When you’re a self-professed foodie and you travel quite a bit, you get a lot of friends and coworkers asking, “So where do you recommend I eat when I’m in _________?” It’s a hard thing to answer sometimes. Take for instance my friends going to the South by Southwest music festival this week. Where should they go, a few have asked. I just spent a fun-filled six months in the land of Guadaloop where they celebrate the Fourth of Joo-ly and there are so many places I fell in love with that it’s hard to narrow down on the spot. Time away from Hill Country has made me appreciate it more, its highlights sticking out in my head with growing tinges of longing. Like the wiggly, scallop-edged ham steaming hot atop a fried egg inside my weekly breakfast roll at Texas Honey Ham Company…
Instead of broadly describing each of the following eateries, I’d rather just wax poetic on the dishes I ate. Be sure to check out each impressive menu for yourself, as all of them are worthwhile and offer something for everyone. This is for all you SXSW goers and other Austin passers-through.
Clay Pit ~ Weekly I ordered the Vegetable Korma, whose pistachio flavor really enriches the already rich curry; the Paneer Tikka Masala, melty cubes of cheese bathing in a buttery red sauce; and the Three Cheese Naan, a chewy Indian quesadilla. I love this place so much, I ate here for my birthday dinner. Located at 16th and Guadalupe, just north of downtown.
South Congress Café ~ I always ordered the Migas with chorizo, a Tex-Mex scramble of eggs, peppers, cheese, and the spicy sausage served with a side of refried beans and the doughiest homemade flour tortillas I’ve ever had. Other tempting brunch entrees? Chipotle Shrimp Quesadillas and Carrot Cake French Toast. Find this popular spot on the South Congress strip.
La Condesa ~ Innovative central-Mexican cuisine in a zesty fine dining atmosphere—not your average Tex-Mex! At first I was crushed when I saw there was not an enchilada in sight, but the Hongos y Huitlacoche made me get over it real fast. It’s a wild mushroom appetizer reminiscent of a gourmet taco, drizzled generously with truffle oil. Earthy, greasy freshness. Their seasonal pastries are most exciting and their bar drinks are quite creative as well. Located downtown on West 2ndStreet near the W Hotel.
Paggi House ~ A dear friend of mine is the general manager at this establishment, an old Victorian house turned into fine dining restaurant. I was told their pan-roasted chicken would be the best I ever had, and I wasn’t let down. Juicy, well-brined, and served with sides of garlic-whipped potatoes and kale. A mouth-gasming example of simple done right. The Butternut Squash Risotto is another of my favorites, served with a crispy tempura batter on top that gives it an addictive mushy crunch. Find this twinkle-berried gem just south of the river, east of Lamar.
Barley Swine ~ Very popular and very tiny, so prepared to wait upwards of an hour (and while you’re waiting, enjoy a glass of wine with a game of checkers in the outdoor patio of Opa’s a few doors down). The menu can be as startling as it is delicious—the chefs definitely know how to make delectable use of all pig parts. Their offerings are seasonal, and I recommend going with an open mind and a hungry belly. I doubt you’ll be disappointed in their beer selection either. A South Lamar must.
Hopdoddy ~ Throughout Austin’s withering summer, I would watch with pity those standing in line under the unmerciful sun for the self-proclaimed best hamburger in Austin. Surely it couldn’t be that good. It was. Take my advice and order the Goodnight Burger with a fried egg, a side of Kennebec Fries, and ask for a milkshake half Caramel & Sea Salt, half Nutella & Chocolate Covered Pretzel. I like to dip my fries in mine. On the South Congress strip.
Stack Burger Bar ~ If you want a scrumptious burger and shake north of the river (or, lake, as the locals puzzlingly call it), this is your place! Try the Black & Bleu burger with a side of truffle fries and a White Russian S’mores milkshake for dessert. They even crumble graham cracker crumbs on top of the scorched marshmallow! Conveniently downtown on West 4thStreet.
Woodland ~ A forest-themed diner of enchanting and novel décor. I became rather fond of their patty melt sandwich: homemade meatloaf smothered in cheese, onions, and mushrooms on sourdough, my side of choice being mashed potatoes and gravy. Sigh… And they’re famous for their pies. Down-home Texas cooking at its coziest. An emerald on the South Congress strip.
Lambert’s ~ Dear lord, where do I begin? With the brown sugar and coffee-rubbed melt-in-your-mouth brisket? With those perfectly cheesy mashed potatoes? The pumpkin pie with bruleed marshmallows? Everyone wants to know where the BBQ’s at in Austin… For me, despite many other valid options, it was here. Downtown off 2nd Street, near trendy shops and a boutique indie cinema called the Violet Crown.
Texas Honey Ham Company ~ That ham-stuffed fried egg breakfast roll I was raving about earlier? Here’s where to get it. Their Frigas—a Frito chip-laden scramble—is also damn tasty, as well as the grilled cheese with tomato soup. I’m not ashamed to say this place remedied more than a couple of my hangovers. It’s perfect for a sweatpants-casual morning-after brunch, uncharacteristically located in Westlake, Austin’s version of Orange County.
The Backspace ~ Mozzarella-dolloped wood-fired pizzas that helped soothe my Pizzeria Mozza cravings. Order one with an appetizer of Baked Ricotta and sip a glass of wine while Rat Pack classics serenade you into sleepy satiation. You’ll find this small nook in the downtown area of 6th Street infamy, next to its sister restaurant, Parkside.
Walton’s Fancy & Staple ~ A breakfast and lunch favorite of mine. Biscuits & Gravy, Ham on Pretzel Sandwich, pastrami subs, eggnog cheesecake, pain au chocolat, cinnamon buns… I mean, look at that menu. It’s also a charming floral and gift shop, and it’s owned by Sandra Bullock. What’s not to love? And it’s in my favorite part of West 6th Street!
Justine’s ~ The hipster-elegant French brasserie to escape to and be seen all at once. Located east of I-35, you’ll drive there and notice the area becomes sketchier and sketchier looking. Don’t let that deter you, for Justine’s is a plush oasis of romantic ambiance and fine dining. I order the Steak Frites and play Bocce ball in the patio yard ‘til my dinner comes.
Jo’s ~ I seriously miss my morning routine of stopping for breakfast burritos at this outdoor café. I always got the potato-egg and bean-cheese ones, usually with an Iced Turbo coffee drink to go. It’s a very chill vibe, and I prefer this South Congress location to the downtown one just for that reason.
JuiceLand (formerly known as Daily Juice) ~ Are you on a vegan or raw diet? Here is a haven of food you can actually eat in carnivore-laden Austin. I’m not even vegetarian, but I love healthy, organic smoothies catered to my body’s needs. The tattooed-hippy staff are more than happy to concoct a special tonic for you. My favorite is the Chai Chia smoothie, all cinnamon-ginger spiced with rice milk, banana, vanilla, and coconut oil. You can also find healthy shots of algae and other questionable supplements. It’s near Barton Springs, a natural pool and summertime necessity.
Alamo Drafthouse ~ A theater where I can order queso and fried chicken as I’m watching a movie? Yup, they exist. If you want a unique Texas night-out experience, go here for a more than your average dinner-movie date—if you’re lucky, you’ll be in town during one of their special events, like watching Harry Potter accompanied by a Hogwart’s-themed menu. Irreverently humorous and surprisingly yummy, I’d recommend the Alamo for comedies and action flicks—it can be a bit irritating to have to listen to your neighbor’s nacho-crunching while trying to watch a dramatic, teary moment.
Honorable mention: Moonshine, 1886 Café & Bakery inside the Driskill Hotel, Madam Mam’s (the only decent Thai in town), Uchi, Bess Bistro, 24 Diner, Parkside, Wink, Perla’s, and Austin Java. Be sure to check out Austin’s famous food truck scene, too!
Other bonus recommendations:
Where to get a massage? Milk & Honey Spa (ask for Amy).
Where to get a facial? Azure Skin Spa & Clinic (ask for Chanda).
Where to shop hipster boutiques? South Congress strip, just south of the river/lake.
Where to shop luxury chains? The Domain.
Where to shop regular mall staples? Barton Creek Square.
Where to line dance and mechanical bull ride? Rebels Honky Tonk.
Where to two-step? Broken Spoke.
Where to club dance? The Ranch.
Where to sample mixologist-created cocktails? Peche.
Where to get wasted? Sixth Street.
Where to hear live music? Everywhere, but I especially liked Speakeasy.
Where to get a doughnut? Gourdough’s.
If I’ve left out any where-to questions on your mind, feel free to ask me in the comments below! I’m not an Austin local, but I got my referrals from friends who are and I know they’d love to help me help you out. Texas is nice like that.