Help me avoid "The Algorithmic Trap" in Austin, TX.
September 3, 2018 3:47 PM   Subscribe

"Algorithms are great at giving you something you like, but terrible at giving you something you love"...we're headed to Austin at the end of the month (9/24 - 9/28) and would really like to avoid the touristy kind of crap that makes every place you go feel just like every other place you go. You think Austin's amazing, right? Well, I'd love to hear about those not-so-glamorous things that made you fall in love with it in the first place...I'm looking for the types of restaurants, activities, etc., that you know are freaking GREAT, but are probably NOT sitting at the top of some list of "The top 10 things that you HAVE to do while you're in Austin".
posted by richmondparker to Travel & Transportation around Austin, TX (28 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
A friend took us to The Cathedral of Junk, and I can safely say that I haven't found anything like it anywhere else. It's probably on some top ten lists, though.
posted by zamboni at 3:56 PM on September 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

It's probably on all of the lists, but my wife and I went swimming at Barton Springs when we visited and it was really cool - like cool enough that I would recommend it whether it is on the lists or not. It is a natural spring turned into a giant sort-of pool (it has a muddy bottom) and people are just relaxing and chilling out and swimming and sun bathing and doing cannonballs off a big diving board. It is low key and weird and fun. It was not touristy.
posted by Mid at 4:42 PM on September 3, 2018 [8 favorites]

I was just over at Atlas Obscura and saw a bunch of neat things that I never saw while I lived in Austin for about 6 months. Search on Austin Texas, and you'll understand the bumper stickers that say "Keep Austin Weird".
posted by rudd135 at 5:02 PM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Tuesday night poetry slam at The Spider House Ballroom.

Really, the Spider House most any night.

Brunch at Contigo.

The rooftop garden at the main library.

The "Gucci Goodwill" on Exposition Boulevard.

Allens Boots on South Congress.

Deep Eddy Pool.

Stubb's Gospel Brunch.
posted by pantarei70 at 5:09 PM on September 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

Watching the bats emerge from beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge is on a bunch of top-10 lists, and is still freakin' awesome.
posted by dws at 5:13 PM on September 3, 2018 [8 favorites]

I am an avowed Austin hater. The city barely functions at the infrastructure level of a third world regional capital, and that’s optimistically speaking. I lived there five years and am so happy I got out. So with that non-tourist lens:

Tysons’s tacos and Mrs. Johnson’s Donuts are lovely adjacent businesses that are hopefully not yet overrun by bachelor parties and tech bros and thousands of weekly conference attendees.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:17 PM on September 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

Patrizi's isn't ~*~quirky~*~ enough to make it onto Weird Austin lists, and probably isn't fancy enough to make it onto fine dining lists, but they do jawdropping things with fresh pasta. You know how there are single mouthfuls of food you remember for the rest of your life? The first time I ate there was one of those. Since I left Austin I've moved to one of the best parts of the country for Italian food, and I still miss them.

Service is food-truck-style, with (calm and lovely) outdoor seating, so don't dress up for fancy and don't go if it's godawful hot. The Vortex Theater, which they're right behind, has cool shows.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:21 PM on September 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

Adult Skate night on Tuesdays at Playland.

Sonoran hotdogs at T'Loc's.

Falafel at Mediterranean Chef.

Shop at Malvern books (which is near the Spiderhouse, recc'ed above.)

Go walking through the Greenbelt.

Tacos at Vegan Nom, even if you aren't vegan.Or breakfast at Arturo's or Tyson's. Or any food cart you see in a gas station parking lot.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:27 PM on September 3, 2018

I also recommend looking at the Chronicle Events.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:28 PM on September 3, 2018

Malvern Books has the best poetry selection of just about anywhere. Toy Joy is a glorious toy shop full of magical little things in Hyde Park, not far away.

But really, the Cathedral of Junk is the best thing Austin still has. Watch Slacker and weep at what you'll never be able to experience.
posted by tapir-whorf at 5:56 PM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nthing Tyson's and Patrizi's. Both are uniquely Austin.

A list without Patrizi's is frankly bullshit, though. It's in the same complex as one of my favorite cocktails bars in town, the Butterfly Bar. We actually just left there on a wonderfully sleepy Monday. Weekends get packed. Arrive early, around they open (5) for a drink and then place your order. You can easily plan something for after. Otherwise you might spend your whole night waiting for food.

Tysons is a great breakfast taco experience. Both of these are perfect if you're staying north of the river. Per a comment above, Austin's a mess to get around in. It's basically two cities split by the traffic crossing the river.

If you want beer suggestions beyond this one, memail me. If you want classic hill country views, head to jester King. They make sour beer, but are connected to a wonderful pizza place and non sour wine/craft beer place called Stanley's farmhouse pizza.

My picks for South of the river are a food truck called soursop (in a complex that has a winery, distillery, brewery and coffee shop. It's a little excessively Austin as a whole, tbh, but the food at soursop is so good.) Also radio coffee and beer, which is home to Vera Cruz all natural.

That said, you'll have a hard time choosing a bad breakfast taco spot. Don't overthink it.

I think you'll be in town for Fantastic Fest. If that's a coincidence it might be worth seeing what's screening. I've had film friends say it's a bucket list festival to attend.
posted by lownote at 6:12 PM on September 3, 2018

Loro is pretty popular but is a great way to sample the know-how of the famous Franklin BBQ fare without waiting in line in 100 degree heat for an hour. Go for happy hour and get a gin and tonic slush.

Cafe Nenani makes incredible empanadas and it's owned for a mother/daughter and super cute inside.

My favorite treat lately is gelato at Dulce Neve, especially the flavor that involve cheese.

You might like grabbing a dinner/movie at pretty much any Alamo Drafthouse location but especially the south Lamar location.

I've been here for the past 7 years so I'd be happy to answer other questions if you wanna memail me!
posted by Saminal at 6:29 PM on September 3, 2018

It's basically two cities split by the traffic crossing the river
Don’t forget the wall made to separate east/west and white/nonwhite folks. Today plenty of young hipster white folks live on the east side, but the I-35 wall is still a pain to cross, and there are still no good east/west routes through the central city, by any means. This is perhaps tangential but good for any tourists to be aware of, even if they plan on using lots of uber/Lyft (which often fail catastrophically during large events, that tend to happen most non-January weekends)
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:33 PM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nothing great in Austin is really hidden. It's all right out there in plain view. On Yelp, enumerated in listicles. If you don't like touristy things, Austin might not be your favorite place. It's a festival city and since about 2000 it's been a top ten list in search of seven more items. There is lots of good food, fun outdoor rec, and still a fair amount of good live music. But the entire city is a Hard Rock Cafe, and you'll break your brain trying to find authenticity. Or rather, the tourist experience IS the authentic here. It's an Instagram town. You're visiting a Christmas display window for Texas. Enjoy it for what it is.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 6:57 PM on September 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

The sunset light sequence of James Turrell's "The Color Inside" at UT Austin is really cool. Reservations can be made at the website.
posted by baseballpajamas at 7:20 PM on September 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

In the same amount of time it'd take you to get from one end of Austin to the other in bad traffic, (maybe even less time,) you can get to the town of Lockhart and sample some next-level BBQ.
I was ambitious when I went, and tried Black's AND Kreuz AND Smitty's. Which is lucky for you, because I can tell you that Smitty's had the best brisket, Black's had the best ribs, and Kreuz had the best sausage.
(But if you only have it in you to visit one spot, I'd go with Black's.)
posted by D.Billy at 7:55 PM on September 3, 2018

If you're vegetarian, you gotta try some Popcorn Tofu at Wheatsville Food Co-op. Or if you're meat inclined, you can eat at ^^ Black's BBQ Austin location right across the street from the Co-op on 31st St.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:11 PM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

My two faves from my visit there:

Sunday Brunch at the Four Seasons downtown. Just divine.
Banger's Sausage House.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 10:33 PM on September 3, 2018

My cred: lived there for a number of years a long while back, have visited a lot because I still love it.

I can tell you something that's quite odd and off the beaten path, definitely not on many lists, but it's a pretty niche interest and may or may not be your thing: there's a guy in central Austin, a genuine Austin eccentric in the best way, who runs a record store and gramophone museum out of his house and garage. He knows a great deal about old recordings and recording technology. It's listed as Immortal Performances and you should call and see if he's around to do a tour, if old record players are the kind of thing that interests you.

Other than that, +1 on Spider House, which is echt 90s Austin fun...what else...if you'd like a trip out of town, go online and book a time at Hamilton Pool. Google it for a picture. It's a really neat place. The main Half Price Books that's now on North Lamar is a really good bookstore...avoid 6th Street and South Congress and, to be honest, if you don't want to feel like a tourist, skip the bats.

Take all the talk of the ruination of Austin with a grain of salt. It's undergone the same changes as most cities and, yes, there was a giant influx of people from California with lots of money and not a lot of interests, but they didn't replace everything that was fun about the place, and frankly there are more good restaurants than there used to be. "Keep Austin Weird" is a baffling marketing slogan I don't think anyone takes all that seriously. Austin isn't/wasn't a great place because it was quirky, though I suppose it was that; it was that it was laid back and full of interesting people.
posted by Smearcase at 10:35 PM on September 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

Also maybe go to some stuff that locals are a little jaded about that is still great. Austinites will roll their eyes if you mention Torchy's because it went from I think a truck to a chain, but the fact is it's really enjoyable. Flightpath Coffee House lost its novelty 20 years ago but is still a sweet little place.
posted by Smearcase at 10:53 PM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Maria's Taco Xpress on Sunday morning for hippy church.

cred: lived there for 3 years
posted by King Bee at 5:15 AM on September 4, 2018

Totally agree with Smearcase (except for the part about Torchys. Torchys is garbage, Tacodeli forever). Austin remains a delight.

I’ve been here for a decade. On the off chance you like video games/arcades, Pinballz is a fun time. The one at Lake Creek has Killer Queen. Malvern is a great rec if you’re a bookworm; I also love good old BookPeople.

Granny’s Tacos just off east 7th is a food truck run by an old couple. Granny makes the corn tortillas by hand.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 6:06 AM on September 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have lived in Austin for upteen years and worked in the tourism industry for half of it, and I'm still finding cool new stuff. baseballpajamas just had me make reservations for "The Color Inside", which I'd never heard of despite being on campus all the time. Similarly, I went to Ellsworth Kelly's Austin on its opening day and found it meh, but tried again one random Thursday (the Blanton museum is free on Thursdays) and was just overwhelmed by the light. Barton Springs was freaking awful and overcrowded over Labor Day, but will be perfect for several hours lounging with a book by late September. I hate (HATE) sixth street, the main bar drag downtown that's now stretching into east Austin, but I still take visitors because if you remove my years and years of sixth street related baggage it's still an Austin experience that people enjoy (just don't eat at Voodoo doughnuts, please, this is not Portland. Gourdough's is a few blocks away if you want doughnuts, and the Driskell hotel at 6th and Congress has cinnamon rolls that are so much better, and also it's haunted).

Patrizis is world class (Trivia is on Tuesdays!). I recommend Blackstar Coop all the time, but seriously, it's that good. And so easy to get to on public transit. The Austin Film Society has great shows and they're really close to Vivo for dinner which has top notch chalupas and serves margaritas with orchid flowers in them. Also, you can go into Austin Creative ReUse which is a craft-specific thrift store. Sweet Ritual is the best ice cream in town, and also it happens to be vegan and right next to the brand new ToyJoy on Airport and not too far from I <3 Video which I saw recently was billing itself as "The world's largest video store" and wow...they might be right, don't I feel old?

*ahem* Point is, ignore the haters, give yourself time to bop around and not see everything on official or unofficial lists. If you're chilling somewhere enjoying yourself, then you're doing Austin right.
posted by theweasel at 6:32 AM on September 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

Caveat: I've never been to Austin BUT one of my friends lives there and shares pictures/talks about these places and I desperately want to go to Austin now as a result.

The Glass Coffin looks like the dopest goth antique shop, if that's your jam. Also, watching the bats come out from under the bridge really does look like a ton of fun. And the Blanton Museum of Art looks like it has a pretty awesome collection.
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:31 AM on September 4, 2018

Not the best time to see it, but if you like flowers you'll enjoy the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve is also worth a trip.
posted by ubiquity at 9:21 AM on September 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Go to Valentina's for bbq. It's probably on a list somewhere, but it is outrageously good. It's a shorter drive than Lockhart, a shorter line than Franklin (but endorsed by Aaron Franklin!), and so, so good.

Also, get migas tacos from Veracruz (this is for sure on a list (maybe all the lists), but deservedly so).
posted by vakker at 9:52 AM on September 4, 2018

Pack a small cooler of water, or beer, head to the free side of Barton Springs, where dogs and crusties and families all hang out. Rent a couple kayaks or canoes at the boat rental spot that's close to the springs.

Antonelli's cheese shop is remarkable if you love good cheese.

Via 313 is arguably the best Detroit style pizza in the lower 48.

Peter Pan mini golf is a BYOB mini golf spot that's lasted several decades and is still really fun. Along those lines, there's a pitch and putt 9 hole par 3 golf course that's pretty much smack dab downtown.

If you've never bouldered, Austin Bouldering Company is a great place to get a safe introduction to high level climbing.

Drink cocktails and eat food at Nickel City/DelRay Cafe

dismiss sardonic comments about Austin being "cooler 2 decades ago" cities grow, yes there is traffic, grow up and ride a bike.
posted by Dillionaire at 1:34 PM on September 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

You would not think of going to Austin to eat Russian food but if you did, it would be here and it would be delightfully strange and tasty. Focus on the appetizers, go to tango lessons on Tuesdays.
posted by *s at 3:16 PM on September 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

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