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May 27, 2004 08:57 PM

Austin - Last minute Post

  • j

Hello Austin Chows, I'm a NYChow, relocated to Houston and taking a last minute 3 day visit to Austin this weekend. Need a little help. So far I have scheduled:

Breakfast at Las Manitas
Sunday Brunch - Fonda San Miguel
Barbeque at Smitty's and Blacks (yes I will do both, but on separate days so I don't stuff myself too much)

But am at a loss for where to go for dinner. From looking at the posts, these seem like the top favorites:
Hill Top Cafe
Castle Hill Cafe
East Side Cafe
Hudson on the Bend
Kirby Lane (mixed reviews)
Oasis Grill (I heard the food was average, but thinking about going there for the "tourist" experience/sunset unless someone else can give me a better rec' for sunset dining)
(I'm sure I left out some other ones as well)

I need to schedule 3 more dinners. I'm open to anything (except no more barbeque and no asian food (unless its better than Houston/NY/LA/SF Chinatown)). Appreciate any help!

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  1. I would nix Kirby Lane from your list and try to go to the Oasis for a drink and chips only.

    Castle Hill and East Side Cafe are both good. Jefferies is good, but I think it's too pricey. You might add Mirabella, I think it's good, but I saw a post from someone last week that didn't like it. Also, you might try Ventana, located in the Texas Culinary Academy. You would have to go on Friday, it's closed(???I think) on Saturday and Sunday. The students are the chefs, waiters, etc. The food is really good, it's fun to see the students in action, and the tips go to the student grant fund. They take reservations. 11400 Burnet Rd.
    (512) 339-3850.

    10 Replies
    1. re: em

      Just checked Ventana - seems like it is closed over the weekend. Too bad, sounded interesting. Is it even worth it to go to Oasis? Is the view "not to be missed"

      1. re: JK

        The Oasis is a pretty view. If you decide to eat at Hudson's on the Bend, you could make a late reservation and go to the Oasis first to watch the sunset. Or, you could go in the afternoon between lunch and dinner. Also, you could just take a drive around the lake, stop at some of the lookouts, or somewhere to swim. I have never been to the Oasis on a holiday weekend, so not sure how crowded it will be. I think I heard an ad for music on the weekend.

        1. re: em

          How about having a beer at Mt Bonnell? That's a fine view.

          1. re: John Scar

            Good idea.

            Is that kinda dive bar still around there? It's been years since I've been there and I forgot the name. Maybe, Dry Creek. The place with the great view and the cranky owners.

            1. re: em

              Dry Creek Saloon and man, that place is just plain scary. I took my life in my hands and sat out on the upstairs "deck" and the only veiw was of treetops.

              Absolutely, Castle Hill. Polvo's for the fajitas and the ritas. Casino El Camino for the burgers (IF you have an hour to waste). Try Chuy's new place, the Boatyard, right next to hula hut on Lake Austin Blvd. for the view. Totally austin and not a rip-off with yucky food like Oasis. I'd offer up Carlos & Charlies or Iguana Grill out on the lake if you want that view way before the Oasis.

              1. re: amysuehere

                I'd vote for the "drinks at Oasis at sunset and dinner at Hudson Bend" option.

                For one thing, when you tell people you've been to Austin, they invariably ask some version of: "Did you go to that restaurant on the lake that has all the decks and that fabulous view?"

                It's nice to be able to say that you did. I think it's mandatory to go at least once. And just get it out of the way. Otherwise, you'll forevermore be curious.

                And a great place for a nice dinner is the Cafe at Four Seasons. Yes, it's a hotel restaurant. But the chef has been there for many years, and takes great pride in his food. He is often a guest chef at Central Market cooking classes. The cafe is beautiful, right on Town Lake. You can watch the bats fly from the Congress Street Bridge (another very Austonian thing to do). The Four Seasons builds hotels with an effort to incorporate the local flavor, so the lobby looks "Hill Country." You may well spot celebs having a drink in the bar (Brad & Jen fell in love here). There are many items on the menu of the cafe that are also local in flavor. Last time I was there, I had a "Hill Country Mixed Grill" (I think it was) that was a combination of Texas game meats. And the Cafe at Four Seasons is ALWAYS on the list of the area's top restaurants.

                1. re: ChrissieH

                  I'm leaning towards that as well. Seems like everyone concurs Oasis is a "must stop". An old friend of mine who is a UT alum insists that Hula Hut is a great place to eat with nice views? I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere at all. Any thoughts - please keep in mind that he hasn't been in Austin for ages so it might have gone downhill since he was last there / and I'm wondering if it is more of a sentimental attachment from college days.

                  1. re: JK

                    Hula Hut is a fun place and the food isn't bad. The tubular taco is pretty good. And the mango ritas are also good.

                    1. re: JK

                      Hula Hut is kinda kitchy. It's very popular with the trendy, upcale "singles set" (or at least was the last time I checked; that group can be very fickle). Lots of college kids there looking to see and be seen, be part of the scene, and with any luck at all, get hooked up.

                      It's on a pier that extends onto the lake, but it's in town and the "lake" there is more like the river that in reality it is. So the "view" is nothing like the Oasis, which is perched high on a hill overlooking the main (and wide) body of Lake Travis.

                      So, at the Hula Hut, think "pier on a small river." The food isn't bad and the atmosphere is festive, if somewhat contrived. I think it's primarily a place that folks go because it's a "fun destination," and not for the cosmic culinary experience. If you know what I mean. Although again, the food's not bad. If I knew I were going there to meet friends, I'd not down a sandwich beforehand and then just order an appetizer, like I do when I have to go to the Oasis for dinner. But on the other hand, I'd NEVER choose the Hula Hut if I wanted to go out and have a fine meal.

                      Whether or not I'd recommend it would depend entirely upon the age of the requester, and what that person is interested in.

                      1. re: ChrissieH

                        Ha ha - I get the picture. As I suspected - we might be a little too old for that scene. Nixed.

      2. What about Curras? You can try the avacado margarita and some great chipoltle shrimp or excellent tacos al pastor.

        You might also want to stop by the meat shop in N austin off lamar on payton gin rd for the finest cuts of dry aged beef around. Bring a cooler and take home, the best steaks I have ever had.

        2 Replies
        1. re: John Scar

          I'm always in the mood for steak and I can have more of it now that I'm on Atkins - what is the name of the meat shop?

          1. re: JK

            The Meat Shop is the name. Just to clarify, it is a butcher not a steakhouse.

        2. I agree with the Oasis for the view and drinks. I wouldn't have dinner there. Castle Hill is an excellent choice -- very "Austin" and good. I personally love Green Pastures -- it's an institution -- 50+ years and still a lovely place for lunch or dinner. Mirabelle's is good, too. And I like La Traviata on Congress for Italian, especiallly the grilled polenta with gorgonzola sauce. Yum!

          1. t
            Tha Groovin' Gourmet

            I would certainly plan on Castle Hill...uniquely Austin, really good, inventive S'western fare, good service.

            1. Thanks Austin Chowhounds for making my trip delicious. Quick breakdown: Smitty's in Lockhart (sausages, pork ribs, fatty brisket, lean brisket) was AWESOME! Loved the pork ribs, fatty brisket and sausages - definitely the best I have ever had. Unfortunately, we were so stuffed from our late lunch that we were unable to eat at Castle Hill later on that evening (I don't recall even eating dinner that day). We did manage to order appetizers and drinks at The Oasis - man what a factory that place is, however, the view was spectacular and we coveted the gorgeous house next door. The brunch at Fonda San Miguel was excellent as well - most memorable was the corn pudding, duck tamale, and braised pork. Definitely rates as one of the best brunch places I have been to. I was very surprised that despite being a buffet, the quality of the food was very high. We had a late dinner that day at The Cafe at the Four Seasons. We actually tried calling around to a lot of different places (Castle Hill, East Side, Jefferies) but it was around 10pm and a Sunday night, and many of the places were closed! Perhaps it was because it was 10:00 pm on a Sunday night but the food at The Cafe was a little too heavily salted and sauced, I guess they were having an off day. We went back to Lockhart the next day to test out Black’s (pork ribs, brisket, jalepeno sausage) – the jalepeno sausage left a huge burn in my mouth – it was hot! And smoky flavor in the pork ribs was almost the same smell as jerky meat. We were satisfied but decided since we were so close, why not go to Smitty’s again? We packed up more sausages, fatty brisket, and prime rib and will be eating that tonight for dinner! Thanks for everyone’s suggestions!

              1 Reply
              1. re: JK

                Ooooooh. Too bad about the Cafe at Four Seasons. Late on Sunday, maybe the chef was not in the kitchen and they were, as you say, having an off day. Although at that level, they never should have one. I've enjoyed all of my meals there. You were at the Cafe, right? And not the Shoreline Grill, which is right next door and often is confused for the Cafe.

                Glad you made it to Lockhart, though. That's the best, ain't it? And the Oasis, too. Now you know. And the next time the subject comes up (which it of course will), you can weigh in with your opinion.

                Most of all, though, thanks for getting back to us. I'm sure we're all pleased that you enjoyed your trip and that we could help, however we did.