Chicago Area hound Needs Austin HELP!
Here is my somewhat complicated situation:
I will be in Austin for five days. My wife and I (one CH and one foodie, both reasonably adventerous), our two children (4 and 6, restaurant veterans willing to experiment) will be visiting with my brother and sister (both VERY conservative eaters).
We have one dinner trip planned for Salt Lick (I love that place and my kids saw it while watching the Food Network...yes, we watch cooking shows as a family).
My wife and I will have one lunch or early dinner "date" alone...anything is open game except sushi, but our budget is around 15-20 per plate.
We will have another 4-5 lunches or dinners in or around town.
I would like appropriate suggestions for:
-an Italian meal. Traditional is better than authentic
-Any kid focused restaurants or good "theme" places that have tolerable food.
-Thai restaurants. My wife, kids and I love Thai food. I read on the board about Madam Mam's. Do they have any non-Thai foods on the menu (maybe something Canonese my brother and sister might eat)?
-A mid-priced steak restaurant? Something better than a standard chain (Outback, etc) but not quite a Gibson's.
Thanks in advance for an suggestions!!!
Here are my suggestions (others may have better):
I'd like to know of one myself. My wife and I normally hit the Olive Garden or Spaghetti Warehouse, which are nothing special. Reale's in NW Austin was pretty good but too far away for me.
A not quite kid focused, but "family friendly" restaurant is Matt's El Rancho Mexican Restaurant. My 4 yr. old loves it.
I really like Thai Kitchen. I had a chicken soup with coconut milk there that was amazing.
- Mid-priced steak
I keep coming back to the Texas Land & Cattle chain. I'm not a big fan of their smoked sirloin, but their brand sirloin is pretty good.
Madam Mam's is my favorite Thai, Thai Kitchen second. Try the "tiger cry" at TK, if you go there. I don't remember any non-Thai dishes on either menu. Surely anyone could enjoy pad Thai. For steak I'd go to The Hofbrau. It's been there forever and looks like it (i.e., not classy), but it's far better than the damned chain places.
re: Jim Washburn
Just an FYI, The Hofbrau is small, with tables close together, and the menu is so limited, that it's not even printed, it's recited orally by your waitress. T-Bone steak ($16), Sirloin ($15) or chicken breast ($9 I think). Grilled, covered with garlic butter, served with Home Fries and an optional ($2.50) iceburg lettuce salad with their house vinaigrette. JC's was the critic's choice for reasonably priced steaks in this year's Austin Chronicle, and Austin Land and Cattle is more expensive, but even better, and still cheaper than a high end steak house like Sullivan's. I would steer clear of the Texas Land and Cattle chain (worse than Outback) or The Texas Roadhouse (Everything is very salty - it overpowers the food). Also, try to work in some sort of Latin American food, like any one of the Mexican neighborhood restaurants in East Austin, the Columbian food at Mi Columbia on East 7th, or the "less fat" Mexican at Vivo's on Manor Road, or dine with movie stars and politians (Bush AND Clinton have been known to stop by) at the popular and affordable Guerro's on South Congress. Other suggestions would be to hit the great happy hour at the Roaring Fork on Congress - try their Fish Tacos or the "Big Ass" burger. They have a special menu only available in the beautifully decorated bar area with all items around $6, and the food is foodie quality - well thought out and prepared. You will get professional table service that belies the fact that you're in bar and not the dining room. After Happy Hour is over (7PM), the food (on the BAR MENU ONLY) only goes up a buck or two. Austin's high tech industry has brought in a lot of immigrants, so we have pretty good Indian food (Indian Palace, Shalimar, or Sarovar are recommended) and Middle Eastern (Ararat has good food and belly dancers, Alboroz has good Persian food). Other people have mentioned the great traditional Southern food at Threadgill's and Hoover's. For an old roadhouse greasy spoon, go way east to Arkie's Grill - it hasn't changed in decades. For a Po-Boy, go to Gene's on 12th Street, for a hamburger, go to Hut's on 6th street (over 30 kinds of burgers).
For Italian, I really like La Traviata, but you should probably make a reservation if you want to go there. I think it would be an excellent choice for your date. A lot of people like Vespaio, but I've never been. It's considerably more expensive than La Traviata. Reale's is also very good, and more of a "red sauce" Italian place. You don't say where you'll be staying, but it would be a pretty long drive from downtown.
I'd recommend strongly against Matt's El Rancho. It is an Austin institution, but IMHO the food is pretty bad. Much better Mexican food to be had in a family atmosphere at Chuy's or many other places in town.
The Hoffbrau is another Austin institution, but just be aware that it's not a highbrow steak. It's 60's lunch counter type of fare. I'm guessing that Austin can't compete with Chicago for steak anyway, so it might be a waste of a meal.
It's probably the same deal with Thai. Madam Mam's is the best I've had in Austin, they don't have any non-Thai dishes that I remember, and it's not as good as what I've had in NY and on the West Coast.
You might consider getting some southern food while you're here. I like Hoover's (better food) and Threadgills (better atmosphere). I keep hearing about this place Tony's on the East side of town that is supposed to have great chicken fried steak, but I haven't tried it yet. That sort of food would probably appease your conservative eaters and give you a type of food you don't find in Chicago. Also, any of those restaurants would be kid friendly.
As for the Salt Lick, the consensus around here, which I agree with, is that the barbeque places in Lockhart are much better. But that has been discussed ad infinitum and I don't want to beat a dead horse.
For what it's worth, I grew up here, but lived for a few years in NY. On trips home, I would always try to squeeze in the following:
Hoover's or Threadgill's for chicken fried steak
Chuy's or Angie's for Mexican
Smitty's, Kreuz, or Cooper's for barbeque
re: Brian Lindauer
I've been going to El Rancho since about forty years ago, when it was on the north side of 1st Street. Once I tried the chile relleno with beef and red sauce (used to be no choice of sauce) I never have ordered anything else. I reckon I may have eaten over two hundred of those over the years, and it is still one of my favorite comfort foods. El Rancho still fries their chips in house. They are much thicker and crunchier than the factory chips served at most places, and I much prefer them. The table salsa is usually quite good. Anyway, you never have to twist my arm to get me to go to El Rancho again. That's just my opinion, and it's no better than anyone else's.
re: Jim Washburn
re: Seamus Mitwurst
I haven't strayed from the chile relleno in many years. Recently a companion got the chicken fried steak, and it was awful. There used to be a fish thing called "redfish a la Matt Martinez" or something similar, and it was good. Wish I could be of more help. Please post again after you go. Good luck.
For Italian, I prefer Vespaio but it may be outside your price range. Andiamo, up north and a little cheaper, is almost as good. For real cheap (and kid-friendly), Reale, but that's WAY north and may be too far. Hoover's is very good for kids (and adults who like regional comfort food). For Thai Madame Mam is by far the best but I'm also developing a fondness for the relatively new, and admittedly less purist, Thai Tara on W. 6th Street. For steak, I think the Hofbrau, cheap as it is, has become not worth it in the last couple years; everything I've tried has been so tough. Austin Land and Cattle at 12th and Lamar, not to be confused with the Texas Land and Cattle chain, has the best mid-range steak, I think, and I also like JC's on I-35 at 2222, which is pricier than TL&C but not as pricey as the top steak houses.
For Italian I think Reale's is pretty good and moderately priced. Other than it's rep Salt Lick hasn't anything that 20 other places don't have. Coopers in LLano (bit of a drive), or Opies in Spicewood, much closer are more of an eating "adventure"
Try getting out of town, Marble Falls, 40 miles west has some great places. One of our favorites is Jammin House, Caribbean, Sea Food, not overly spicy like some folks think all Caribbean is, and they do a GREAT steak.
The Austin American Statesman did a restaurant supplement about 3 weeks ago, I"m sure it's available online.
I'm evidently the only one that likes the Salt Lick, and while it might not be the *best* bbq, the location & surroundings is definitly the best, and if you like beer with your BBQ, make sure to bring your own, and I'd reccomend Texas' own Saint Arnold Amber Ale with the family plate. Also, because they serve the food about 2 minutes after ordering, you might hang out a little before ordering-they sometimes rush you.
For the 'date', I'd suggest Vespaio or Moonshine.
As for 'traditional' Italian, The Statesman just did a review on Romeo's, so you might check the link out.
As for Thai, one of my favorites is Thai Passion downtown.
For your mid-priced steak, a sleeper is Thistle Cafe, also downtown.
re: Frank M
I ate at Romeo's last night, and then finished up my leftovers for lunch today. They raised all of the prices by a couple of dollars - I always felt like it was an outstanding value. And it still is reasonable.
The service last night was excellent, however. I commented on it to my fiance while we were eating, then I left a good tip and compliment. Then I read the article today and I understand that they are focusing on training their servers. It was evident last night.
The entrees are large, and you could split three entrees four ways and have plenty of leftovers.
Have fun at the Salt Lick - I always do!
You might want to check out the thread in response to the Boston hound who's visiting Austin this week. Some of these same discussions came up.
I can vouch for both Vespaio (Italian) and Tony's Southern Comfort (Southern). I take my chow very seriously, and I've never had a bad meal at either place. Personally, I don't think Hoover's lives up to the hype, but it is an easy choice with a comfortable atmosphere. Both Austin Land & Cattle and the Nutty Brown Cafe do a good steak. Chicago has some pretty good steakhouses of its own, though.
Cafe Josie or Fonda San Miguel might be a nice place for your date night. I really don't recommend Moonshine. At dinner there last week, our group shared appetizers of the corn-dog shrimp and beer-battered asparagus as well as a dessert of red-velvet cake. I ordered the macaroni and cheese for my main course. The appetizers were fine: not exceptional but fried; the cake was more sweet than good; and I was underwhelmed with the mac and cheese. Because it wasn't cheesy enough, it tasted more like a Southwestern pasta salad (complete with corn and black beans) than a decadently rich version of a childhood favorite. Other members of our group ordered the buffalo meatloaf and the eggplant parmigiana, which they found inoffensive and delicious, respectively. The place was packed on a Wednesday night, and large groups seem to love this place, but I thought the food was just passable.
I agree with Brian that Thai food is not what Austin does best, but if you really want it, Madam Mam's is a centrally-located and pretty good choice.