Now here’s an unusual post, at least for me – my favorite places to eat in Austin. Having lived here 27 ½ years and NEVER cooking, I eat out a LOT. I get so many requests from locals and visitors alike for Barbeque, Mexican, and other places, that I figured I might as well put them all in one place. This will save me time in the future.
Austin has become a great restaurant town in the years I have lived here. My apologies to all the cool places I forgot, left out, or have not been to yet.
The places below are all locally owned. The ones with websites have interesting websites which I find fun to review. You will find no fancy steakhouses, French, or Italian restaurants listed here – while Austin has some good ones, those types of food can be found in any big American city.
I personally prefer to seek out food that I can’t find anywhere else. And that’s the type of food I like to offer my visitors, as well.
I was not always very into food – but about 18 years ago I stopped smoking cigarettes, and that really raised my appetite. I have always liked American regional home cooking (“Roadfood”) and the places that serve it, as evidenced in this post: http://hooversworld.com/archives/2829. So my tastes are not very modern and not at all trendy – consider me steak and potatoes and cole slaw. But I know a good dish of cole slaw when I see one. Or BBQ chicken – one of the great unsung wonders of Texas cuisine!
The first question on everyone’s mind (except vegeterians and vegans) is “Where is the best BBQ in Central Texas?” While many books defer to two icons, the Salt Lick in Driftwood and Louis Mueller’s in Taylor, I think you can’t beat Cooper’s in Llano (a couple of hours away) or the big three in “the BBQ Capital of Texas,” Lockhart (40 minutes away): Kreutz (pronounced “Krites”), Black’s (the oldest), and my own favorite Smitty’s. Jane and Michael Stern, the Roadfood royalty, crowned Smitty’s “America’s most atmospheric restaurant” in their latest book, 500 Things to Eat before It’s Too Late.
Great Texas BBQ, like you will find at Cooper’s or Smitty’s, has a tasty crust you will remember for years. You should NEVER need a knife to cut it. Of course the most important type of BBQ here in Texas is beef brisket. The environment, the fact it’s served on butcher paper, and just smelling and watching the meat smoke is all part of the experience, which can be witnessed at any of the great Texas BBQ’s.
If you are stuck in Austin and can’t run out of town to one of these great places, some of the better local BBQs are Rudy’s BBQ (a chain but they sure know what they are doing) and County Line (an Austin institution). I don’t consider these in the same class as those listed above, in part because these places are much larger and fancier than most “real” BBQ’s. But they are both fun.
More of classic hole in the wall, but good “Q,” in Austin, are the Pit on Burnet Road and Bert’s on Far West Boulevard.
Links to all of these BBQ places are listed below. And there are plenty of other BBQ places around Central Texas such as the sausage specialists in nearby Elgin (“Ell-gin” with a hard “g”); these are just my own faves. Make sure and check hours before you go, as some of these places close as soon as they run out of Q.
Next comes Mexican. Austin has so many Tex-Mex places you could never eat at all of them. And new ones open every day. They tend to congregate on south First Street and on east Sixth and Seventh Streets, not far from downtown. Some of my own faves, often not modern enough to have websites, include these:
Los Comales 2136 E 7th
El Azteca 2600 E. 7th
Curra’s 614 E Oltorf http://www.currasgrill.com/
More famous places, real traditions where you may find the Bush daughters or even movie stars:
Matt’s El Rancho http://www.mattselrancho.com/
While I do not usually recommend higher end places – I let Texas Monthly and Zagat’s cover those fields because they do it so well – I have to recommend two interior Mexican restaurants, which represent a whole different cuisine from Tex-Mex. Manuel’s with two locations, including one downtown on Congress, is a favorite standby http://www.manuels.com/ and Fonda San Miguel is my overall favorite Austin restaurant, perhaps the best Mexican restaurant in the US: http://www.fondasanmiguel.com/. They celebrated their long success with a new cookbook.
I am entranced by the new wave of South American and related restaurants coming into town. I have found the following to be excellent:
http://www.buenosairescafe.com/ Great Argentine food in a small place on South First and a newer, larger place on East 6th. This is some of the best food I have ever had in Austin.
http://www.sampaiosrestaurant.com/ Excellent Brazilian menu food (as opposed to all-you-can-eat Brazilian “Churrascaria” BBQ which is becoming more available in the US) on Burnet Road.
http://www.habana.com/ Outstanding Cuban sandwiches and other food on South Congress and on 6th street downtown.
http://www.casa-colombia.com/ Colombian place on E 7th street that I just discovered. I have only been there once, but it really blew me away.
Classic American Roadfood is harder to find in Austin.
Two places with great Louisiana/Cajun/Creole food are:
http://www.evangelinecafe.com/ Outstanding food and music in south Austin.
http://nubianqueenlolas.com/ One of a kind east sider!!!!!
The closest things we have to a real diner or meat-and-three is Arkie’s Grill way out east on at 4827 E. Cesar Chavez (formerly East First Street) for breakfast and lunch only; and the Frisco Shop on Burnet Road open all day (http://www.frisconighthawk.com/).
Local American cooking institutions include Threadgill’s, two locations one of which was the roadhouse where Janis Joplin used to play and the other is a big place downtown, just south of the river (http://www.threadgills.com/) and Hoover’s (http://hooverscooking.com/), a nationally recognized soul food restaurant with two locations, one on the east side, whose owner and chef unfortunately is no relation to me.
Like any city, we have too many burger and dog places to list, but here are two of my picks:
My favorite Hot Dog is at Sandy’s 603 Barton Springs Road, no website; long hours, burgers, fries, soft serve ice cream, buy it at the window, picnic tables out back.
My favorite burgers are at Dirty Martin’s Kumbak Burger on “the drag” just north of the University Campus (Guadalupe street, which we say “Gwadaloop”) http://www.dirtymartins.com/. In fact, I am starving, so I am going to head over there right now and down a juicy cheeseburger!!!!!!!!
Addendum 10/22/09 — I "discovered" Ruby’s BBQ near the UT campus, on a friend’s recommendation. I have only tried two things there but they were both great, so I think I am safe in adding it to my list:
This BBQ was also covered in the excellent new book now added to the right. There exist several other great BBQ books, I hope to review them in the future.