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Mar 20, 2009 02:43 PM

Austin for 3 days: Check my homework, please!

I’m in Austin for the first time, visiting from San Francisco (luckily right after the rest of my countrymen depart SXSW). I’m a longtime Chowhound and have done my homework reading the boards, so can you check my picks and let me know where I’m off?

Our dining experience break down to a few dinners, breakfasts and lunches on either side of a trip to Hill Country (which I guess isn’t covered on this board, so I’ll search the main Texas board). We’re staying at Hotel San Jose and have a car.

Coming from Northern CA, I love the seasonal, local thing, but quirky, interesting and passionate trumps sustainable sometimes, especially when it comes to mom-and-pop dives where they're not serving grass-fed beef.

Money’s not an issue, but we can both be as impressed by a warp-space-and-time taco out of a truck as by a white tablecloth place. I am a sucker for warm, friendly service, like Nopa in San Francisco and Monell's in Nashville.

So here are my picks--can you tell me what I've missed?

-Vino Vino

Probably one long, lazy lunch and one taco truck/counter/dive-y lunch would be best. Ideas?

My friend doesn’t like bread-y textures, so we’d need a place with highlights that aren’t just pancakes and waffles.

-Habanero Café
-Kerby Lane

***Really good coffee***
Not that this necessarily means anything to you, but I love Blue Bottle in San Francisco.

-A thread from 2006 didn’t promising (and recommended not-great SF export Peet’s). Uh…Progress?

***Best cocktails at a place where no one’s wearing a cocktail dress***
Comparison, if you recognize it: Alembic in San Francisco. Super well made cocktails, friendly but low-key bartenders, neighborhood place.

-Fino, Mulberry or Parkside?

From what I’ve read, it sounds like we can find better BBQ outside of Austin than in. A friend specifically recommended Black’s in Lockhart. Yes/no?

In the meantime, in between time

-Casey’s snowballs looks intriguing—I hope they’re open

Thanks for any advice you can offer. I promise to report back, with pictures!

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  1. Welp, I've been visiting the board more lately so I'll chime in briefly: your dinner picks seem okay, although I wouldn't dream of having an actual dinner at Vino Vino. It's great for what it is: a wine bar. I'd save that for the snack category and go midday for a nice Barbera and some cheese. You have left out Uchi, and since everyone sings Uchi's praises pretty consistently, I will assume you left it out intentionally. Nevertheless, I think it would be a shame to pass on it (yes, even though you are from the bay area; Uchi's strength is in creating unique/new flavours, not simply presenting fish). The best espresso in town is at Cafe Medici. Loathe the sterile environment and mediocre food/beans at Progress. I have yet to try Habanero, but trust the opinions of those who have lauded it. It would be a genuine shame to waste one of your meals at Kerbey Lane Cafe. Austin is the land of the breakfast taco (taco, not breakfast burrito as the yanks call 'em). You'd be better served having breakfast at any of the more authentic local taco trucks, or even more touristey breakfast places like Maria's Taco Xpress than at Kerbey. I am also a fan of the salmon benedict at East Side Cafe, and the biscuits at Counter Cafe. Cocktails: you will be hard pressed to find anyone in Austin wearing a cocktail dress. This is the land of converse and shorts. That said, you couldn't pay me to eat or drink at Fino again. I actually think both Peacock and Woodland make nice cocktails. Love the spiked ginger cherry limeade at Woodland, and it is also one of the few places in town that will make a French 75. And I might get some flack for saying this, but I think El Chile makes a mean Michelada. Sure wish Mars was still around or I'd tell you to go there for a cucumber sake cocktail, but there's one bartendress at Club de Ville that makes a similar one. Definitely go to Lockhart for 'cue. I'll let the others on the board duke it out as to whether you should hit Kreutz's, Smitty's or Blacks. Love Casey's in hot weather. Boston Cream Pie Snoball all the way.

    1 Reply
    1. re: femmenikita

      ***Best cocktails at a place where no one’s wearing a cocktail dress***
      Comparison, if you recognize it: Alembic in San Francisco. Super well made cocktails, friendly but low-key bartenders, neighborhood place.

      just take a walk a couple blocks south on south congress from the San Jose and go to Vespaio. The exact kind of bartender you mention. It does get crowded, though.
      Vespaio is also a great place for dinner, as well as it's sister (and lower cost) restaurant, Enoteca.
      Search this board for more info.
      BTW, I heard Casey's doesn't open till 3/31. There is a good snow cone place on Guadalupe, about 34th, in the parking lot of a pawn shop.

    2. Thanks so much, femme and troy!

      You're right, femme--I saw (mostly) great reviews of Uchi, but thought I'd had more of my share of Asian fusion here on the West Coast. After further consideration, I made a reservation at Uchi--note to future travelers: I booked a bit more than a week out, and the only available slot was 5 p.m. on the weekend or 5:30 on the weekday I checked.

      Our revised game plan is:
      Dinner: Uchi and Parkside
      Lunch: Habana, Black's out in Lockhart
      Breakfast: Taco truck TBD, East Side Cafe, Habanero
      Snacks: Vino Vino, the sno-cone place at Guadalupe near 34th
      Coffee: Cafe Medici
      Cocktails: Vespaio, Woodland

      I arrive tomorrow and will report back next week. Thanks for your help!

      6 Replies
      1. re: pane

        Sounds like a great list. Maria's Taco Xpress is a great breakfast spot and you'll have to do Jezebel on another trip!

        1. re: pane

          Please, if you are driving out to Lockhart, go to Smitty's or Kreuz and have fatty brisket, sausage and above all, pork chops. You'll be much happier than if you go to Black's.

          1. re: austinfood


            and just to save us the trouble here's a link where everyone gets to defend their favorite barbecue in the region.Kreuz takes some heavy hits and I've found it to have seriously declined since it moved to its' current location.

            1. re: scrumptiouschef

              Really had fun during an afternoon drive from the airport to Lockhart sampling BBQ from the big three places there. If you are going to make the trip, might as well do your own taste test -- I'm sure there is some variance day-to-day. Of course, as soon as I posted, others chimed in to tell us we missed the REAL great BBQ at City Market in Luling. Report here:

              1. re: nosh

                Love all your reports-even the c e n s o r e d ones. For my money Black's is the finest in Lockhart[I do miss the beverage girl with the ice tea splattered "princess" t-shirt]. Yes,City Market has a slight edge for overall quality but Black's brisket is always epic.Make sure you ask for "charred and fatty" and they'll give you the best of the best.How can you beat sausage links that're tied off with filthy twine?

                1. re: scrumptiouschef

                  Scrumptuous, Love your posts as well -- just finished your SXSW account. My email is in my profile -- send me a link with your info. My bro lives in Austin with his family, so I get there a couple times a year, or would love to hook up for some chow if you get to L.A.

        2. Love blacks in Lockart There is another place across the street that is really good. can't remeber the name.