Mother's Cafe is another good "Austin-y" place. It's a vegetarian restaurant with good pasta and enchiladas and a well-known yummy cashew-tamari salad dressing. It recently re-opened after burning down in a fire caused by a homeless person who was cooking (Irony Alert!) a steak outside the building.
Thanks for the advice everyone!
And ya'll are right -- this is NOT a walkable town! I did get a rental car. If I'd known about Austin CarShare I might have gone in that direction, though. What a great idea! As for the heat, it's no worse than where I came from -- but I do appreciate the concern!
Since I was on foot last night in Hyde Park, I took Troy's advice about Asti (only about 5-6 blocks away) and it was a highly rewarding experience even if I didn't expect my first Austin meal to be upscale Italian! The asparagus salad was simple and perfectly executed and the saltimbocca was very nicely done. I was surprised that the prices were so reasonable! The staff there was attentive and friendly. I met a local singer-songwriter and a well-known sports columnist. Nice people. As a matter of fact EVERYONE here is nice. I'm not used to that. But I'm not minding it a bit.
Went to Magnolia Cafe for breakfast this morning -- another winner.
Despite the car, I did do a good bit of walking today -- Intellectual Property and Dirty Martin's on Guadalupe, and took a quick, hot, late afternoon look around 6th street. I don't even know where to start there.
I'm going to look into the Steve Jordan tribute and Barton Springs Pool for tomorrow. And someone's told me about the chickenshit bingo at Jimmy's Little Texas Longhorn Saloon on Burnet. Don't think I can pass that up.