For me, part of the joy in traveling is trying the food of a different city, region or country. I feel that it helps define the culture and I use it as a way to learn more about the place I am visiting. Anyone who has heard of Austin knows the city is known for its food. Incredible chefs have taken Austin by storm and created innovative menus focused on locally sourced ingredients while the Mexican,barbecue and food trucks scene continues to evolve. You can eat however you like in Austin. From breakfast tacos to doughnut food trucks to 13 course tasting menus, Austin covers some serious territory.
While it is a foodie’s paradise, it is also a foodie’s dilemma because with so many renowned chefs, restaurants and food trucks, where is one to eat?! I have compiled some of my favorites from my weekend in Austin, but this is by no means an extensive list. I could have stayed in Austin for a month and not eaten everywhere I had wanted to, but I was overwhelmed by the possibilities of this foodie mecca so if you are looking to eat well, here are some recommendations of where to eat and drink in the Texas capital just in time for the upcoming SXSW music festival!
Breakfast: Nestled inside the Driskill Hotel, but accessible from the street is the 1886 Bakery and Café. Open all day, it is breakfast where it really shines. Recently, a new chef has been appointed and the breakfast options range from delicious pastries to hot items. Consistently ranked one of the best bakeries in Austin, it also has fantastic hot chocolate.
Brunch: Brunch is a serious affair in Austin and for good reason, the options are endless! If you are looking for something classy, but with an innovative menu try Olivia. All ingredients are sustainable and local and the menu is filled with dishes you are used to seeing such as pancakes and quiche as well as unique ones such as a short rib burger and a pork belly egg sandwich called the “MacDaddy.” This place is a popular brunch spot though so make a reservation!
Lunch: If you arrive from the airport famished like we were, go to Annie’s for lunch. A lively bar and café on Congress Street, Annie’s serves delicious comfort foods and has a grab-and-go counter for those looking to get back to the office. However, if you have time to sit down grab a seat at the bar and order. The atmosphere is fun and the caprese sandwich with pesto pasta salad was a hit! Rumor has it there are good happy hour deals to be found here as well.
Food Truck: Food trucks are an important part of Austin’s food scene and one of the reasons to love Austin, but the number of them can be overwhelming when trying to make a decision. Determine which cuisine you want to try, do your research and then find that truck! I wish I had time to try more food trucks, but if you need a recommendation try Chilantro. The Korean barbecue truck serving up spicy kimchi fries was a hit with me and my friends. And another perk? The Saturday we were there, they were posted up at Austin Beerworks for the day, which means we got to take in the good weather out back with beers from the tap and Korean barbecue. That is a win for Austin.
Barbecue: While Franklin Barbecue is perpetually crowned the King of Barbecue in Austin, the line begins forming hours before it opens and it only serves until it sells out. Our flight did not arrive in time for us to join the throngs of people for the renowned barbecue nor did we have a car to travel outside the city limits to The Salt Lick. As an alternative, we settled on Ironworks Barbecue. The informal restaurant with wooden tables and a back patio serves dry Texas barbecue at a good value. While I have no comparison to the two places mentioned above, for those of you without a car or without time to stand in line head to Ironworks.
Ice Cream: The best way to beat the heat in Austin is to cool down with Amy’s Ice Cream, the perfect reprieve after a long, hot walk over the South Congress Bridge. The line may seem long, but that is because they mix in your toppings right in front of you. They are known for their Mexican Vanilla and there is a reason for it. Try it! It was so delicious I did not even have time to snap a picture.
Happy Hour: Austin loves its happy hour and since I come from a city where happy hour is illegal, I was happy to participate. If you are hungry, there are many food specials to be had as well, but we just stuck to drinks. Figure out which neighborhood you will be in and that will help narrow it down, but here are two suggestions. In one of Austin’s oldest hotels, The Driskill Hotel, happy hour is offered in an elegant, comfortable environment with a fireplace and couches in addition to live music. The historical room with dark wood paneling highlights the old world class that the Driskill still retains. Another option that is entirely different is the Continental Club. Largely recognized as THE live music venue in Austin, it is a laid-back bar where you can grab a drink and listen to some live music. While the upstairs usually does not start playing live music until later, the downstrairs venue has music starting at 6:30pm so you can fit some in during happy hour!
Small Plates: Small plates and tapas are one of my favorite ways to eat. It is a great way to share dishes with friends and Barley Swine caters to just that. It does all the work for you by offering a 13 course tasting menu of small plates (sometimes only a bite per dish) to be shared with another person. The chef has been nominated for a James Beard Award if that gives you any inclination how innovative and amazing his pairings are. My friends and I were continually blown away by what we were eating and since they do not give you a menu ahead of time, it is fun to guess what the chef has in store next. Biscuit bites with bacon and preserved fruit led the way for black bean dumplings with collard greens and then onto tilefish, grilled lamb and braised rabbit (just to name a few). The waitresses and waiters could not have been nicer or more helpful. This was truly an exceptional dining experience. Go hungry and be adventurous!
Mexican: From taco trucks to breakfast tacos to burrito restaurants, Mexican food in Texas is prevalent; however, we know that not all Mexican food is created equal. La Condesa will surpass your expectations by putting a modern twist on the menu, while still serving the usual favorites. Located on West Second Street, it is an easy walk from downtown. Get the guacamole, carnitas taquitos and a classic margarita and you will be in heaven.
What are some of your favorite places to eat in Austin? I will be back for Round 2 so please leave some recommendations!