A friend has family visiting Austin next month, and has asked me to provide a list of area restaurants that I prefer, so here goes!
I’ll try to include primarily locally owned restaurants, although a few are national or regional chains, albeit with local roots. I’ll also try to include only those restaurants where I’ve actually eaten, although there may be a couple that are still on my to-do list.
- Franklin Barbeque – Without question my number one choice. And it’s “Franklin Barbeque”, not “Franklin’s Barbeque”. Listed by Bon Appétit Magazine as one of the world’s most important restaurants, it opens each day, except Mondays, at 11:00am, and by noon they’re sold out. Lines begin forming at about 8:30am, and can sometimes go around the block. Don’t worry, though, about an hour before they open, an employee begins walking back through the line and learns what you plan to order, (Hint: Say, “A little of everything”), and they can also bring out a cold beer or two to help bide the time. It’s not a bad idea to bring lawn chairs, though. Trust me, any standing around and waiting is well worth it!
- Frank – Again, just “Frank”, not “Frank’s”. (What is it with Austin and possessive nouns?!) Purveyors of artisan hot dogs and cold beer, with the occasional live music thrown in. Parking downtown is horrendous, though.
- Annie’s Café and Bar – I don’t know how trendy or historic this nice little restaurant downtown is, I only know I stumbled upon it one night waiting to enjoy jazz at the nearby Elephant Room. Very nice atmosphere and food.
- Threadgill’s – 24 hour Southern comfort food. Go to the original on Lamar Street… That’s the one where Janus Joplin used to perform, before she’d go on be famous.
- Matt’s El Rancho – Family owned for over 50 years in South Austin, Matt’s El Rancho is a must stop if you’re in Austin.
- Manuel’s – Definitely not TexMex! High cuisine Mexican food.
- Torchy’s Tacos – Austin has this thing about tacos, I’m not sure what it is, but this former food truck chef has gone on to open up at several locations, all of them damn good!
- French Quarter Grill – One of my personal favorites, a nice, little family owned restaurant specializing in étouffée, gumbo, and many more dishes you’d find in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
- Kerbey Lane Café – a 24-hour diner that started by catering mainly to UT students, you guessed it… on Kerbey Lane. I’m excited that they’re about to start construction on a new location a few blocks from my apartment, but for now, the one on Guadalupe Street is probably my favorite. Or, go to the original one on Kerbey Lane. For breakfast, have the migas and/or the pancakes… they’re awesome!
- P. Terry’s – P. Terry’s is a no-frills burger place, with high quality, mostly local ingredients. Think of it as an Austin In-n-Out, but arguably better, and with no lines around the block.
- Cajun Pizza Place – Offers pizzas with a distinctive Cajun flair, also fried shrimp po-boys, muffulettas, and authentic Cajun boudin. The owners are related to the owners of Pizza Village in Lafayette, Louisiana, the only pizza place I’ve been to where they frequently have waiting lists to be seated most nights. Ask for The Joe, which is pepperoni, Canadian bacon, sausage, hamburger, and shrimp at the Pizza Village. At the Cajun Pizza Place, that’s the same as The Crusher, except you substitute shrimp for the jalapenos.
- Chuy’s – Chuy’s is a national TexMex chain with headquarters in Austin. There are more tradition TexMex restaurants out there, but Chuy’s is a place I prefer, possibly because of the kitschy atmosphere.
- Freebirds – Started in California, Freebirds is a nice place to get a burrito, and in my opinion, better than Chipotle. Better tasting, better atmosphere, and slightly better politics.
- Chi’Lantro – Korean Mexican BBQ… let that sink in for a minute. Lines start forming when the truck rolls up.
- Café Java – This is a little bistro about a block away from where I live that I like to go to for the occasional breakfast, and I love their Cajun Grilled Chicken Sandwich.
- The Salt Lick – Before eating at Franklin, Salt Lick was my favorite BBQ.
Honorable mentions: Rudy’s, County Line, Bill Miller, Pok-e-Jo’s, and El Mercado. I understand Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew is also supposed to be very good, although I have not been there… yet!
I’m sure there are many more deserving to be on this list, some I’ve been to, some I haven’t, but consider this one man’s partial list of good places to eat while in Austin, Texas.
In March, I will have lived in North Austin for two years. If you’ve ever lived or visited Austin, Texas, then you’ll know what I mean when I tell you it’s decidedly different from other large cities, even within Texas itself.
Here are 12 things I’ve learned while living here:
- Austin isn’t as nearly politically liberal or progressive as you’d might think – If I’ve heard that “Austin is the Berkeley of the South” once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. And while the Austin City Council is extremely liberal, and the area around the University of Texas and South of the river tend to be a little… “out there”, the further North you move, the more libertarian and conservative you find people. So far, the most “progressive” lunacy I’ve been forced to endure are the Austin paper and plastic bag ban, and the frequent trolling for money downtown and in Barton Creek by President Obama (and the subsequent traffic jams from shutting down traffic).
- Traffic and parking is terrible, nearly anywhere you go – I’m fortunate to live less than 2 miles from where I work, and a little over 5 miles from where I worship. Fortunate because, when I have to travel anywhere else, I’m guaranteed to find heavy traffic and frequent gridlock. I avoid downtown like the plague. If you visit here, either allow a lot of time to get where you’re going and/or avoid the major highways.
- There are some serious foodies here! – Particularly BBQ. The Austin-area is home to Franklin BBQ, The Salt Lick, County Line, Pok-e-Jo’s, Bill Miller and Rudy’s. As well, the nearby town of Lockhart is known as the “BBQ Capital of Texas”, with four BBQ pit restaurants, each with their own fierce proponents: Black’s, Chisholm Trail, Kreuz Market (pronounced ‘Krites’), and Smittys Market. And that’s just BBQ! Austin has lots of excellent restaurants (and food trucks) that prepare every conceivable type of food imaginable. Other notable restaurants/local chains include Chuy’s, Freebirds, Frank (Not Frank’s… Frank!), Kerbey Road Cafe, just to name a few.
- This is a fantastic place for small business and entrepreneurs, particularly tech – I think it may have started when Michael Dell began making computer systems out of room 2713 of the Dobie Center residential building when he was a student at the University of Texas.
- Austinites pride themselves on being different – The catch phrase de rigueur in Austin has been “Keep Austin Weird” for years, and although every passing day it becomes more and more like other large cities like Dallas, San Antonio and Houston, most residents still like to think and behave in, let’s just say, novel ways.
- Californians are moving here in droves, and that is not necessarily a good thing – Austin is expected to double in size in the next decade, and although people are moving to Texas from every other state in the union, Californians fleeing the overly taxed, overly regulated, imploding economy that is California (and that their politics brought about) prefer Austin because it is to Texas what Berkeley is to California. So, Californians bring three things to Texas: Traffic, increased housing prices and liberal politics.
- It’s pronounced “Man-chack” – There is a small town Southwest of Austin named Manchaca, and there is a road leading there named, appropriately, Manchaca Road. One would naturally be inclined to pronounce it “Man-chock-a”, but they’d be wrong. It’s pronounced “Man-chack”. Say it the wrong way and you’ll quickly be revealed as a newcomer.
- Lots of celebrities call Austin home – Or at least one of their homes.Nicolas Cage, Billy Bob Thornton, Willie Nelson, Sandra Bullock, Ryan Gosling, Robert Plant, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Matthew McConaughey, Lance Armstrong, Dan Rather, Mike Judge, Kyle Chandler, and Connie Britton are just some of the celebrities that call Austin home. And if you ever see one say, in Whole Foods or somewhere, do not make a big deal out of it!
- There are 1.5+ million bats here – I haven’t seen them at dusk, when they wake up and go hunting for flies, mosquitoes and other insects, but I know they live underneath the Congress Avenue Bridge and elsewhere. Each night, they devour 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of insects, making it safe to go outside nearly anytime and not be eaten up by those pesky mosquitoes. Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America and one of the most unusual tourist attractions in the world.
- There are fans of the University of Texas Longhorns everywhere – Everywhere you’ll see burnt orange cloths and the longhorn symbol. Whatever you do, do not go to Plucker’s or any sport bar when there’s a UT football game on unless you’re joining the masses to cheer the team on.
- Everything is on an incline – Well, almost everything, but being near the edge of the Texas Hill Country, there are a lot of hills and valleys nearly everywhere you go.
- Everywhere you’ll look you’ll see stone and concrete walls surrounding fields of grass – Those are called “retention ponds” and they’re there to catch runoff rain water to prevent flooding. They could’ve built a sewer system, but noooo! I think it’s something to do with the soil, preventing them from building lower-level parking garages and such.
- Get ready to deal with panhandlers – They’re everywhere! Many of them, when you give them anything other than cash (a sandwich, socks, etc.) will scowl at you, proving that they feel they’re feeling entitled to your continuing to subsidize their addiction to alcohol and drugs. Never… never… never give panhandlers money!
- Everyone eats breakfast tacos – What I would call a breakfast burrito, Austinites call breakfast tacos, and you can find them everywhere.
Austin is different from any other place I’ve ever lived, and it has a distinctive character that I really love. These are really just a few of the ones I’ve been able to identify and articulate.