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Jun 7, 2012 08:27 AM

July Trip to Austin

Hi Everyone,

My friend and I will be taking our first trip to Austin in late-July. We will be spending a weekend there having fun and then I will be there by myself Monday and Tuesday doing research at the LBJ Library. Uchiko is definitely on my list and hopefully I can get a reservation for the Saturday night.

We are likely going to be staying Downtown, most likely at the Sheraton. We will have a car.

We will also be looking for:

1. A delicious Tex-Mex spot...bonus points if it has great margaritas

2. A place to dine Friday night when we get in late (we land around 8:30pm). I was thinking maybe a great food trailer or something...which leads to my next question.

3. Food trailers! I live in DC where we have just started to experience the joys of food trucks. I hear Austin is the promised land for this type of cuisine. I would love the names of some of the best food trucks/trailers. I also hear there are trailer park-type places where a bunch of trucks are...that seems like a fun thing to do maybe for lunch or Friday night.

4. A great Sunday brunch spot.

5. Good lunch ideas near the LBJ library.

6. Really good, innovative restaurants where I would feel comfortable dining at by myself on Monday and Tuesday night.

7. Lunch spots near Zilker Park.

A few notes: I am an adventurous eater. I'm the one out of the 2 of us that is VERY into food. My friend is less adventurous but appreciates a good meal. She likely will leave it up to me where we should go to eat. We also are not looking to blow a ton of money on these meals, so anything from cheap eats to moderately priced would be good.

We are 2 woman in our early-30s who like to have fun but are definitely not into the frat party type scene. Any suggestions for cool bars where we can listen to good music but isn't too college-centric would also be appreciated.

I know this is A LOT of questions so I very much appreciate your help. I can't wait to check out Austin.

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  1. A friend of mine recommended El Alma for Tex-Mex. The menu looked great (duck enchillada!). Thoughts?

    Also I was thinking I would check out Barley Swine by myself. Does this make sense for a solo diner?

    14 Replies
    1. re: Elyssa

      El Alma around the Barton Springs area is one of my favorite spots, great food and amazing margs- go during happy hour for the best deals 4-7pm EVERY DAY! Best food and drink (and most interesting) in that area in my opinion.

      Barley Swine would be fine solo because of the way they do seating (some bar seats, then a few long tables where they pair people up).

      Thumbs up to the posts below, especially Zandunga - get a guava margarita and their guacamole! I also second Contigo - a great Austin vibe.

      If you wanted to cruise Congress st for brunch I'd recommend South Congress Cafe. Could eat and drink then walk about.

      Finally, this is a fun way to spend a couple hours:

      1. re: hwalkerf

        Getting closer to this trip now (2 weeks). Are there any cool bars/areas to hang out after dinner at El Alma if we choose to stick around that area?

        If not, is there an excellent Tex-Mex or Mexican restaurant with great food and a cool atmosphere that is also walking distance to a few cool bars where we can grab a drink after dinner and maybe listen to some music?

        Thanks for all your help.

      2. re: Elyssa

        I've given El Alma a handful of tries, and none have been even good. I really want to like the place, as I'd like it to break the curse for that location (which is a great spot!), and the place has good atmosphere and a pleasant roof deck.

        Sadly, the food isn't very good. Paying four dollars for a taco that is an order of magnitude weaker than a two dollar trailer taco stings a bit, sure, but the real losers are the weak salsa and everything cool and original (or authentic) that should be delicious but falls flat. I'm looking at you, elotes, cactus salad, empanadas, coke-marinated pork chop, and (memory is hazy here) quail dish? And maybe a duck dish? Something with crab? Anyway, the salsa sometimes tastes like barf; apologies for the bad imagery there.

        If I had to meet folks for drinks there, I wouldn't blow my brains out, but if you waste one of your Austin Mexican food slots on El Alma, you're doing yourself a great disservice.

        1. re: tom in austin

          So what instead would you recommend for Tex-Mex?

          1. re: Elyssa

            I like Polvo's on SoCo for fajitas and El Meson next to Barley Swine.

            1. re: xdcx

              polvo's on south first, not soco.

              I'd also suggest checking out either tacodeli or torchy's for unusual tacos but way better than anything we get up here in dc.

              1. re: xdcx

                Great! I've heard of Tacodeli. Is is a food truck or an actual restaurant?

                1. re: Elyssa

                  Can you tell me what sort of experience you're looking for when you say "Tex-Mex"?

                  Do you imagine plates of enchiladas, chips and queso, rice and beans?

                  Do you imagine fresh-made corn tortillas wrapped around salty, piping-hot scoops of carnitas, barbacoa, lengua, or perhaps tacos al pastor?

                  Do you see a plate of nachos with pickled jalapeños in your mind's eye? And possibly some crispy taco shells stuffed with ground beef?

                  Are you thinking breakfast tacos? Migas and chorizo? Potatoes fried on a griddle with butter and diced peppers?

                  Maybe you're hankering after some cochinita pibil, or cabrito, or flame-kissed whole chicken? Some spicy green sauce that burns so good?

                  If you clarify, I'll give you some recommendations! :)

                  1. re: tom in austin

                    Hi Tom. Honestly I'm a Boston girl living in DC----my experience with real Tex-Mex is incredibly limited and I'm pretty sure I've never actually had the real deal.

                    I would say the first 2 experiences you described sound good to me. I'm just looking for some real deal, made from scratch Tex-Mex cuisine---with a good vibe (maybe some outdoor seating or music or something fun) and killer margaritas. We are coming from the East Coast and want to experience something very Texan, if that makes sense.

                    1. re: Elyssa

                      Do some austin BBQ! That's as authentic "texan" as you can get!
                      That, and get some Dublin Dr. Pepper.

                      1. re: Chowrin

                        I know this seems really weird, especially to a Texas, but while I love BBQ I actually get very good BBQ on a fairly regular basis when I visit my boyfriend in Detroit. I know it's different but there isn't a single good Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant in the DC area (where I live). I honestly am not even sure if I've ever had really good Tex-Mex so I would rather focus on that since I have a limited amount of days.

                        1. re: Elyssa

                          bbq in texas is completely different (and I think better) than what you'll get in other places. passing it up would be a huge mistake.

                  2. re: Elyssa

                    actual restaurant, several of them. only open for breakfast and lunch. Torchy's is open for all 3 meals.

                    1. re: Elyssa

                      Tacodeli is a restaurant, and is fine for breakfast tacos or a quick lunch, but not the kind of place you originally described. Torchy's doesn't get a lot of love here, but it is pretty solid for Breakfast Tacos as well or lunch, actually i prefer it to TacoDeli.
                      Anyway, neither is a place where you can sit outside and drink Margaritas. I know I will get battered by many on this board, but i'll give some recs.
                      Polvo's (someone previously mentioned), Guero's (have a couple drinks, some apps, take a stroll down SoCo)
                      Chuy's on Barton Springs, maybe after a dip in the springs. Yeah i know, but i guarantee for some drinks and snacks you will have a good time.
                      These you can get your enchilidas, etc. Polvos you can get carnitas, cochinita pibil, etc. I also like Sazon on South Lamar, for more interior like Mexican.
                      Still haven't been to el Meson, so i don't know what the atmosphere is like.
                      I know there are trailers that you can go to which will be better, but i can guarantee that the Tex-Mex will be better than that in DC, or at least i hope so.

          2. All the information you seek can be found on these message boards – poke around to get a wide variety of opinions and suggestions.

            To get you started, here are few options for Friday night when you get in:

            You can walk east from your hotel over to Zandunga Mexican Bistro for good food and great drinks, open until 11 on Fridays.

            Parking on East 6th Street is a nightmare on Friday nights, so consider taking a cab over to Eastside Trailer Park at 6th and Waller for a collection of trailers including great cheese steaks at Way South Philly. Within blocks of the trailer park are 3 fun bars hiding 3 of Austin's best food trailers - The Eastside Kings trailers. They are Liberty (1618 E. 6th St), Grackle (1700 E. 6th St.) and Shangri-La (1016 E. 6th St.).

            You can easily drive to a couple of spots that combine great food and great drinks served late. Contigo (a modern spin on South Texas Ranch fare) and Justine's (French food in a casual, fun atmosphere).

            And also a few good lunch ideas near the LBJ library:

            Sao Paulo's - just a short walk from the LBJ library to this Brazilian spot.

            If you're up for a longer walk:
            Madam Mam's - great Thai food.
            Eastside Cafe - a beautiful old house repurposed to serve cafe fare centered around their two urban organic gardens.
            Hoover's - a working man's cafe serving regional food, try the chicken fried chicken with cream gravy! Also great veggies including collard greens and butter beans.

            Just a short drive:
            Kome - great lunch menu featuring nice udons and ramen soups, just named one of bon appétit's Best New Sushi Restaurants in America.
            Clay Pit - modern Indian food with a popular lunch buffet.
            El Chilito's (not El Chile, they are different places) - I like the Cochinta Pibil taco.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Alan Sudo

              Note- the LBJ library is undergoing renovation and only one small floor is open. We visited two weeks ago and the other floor will be ope near Xmas.

              1. re: zinfanatic

                I know. I'm not going to see the library (although I'll do a little of that). I'm going to do actual archival research at the library in the reading room.

              2. re: Alan Sudo

                Thank you Alan...this is all super helpful. I'll be in the library reading from 9am-5pm...can't bring any food or drink in. So I'm hoping to take a nice hour long lunch break at some point and check out some of these nearby spots.

              3. Alan gave some great suggestions for the night time activities, I wouldn't argue against any of them. For lunch near Zilker, while the food isn't the most spectacular, I have always enjoyed Shady Grove. Very fun outdoor place to hang out, and I would imagine they will have the fans and misters going on a July afternoon. I always enjoy a few beers there after Barton Springs, and then maybe a couple more at Barton Springs Saloon.

                7 Replies
                1. re: ms1195

                  Am an SF chow hound and just returned from Austin. Two fine dinners that we really enjoyed were Barley Swine and Lenoir. Both are suitable for two or one and have bar seating. Especially enjoyed Lenoir for the friendly accommodating service. They let us try the wine before we ordered a glass, always brought extra plates and spoons etc.! Kome was my nephew' choice and it was very good Japanese food- thought Japanese is not my have- my hubby loves it and Kome too.

                  1. re: zinfanatic

                    Thanks for the Lenoir rec. I hadn't heard of it but it seems like my type of place. Might need to check it out.

                    I really wish I had more time in Austin because my list of restaurants now runs about a page long haha

                    1. re: Elyssa

                      Elyssa, just down the street from the LBJ L. is a bus stop for several free busses that students use. They are owned by Capital Metro which is Austin public transport ion company.

                      If you walk a past Bass Hall (Performing Arts Center) you will find a stop for the bus called Forty Acres. You can hop on that and it makes a circle around the "forty acres" of the campus and has a stop on Guadalupe on the main drag where there will be a ton of quick food shops and there is also a new little grocery store across from were that F Acre bus stop is on Guadalupe. You might grab some snacks for hotel room there.
                      Here is the URL for Forty Acres Shuttle (Free)

                      If you are staying at Sheraton then you could buy a day pass from the bus driver of the #10 Red River bus and go to Library from your hotel by walking one block to Red River Street.

                      1. re: redhatcharm

                        Thanks for the the transportation info. I'll actually have a car so I won't have to deal with the bus (especially in the heat!). Any favorite spots for lunch near the Library?

                        1. re: Elyssa

                          Yes, since you have a car, a fast 2 mile trip north on Red River is Jason's Deli. I love it and it's quick ordering at the counter.

                          Poke-E-Mo's BBQ is in the same shopping strip. It's not the greatest, but it's not bad and you will be on a "lunch hour" so it's a quick way to sample some BBQ.

                          Lastly next door to BBQ is Pei Wei wok cookery and noodle spot that has nice atmosphere and I love their food.

                          Enjoy your stay in Austin!!

                          1. re: redhatcharm

                            expanding on redhatcharm's suggestions: there are certainly some mcdonalds and subways nearby. sure they aren't the greatest, but it's not bad and you will be on a "lunch hour"...

                            I don't think elyssa was looking for what is nearby, convenient, and edible. I figure most people come to chowhound looking for good food

                            1. re: chrisdds98

                              I haven't eaten at a McDonalds in over 10 that is definitely out haha

                2. Hi..Here are my suggestions based on my 100% subjective calculus of good food/Austin-esque places you can't get at home/limiting your time in a rental car:

                  1)For your specific purposes, I say just go to Guero's on South Congress for good margaritas (inside - and to me, "good" equals fresh lime juice plus nice tequila in correct proportions served over ice), copious amounts of chips and salsa, good-enough Tex-Mex, and a location that will allow you to stroll along SoCo before/after dinner and take in some music across the street at the Continental Club afterwards.

                  2)On Friday night when you arrive, do not get back into your rental car after checking-in to your hotel. Walk to Frank for a casual late-night dinner/drinks and then walk a few blocks down to La Condesa on 2nd Street for dessert and a nightcap. Or, just go to Bar Congress for the nightcap. If Frank doesn't float your boat, check out Parkside or one of the options at Congress (Congress/2nd Bar+Kitchen, Bar Congress).
                  3.)There are scores of good food truck options that have been written about everywhere ad nauseam. I second the person who said East Side King, but I wouldn't do it on a Friday night unless you're indifferent to the crowds. If your budget is limited, you can eat well around Austin for five days by limiting yourself almost entirely to food trucks, breakfast tacos, and BBQ....but that's another discussion and easily researched.
                  4)Olivia on South Lamar for Sunday brunch.
                  5) Lunch near LBJ: Kerbey Lane Cafe on Guadalupe or Trudy's on W. 30th. Neither will change your life, but both are Austin-esque, plus enjoying a lunchtime Mexican Martini at Trudy's would be a nice act of rebellion to a day otherwise spent in the library.
                  5.5) Since your're nearby, after the library go to Contigo for drinks/snacks or even an early dinner.
                  6)Outside of the Uchis and the food trucks, "innovative" may not be the best criteria to search for in Austin, but good food+dining alone (assuming they're all open Mondays) could be any of my suggestions for Friday downtown. For your specific budget requirement, I'd check-out the 24 Diner and Easy Tiger too.

                  If you leave downtown, Olivia and Barley Swine on South Lamar are both excellent, have limited bar seating, and exemplify the best of Austin's non-truck culinary scene - although neither is particularly budget-minded. Nearby, Lucy's Fried Chicken and the South Congress Cafe are both good and moderately-priced. Or, just go to Uchi/Uchiko more than once- it doesn't have to be crazy expensive if you edit yourself and/or go at Happy Hour.
                  7.) Get another trailer fix at Flip Happy Crepes, just down the street from Zilker.

                  Have fun.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Omniverous

                    Thank you for all of this! This is a wealth of info. I leave on Friday and I'll make sure to report back.

                    Can't wait to explore Austin!

                    1. re: Elyssa

                      on 4, it sounds like La Condesa is what you want. Adventurous Mexican brunch food

                      on 5, there's nothing really near the LBJ library, but a short drive to Manor Road east will get you plenty of choices. Hoover's is Southern food, maybe you don't need this being from DC but I'd say it's a great informal choice. Eastside Cafe is more "prissy" but the food is consistently good. Plus various Mexican and other

                  2. Elyssa, What about Breakfast? just about 5 blocks from the LBJ library (go west down Dean Keeton, right on San Jacinto, on right just past the light) is a relatively new place called Taco Joint that serves up some mighty tasty breakfast tacos on fresh house made flour tortillas that are thin and nicely partially charred on the griddle before loaded with eggs, cheese, bacon, beans, potatoes, the standards. These are some of the best in town and right nearby. They also have wonderful crunchy fish tacos too. Two of those for lunch and a topo chico sparkling water will make you happy. So this is a really super close very good bfast and lunch spot. I've eaten there 50 times and leave happy every time. Their salsas / sauces are outstanding too. The cilantro avocado sauce is mild and tasty, and the habanero not that hot, more sweet, and also very tasty. Either is good on any of their tacos.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: slowcoooked

                      Yes, I'm definitely looking for some good breakfast spots either near the Sheraton or near the LBJ library. Since my time is limited in the library I've been thinking I might just get a huge breakfast and then skip lunch.