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What's unique in Austin?

I'm considering traveling to Austin later this year.

What foods are special in Austin & Texas, foods that would be difficult to find (at a high level of quality) in other parts of the country (I live in California)?


Texas BBQ?


Thanks for any recommendations.

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  1. I'd argue the only food that Austin is really known for is barbecue brisket and short ribs. Isn't that the universal answer to half the questions asked here? ;-)

    You can find it at John Muellers Meat Company, Stiles Switch, LA Barbecue, and of course Franklins.

    1 Reply
    1. My friend visited from San Diego and she loved/is dying to come back for the queso from Kerby Lane, breakfast tacos and Hatch chilies.

      21 Replies
      1. re: Carmelapple79

        Hi Carmelapple79,

        By googling, I found that 'queso' at Kerby Lane Cafe refers to a cheese sauce that the Cafe uses in various dishes:


        That's what you're referring to, right?


        1. re: SimSportPlyr

          Its also an appetizer that is quite popular here in Austin.I myself have gotten addicted since moving here.Kerby Lane's best imhp : Kerbey Queso: Guacamole covered with queso and topped with pico de gallo. Its served with tortilla chips for dipping.

              1. re: Carmelapple79

                Carmelapple79, is 'queso' always guacamole covered with queso and pico de gallo (and, potentially, other things), or do other restaurants have different recipes (e.g. lacking quac or pico de gallo)?

                1. re: SimSportPlyr

                  I'm not the one you are asking, but no, queso usually just refers to the cheese dip (sans guacamole and pico). The version Carmelapple refers to is specific to Kerbey Lane. You will find all sorts of queso variations at different restaurants.

                  1. re: MelMM

                    Indeed. Queso fundito can be made with chorizo, mushrooms, or chili rajas.

                      1. re: Veggo

                        Queso fundido is not what folks in Austin are referring to when they talk about queso.

                        Our "queso" is short for Chile Con Queso, which is essentially a melty cheese sauce mixed with peppers and eaten with tortilla chips. The most basic recipe is generally processed cheese (like Velveeta or Land O' Lakes Extra Melt) mixed with chopped chiles and tomatoes.

                        1. re: verily

                          I know the standard is inexpensive cheese product and maybe Rotel tomatoes, but there are other tasty variations.

                          1. re: Veggo

                            If you get the white cheese Velveeta and make a good roasted chiles and tomatoes, it can be very good. If you serve it at a party, you will notice that the women will gather round the crock pot.

                            But queso fundido is guuuuud not matter where. The guys will gather round that.

                            1. re: rudeboy

                              So let me get this straight. Women love queso, but men love queso fundido? I thought melted cheese dishes = loved by all. ;-)

                              1. re: kosheri

                                Yes. Queso Fundido is more of a guy thing. I have a suggestion: plan a party and put out a crock pot of white queso. You will have a henhouse in no time...all the women talking about how the guys don't clean up after themselves and can't fold laundry. Then plop down queso fundido. The guys will gather round and pontificate about interior mexican BS and tell stories about how they used to travel a lot.

                                1. re: rudeboy

                                  I guess I don't even know how to respond to that. We clearly have very different friends.

                                  1. re: kosheri

                                    Well, I was just jacking around anyway. On second thought, I retract my statements about queso fundido.

                2. re: Carmelapple79

                  I second Queso. Our friend from San Francisco went nutz over the Bob Armstrong dip at Matt's. Queso with taco meat and guac.

                  1. re: chispa_c

                    chispa_c, by Matt's, you mean Matt's El Rancho, right?

                    1. re: hlk

                      Are you referring to any particular restaurant?

                      1. re: SimSportPlyr

                        Apologies for being vague. They're all over, and I would recommend you just try various different versions and see what you like. Mellizoz, Tacodeli, El Papalote, Joe's Bakery, Tacorrido (drive-through!), Tamale House, random gas stations, etc.

                      2. re: hlk

                        CA has breakfast burritos. Not the same. Options are Torchy's, Taco Deli, Taco Shack, Maria's, etc.

                      3. Drive out to the Salt Lick. Awesome BBQ.

                        I also liked Iron Works

                        Guero's for Tex-Mex.

                        Or Chuy's

                        Fonda San Miguel for genuine high end Mexican food (Not the same as Tex-Mex). Their Sunday brunch is to die for. If you will be there on a Sunday, do definitely try this, you won't be sorry.

                        Kerbey Lane has always been a casual favorite.

                        5 Replies
                          1. re: Phaedrus

                            Phaedrus, thanks for the recommendations.

                            I see that there are several Salt Licks in the area: Driftwood, Round Rock, and at the airport.

                            The link you provided seems to be for the Driftwood location. Is that the one you recommend?

                            1. re: SimSportPlyr

                              That is definitely the one you want to go to, BYOB. Be prepared to wait a little bit if you go at peak hours.

                              1. re: SlickTheCat

                                If you don't BYOB, there is a wine tasting room on the property. They will sell you wine by the bottle or glass and they have bottles of beer for sale too.

                                1. re: suburban_mom

                                  Thanks for that info. I didn't know about the beer. That is good to know, though i doubt i will ever show up there without a cooler

                            1. re: Veggo

                              Have you seen the latest health report from Cisco's? Might want to re-think that one.

                              1. re: Veggo

                                I'd never heard of Migas before, but googling I found:

                                "In Tex-Mex cuisine, migas is a traditional breakfast dish consisting of scrambled eggs mixed with strips of corn tortilla, diced onions, sliced chile peppers, diced fresh tomatoes, and cheese, plus various spices and condiments (e.g. salsa or pico de gallo). Migas is typically served with refried beans, and corn or flour tortillas are used to enfold all of the ingredients into tacos. In some areas, it may have been traditionally eaten during Lent.[8] One common variation is to add chorizo to the standard ingredients."

                                Is that what you mean?

                                1. re: SimSportPlyr

                                  That's it, on a plate with a fresh biscuit, not tacos. Cisco's is an old Austin institution and tradition for breakfast.
                                  Another institution is the original Threadgills on Lamar, for CFS, fried chicken livers, or the 5 vegetable platter. (They used to offer 9, dealers' choice.)

                                    1. re: Veggo

                                      for the uninitiated, CFS = chicken fried steak.
                                      amusingly (to me as an austin transplant) there are a lot of "chicken fried X" stuff, including, but not limited to, mushrooms and bacon.

                                      queso (the appetizer version) and migas are good examples of things you don't really find elsewhere, at least for me having lived in MA and CA.

                                      and yes, breakfast tacos are a bit different from breakfast burritos. when our CA coworkers visit our TX offices, they love to get these.

                                      also: kolaches. never heard of them before moving here. they come in a sweet (poppy seed, cherry, etc. danish-like filling) version and savory versions. my fave are the kinds with various sausages in them.

                                      1. re: dinaofdoom

                                        Thanks, dinaofdoom. That's very helpful!

                                2. In general Texas is known for its BBQ and steaks - I wouldn't leave without trying those. However, if in Austin, I wouldn't limit myself to the regular Texas BBQ/Tex-Mex/Steaks/Tacos. Austin is a gem within Texas (they don't call it the Silicon Hills for nothing). It has as much "fine dining" than in LA or SF in California - even more.

                                  I don't know your tastes, but if I were you, I'd take the time to google some of the known fine dining around. Also if you're going to be around that area around the time of the SXSW - I wouldn't miss it!

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: acssss

                                    True about the quality fine dining in the Austin scene, but the OP from CA can get that at home. Franklin's brisket can't be found in CA at any price!

                                    1. re: Veggo

                                      Sorry. I respectfully disagree Veggo. If we were discussing "What says Austin to you", I may agree. However the question was "What is unique in Austin", so if a chef at a specific restaurant anywhere in Austin is well known and amazing, just because it doesn't fit into the stereotype Texas Grub, it shouldn't be overlooked IMO - and she can't get that at home.

                                      1. re: acssss

                                        That's fine by me. I don't eat that many $100 dinners any more, so I'm less familiar with those options. (But I'll spend $100 for sushi!)

                                        1. re: Veggo

                                          I worked for a Japanese company (as a SW engineer) and when the "big boss" came to our facilities, we surprised him with take out sushi (from a very-well known sushi restaurant). He didn't eat a bite, stating that it was crap (his words, not mine). He told us that to become a true sushi chef, one has to have a doctorate and practice for many many years.
                                          I thought it was great

                                          1. re: acssss

                                            I got my start with sushi in Austin at age 33, when I was dating a UT coed who knew a LOT about sushi. I've been a big fan since, with a lot of catching up! She made me a better man.
                                            A lot of Texan alpha males won't give sushi a fair chance.

                                            1. re: Veggo

                                              I don't know how old you are, but I lived in Austin for a few years during the early 2000's. We are big Longhorn fans (Hook 'em horns) and we all love that city. We still have a condo there and go there often. The only place I had sushi there was at a restaurant called Mikado off of Burnet and 183 (my son's piano lesson was down the street - so we'd end up eating there after his lesson).

                                              Good times.

                                    2. re: acssss

                                      Acsss, thank very much for the recommendations!

                                      I have excellent fine dining options where I live areas, although I only go out for 'fine dining' a 2-4 times a year due to the cost. Anyhow, when I travel I generally look for ethnic or area-specific food.

                                    3. I agree with all the recommendations for migas, breakfast tacos, queso and bbq brisket.

                                      I would also add chicken fried chicken at Hoover's or their shrimp and grits on the weekend brunch menu.

                                      The rabbit and dumplings at Contigo.

                                      And biscuits and gravy (I'm partial to Dan's Hamburgers for this).

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Alan Sudo

                                        yes, totally forgot shrimp and grits!

                                        and, your mention of the rabbit at contigo prompted me to remember hudson's on the bend. you definitely can't find a lot of TX local game elsewhere, so therefore fits the bill of being unique to austin.

                                        1. re: Alan Sudo

                                          Given the OP's lack of familiarity with many of these foods, I should note that chicken fried chicken is not the same dish as fried chicken. Chicken fried chicken is a boneless breast pounded out flat before being breaded and fried. It's traditionally served with cream gravy.

                                          1. re: Alan Sudo

                                            Shrimp and grits is a lowcountry dish, not Texan at all. Lowcountry meaning the lower SC, northern GA Atlantic coast. Better saved for a visit to that area, as it is far from an Austin specialty (I say that as an Austinite, now living in SC).

                                          2. What is "unique" to Austin...may not be what is what one thinks of as "famous texas food" BUT unuique to Austin is James Beard winner Paul Qui and his restraunt Qui--- as well as the world famous Uchiko.... Franklin BBQ ( socail expericnce and cult following)
                                            UNIQUELY AUSTIN as critera
                                            Marias Taco express on sunday mornings
                                            Stubbs-sunday church
                                            ciscos-history and migas
                                            Elcamino creepy as hell burger
                                            rapolos pizza on sixth
                                            Chez Nous
                                            corner cafe
                                            Torchys(though their queso is the only thing truly yummy)
                                            Kerby lane
                                            East SIde Kings
                                            Pizza in and Drinks at Violet Crown
                                            Food trucks

                                            1. The online food section of Texas Monthly currently lists information about Texas Caviar, Koloches, Mole Poblano, Tamales, Pecan Pie, Corny Dogs, Dove, Barbacoa, Chili (no beans), Frito Pie, 1015 Onions, Ruby Red Grapefruit ...a good read for someone interested in uniquely Austin or Texas food.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: chispa_c

                                                Thanks, chispa_a. That's very helpful!

                                              2. Lots of good ideas here, I'd gree with:
                                                Ciscos-history and migas
                                                Casino El Camino burgers “experience”
                                                Corner cafe
                                                Any East Side Kings
                                                Pizza in and Drinks at Violet Crown
                                                Food trucks
                                                Chicken fried chicken at Hoover's
                                                A Drive out to the Salt Lick for Que
                                                ...and add:
                                                Justine's & Hillside Farmacy + Foreign & Domestic for a modern Austin fleer
                                                Quality Seafood for casual C-food
                                                Frank for hotdogs you would actually go out to eat for.
                                                Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill and Austin Land & Cattle are also favs of mine.

                                                BBQ'ue @ John Muellers Meat Company or LA Barbecue

                                                26 Replies
                                                  1. re: BigTicketTaco

                                                    Casino is a dive and the people who work there are rude a holes.

                                                    1. re: Rptrane

                                                      Casino is a dive. If you don't like dives, stay away. I've been many times and never treated rudely, though.
                                                      Just my experience.

                                                      If you like your bloody marys with a lot of food in them, this is your kind of place.

                                                    2. re: BigTicketTaco

                                                      The Pizza at violet Crown is Via 313 (Detroit Style). It's good.

                                                      1. re: TroyTempest

                                                        by the by the violet crown name comes from when the area was called that due to in the days before pollution got bad the pollin in the air use to creat a violet haze over the city you could see from there

                                                        1. re: girloftheworld

                                                          Largely cedar pollen from the edge of the Hill Country, and I lived in West Lake Hills in what is known as cedar chopper country. Oh, how I suffered, but my good kitty Latchkey loved it there.

                                                          1. re: girloftheworld

                                                            I didn't know that. GOTW, you are a wealth of info.

                                                            I could also be the bruise you get on your forehead when you've had a few too many and fall, and bang the aforementioned part of your body on the pavement.

                                                            1. re: girloftheworld

                                                              We still have violet sunsets now and again. Austin is a clean air city. We don't have manufacturing plants here like say, Houston. We get smoke from Mexico during their burn off season but this is no LA.

                                                              1. re: chispa_c

                                                                There are a few other possible sources for the nickname (see the City of the Violet Crown article in Wikipedia). This is the first time I've heard anything about it being related to pollution.

                                                                1. re: kosheri

                                                                  Ha, not related to pollution, GOW said it was the name for Austin's haze but read aura. Said it doesn't exist anymore because of pollution.

                                                                  1. re: chispa_c

                                                                    Sorry, pollen, not pollution. Fingers sometimes have a mind of their own.

                                                                  2. re: kosheri

                                                                    "Its healthfulness, delightful climate, undeveloped resources, churches, schools, etc., have been expatiated upon many times, but little has been said of its transcendent beauty [such as] Austin's violet crown bathed in the radiance of the morning."

                                                                    , UT scientists hesitantly pointed out that our "violet crown" was in fact mostly cedar pollen, trapped by the Balcones Escarpment.

                                                                    1. re: girloftheworld

                                                                      As I said 7 posts above. Latchkey was the first to make the cedar connection.

                                                                      1. re: Veggo

                                                                        Didn't say I didn't believe it, just that that was the first time I'd heard the connection made and that there were other theories out there (which I find interesting). Clearly I am no good at commenting before or after a nap.

                                                                  3. re: chispa_c

                                                                    I have never heard of a Mexican burn off season, nor experienced distant smoke in Austin. Colorado and New Mexico, yes, from wildfires.

                                                                      1. re: chispa_c

                                                                        Bummer. I lived 2 years in Austin, ran every single day, never noticed it.

                                                                    1. re: TroyTempest

                                                                      Thanks for the interesting reading, Troy.

                                                                      1. re: SimSportPlyr

                                                                        You bet. Be sure to give us a trip report after you're done.

                                                                    2. re: SimSportPlyr

                                                                      It's awesome stuff. You can also eat at LA BBQ while there since it's across the street.

                                                                      1. re: SimSportPlyr

                                                                        On thing unique about Austin is our Detroit Style pizza. I mean, you really can't get that anywhere else in America ;-)

                                                                  1. There's nothing that really defines Austin as unique. The cuisine, here is good, but it is just a smattering of stuff you can get in other places. Maybe German/Czech influenced BBQ.

                                                                      1. re: chispa_c

                                                                        chispa_c, thanks. Interesting reading!

                                                                        1. re: chispa_c

                                                                          Good link - a lot more helpful than my lame reply above. I think the only absolutely unique thing is our central TX style of BBQ, influenced by german and czech immigrants. As far as Tex Mex goes, if you don't get it in California or elsewhere, then it may be unique to you in Austin. El Paso and Albuquerue have their own styles, but I'm not sure that Austin does. I'd pay particular attention to suggestions here and not just walk into any TexMex restaurant - some serve borderline gruel.

                                                                          My favorite affordable tex/mex mexican place is Polvo's...reasonable cost, good ritas, and filled with Austinites (some say hipsters, but there's all types that go there). Order off the interior side of the menu. Stop and buy your own El Milagro chips and just hide them in your purse - their chips suck, but they have all kinds of salsa's (exotic salsas are available for a buck each...the salsa bar salsas are just ok, but they have escabeche as well).

                                                                          Salt Lick - search previous posts for ordering information. Plan on going on a Sunday with an ice chest. I have pioneered a way to have a great time there after shunning it for years.

                                                                          If you have the time, you could do Franklin's. There's nothing wrong with waiting a couple of hours if you have good company and shakers full of bloody mary.

                                                                          When I travel, I like just having snackatizers or shared plates all day long. The Kerby Queso would be a good one. Go to the original Kerby Lane on Kerby Lane, have that and a beer, and move on. Here's a link that might help if you are like me:


                                                                          The whole Rainey street area would give you a good Austin vibe, too. A lot of people love to eat sausage and drink beer at Bangers, but I have not been there myself. They have over 100 beers on tap I hear.

                                                                          1. re: rudeboy

                                                                            Tex-Mex in Texas is unique to anything elsewhere. There is a whole thread Cal-Mex v. Tex-Mex. My takeaway is that if you live in Texas Tex-Mex is it, folks from California prefer their food. Go figure. I like to troll other boards, especially NE and Toronto. These people are dying for Mexican food, even ubiquitous tacos that are all over the place in Austin and Houston, my town. Tex-Mex is frequently dismissed as just Tex-Mex, but when you Google a menu it is nothing like what we have here, laughable and even pisses me off a bit. So the long winded answer is maybe they'll like Tex-Mex and it is unique as likely they've never had the real deal.

                                                                            1. re: rudeboy

                                                                              rudeboy, thanks very much for the reply.

                                                                              I didn't know that central Tx bbq is german / czech - influenced. May I ask what that influence is, in terms of ingredients or method? You have me curious.

                                                                              I have no experience with bbq outside of California, and I'm very much looking forward to trying TX BQQ several times while my buddy and I are driving through the state.

                                                                              Re Polvo's, 'ritas' are margaritas, right? What dish(es) do you recommend at Polvo's?

                                                                              Re Salt Lick, thanks for suggesting an ice chest. We won't have an ice chest, but we'll have a 12V refrigerator in our car, so we can get take-out.

                                                                              We're on the fence about going to Franklin's, due to the wait.

                                                                              Thank you again for taking the time to provide a detailed response.

                                                                                1. re: James Cristinian

                                                                                  James, wow, that's some interesting reading. Thanks!

                                                                                  My mouth is watering for some central Texas BBQ!

                                                                                  1. re: SimSportPlyr

                                                                                    Did you read some of the links at the bottom with various pit masters?

                                                                                    1. re: James Cristinian

                                                                                      James, I have not clicked on any of the pit master links.

                                                                                      Do you have a recommendation as to which one I explore first? I see that at least has a video.....

                                                                                      1. re: SimSportPlyr

                                                                                        The links are pretty short and I just looked up Gonzales and City Market since I spent a lot of time there as a kid. I really like City Market, especially the ribs.

                                                                                  2. re: James Cristinian

                                                                                    Thanks James - great link. SimSportPlyr, I can't say it any better than Robb Walsh can. There's a decent description of central texas BBQ on wikipedia - Mr. Walsh may have contributed to that. The only thing that I might disagree with is the statement about sauces. Most places have sauce, and some are quite proud of it. However, if the BBQ is seasoned and smoked properly, the sauce is not necessary. For example, I can eat Franklin's brisket all by itself and not want, but the espresso sauce, to me, is sublime. I

                                                                                    I like Smitty's in Lockhart for the real deal experience. People love Black's brisket. If you go there, hit both and resist the temptation to order too much at either place. Wait is minimal, if at all.

                                                                                    Salt Lick is regarded as "not as good" by locals, with the caveat that it is a good time and for visitors, a good Texas experience. Here's the link on how to order on Sundays:


                                                                                    If you are a couple, just ferry four beers in at a time. When you are eating, it will be a relief to walk some food off to get more beer.

                                                                                    Polvo's - may favorites in order of preference: Fish or Shrimp a la Plancha; Original Relleno with chicken and cheese inside (you have to ask for that); Fajitas al Gualillo (some love Fajitas Cerveza, but I haven't had them because Gualillos drive me NUTZ); Enchiladas Dona Clara; Fish Huasteca; Pescado al Mojo de Ajo. Can't get past these items, but I always want to order the following: Pescado al Horno (comes with soup and rice); Puerca Adobado; Entomadas; Enchiladas Exóticas - you can choose the ingredients and exotic sauces ($15, though) from the following: Huasteca, Margarita, Cartuja, Veracruzana, Pipián, and Caliente.

                                                                                    1. re: rudeboy

                                                                                      rudeboy, thanks for the reply.

                                                                                      Do you consider the two Lockhart joints to be better than any of the Austin BBQ restaurants?

                                                                                      1. re: SimSportPlyr

                                                                                        Sure! I consider Franklin's to be the most consistent for brisket. For years, though, we have been directing visitors to Lockhart, but that was before we had any good competitors in Austin. It appears that Franklin's and LA BBQ are giving the Lockhart places some competition. If you don't want to drive, there are options in town that you will enjoy.

                                                                                        The big decision is whether to have a blowout BBQ dinner once, and then eat other things the rest of the time, or explore BBQ at several places in the region. I still direct people to the Salt Lick for the experience of being in central TX as a one time only thing. But overall, I'd recommend at least two or three que excursions if you want what's unique here.

                                                                                        1. re: rudeboy

                                                                                          I also think that Stiles Switch is as good as the Lockhart places. Disclaimer, i haven't been to Lockhart in a long time. So, someone with more recent experience may think differently.

                                                                                          I agree with rudeboy on Franklin's espresso sauce. I keep it at home (you can buy it at the HEB now), and when i get Stiles Switch to go, i use Franklin's BBQ sauce with it.

                                                                                          1. re: TroyTempest

                                                                                            not near the BBQ geeks others are... but I too have been guilty of Frankenstiening using Franklins sauce on Rudy's brisket

                                                                                      2. re: rudeboy

                                                                                        Rudeboy, do you happen to know whether Franklin's espresso sauce is available mail-order? Or, whether it's possible to buy it at Franklin's without standing in line for hours?

                                                                                        1. re: SimSportPlyr

                                                                                          you can get it at HEB (a local grocery store)

                                                                                            1. re: SimSportPLyr_

                                                                                              They have 2 other flavors, too. But i haven't tried them.

                                                                                              1. re: TroyTempest

                                                                                                Troy, I'd be interested in hearing your opinion of the other two!

                                                                                                  1. re: TroyTempest

                                                                                                    Troy, well, that's quite an endorsement!

                                                                                                  2. re: SimSportPlyr

                                                                                                    The espresso one is definitely the most distinctive and the tastiest, in my opinion.

                                                                                                    1. re: hlk

                                                                                                      hik, well, I'll focus on trying the espresso goodness, then! Thx.

                                                                                                      1. re: SimSportPlyr

                                                                                                        I think the Mueller HEB would be the best bet.

                                                                                                        1. re: rudeboy

                                                                                                          All the large HEB's have the Franklin's sauces, including espresso. They are with the other TX BBQ sauces like Salt Lick and Stubb's.

                                                                                                1. re: TroyTempest

                                                                                                  Or you can get them from Amazon.com - why tote those along when you can have them delivered to your door.