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Jan 21, 2009 11:11 AM

Help a first timer with the true taste of Austin!!!

I am travelling to Austin with friends in February for the first time. It will be a weekend visit... staying at the Driskill. Won't have a car, so if you could please keep recs within a reasonable distance, that would be great!

Want to sample Austin's best. Would like to try anything that this city is known for! What are the must stops and sees? Two dinners, a breakfast and lunch. Where would you tell your friends they must eat? Not incredibly wealthy, but could do something nicer on Saturday night.

Very much looking forward to visiting your city and hearing what kind of mouth watering cuisine Austin has to offer!!!

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    1. If you're staying in the downtown area here's my rec's:
      Iron Works BBQ
      Casino El Camino(lunch-the burger!)
      The Ginger Man(beer)

      8 Replies
      1. re: barleybob9

        Manuel's downtown happy hour, get the tuna ceviche. Then go over the the Elephant Room after 6:30pm for a beer.

        1. re: barleybob9

          Regarding barleybob's rec for Casino El Camino burger... it's definitely worth it. But, be aware they are only open for lunch on the weekends (open at noon). The rest of the week, they open at 4pm. And know that if you have one of their burgers for lunch, you just might not be hungry at all for dinner.

          1. re: barleybob9

            Not to burst the recommendation bubble, but I have a few differing opinions on some of these places. First of all, I love Iron Works, Moonshine, The Ginger Man, and Vespaio (or even better, Enoteca Vespaio, the sister cafe of Vespaio.) Great places! But Guero's is way overrated. I'd send you to Manuel's over Guero's. It's slightly different food, but way better. Casino El Camino is famous for their burgers, but I've never been impressed with them. Maybe because I'm not drunk when I'm eating my burger. Personally I'd rather take the 5 minute walk to Congress and get the Big Ass Burger at The Roaring Fork. I'm sure lots of people will disagree with this, but I've got to be honest. And Polvo's ????? Not even in the vicinity and not good. Mediocre! Oh, and unless someone knows something I don't, you'll be disappointed with Zax. It's as lame as Bennigan's was. In fact, I bet they're getting all Bennigan's old customers now.

            Here are my recommendations:
            Try Habana Calle on Sixth Street for the Cuban Sandwich. Out of this world.

            Athenian Grill on Sixth has awesome Greek food. I think it's the best in town.

            If you want a fancy brunch on Sunday, the Four Seasons is within walking distance. More affordable is Lambert's BBQ on Second Street - they have a nice Southern brunch. Moonshine also has a kick-ass Sunday brunch at a good price.

            Cafe 1886 is on the bottom floor of the Driskill and opens onto Sixth Street. They have a nice simple breakfast menu, but otherwise they have a wonderful dessert menu and they're open late.

            For a different experience, try The Alamo Drafthouse on Sixth Street. You can eat (and drink!) while watching a movie. Pretty cool.

            Hog Island Deli just opened up a counter window on Lavaca and Fifth or you can walk several blocks to their restaurant at Lavaca and 16th if you want to sit. Try the Philadelphia Cheese Steak. You won't be disappointed.

            Truluck's is downtown at Fourth and Colorado if you want a fancy seafood restaurant. Another great (and expensive) downtown seafood option is Eddie V's.

            Sullivan's Steakhouse on Fourth is well-known for their steaks.

            Kenichi and Silhouette are great places to go for sushi downtown.

            The Belmont on West Sixth Street has a swanky Frank Sinatra appeal.

            If you're willing to walk across I-35, Primizie Osteria (Italian) makes their own pasta and has a nice selection of small desserts (cookies, etc.)

            I concur with RoundSparrow about The Elephant Room. Great place to get a drink and listen to jazz.

            1. re: italyvespa

              I concur with Guerro's on the food recommendation. Just mediocre Mexican. But I love their Margaritas--clean, simple, and potent. My advice would be to go for a Margarita or two and then eat dinner elsewhere.

              1. re: maureenmcq

                I would say this. Guero's, Chuy's, Polvo's, even Matt's El Rancho are going to give you a better Tex-Mex dining experience than you will get in North Carolina. No offense intended against your home state.

                1. re: maureenmcq

                  I enthusiastically agree about Guerro's for there authentic margarita's (no sweet and sour mix, just real alcohol and lime!). Food, not so much.

                  1. re: italyvespa

                    According to their website, Primizie Osteria has closed and is now focusing on catering.

                2. Welcome to Austin! Here are my two cents:

                  Eat Cuban food in Cuba or Miami, Greek food in Greece or Boston, etc. Get a cheesesteak in Philadelphia. You're in Austin only for a weekend; you owe it to yourself to eat what Austin really does best. (And as a native Philadelphian, I assure you that a cheesesteak does not fit into this category.) If you're carless and staying at the Driskill, here's where I'd eat:

                  First dinner: Iron Works BBQ or Casino el Camino. Get the beef ribs at Iron Works or one of the burgers at Casino. Get a few pitchers of beer or something hard on the rocks at Casino, and people-watch. But in any case, do visit one of these two for this meal.

                  Breakfast: Breakfast tacos at El Chilito on Congress Ave. There are some great taco temples around town – a number of them, IMHO, superior to El Chilito – but this is my favorite within easy walking distance of the Driskill.

                  Lunch: A sandwich or salad combo with really good coffee at Little City, next to El Chilito.

                  Second dinner: Again, Iron Works BBQ or Casino el Camino, depending on which you haven’t hit yet; as an alternative, you might try to walking up to the Stephen F. Austin Hotel and visiting the Roaring Fork. DON’T get the Big-Ass Burger unless you like to eat components of an over-produced burger with fork and knife; the real gem on their bar menu is the Green Chile Pork Stew. The bar inside the Roaring Fork is actually a disappointment (no beer on tap!), so I would recommend that you enjoy your pork stew there, then stroll over to the Ginger Man for after-dinner brews.

                  I would argue, by the way, that you’re out of luck for really good interior Mexican cuisine within walking distance of your hotel. I’m not a fan of Manuel’s, which seems to me very expensive and mediocre for the price. Rent a car next time you come to town, and you can access some amazing food!

                  Happy eating!

                  1. to get the "feel" of Austin, while I may like a lot of the above recommendations, a lot of them are places that exist in other cities as well and, therefore, do not really deliver a uniquely Austin experience. I agree on Manuel's for a dinner. If the evening is nice, there are a lot of very Austin spots nearby for a drink beforehand and/or afterwards. For a truly "Austin" breakfast, I'd scrounge up the cab fare and go either to Juan in a Million or Ciscos for Mexican or Magnolia for Austin funk and great omelettes. For lunch there are plenty of very Austin places -- maybe Opal Divine's (beer, sandwiches. etc.). OR...have the fancy meal at lunch (go to Manuel's) and go to SoCo for the evening, taking in the Continental Club, pizza at Home Slice, and stopping at Amy's for ice cream (I love the Mexican vanilla with fresh strawberries but for once the phrase "It's all good" has real meaning! If you have a random few minutes and need caffeine, park yourself at Little City and have a double latte with the bicycle messengers.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: tim irvine

                      Hey we are from Dallas and love going to Austin to visit and eat. In fact heading down this week-end. We always always hit Chuy's for Mexican on Barton Springs it's a short cab ride but awesome food. It's the original place then we wouldn't go to Austin without a stop as others have mentioned a must do is the Vaspaio Enotecca. We love that place. Where ever you go you will have a great time Austin Rocks not only for food but just General cool vibes. Have fun but trust me when I tell you Chuys and Enotecca are not to be missed.

                      1. re: tim irvine

                        You can eat at Chuy's in Dallas, why come all the way to Austin for it? I recommend the one in Knox and Henderson area, food is always good and alot of traffic so you know the food is fresh every time.

                      2. I definitely have to agree that Guero's is completely over-rated. Trendy, that's about it. Chuy's is a fun experience, and if you aren't picky about Mexican food, then it'll get you by, food-wise. I don't have recommendations for good Mexican downtown (heard Manuel's is good - haven't been myself) but my favorite spot is Botanita's. Worth the trip south if you're able. For BBQ, my place is a little dive called Mann's BBQ for lunch (also not downtown, sorry!), which is about the only reason I ever have to go north of downtown. And yes, Lambert's is a trendy-looking little place, but that's a good choice for downtown. And yes! Go to Casino El Camino for that burger. But!! If you want a real Casino El Camino experience, complete with people-watching, do not go too early. Go late night. That Diners, Drive-ins, and Whatever Show has really homogenized that place during square-folk hours. If Mexican and BBQ and burgers aren't your thing, definitely head to Magnolia Cafe. Brunch is uber-popular, but dinners are just as tasty. 24-hours-a-day of good (and healthy!) eatin.

                        I'm a native Texan, and I'll agree coming here and trying to find great Greek food or cheesesteaks is not something you're going to do. But why would ya come here for that, anyway?