So here in Austin there are one or two (or 50 or 100) ridiculously awesome places to eat. Whether it’s a sit-down 5-courser or gracefully arriving at the window of a food truck at 2 am, the food here is simply incredible. Here are a few recommendations (in no particular order, promise), along with some of the tastiest and most beautiful dishes (and drinks) I have been lucky enough to shove in my mouth over the past year and a half. The following are based on photos from the archives of my cell phone, so apologies if 1. the picture SUCKS and/or 2. I can’t remember where or even what most of the components on the dish are… Here goes nothin’
1. Franklin Barbecue (http://franklinbarbecue.com/)
Here’s what I have to say about Franklin’s: no matter what anyone tells you, it is ONE HUNDRED percent worth the wait in line. Seriously. This is the best barbecue I’ve tasted EVER and as you’ll come to realize, I LOVE MEAT.
Here’s the deal with Franklin, if you don’t know (shame on you!): they smoke a certain quantity of meat per day, and once they sell out, that’s it. Closed. So Tuesday-Sunday the line begins to form outside their 11th St. brick-and-mortar shop around 9:30 or 10 am, and it’ll grow and grow until the doors open at 11. The food goes fast and typically can be gone even before everyone in line is served, so they send someone out do a preliminary order and eventually cut off the line where they guess they’ll run out.
Personal recommendation: I like to go on Sundays, walking over from my house around 10 am with an iPod speaker and large jar of Bloody Mary or some beers to pass the time. Bring a fold-up chair and a deck of cards and you will NOT regret it. The brisket is out of this world. Always ask for extra fatty because let’s be real, fattier=tastier. Also phenomenal: turkey soaked in clarified butter, beef ribs, pulled pork… aka EVERYTHING IS AMAZING. If you are in the Austin area and haven’t gone to Franklin yet, you’re seriously missing out and you need to reevaluate your priorities.
2. Uchiko (http://uchiaustin.com/uchiko)
There was a moment when I decided I wanted to be a chef. When I moved to Texas, it happened to be the year that Top Chef was in Texas. Local Austin chef Paul Qui won that season, so my roommate and I went to Uchiko on North Lamar where Qui was executive chef at the time, and divulged into the 10-course chef’s tasting menu. I can’t put into words the complexities of flavor, freshness of ingredients or sheer beauty of the food that comes out of the Uchiko kitchen, except to say that it is the best meal I have ever eaten. It’s not even a contest.
Personal recommendation: The jar jar duck, maguro sashimi with goat cheese (below) and the sweet corn sorbet dessert with polenta. Trust me on this dessert. I am totally a chocolate FREAK, especially when it comes to dessert, but this is the best in town. Or maybe the universe.
3. Uchi (http://uchiaustin.com/uchi)
Going along with #2 is Uchi, the South First St. sister restaurant to Uchiko. I don’t have any dishes to show off from this dinner, but it did NOT disappoint. Great atmosphere, super fresh ingredients, and they didn’t even mind when my dress zipper ripped open during dessert. Oops.
4. Foreign & Domestic (http://fndaustin.com/)
Foreign & Domestic is my ideal restaurant. It’s small, seating maybe around 50, has an open kitchen with bar for guests to watch the magic happen, and a rotating menu with local and fresh seasonal ingredients. I’ve been here four times now, including taking my parents when they were in town visiting to sell really how awesome the food in Austin is. Couldn’t get my mom to eat the beef tongue appetizer, but really it’s her loss and MOAR FOR ME.
Personal recommendation: ANY of the desserts, they are all seriously phenomenal. Get anything that has the homemade hot sauce because I’d kill for that recipe. Also get on the mailing list, because they have a lot of cool events, including restaurant week and beer week specials (including beer pairings from a local brewery), weekend bake sales, and dollar oyster Tuesdays.
5. Tacodeli (http://tacodeli.com/)
If there is one place to recommend in Austin for cheap but absolutely phenomenal eats, it’s Tacodeli. Austin and tacos go hand-in-hand and this is the best place in town to get ’em. They’ve got three locations around, but my personal favorite is the south location off Spyglass by the Barton Creek Greenbelt. It’s got super friendly staff, great outdoor picnic table seating and you can preface stuffing your face with a hike along the green belt. Great breakfast and lunch tacos, but beware, they close at 3 pm every day.
Personal recommendation: GO ON WEDNESDAY OR SATURDAY. THIS IS NO JOKE. Those are the only two days where they have the Delibelly: my favorite single food in the state of Texas. Slow-cooked pork belly with raw onions, slices of avocado and a mystery green sauce. My mouth is already watering just thinking about it. Some other good options include the chile relleno (a Wednesday-only special), the Cowboy, the Tacoloco, and for my vegetarian friends (if I even have any), get the Florentino. Also you have to top every single taco with some of the Doña: this smooth, thick and delicious secret-recipe jalapeño-based salsa that is the Tacodeli trademark. Just don’t put too much or your mouth will be on fire.
6. Barley Swine (http://barleyswine.com/)
Barley Swine is the best restaurant in Austin. There I said it. And if you’ve eaten there, you’d agree. The complexities of flavors and the way they evolve when you put a fork-full in your mouth, it’s like a symphony. They do small plates with a rotating menu so you never know what you’re going to get.
Personal recommendation: EVERYTHING ON THE MENU. I have never had anything I haven’t stopped and said… “oh. my. god. that is SO GOOD”. Literally, every dish. If you’re not ready (or have enough people in your party) to get the entire menu, ask your server what their favorites are. They’re also great at pairing with a great local beer or wine and are just the best (looking at you, Clara!!!). Also ask for a mini spatula so no-sauce-or-crumb-gets-left-behind.
Apologies for lack of description on the photos… there are always so many components that I’d never remember them all. But look how gorgeous:
7. Parkside (http://parkside-austin.com/)
Parkside is one of the best places to eat in the immediate downtown area. In the heart of the Dirty 6 (6th street between Congress and i35), Parkside is great for dinner or just a classy cocktail.
Personal recommendation: Wednesdays are 1/2 off-oysters and champagne. Need I say more?
8. Olivia (http://olivia-austin.com/)
I’ve been for brunch multiple times and had a large tasting menu at Olivia. Loved most of it, aside from one instance where it took FOREVER for my party to get seated for brunch. We’re talking 20 minutes longer than they told us when we signed in. The service could be better, but the food is excellent. Here are some highlights:
9. Ramen Tatsu-Ya (http://ramen-tatsuya.com/)
Here’s another place you’ll have to probably wait in line. DO IT. It’s also a bit of a hike to get to as it’s up off 183, but I promise you the marinated soft boiled egg alone makes the trip worth it. I’ve only had the Tonkatsu Original, but I never need to order anything else there. I’d recommend adding an extra aji-tama (that glorious egg) and either add Brussels sprouts to your ramen bowl or get the appetizer. The Munchi Katsu slider is also melt-in-your-mouth delicious and perfect for sharing. Remember to finish as much as you can because there’s no taking home leftovers and to pick up mango Hi-Chew candies while in line.
10. Hudson’s on the Bend (http://www.hudsonsonthebend.com/)
My lovely and wonderful girlfriend took me here for my birthday and it did not disappoint. If you’re looking for game, there’s no better restaurant in Austin. It’s a bit of a hike out towards Lakeway, but it’s a nice drive, especially with good company in the car. I’ve also heard Hudson’s offers cooking classes, which could be pretty awesome.
11. Paggi House (http://www.paggihouse.com/)
There is a great atmosphere at Paggi House down off Barton Springs Dr. Amazing cocktails and a drool-worthy pork belly dish on top of pickled watermelon. Plus since I’ve got a phobia of talking on the phone, I appreciate any restaurant where I can make a reservation online.
PS, can you tell I have a thing for pork belly yet?
12. Frank (http://hotdogscoldbeer.com/)
Frank is another great downtown spot, especially for brunch. Whenever I have friends into town to visit, I like to take them to Frank after a night of debauchery. The first time I went was for dinner and we sat at a table close to the bar and service was absolutely awful. I didn’t want to go back after that, but I was convinced by the chicken and waffles on the menu and was not disappointed. As long as you’re seated in the restaurant, service is fine.
Personal recommendation: go for brunch and get the chicken and waffles or the Texas Benedict, which is two fried eggs on top of pulled pork over a cheddar biscuit and smothered in jalapeño hollandaise. In my not-so-humble opinion, Frank also totes the best coffee (slow drip, OH so good) AND the best Bloody Mary. And let me tell you, I consider myself a bit of a Bloody Mary connoisseur, aka I get them EVERYWHERE, and the “Red Headed Stranger” takes the prize. It’s bacon-infused Tito’s (aka the best vodka evah) and Frank’s mystery Bloody Mary mix, garnished with a jalapeño-stuffed olive, pepperocini, cubes of cheddar cheese and a big ol’ slice of peppery bacon. It also comes with a 6-oz chaser of Pearl beer. I want one reaaaaally bad right now.
13. Flat Top Burger Shop (http://www.flattopburgershop.com/)
I sort of have to be in the mood to get a burger, but Flat Top is right around the corner on Manor (pronounced MAY-nor for all of you out-of-towners, don’t ask me why…) and it’s freaking delicious and convenient. I get the junior grass-fed burger because I like to leave room for the onion strings and a tall, thick chocolate shake made with Texas’s own Blue Bell ice cream.
14. Round Rock Donuts (http://www.roundrockdonuts.com/)
Sooo Round Rock is not technically Austin (it’s about 30 min north on the freeway), but I couldn’t resist posting this photo. I mean, they’re donuts! The best donuts around. Just look at how pretty they look and definitely worth stopping or driving for.
I ran out of photos. And you’re probably tired of reading and reaaaaally hungry. Now get out there and eat!!