Best Bites In Austin
I just returned from a lively and inspiring week in Austin, Texas for SXSW Interactive. While the trip was for work, I can assure you that I was still able to weave in some incredible eating so I could check out the impressive culinary scene Austin has to offer. Because I had a lot of back to back meetings and transportation limitations, I wasn’t able to get to everything on my list, but I guess it leaves the door open for me to come back soon (twist my arm). Austin has some great personality, and the charm of the city mixed with the friendliness of the people makes it an easy place to fall in love with. Some of my favorite food highlights are below.
A fantastic upscale, yet casual and comfortable modern Mexican restaurant on the corner of 2nd and Guadalupe. We enjoyed delicious guacamole, ceviche, and interesting salads with ingredients such as green beans, jicama, radish, beets, kale, and more. The meats and margaritas were a win as well. Lastly, I should note that my friend Tammy was brave and ordered the pig head appetizer which ended up being delicious and worth the risk. 400 W. 2nd Street.
Everyone is going to tell you to go to Salt Lick. And it is possible that it is the best barbecue you’ll ever have, however I didn’t have the ability to escape to Driftwood, Texas to sample it for myself. That being said, there is still great BBQ in downtown Austin to be had. I made the decision to go for “fancy” BBQ which is what Lamberts does best. It’s a nice place with friendly servers, and perhaps a bit more civilized than some of the other joints that slop meat on the table (albeit good meat). We enjoyed the brunch here tremendously, and this was one of my favorite spots we hit up while we were in Austin. Three words: breakfast Frito pie. It comes with chopped beef, pico de gallo, goat cheese, queso, and poached farm eggs atop a pile of Fritos. It’s so absurd and over the top, but worth the splurge. I also loved the barbecue plate with their brown sugar and coffee rubbed natural brisket which comes with two sides of your choice. I picked the waffle fries and the baked beans which were spicy and delicious. This place is a must. Lamberts is located at 401 W. 2nd Street. Other highly recommended BBQ joints included Franklin Barbecue, Stubbs, and Iron Works.
If you’re looking for a modern swanky spot, Congress is definitely it. The menu here is expensive, but within their same space is a great restaurant/bar called Second which serves “Natural American” food as Executive Chef David Bull likes to call it. I enjoyed a flatbread pizza and an avocado fundido with house chorizo and chipotle corn chips. Their kitchen also stays open until 1AM on the weekends which makes it a great spot for a late night bite. We also enjoyed a delicious breakfast here one morning where I had a yogurt, granola, and strawberry parfait. 200 Congress Avenue.
While it is not downtown, take a stroll (or a quick pedicab) up the road to the South Congress neighborhood of Austin for some great shopping, and an amazing meal at Perla’s. The restaurant has a beautiful outdoor patio that overlooks a bustling street, and the inside is filled with ocean inspired decor. The menu is extensive with an array of fresh and premium seafood options, and some hearty sides to indulge in. We started with the wood fired oysters topped with breadcrumbs and bacon as well as the grilled octopus served with capers, parsley, and a saffron aioli. I was wowed by these appetizers, and the flavors in the octopus salad made it one of the best things I ate all week in Austin. I also had the simple grilled sea scallops with a garlic drawn butter sauce which were perfectly done, and went nicely with a side of the macaroni and cheese and Brussels sprouts. Don’t miss Perla’s! 1400 S. Congress Avenue.
It’s easy to walk past this restaurant on W. 4th Street because it isn’t the loudest or biggest spot on the block. But don’t be fooled, this cozy restaurant and absinthe bar with exposed brick walls serves up delicious and eclectic fare that is not to be missed. We snacked on fried oysters, bacon and pepper jack cheese arancini, a cheese plate, and more tasty bites. The menu includes shellfish, meats, sandwiches, salads, and they update their specials daily on Twitter. 208 W. 4th Street.
I was invited to a group dinner at Ranch 616, a funky spot that describes itself as a “south Texas style ice house.” I wasn’t sure what to think when I first looked at the menu as there is no set type of food, rather a huge menu with all sorts of things to order. Despite my initial confusion, I was pleasantly surprised with the food. Ranch 616 had delicious margaritas, and we indulged in a huge appetizers plate with truffle fries, fried asparagus, quesadillas, crispy oysters, and more. For my main course I had a Tilapia special that was coated in panko with banana and served atop spinach and mashed potatoes. It really was quite good. A good spot for a casual group dinner. 616 Nueces.
There’s nothing fancy about this spot, but there’s a huge outdoor patio and even a live band that makes it totally worth the time. In addition, the food is really damn delicious. I didn’t get the chance to try the brunch which I heard was excellent, but I did get to chow down on a ridiculously good lunch of brisket tacos and a fried chicken Caesar salad. If you’ve got some time to sit outside and soak up the sun, swing by Hickory Street for some cocktails and a bite. 800 Congress Avenue.
The major omission here is Uchi/Uchiko. It really was the ONLY place I wanted to go, and time and other factors did not permit it to happen. I have heard nothing but incredible things and you should put it on your list when in Austin (I will make it there next time). Other highly regarded spots include Torchy’s Tacos, The Backspace, and Home Slice Pizza. I also enjoyed a solid meal at Truluck’s which is a famous seafood, steak, and crab house located downtown. I loved Austin and hope you enjoy eating and drinking your way throughout this fun town!