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LA Hound coming into town; any help would be greatly appreciated.

  • a213b Jan 2, 2012 06:04 PM
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My wife and I will be heading in and staying for a couple nights as we make our way back from visiting family in LA & TX to Los Angeles, and as it's been ages since I've been to Austin I'd greatly appreciate some input. We will be there for 2, maybe 3 nights, and we will have a car and are perfectly willing to drive.

We're looking for places that are quintessentially Austin, and/or that really serve as good representatives of the Austin culinary scene. We're a bit spoiled by the riches of various regional cuisines found in Los Angeles -- I say that only to mean we aren't starved for great Mexican or many of the regional SE Asian or even Sushi/Japanese. We also just spent a few days before Christmas in Santa Fe, and had some fantastic New Mexican there (something I prefer to Tex-Mex). BUT ... if a place is truly stellar, by all means throw it out for consideration.

Here're some of the spots I've found so far, though again I am certainly not wed to anything (at least as of yet).

Barley Swine - looks pretty rad, I must say.

Uchi/Uchiko - seems to be a "must"; is one more preferable to the other?

Congress - seems like a good high-end spot, though I must admit over the past year I've become a bit tired of overly precious cuisine. Is that a concern here?

Parkside - menu looks good, if a bit like it could be anywhere (from Seattle to NYC). That's not a criticism, mind you.

Foreign & Domestic - Looks really good

Franklin BBQ - Ok, here's my dilemma with this. A decent-sized part of my family is from the Luling/Lockhart area, so while I didn't grow up there I've eaten at the temples of BBQ more than a few times. For the record, my overall favorite is City Market, though I have NOT tried Snow's (other than mail order). We will be stopping in at one or more of these on our drive over from NoLA, so is Franklin's great enough to warrant trying too?

We're also looking for great coffee (espresso), and I have a voracious sweet-tooth (how are Cinnamon's Cinnamon Rolls?). No need for breakfast ideas as we will most likely eat early lunches and late(r) dinners.

If you have any question, please do ask away. And thanks in advance for the help!

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  1. you have some good choices.

    Franklin's is worth it even if you have eaten at the temples in Lockhart and Luling.

    I would add some Mexican food to your itinerary. Maybe hit up La Condesa.

    Its cliche, but stop by Mozarts for some coffee and dessert. Its not the best coffee but its more than passable and the view is nice.

    Alternatively if you are a coffee fiend then try cafe de Medici.

    4 Replies
    1. re: lixlix

      Thanks for your response; I'm more coffee fiend, and had already read about Cafe Medici, but your post helps confirm that.

      In terms of Franklins, given we are only going to be in for two nights, it seems silly to hit both a place in Lockhart/Luling and Franklins. I'm looking for a bit more diversity instead of an all-out Brisket-fest, so in that light would you recommend skipping the Lockhart/Luling places for Franklins?

      With respect to Mexican, as I mentioned in my initial post we are thoroughly spoiled living in Los Angeles by an absolute bounty of phenomenal places slinging crack-addiction worthy cuisine from just about every State and locale in Mexico. Given that we have such fantastic and easy access, hitting it up in Austin doesn't make much sense, unless you're telling me it's truly world class.

      Out of the others I listed, any favorites?

      Thanks again.

      1. re: a213b

        The Cafe Medici at the Austonian is excellent. But Frank is better, the best in town.

        Your research is quite good. I'd be sure to hit Uchi or Uchiko, but indifferent between them. After that must, I'd go Parkside or Barley Swine. It's all taste, I'd say Barley Swine is slightly better, but Parkside can be more entertaining, sitting on Dirty Sixth.

        And your view to breakfast is a shame. That's where Austin stands out the most in America.

        1. re: frankcross

          Hmmm ... well, we could easily change to breakfasts, light (or no) lunches, and bigger dinners. If Austin is renowned for it's brekkies, then surely I must, right.

          So what are some of your recommended spots?

          And thanks for the rec on Frank. We will, hopefully, try them both.

          1. re: a213b

            Breakfast generally doesn't vary much, but Austin has a great Mexican influence. You can probably get breakfast tacos in LA, if not, you must have some. But Austin is the migas capital of the world, and migas are wonderful. And they're pretty straightforward and found in countless places here. Though they can be screwed up. My personal favorite is Meson on South Lamar, though this is partly the pleasant servers and setting. Only open on weekends, though. Sazon nearby is also good. Habanero is excellent. Joe's Bakery. Probably anyplace east of I-35 will be good (except Cisco's IMHO). Lots of others. Where are you staying? The Omni Hotel actually has decent migas. But you must try them if you want a taste of Austin.

    2. I would have to say, Hit the Trailer Park Eatery on South 1st. Torchy's followed by Cakeballs ay Holy Cacao.

      Uchi is an amazing experience, but you're gonna dole out some major cabbage.

      Do not miss Franklin BBQ. The Brisket & Espresso sauce is worth lying, cheating, and stealing over.

      1. Couple of observations:

        A) Uchi/Uchiko are musts. Truly wonderful fusion of Japanese and Western influences. In particular, any of the daily specials are worth a try as is the sashimi. The wine list is very very good and quite fairly priced.

        B) Congress is also very good, but I have a few caveats. First, the wine list is truly world-class and prices are very fair. The sommelier, June, really knows her stuff and even the inexpensive wines are hitting above their weight. That said, I think the food and the dining are all a bit too precious, and I keep finding some residual sugar/sweetness in the food. Expect to pay well north of $200/person with wine.

        C) I personally like the coffee at Patika, a small trailer at 2nd and Congress. And they have croissants from Barrie Cullinan who is Austin's best baker. Just smelling her almond croissants will add 2 inches to your waistline. Houndstooth also has superb espresso, but their pastries are only decent. [Royal Blue also carries croissants from Barrie Cullinan.]

        D) Olivia also has a superb, fairly priced wine list. The cooking ranges from fair to great, sometimes both at the same time and in the same dish! The setting is very pleasant and the service quite professional.

        E) Pizza varies from execrable to superb; without too much effort, you can always find Domino's or its near equivalent. At the high-end, many people like Home Slice, others East Side Pies. I like the pies at Backspace, a small 6-8 table place right behind Parkside. But stick with the pizzas, as the rest of the menu isn't in the same league.

        Hope these suggestions are useful!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Andrew Zachary

          Thanks for the response, it's really very helpful.

          I think, given we will most likely be there only two nights (MAYBE 3), I will definitely do one of Uchi/Uchiko - do you prefer one over the other, or can you help me differentiate the two? - and also Barley Swine.

          I've really been over the whole precious/dine-dining scene for the past year or so, and for that reason I think I might keep Congress in reserve, maybe if we do stay a 3rd night.

          As for pizza, I have and do spend a decent amount of time in NYC, so I will probably skip that. But thanks for the coffee rec at Patika ... and seeing as how I love croissants, that seems like a perfect spot to try.

        2. Not a whole lot to add but if money is no object, the cascabel espresso rubbed, smoked, grilled medium rare elk backstrap at Hudson's on the Bend is a mind blowing experience that rivals any dish in town IMHO.

          I also agree with Andrew, I like Patika's coffee on 2nd and South Congress, a little trailer in the huge parking lot, better than Medici.

          ICE BREWED ICED COFFEE: If you haven't ever tried it, the version at Progress Coffee on East 5th spiked with good mexican vanilla (not the syrup crap) is fantastic. It's a delicious kick in the teeth.

          1 Reply
          1. re: slowcoooked

            If you are going to be here on a Saturday morning, I'd recommend heading over to Republic Square farmer's market. There are alot of vendors and many of them are really great. Dai Due makes amazing food... http://daidueaustin.net/ they always have some freshly made to order dishes too. Cake and Spoon are always there on Saturdays and I've lately become I bit obsessed with them http://cakeandspoon.com/ They make amazing chelsea buns, scones, quiches(I like the swiss chard one), desserts(the chocolate hazelnut tart is delicious). They have some of the best pastries I've had in Austin lately. I really like the Ginger Kombucha from Buddha's Brew. It is hands down the best Kombucha I've ever had. Texas French Bread, Taco Deli, the Tamale stand, the Thai stand are all really good. Last week, I saw a coffee purveyor there who I hadn't noticed before... they travel down to Brazil and pick their own beans from small farms to bring them back to Austin to roast. They sell by the cup and also fresh beans. I picked some beans up and have been very happy with them...

            Of the restaurants you listed, I like Foreign and Domestic and Barley Swine best... however, I did get a tweet today from BS saying they are closed until January 8 for a deep clean... I don't know if that affects your plans. Uchi and Uchiko are great but just pick one... I haven't been to Congress, but I've been to Second twice.. the first time was really good, but the second time was solid, but nothing spectacular. I'm not a big fan of Olivias... I think its overpriced for the quality. Parkside is great... but I agree with your assessment, but they do pretty amazing things with their food... though they tend to like to incorporate a 'soil' into many desserts... I'm a bit over that trend personally. I haven't been to Franklins but I've heard great things about the food. If you are up late, you may want to look into some reverse happy hours around town too.

            If you do go near Barley Swine, you should try Lick which is in the same parking area. Lick is making some really cutting edge flavors http://ilikelick.com/ which are all high quality and there will probably be at least one you haven't tried before (Beet and Mint, anyone?).

            Another highlight for me lately has been the Noble Pig http://www.noblepigaustin.com/ They have a dinner on Jan 7 you may be able to get reservations for if you are interested.. the menu is up on their website.... regarding their regular menu, I love their duck pastrami sandwich and their BLT... I know, I know... BLT? well, its really a Pork Belly LT. If you want a good quality sandwich, this place is among the best in town lately no matter what you try.

            Personally, I prefer Austin Cake Ball to Holy Cacao... ACB has recently opened up a restaurant front in the Domain... http://www.austincakeball.com/kitchen... I haven't tried their food lately, but their salted caramel cakeball is one of my favorite small bites in the city.

          2. I think (hope) I can supply a slightly different perspective.
            Just returned from a trip to Texas with 3 days in Austin, so speak as a visitor, not a knowledgeable local. But then, you’re a visitor too.

            Several of the places you mention were closed all week so can’t comment, but here are what we DID find.
            First Franklin – astonishingly good. On previous trips I’d hit Lockhart and was not particularly bowled over – in fact I’d almost given up on Texas BBQ having tried it all over Hill Country – BUT Franklin is in a class of its own. Best brisket I’ve had in North America (in fact one of the only two places I’d recommend – and the other is in Ontario!). But beware the line-up! We arrived about 12:30pm on a Tuesday and were served about 1:10. Both ribs and pulled pork had sold out by then, so only brisket and sausage remained. Both of these were gone by 1:30pm. Amusegirl is a ribs fan so was disappointed – but they found an end piece (3 small ribs) which they comped us – and based on that the ribs are similarly amazing. She also was knocked out by the brisket.

            Uchi – leave your LA experiences behind you – you’ll be disappointed otherwise. Ignore the ‘typical’ Japanese dishes (sushi, sashimi, various rolls) and stick to the left side of the menu, which are sort of Tex-Japanese – and many are cooked/heated dishes. Also they even had foie gras as a special – OK, but I’ve had better. Just a little different. Service here was pretty good – unlike most places where we had to ask them to slow down service – at one place (Fort Worth) two dishes hit the table before I’d even ordered the wine.

            Hudson On The Bend was also quite good – but definitely an older crowd and more formal. If you crave Elk, venison then it’s not bad. I wouldn’t go far out of my way to go there, but quite acceptable (although also had to slow down the service there so we could finish our wine).

            I can’t digest corn – so can’t help with the Breakfast and Mexican side – Migas sound awfully like a Western Omelette/Scramble to me.

            One thing nobody has mentioned is that Austin is the ONLY place I’ve been able to find Longhorn Beef – and only at one place – the Longhorn Burger at Hut’s. You can order any of their Burgers and ‘upgrade’ to Longhorn Beef. Hut’s itself is a bit past its prime – but the Longhorn beef is exceptional. It’s grass-fed so I can’t confirm it’s REALLY the breed (as opposed to the feed) – but I suspect it’s simply a different flavour (which makes it the best I’ve had, according to my taste).

            I tried to confirm (or refute) my Longhorn suspicions by having some grass-fed beef the same day (at Wink). I still think it is the Longhorn flavour (but also really liked the grass-fed beef). And also check out the Wink menu – seemed more interesting (to me) than the more International places. Absolutely packed (on a Wednesday) – service was a bit ingratiating but food was pretty good. Definitely a Bistro style and they’re clearly appealing to the locals – haven’t watched their menu enough to see how ‘farm-fresh’ it really is, but really appreciated that, for example, they served ‘Texas’ Lamb.

            12 Replies
            1. re: estufarian

              Thanks for the review - I always love hearing from visitors about their experiences here in Austin, and it sounds like you had a sample of some of the best we have to offer.
              Now, to answer your questions:
              The Longhorn never really caught on with the huge corporate beef operations, and as a result has not been bred for the high fat content popular with consumers. You can think of them as an heirloom bred. As a result, Longhorn meat on the average contains 10 percent less saturated fat than that of other cattle. The fact that most are grass fed just intensifies the flavor that’s already there.
              Migas are to Western Omelets as a Harley is to a moped. A good plate of migas should contain a balanced ratio of fried corn strips to egg so that both flavors are easily apparent in every bite. The tomatoes should be fresh bits, cooked with the eggs and not stewed beforehand. There should be no bell peppers, only jalapeno. Add in onions, cilantro and garlic and top with a white Mexican cheese. It's a wonderful dish, and so much bolder than the omelets.
              I also have to put in a plug for a couple of my favorite Austin meals. Eastside Cafe is a charming restaurant that takes "local" to a whole 'nuther level. Their onsite organic garden covers 1/2 a city block. My favorite meal here is a shrimp and goat cheese quesadilla appetizer followed by the sesame catfish meal. Choose a glass or a bottle of a dry white from their small but well chosen wine list, and ask to be seated in the house, not the garden room. Right across the street is Hoover's Cooking, a southern/soul joint where the tabletops are covered with butcher paper and the portions are Texas sized. I enjoy the burn of their super spicy chicken wings app, and the rich flavor of the chicken fried chicken with cream gravy. My personal favorite sides rotate among the Jalapeno Creamed Spinach, the Butter Beans, the Mustard Greens and the Okra 'n Tomatoes. Either one of these options could do a great job as representatives of “the Austin meal”.

              1. re: Alan Sudo

                Thanks for the explanation (and future recommendations). This trip was 'intentionally' finer dining (yes, I know I went to Franklin & Hut's!), but next trip is expected to be much more downscale.
                And I still find it strange that no restaurant (that I can find) even offers a Longhorn steak .

              2. re: estufarian

                Great response, very helpful.

                Even though everyone is raving, I'm still a bit on the fence about Franklins. I'm sure it's great, but is it as good/better than, say, City Market? If better, just marginally, by-an-iota, or leaps and bounds?

                I don't really fancy waiting in line that long unless it's truly transcendent.

                1. re: a213b

                  nothing is going to be leaps and bounds better than City Market.

                  I will once again reiterate that Franklin's is worth the wait though.

                  1. re: lixlix

                    i'd say franklins is more consistent then city market - probably because they are open so few hours. I've only been to franklin's 3 times but every time the brisket was top notch. i've had bad brisket at luling and lockhart sometimes.

                    1. re: chrisdds98

                      Thanks for the replies ... given it looks like we will only be in Austin two nights - and considering we're driving over from NOLA before the first one and leaving for a long drive after the second - I'm guessing we will PROBABLY miss Franklins, though I don't say that for sure. I might give it a drive by, but I can assuredly say I am not waiting in line for an hour or more, not with just one full day to be out and about.

                      I did make a reservation for Uchiko, which I am very much looking forward to.

                      1. re: a213b

                        This is where I chime in and say Stiles Switch is worth one of your meals. Solid bbq, great sides and a very short wait by bbq standards here.

                  2. re: a213b

                    Franklin is the only barbecue restaurant I've been to where there brisket is ALWAYS amazing. And I went there quite a bit before the lines got out of control, and a several times since. It's remarkably consistent and very, very good.

                  3. re: estufarian

                    Regarding Longhorn beef - I've had it at Meers' Store outside of OKC. Delicious. They raise their own herd of Texas Longhorns.

                    1. re: tenacity

                      Thanks!
                      A bit off the beaten track - but, if I ever get to Oklahoma City it's only a 3 hour round trip.
                      I see they sell retail both longhorn burgers and steaks. However they don't specify whether their restaurant steaks (or BBQ) are also longhorn.

                      If I get 'close' I can certainly phone - but do you know whether the steaks are also Longhorn?

                      1. re: estufarian

                        Yeah, sorry - from your comment it was hard to tell if you were saying that you couldn't find Longhorn "anywhere" as in "anywhere in the country!" or just nearby to Austin. :-)

                        As far as I know, EVERYTHING is from their Longhorns. http://www.meersstore.com/

                        1. re: tenacity

                          Thanks again.
                          Indeed I had a previous request for Longhorn beef 'anywhere' - but only posted on the Texas Boards as I was travelling to Dallas.

                  4. It's a tangent, but Uchi is more Japanese, and Uchiko more Southeast Asian in influence. As I like more assertive flavors, I typically prefer the latter.

                    Also, since it hasn't been mentioned, La Boite, a pastry and coffee operation, recently opened at 10th and Congress.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: bubbleboy79

                      Like you, I enjoy big and bold flavors, so it seems perhaps Uchiko is the way to go.

                      1. re: a213b

                        I would go to Uchiko. My last 2 trips to Uchi were mediocre at best. Food seemed boring, not as fresh as in the past & service was uninspiring like the people working there were bored too! Much different atmosphere than when Paul & Yoshi were there.

                        1. re: notsusan

                          I've made a reservation for Uchiko; thanks for the input.

                    2. Here's our plan as it currently stands ...

                      Dinner Saturday when we get in at Uchiko (already have a reservation).

                      Wake up Sunday and grab coffees at one or both of Houndstooth and Patika.
                      Brunch/Lunch at Noble Pig
                      Dinner at Barley Swine

                      Wake up Monday and grab coffee at our favorite from Sunday, or maybe Medici, and perhaps grab something from Cinnamons or Baguette et Chocolat before heading out on the road.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: a213b

                        That's an excellent schedule except for the last step. I don't think Cinnamons is special. Baguette et Chocolat is, but it's a long ways from downtown Austin. Go for it, if you wish. But we have some nice bakeries closer in -- Sweetish Hill, Quack's, Russell's, Upper Crust

                        1. re: frankcross

                          Thanks for the suggestions. We will be heading up 35N from downtown; I know I can research it, but if you don't mind my asking are any of those within/along the way?

                          And I will of course report back on everything we try.

                          1. re: a213b

                            I think Barley Swine is closed on Sundays.

                            1. re: karma belle

                              You are correct; I must have gotten mixed up on the days/hours, but thankfully you've helped me catch it.

                              I've switched Uchiko to Sunday night, and we will hit Barley Swine once we arrive on Saturday. Should I be expecting a crazy wait at any part of the night?

                              1. re: a213b

                                One has to get there when Barley Swine opens or closes (5 and 11, respectively, on Saturday). The restaurant seats maybe forty and fills up quickly. I once had to wait for someone for thirty minutes at opening, and then we couldn't be seated for another thirty because it was already full.

                                1. re: a213b

                                  When we've gone to Barley Swine before and had to wait, we go next door to Opa - a funky Greek wine bar place - for a glass of wine and a seat in they cozy confines. They'll call your cell phone when you're table is ready. Not a bad way to wait it out.

                                  And if the wait is borderline egregious for you, there's always Olivia right across the street. Not quite as great or "restaurant du jour" as Barley Swine, but a nice dinner nonetheless.

                                  1. re: a213b

                                    See this thread for some great recommendations for Uchiko.
                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/828565

                          2. Oh, but you must give some love to the Horseshoe Lounge, in the same shopping center as Barley Swine and truly Austin. Great jukebox, $1.50 beers and .50 cent shuffleboard and all the locals you can stand.