Austin food adventures
I'm a NYC hounder who will be making my first trip out to Austin next week for a family gathering. We are staying at Barton Creek and I know a few dinners are already planned. But I am eager to try anything unique and authentic to Austin. I will have most of my lunches free and I would like to spend the first night downtown hearing some indie rock music and exploring.
I have already considered driving to Lockhart one day to taste test the three BBQ places - Smitty's, Black's, and Kreuz. I am also looking for a taco truck, the best ice cream in town (I'm a big ice cream connoisseur), and anything else that I must not miss. I do only have three days and have family obligations, but I will be sure to use my free time wisely.
Also, I'm picking my parents up at the airport on Thursday and am looking for a fun, inexpensive place for dinner. I was thinking of Shady Grove?
Any suggestions are greatly appreciated. Thanks!
Thanks to all who replied with suggestions. My trip to Austin was a success. I wish I had more time to sample more of the restaurants around town, so I'll have to make a return soon. And as usual, here is my critical report on my food adventures in and around Austin.
FABI + ROSI is a new European kitchen. It's in a cute little house on a residential block and I was pleasantly surprised by the upscale dining and affordable prices. The place was casual (as I gather most places in Austin are). The food was consistent throughout - except for the mediocre desserts. And we even got an amuse bouche, which was a nice surprise. The food was fresh and inventive. The chilled watercress soup was intensely flavored. My smoked salmon appetizer was very light and had a nice range of flavors. The schnitzel, duck confit, and trout were all perfectly cooked and delicious. The desserts were nothing special although I was excited about the idea of grilled peaches with black pepper ice cream. But the ice cream was a little too subtle and the peaches weren't quite as sweet as I had hoped. But overall, this is a charming little place with decent service and phenomenal food.
JUAN IN A MILLION is where I had my first breakfast taco. I had a smile on my face the entire breakfast, partly because of the owner Juan, who is so eager to welcome everybody to his restaurant. The Don Juan taco was a gutbomb and was very filling, even without the extra tortillas. The place was crowded (even on a Thursday!) and it just felt like a fun place to go for good food.
RUBY'S BBQ was on the UT campus and I was told to go here instead of Rudy's. It definitely had a hip, laid-back Texas college feel. Their meat was deliciously smoky with a nice pink ring around the ribs. The brisket was moist. I wasn't crazy about their sausage, but it had a nice pop. The sides were a bit of a disappointment, but I did like the mustard potato salad. But it seemed like a good representation of Texas BBQ. Although the portion sizes were a bit lacking.
TRUDY'S is also on the UT campus and has even more of a college feel than Ruby's. We went at an off-time and it was still pretty hopping. I can only imagine what it is like late at night or when school is in session. It had a very laid-back vibe and our server was very personable. The salsa was nice and spicy and the queso was delish. I ordered the famous Fried Avocado stuffed with chicken and cheese. I took his recommendation on sauces and it had a nice balance of spiciness and creaminess. It was great, although I had to save room for dinner. The famous Mexican Martini was a bit of a let-down when I realized it was basically just a straight-up margarita with olives. i was hoping for something a bit more inventive. But the drink was huge - served in a strainer that never seemed to end!
LAS PALOMAS is outside of the downtown area on Bee Cave in a shopping center. It's a little bit of a hideaway. It reminded me of a typical suburban Mexican restaurant. The margaritas were not nearly as good as Trudy's. They were a bit flat. And the salsa was passable. This place is known for their moles and it was well worth it. It was smoky and slightly sweet and spicy. Really good. The shrimp dishes I tried were also pretty good. But the sopapillas were off the hook for dessert.
LOUIE'S 106 is downtown right on Sixth Street and Congress. We had a private room downstairs, but the restaurant looked exciting and lively. And it smelled good. The wine list was rather impressive. The appetizers were decent - I enjoyed the saganaki and the soft shell crab, but the tuna tartare was a bit fishy and uninventive. I didn't get an entree of my own, but the ones I tasted were all decent enough. Nothing special here and over-priced.
LOCKHART TRINITY was something I had to do. I wish I could have made it out to City Market in Luling but I only had limited time and my Lockhart trip was sort of rushed as is. But I did manage to sample all three big guys in Lockhart.
BLACK'S was my first stop and I only ordered the brisket, which I heard was the highlight. I wanted to start slow. I asked for the black and fatty pieces and it was pretty spectacular. The meat was so tender and flavorful. It was nicely seasoned and it just melted in your mouth. If this wasn't the best, I don't know how it could get any better. I could have gone back for seconds but had to press on.
SMITTY'S was next and was the most intimidating of the bunch. I was confused at first as to where to enter, but finally figured it out and loved the fact that you walked into the smoker to order your food. It was hot and that line didn't move too quickly. I ordered some ribs, brisket, and sausage. The brisket wasn't as good as Black's. I was surprised. The ribs were delicious and the sausage had a nice spicy snap.
KREUZ'S MEAT MARKET was the one I was most hesitant about since it seems to have gotten negative reviews as of late. And at this point, I was pretty full. Similar atmosphere to Smitty's but much bigger. I have to admit, I think their brisket might have been my favorite. The ribs were a bit too peppery for me. And I didn't really get to the sausage. But the highlight was definitely the brisket - melts in your mouth. And I think it's worth a stop.
I went to both Amy's Ice Cream and Casey's New Orleans Snow Balls. But visit my blog for a full in-depth report on those:
Sorry to hear you didn't like the sides at Ruby's as I feel like that's their strength.I'm not that crazy about their barbecue but they're one of the few places in town that care about the side items.Next visit grab a salad[heresy,I know]with Gorgonzola dressing.It's my favorite salad dressing in Austin.
Glad to hear that Kreuz has righted the ship.They were my favorite barbecue for years but the downhill slide in recent years has been well documented here and on other sites.Next trip to Lockhart I'll have to give them another shot.
Thanks for taking the time to follow up on everyone's suggestions.
I am also very fond of some of the sides at Ruby's, in particular the non-mayo coleslaw (snappy and spicy) and the greens, which also have a slow heat that sneaks up on you as you eat them (even though they are a little sweeter than I would prefer, maybe they have a little molasses or something? I just like straight-up savory greens). Last week I had the (bbq?) beans for the first time and they were spectacular - well seasoned, spicy (ok, I realize there is a trend here) and so delicious that I actually drank the broth from the take-out container. What I would have given for a slab of cornbread at that moment!
Glad to hear you want to hit a taco cart.
The best Mexican restaurant in Austin is Tacos el Rico.You won't have to stand in line[which is criminal]and you won't have to worry about a bunch of "chowhounds" crowding you out of the joint.
It's just the best,humble to be sure[in the parking lot of a laundry mat] in a community that pre-dates Austin proper by a few decades;Montopolis[5 minutes from downtown].You can search it on the Google or read about it here:
It's stayed,blessedly, under the radar[even the local taco blogs haven't discovered it]but it is,well,divine.
Kreuz is no longer part of the equation when it comes to the Lockhart trinity[seats a little under 700 people in their new location].A Maryland hound just posted a barbecue request and hit the new trinity:Luling Texas' City Market as well as Lockhart's Blacks and Smittys.Read about the suggestions:
The most important thing to know about Lockhart barbecue is to not waste your time at Kreuz's. Like most places that seat around 700 people the focus is not on the food,it's on herding as many people in and out as quickly as possible and maximizing profits.
I used to love Kreuz when it was down the street a bit [where Smitty's is now] but after the move it careened downhill to the point where I no longer even consider it part of the Lockhart trinity.I replaced it with City Market in Luling,a 15 minute trip further south down 183.I wrote about it here:
Blacks is still amazing but you have to know how to order.First off;when you're walking through the line whatever you do don't get any of the side vegetables off the steam line.They're mediocre to be kind and will only take up valuable belly space.When you order your brisket ask for the black and fatty cuts.This will let the meat man know that you're serious about your meat and will ward off any efforts to give you the lean/dry part.Their sausage is quite good too but the brisket is the star.
Smitty's has good barbecue and the best[rawest and most real]atmosphere of any Texas barbecue joint I've been to with the exception of Eureste's Grocery down in Waelder which always makes me feel like I'm about to hear the hooves of a Confederate cavalry regiment come thundering up.
If I didn't live here and was only visiting I would drive straight to Luling to City Market,order the sausage and the ribs,eat a moderate amount,bundle up the leftovers and head to Lockhart.Daydream a bit about the fact you just had the best barbecue of your life as you leave oil patch country.Once in Lockhart go straight to Blacks and get the sausage and brisket.Finish off the whirlwind with a visit to Smitty's where you can soak in some great atmosphere,eat some really good barbecue and figure out how the hell you're going to fit through your hotel room door.
Shady Grove? I wouldn't personally go but I could see an out of towner enjoying it.Atmosphere on the patio is Austin-y but the food is not anything to get excited about.I've semi-enjoyed the Queso Catfish but SpringHill and Cherry Creek both do a better job.
Couldn't disagree more about Kreuz Market. The building is cavernous, and shorter on atmosphere now, but the brisket and sausage remain absolutely stellar.
If you're planning a trip to Luling, be aware that June 25th-28th is the annual Watermelon Thump. http://www.watermelonthump.com/ Visiting Luling then has its pros and cons - you get to see a great small-town Texas festival and stuff yourself silly, but if you're just going for the 'cue, the lines will be very long.
A local chain called Amy's pretty much owns the local premium ice cream scene. http://www.amysicecreams.com/
Have a great time wherever you end up!
Breakfast at Cisco's. Get the Migas.
Torchy's Taco's on S. 1st in a parkish setting isn't the best but it's good and fun.
Dinner or afternoon eats at Louis Muellers in Taylor for the best BBQ (IMHO) in TX plus it's an ancient Texas building that has smoke on thw alls from decades of smoking brisket and sausage.
If you're on 6th Street grab a burger and the crowds around Casino el Camino (not a family joint). It's a big burger and the wait and crowd watching well worth it.Of course there is the Salt Lick BBQ but do the original one down south and bring the family for all you can eat. - I think they still do it.
Ditto on Amy's ice cream. I'd take the family to the Burnet Rd location so the kids can play in the cool play yard and you'll get pics of them on the concrete cows.
Shady Grove may be fine. I'd suggest the tortilla crusted catfish or anything with Hatch green chiles. It's a good family venue too. Better check to see if there is music there (or not if the city has still shut them down for music).
If you are lucky enough to be in town on Saturday make the trip to Lexington to Snow's. Best in Texas hands down but get there before noon- they sell out quickly...