SAN FRANCISCANS COMING TO AUSTIN - REVIEW OF TRIP - VERY LONG!
So, thanks to our delayed Jetblue flight, we arrived at the hotel and checked in at exactly midnight. Ditched our stuff and went out, still sober at midnight - first time in probably 30 years! (I know, pathetic for our age) - and headed into the fray. It was the scene everyone warned us about, but it was too late to do anything about it. We first stopped at a place called Little Woodrows because it was close and pretty empty and had a One Taco trailer alongside it. I had a guacotaco – something like that, which had carne asada and bacon. It was tasty, especially since it was the first thing we’d eaten in hours. Our drinks were over $20 and weak so we left and hopped across the street to another trailer, Colibri, and had a steak tacodilla, which was bland. We hit another bar, can’t remember the name, which of course was a giant scene, at which the drinks were even more expensive, but we actually enjoyed watching everyone being younger and drunker than us. Walked into another bar, Molotov, and got bad vibed right out of there – people were cutting in front of us and getting served before us, so we left. We hit our last bar, Dirty Bill’s, and had the most expensive round - $24 – but hung there for awhile and then walked around marveling at the amount of bars in that area, got home around 2:30. Don’t get me wrong, we really enjoyed ourselves, despite the price of drinks. Maybe those were NYE prices.
NY’s day we got a late start and walked from our hotel through downtown to the trailers at 1001 East 6th street. Even though it was after 2, only two of the trailers were open so we opted for more tacos at the Pueblo Viejo trailer. I had a chorizo, egg, bacon, potato, and refrieds on corn – really liked it, the tortilla tasted homemade, the chorizo was flavorful, could taste the bacon – all good. Only thing was the “hot” sauce wasn’t hot at all, though very tasty, kind of smoky, maybe chipotle based. Boyfriend got a bean avocado potato bacon taco which was a bit bland, helped by the hot sauce. I wanted to come back and try the other trailers but we had too much else to eat.
We walked along the path by Ladybird Lake – lovely. We foolishly waited for an hour and a half at and after sunset for the bats but finally gave up. We weren’t the only ones waiting, but were told later that they come out later in the winter and so would have been hard to see anyway. Cool watching all the egrets (?) come in and land on a bush for the night.
Back to the hotel, rested for awhile, then took a bus (your buses are great – clean and 99% on time) to Sam’s BBQ. I had the mutton, he had the brisket. I loved my mutton, loved Willie, loved the place. I’d never had mutton before (only lamb), bbq or not, and it was delicious. Tender, fatty enough, gamey, yum. The potato salad was served ice cold, tho, and the beans were pretty bland, but some Louisiana hot sauce fixed that up. The boyfriend’s brisket was tender and juicy. Willie told me he could ship me some ‘cue if I wanted! Liked the iced tea too, and he told me they were going to start serving beer in just a few days. I almost ordered some pork ribs to go, but we were going to a bar directly from there and I didn’t want to smell even more like a smokehouse than I already did. Only the next day did I learn that Sam’s is open until 3 a.m. so we could have gone back!
We took a bus to Liberty. Loved this bar. It was exactly what we were looking for – I mean, yeah, it skewed young for us, but it had the right vibe, not too pretentious, hipster punky enough but not too, pool table, nice patio, and I was totally looking forward to trying Eastside King’s fare. Unfortunately, the trailer was inexplicably closed that night. Bartender didn’t know why. The drinks here were also weak, but cheap – oh, and none of the bars we went to had Jose Cuervo, so my BF drank some well tequila at Liberty – Old Dog, I think – which was fine enough for him. Our rounds here were only $10.50, insuring our return. We took a cab back to the hotel.
A friend who had lived in Austin kept urging me to try Mi Madre’s for breakfast tacos, but in doing CH searches I found Juan in a Million, and I stupidly looked up its Yelp reviews – and they compared favorably with MM’s, and was closer to our hotel, plus was slightly cheaper, so that’s where we went. Big mistake. I ordered the Taco Grande, which was on everyone’s tables, and a chorizo and egg taco. He had steak and eggs and beans. Everything was pretty flavorless – even one of the hot sauces, which although it had good heat, had no taste. Another sauce was more flavorful but less heat. The chorizo taco was just awful – dry, and all I could taste was overpowering cumin, to the point that the whole thing tasted almost sweet. I couldn’t eat more than two bites of it. The big taco was tasty enough but also dry without adding a ton of hot sauce to it. My BF’s steak was pretty sub-par (looked and tasted almost boiled), but what did I expect for $8.99. The place was packed, line out the door, but I have to say – most of the patrons were white, in what appears to be a very latino neighborhood. My first tip-off should have been that CH was mostly silent on Juan’s, and the second should have been the clientele – clearly a favorite with younger hipsters coming in for hangover cures, but authentic anything it was not. My fault, bad research. I don’t know if Mi Madre’s is any better, but my friend is never going to stop yelling at me for not trying it.
We spent the afternoon at MOMA, walked through the Capitol, back to the hotel for a rest, then took a bus to Artz’ BBQ, which we loved! He had the brisket and a sausage, I had pork babyback ribs. We loved the vibe here, very friendly, the place was busy, nice bluegrass band playing. My ribs were really tender and fatty (I love pork fat) although the sauce was a tiny bit sweet – and the portion was huge – had to take some ribs home. His brisket was a tad drier than at Sam’s, but overall, he liked Artz’ better. Really good value too. Sides were good – they sure do give you a lot – I loved the coleslaw, which was fresh tasting and slightly sweet, not too creamy, but the beans were bland. But we both said we would definitely go back there. I had a Shiner’s lager – the “official beer of BBQ”! – which I loved – a dark lager, which I’ve never had, it was dark and chocolate-y without being in the least bit heavy. Later that night we went back to Liberty Lounge, and this time East Side King’s was open (it was about midnight by the time we were ready to snack). They were out of the pork belly buns so I ordered the fried beets with Kewpie mayo and the peanut butter curry buns. The curry buns were greasy and served with way too much onion, and I just couldn’t eat them, they were just too oil-laden. I absolutely loved the beets – crispy, earthy, warm, with the tangy kewpie mayo and schichimi tougarashi – delicious.
Monday we got on the bus and were heading to the Zilker Botanical Gardens and Wildlife Center when we spotted a few trailers on Congress – Chi’lantro Korean tacos and Turf & Surf Po’boys. I had been choosing all the food to this point, so I let my boyfriend pick this time, and we got off the bus there (I had been thinking of stopping at Chuy’s, but he was tired of tacos). He had a spicy pork burger with kimchi on the side, and I had tacos, one pork, one bulgogi, also with kimchi. We asked for them spicy, but neither were, and they were a bit sweet for our taste. I felt bad for my BF because he loves Korean BBQ a LOT, but this was just ok. I also went to Turf & Surf and got a catfish po’boy, which was HUGE, and I was already full from the tacos, but it was really good – really nice crispy and hot cornmeal crust, very tender, moist and flavorful fish – you could taste the delicious flavor of the fish itself, even tho I loaded it down with hot sauce. I only ate the fish, the bread just being too much. I also didn’t like all the lettuce on it – but the slaw was good and fresh. Really good sandwich, I just wish I’d had that first, or only. But I was glad we got to try another set of trailers.
After our botanical garden jaunt, we stopped in at Frank’s sausages on 4th and Colorado for a beer (my new favorite beer is Shiner’s Bock) and a side of waffle cheese fries – which were just ok, but hit the spot, and we got there at happy hour so the price was right.
For our last dinner, on the recommendation of friends and a few of you, we took a bus to Ruby’s. RUBY’S! LOVED LOVED LOVED RUBY’S! I had tasted my BF’s brisket at the two previous bbq places, and I’ve had brisket in our city (we don’t do good bbq), but I have NEVER had brisket like this. My boyfriend almost ordered, on the recommendation of the guy at the counter, and even after he gave us a taste, something called spicy chopped bbq meat – which was to me too one note, too over spiced, and just a mishmash of flavors-so I talked him out of it by saying, you know, this place is famous for its brisket, so he ordered the brisket instead. I’m attaching a picture because, even though you all know how good it is, the picture shows how incredibly juicy it was, how meltingly tender! I had no idea brisket could be so good. I ordered pork babyback ribs again, and they were good, tho I have to say not quite as good as Artz’ ribs, although the sauce was much better at Ruby’s. The sides we got – black beans (bland), creamy cole slaw (very good and fresh), a green salad with gorgonzola dressing (yum and refreshing after so much meat) and mustard potato salad (nice and tangy) were really good, but the BRISKET – oh my. We took a pound of it home. It was fantastic. We also took an order of chicken salad for the plane, which was described as having jalapenos and other spices, but it was terrible – it tasted overwhelmingly like either marjoram (which I don’t like) or some other herb that had gone moldy maybe. Inedible. But the brisket was a revelation. We snacked on it on the plane and when we got home. You people are lucky, and I know you have other bbq places you revere more (Kreuz’s and Smitty’s) that we couldn’t get to, and that I don’t know squat about BBQ, but we absolutely loved Ruby’s. So, thanks for that.
Later that night we made it again to Liberty, had a great time, and then the next day headed home, many pounds heavier.
Thanks again for all your help, really, really appreciated it, will gladly help any of you who come to our City anytime. Us durned Californians had a good time. Happy New Year to you all.
2201 Manor Rd, Austin, TX 78722
I feel really bad admitting this, but despite living in Austin for several years, I've never made it down to Ruby's.
I'm going to rectify that soon. Too many people here sing their praises for me to continue putting it off because I live near Round Rock.
Thanks for posting this and I'm glad you had an overall really good experience in Austin.
Glad you had a great time. Ruby's is definitely overlooked, and the atmosphere is fun (years ago the club Antone's was located next door, which is where they got much of their memorabilia - you used to be able to run into musicians there all the time, too).
Sorry to hear about Juan in a Million. While I've never had a meal as disappointing as yours there, I do think the attraction is the portion size and Juan's handshake. If you return and want a line on good tacos, Mundo at Taco Journalism does good work. I particularly like his take on Yelp here - http://tacojournalism.blogspot.com/20... Also, older Chowhound reviews by former Austin poster MPH are a goldmine. Come back soon!