Chitown Foodie's Annual Pilgrimage to Austin
Every year my husband and I rent a house in Barton Creek and travel to one of our very favorite cities, Austin, and you all give us great recommendations. This year, we have our parents and siblings travelling, as well--party of 5 ranges from Age 29 to 62. We are foodies looking for the highest quality food--price no object--with a focus on ambience, as well. Nothing too austere. We love a unique adventure, too, as long as the food is great!
what we have done in the past that we love is: Uchi (we all love sushi and I love the ambience there), Lambert's (loved the various apps and everything we had was great--again, loved the atmosphere), Lockhart for 'cue (an experience with great fatty brisket).
what we don't want is a restaurant that specialiezes in either French or American/New American Continental cuisine--we have a ton of those at home. Looking for Sushi, Mexican (have been to El chile in past and liked (not loved) the food--need Mexican with ambience--s there any?), BBQ. although we like Italian, I never can seem to bring myself to Vespaio, as we have so much Italian at home, unless you all think we finally have to bite the bullet and go. same with Thai in little garland--worth the trip? are we missing any new great spots?
would also love another fun day trip: as above, we usually do Lockhart nad then drive through the hill country for some vineyards (any new ones or ones we have to hit for good wine?!), then to Salt Lick for a bite--fun day trip, so we'd love something new. we also always love good trailer food for a quick lunch--still torchy's? any and all help is greatly appreciated! thank you!
I like Evita's Botanitas...its a bit of a dive but the food is good. I really like the mole and the al pastor plate. The salsa tower is always impressive. I have taken several people from out of town there and they like it. The atmosphere is kitschy crap, but the kitchen is good.
Today, we actually just went to the LBJ ranch with my husband's aunt. I was rather impressed with how nice it is. It's low key but its really quite cheap (I think it was a total of a buck per person to get into LBJ's office at the ranch and that was it) .
Another place I really like is Sugar Mama's bakeshop. Their stock and trade are cupcakes but I really like the mint bar and caramel apple bar. They are probably my favorite desserts in the city right now.
If you want a unique experience, try going to the Sunset Valley Farmer's Market on Saturdays from 9-1pm. You can easily grab food there to snack on a trip or have a lunch. Full Quiver Farms makes their own cream cheese and other cheeses that I think are some of the best I've ever had. When my parents visit, dad always wants some to snack on at the house. Doctor Kracker has some excellent crackers you can pick up there that go great with the cream cheeses. Other places at Sunset Valley lately are Full English Food which has some really great traditional English snacks and treats. I love the Japanese stands snacks/meals. I think their seaweed/cucumber salad is probably the best in the city. Their fiber salad is quite tasty too. We often check out Aunt Nina's stand too. My husband loves her molasses cookies, but she often has things ranging from cookies to pies and quiches. I think she cooks what she's in the mood to cook and its always good quality.
There are other places there as well, but I often go there with an open mind and plan my meals for Saturday and Sunday around what I can pick up.
Because of the economy....things here too, are sad, food wise. That being said, I would at least try Vespaios. They are consistent, and willing to try off the menu, in my experience...so if you do not like what is on the menu, just ask.
What about driving out to the Llano/Marble Falls area and trying places out there?
The Bluebonnet Cafe is an old (well, as old as I am, and that is OLD) place that is not fine dining, but has great country style food. There are several great BBQ places out there as well.
You already seem to know a lot of the best of what you are looking for in Austin -- Uchi is indeed a memorable and unique experience, and I loved doing the Lockhart trek a couple of weeks ago. If you are looking for the best BBQ actually in Austin, try Sam's on the east side. You probably want to carry out (to say it is a dive is giving the decor far too much credit) but the brisket is great, they offer the unique dish of BBQ mutton, and it is a no-frills treat. Blows Salt Lick away. If you or the music-lovers of your party find themselves hungry downtown late, you might enjoy the ginormous burgers with spicy chile toppings at Casino el Camino, which was profiled on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
The Mandola Estate Winery in Driftwood (just south of Austin) is new and interesting. The wines are not great, but the reds were good enough. The food is mainly italian. I had veal Osso Bucco with clams and mussles. The setting is gorgeous with long views of the hill country.
What is the best place to go for Mexican with some ambience? We like manor road, and had a nice time having a cocktail at the red house room, followed by dinner at El chile, but I would not say that El Chile was great--anything better that is not a hole in the wall--or at least a hole in the all with charm? We went to Curra's last time, but did not have a very good experience.....should we finally try Polvos?