5 Days in Austin...HELP US PLAN!
My husband and I are visiting Austin for the first time...to see if we want to move there! We have always lived in Atlanta and neither of us have even been to TX.
We are very excited. We are coming car-less and staying at the Hotel San Jose in the SoCo district.
We are true chowhounds with no limits in terms of cost or cuisine...we love it all.
If you were going to have just 5 days in Austin, where would you eat for each meal: breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
**Also, I saw that it is Austin Restaurant Week. Are any of those restaurants reputable and worth visiting for prix fixe? I know in Atlanta, Restaurant Week is not all that great.
I'd say you definitely should do Vespaio. It's walking distance. My advice is to eat early (they open at 5pm) to avoid the wait or opt to eat at the bar. The bartenders are fabulous as well. One is famous for his ability to mix an Old Fashioned properly. And trust me, if you see a staff member eating at the bar ask him or her what to order. I've done this numerous times and their rec's never fail to be delicious picks.
In downtown, please have a Casino El Camino burger. Bring cash, ignore the gothic dungeon decor and overlook the surly kitchen creatures who will rudely take your order but create the most delicious burger.
You must, must, must go to Juan in a Million for breakfast. You'd probably be able to bus it if you go to capmetro.org and use their trip finder. At Juan's you should try the Don Juan and ask for at least one (possibly) two extra tortillas. This taco is huge. One and a cup of coffee and you're set for hours. It's a dive but the owners are super friendly. If Juan's there he'll be smiling, greeting and shaking hands as you walk in. If you go at peak times there will be a wait, like at all good places.
When you tour Whole Foods keep in mind we also have Central Market in two other spots of the city. They're a similar concept store from a different retailer. At WF stop by the gelato bar for avocado gelato. It's a light, delicate flavor (not like guacamole) and very good. They also have regular flavors.
Pizza!! Some days you just want comfort food. Farther down S. Congress near Oltorf St. you have Southside Flying Pizza (they will deliver to your hotel) and within walking distance is Homeslice. Each time I've eaten at Homeslice my pizza crust has been unpleasantly charred but others rave about the quality of pie. My downtown fav is Frank & Angie's at 6th & West Ave.
Wink for dinner. It'll require either a taxi or a bus ride with transfers but I love this place. Usually need reservations. If the restaurant is booked, try their wine bar next door for smaller options. Heck, just going for happy hour and munching away is great.
I love Fonda San Miguel for brunch on Sunday. Also on Sunday but at the other end of the classy spectrum is Ginny's Little Longhorn. You must see Chicken Sh*t Bingo. And there is food...Ginny gives away hot dogs. There's usually a hot band playing, whether it's Redd Voelkert or Dale Watson or some other high quality group.
You've got tons of choices. And BBQ...ask 10 people and you're guaranteed at least 8 different answers on where's the best. I love Salt Lick and Kreuz's but they're outside ATX. Downtown I enjoy the ribs and sausage at Ironworks. Haven't been to Stubb's in a while but their brisket was decent the last time. Lambert's is supposed to be good but I have yet to make it over there....although everyone says their mac 'n cheese is the best ever.
Since you say you're thinking of moving here, it won't hurt to try a variety of neighborhoods and see if any hit home. South Congress and Downtown have been covered pretty well, so here are some others. If you're up for it, look into renting a couple of bikes from one of the local shops -- the weather should be good and it's a good way to see the town.
East Side -- Between about 6th and 11th just East of the freeway are some good choices in "developing" neighborhoods. Progress Coffee on 5th, Cafe Mundi way down on 5th, Primizie Osteria and Gene's on E. 11th. (R. Kelly's BBQ is there too, but I haven't been there enough). Sam's BBQ on 12th. Further north on the East Side, there's Hoover's and East Side Cafe.
Medical/Burnet: Early evening beers at the Draught House is pretty perfect Austin ambience this time of year. Just up the road there's Pacha (coffee) and of course Fonda San Miguel. Further north on Burnet there's an assortment of older joints, diners, and family-run places -- Ginny's Little Longhorn, Top Notch, Frisco, Taqueria Arandas, Elsi's (Mexican/Salvadoran), Trudy's. The Little Deli on Woodrow is a nice neighborhood place.
Hyde Park -- There are pockets scattered throughout the Hyde Park area, I like Dolce Vita on Duval for a gelato with a shot of liqueur of your choice. Nice place to sit around. The Parlor on North Loop is my favorite dive pizza bar (and the pizza's pretty good too).
Hope that helps some.
I think you have some pretty decent options w/in a mile or two radius of the San Jose. I live in the neighborhood & enjoy walking to local spots (mostly fairly casual places- more "fine" dining options north of the lake):
-Enoteca (SoCo) More casual "sister" restaurant to previously mentioned Vespaio- Italian bistro-type menu
-Guero's- (SoCo)Prob more known for Austin-y atmosphere than food. I like their lime margaritas & salsa bar. Sitting out in the "beer garden" under the live oak tree when there's live music can be really nice.
-Habanero Mexican Grill- Lacking in atmosphere, but a good, friendly family-run spot for tex mex. Mostly just breakfast & lunch- dinner on Fri & Sat. Def a more "authentic" option in the area
-Buenes Aires Cafe- Surprisingly cute/good Argentinian in tiny building between a pawn shop & liquor store.
-Zax's- I like this place for the relatively large beer selection & location- for some reason, it seems easy to miss/forget about, but is really close to the lake/downtown. Pretty good "bar food"/happy hour, too.
-Sugar Mama's Bakery- This place just opened & I haven't been here yet, but its right around the corner from me & has gotten some decent reviews thus far for cupcakes & baked goods.
Enjoy your visit!
Also, there is no better pairing, IMHO, than music and chow, and Austin is a awash in these opportunities. If you're here on a Friday, check out Lambert's at 401 W 2nd Street. around 6/7 ish. Grab a table in the bar area (might want to snag reservations ahead of time) and enjoy some decent 'que and some sublime jazz from the Kat Edmonson trio. Don't miss the green chile cheese grits or the mac and cheese. I also prefer their grilled offerings to their smoked ones.
Based on where you're staying, you're going to get some good recommendations for upscale restaurants in the area - namely downtown and south congress area.
If you want to take a break from that, you're in luck. The 1L/1M bus stops right across the street from your hotel and takes you up north Lamar and back. Tons of divey gems along this road, north of 45th street, where it gets a little seedier (but by no means unsafe). Since you're considering moving here, I'd recommend hopping on the bus and cruising around to see a different part of town. Downtown and SoCo are fun, but I'd imagine you'd start to feel touristy after 5 days of that. Check out capmetro.org for maps, schedules, etc.
Good luck and welcome to Austin!
Also really you should head over to 5th and Lamar downtown as well, to the Whole Foods market, it's their flagship store in the US and you'll find plenty of great dine-in opportunities at either breakfast, lunch or dinner. Most local foodies prefer to their everday shopping at Central Market which is also a great destination for a foodie. You might also consider the Saturday farmer's markets.
Will you be renting a car while you're here? You're in a good spot for a lot of fine restaurants. Vespaio is right down the street, Olivia's (brand new and very hot) is nearby.
On a recent thread someone from Atlanta asked for help and Paul Silver made these excellent rec's based on things you won't necessarily find in Atlanta:
"Fonda San Miguel for world class interior Mexican.
Hudson's on the Bend for world class game dishes.
Uchi - Asian fusion by our most world class chef"
The Austin Restaurant Week isn't too bad, really. First I've looked at it but I think you would find general consensus that your chances for a good to great meal are best at Aquarelle, Starlite and Cool River. But a few other places have a very good chance of being highly enjoyable: Woodland, Cru, Imperia, 34th St. Cafe, Joe D's, and The Steeping Room. I can't say I know every place on the list...
South Congress Cafe is close to your hotel and is a very popular breakfast destination.
I'd also recommend Restaurant Jezebel downtown. Wonderful chef-owned restaurant with great service and food.
I also, for the first time since moving here in 2006, had a burger at Casino el Camino. There should be a shrine mounted in front of this place to ensure passersby don't unknowingly bypass it. It's such a cool place, and the burger is superlative. Fries appear fresh-cut, as I saw a potato sack full of them in the kitchen. Be prepared for a side of surly and a shot of punk ennui with your meal. If you have allergies to either of these, keep on strolling, but you'll miss a mighty fine burger.