Dining in Austin
February 22, 2005 4:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to Austin for a couple of days on business. Where should I eat dinner? Preferrably something close to downtown/sixth street so I can catch some music after. I don't eat too much beef, but steakhouses are ok as long as they have other stuff (chicken, fish, duck, even lamb).
posted by jonah to Food & Drink (23 answers total)
When I lived in Austin, I loved the Bitter End. Their calamari was a fabulous appetizer. It is a little on the pricey side, but if it's for business, write that bad boy off.

I'm sure you've seen this handy guide, but in case you haven't you should check it out. I remember liking the Iron Cactus as well, but not my favorite. You drink on 6th street, not eat ;).
posted by nramsey at 4:11 PM on February 22, 2005

Mmm, calamari. And I hadn't seen that guide, thanks! I remember eating at a cajun place on 6th last time I was there (over 5 years ago), it seemed pretty good and they had live music too.
posted by jonah at 4:19 PM on February 22, 2005

If you want a more expensive meal in that area (after all, you said steakhouses were okay), Castle Hill Cafe is pretty good. So is Louie's 106 and it's actually on East 6th St instead of being 12 blocks away. Sullivan's (part of a chain) is a good steakhouse and they'll have other stuff. I don't think I've ever visited any of those places on my own dime. And to be honest if someone else were paying, I would rather go to Fonda or Eastside Cafe.

I lived in Austin for 14 years and I have a list of restaurans I like to hit when I go back. Unfortunately, many of them (barbecue and burger places) I am going for the beef, but here's a list of some that have other attractive options:
  • Tex-Mex/Mexican
    • Chuy's
    • El Sol y La Luna
    • Curra's
    • Maudie's
  • Vegetarian: Mother's Cafe and Garden
  • Seafood: Pappadeaux
  • Home cooking: Hoover's Cooking
  • Many choices: Central Market Cafe
  • Open 24 Hours
    • Kerbey Lane Cafe
    • Magnolia Cafe
    • Mrs. Johnson's Doughnuts (well, they close in the afternoon only)
There's a lot of good food in Austin.
posted by grouse at 4:38 PM on February 22, 2005

Oh yeah, if you can provide more information on what you prefer, price range, etc., I can provide a better answer. Also if you're going to relax your downtown requirement (none of the things in the bullet-point list were really in downtown). I think you'll get better food elsewhere, to be honest, and unless you're already downtown, why not get food elsewhere and go downtown to drink?
posted by grouse at 4:41 PM on February 22, 2005

you drink on 6th street, not eat ;)

Yep, that's pretty true. I ate at the Iron Cactus recently, it's probably one of the best choices, but not exactly special.

For Vegetarian Barbeque try Ruby's.
posted by jeremias at 4:43 PM on February 22, 2005

Chuy's. Avoid eating on Sixth Street if you can. And hey, if you're up for dinner AND a movie, check out The Alamo Drafthouse, a unique Austin experience.

Also, try the South Congress area: Guero's, Vespaio, and don't forget Amy's Ice Cream.
posted by ColdChef at 5:04 PM on February 22, 2005

Heck, if you are going to drive then you should go to the Salt Lick. It's in Dripping Springs, which is driveable from Austin (Texans have a skewed sense of distance). And I second all grouse's suggestions. Magnolia Cafe and Mother's offer some fine meat-alternatives.

If you drink though, might I suggest the Mexican Martini's from the Cedar Door. Now that you've got me thinking about Austin, I'm going to have to Google to find that recipe.
posted by nramsey at 5:07 PM on February 22, 2005

The Salt Lick. Damn you, nramsey.

Yes, you should go to The Salt Lick, for the best All-you-care-to-eat barbecue you'll ever have.
posted by ColdChef at 5:15 PM on February 22, 2005

When I went to austin a couple years ago for SXSW, the food at Stubb's and Jovita's stuck out in my head. FWIW.
posted by notsnot at 5:16 PM on February 22, 2005

I emphatically second the Alamo Draft House tip. It's a guaranteed good time.

As far as restaurants, Kerbey Lane is a local favorite, with lots of vegetarian options. There are 4 Kerbey Lane's, spread out, and so you are usually relatively close to one of them.

Veggie Heaven on 'the drag' is pretty good, if not a bit strange.

Mr. Naturals is authentic mexican food, but vegetarian, and delicious.
posted by Espoo2 at 5:28 PM on February 22, 2005

I think the Salt Lick would be disappointing for someone who doesn't eat beef. I assume you don't eat pork either.

For those of you who do eat beef and pork, I think the Salt Lick is overrated. Sure, it's better than a lot of the barbecue in the Austin city limits. But if you're going to go for a drive, Lockhart is just as far, and there Smitty's and Kreuz Market will serve you up something much better. I was president of the University of Texas barbecue club for several years, and all of the more enthusiastic members preferred a trip to Lockhart than one to Driftwood (which is near Dripping Springs) any day.
posted by grouse at 5:37 PM on February 22, 2005

More information would help - what is your favorite type of food? Looking at the previous messages it looks like whatever it is, it was probably addressed. If you do not eat much beef, you will have many more options in comparison with other cities, particularly in Texas.

Many good restaurants here and, fortunately, chains are generally isolated to I-35 and Round Rock.
posted by quam at 5:45 PM on February 22, 2005

Alright, grouse. Let's step outside!

(Smitty's and Kreuz are absolutely stellar--but I still think the sides, the BYOB tradition, and the "All you can eat" factor tip the scales SaltLickish. YMMV.)

Also, the GINOURMOUS pancakes at Magnolia Cafe make for a filling breakfast. And for just coffee, don't miss Jo's on South Congress or Little City downtown.
posted by ColdChef at 6:22 PM on February 22, 2005

Hut's Hamburgers (lots of non-beef and veg options) on Sixth
Noodle-ism (noodle-based cuisines) on Fifth
Manuel's (great interior Mexican) on Congress near Third
Las Manitas (breakfast & lunch only) on Congress near Second
Driskill Grill (if you're rich) on Sixth
Roaring Fork (ditto) on Congress & Seventh in the Stephen F. Austin Hotel
Fado Irish Pub (delicious fish & chips) on Fourth in the Warehouse District

You may be able to make it over to Barton Springs Road, which is close to downtown. There you have:
Shady Grove (quintessentially Austin mix, great atmosphere)
Austin Java (coffeehouse with hearty food)
Romeo's (good Italian)
and the above-mentioned Chuy's, which I have never liked.

If you can make it to Manor Road (not far from downtown - it's on the Eastside close to the UT campus) you have the choice between:
Vivo Cocina Mexicana (puffy tacos HIGHLY recommended)
Chile's (never been, but supposed to be great)
the East Side cafe (upscale fresh food)
Hoover's Cooking (southern soul food).
There's also a homey barbecue place on that row but I don't know anything about it.

South Congress, where you might also be catching some music, has:
El Sol y La Luna
(both are very good Tex-Mex restaurants)
Vespaio (high-class Italian, if you're rich)
South Congress Cafe (fancy eclectic cuisine, affordable)
posted by kmel at 7:00 PM on February 22, 2005

[Mexican] If you can get to Manor (26th) & I-35, you HAVE TO EAT at El Chile Cafe y Catina. If you go for dinner there is a running chef's special: Duck Relleno with a walnut cream sauce served w/ sweet mashed potatoes. It is awesome. And order a Chilango to drink -- it is one of the best variations of a margarita you will ever have. The tortilla-crusted tilapia is good too. (I used to be a huge fan of Vivo's, then I dumped her for El Chile.)

Thistle Cafe on 6th would be a nice lunch.

If your drunk downtown, the most edible post-last-call pizza is at Roppolo's. Don't even bother with the other ones.

Previous recomendations I'd also endorse: Hoover's, either Magnolia location, Iron Cactus, Alamo Draft House, Hut's Burgers, Eastside Cafe ... 7 (seafood) ... and the more pricey Fonda san Miguel, Roaring Fork, Driskill Grill, Sullivan's, Eddie V's (seafood)

I wouldn't do: Chuy's. The owners also operate Shady Grove and Hula Hut, the latter which I would go to only if I had to, and then just for the atmosphere.

I also wouldn't do: Kerbey Lane Cafe -- the one close to campus has REALLY bad service, the food -- everytime I have eaten there late at night or during midday brunch -- has come out cold, and when the bill comes I get pissed.
posted by fourstar at 7:24 PM on February 22, 2005

Oh, I can't believe I forgot Cisco's Bakery on East 7th. Go for breakfast and get the migas (they practically invented them here) with biscuits. Eat in the back room and check out all the famous Texans who've made history in there. Trivia: when LBJ was President, he would have migas flown up from Cisco's to the Whitehouse.

Also in that area ... on Ceasar Chavez (1st), Azul has really good grilled/pressed sandwiches.
posted by fourstar at 7:30 PM on February 22, 2005

[Idiot filter]Correction: "Trivia: when LBJ was President, he would have tomales flown up from Cisco's to the Whitehouse."[/Idiot]
posted by fourstar at 7:33 PM on February 22, 2005

wow, you guys really came through, thanks!

I will have a car and money isn't too much of an issue. It's not that I'm anti-beef, I just haven't eaten it in about four years and I don't want to reintroduce it with a big steak.

I do love duck, so that relleno sounds tasty. Friday morning I have to myself too, so I'll check out Cisco's for breakfast.

I do drink, but drinks aren't all that important to me. I'll probably have a beer or some wine with dinner.

Thanks again for all the suggestions, you guys rock. I imagine that I will catch some music on Thursday night, so let me know if there are any hot spots I should hit.
posted by jonah at 9:53 PM on February 22, 2005

Austin Chronicle Recommendations for 24 February.

fourstar: The Kerbey close to campus is hideous. The other ones are much, much better. I think the Kerbey Lane Cafe that is actually ON Kerbey Lane is good. And it and sure beats the other 3:30 a.m. alternatives (although there will always be a soft spot for Taco Cabana in my heart, I'm not going to recommend it to a visitor with a budget).

I've never been to Cisco's. My favorite migas are at Las Manitas on Congress.
posted by grouse at 1:21 AM on February 23, 2005

I meant with a big budget.
posted by grouse at 1:22 AM on February 23, 2005

I live in Austin, second all of kmel's recommendations, and would specifically recommend the following if I had to choose:

(1) BREAKFAST: Las Manitas on Congress near Second (a local favorite that serves cheap!, quality food downtown).

(2) LUNCH: Hoover's on Manor Road near campus (some of the best soul food I've ever had; choose the 4-veggie plate and find somewhere to take a nap afterward)

(3) DINNER: If money is no object, go to Vespaio on South Congress. High quality Tuscan-style Italian grill with amazing wine selection and service. Get there early (6:00-6:30) because the wait can be very, very long otherwise.

- Continental Club on South Congress (always a cool mix of rockabilly-funky-country going on)
- The Parish on 6th (super-awesome indie buzz-band, The Secret Machines, play Thursday night)
- General Rule: Red River is better for music than 6th, which has devolved into bars-for-college-kids row

- Club Deville on Red River (one of my favorite bars; cool vibe, great courtyard in back, strong drinks)
- Lovejoy's near Neches/6th (awesome homebrewed beer for $2 a pint; very laid back place)
posted by conquistador at 7:07 AM on February 23, 2005

I'm suprised no one has mentioned stopping in at the Jazz Kitchen to eat their terrific BBQ shrimp. But then, it's been a few years since I was in Austin. Has the Jazz Kitchen closed down, or has the cooking gone into decline, or ????
posted by lustra at 8:04 AM on February 23, 2005

Grouse, I was just thinking fondly of Taco Cabana. I don't know what the appeal is there, but I miss the food every now and again.

Fourstar, Roppola's . . .at 2 a.m. it's the best food in the world . . .next to Taco Cabana.

Let me add the Brick Oven for it's solid lunch fare. I used to go to the Red River one (12th and Red River) that was a couple of blocks from work, so I can only vouch for this location of the restaurant.

This thread is making me miss Austin.
posted by nramsey at 9:12 AM on February 23, 2005

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