The CHOW Guide to Eating and Drinking in Austin, SXSW edition


$ = Under $10, $$ = $10-$25, $$$ = Over $25

Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas
409 Colorado St., 512-476-1320
1120 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-476-1320
Call for showtimes.

A movie theater with table service offering beer, wine, mixed drinks, and really good food, Alamo brings up the question: Why hasn’t this concept taken off across the country? Food like pizza, burgers, and brownies with espresso in them is served at a narrow table that runs the full length of the row. Movies are mainstream (at the time of this writing, Casino Royale was showing), and big-name directors often prescreen flicks here and take audience questions afterward (Quentin Tarantino makes regular appearances). Watch for special theme nights when food is paired to a movie’s subject matter. There are several locations, including one downtown, but the original, biggest, and most popular theater is on South Lamar Boulevard in South Austin. (Downtown and South Austin)

Artz Rib House
2330 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-442-8283
Daily, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

Most ‘cue houses serve spare ribs or St. Louis cut ribs. Artz offers baby backs and thick, country-style ribs. They also serve one of the best burgers in town and great sandwiches (the grilled chicken with bacon and Swiss is a favorite), and feature live acoustic music, like old ‘30s-style Texas swing, bluegrass, and folk. (South Austin)

Baby Greens
2316 S. First St., 512-462-1697
Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–6 p.m.

Healthy fast food isn’t an oxymoron at this burger-drive-through-turned-salad-drive- through. Choose from a handful of standard options (like the Southwest, featuring black beans and chicken; grilled veggie; or Greek), say whether you want it as a salad or “salad wrap,” and choose from ten homemade dressings. Homemade soups are also on the menu. (South Austin)

Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse
1501 S. First St., 512-416-1601
Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–midnight; Sat.–Sun., 9 a.m.–midnight

Bouldin Creek is an old-fashioned, friendly place that caters to a bohemian crowd. Located in a brightly painted old house, it’s a great place to catch up on a novel or use the free WiFi while sampling the excellent vegetarian food. Breakfast is available all day. Try “Aaric’s baked oatmeal,” a hearty dish with apples, cinnamon, butter, brown sugar, and raisins, or the fluffy house omelette, filled with garlic, veggies, and cheese. There’s also a fine selection of board games if you’re looking to kill an hour or two. (South Austin)

Continental Club
1315 S. Congress Ave., 512-441-2444
Tues.–Fri., 4 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sat.–Sun., 9 p.m.–2 a.m.

Opened in 1957 and still going strong, the Continental was chosen one of the best bars in the United States. A big room with great retro, rockabilly, country, and swing, and a rocking happy hour. (South Austin)

El Borrego de Oro #2
3900 S. Congress Ave., 512-383-0031
Daily, 6 a.m.–10 p.m.

Homemade corn tortillas, real Mexican Coke, and the best Austin hangover cure: birria (a Mexico City regional dish of shredded goat or lamb, eaten either in tacos or in a soup). The pork with green sauce is simply ethereal. In this authentic Mexican joint, with its plastic cups and tortilla-chip baskets, you can eat well for only $6 to $7, not including margaritas. (South Austin)

El Regio Pollo al Carbon
730 W. Stassney Lane, 512-442-3095; Mon.–Thurs., 10 a.m.–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 10 a.m.–11 p.m.

La Michoacana Mercado
512 W. Stassney Lane, 512-916-9938; Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 7 a.m.–9 p.m.

A mesquite-grilled-chicken shack in an old drive-through burger kiosk, and a Mexican supermarket across the street from it, El Regio and La Michoacana are ideally enjoyed simultaneously. Here’s how: First go get beer. We recommend the Whip In (1950 S. I-35, 512-442-5337)—it’s got the best beer selection in town. Then send one person to La Mich to get their amazing carnitas (pork fried in lard), gorditas (deep-fried tortillas with beans, meat, and cheese), or pork in green sauce. Send the other to El Regio for a whole or half chicken that’s been soaked in a citrus-chile-achiote marinade and roasted over a mesquite fire. (Chickens come with a whole grilled sweet onion and frijoles a la charra—soupy pinto beans with bacon, onion, chiles, cilantro, and epazote.) Set up camp at the picnic tables on the patio of El Regio. (South Austin, highway drive)

1412 S. Congress Ave.
Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–11

Housed in a big old feed store with hardwood floors, this slightly upscale Mexican-food spot is celebrity sighting central, particularly during SXSW. The decor is Mexican-cantina-meets-renovated-warehouse, and the atmosphere is low-key. The margaritas are some of the best in town, thanks to super-fresh lime juice, and don’t miss the tacos al pastor. (South Austin)

Home Slice Pizza
1415 S. Congress, 512-444-PIES (444-7737)
Mon., Wed., Thurs., 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–midnight; Sun., noon–10 p.m.; slices served 11:30 a.m.–6:30 p.m. and 9:30–11 p.m. (until 3 a.m. Fri.–Sat.)

New York–style thin-crust pizza, subs, and calzones with high-quality ingredients bring lots of locals every night. Try the sausage pizza (mostly ricotta cheese with a little bit of mozzarella, lots of roasted red bell pepper strips, and good Italian sausage with plenty of fennel) or the clam pizza with béchamel sauce. Not the best pizza you’ve ever had, but better than in most cities that aren’t New York. Dine in, or grab a slice and window-shop South Congress’s boutiques, antiques, and garden shops. (South Austin)

Madam Mam’s
2514 Guadalupe St., 512-472-8306; daily, 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m.
4514 West Gate Blvd., 512-899-8525; daily, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

Tired of barbecue and Tex-Mex? Thai food that’s nearly as good as you’ll get in Thailand can be had at one of two locations, one (West Gate) just ten minutes by car from downtown. The menu’s based on street-vendor and home-style dishes, like kao soi, the famous red curry noodle soup from northern Thailand, and keow wan pla grai, green curry with homemade fish balls. Large portions, made from the freshest components, and small prices seduce throngs. It’s a casual spot, with lots of close-together tables, mismatched chopsticks, and a student crowd, especially at the Guadalupe Street location. If you’re with a big group, send somebody ahead, or call and put your name on the list. (North and South Austin)

Magnolia Cafe
1920 S. Congress Ave., 512-445-0000; 24 hours, both locations
2304 Lake Austin Blvd., 512-478-8645

Kerbey Lane Café
3704 Kerbey Lane, 512-451-1436; 24 hours, all locations
2700 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-445-4451
2606 Guadalupe St., 512-477-5717

Ask almost anybody in Austin where to eat, and they’ll probably mention Magnolia Cafe and Kerbey Lane Cafe, both with more than one location. Although the food at either restaurant won’t win any James Beard awards, both menus are extensive, and offer lots of vegetarian and vegan options for breakfast, late night, and any hour in between. Kerbey Lane is better overall, with good coffee and fluffier pancakes, but Magnolia offers what might just be the best post-drinking snack: steak fries topped with Italian tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. It’s also famous for its Mag Mud, a spicy black-bean dip with chips. We like Kerbey Lane’s fried cheesecake-stuffed taco with ice cream. And we prefer the original Kerbey Lane location, which, shockingly enough, is found on Kerbey Lane. (North and South Austin)

2004 S. First St., 512-441-5446
Daily, 7 a.m.–11 p.m.; drinks until midnight

Polvo’s is arguably the best restaurant in town, at least for Tex-Mex, and one of the most comfortable, with a big, casual outside area. Standouts include puntas de filete (beef tips with mushrooms and corn in chipotle chile sauce), and shrimp sautéed with lots of garlic, mushrooms, and tequila. You’ll find big plates and little prices, with serve-yourself salsas and verduras escabeche (spicy pickled veggies). In the morning, get machicado—dried beef, typically served in northern Mexico, that is shredded like thin jerky—in your breakfast tacos (see Local Lingo). Eat them with a side of rajas—strips of roasted poblano chiles. (South Austin)

Taco Xpress
2529 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-444-0261
Mon., 7 a.m.–3 p.m.; Tues.–Fri., 7 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m.–9 p.m.

Popular cook/proprietor Maria Corbalan started out serving her crowd-pleasing tacos in a trailer. Now she’s got a full-fledged casual restaurant and sometime music venue with a larger-than-life-sized statue of herself with outstretched arms on top. You can’t beat the 10 (cheap) options for breakfast tacos (see Local Lingo); vegans will be happy about the multivegetable options. (South Austin)

Torchy’s Tacos
1207 S. First St., 512-366-0537
Daily, 7 a.m.–11 p.m.

This taco trailer set up on an empty lot in South Austin is the property of cook Michael Rypka, a multiyear winner of the Austin Chronicle’s annual hot-sauce competition before he went pro. It offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner taco options, including standout pork and green chile tacos, and a fried avocado taco that’s a vegan favorite. Eat at the picnic table under an oak tree, or if you’re in the downtown or South of Congress Street area, call and get it delivered via Torchy’s fleet of Vespa motor scooters. (South Austin)

801 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-916-4808
Sun.–Thurs., 5:30–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5:30–11 p.m. (bar opens at 5 p.m.)

We know what you’re thinking: Fusion, sushi, and Texas are three words that sound really scary together. But trust us: The bluefin belly meat with dried cranberries, almond slivers, and white soy is great. So is the yellowtail with ponzu, shiso oil, and Thai chiles. Executive chef Tyson Cole has garnered major attention (like being named one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2005). But his fusion sushi really does live up to the hype, and he also does traditional combos. Colorful digs in a comfortable old house, impeccable service, a superb bar, and food that looks like art. (South Austin)

1610 S. Congress Ave., 512-441-6100
Tues.–Sun., 5:30–10:30 p.m. (bar, 5 p.m.–midnight)

One of Austin’s busiest restaurants, with crowd-pleasing Italian dishes such as mascarpone risotto with lamb loin and fresh peas, and butternut squash ravioli with sage and an amaretto butter sauce. A full bar, a deep wine list, friendly service, and a no-reservation policy guarantee there’s always a wait. Co-owner Alan Lazarus was a chef for Whole Foods Market before opening Vespaio in 1998. Eat at the bar if you’re short on time, or do like the locals do and enjoy a glass of wine and a plate of antipasti at its more casual sister restaurant, Enoteca Vespaio, next door while you wait for a table. (South Austin)

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