I moved to San Francisco in the 80s but come back every year for Thanksgiving in Austin for an extended family gathering (40+ people). I had a great time visiting with family but didnt make it out to many restaurants. Heres some notes on what we did manage to do over the weekend.
Hyde Park Bar & Grill - Austin
We picked Hyde Park because my cousin mentioned that he loved their CFS and then my aunt waxed poetic about their fries. Since we were pretty full from a big breakfast, we split the Chicken Fried Steak plate and both had a Shiner Bock on tap (not available in SF). The steak was mighty tasty and makes a good argument for the superiority of pan-frying, it had a good crisp crust, and a nice gravy. The veggies were yellow squash & zucchini and good (well seasoned, not overcooked). The fries were excellent and I liked the fact that they were battered and the spicy dipping sauce.
Lammes Candy Austin
After lunch, we swung by Lammes to pick up divinity and pralines to take back to SF. http://www.lammes.com/
Opal Divines Freehouse Austin (Disclaimer: we know the owner.)
We had been looking forward to tasting single malt scotches at Opals but were also pleasantly surprised by the quality of their food. Their fries that were the best Ive had. Opals fries are battered (a la Hyde Park) but with they have cracked pepper in the batter that adds a really nice extra dimension. FYI, you get to choose your dipping sauce - dill ranch, honey mustard, cream gravy, chipotle mayo, garlic aioli mayo or BBQ sauce. We also ordered the Hoagie Cheese Steak Tacos just cause they sounded amusing. In fact, they were pretty darn good and I would definitely order them again. Mostly, we were really sad that we werent going to be in town for the First Annual Whiskyfest on Dec. 7th weve only just recently begun our single malt education and would have loved the opportunity to taste a good selection side by side. http://www.opaldivines.com/
Magnolia Café opened for business after I moved away but Ive heard good things about it so headed over there for breakfast. Alas, we were running late, the wait for a table was long, and frankly, the menu just didnt knock us over (mostly because Michael wanted another CFS and I was being wishy-washy). Maybe next year well check it out. Instead we headed over to my cousins house to pick up some things before heading out of town and luckily, they feed us green chile chicken enchiladas that another aunt had made. Yummy!
As we headed out of town via Mopac we saw the Grapevine Market sign and decided to stop and check it out. What a nice store! We splurged on a couple of bottles of Titos Vodka since its not available in SF (or anywhere in California that I know of).
Texas Roadhouse Waco
After driving about and meeting up with family in Waco, we decided to go out to dinner. Michael, of course, wanted to go someplace that had a great chicken fried steak. At first we considered Heitmiller Family Steakhouse (http://www.usrg.com/script/review.asp...) that we had eaten previously and really enjoyed. We also considered Georges (http://www.georgesrestaurant.com/menu...) but apparently theres a new owner and its gone downhill. We eventually decided on Texas Roadhouse (http://www.texasroadhouse.com/menu.php), which is a chain (and not even a Texas chain !?!). But we found the food to be quite good. I had the Dallas Filet with green beans and mashed potatoes. Michael had the Country Fried Sirloin with Fries and Fresh Vegetables. Mom had the Chicken Critters with salad & a baked sweet potato. My brother had the Filet Medallions & Ribs combo.
My filet was perfectly cooked (medium-rare), the potatoes were fluffy and the green beans, while having distinctly canned texture, had a nice touch of bacon (which, of course, makes everything better). Michael declared his CFS to be excellent due to the thick, crispy breading and the high quality of the sirloin but he found his steamed mixed vegetables to be rather boring.
One thing I just didnt get the menu said Country Fried Sirloin, not Chicken Fried Steak. I think its fine that they used Sirloin to distinguish that they were using a higher quality of steak but Country? I grew up eating both Country & Chicken Fried Steak and it really bugs me to see the terms used interchangeably. When did this start happening? To me (and to others according to my recent internet searches), Country Fried Steak uses only seasoned flour, not the additional breading that makes up the crust of a steak is fried like a chicken.
La Fiesta - Waco
Our only restaurant meal on Sunday was a late lunch at La Fiesta, a classic Tex-Mex restaurant that has been around since 1963 and has often been voted Best Mexican in Waco. http://www.lafiesta.com/dinner.htm
I had the fajitas fundido which was steak fajitas layered with chili con queso, cheddar and Pepper Jack cheese and sautéed mushrooms, onions and peppers with guacamole, pico de gallo, Mexican rice and refried beans. Michael had, once again, the Chicken Fried Steak with cream gravy, cheese mashed potatoes, jalapeno hushpuppies and a cup of tortilla soup. (yes, my family teased him about not ordering Tex-Mex.) My brother had the Fiesta Salad which was flour tortilla shell filled with lettuce, chicken fajitas, beans, cheese, tomato, black olives, and topped with chile con queso. Mom had Pollo con Queso which was chicken charbroiled on a bed of Mexican rice topped with chili con queso and Pepper Jack cheese with charro beans, guacamole and pico de gallo. Another brother had spinach & chicken enchiladas with sour cream, salsa verde with beans & rice.
Everyone really enjoyed this meal. The service was good. The chips were light and fresh. The salsa, although was a little more tomatoey than I generally prefer, at least had a nice spicy bite. I was impressed that unlike many older restaurants that never change their menu or recipes, La Fiesta clearly has some old classics and some new dishes for the changing tastes of their patrons.
We were due to fly out of Austin at 3:00pm so Monday was all about purchasing all the foods we wanted to take back to SF. At this point, we already had divinity and pralines from Lammes, German sausage from Munster, Texas and New Mexico tamales (both brought by my uncle). So what was left was a drive to West, Texas for Kolaches and Czech sausage.
Ole Czech Bakery & Smokehouse West
We went to Ole Czech Bakery (www.oleczech.com) there are several kolache shops right on the I-35 access road but Old Czech is far superior, in particular their sausage and hot link kolaches. Ole Czech also is a smokehouse and they make their own sausage. We ended getting 1 dozen sausage kolaches for my mom and for us ½ doz cream cheese; ½ doz peach & cream cheese; 1 doz sausage, jalepeno & cheese; ½ doz sausage & kraut and ½ doz hot link kolaches.
Nemecek Brothers Meat Market West
Then we drove over to Nemecek Brothers Meat Market which one of my Moms favorite places to get sausage (http://members.aol.com/nemebros/) - where we picked some cocktail sausages, Hot Chubbies (their hot links) and country sausage rings.
West Auction aka Czech American II Restaurant West
We had planned to stop here for breakfast because of my brothers glowing review but since we were stuffed from all the samples we ate at Ole Czech in order to decide which kolaches to buy, we decided to just have coffee and a snack. West Auction is a cattle auction facility and Czech American is the restaurant in same building. You cant see it from I-35 until youve passed it and all the freeway signs I saw referred to West Auction but not the restaurant so its a real local & truckers sort of place. Its open 24 hours. The menu looks good. The coffee is typical roadhouse quality (weak to my tastes). The waitresses are sharp and funny. Everyone was real friendly. The only thing we had to eat was the biscuits & gravy that were good. I would definitely go back and check out more of their dishes (supposing, of course, I didnt live in San Francisco.)
Now maybe food just taste better when youre on vacation or maybe I was just so happy to have food that I cant get in SF, but I didnt think that a single meal was wasted by a poor dining establishment choice. Of course, my list of good to great Austin restaurants is quite long and I try to rotate them one year we focused solely on Tex-Mex, another year BBQ, another year CFS places & roadhouses (hence my Californian husband becoming obessed w/ CFS). But this year we didn't have time to get any Blue Bell ice cream, BBQ, migas or breakfast tacos. So sad!
Anyway, now that were back in SF, we have sworn to make next years trip longer so we can eat at more places and, of course, spend more time with family ;-)