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Visiting from California

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Hi, I'm from the SF Bay Area and will be visiting Austin next month for a business trip with a few other coworkers from California, and several from Toronto for a team event (we also have a team based in Austin).

We will probably have two group dinners that the company will pay for, and many of us that are from out of town are very interested in BBQ (ribs, brisket) and Mexican/Tex-Mex and would appreciate some recommendations. We have pretty good Mexican food in California, but I'm wondering if there are places in Austin where I can get Mexican food that is unique to the area (whether it's due to a Texas spin on the cuisine, or regional Mexican food that is hard to find in California). For these dinners, the budget will probably be fairly modest ($20-40/pp w/o drinks). Would like suggestions on places suitable for a large party, preferably somewhere "nice" but still casual (I like hole-in-the-walls, but food stands and tiny places probably won't work for us since we'll have around 12-15 people and will need the place to accept credit cards).

We get one night off to have dinner on our own, and I'm thinking about splurging for Uchiko (I'm a big fan of Paul Qui on Top Chef). I also figure that it might be good to eat some lighter fare after the BBQ/Mex. Any thoughts for or against?

I would also like to check out the food trailer scene...is this best to check out for lunch? We are having all-day meetings but I may take a day off after just to sightsee since this is my first time visiting Austin.

Thanks for all the help and recommendations!

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  1. I'm sure that if you peruse the board (or the national media) for a minute, you'll have your answer for BBQ. Franklin BBQ is pretty much your absolute best bet in town, but there are other places (J.Mueller, Salt Lick, Louie Mueller's, Snow's, etc) if you don't feel like waiting in line for lunch at 10:30 AM.

    As for Mexican, I think of SF as being a big burrito scene, although that could be a totally naive statement. Polvos and Curra's both offer great interior Mex with a South Austin vibe... good margaritas, patio, people watching. El Borrego de Oro is also excellent, but a little grungier. Fancier Mexican places in town would be Fonda San Miguel and La Condesa, but honestly I'd aim for the less upscale places if I were you.

    Uchiko is awesome, as is Uchi- you won't regret either. Avoid the sushi (overpriced and just the same as you'd get anywhere else) and go for the small plates. You can also go to any of Paul Qui's East Side King trailers at The Grackle, Liberty Bar or Shangri-La. The pork belly at Grackle and the beet fries at Liberty are my personal faves.

    3 Replies
    1. re: popvulture

      FWIW I also heard Paul has a roaming trailer now ala the Kogi truck in LA, and you find out where they're gonna be on a given day via Twitter or the like.

      1. re: popvulture

        Thanks a bunch! I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of BBQ and Tex-Mex posts when I searched that I was was hoping to get the list restricted to those that meet my criteria (sit-down, suitable for large parties, moderately priced).

        Franklin (for BBQ) and Curra's (for Mexican...those avocado margaritas certainly looked intriguing) were some of the restaurants I was looking at so it's good to get some validation. I will be on the lookout for Paul Qui's trailers!

        1. re: arlenemae

          I would think Styles Switch meets your criteria perfectly. Great bbq, priced about like everyone else, but unlike the others, can handle the volume quite well.

      2. Being a former Bay Area resident, I really like La Condesa downtown. Great Mex standards with an ecclectic flare. Beautiful space, too.

        As for BBQ. One word. Franklin's. It's worth the wait. Bourdain recently claimed it's the best brisket he has ever had. Ever.

        6 Replies
        1. re: paternite

          Agreed re: La Condesa. So, so, SO much better than Curra's or Polvo's if it will fit the budget. They have a private room, too (it's kind of quirky, but it's private, anyway). If La Condesa is too spendy, I'd definitely choose Polvo's over Curra's.

          And I think you're probably better off hitting the trailers at night. Also, just FYI so you don't stress yourself out finding cash, most of the trailers take credit cards.

          1. re: Optimista

            I think La Condesa or Fonda are in completely different stratospheres than Curra's or Polvos; it just depends on what you're looking for. It's just a matter of opinion, but I'm always disappointed by fancy Mexican places. I like their food, but I always can't help but think that I could be eating something better in some hole in the wall place.

            The last time I ate at LC, the best thing I had was an appetizer of charred shisito peppers, which is basically taking some peppers and throwing them in a cast iron pan with some lemon juice. Not Mexican (not like it has to be, but that's a bit more Provencal/Spanish), super simple preparation, overpriced. Don't get me wrong; they were delicious. I bought a whole bunch at Central Market several times over the next few weeks, in fact, and made them myself for a fraction of the price.

            I'm not a scrooge, either; I really don't mind splurging big time every once in a while. It just seems to me that when I pit those fancy Mexican places against a taco stand, the taco stand always wins. Once again, just an opinion.

            1. re: popvulture

              I'd also agree with Optimista above that Polvos is a lot better than Curra's. The avocado margs at Curra's are really good, but I think Polvos surpasses it in every other department. Plus their plain ol margaritas are great.

          2. re: paternite

            La Condesa has an outpost in Napa now, so if you are only in town a short time, it might be worth checking out other places since you can hit La Condesa closer to home.

            1. re: Mike B

              Thanks, that's good to know. Will probably skip La Condesa then, since I can just hit it next time I go to wine country (I usually go 1-2x a year). Will consider Polvos instead of Curra's, though the final decision will probably be up to the group. Thanks all for your suggestions!

              1. re: arlenemae

                Hmmmm. OK. Think you are missing the boat. Even though La Condesa is in Napa - this one is in Austin. Ans it's a vibrant part of downtown...