I have 2 nights to eat in Austin- where to?
1) I want some good brisket or a good steak .
(I've already been to Borderline and unfortunately I don't have time to travel the texas bbq trail)
2) I want some good non-chain Tex-Mex.
I have spent the last hour or two reviewing posts and honestly, for every restaurant in Austin that one person raves about, there's another person waving a red flag. I haven't seen a consensus for anywhere! (i.e. Fonda San Miguel, Torchy's Tacos, El Chilito, Salt Lick, Iron works)
I'll throw out a couple ideas, but a few more details might help you get a better response.
Did you have a budget in mind? Do you care about the atmosphere or just the food? Want it to be trendy?
For BBQ, I'll recommend Lamberts. It's downtown in a great building. The bbq is ok, but I think their steaks are better. The location makes it easy to walk to a bar or live music show after your dinner. I love their chick pea appetizer.
For the other, I'd go with Fonda San Miguel. It's not Tex-Mex, but more interior Mexican. It's good but also on the pricey side.
For Tex-Mex, you can hit up Polvo's on South 1st. This place gets as much controversy as any, but has some good options. If you search the threads, you'll see some of the faves.
Not a fan of Polvo's. They have some decent dishes, but the menu's still hit or miss, the service can be atrocious, and parking is a nightmare.
A spot that gets a lot of love on this board is Habanero Mexican Cafe: http://habanerocafe.com/
Another option that doesn't get as much love, but still gets its share, is Curra's: http://www.currasgrill.com/
Brisket/BBQ -- the best in the city limits can be found at Texas Rib Kings. The BBQ is good enough, but the counter guys seem to know how to cut it. As for a steak, Austin Land and Cattle (NO connection to the inconsistent chain.) IMHO, Austin doesn't have a phenomenal steakhouse, but this is as close as you'll get.
Tex-Mex -- my suggestions are Matt's El Rancho, El Gallo, El Patio, or El Azteca. All of these represent the best, IMHO, of the classic Tex-Mex. Yellow queso, chili gravy, etc.
When I come off the trail and back to Austin the first Tex Mex I hit is La Reyna.She's been there for 35 years.
Quintessential Austin steakhouse? Hofbrau's been in the meat game since 1934
Texas Rib King? It would be cruel to send an out of towner to this place.From a previous post:
I had an extremely depressing conversation with the pit boss at Texas Rib Kings a couple years ago.
I like a pit boss who looks like a crusty old prospector.A face well lined like a treasured boot,perfumes of Hickory and Oak seeping from his pores.Maybe a can of Pearl in one hand, a hand rolled smoke in the other.
The TRK guy looked like he lived in Round Rock and shopped at Ikea.Prodding him for his philosophy on meat ended even more depressingly.
TRK,has gas fired roasters with chips regulating the entire process.He bragged about flipping a switch at night and going home[maybe to watch reruns of Everybody loves Raymond?].
No careful tending of the coals while reading some Louis L'amour,no treasured stack of American hardwoods diminishing as the evening dwindled.
Which is why the meat at TRK,though tender and toothsome has no soul.
With all the great Barbecue in Austin I won't be returning to TRK...the meat doesn't stack up and the restaurants philosophy is a heartbreaker.
A better choice would be Willies on MLK:
A previous review:Willies Barbeque "Smoked to Perfection"
Whenever I get a pile of smoked meat and forget to say "sauce on the side"it nearly always ruins the barbecue experience.Most places that are good at smoking meats really lack in the saucier department.It's a Yankee affectation after all;this applying some sort of sauce to good meat that has done you no harm.
So when the counter guy at Willies Barbeque rounds on me with a big plate of Brisket and Pork Ribs I am apppalled.There is sauce all over my beloved meat.My meat my meat that I am so excited to be eating.There is sauce on my meat.
I reason to myself that it isn't Nam,it is a nice sunny day and I need to get a grip on myself.I begin plundering the brisket[I had asked for the fatty parts and the charred crispy bits]and it is good.The meat man has honored my request for the good fat but I sensed a bit of reluctance to come off the prized charred beef husk.He has given me a little but I would've given a king's ransom for more.
I find lightbread to make an excellent napkin when I've been sauced.Dabbing up the juice that trickles off your chin as you chow ,then toward the end of the meal eating the now soaked bread.Mmmm,a simple pleasure sure but fulfilling.
The ambience at Willies is fine.A beat up tv is on and an excited gentleman is elucidating on the football Longhorns.As you enter the small,looks closed,room a counter is on your left where you place your order.A corner of the room is tumbledown;a baby buggy turned on its side,a dusty old small steam table,some work lights are thrown on top of the pile for good measure.The panelled walls have the occasional photo tacked up and there's a small cross made of twigs with a ghostbuster slash through it.These are good people I inwardly reckon.Although Willies has only been open for 17 years it could just as easily be 70...it's good and beat up and the smells are spot on.
The Pork Ribs are big,fleshy bones,nicely caramelized on the outside and needing a bit of a tug to get the meat off.The Brisket as described above is good,slow cooked and smoky.I love the fat,always request it and Willies clearly starts with some well fed beef.This steer did not die in vain.His meat has gone to a greater cause;Texas Barbecue.
The menu offers all the standard barbecue options including Elgin Sausage,Mutton,Turkey legs and Chicken by the half.Pricing is very fair ranging from $4.60 for the chicken and topping out at Pork Ribs at $8.95.Standard sides offered:Potato Salad,Beans,Chips,Pickles,Jalapenos and Bread[light].
I'm intrigued by the Boudin which is shipped in from a Boudin joint in Alexandria Louisiana.Desserts include Banana Pudding,Cake and Peach Cobbler.I'll be trying all over the course of the next week or so.
The counter man is an interesting character.He has the appearance of being Mongolian.Thick set and bald with a long braided pony tail cascading off the middle of the back of his dome.He's friendly and fast with the order.As I set back and begin my feed an assortment of characters from the neighborhood stream in.An African man in a dashiki,a harried mom with toddlers in tow,a couple girls from the neighborhood out on the hoof and enjoying a sunny day.
I can't wait to get back to Willies and roll through the rest of the menu.I haven't seen any Chow postings on this humble and delicious joint so I hope a few of the hounds on the board roll in here soon.
4305 E MLK Blvd
512 926 934
The way they cook it at TRK that you describe may very well be true, but the real deal is how it tastes. And I have had bbq many places in Austin including the hallowed Lockhart, but out of all those TRK has the best pork ribs by far IMHO. And yes, I just took and out of towner (my brother) to TRK and he raved about it. Notice I only said ribs; I have not tried their brisket and have no plans to do so, since I find that brisket is very hard to get right anywhere, including Lockhart; it is usually too dry and tough (most places in Austin) or too fatty (Lockhart).
Actually my favorite place for bbq used to be Cooper's in Round Rock, but they are unfortunately no more. Now THAT was a real bbq joint as you describe it. There is a saying that if the chairs match it ain't real bbq, and I don't think any 2 chairs ever matched in that place.
Thanks everyone for the suggestions...I ended up at Lamberts for some brisket, which was pretty good and a cool atmosphere. I also had El Arroyo which was another cool place but the combo platter was a little ho-hum. Maybe I didnt pick the best thing.
I def. have some choices here for the next visit!