“Texas does not, like any other region, simply have indigenous dishes. It proclaims them. It congratulates you, on your arrival, at having escaped from the slop pails of the other 49 states.”
Austin is blessed to be smack dab in the middle of the best barbecue in Texas. We all have our favorites, and certainly there are media darlings: Franklin BBQ, for instance, was declared the best barbecue in America by Bon Appetit. The caveat is that you have to line up 2-4 hours early (say, around 8-10 AM) and hope that they don’t sell out before you get to the front of the line. I have to say, this barbecue is some of the best I have ever tasted, but it’s rare that I have that kind of time to devote to meat. I had a blind taste test party for my birthday once year and we blindly compared Franklin to another top place in town, and Franklin was the clear winner.
If you’re going to do it right, ask for fatty cut brisket. NEVER ASK FOR LEAN, because we’ll know you’re an outsider and you’ll be getting sub-par meat. We also don’t slather sauce over everything, but I’ll leave that up to you.
Austin also happens to be a 30 minute drive from Lockhart, TX, the official Barbecue Capitol of Texas. They have 4 outstanding places there, and everyone has a favorite. Mine used to be Smitty’s, but I like the sides more at Black’s so we’ve been going there more.
When my sister (a former Texan) comes to visit from Raleigh, we always go out for barbecue and she always gets a Big Red to go with it. It’s a soda that tastes like bubble gum and is probably enough sugar to put you in a diabetic coma, if you didn’t have all that fat from the barbecue to balance it out. That’s how we justify it at least.
Tex-Mex or Mexican Restaurants
There’s a difference. Tex-Mex is the typical enchiladas, nachos, fajitas plate with a side of rice and beans. Mexican means interior Mexican food: mole, marinated and grilled meats and seafood, banana-leaf wrapped tamales and cochinita pibil.
I tend to prefer the latter, but sometimes I just want some good old school Tex-Mex. Especially when my afore mentioned sister comes. We usually head to Juan in a Million, mainly because we’re addicted to their refried beans. They’re made with stuff you don’t want to know about and taste like bacon. Seriously, you have to order beans when you go there. Trust me.
But when I want Interior Mexican, I head first to Polvo’s – oh man, their tacos al pastor are so insanely good, and they make this pecan cream sauce that makes you want to swim in it (it’s good on Al Pastor Chile Rellenos too, see below).
Fonda San Miguel is within walking distance to my house and is a wonderful, upscale treat. My girlfriends and I like to go for their happy hour specials.
Technically this could fall under the above category, but here in Austin tacos are an art form and deserve their own section. Tacos can be subdivided further into Breakfast Tacos and Non-Breakfast Tacos.
Breakfast tacos rule. Seriously, what the hell do y’all eat for breakfast outside of Texas?! It’s the perfect meal in the morning, and typically contain 2 or three of the following: eggs, cheese, beans, chorizo, bacon, and avocado, all on a soft corn or flour tortilla. I prefer corn. I have my favorites, as does any local based on quality of the tortillas used, the tastiness of the beans, and the inventiveness of the house specials.
The other tacos that you eat the rest of the day are not the crispy weird kind you get at Taco Bell. They are also on either a soft corn or flour tortilla and can contain ANYTHING. My favorite hands down are at Taco Deli and Torchy’s. At Taco Deli, you can get more traditional Tex-Mex or interior Mexican kinds here, like with mole or achiote sauce, or you can go totally cray-cray with the pork belly ones. Here’s my secret to happiness in Austin: have Taco Deli on speed dial. Call in your breakfast or lunch choices (sadly, they are not open for dinner). Walk in and bypass the suckers in the huge line by going to the to-go counter. Eat and enjoy. Repeat.
Torchy’s was not my favorite before I discovered their secret menu. Ask for it when you go, or google around for it. I adore their Matador taco, which is pictured above. Also, their queso is THE BEST IN TOWN. At the blind taste test party I mentioned earlier, we also compared Torchy’s queso to Maudies. Torchy’s was the clear winner.
Austin is a pretty laid back kind of town, but every once in a while you want to spend some hard earned cash on food. Where to head?
It’s clear I’m going to have to update this section every year because it changes a lot.
Barley Swine is frequently held up as one of the best places to go. This place has very inventive dishes that are small bites, so you get to try a lot of different things. Order the Chef’s tasting menu if you go.
Uchi is our top sushi restaurant (and now Uchiko, in Central Austin). It’s also has inventive dishes, so it’s not really a place you go for california roles.
For French food, I go to Justine’s, a cute little bistro in East Austin with an amazing atmosphere, and food that is to die for.
Lately my all around favorite restaurant is Peached Tortilla, which is an asian/southern food fusion place. For one, my husband and I can walk there from our house on date nights and both get sloshed, but also because I dream about this one dish of theirs: Southern Fun. It’s like an amazing version of Pad Kee Mao. YUM.
Asian or Indian Food
If I had a choice, I would eat out at one of these places every night of the week, except for Fridays when I usually want Mexican. Here are all my favorites.
|Chinese||I’m all about Din Ho, which has roasted ducks in the window. For dim sum, try Chinatown.|
|Japanese||If you have some money to spend on sushi, go to Uchi or Uchiko. Kome Sushi is also good, and Musashino has Japanese curry.|
I have to mention these places as well.
|Pizza||East Side Pies, Little Deli, Home Slice|
Austin is gaining more and more micro-breweries each year. Check out Black-Star Coop, 512, and Independence Brewing.
Creative Commons: Uchiko sushi image by xmatt, outdoor dining at G’raj Mahal by ercwttmn. Franklin BBQ, Torchy’s Taco, Polvo’s pecan cream sauce by me!