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CHOW Tour Austin, Your Thoughts On Where to Go?

Roxanne Webber Jan 12, 2011 10:40 AM

Hi Austin Chowhounds,

In a few weeks, myself and CHOW video producer Blake Smith are heading down to Austin as part of the next CHOW Tour. We're looking to create some CHOW videos about the Austin food scene, and plan to focus on chefs and restaurants that specialize in handcrafted food. We'd love to find special, off-the-beaten-path stuff to cover, but that said, we don't want to miss out on key stuff like great BBQ! We'll have about a week in town.

Here's a few ideas we have from interviewing some Austin folks, and skimming the boards:

-Trailer scene: This looks amazing! Some places that we are thinking of hitting up: Odd Duck Farm to Trailer, G'Raj Mahal, La Boite, East Side Kings?

-Tex-Mex: Where should we go? It seems like a heavily debated topic. Old Azteca, Fonda San Miguel (for brunch??), and Maudie's have been suggested to us. Is there any place that does interesting homemade foods?

-BBQ: How do we narrow this down? We were thinking of going to a newer wave place (Franklin?) and something old school (maybe the Salt Lick)?

-Exploring a few newer places that are shaping a sort of neo-Austin cuisine, like Foreign and Domestic, Olivia?

-Are there specific regional dishes that we shouldn't miss? We're hearing a lot of rumors about breakfast tacos and chilaquiles. And queso.

-What are your thoughts on the wine country outside of the city? Anything worth a trip?

-What are we missing that really defines the food around Austin? Which chefs/restaurants would you really want to see covered?

Thanks so much,
Roxanne Webber of CHOW.com

-----
Fonda San Miguel Restaurant
2330 W North Loop Blvd, Austin, TX 78756

  1. g
    gahookgamish Feb 26, 2011 05:20 AM

    I ate at Fonda San Miguel last night and while I definitely did not have large expectations despite the ravings of my hosts, I was very disappointed. The wine list was positively lame; the two fish selections, including the most mediocre looking veracruzano I've ever seen, were flat bad. I myself had the special mariscos relleno which was smothered in a brown sauce positively tannic and overwhelming. I could taste nothing after one bit of that except the fat in the cheese. And why are those seats so gigantic? I'm average size, but I felt like an elf at the table and had to lean into those very chewy tortillas to hear my dinner partners.

    -----
    Fonda San Miguel Restaurant
    2330 W North Loop Blvd, Austin, TX 78756

    1. c
      chascates Feb 19, 2011 11:29 AM

      http://kocurekfamilycharcuterie.com/ with more information here:
      http://iheartphotos.com/blog/?p=2735#...

      1. davina Feb 16, 2011 03:52 PM

        Here's the most recent entry: trailers. They shot at Odd Duck and La Boite.

        http://www.chow.com/food-news/73584/c...

        Coming next: Texas wine! It'll go live on Friday.

        -----
        Odd Duck
        1219 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

        La Boite
        1700 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

        1. dinaofdoom Feb 16, 2011 08:34 AM

          antonelli's shared their chow tour experience in their newsletter:

          http://www.chow.com/food-news/73242/a...

          1. d
            diversavida Feb 6, 2011 05:57 PM

            Are you still in Austin?
            If so, please visit our coffeeshops! Austin is so unique in that we can support a TON of local coffeeshops, along with Starbucks and a few other corporate coffeeshops.

            Definitely "Austin" is Epoch. Open 24/7 and the people-watching is excellent.
            Thunderbird (both locations) are great.
            The newcomer Houndstooth is hip (and conveniently located next to TacoDeli and Uchiko) and has great coffee, complete with latte art and very intelligent baristas.
            I suppose Bennu must be mentioned- not the best, but also 24/7 and always full of students. Their literary-named mocha menu is a favorite.
            Quack's 43rd street bakery is a coffeeshop/bakery in the best neighborhood in Austin, Hyde Park. Right across the street is Dolce Vita, a european bar/cofeeshop/gelato place. In Hyde Park, check out Antonelli's Cheese shop and Hyde Park Bar and Grill. Hyde Park Bar & Grill is an Austin favorite for sure. Mother's (vegetarian) is excellent, right across the street.
            Progress Coffee is absolutely wonderful. Talk to the owner, Joshua Bingamen, for a unique philosophy on coffee/the Eastside.

            Trailers--
            I second Odd Duck and Franklin. Skip Garaj Mahal. Definitely check out the newly reopened Izzoz tacos! Everything on their menu is delicious, especially the migas and fried avocado. Definitely better than Torchy's! Izzoz is in a blue trailer, down the street from the new Bouldin Creek (which is now more of a restaurant than a coffeeshop.) A MUST is East Side King, now in two locations. One is behind Liberty Bar, one is outside Grackle. Started by the chefs of Uchi. Wonderful asian food.

            Polvos is an absolute must for Mexican food. Thai Fresh is a unique twist on Thai food, all made fresh in the open kitchen. Located in a South Austin neighborhood. And I can't believe no one has mentioned Magnolia! The South Congress location is quirkier. The original Kerbey Lane is also a must go. Both are 24/7 diners with killer breakfasts.

            Have fun!

            -----
            Uchi Restaurant
            801 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

            Progress Coffee
            500 San Marcos St, Austin, TX 78702

            1. j
              jwynne2000 Feb 5, 2011 04:31 AM

              Any interest, as part of your Chow Tour, in exploring the abundance of really great craft beers that are being brewed here (some established, many fairly new)? To me, that fits in pretty well with a great Austin experience.

              8 Replies
              1. re: jwynne2000
                s
                scrumptiouschef Feb 5, 2011 09:11 AM

                There were Roxanne sightings at El Taco Rico and Dart Bowl earlier in the week.

                Not sure where else she hit but reports are that a leggy brunette is making the rounds in this old town with a video team.

                1. re: scrumptiouschef
                  Roxanne Webber Feb 5, 2011 10:02 AM

                  Ha! Now that is an exaggeration. But yes, Blake and I did indeed film at Dart Bowl (Peggy was kind enough to show how the enchiladas are made), El Taco Rico (this was probably the best taco we got our hands on), and a bunch of other great locations, including many suggestions from this thread. Thanks to everyone for contributing their ideas!

                  I'll post a link here when we start publishing the videos in case you want to check them out.

                  And jwynne2000, we have definitely been checking out the local craft beers. Lots of great stuff, so far I think my favorite has been the Real Ale Full Moon Rye.

                  1. re: Roxanne Webber
                    s
                    scrumptiouschef Feb 5, 2011 11:13 AM

                    Roxanne,
                    So are the other reports of you making the nightlife scene in an emerald green vintage Jaguar with an Irish wolfhound also not to be believed?

                    Good to see that Yolanda over at El Taco Rico was able to overcome internet reports of her "fatty and bland" barbacoa long enough to get y'all well fed.

                    Last weeks visit found her to still be putting out the best tostadas, best enchiladas and best [tied with La Monita] barbacoa in Austin.

                    1. re: Roxanne Webber
                      s
                      stellawine Feb 7, 2011 05:52 PM

                      It was great to meet you and Blake & hang out with you while you shot at Odd Duck. I hope that you had a successful Austin trip, I look forward to viewing the videos. Y'all are always welcome here in Austin...Happy Chowing!

                      1. re: stellawine
                        Roxanne Webber Feb 8, 2011 08:40 AM

                        Thanks, you too! We'll keep you posted on the videos.

                        1. re: Roxanne Webber
                          Roxanne Webber Feb 14, 2011 01:57 PM

                          Alright, the first video is out, I hope you enjoy it!

                          http://www.chow.com/food-news/73232/t...

                          1. re: Roxanne Webber
                            s
                            stellawine Feb 18, 2011 11:46 AM

                            Roxanne -- just watched your great TX videos. Thanks so much so exposing some of Austin & TX's best food & wines. Hope to see you back soon! Cheers!

                            1. re: stellawine
                              Roxanne Webber Feb 23, 2011 09:45 AM

                              Hey, thanks! Glad to hear you enjoyed them.

                              We just posted a vid on Austin's Mexican/Tex-Mex, and have to give big thanks to the Austin 'hounds for helping us decide where to go, especially to scrumptiouschef and tom in austin! http://www.chow.com/food-news/73877/c...

                2. b
                  brentwood Jan 30, 2011 05:58 PM

                  For great Tex-Mex, you have to hit Trudy's - three locations in town. Huge margaritas! Mighty Fine is a local chain with terrific burgers and a fun atmosphere. Bill Miller BBQ started in San Antonio, but they serve some tasty 'cue in Austin, too, and they have drive-thru. We don't have any great sushi restaurants, but the H-E-B has introduced a new premade line called "Sushi-Ya" that scores big points for convenience. Oh, and every trailer in town serves Austin's best version of whatever cuisine they sell, but with the added bonus of dining on a picnic table with grackles. That's where I'd tape if it was up to me.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: brentwood
                    s
                    ssouth Jan 31, 2011 07:26 AM

                    Wow, that's awesome. I don't think you could put together a 'better' list.

                    1. re: ssouth
                      NWLarry Jan 31, 2011 08:09 AM

                      Not too often you get to reference Candide, much less on Chowhound, but I dug the Panglossian take on the trailers.

                    2. re: brentwood
                      c
                      Caforbes Feb 7, 2011 06:02 PM

                      I don't mean to be rude but is this comment a joke? BILL MILLER? Trudy's? Roxanne, I beg you, please do not eat premade sushi from HEB. Jeez.

                      1. re: Caforbes
                        Roxanne Webber Feb 8, 2011 08:41 AM

                        I can assure you Caforbes, we did not hit up the HEB to film a sushi video...We left that to Tyson Cole at Uchiko. Call us crazy!

                    3. r
                      Royale Jan 24, 2011 11:58 AM

                      No one has discussed breakfast tacos yet, and I think it's something that's fairly unique to Austin. Sure, any restaurant can put some eggs and bacon in a tortilla and call it a breakfast taco, but in Austin it's the go-to for a "to go" breakfast and has spawned multiple trailers and taco joints. My favorites are Tacodeli (the original location on Spyglass when the weather is nice, or the new location on Lamar when it isn't) for the Jess special, and Torchy's for anything with green chili added.

                      -----
                      Tacodeli
                      12001 N Mo Pac Expy, Austin, TX 78758

                      1. s
                        stephanieh Jan 17, 2011 09:04 PM

                        You have some really good recommendations here. I just wanted to add a couple. When you said "handcrafted", I thought of Noble Pig Sandwiches (EVERYTHING is made there... they cure the meats, make the bread, pickle the pickles, make the mustard, etc). Also, Eastside Cafe, because they have their own garden which they incorporate into their seasonal menus.

                        1. n
                          notsusan Jan 17, 2011 08:41 AM

                          For the Austin vibe, go to Shady Grove on Barton Springs Road and sit under the oak trees. They have quite a bit of veg offerings plus the regular stuff. The other old school place I love for breakfast TexMex is Cisco's. It used to be the political place to go. Great pics; great history.

                          -----
                          Shady Grove
                          1624 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX 78704

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: notsusan
                            s
                            scrumptiouschef Jan 17, 2011 06:53 PM

                            Bouldin Creek Coffee House offers middle of the road vegetarian breakfasts.

                            Olivia might as well be in San Francisco. Nothing Austin about it.

                            Polvos fuses Mexican and Asian in a profoundly uninteresting way.

                            Surf and Turf "Po Boys" makes a decent sandwich but they'd be strung up from the nearest lamp post over in Louisiana if they tried to pass off one of their li'l mini hoagies as a genuine po boy.

                            Mr Natural is beyond disgusting. If you're trying to convince Chow to never come back to Austin then that joint would be a great place for Roxanne to eat.

                            Shady Grove is serviceable but little else. Certainly wouldn't take an out of towner who earned their living in the food world there.

                            Ciscos, to be famous for their biscuits, sure does make lousy ones.

                            But if the siren song of a microwave bleating its' little bell is what signals a good breakfast for you then by all means run on by Ciscos.

                            There is so much good eating to be done in Austin right now it's silly but unfortunately none of these joints do the trick.

                            -----
                            Bouldin Creek Coffee House
                            1501 S 1st St, Austin, TX 78704

                            Mr Natural
                            1901 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX 78702

                            Shady Grove
                            1624 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX 78704

                            1. re: scrumptiouschef
                              c
                              chrisdds98 Jan 17, 2011 08:03 PM

                              ok scrumptious, I know where NOT to go. now where do you think we should send roxanne?

                              1. re: chrisdds98
                                s
                                scrumptiouschef Jan 17, 2011 09:15 PM

                                I posted a painstakingly thorough response and it was removed.

                                Downthread: the last meal I had at Polvos really reminded me of Asian/Mexican fusion.

                                Bad food:bland guacamole, lousy totopos, weak salsa, industrial tortillas, really nothing Mexican about Polvos except for the staff.

                                Serving non-hydrated chile seca just shows a basic misunderstanding of feeding people.

                                But for all I know they've turned the ship around, I haven't been there in ages.

                                With Habanero Mexican Cafe still putting out world class grilled Nortena style meats I don't bother with Polvos anymore.

                                -----
                                Habanero Mexican Cafe
                                501 W Oltorf St, Austin, TX 78704

                                1. re: scrumptiouschef
                                  dinaofdoom Jan 17, 2011 09:25 PM

                                  sorry your post got deleted, i would have liked to read it.

                                  i go to polvo's once a year, and we always get the same thing:
                                  chile relleno nogada (with a creamy pecan sauce) and a fish fillet seared with lots of garlic and chiles.
                                  what we get is really good, which is why we always get the same things.
                                  as for the salsas and other dishes people mention, i have no experience with them.

                              2. re: scrumptiouschef
                                dinaofdoom Jan 17, 2011 08:50 PM

                                polvo's fuses mexican and asian, say what?

                                1. re: scrumptiouschef
                                  mariacarmen Jan 19, 2011 09:41 PM

                                  Wow, my catfish po' boy was huge, on my visit over NYE weekend. but i've never been to Louisiana. The only thing i didn't like about Surf & Turf's sandwich was the greens they put on it - wimpy mesclun-type of mix. Just didn't go.

                              3. c
                                Cheez62 Jan 14, 2011 12:14 PM

                                Regarding the barbecue, the "old school" would be well represented by the Lockhart places OR by Louie Mueller's in Taylor. Mueller's is definitely old school from the moment you walk in the door. Franklin is perfect for the "new" place. As a barbecue fan and an experienced barbecue cook, I will say that the food I had at Franklin last month was the best, particularly the brisket, that I have ever had. I wish my brisket was that good (I'll be trying, that's for sure).

                                1. amysuehere Jan 14, 2011 11:06 AM

                                  may I add going to Antonelli's Cheese shop while you're here. It was quite a treat for me yesterday when I went for the first time.

                                  1. tom in austin Jan 13, 2011 08:19 PM

                                    Roxanne, this is a thread where the Austin Chow faithful idly postulated destinations for Anthony Bourdain.

                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/691879

                                    If it would work for his show, it'll probably work for yours. Best of luck!

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: tom in austin
                                      s
                                      scrumptiouschef Jan 14, 2011 08:38 AM

                                      old Chuys review

                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/456893

                                      1. re: tom in austin
                                        Roxanne Webber Jan 14, 2011 10:52 AM

                                        Tom, I noticed in your profile you are a fan of Wink. Question: Given its local foods/foraging MO, why isn't there any Texas wine on the wine list? What's the local perception of the wineries near Austin? Any good? Not good?

                                        1. re: Roxanne Webber
                                          tom in austin Jan 14, 2011 03:16 PM

                                          What Wink's wine architect would tell you: Texas wine isn't "there" yet. Becker et al try, and hey don't get me wrong, I like it. But you're not going to confuse Spicewood Springs or Sister Creek for Opus, Silver Oak, or Caymus.

                                          While all that is true, I also think there are a number of tasty Texan wines, and I'm disappointed by our state's chic restaurants' embrace of our own burgeoning viniculture.

                                          1. re: tom in austin
                                            bubbleboy79 Jan 22, 2011 10:40 PM

                                            Eastside Cafe has a number of Texas wines on its list.

                                            1. re: bubbleboy79
                                              tom in austin Jan 23, 2011 07:02 AM

                                              As I've heard it, the two ladies who own and run Eastside make a point of having interesting (and often local) wines on their list. They even make a point of training their staff in wine -- a couple friends of mine have been managers and/or servers there, and they have nothing but praise for their approach to wine, even insisting on trainings around wine for their staff, and frequent staff tasting parties.

                                              Actually, I can't say if this is still true, as those folks haven't been on board the good ship Eastside for three years or more. But from two firsthand witnesses, this is how it was.

                                              P.S. Eastside is still one of the best brunches in Austin. A great recommendation for Roxanne Webber! Get the baked brie and whatever you order, get some bacon! They do something magical with it there.

                                              1. re: tom in austin
                                                n
                                                NirvRush Jan 23, 2011 07:39 AM

                                                Second that! Went there yesterday for brunch. They're hollandaise on the smoked salmon benedict is so tangy and delicious! They were featuring a number of sparkling wines.

                                                1. re: tom in austin
                                                  Helind Jan 23, 2011 11:57 AM

                                                  Brunch at the Eastside Café. My favorites are the Huevos Mexicanos and the Blueberry Blintzes! I always try to take out of town guests there.

                                        2. k
                                          karmar40 Jan 13, 2011 03:35 PM

                                          Our favorite place is Chuy's. Yes I know ther are a few in town. But it's a good bang for your buck. Their sauces are delicious and they will make anything for you made to order.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: karmar40
                                            amysuehere Jan 14, 2011 05:47 AM

                                            Chuy's is my guilty pleasure. However, there are only a few things I'd say are worth it.

                                            1) get the jalapeno ranch with your salsa fresca (don't get the nasty carrot stuff)
                                            2) Enchiladas and chile rellenos are generally awful
                                            3) Order the steak burrito, Elvis chicken, chuychanga, or the mexi-cobb (sub beef fajita and extra green chile)
                                            4) Get a mexican martini

                                          2. TroyTempest Jan 13, 2011 06:06 AM

                                            As for BBQ,
                                            Why don't you take an afternoon and make the 26 mile drive to Lockhart for some of the state's best BBQ places. All within minutes of each other. Search this board, you'll find thousands of entries about which are the best, but you could hit 'em all.

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: TroyTempest
                                              girloftheworld Jan 13, 2011 01:58 PM

                                              If I may add any exploration of the "Austin" food scene would have to include a bit of the amazing vegan and vegterian restrauants we have here.

                                              1. re: girloftheworld
                                                Roxanne Webber Jan 13, 2011 02:23 PM

                                                Great idea, I'd love to include a vegan or vegetarian restaurant, what do you recommend?

                                                1. re: Roxanne Webber
                                                  girloftheworld Jan 13, 2011 03:06 PM

                                                  my sister is the vegi- her favs are
                                                  Mother’s Café & Garden( kind of a tradition I even find stuff there I like!)
                                                  Kerbby Lane( not all veggi but famous and fun)
                                                  Le Soleil (not as "austinie" but good food
                                                  Madras Pavilion( Not as "austinie" but good food)
                                                  The Vegan Yacht( I find it charming and fun mostly organic 6th street food cart)

                                                  1. re: girloftheworld
                                                    a
                                                    abd Jan 14, 2011 05:36 AM

                                                    I'd add Mr. Natural to the vegi restaurant list, too. Funky, diverse, super-austin-y, vegetarian Tex-Mex. It's on Cesar Chavez not far from downtown. And maybe Swad, too, in North Central Austin for dosas and idli. It's the only restaurant in Austin that approximates my experience of southern india food.

                                                  2. re: Roxanne Webber
                                                    tom in austin Jan 14, 2011 03:35 PM

                                                    Roxanne, most of the vegetarian restaurants recommended in this thread are disgusting. Austin's best vegetarian food is at non-vegetarian restaurants; this has been the case since the solid West Lynn Cafe was closed. (Owned by the Mother's team, it achieved something Mother's still has not: offering food that doesn't taste like it has been rolled in dirt.)

                                                    La Soleil and sister restaurant Sunflower are both pretty good for Austin Vietnamese, but wouldn't move the needle for anyone who has been to NYC, LA, or San Francisco. If you're desperate for bánh mì, maybe just hit Tam Deli.

                                                    -----
                                                    Tam Deli & Cafe
                                                    8222 N Lamar Blvd Ste D33, Austin, TX 78753

                                                    1. re: tom in austin
                                                      n
                                                      NirvRush Jan 19, 2011 12:46 PM

                                                      i would throw Somnio's into the category of a non-vegetarian resto w/ great vegetarian/vegan food. They're into local movement thing. excellent salads. had delicious grilled Brussels sprouts and glazed kohlrabi last night.

                                                      -----
                                                      Somnio's Cafe
                                                      1807 S 1st St, Austin, TX 78704

                                                    2. re: Roxanne Webber
                                                      c
                                                      chrhenry Feb 10, 2011 02:21 PM

                                                      Casa de Luz is a macrobiotic vegan hippie place that has super-beautiful gardens. This is not just a restaurant, they have other buildings where they have yoga classes and other crazy-hippie stuff. It's almost scene-y, in its way. Don't bring carnivore friends.

                                                2. mariacarmen Jan 12, 2011 03:43 PM

                                                  I'm not an Austinite, but a "durned Californian" (as I've been lovingly monikered on this board!) and was in Austin for 4 days over NYE weekend. We tried 3 bbq places: Sam's, Artz's, and Ruby's. Sam's was wonderful for the mutton, brisket very good. Artz's was kick-ass for pork baby back ribs, quantity and quality of sides,but brisket a bit dry - and didn't love their bbq sauce overall. Ruby's was OUTSTANDINGLY STELLAR for juicy, tender, flavorful brisket, and very good for ribs; good sauce, good sides. We wanted to try Franklin's but they were closed and in between locations.

                                                  Trailer scene: I can only talk about the few we visited: Chi'lantro (meh for korean tacos); Surf & Turf Po' Boys (great catfish); Eastside Kings (fantastic beets, waaaay too greasy curry buns), and Pueblo Viejo (breakfast taco - very tasty chorizo taco, good but not spicy hot sauce.)

                                                  Wish we'd had more time!

                                                  1. amysuehere Jan 12, 2011 01:21 PM

                                                    Wow. Is this a loaded post. As you can probably surmise, we Austinites are very passionate and opinionated.

                                                    I would say the trailer scene is very unique here and I'd hit as many of them as you can. Franklin's is a must for both bbq and trailer scene (although they may be in the perm. building by then). I love-love-love Odd Duck (again they have a building now too). Both are b.y.o.b.

                                                    The ones I can't recommend are Fonda SM and Salt Lick, although I'd actually say Salt Lick (Spicewood location ONLY) for the ambiance. You'll feel you've done something very Texas bbq (but then can see it isn't when you've had Franklin's). FSM is "fancy" interior Mexican and extremely over-priced. I just can't recommend it.

                                                    Neo-Austin would have to be Uchi or Uchiko. They both have outstanding fusion sushi, etc. One is a cute little house on the south side, the other more modern (and new, too) and a bit quieter in my opinion. Olivia for brunch is very good and a very "Austiny" vibe. Lambert's has an excellent brunch as well and is also very "Austiny".

                                                    Tex-Mex...ah, this is where two camps set in - the Texas "brown gravy" Tex-Mex and the "red sauce/ fajita" camp. We've argued that till the cows have come home (and then argued about bbq when the cows get home). I'm of the latter and would suggest Polvo's (let the mud-slinging begin) if you can sit out on the patio; great bang-for-your-buck guajillo fajitas.

                                                    We have a local expert, scrumptiouschef, who is a wealth of good information, especially on the tacos in Austin. Trust him to whatever he says. Heck, see if he'll take you on a tour.

                                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/677432

                                                    Don't let anyone talk you into the Oasis. Yes, it's a landmark. Yes, the food is horrible.

                                                    -----
                                                    Uchi Restaurant
                                                    801 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

                                                    18 Replies
                                                    1. re: amysuehere
                                                      Roxanne Webber Jan 13, 2011 02:17 PM

                                                      Thanks amysuehere! Your response is really helpful. If we were going to compare the two sides of Tex-Mex, what restaurant would be a good representation of the "brown gravy" camp? What dishes should we order respectively to get a feel for the style? And is there such a thing as "farm to table" type Tex-Mex or does that just sound crazy?

                                                      One other question: How about late night food/bar food?

                                                      Thanks for your help!

                                                      1. re: Roxanne Webber
                                                        amysuehere Jan 14, 2011 05:57 AM

                                                        I really wouldn't be the one to ask about the brown gravy (Tom in Austin - aren't you a brown gravy camper?). However, my uneducated guess would be Dart Bowl or (cringe) Matt's El Rancho (I am now going to go home and take a searing hot shower for saying that). I would think ordering enchiladas at each place would be a good representation. At Polvo's, the enchiladas de la casa (extra guajillo sauce, please) is quite good. Not as good as the guajillo fajitas, but brown gravy places won't have good fajitas at all.

                                                        Farm to table Tex Mex. Kind of an oxymoron, as Tex Mex is usually a pork fat rules kind of meal.

                                                        Late night has changed considerably since I was into the scene, but I'm sure my fellow younger-hipper chowhounders would be able to steer you to great late-night places. My first instinct would be to say you should try El Casino el Camino. It's very old school cool and the serrano burger used to be one of the best burgers in town. However, it's my understanding late night dining has become much more sophisticated recently.

                                                        1. re: amysuehere
                                                          s
                                                          scrumptiouschef Jan 14, 2011 08:35 AM

                                                          If Roxanne is seeking the kind of culinary acumen that involves opening a bag of frozen french fries, dumping them into a fryer and calling it a day then Casino el Camino is a great choice.

                                                          The good eating days over there are done.

                                                          1. re: scrumptiouschef
                                                            amysuehere Jan 14, 2011 09:56 AM

                                                            My age is showing. I rarely make it past 11 these days...and I'm only 43. How sad.

                                                            Actually, if we're strictly talking burger (and a great ambiance) NOT late night, my favorite right now is Red's Porch serrano burger and spicy fries, but it's really a fair weather destination.

                                                            1. re: scrumptiouschef
                                                              TroyTempest Jan 14, 2011 11:02 AM

                                                              say it ain't so, chef.
                                                              I haven't been in over a year, and my Amarillo burger (i think that is the name of the one with all the serranos) was great.
                                                              What about the burgers there, now?

                                                              1. re: TroyTempest
                                                                c
                                                                chrisdds98 Jan 14, 2011 12:00 PM

                                                                If I wait 45 mins for a burger it better be awesome. last time I was there it was far from that. I much prefer the burgers at the tap room in san marcos.

                                                                1. re: chrisdds98
                                                                  b
                                                                  bbq1995 Jan 14, 2011 12:09 PM

                                                                  I think there needs to be some details as to what is making their burgers now crappy. Aside from the aforementioned frozen fries, why are the burgers no good? Not trying to start arguments, but see whats up. I was there about 8 mos ago, and my buffalo burger was pretty good (not as juicy, little too much bun but still enjoyable and satisfying in that burger way), but I also had been drinking a fair amount so that obviously would cloud judgement.

                                                                  Perhaps there needs to be a new thread to decide the new places to go for burger goodness?

                                                            2. re: amysuehere
                                                              tom in austin Jan 14, 2011 03:28 PM

                                                              I do love it, but Austin's "brown gravy Tex-Mex" is weaker than the West Texan fare I grew up eating.

                                                              Jorge's on Hancock, Enchiladas Y Mas, Tamale House #3, Matt's El Rancho, La Reyna, Flores, and a few other places often championed by others that have never really done it for me (El Patio, El Gallo, etc.) represent the spirit of this cuisine. But we're in Austin, might as well cave and accept Austiny Tex-Mex, which is totally different than West Texan Tex-Mex.

                                                              Which, by the way, is darn good. El Meson on Burleson, Angie's, Mi Ranchito, Rosita's Al Pastor, Habanero on Oltorf, and (pardon, I know many disagree) Curra's on Oltorf are all solid selections. Carnitas, pibil, pastor, chilorio, and various moles are all waiting for you, intrepid explorer. Temporarily erase what you're expecting from "Tex-Mex" and explore these joints. You can also get this cuisine at Fonda San Miguel; more ritzy, full bar, extremely expensive. Some of their dishes are better for the price, but many others are worse. Example: the cochinita pibil is better at both Curra's and El Meson. I also prefer the mole poblano at Curra's and Flores to the Fonda variant, as well as El Meson's mole pipian.

                                                              MPH was the king of analysis for this subject, and I yield the floor to him if he arrives.

                                                              Roxanne, if you really want to grok the "Chow Spirit" of Austin, I hope you'll do more than trailers and local chains! So much great food is waiting for you!

                                                              -----
                                                              Matt's El Rancho
                                                              2613 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

                                                              Tamale House
                                                              5003 Airport Blvd, Austin, TX 78751

                                                              El Gallo Restaurant
                                                              2910 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704

                                                              El Meson
                                                              5808 Burleson Rd, Austin, TX 78744

                                                              Fonda San Miguel Restaurant
                                                              2330 W North Loop Blvd, Austin, TX 78756

                                                              1. re: tom in austin
                                                                Roxanne Webber Jan 18, 2011 02:22 PM

                                                                Thanks. I am going to look into you "Austiny Tex-Mex" suggestions right now! We certainly aim to cover more than trailers and local chains, though it seems like we'd be remiss to leave them out.

                                                                I'd love to know what other places you think of as being "only in Austin" restaurants.

                                                                1. re: Roxanne Webber
                                                                  tom in austin Jan 18, 2011 05:57 PM

                                                                  The most "only in Austin" food you can get in Austin and the surrounding area is BBQ, specifically, smoked brisket. Everything else that is great in Austin came from somewhere else and (arguably) has a superior variant elsewhere.

                                                                  Our Texan beef culture's roots, however, are well documented. Note that Austin isn't the point of origin for this. Much as St. Louis is "The Gateway to the West", Austin is the approximate gateway to mesquite country as it transitions from hickory country, while remaining at the intersection of post oak and pecan. More than any wood, the copious availability of mesquite defines our local bbq. Critically, it is also the gateway to cattle rancher and cattle herder country, along with hundreds of years of poor ranchers, herders, cowboys, and plains folk who had to make something delicious out of the tougher meats. Parallels can and have been made to other great need-driven food tropes (primer inter pares being French cuisine), although Hill Country bbq definitely doesn't offer anything like the diversity. What it does offer is a profound technique to take things available all around you in and turn them into melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. Anyway, my point is that when it comes to food, Aesop was right, necessity is the mother of invention, and this pattern repeats over and over. Austin today, being a city of plenty, doesn't offer much internal innovation, but our bbq excellence comes from tougher times; it is hard-won and genuine.

                                                                  If you insist on staying within Austin city limits, your obvious top pick right now is Franklin, which will get you double Austin points as it is also a trailer.

                                                                  If you'll leave town, I can report that my current top pick (for once in my life) lines up w/ Texas Monthly. I've been to Snow's a half-dozen times and have had three near-religious experiences, two really good, and one meh. Given how erratic BBQ can be, this is by far the best brisket score of any place I've ever been. This includes topping Cooper's (two locations), Kreuz, Smitty's, Black's, Louie Mueller's, and Luling City Market, to drop only the "big name" joints. Obviously, as a degenerate eater and fan of the cuisine, I have also crushed brisket at innumerable other places. Snow's is my favorite for brisket.

                                                                  I don't recommend the Salt Lick for the food, and I think overexpansion has punished the charm of the place as well, although it is a no-doubt beloved Austin experience. (Be warned that the Salt Lick is in the city of Driftwood, however.)

                                                                  Other local joints that I like include Ruby's, Sam's, and Iron Works. I don't really like the brisket at any of these places, though.

                                                                  If Austin has a claim on any other form of cuisine, I don't know of it. I love our more excellent restaurants, but nothing Parkside, Odd Duck, Wink, Perla, et al are doing isn't being done in California. And Hudson on the Bend's wild game dishes are well at home in more than one Colorado haute joint. And Uchi/Uchiko are freaking amazing, but definitely nothing new to NYC or LA. And all our Mexican came from elsewhere. And so on and so on and so on. That doesn't mean we don't have some great options for these things, but we can't lay claim to "Only In Austin!" status.

                                                                  Now, having nothing to do with Chow, there is the Austin slogan (*shudder*) "Keep Austin Weird" which will pervade a little funkiness, levity, and counter-culture into many otherwise pedestrian eateries. Shady Grove, Chuy's, Hula Hut, Freddy's, Amy's, and so many more have a practiced approach to manufacturing this vibe; other places (Polvo's, Curra's, Boudin Creek Coffee House, the Alamo Drafthouse, Tamale House #3, etc.) come about the Austin hipster miasma much more genuinely. But this has nothing to do with food, and often I find that when other factors like these are important, the food can take backseat and even suffer.

                                                                  If you're dead set on Keeping Austin Weird, it isn't hard. Here is the recipe: Get up at 1 PM, don't take a bath, and go eat some store-bought chips and bad salsa at Polvo's. Be amused at the poor service and that they auto-grat parties of four with no warning. If I were you, I wouldn't waste one precious meal from your finite set of opportunities on such an experience, but then again, I live here.

                                                                  Good luck and happy 'hounding!

                                                                  -

                                                                  P.S. Tree demographics below. If someone has a more current source than this (other than my childhood Ranger Rick card collection), please reply with a link!

                                                                  http://esp.cr.usgs.gov/data/atlas/lit...

                                                                  1. re: tom in austin
                                                                    amysuehere Jan 19, 2011 07:38 AM

                                                                    Well put, Tom! Wholeheartedly agree!

                                                                    In the "food ain't so hot, but very Austin, agree with all above and would add Ski Shores (in the spring/summer/fall, which is why I didn't add it), chicken s**t bingo at Ginny's. I would actually vote Red's Porch (which has a killer burger and fries, a better view and all the Austin vibe of the others) over Shady Grove or Freddy's. But, Freddy's has the free bbq and the nice oak tree, so...

                                                                    1. re: amysuehere
                                                                      tom in austin Jan 19, 2011 01:07 PM

                                                                      I agree, Amysue, and I'm not trying to throw out the definitive "Keep Austin Weird" list. Maybe folks should pile on and brainstorm that list here, since I'm not really the man for that job.

                                                                      1. re: tom in austin
                                                                        amysuehere Jan 21, 2011 06:51 AM

                                                                        Not to digress (well, yes)...I miss Les Amis - THE old school Austin destination.

                                                                        On a wet winter morning, peasant's lunch by the wood-burning stove...sigh...

                                                                    2. re: tom in austin
                                                                      s
                                                                      scrumptiouschef Jan 19, 2011 08:21 AM

                                                                      Tom's post above reminds me of chowhound from a few years ago.

                                                                      Wildly opinionated and able to back it up with facts.

                                                                      We've lost most of the posters from x # of years ago but there are still a few wily hounds out there.

                                                                      LixLix?

                                                                      1. re: scrumptiouschef
                                                                        rudeboy Feb 26, 2011 06:35 PM

                                                                        LixLix knows yummy.......I agree.

                                                                      2. re: tom in austin
                                                                        Bat Guano Jan 21, 2011 08:41 AM

                                                                        " More than any wood, the copious availability of mesquite defines our local bbq."

                                                                        Wha...??? No way. No decent barbecue place uses mesquite. It's gotta be oak. Mesquite burns too hot, doesn't give you good coals, and imparts a nasty resiny flavor. Check out the woodpile at any good bbq place, and you'll see stacks of OAK.

                                                                        1. re: Bat Guano
                                                                          m
                                                                          Modorecords2003 Jan 21, 2011 09:55 AM

                                                                          Bat Guano is right. One of the only places that uses mesquite is Cooper's, and you see how that turns out.

                                                                          1. re: Modorecords2003
                                                                            tom in austin Jan 21, 2011 05:39 PM

                                                                            Guano, Modo--

                                                                            Oak and hickory are used abundantly in Deep South-style barbecue. I'm not saying they aren't used in Hill Country BBQ, but when you're in Central Texas you have the intersection of post oak, hickory, pecan, and mesquite. All of them are used in the cuisine, depending on availability and/or taste. In my opinion, mesquite is the defining wood since this smoke flavor is totally absent from Deep South-style barbecue. It is also, again in my opinion, very distinct.

                                                                            Also, remember that this Central and West Texan cattle culture isn't defined by our modern favorite barbecue restaurants. Oak is unavailable on many of the cattle trails and ranches going up out of the Hill Country and through West Texas and the Panhandle, while mesquite is readily available. This is where this method of smoked brisket originated. Just because Black's doesn't use it doesn't mean it isn't the most authentic method.

                                                                            Post oak:
                                                                            http://esp.cr.usgs.gov/data/atlas/little/querstel.pdf

                                                                            Mesquite:
                                                                            http://esp.cr.usgs.gov/data/atlas/little/prosjuli.pdf

                                                                            Pecan:
                                                                            http://esp.cr.usgs.gov/data/atlas/little/caryilli.pdf

                                                                            Lastly, IMHO, Cooper's is pretty darn good, although less so recently (YMMV). For a couple year stretch, they were putting out better brisket than I was getting from the Lockhart trifecta. Also, welcome to Chowhound, Modo! Hope you stick around and make some posts about your chow experiences around Austin!

                                                                            P.S.
                                                                            In case you don't mean post oak, but instead mean red or white, here they are as well:
                                                                            http://esp.cr.usgs.gov/data/atlas/little/querfalc.pdf
                                                                            http://esp.cr.usgs.gov/data/atlas/little/querrubr.pdf
                                                                            http://esp.cr.usgs.gov/data/atlas/lit...

                                                            3. s
                                                              schlingel Jan 12, 2011 11:49 AM

                                                              I'd definitely go to Koriente which is Asian-Fusion (more or less). And the Bouldin Creek Coffee House for breakfast. Salt Lick always works, but I think it's too far away. But that might just be me ;)

                                                              -----
                                                              Bouldin Creek Coffee House
                                                              1501 S 1st St, Austin, TX 78704

                                                              Koriente Restaurant
                                                              621 E 7th St, Austin, TX 78701

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