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


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

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)

Ruby’s BBQ
512 W. 29th St., 512-477-1651
Daily, 11 a.m.–midnight

One of the only—if not the only—barbecue joints in the area selling natural, free-range beef brisket. If they ask, say you want it off the “chuck end” as opposed to the “lean end.” That’s where all the fat is, and fat means flavor. Luke Zimmerman, Ruby’s pit master, is president of the Central Texas Barbecue Association, so he knows what he’s doing. The sides here are a plus: wonderful mac ‘n’ cheese, collard greens, spicy chili con carne, and Cajun dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, and étouffée. (North Austin)

Out of Town

Some of the best barbecue is just a stone’s throw from Austin. Why not see what the area has to offer?

Crosstown BBQ
202 S. Avenue C, Elgin
Sun.–Thurs., 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 10 a.m.–10 p.m.
(Call first to make sure they’re open; doors close when they sell out.)

A tin shack with arguably the finest barbecue in Texas. Stand-outs are the smoky brisket, tender ribs, succulent mutton (actually young lamb, not old gamy meat as the name implies), and juicy chicken with perfectly crispy skin. The house-made sausage is spicy and full of flavorful fat, and the sauce is rich, spicy, and deep red with a hint of sweetness. The floor is concrete, and a smoker runs the entire length of one wall. The long communal table in the center and smaller tables around it are all equipped with the requisite red-and-white-checked tablecloths, and the small-town hospitality of Crosstown’s owners will make you feel like a local, though you drove almost 45 minutes to get there from downtown Austin.

The Salt Lick
18300 FM 1826 (at FM 967), Driftwood
Daily, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
Cash only

Twenty-five minutes from downtown Austin in the bucolic boonies, this huge (we’re talking 10,000 dinners on a weekend evening) barbecue joint is always packed. The first restaurant in a chain with an outpost at the airport, the original location is set in a rambling old building with a big barbecue pit that greets diners when they walk through the door. (However, that’s just for show—the real smoking is done in stainless steel somewhere else.) Nevertheless, the Salt Lick’s all-you-can-eat family-style dinners feature reliably good brisket, ribs, and sausage, as well as massive chopped-beef hoagies, chicken, and turkey. Locals take an ice chest of brews to drink while sitting under the trees at the outdoor picnic tables until their table is ready.

Smitty’s Market
208 S. Commerce Street (Hwy. 183 at Cemetery St.), Lockhart
Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sat., 7 a.m.–6:30 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.–3 p.m.

Brisket, sausage, pork chops, and ribs (Saturday and Sunday only) are some of the finest in the country, and done at this old-school spot the way all Texas ‘cue used to be done: in the back of a butcher shop right on the town square. Meat butchered on the premises gets a simple rub of salt, pepper, chile pepper, and a little garlic, and then is smoked over a long brick fire pit inside. Order at the tiny counter, and your food comes served on a sheet of brown butcher paper rather than a plate. Tables are covered in red-and-white-checked oilcloth. Used to be there were only saltine crackers and slices of white bread for sides; now there’s also beans. Sauce comes in squeeze bottles on the tables, and eating with one’s hands is traditional. Half an hour from downtown Austin.

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