Help with itinerary
Me, wife and 5 year old are coming to Austin October 17th-21 from San Francisco, a BBQ wasteland, looking for unique to Austin eats and, of course fine BBQ. We have car so open to travel for great food. SF is the land of burritos and has various quality regional Mexican cuisines, but really no Tex-Mex or breakfast tacos, so aside from BBQ we’re interested in those (and anything else we can’t get in SF). We’d also like to take advantage of the weather and eat outdoors when possible. Any advice/critique is appreciated. Also, is the Salt Lick the equivalent of Fisherman’s Wharf or worth the trip for the atmosphere? Someone this board recommended ordering brisket /burnt ends, turkey and baby back ribs if we end up there – but the menu doesn’t show baby backs or specifically “burnt ends”, do we just request them when ordering the brisket? Friday dinner I’m thinking about taking a break from BBQ and would like to try some unique brews, but my wife doesn’t drink, so is there a brew-pub with good food (I like the looks of the Fish-n-Chips at Black Star Co-Op) that would allow my indulgence (and allow children – we’ll likely be there early evening). Tentative schedule is as follows. Thanks in advance for any input.
Lick ice cream for dessert
Breakfast: El Tacorrido - breakfast tacos and coffee; or Torchy’s
Lunch: J. Mueller BBQ
Donuts at Gourdough’s
Lunch: Franklin’s BBQ
Dinner: Black Star Co-op Brewery or Hoppdoddy Burgers
Saturday: Maybe head to Lockhart for Blacks or Luling City Market? Salt Lick for Dinner? Maudie’s?
Sunday: Noble Pig Sandwiches in a.m. before airport?
Overall... I like it and I think you'll get a good idea of Austin on a first visit. I may suggest a few tweaks though:
Wednesday - swap Takoba for Barley Swine. Takoba has pretty good...what I would call... hipster Mexican food, but you probably can get that all over SF. Barley Swine is putting out top-notch, inventive food with local seasonal ingredients. And it's right next door to Lick, which is an excellent choice for dessert.
Thursday -- looking good. I personally don't care for Torchy's, but that's a debatable topic.
Friday -- If the kiddo can handle the waiting around, you'll need to get in line no later than 10:00. People start lining up at 8:00, and if you show up later than ten, you run the risk of them running out of meat. On your dinner, I'd suggest Black Star if you're interested in excellent craft beers (both those brewed on premises and their frequently rotating taps of other great Texas breweries). I feel like visitors are really missing out on something special if they don't get a good sampling of our beers.
Sunday -- I'm not sure where you're staying, but Noble Pig is really out in the middle of nowhere, and in the opposite direction of the airport.
.Oh thanks, we're staying at my wife's aunt’s on Westminster Glen Avenue - don't know the name of the neighborhood.
Re: Franklins – I was planning to sit in line while my wife grabbed coffee and breakfast. If I get there at 9:00 will I be OK (or is Thursday any less crowded than Friday). I’m happy to get in line at 8:00 to avoid any potential disappointment, as I don’t know when we’ll get back to Austin.
I was looking at Barley Swine, menu sounds interesting, but worried about the wait, but if we eat early I imagine the wait isn’t as bad,
Re: Takobo – I liked the look of the outdoor space and was thinking It’d be a good place to treat our hosts for dinner, but if we can get in then Barley Swine does sound more appealing.
But where to get Tex Mex? I had Chuy’s about 12 years ago in Houston but really have no memory of it and I’m reading mixed to negative reviews here.
You'll be totally fine if you show up to Franklins at 9:00. I feel like on my several trips there, 10:00 seems to be that weird unofficial cutoff point.
Re: Barley Swine... I think if you get there a little earlier, the wait may not be too bad. What I like about their system is that they get your cell phone # when you put your name on the list and they call you when your table is ready. The trick - if they quote you, say, a 45 minute wait... go next door to the ridiculously underrated Opa to enjoy a glass of wine and a Greek snack in their lovely front yard/patio area. I think compared to the time it would take to drive to Takoba then drive back across town to Lick, the time waiting on a table for Barley Swine is a wash.
Where to get great Tex Mex? That is a pretty ubiquitous question with a hundred possible answers. I would probably recommend steering clear of Chuy's though. They're expanding rapidly nationwide, so you'll probably have one in the Bay Area soon enough if you're really curious to try it. I'd suggest El Alma or Sazon for excellent Mexican food, although not quite "Tex-Mex". I kind of equate "Tex-Mex" to meat/glop/cheese, of which there are plenty of options.
Oh, and if you get to enjoy both J Muellers and Franklins in one trip, don't even worry about Salt Lick. :)
If it's a cool morning, a 25 min. drive out to Los Pinos on Hudson Bend for a steamy bowl of red pork and hominy (posole) soup, house made tortillas, and some of the best salsa in the area is our go to sunday drive. this place is the real deal, unlike Chuy's. it also highlights the scenic west austin hill country.
I love the beer selection at the new Bangers location on Rainey St. downtown. Good fries, house made sausages (I prefer the bockwurst), and 101 beers / ciders on tap, and several casks. Great selection of regional texas brews. 4 5 ounce samplers = 8 bucks. fun stuff. Dip some fries in their lemony aioli or spicy ranch and if you go, at least ask for one of your two free samples to be Quebec's witbier called Ephemere fermented wtih green apple. light and crisp. Another standout pub is Ginger Man. Dark and fun.
You should not miss Tacos at La Fruta Feliz for their carnitas, pastor, and goat (chico) on house made tortillas. The place inside and out isn't much to look at, but these are rated by some of our most hardened "foodies" as among if not the very best tacos in this town of many standouts. Even if you don't want a full meal, at least stop in and taste a couple. The folks are as friendly as can be, too (an Austin characteristic in general).
Ice brewed Ice coffee at Progress and ask for the mexican vanilla spike. Best version in town.
I have enjoyed tacos at Torchy's, but they don't rival the aforementioned.
Agreed on Pinos. Yes, it's a bit of a drive, but you'll get a great view of the lake on the way (stop at the church parking lot about half way to the dam and take in the view of our (very dry at the moment) lake. Pinos salsa is the bomb and I really think they make the best chile relleno (and I'm from El Paso). Also much loved is the very cheap but yummy tacos and enchiladas.
I really enjoy Salt Lick and don't think it's too much like FW or Disney for that matter. I'd say it is worth the trip for the food! It's also interesting to get out of the city and more into Hill Country. Ask to sit in the main building, even if it means waiting longer. Your 5yo will love looking at the meat pit, as do I. Don't forget it is cash only and BYOB, so you might want to bring a few Shiner Bock's for yourself.
The only thing I would add is to try to catch a food truck or two. Austin has an amazing food truck culture. We hit up Way South Philly on east 6th street, Naan Stop, Miguel's Cuban, & Chi'lantro, all downtown, & were very satisfied by all of them. In fact, we are planning another trip to Austin so we can spend more time eating! Franklin & J Mueller are both amazing & I would completely skip Salt Lick & Luling/Lockhart unless you have the extra time. We had breakfast at Curra's, it was pretty good, but not the best food we had all weekend. Next time we go, East Side King is a must!
Sounds like I'll need a couple weeks to check out all that Austin has to offer. San Francisco is in the middle of a food truck boom and not to lump them all together, but overall I haven't been too impressed. I've found them to be hit or miss, with smallish portions for the price (excluding the original Mexican taco trucks - Tonayense still has the best carnitas and lengua tacos in SF). I thought the food truck/cart scene up in Portland was better. Having said that, I do like the looks of the East Side King menu so will check it out if we can. Thanks for the advice on Luling & Salt Lick, might hold off and see what happens on the last night in town, our gorging schedule is filling up.
For a non-chain alternative to Chuy's and likely some of the most definative Tex-Mex you can find north of San Antonio, try Amaya's Taco Village. Excellent Tex-Mex on handmade tortillas. The crispy tacos are a signature dish (also called Village tacos in some places on the menu), so if you don't get the taco plate, be sure to add a crispy taco on the side.
First, thanks to everyone for their advice and tips, although we didn’t get to all the places we had planned, we still left Austin 10 lbs heavier and in need of a Lipitor infusion, so had a great time and will definitely return.
OK first night we decided to hit Salt Lick to get our feet wet BBQ wise. I have to say, it was a great way to start the trip. We sat outside with our cooler full of beer on a gorgeous warm night listening to the band while our 5 year old ran around and danced - instantly relaxing. We got the brisket (burnt ends please), pork ribs, turkey, pecan pie and peach cobbler. While certainly not the best BBQ in Austin, all was good and better than anything you’ll find in San Francisco (I actually thought their turkey was better than Franklin). Good potato salad, pecan pie and cobbler were just OK, sauce was mustardy/vinegary, almost like a North Carolina style, which I liked. I would almost call this an obligatory stop for someone that’s never been to Austin, jut for the scene as a whole.
The next morning we arrived at J. Mueller about 10:45 and had after short wait, ordered almost everything on offer. We had an ordering plan and I sent my wife up while my daughter and I took pictures of the giant Texas flag and checked out the food-cart-court across the street, but they kept giving my wife samples, so we ended up ordering almost everything. We had brisket, pork shoulder, pork ribs, sausage and the short rib that weighed something close to 1.5 lbs. The meats are really extraordinary, particularly the coarse ground sausage with a super snappy casing and the brisket. The short rib, my wife’s favorite, really deserves its own category for heart-attacky over the top richness – this was something along the lines of foie gras in terms of decadence, super moist, meaty and enough for about 3 people. The sides were decent, chipotle slaw, beans (tasting mostly of garlic salt) and baked squash that was more like mac-n-cheese with squash standing in for the pasta, so can’t complain about that. The sauce tasted of tomatoes and BBQ drippings, more of a rich broth than a sauce. J. Mueller is putting out some great BBQ. Despite the foodie notoriety, being a pit master is no glamorous occupation as we watched Mr. Mueller trek back and forth between the hot smoker and the counter with pounds after pound of meat, but his efforts are certainly appreciated. (BTW we did not eat all the BBQ but brought most back for our hosts and ourselves to chow on later – even that beef bone was enjoyed for days by their 3 dogs, so money well spent)
We hit up Gordough’s Donuts across the street for the ODB and the Flying Pig. These were OK and certainly fill the sweet tooth craving, but really did nothing to dispel my general ambivalence about food trucks. The menu seems to put cleverness over high quality ingredients– basic packaged bacon, packaged coconut, etc.
For dinner we took jwynne2000’s recommendation had has enchiladas at El Alma. We were lucky to hit happy hour, so half priced empanadas and $5 margaritas. I had the duck enchiladas with mole and my wife had the vegetarian with a verde sauce – both very good. It was real treat to sit on the patio as the sun went down sipping margaritas and (again) be able to dine outside.
Friday a.m. we made the pilgrimage to Franklin, arriving about 9:15 which put us about No. 15 in line. We were prepared with fold up chairs, a cooler and magazines, and I held down the fort while my wife and little one found some coffee nearby. By 10:00 the line stretched to the end of the parking lot below. I would say that waiting in line at Franklin is another obligatory stop for a first time Austin visitor. If you know its going to be 2 hours the wait is not bad and the time really flew by talking to the friendly college students and people watching. A taxi van pulled up and 8 frat boys sitting on the floor of the van rolled out and immediately began tossing the football, several people alternated between sips of Shiner Bock and coffee and one woman had a 3 month old baby about to get his fist taste (or at least smell) of some of the finest BBQ I’ve had the pleasure to eat. The whole thing felt like trying to get tickets for a Grateful Dead show or something. When we bellied up to the counter we, again, ordered most everything on the menu. We split the Tipsy Texan sandwich as kind of an appetizer, then each got a 2 meat plate, mine with ribs and brisket and hers with turkey and brisket. We also got a 1/2 pound each of brisket and pulled pork to take home for our hosts, as well as a pecan pie and a Big Red (must be an acquired taste, since 3 of us couldn’t finish one). Its all been said before I guess, so I’ll just say that the brisket is a work of art, but everything was great from the ribs to the pulled pork to the sides to the pecan pie. The beans are cooked with a bunch of brisket and were several steps above either J. Mueller or Salt Lick and the potato salad had a healthy portion of pickles which worked well to balance the richness of the meat. Only the Turkey didn’t wow me (I thought Salt Lick’s was juicier and smokier), but overall this is a first rate operation. All the sauces were good, but I liked the tomatoey one the best as the acid cut the fatty BBQ.
Yes, we had dinner after all that BBQ. Black Star Coop Brewery was great. I had a couple sour beers and an IPA, both really interesting and well made. The menu reads like pub fare but everything is done a cut above. I would never have ordered the fried jalapenos, but they were pickled first and fried in a tempura batter, just excellent. Fish and chip also expertly prepared, tempura beer batter and unique way of cutting the fries – long but thin and wide if that makes sense. We also got a wedge salad that was good, but a little too much oregano overwhelmed the dressing. The location is a little incongruous with the co-op buss your own table-no-tipping vibe of the place – we sat outside on the patio almost on top of the highway and across from a bunch of strip mall chain stress. Would definitely go back.
Saturday we got some good iced-brewed coffee at Progress, then hit up the farmer’s market where we came upon the Cake & Spoon stand that I recognized from the pecan pie package at Franklin, so we had to buy a pecan pie and a chocolate cake thing for after dinner later. Strangely, the pecan pie from the stand wasn’t half as good as the one we bought at Franklin (but the chocolate cake was excellent).
We had familial obligations to meet for an early dinner/late lunch at Hopdoddy burgers, as some of the crew were catching the UT/Baylor game later (quite extraordinary to see ¾ of the city all wearing Texas Longhorn shirts). Hopdoddy was good – I had the prime time, would probably get the truffle oil aioli on the side next time. It reminded me of Umami Burger, but cheaper and with a better beer and milkshake selection.
So didn’t make it to Contigo, Barley Swine, La Fruta Feliz or Los Pinos – we just couldn’t see eating indoors with such fine weather. Next time.