I always imagined Austin to be this Southwestern hipster organic oasis that redeemed the state of Texas of everything else. For every gun-slinging, don’t-mess-with-Texas patriot or the big haired southern belle, there was always the colorful Austinite to keep things in check. And I was hoping that this would extend to the food as well. I spent a summer in Dallas in search of good Mexican and bbq and found neither, but I had a good feeling about Austin. When you’re the birthplace of Whole Foods and inspired the whole “Let’s keep it weird” campaign for other hipster cities like Portland, then there’s probably a good chance that the food in your city will be very interesting.
A friend’s wedding gave me a reason to come visit Austin, and I’m happy to report that the food in this city is indeed very good and lives up to expectations. I only really had 2 days to explore the restaurants in town, so I decided to narrow my scope to finding things I definitely couldn’t get in New York–good bbq and breakfast tacos.
My key take away from this trip is that the bbq in Austin is phenomenal and completely blows all the NYC heavy hitters like Mighty Quinn’s or Fette Sau out of the water. The same goes for breakfast tacos, I’m not sure why it’s so hard to find a place in New York that makes a decent breakfast taco or why it’s not more commonplace, because a solid breakfast taco is one of the most satisfying bites to be had. I also unexpectedly stumbled upon amazing baked goods and dessert shops, which was only upside to my initial plans. Austin clearly is no one trick pony, it is a legitimate food destination with a lot of appealing options for all occasions. If you’re ever in Austin for a weekend trip, the itinerary below, short but efficient, will guide you through the city’s culinary highlights.
Austin is a very fit city, so after an early morning run, treat yourself to a nice cup of coffee and a delicious pastry from Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden. It’s a little unusual to have a legit bakery and bar on the same premises, but I guess it’s one of those things that keeps Austin charmingly weird. The almond croissant I had here was THE BEST THING EVER. I could go on about the golden pastry flakes or the creamy core of almond paste, but this croissant was so good that it left me speechless. All I could do was eat. On a nice day, you can sit on the picnic tables near the water and play a friendly game of ping pong.
People in Austin like to line up for things. Especially for their bbq. Any place worth going to will most certainly have a 2 hour wait at the least. Franklin’s is the most famous of them all, but I was not willing to spend half a day waiting in line (yelp reviews indicate that you need to start waiting in line at 9 am just to eat at 12:30). We had heard great things about La Barbecue, which was a quick drive from our hotel in downtown Austin, and started qeueing up. Our 2 hour wait was marginally better, but I did not regret it at all. The line moves very slowly, so make sure you bring some good company and beer to make the time pass by quickly.
We went nuts with our order–pulled pork, pork ribs, brisket, sausage, chipotle slaw. There was probably around 14 pounds of meat on our tray, and if you can believe it, we wanted to order even more, specifically the beef ribs, but unfortunately they ran out.
The best by far was the brisket. I’ve never had a brisket so marbled and tender and delicious. Usually brisket tends to be dry and needs a healthy dollop of bbq sauce to mask that, but at La Barbecue, the meat could more than stand on its own. The pork ribs were also some of my favorites. Never was the cliche “fall of the bone” any truer or clearer. The pulled pork was solid, some parts were fattier and tastier than others, so we essentially ate around the pieces that looked pale and dry. My least favorite was the sausage, which tasted like a dry blood sausage chorizo. That went largely uneaten.
At this point, you may be too full to eat dinner, or maybe you have a wedding to go to. But either way, walk off or dance off the meat sweats by going out on 6th Street, the place to be seen in downtown Austin. It’s a more wholesome version of Bourbon St in New Orleans, instead of trashy women flashing others for beads, you’ll be surrounded by a ton of UT Austin undergrads. Be prepared to swim in a sea or orange. The Driskill Hotel is probably the most grown up place to go on this street, and it’s also apparently the most haunted. In actuality, it feels like a stuffy Texan country club, but I get the sense that this is sort of a big deal here, so you might as well check it out.
After a long night of drinking, there’s nothing better than scarfing down some breakfast tacos the morning after. The breakfast taco is a beautiful thing, it’s such an efficient way of getting a square hearty meal in a single bite. We tried the breakfast migas tacos from Tacodeli, which came highly recommended, and they did not disappoint. I had never heard of migas until I came to Austin, but it’s essentially scrambled eggs mixed with cheese and tortilla chips, three things that go very well together. Throw in avocado for some healthy fats and fiber, and some rice and beans for texture and depth, and you almost have the food pyramid in the span of a tortilla. We also tried some lunch tacos, a pork shoulder taco and the mojo fish taco, both of which were also very good. When you make your tortillas in house and you use fresh ingredients, your tacos are going to come out tasting pretty darn good.
Before heading off to the airport, browse the quirky shops in South Congress (aka “SoCo”) and you may just pick up a weird antique at Uncommon Objects or a high end flannel shirt at Stag Provisions. There are more traditional boutiques like By George that sell Acne and Rag and Bone, but remember that you’re in Austin not Melrose, so set your expectations accordingly. If all that shopping gives you a sweet tooth, take a drive over to Lick Ice Creams, an artisanal ice cream shop with some of the most interesting flavors I have ever seen–lime and cilantro, roasted beets + fresh mint, goat cheese, thyme + honey?? I am a sucker for vegan ice cream, and the vegan coconut chai chia ice cream that I had was excellent.
If I had more time, I would have probably explored some more Tex-mex novelties like Frito pie or queso, and a coworker of mine highly recommended Trudy’s for the view and the margaritas. And maybe I would have ventured out to Salt Lick BBQ just to see how it compared to La Barbecue. I also wanted to visit the very first Whole Foods in the country, but there wasn’t enough time for all of this. I was pretty content, though, with the time I did make for bbq and breakfast tacos.
709 E 6th St
Austin, TX 78701
1906 E Cesar Chavez St
Austin, TX 78702
The Driskill Hotel
604 Brazos St
Austin, TX 78701
1500 Spyglass Dr
Austin, TX 78746
Lick Honest Ice Creams
2032 S Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78704
524 North Lamar
Austin, TX 78703
1423 S Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704
1512 S Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704