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Thank You, Austin: A Few Notes on My Vacation Visit

PaulF | Feb 11, 201512:08 PM

Mostly I'm writing this post to thank Austin for the hospitality my wife and I experienced. We were their this past weekend (arrived Friday am and left Tuesday afternoon). We were celebrating our 25th anniversary. (Not that it matters, I post on the Los Angeles board, sometimes frequently, sometimes not at all frequently. This is probably my first post anywhere on CH in 5 or so months.)

Everyone we met was nice and gracious. From the Uber drivers to the restaurant servers and bartenders to the hotel staff to the nice lady at the LBJ Library everyone treated us well. Without fail. I'd recommend a trip to Austin anyone who asked.

Since this is a food board, I'd like to make a few observations about our dining experiences. I didn't take notes on our trip or anything, so details are sketchy. And I'm not expecting anything in this post to be new to any of the regular readers on this board. I just want to share my experience and maybe other vacationers might get something out of this.

Or not, but here goes.

Before our trip, when we told people we were going to Austin, everyone said just one word: Barbecue.

Even my vegetarian friends recommended we eat the barbecue. With that in mind, I'm not going to focus on our barbecue meals, though we have a few of them. Just so everyone knows, I didn't post a "where should we eat in Austin" query before coming. We're the type to rely on a few recs from friends and also play things by ear. When I've traveled and done the "where should we eat thing," I get all OCD about where to go and what to order and while it makes the food better, I find it makes my vacation stressful. It's just my personality. Plus, my wife is a "this looks good, let's try it type" so we just wanted to play things semi by ear.

I did read my friend from LA's post about eating 15 barbecue meals in one week and had some recommendations from a couple of friends here in L.A. with Austin connections.

Barbecue first (and, again, not at all suggesting we went to the best spots. We just went where we went):

We actually walked to Franklin's just to look at the line and then laughed and left. That line was so long, I assume the brisket included a weekend in the Bahamas with Kate Upton. We walked from there to the LBJ Library instead. The lady in the Longhorn bookstore suggested Stubb's for lunch so we walked back there and had a nice lunch with sausage and brisket and tacos. It was good, at least to us: as a plus we buy their sauce in the grocery store in California (didn't realize it was the same place until we got there, LOL. And I did buy a cool tee shirt.)

A couple of days later we went to Stiles Switch in (I think?) midtown? I might have the neighborhood wrong. We went there for two reasons. A buddy had recommended it and also told us they had some TVs. The Clippers (our team) were playing the Thunder (our second favorite team because Russell Westbrook is a UCLA guy) and we figured that we could eat and watch the game. Oddly enough, after we went there, we leafed through a copy of the Austin Chronicle and they mentioned SS as one of the 100 restaurants that define Austin. We had chicken, beef ribs, brisket and I can't remember. Maybe that's all. This was, to us, better than Stubb's. I would eat there again.

One thing about eating all that barbecue. It made me really tired. I would have to go back to the hotel to recover after eating it. So, while I enjoyed it, I didn't necessarily want to eat a bunch of it or eat it again so soon. (My mom makes brisket for holidays, not barbecue, in the oven, and it has the same effect on me. And here I thought that sleepy feeling was just from seeing my family.)

The other time we had barbecue was for breakfast tacos. We just went to a joint downtown not to far from our hotel (as a point of reference we were at the Hilton between Fourth and Fifth) called Slake's. Just a little shop and we dug the egg and brisket tacos. One was plenty and it kept us filled until we got on our airplane.

I think that's it for barbecue except for the sausage sandwich I had at the Salt Lick stand at the airport, which I ate out of a sense of obligation more than anything else. As for going to some of the really highly recommended places, we just didn't make it. We didn't want to rent a car and some of those places seemed too far to walk or Uber. (Uber + Ausin = perfect, btw.) We were going to eat at La Barbecue (another rec from a friend) but they are closed on Monday.

Now, to some of the other spots we tried.

I have to say, that the people who said "just eat barbecue" to me were doing Austin a disservice. Like I noted, I didn't query this board, so I'm not referencing you guys. I'm talking about the people I knew personally. I say that because we really enjoyed some of our other meals just as much and more than our barbecue meals.

Like I already wrote, I don't think I'm telling anyone here things they don't know. But maybe some other vacationer will burn out out on brisket and want to find something else and they might see this post.

Friday night we ate dinner at a spot called Perla's on South Congress. It's roughly two miles from the Hilton, maybe a bit less and we walked there. A great seafood dinner. We didn't have oysters, though they looked great. My wife had the Redfish on a halfshell and I had the Crispy Texas Gulfcoast Snapper. We shared the brussel sprouts and the dirty rice. The fish was moist and juicy and really well-seasoned. I like the crispy skin a lot. Sides were superb. It was a nice setting with a nice crowd and the bartender made me a tasty tequila drink. A very good meal.

Saturday we had breakfast at Kerby Lane, the one close to UT. The Uber driver told us his girlfriend swore by the Vegan breakfast so we both had that. We were meated out and needed it. Great breakfast. Vanilla pancakes, the best vegan sausage I've had (and I was an LA vegan for 14 years) and a fine tofu scramble. For the record for those reading this who don't know the place, KL was jumping and had all manner of breakfast and non-breakfast items. It's a coffee shop menu with just really great food. The line was justified and the staff was fun.

While waiting for a table at KL, we saw the Hole in the Wall club a block away. I remembered that a friend who teaches at UT mentioned there was some ramen place in the back, but we couldn't tell from the front. Long story short, we came back to check it out and had dinner at East Side King. For those who don't know, Paul Qui (the chef) is from the TV show Top Chef (I don't watch it so I didn't know about him). He has a fancy place in Austin and then he has this ramen shop in the back of a rock n roll club called East Side King. He might have a food truck, too. You literally enter through the alley, you'd never know it was there if you didn't know to look for it or who to ask.

Loved the food there. We eat a lot of ramen (LA just went through sort of a ramen explosion that's almost in the past now). This wasn't traditional ramen and that was fine by me. I think I had the Shiner Beer Ramen and it was just what I needed. A nicely spiced broth, plenty of noodles and fun stuff to find in the soup. My wife had the pork belly buns and we split the beet fries. Inventive, different and excellent. (Then we stayed for the show and dug it. Three bands who all fell on the ZZ Top/Motorhead spectrum. We also walked up the street and had vegan chocolate cake at Kerby Lane while the bands switched up their gear).

The same Uber driver who rec'd the vegan breakfast also rec'd a spot called Bouldin Creek Cafe on South First. So, we walked all the way from downtown to eat there because it sounded cool. (This was a long walk through a nice residential neighborhood.) It was. It's sort of funky, it would not be out of place in Venice (California, not Italy). I had a vegetarian take on eggs benedict (with eggs, not tofu). My wife had pumpkin tamales and poached eggs. Really good breakfast, the type of place we would put on our list if it was in L.A. For those not from Austin, this stretch of First has a bunch of cools shops and record stores and stuff. (We did go to Waterloo Records, also, but that's in a different area, near the Whole Foods.) First is a block over from South Congress, which is where Perla's is (as well as the Continental Club, where we also spent an evening).

We had a dinner at a place called Pelon's for Tex Mex. I don't know what made it different than just "Mex" because we can get fajitas and enchiladas in about 50 Mexican places walking distance to our home. We picked it because it was close to our hotel. It was fine, but nothing I couldn't get at home. I don't do "negative" reviews but I have to say this is not necessarily a place I'd go out of my way to recommend. Nice people, nice mean, but not special. There are probably some iconic Tex Mex places that I just missed this trip.

(LOL -- I'm totally mixed up on days now, lots of beer and tequila will do that).

At one point we stopped for a drink at Lambert's downtown. it was only after we stopped in that we remembered that this was the other place the lady at the UT store recommended along with Stubb's. We just had a baked oyster appetizer and it was a nice snack. Place seemed cool, but we were only there for a couple of drinks -- watching my wife shop in Urban Outfitter's is thirsty work.

Our last dinner in Austin was really great.

We ate at Swift's Attic on Congress. This is when we were going to go to La Barbecue but they were closed. We picked Swift's Attic because it was (1) walking distance to our hotel and (2) because it was also mentioned in that same restaurant issue of the Austin Chronicle.

Swift's Attic is up a flight of stairs in a nice building downtown. There is a bar to your left as up come up the stairs and the restaurant it towards the back of the building. We got a great table in the bar near a window. Perfect.

It's small plates, we shared everything.

We had the Seasonal Farm Vegetable Salad and thank heavens -- we were craving a nice salad. This was super fresh, with a light lemon dressing.

We ordered the pork cheeks with fig, mustard and toast and -- OMG -- so tender and tasty. I won't blaspheme your wonderful city by saying that it was juicier and better than all the brisket I ate -- but it was really delicious.

We had the shrimp boil with sausage and new potatoes and a couscous special that isn't on the online menu. Both were superb. It was also 3 dollar pint night and I got drunker than I realized on craft beer. This place also has a Monday night burger special that is only available after 9 pm and we were about an hour too early. It's supposed to be great, people were ordering them and just waiting for them to come out, but I never saw one.

That's about it for the food. For the last time: I wasn't trying to tell Austin regulars stuff they didn't know, just sharing what we had and letting visitors know some places that we tried. The trip was much more than just food; like hanging out on Sixth Street was an experience, but it didn't include any food.

Oh wait -- we did have a nice chocolate croissant on The Driskill, which is a lovely, old-fashioned hotel with a restaurant and bakery.

Thanks again, Austin. We'll be back.

Stubb's Bar-B-Q,
Stiles Switch BBQ,
Salt Lick Cellars,
Salt Lick BBQ,
La Barbecue,
East Side King,
Bouldin Creek Cafe,
The Continental Club,
Pelons Tex Mex,
Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ,
Swift's Attic,
LongHorn Steakhouse
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