World Famous Barbecue
Austin is at the center of an area rich in classic barbecue joints. Head out of town in just about any direction, and you'll come upon small towns that are home to famous institutions. A list of the most famous of these would have to include Lockhart, 30 miles south, which might be considered the bbq capital of Texas. It's home to such landmarks as Kreuz Market, Black's, and Smitty's Market. Southwest of Austin, in the town of Driftwood (25 miles), is the Salt Lick, where friends go on weekends with ice chests full of beer to sit at the picnic tables and wait their turn for some brisket served up right out of the pit.
For a spiritual experience on Sunday morning, check out the gospel brunch at Stubb's Bar-B-Q, 801 Red River St. (tel. 512/480-8341). The singing is heavenly, the pork ribs divine. South Congress Cafe has a popular soul brunch that also mixes in a little gospel. At Threadgill's World Headquarters, you can graze at a Southern-style buffet while listening to live inspirational sounds; find out who's playing at www.threadgills.com. If you're more in the mood for jazz, check out the brunches at both locations of Manuel's, where you can enjoy eggs with venison chorizo, or corn gorditas with garlic and cilantro, while listening to smokin' traditional or Latin jazz.
Coffeehouse culture, students, and the Internet seem to go together naturally. Austin has seen a steady growth of independent coffeehouses, each with its own feel, refreshingly different from the corporate designs of the national chains. All the following are wireless Internet hotspots.
In the downtown area, you can find Little City at 916 Congress Ave. (tel. 512/476-2489). It's close to the capitol and other downtown tourist sights. Caffé Medici will soon open a branch of its well-known coffeehouse in the Austonian Condo tower at Congress and East Second Street.
In South Austin, at 1300 S. Congress, is Jo's (tel. 512/444-3800), which is the meeting place for SoCo's coffee set at any time of day. In the mornings, they sell pastries and an old Austin standard, breakfast tacos. In the afternoon, simple sandwiches go with the coffee, which is quite good. You're apt to encounter one of Austin's several local characters here, including Leslie, the bearded transvestite and former mayoral candidate who can be seen around town wearing revealing garb. Also in South Austin, in the Zilker Park area, is Flipnotics, 1601 Barton Springs Rd. (tel. 512/322-9750), a two-story, indoor/outdoor "coffee space," where you can sip great caffeine drinks or beer while listening to acoustic singer/songwriters most nights.
In West Austin, in the Clarksville neighborhood, is Caffé Medici at 1101 W. Lynn (tel. 512/524-5049). It serves excellent espresso drinks, perhaps the best in town. Farther west is Mozart's, 3825 Lake Austin Blvd. (tel. 512/477-2900). It enjoys a beautiful location on the shores of Lake Austin; on a pretty day, the views are lovely from the deck. Here you can get great white-chocolate-almond croissants.
In central Austin, across from the University of Texas campus, is a second branch of Caffé Medici (tel. 512/474-5730) at 2222-B Guadalupe. Just north of campus, and just off Guadalupe, is an atmospheric coffee bar called Spider House, 2908 Fruth St. (tel. 512/480-9562). It's frequented by a mix of students and artists. Besides coffee, it sells tempeh chili, Frito pies, smoothies, all-natural fruit sangrias, and beer. Farther north, in the homey Hyde Park neighborhood, is the Flightpath coffeehouse (tel. 512/458-4472) at 5011 Duval St. It's furnished '50s mod style.
Grocery Store Dining
Austinites have a fondness for dining in grocery stores, and I'm not talking about grazing the produce aisle. Indeed, the city's two grocery palaces, Central Market and Whole Foods, have large dining areas. Austinites like the casual feel of a grocery store and the convenience of mixing dining with the opportunity to pick up a couple of things forgotten on the last shopping trip. But for visitors, it's a good choice, too. Both of these stores are popular sightseeing destinations, so you can grab a bite and explore Austin's utopian vision of fine grocery shopping. The food is good, quick, and wholesome, and you control the portions. The prices are moderate and compare favorably to sitting down in a full-service restaurant. In both stores, indoor and outdoor seating are available, sometimes with live music. Whole Foods probably has more variety, though it's more self-serve and can be a little confusing. Food at both places is available during regular store hours.
Amy's, Austin's homegrown brand of ice cream, is wonderfully rich and creamy. But eating it is only half the fun. Watching the colorfully clad servers juggling the scoops is a kick. Amy's has nine Austin locations, including one on the west side of downtown, 1012 W. Sixth St., at Lamar Boulevard (tel. 512/480-0673); one in SoCo, 1301 S. Congress Ave. (tel. 512/440-7488); and one at the Arboretum, 10000 Research Blvd. (tel. 512/345-1006). And if you don't have a chance to try it in town, you can catch this tasty treat at the airport.
Another place to keep in mind is Hey Cupcake! (no phone), which sells oversize cupcakes from an Airstream trailer parked on the 1600 block of South Congress at Milton Street. It opens Tuesday to Saturday at noon and Sunday at 1pm, and it closes when the cupcakes run out. The place is so popular that when the land on which the trailer sits was sold recently, the new owners assured the public that Hey Cupcake! would remain. The most popular flavors are the red velvet and the "Michael Jackson."
Food Trucks Park in Austin
Food concession trailers are all the rage across the U.S. these days, especially in late-night entertainment areas like SoCo. Here, "meals-on-wheels" has taken on a whole new meaning with a centrally located strip of Airstream and RV eateries on the Avenue. In laid-back Austin, no one is in a hurry to eat on the run, so here tables are set up and little lights hang above the gravel parking lot, making this food trailer court a place to gather with friends, grab good food, and stay a while. The Wall Street Journal called SoCo's Mighty Cone one of "The Top-10 Trailers in America." Currently located in the gravel parking lot next to Congress Avenue Baptist Church (1511 S. Congress Ave.), the trailers may soon find a new location on South Congress when a new boutique hotel is built on this spot. For more info, visit www.austinfoodcarts.com.
Here's a list of a few fun trailers to try:
- The Mighty Cone: Known for hot and crunchy fried wraps (or "cones") made with chicken, shrimp, or avocado and served with mango aioli and slaw. It's no wonder this place gets such raves -- its haute cuisine counterpart is the elegant, highly acclaimed Hudson's on the Bend restaurant on Lake Travis, whose chefs helped launch this hot trailer stop.
- Flip Happy Crepes: Featuring tasty tarragon-mushroom crepes with goat cheese, caramelized onions, spinach, and tomatoes.
- Love Puppies Brownies: Homemade brownies made by people who love puppies. Voted Austin's Best Kept Secret in the 2009 Best of Austin readers' poll in The Austin Chronicle.
- Torchy's Tacos: Go for the green chili pork tacos topped with queso fresco, cilantro, onions, and lime.
- Hey Cupcake!: Among their quirky cupcakes is "The Michael Jackson" -- chocolate on the inside with cream cheese icing.
- Vaquero Cocina: Yummy smoked brisket and sweet plantain chips.
- The Holy Cacao: Ooooh, I love their sweet S'mores on a Stick and chocolate mint Grasshopper cake-balls.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.