Austin: Boston Hound seeks Suggestions/Advice
Ill be in Austin over the Thanksgiving weekend attending the Fandango de Tango Festival. Ive searched the board and have come up with the following options that sound like they will work for my taste. What have I missed?
Field trip to Lockhart
Fonda San Miguel (special dinner)
Hudson on the Bend (special dinner)
Magnolias (if I need something at 4 am)
Also, any thoughts on non-traditional fare available on Thanksgiving day?
Im also looking for suggestions of local/regional processed delicacies (canned/jarred/dried) to give as gifts to other hounds.
Thanks in advance for your advice!
I wanted to respond to your message even though this might get to you a little late. I just moved to Austin in August after living in Boston (and then Brooklyn) for many years. The logic of your list is well focused on things that Texas does well: BBQ, Tex Mex, Mexican, game. When I traveled to Texas from Boston, I would always focus on the same kinds of food with two additional categories: hamburgers and Southern/down-home cooking (like chicken-fried steak, fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, yeasty dinner rolls, fried catfish, pies with crusts made with a little lard in them, etc.)
Unfortunately, Austin doesnt do all of these categories as well as other cities in Texas do. For example, Ive yet to find an Austin Tex-Mex restaurant that I can recommend without reservation, though off the top of my head I can name ten in San Antonio. Tex Mex is still better hereI can think of only one place in Boston (Taquería La Mexicana in Somervilles Union Square) that even approximates the best of the genre. Austin Tex-Mex restaurants often remind me of the Border Cafe in Cambridgethe food here is not THAT bad, of course, but many places are popular for the same reasons: they're loud and boisterous, with big, cheap drinks and sometimes decent food. I must contradict my fellow hounds and recommend that you avoid Polvos. Having good salsa does not make up for their aggressively mediocre food. Las Manitas is an interesting option. Ive also heard (but not confirmed) good things about Elsis Salvadoran-tinged Mexican food.
If you want to try some Southern home-style cooking, I really like Tonys Southern Comfort on the east side of town. Some of Austins favorite burgers are at Casino El Camino. I like the ones at the Burger Tex on Airport Boulevard (not the one on Guadalupe), the Top Notch drive-in on Burnet Road, and the Nutty Brown Cafe between Austin and Dripping Springs (they also do good rib-eye and chicken-fried steaks, in addition to great sides). You cant really go wrong with either Smittys or Kreuz Market in Lockharttheres a reason this town is a BBQ mecca for Texans, too.
They may be open late at night, but Kerbey Lane Cafe and Katzs Deli are to be avoided. They seem to appeal to Austinites for reasons other than the quality of their food. I have yet to find a good New-York-style anything here, and I dont really expect to.
Your own special-dinner options (Fonda San Miguel and Hudsons) will likely be more satisfying to a Bostonian than Jeffreys, Zoot, Mars, Castle Hill, or Aquarelle, which were suggested. Some of these have good chow, but you can find much better versions of these food categories--New American, Mediterranean/Asian fusion, and French bistro fare--in Boston. Ditto for seafood, unless youre going to visit a town right on the Texas Gulf Coast.
As for things to take home to foodie friends, may I suggest the humble pecan? They are still in season, travel well, keep a long time (especially if you buy them in the shell), and blow away pecans from even the best specialty stores. I usually buy them from this guy by the side of a god-forsaken farm-to-market road, but there are lots of pecan farms near Austin, like Navidad Farms on Highway 290 West between Oak Hill and Dripping Springs. If you drove out there, you could stop to eat at the Nutty Brown Cafe.
Dried chiles are another good gift idea. With them you can make salsas far superior to those you can buy canned. Im not sure if this would interest your friends, but when I was living in Boston, I used to haul back mundane items that you can buy anywhere in Texas but would have to pay through the nose to get at Cardullos (Ro-Tel tomatoes with diced green chiles; ranch-style beans) or couldnt find at all (fresh corn masa; flour-tortilla mix). To the latter, just add water and you can cook up tortillas that taste better than those served in most restaurants. Check out the Mexican markets La Michoacana on East 7th and La Moreliana on South Congress for more ideas. They both carry meat as well as non-perishable items (Mexican sodas, spices, staples). As a bonus, you can enjoy authentic tacos at both.
I hope this can be of some help to you.
Lockhart - Smitty's
Las Manitas - I've never liked it, at all. But my wife, my sister, and just about everyone I know does. I've had some definitely dissappointing meals there every time I've been. Small portions and bad horchata do not a good mexican restaurant make.
Polvo's or Maria's Taco Xpress - I love the salsas at Polvo's and the gorditas and chimichurri at Maria's.
I like Guerro's for drinks and salsa while taking a break from walking around South Congress. I like the fact that they make margaritas that are based around the brand of tequila, not sweet and sour.
Byblos and Rushi - Great for Austin, but you're telling us that you can't find authentic Lebanese or Indian food in Boston? Wow. Try them if you're nearby, but I wouldn't make a special trip north for them. Unless you really can't get either of those cuisines at home.
Special Dinners - I'm one of those Jefffry's naysayers, but only based on multiple experiences. What I really need to do is go there with someone who is one of their yaysayers so they can direct me to the appropriate culinary choices. Perhaps someone here can help you out if you decide to go their. Hudson's - A agree that it's pretty good, but basically only go if you want to eat some game. Fonda - definitely try it. It is good for fancy dinners. They have a pretty good wine list. Their mixed drinks are excellent. But I would definitely aim for the weekend brunch. That way you get to try lots of stuff. Their mint and tomato green beans are great.
Since you are from Boston, you might want to try some of the East side barbecues too. They come from a different cultural background than the whole central texas bbq thing. Definitely worth a try. I love Ben's Longbranch's mutton. Ben's ribs and pork butt are pretty good too. I've never tried Sam's so I can't direct you to the better of the two.
Culinary gifts to take home. You can find some excellent local salsa's. Austin Grand Prize is one good name that comes to mind. A bit on the hot side. I also really like their verde. Look for them at any grocery, but Central Markup has a pretty good selection. They also have a better dried chile selection than you probably have at home (as does, probably, Fiesta at 38th and I-35). I would buy a huge sack of every kind of chile you can find, then go home and make a huge batch of mole. Have all your chowhound compatriots over to dinner. Eat pollo con mole and send them all home with a quart of their own. For your drinking friends, Tito's vodka. It's one of the few vodkas I can drink on the rocks. It has a buttery flavor. I'm amazed that it is produced locally. And it has a shiny gold cap to attract magpies and your idiot-man-child friends, or at least mine.
re: Seamus Mitwurst
Seamus is dead right about the mutton at Ben's Long Branch, it's awesome. I like the pork butt, too; it's a matter of taste, whether you prefer the juicier and greasier meat (mutton) or the drier and easier-to-handle meat (pork butt). Make sure you go there during the day; they didn't have any dinnertime hours, last I checked. I think Ben's Long Branch beats out any other mutton in town, but I'd say Sam's makes the better brisket of the two.
I'm of the barbecue school that favors both Smitty's and Kreuz, for different specific meats. The only thing to do is go to both and run your own experiments.
Fonda San Miguel is by far the best upscale Mexican restaurant in town. Manuel's is also very good.
If you want Tex-mex in a fun environment, try Chuy's or Baby Acapulco's. Chuy's also owns a restaurant called Hula Hut on Lake Austin that is fun and good food and drink. Iguana Grill overlooking Lake Travis is also good and has a beautiful view if the weather stays warm enough.
Late night food, Magnolia Cafe is good as is Kerbey Lane Cafe (several locations of both around town). Katz's Deli is also 24 Hours and a good New York Style Deli.
For an upscale dinner Jeffrey's is by far the best. Zoot and Mars are also very good but don't come close to Jeffrey's I would not recommend Hudson's on the Bend unless you are into exotic game.
For Seafood, Eddie V's, Truluck's or Roy's Hawaian are all good.
For a good place to hangout and have Mexican Martini's (similar to a Margarita) try the Cedar Door or Trudi's (which has a couple of locations around town).
Waterloo Recordss and Whole Foods are across the street from each other for good local gifts.
Excellent list. In Lockhart, I recommend Smitty's for barbeque -- you'll drive past the enormous Kreuz place to get to Smitty's, but it's worth the extra minute on the road. In Austin, I wouldn't argue with any of your choices (especially Hudson's), but you might consider adding Guero's on South Congress for tacos, fresh salsas, and margaritas. A very good restaurant with very resonable prices is Castle Hill, on West 5th -- you might consider a lunch there if you want to save dinners for more expensive joints. I also like Aquarelle and, although it's been around long enough to have fallen out of favor with some 'hounds, Jeffrey's. For a cheap but wonderful breakfast, Juan in a Million.
As far as goodies to take home to Beantown, I would check out Central Market at Lamar and 40th. You should stop there just to see what a gracery store can be. Likewise the new Whole Foods at Lamar and 6th. Both should have a decent selection of local/regional products suitable for hauling back to the great frozen north.
Sorry about the Red Sox. Last time I was in Boston I had a meal at Lala Rokh that was so good I had to be restrained from licking my plate clean.
re: Dallas Alice
I must respectfully disagree with Dallas Alice, regarding Guero's. I think Guero's is one of the most overrated restaurants in town -- you can do much, much better for food, salsa or margaritas. Maria's Taco X-Press can do all three very well, as can Polvos. (The frozen margaritas, anyway -- I've never ordered one cocktail-style at either place.) Evita's Botanitas has okay food, but good frozen margaritas and an excellent selection of homemade salsas. I second the vote for the food at El Meson, and I'll add the margaritas and the Mexican Martinis at Trudy's. There are more worthies as well, but those are the first that come to mind.
Further pompous utterances about Austin cuisine may be found through the link to my web site.
The Cranky Yankee