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Mar 1, 2010 10:01 AM

Austin Restaurants

I take Chowhound comments seriously, and went to 3 highly recommended places last week. First was the Iron Works, a BBQ joint. It rated highly for BBQ ambience, good for quality of cooking, but mediocre for quality of meat- a big issue. Poor cuts of meat almost never become great BBQ. And the cheapest of cheap plastic forks, etc. are put out. Overall, good if you're nearby and hungry for this food, but not worth a special effort.

Next was Casino El Camino. Warning: this is a dive of a bar with a walk-up window for food where you order and serve yourself. The menu is all burgers, basically, and I suspect if you're lucky you could have a very good one here.But I wasn't lucky. Despite a relatively slow night, I waited 40 minutes before my simple order was ready.The meat was cooked to complete dryness. I thought about asking for another, but thought best not to after seeing the"'chefs". They looked and acted like work- release program people. And there were quite a few loud and very foul- mouthed patrons. This joint isn't for dining, it's eating, at best. Not for polite company.

Discouraged with my experiences so far, I trucked on. This time I landed at Manuel's, a rather sophisiticated Mexican place near the major hotels. Winner, at last! Great food, ambience, and service.Prices are slightly above what you'll pay at the cantina type places, but I thought it a bargain. I know Mexican cuisine very well and for this caliber of food it's a deal. Highly recommended.

I regret missing the Roaring Fork, but hope to visit again soon.

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  1. So... the lesson here is: don't take Chowhound comments seriously ;->

    1. Glad to hear you at least enjoyed one of your picks, Gobsmacking, but I think you could have done even better with your time.
      True, Iron Works does get mentioned on occasion on this board, but I wouldn't call it a highly recommended spot. If you're looking for good 'cue, most hounds would send you out of town to Lockhart or even Luling (about 45 minutes out of town). I know some here would disagree, but I think even the Salt Lick in Driftwood to be be superior to Iron Works.
      Yes, Casino El Camino is a dive bar full of shady characters and questionable staff. Yes, the wait is always that bad. Usually, they turn out a pretty decent, if somewhat ridiculously-sized, sandwich. That said, it's been a while since I've been, and it wouldn't surprise me if they slipped in that time. Here's a thread on what Austin 'hounds currently rate their fave burgers:
      Maybe some ideas there for your next visit?
      Given your knowledge of Mexican fare, you should definitely make plans to visit Fonda San Miguel. For the high-end experience, there's really no better place in town, and their Sunday brunch is the stuff of legend. Also, don't rule out our grubby Tex-Mex joints, if you're into that. My experience with Manuel's is that the space is very upscale, but the food is pretty average. If you're willing to go slumming, you can find way better at east and southside holes-in-the-wall.
      Best to you, and we hope you enjoyed your visit!

      2 Replies
      1. re: gilintx

        Thanks, gilintx, for your excellent response! Next time I'll rent a car and search the outskirts for your interesting recommendations.

        1. re: gilintx

          I agree with gilintx. It seems like Iron Works is mentioned by people who travel through Austin, but not really recommended by locals on this board. My general feeling is that it is closer to the last rec than the first, for BBQ.

          My general feeling about Casino is that they used to be good. When the burger was good, it was fun to get surly service and be forced to wait 40 min before they even started the burger. Now that the burger is reported to be less than stellar, that ain't funny anymore.

        2. It's fine to take comments posted seriously, but especially with food; one man's best is another man's worst...."Poor cuts of meat almost never become great BBQ." I've got to take issue with that statement. I'm not supporting the Iron Works at all, but you're mistaken about the quality of meat. It is the worst cuts of meat that have developed into our traditional BBQ. Historically, BBQ was perfected by slaves who couldn't afford better cuts of meat. Traditionally you find brisket, pork butts, spare ribs, chicken as typical BBQ fare. None of these cuts are special by any means. It's the preparation of said meats that makes them special. You won't find rib eyes, NY strips on BBQ menus. Rather its the cheaper beef and pork cuts, the cabrito (goat) and other meats. Even on the professional BBQ circuit many competitors forgo the much more expensive Waygu/Kobe beef for choice or select cuts. I ate at the Salt Lick a few months ago. Many would consider it one of the best BBQ establishments in the area if not the state. The brisket was chewy; obviously not cooked long enough. I don't fault the meat; I fault the cook.

          1 Reply
          1. re: TaseT

            Thanks for your comments Taset. I made a misleading statement when I said poor cuts of meat almost never become great BBQ. Your exception is well taken. Pork shoulder and the like aren't great cuts but magic on the grill transforms them. What I really meant was that poor quality meat rarely becomes great BBQ. At the Iron Works, I hab a beef rib that was beautifully cooked, had great flavor, but was heavy with untrimmed fat and gristle. Better quality meat sure would have helped.

          2. It's a pity that the Iron Works was "highly recommended" here. I thought the solid consensus here (and most other places) was that one must travel to Lockhart, Luling, etc. for the BBQ goods.

            1 Reply
            1. re: The Eater

              actually have started recommending that folks try out Franklin BBQ if they want to stay in Austin. Franklin is a cart at I-35 and 34th street. I have been a couple times and the brisket is really tasty, best of Austin as far as I am concerned, and will hold my hankerin' for when i don't have time to go to Lockhart.

            2. I'm new to Austin and made my first trip to Casino el Camino last week and had a complete opposite experience. But, I definitely knew what to expect - dive bar atmosphere, dark, obscure but fab jukebox, loud. Similar to our (in)famous Kuma's Corner in Chicago.

              It wasn't super busy, but not empty. We saw a waitress somewhat frequently - as much as to be expected from a divey bar. Plenty of great local beers. Signs state everywhere that they hand pat and cook burgers to order therefore they can take a min of 20 minutes. Again, I think the experience here has a lot to do with expectations. Our burgers were a juicy medium and just fantastic. We weren't in any kind of hurry, so no idea what the actual wait was, but it didn't seem unreasonable in any way.

              We had a great time and even bought a T shirt. A first for me at any restaurant! The godzilla lookin Ts were just too funny to pass up.