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Two California women 30-40 somethings looking for cool Austin ambiance, second to fine food, next week!

m
morepeasplease Sep 11, 2012 10:27 AM

Guess what? Franklin's closed the exact dates (6 days) of our trip: Sept 17-23!

I've done my research on all the sites (including fedmanwalking) and need your help narrowing this down! We're fit omnivores :) and would rather eat an innovative and/or succulent morsel of heart/liver/marrow/belly/etc. in lieu of a full plate of meat with no vegetables. We love shell/fish, both cooked and raw. We won't have a car, love to walk, and will get there if it's worth the trip!

We're attending a conference and are staying downtown for 3 nights, then in SoCo for 3 nights. Her husband isn't coming and I'm single so I think it would feel silly if we went somewhere too fancy, spendy or pretentious. We just want to check out what's 'happening' in ATX, people watch, soak up interesting atmosphere, and eat well!

In no particular order, here's the first cut! Have I overlooked anything? I appreciate any help cutting this in half (or if we could move one into lunch position). Also, keen to know if there's a particular night to go/skip.

justines
eastside cafe
2nd bar & kitchen
barley swine
stiles switch
blacks
contigo (instead of curras, fonda san miguel)
parkside
perlas
foreign & domestic
uchi/ko or kome
olivia
olive & june
blue dahlia
food trucks

I have the feeling I'll need to make reservations at some of these places...

  1. chispa_c Oct 2, 2012 06:45 AM

    Please give us an update. How was your trip and what were the hit/misses for y'all?

    1. s
      singlemalt Sep 16, 2012 06:27 PM

      For interesting atmosphere, have you considered Broken Spoke, which I would consider a great place for two women. You will get asked to dance for sure, and the CFS I hear is legendary(or at least used to be).

      1. s
        singlemalt Sep 16, 2012 06:23 PM

        2nd bar and kitchen was simply not that impressive to me considering what other places you have on your list. Now, I was impressed with the bartenders in the bar Congress.

        IMO, Parkside is a great place and maybe the best food in town. The atmosphere leaves much to be desired for me, in fact, so much that I don't think I will return. For you it may be just "bitchin'"!

        1. v
          vstock Sep 16, 2012 05:47 PM

          I am also in your demo group. Just spent 3 days in Austin in the middle of the week. Tuesday through Friday. Hit Antoines Tuesday saw a band called Wood and Wire and then hit Barley Swine Wed and Olivia Thurs. Barley Swine, we arrived at 8 and got seated right away. It was interesting and unusual and if we were closer, I would put that in the semi-annual rotation. Thursday night we did the chef's tasting at Olivia and it was really nice. I would go back anytime. I heard the service was spotty so maybe expectations were low but our server added to the night and we let him pare the wine and it was great. We hit 2nd bar & kitchen for lunch and I can't wait to return. There was one or who things that weren't appealing to me, otherwise I could eat there a dozen times and never repeat. I highly suggest making it there on day at lunch. Let us know what you choose.

          1. f
            frankcross Sep 12, 2012 04:41 PM

            agree with topeater and also look at Peche

            3 Replies
            1. re: frankcross
              m
              morepeasplease Sep 12, 2012 08:24 PM

              Really topeater and frankcross? Justines and Eastside seemed so one-of-a-kind Austin with some not-so-bad food recs. Even popvulture seemed to think Justines was worth going to (if only once)!

              What else can I cross off, Parkside? Olivia? No one seems to be talking about those lately...

              1. re: morepeasplease
                w
                willtryanythingonce Sep 13, 2012 09:36 AM

                of those 4, i'd rank
                1) parkside, 2) olivia 3) east side (with an "abstain" for Justine's, as i've never been).
                Olivia and parkside are in a similar vein. Parkside's downside is the location if you're wanting to avoid the madness of downtown/6th. It's consistent and tasty, also with interesting cocktails and love the raw bar. Olivia is beer/wine only (if you care about the cocktail thing) and i've seen less consistency (although to be fair, i've had a more dishes that "wow"ed me at olivia, but also had more missteps, hence the edge to parkside for consistency). Olivia does have a great happy hour monday that lasts all night and has big discounts on their more limited bar menu. There's been many a night where i've found the wait too long at (the more interesting and awesome, but also smaller and more crowded) barleyswine and settled for olivia which is just down the block and been content.

                East Side is lovely and fresh and local. I think you're right in calling it one-of-a-kind Austin, but also agree with topeater's "not a destination restaurant". I think you could go and have a perfectly pleasant meal, but they're not really doing the same kind of higher end culinary stuff as the other two. That's not a knock, it's also less expensive and sometimes you just want a chicken salad sandwich or some enchiladas, and not in the mood for sweetbreads over poached monkfish liver or whatnot (i hope that conveys the comparison i'm trying to make).
                To your larger question of other places to cross off, i'm not a big fan of the handful of times i've been to Contigo. Seems like more of a place to have some nibbles while drinking rather than getting a really good dinner. Also, I like Perla's as we don't have a wealth of great seafood options, but if you're coming from CA where you've got that in spades, I'm not sure i'd burn a meal there. You might find it kind of common and overpriced for what you can get on the coast (btw, i'd have no such hesitation recommending Uchi/ko, as I think those are stellar whether in our landlocked city or no).

                1. re: morepeasplease
                  s
                  storefronteats Sep 13, 2012 11:35 AM

                  I'm in your demographic, and I always enjoy Justine's. I've been a handful of times, with different people, and it's always a good, relaxed time. Great atmosphere, short menu, good, simple food, well prepared. The cooking is not exciting or innovative, as it is at BarleySwine, for example (do go there!) but it's a great place to have some wine & food with friends, enjoy the outdoor space and people watch. The tables are too small and I've had servers both excellent and not. Bartenders are great--if it's crowded, see if you can grab 2 barstools and eat at the bar. You'll have fun.

                  I agree with topeater about Eastside. If you really want to go, try it for breakfast or lunch. I'd go Parkside (but not on a weekend) over Olivia. And move Blue Dahlia to lunch or when you're in the mood for easy, light dinner. Sit in the garden out back.

                  Have a great trip, and let us know how your adventures pan out!

              2. slowcoooked Sep 12, 2012 03:27 PM

                Porfirios tacos at 1512 Holly Street is just east of HWY 35 downtown and will make you a fine example of a chorizo egg and cheese breakfast taco or better yet one of the best carne guisada + beans + cheese taco on the planet. If you can take the heat, their jalapeno sauce is fantastic. This is far from fancy but it's clean, and close in to downtown.

                1. t
                  topeater Sep 12, 2012 06:09 AM

                  These are the restaurants I would skip:
                  Olive & June..just not worth it, it's too hit or miss & often the service is lacking

                  Blue Dahlia...I've had a couple of decent meals here, but the last 2 times I've been, it just wasn't very good...stale bread, etc

                  Eastside Cafe...while I enjoy going to Eastside, I don't think it's a destination restaurant, especially since you are from Calif. Eastside garnered a following because they were one of the first restaurants that had a garden & really used fresh ingredients.

                  Justines...too far & food not worth the trip.

                  I'm sure many will disagree with me, but that's my 2 cents.

                  Have fun & please report back!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: topeater
                    Homero Sep 12, 2012 04:17 PM

                    For what it is worth, topeater is right on the money in my opinion. Enjoy your trip and don't forget to follow up on your Austin experience!

                  2. p
                    paternite Sep 11, 2012 05:56 PM

                    You should check out La Condesa. Perfect for two cool chicks. Great neo mexican food + drink. A nice eclectic vibe right downtown. Foreign & Domestic is also a good choice but will be a cab ride or drive. If you go, follow a seating at the "chef's counter" with a coctail at DrinkWell just down the street. A very nice Manhattan to be had. http://www.drinkwellaustin.com/

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: paternite
                      m
                      morepeasplease Sep 11, 2012 07:39 PM

                      La Condesa looks great and nice proximity, and thanks for the lowdown on the chef's counter and DrinkWell. Need help eliminating more now!! :)

                    2. s
                      ssouth Sep 11, 2012 10:58 AM

                      I'm sure you'll get a ton of replies but here's my 2 cents:

                      Barley Swine and Uchi/ko are the standouts right now. I would try to make the reservation for Uchi/ko now and Barley Swine is first come/first served(I recommend getting there before 5PM).

                      Almost all of these place will require the bus or a cab from downtown or SoCo (and Black's is a good 30/45 minutes south of town so I think I'd cross it off the list unless you want to rent a car).

                      I think Foreign and Domestic lines up well with your descriptions above and I'd add Lenior to your list. Swifts Attic is new place downtown that you could walk to and it sounds good but I haven't had the chance to try it yet. For a fun lunch, check out the flagship Whole Foods and 6th and Lamar. It has plenty of 'places' to eat and it's great for people watching.

                      If you want bbq in town, hit up J Mueller for lunch (food trailer but reasonable lines). I personally think it's a bit better than Stiles Switch and on par with Franklins.

                      Perla's is probably the best seafood place in town (not saying a lot though) and is on South Congress so it will be very convenient for you.

                      Lastly, everything in Austin is very casual and I think you'd be comfortable going anywhere.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: ssouth
                        c
                        chrisdds98 Sep 11, 2012 04:58 PM

                        you recommend getting to barley swine before 5? they don't open till 6 most nights, are the lines really that bad?

                        1. re: chrisdds98
                          s
                          ssouth Sep 11, 2012 07:32 PM

                          Good point. I've only been on Saturday so I'm used to the 5pm opening. I would think only a few minutes before 6 would be good.

                          1. re: chrisdds98
                            s
                            singlemalt Sep 16, 2012 06:21 PM

                            We got there at 6P and the place was only half full. We sat at the two bar seats that were the fartherest from the front door. Prime real estate, imo. Of course, this varies with the night
                            of the week. It is helluva dining experience though.

                          2. re: ssouth
                            m
                            morepeasplease Sep 11, 2012 07:35 PM

                            Swift's Attic looks awesome as does its menu. Lenoir also, thanks. Whole Foods, really! I guess because it's on 6th it's good for people watching...? Will need more assistance eliminating now that I'm adding! :)

                            1. re: morepeasplease
                              TroyTempest Sep 13, 2012 10:56 AM

                              WF is on 6th, but it is on West 6th, not really part of the whole sixth street scene, but for a foodie type destination it is interesting. After you visit it, you could walk across the street to Waterloo records, one of the best independent music stores around and pick up some local tunes if you're so inclined.

                              1. re: TroyTempest
                                c
                                cpencis Sep 14, 2012 06:06 AM

                                In addition, one of the best, if not the best independent book store in Texas is across the street the other way - BookPeople. Also with a very Austin-y vibe. if you guys are going to be here for a week, I suggest a trip to the Whole Foods 'Food-theme-park', Waterloo records and Bookpeople would be a great side-trip. Also near by is Haddington's (about 3 blocks east) which has outstanding cocktails.

                          3. r
                            Rice Checks Sep 11, 2012 10:55 AM

                            A damned fine list. Just a few notes:

                            If you have no car and are staying downtown/SoCo, scratch Stiles Switch off your list. That is up north (more than 50 blocks from downtown) and would be accessible only by cab or rental car. Maybe by bus, now that I think about it...

                            By Blacks, do you mean Blacks BBQ, or J. Blacks? Blacks BBQ is in Lockhart Texas, about 45 minutes outside Austin. Again, taxi or rental car required, and the taxi fare would be HUGE.

                            Perla's is awesome for seafood and people watching

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Rice Checks
                              s
                              singlemalt Sep 16, 2012 06:18 PM

                              If you are really hot for Stiles Switch, it is a short but healthy walk south on N. Lamar from the Crestview rail station. Catch the metro rail downtown.

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