Austin - Is there not Chow beyond BBQ and Tex Mex?
I've just spent a good hour killing time and avoiding work while reading all the Austin posts in this section. And as far as I can. Everyone from Austin eats 90% BBQ and Tex Mex and everyone visiting Austin gets BBQ or Tex Mex crammed down their throats! I understand that this area of Texas is reknowned for both of these cuisines, but this town is also filled with all sorts of other nooks and crannies of the food world.
In no order and without any thought put into it, here are a few of the "special" places in Austin I like to haunt.
1) Korea House - their sushi might not be the best and their Korean might not be the best, but they have both and they are friendly and service is usually very good. Plus, its located in a very strange shopping plaza. I love their spicy tuna rolls.
2) Ichiban - first class sushi! Plus they have a tako salad which is boiled octopus in a sesame oil dressing which is incredible
3) Delaware Subs - I know there is always a debate about who makes the best subs, but I grew up in New England and this place comes the closest to making an Italian "Grinder" as I've seen yet in town. They may cost a little more, but I'd rather have capicola on my sub than pre-pressed ham pieces.
4) Alborz Persian - Located near Satay by Mopac and West Anderson, this has a great lunch buffet. A Persian lunch buffet looks (to the casual observer) like an indian buffet, but it has lots of great differences. First all, when I went, they had over 7 different kinds of rice dishes. Curry Rice, Cranberry Rice, etc. Awesome. Great price for buffet as well.
5) Fortune Pho 75 - I know they always fail their health inspection but I am in love with their Number 56 (Bün with Charcoal pork and eggrolls.
Oh well, just my two cents. Any comments?
Austin is full of great offbeat and non-Texmex and BBQ places...you just have to find them. Not being the towering metropolis Dallas, Houston, SFO, etc are, you have to dig up the pearls....
Eddie V's for steaks and seafood (try the Chilean Bass), but it gets a little pricey. Korea House for just about anything Korean...the Bi Bim Bab and the Tofu Chi Gae are superb. The great thing about Korea House that some of the other Korean restaurants don't have is the full complement of side dishes.
East Side Cafe for very fresh Americano cooking....always a few fresh fish dishes, steaks, and delicous veggies. They grow a lot of their own veggies next door in their own garden.
Try Andiamo for some really good northern Italian food; very good wine list, and they do allow outside wine in for a modest corkage fee.
Any my personal favorite...Chez Nous for fabulous French Food...owned and operated by bona fide frogs....the cramped quarters and small tables give you that French Bistro feel, as does the Prix Fixe menu. Very friendly service.
I am also an Austinite but sadly only get to spend a few months out of every year there. I travel a lot because of work and I can say with a lot of objectivity because of my travels that Austin is my favorite food city. The Vietnamese food in Austin is a huge blessing, as are the couple of Cantonese style places like Din Ho. Korea House is an old favorite, and Swad. This thread is making me seriously homesick and hungry! The Mexican, Tex-mex, and BBQ also adds to the variety. Austin's good eats are famous and people have remarked on the good restauranting to me even when I have been very far from home like in India! So homesick!
As a former Austinite (I now live in Boston) I just have to say that Tex-Mex and BBQ are probably "crammed down your throat" there because it is so good. I really miss it. There are places here with signs that say "Texas Barbecue" but it doesn't even come close. I ordered ribs once and they took some cooked ribs out of a fridge and heated them up on an gas grill. Yikes. As for Tex-Mex, well some friends took me to a pub and ordered nachos which turned out to be a pile of cold chips with stewed tomatoes and bell peppers ladled on top. No cheese, not even an option. And if another persons asks me how the burritos in Boston compare to the one I grew up with in Texas, I'll just throw a brick at them! Oy.
Austin has a great food scene. It's exciting. On a recent visit with my boyfriend I was filled with a deeper appreciation of what's going on there. He kept saying "All I see are restaurants!" I would add, "And hair salons." But really, Boston closes down so early. We went to Magnolia Cafe at 11pm and Dan was astonished that a place like that was opened at that time. "Where do all these people come from?" he asked. To think we could have gone to Kerbey Lane or Katz's or some Asian place or some place downtown. You really can't do that here. It's hard to find inexpensive chow late at night here unless you want to eat a humongous slice of pizza that's been sitting around for a while.
Anyway, we didn't get to finish our restaurant tour of Austin while there, so we're going back later in the year. I can't wait.
If it weren't for the debilitating heat, I'd still be there today.
Well, since this thread has been resurrected, I just have to add an Amen. I lived in Austin from '89 to '93. As a current resident of Northern California, the foods I miss more than any others are the bbq and the tex-mex. During my Austin years I probably ate at Korea House and Saigon Kitchen more than Nuevo Leon or Sam's. But I can still get good Korean and Vietnamese food, as well as foods from most other cuisines. I can't get decent Texas-style bbq or tex-mex.
Bbq brisket that is just okay by Austin standards (think Ruby's) would be the absolute best in town here (and, in fact, in just about every town outside of Texas). And while I can get good Cali-Mex and regional Mexican cuisine within walking distance of my house, there's no place within a thousand miles that serves migas.
So yeah, when I'm back in Austin, the car doesn't point itself at Jeffrey's or Chez Nous. The autopilot engages, and before I know it we're on Airport Road at Tamale House #3.
When living in Northern California 2 years ago, I found that the only decent Mexican food was from the Taco trucks catering to immigrant farm (mainly grape pickers where I was) labor.
One place I think is quite world class not mentioned yet is Din Ho--absolutely incredible Chinese food. Another place on Burnet Road, near North Loop, is ostensibly an American style Chinese restaurant, but the Vietnamese family that runs Wok and Roll have some nice variations from the usual Kung Pao Shrimp, including the best bowl of Pho I've ever had. Jeffrey's, The Four Seasons and Uchi are often mentioned as the best restaurants in town, and I can certainly vouch for them. There's Tex-Mex, but then there's interior Mexican, and the gold standard for that is Fonda San Miguel. Austin Land and Cattle is the place to go for steaks, and there's now so many good Cajun/Creole places here I'd have a hard time singling one out. Same with Italian, though probably Vespaio and La Traviata have to be about the best. Aquarelle the queen of French fare.
I know I bring this up in practically every other post, but I'm just in love with Tam Deli & Cafe on North Lamar. I've probably sampled 10 different dishes so far and every one has been a winner. I was there Saturday night and had an excellent pork roll bahnt (sp?). My friend had an equally delicious looking bowl of pho. Their appetizers and deserts are also quite scrumptous.
What I find interesting on this board is the lack of discussion on American restaurants. You'll find references to Mirabelle's, Gene's and just a couple other places in Austin. Other cities' American food seem to be as poorly represented. Not that I think this is a bad thing because I find ethnic food more interesting and more open to a diverse range of opinions.
i actually dont eat bbq and texmex very often. here's my contribution.
West Lynn Cafe - vegetarian. there is a fairly large vegetarian population here in austin... at least in comparison to the rest of texas. they have texmex also, but it's the worst category on their list in my opinion.
China Palace - on Airport just east of N. Lamar. this is where i go to eat more authentic Chinese food... make sure you get the Chinese menu.
Coco's Cafe - for Taiwanese fare and "bubble" tea. the food is ok, the drinks are good, the atmosphere is decidedly pop Taiwanese.
Madras Pavillion - actually originated in Houston i believe. it's a vegetarian southern Indian restaurant that serves a very yummy onion masala dosai and mango lassi. they have a good lunch buffet too.
Boiling Pot - for crawfish! my fiance grew up in Louisiana and was impressed with their crawfish (of course we ate in season). my mouth is watering.
and for Japanese, i eat at Kyoto, Sushi Saki and Midori... mostly because they're close to where i live, but im mot very impressed with any their sushi and prefer to wait until i visit Seattle to go to town on the raw fish. i haven't tried the more expensive restaurants because i can't really afford them.
there are many many more restaurants that i enjoy that are NOT bbq or texmex. oh, and i like deleware subs too... yummy hot peppers... and sea salt & malt vinegar chips.
Take a trip over to Kobe, on Research. The show is over the top, the chefs are delightful and the food is pretty darn good. You get nice size portions and the atmosphere can't be duplicated..
I lived in Japan for a few years, spoke a few words in Japanese to the chef at our table and ended up with a delightful smile and an extra large helping of beef.
Well, I just had lunch at Swad yesterday and had excellent south Indian food -- chilli pakoras and ball of coconut, potato, and chiles coated in batter and deep fried whose name escapes me. Ordering was slightly a challenge since the older lady at the counter kept insisting I had to order more and that maybe I wanted this or that. She meant well though.
Swad's on N. Lamar at Rundberg, right next to the Desperados nightclub.
David "Zeb" Cook
While Texas does have the perception of all BBQ and Tex-Mex, I think a lot of folks will agree that if you live here, it seems like half the population is vegetarian! Don't get me wrong-I have nothing against veg's, but there's a lot here-and a lot of veg. restaurants to choose from.
Thanks for your picks. I will mention though that I don't think anyone's getting anything crammed down their throats that they didn't specifically ask for. I'd personally like to mention Musashino in every post but people hitting Austin for the first time, uderstandably, ask to be directed to the best tex-mex and 'cue and local posters are happy to oblige. Hey, chowing down on Texas brisket is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for some folks.
I do notice a share of posts concerning Vietnamese (particularly pho), Chinese, and Japanese restaurants, as well as sandwiches and pizza. That being said, here are my suggestions re food not ordinarily associated with Austin but found here in quality worthy of any American city.
Sushi - I am a sushi addict due to a cheap initiation as a waiter in sushi bars for 6 years in Boulder, Colorado. Hence, I've sampled most of the bars in town, including Ichiban, and imho Musashino towers above the rest. Pretty much every type of fish they serve is the best I've had in Austin. No kidding, "pretty much" is probably an understatement.
What to get? I could and will go on and on - tuna sashimi; monkfish liver; various types of mackerel, particularly aji when they have it; the fatty versions of salmon and yellowtail(from the cheek); the whitefish special which includes several species with perhaps a duplicate prepared in two different ways (flounder body and flounder fin have similar flavor but remarkably different texture); an excellent version of the tako sunomono you enjoyed at Ichiban or rarely, if you're lucky, jellyfish sunomono; toro that's worth the price and graded appropriately according to fattiness; squid; and whatever's on special which in the past have included tiny crabs fried whole (tastier to me than fried sweet shrimp head), seared Kobe beef sashimi and, best of all, file fish sashimi topped with it's own liver.
I've gone on long enough already, so I'll post later on my Chinese, Vietnamese and Italian favorites.
OK, I'll bite. I'll leave the sushi commentary to Phil, and I'll tackle sandwiches. For my money, The Little Deli, in the Crestview Shopping Center on Woodrow Ave, has the finest sandwiches in Austin, without question. In fact, it may be my favorite Austin eatery of any genre. The Italian Wedge is my favorite, but I've never had a bad sandwich there. Unfortunately, it's only open during the week and for lunch, so I seldom get to go. My favorite Delaware sub is the sausage sub, only available on Fridays. When I used to work downtown, I think the bread delivery coinsided with sausage day, since the sausage bread just seemed better.
I too like the Fortune Pho 75. I used to always get the lemongrass chicken (#60, I believe [a good number in these parts]), but my experiments with the rest of the menu were positive, for the most part.