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Austin Trip Report

Trip Report: former Austinite, now NYC report (LONG)


Restaurants & Bars 4

Trip Report: former Austinite, now NYC report (LONG)

charlie_b | Feb 5, 2007 10:45 AM

first, i'd like to thank those to helped guide me with your suggestions from various posts and threads, and also those who responded specifically to a breakfast tacos/migas thread.

second, a bit of background about me and my choices for my trip: i lived in Austin from 1995-98, and have been living in NYC since spring of 1998. i have regularly visited Austin both before and since i've lived there, so i already had a pretty strong history with Austin and some of my choices were driven by nostalgia more than "pure deliciousness" -- although the nostalgia is fueled by past deliciousness. also, i was on this trip to participate in the 3M half marathon on Jan 28. i had 9 online friends from all across the country coming for the event as well, so i was also in part playing food-tour guide, and trying to please a disparate group of women.

i miss breakfast tacos and migas like the dickens, so i was determined to have them daily when i was in town (with the exception of a gospel brunch at Stubb's on race-day, post-race).

Thurs morn: Juanita's Tacos - E 5th Street in red caboose
fueled by nostalgia, quickness, and convenience, i stopped by Juanita's Tacos, in what had been in one of my post-resident trips to Austin a place called "taco loco" or something, and i had remembered as having tasty migas tacos. got one migas taco, and one bean, bacon, cheese taco. they were fine, but nothing special.

Thurs lunch: El Sol y La Luna - South Congress
also fueled by nostalgia, and fond, fond rememberances of their vegetarian chili relleno lunch special on Thursday's, went to El Sol y La Luna for pre-reserved rellenos (placed order in morning, so i could go after my first airport pickup in the early afternoon). The vegetable chili rellenos were still dreamy and everything i wanted. the rice and beans lackluster, but passable. corn tortillas of standard store variety. an order of the chicken-squash soup which sounded good to my dining companion was flat, tasteless, insipid, and completely unappetizing. if i weren't hooked on the vege relleno (stuffed with spinach, mushrooms, squash, etc. as well as cheese) i would totally skip over this place.

Thurs late afternoon snack: (Rosarita's) El Pastor - E Riverside Dr
two more airport arrivals, driving around, hungry for a snack. thought this would be an excellent opportunity to try El Pastor. 3 of us shared an order of (3) tacos, (3) flautas, and 1 gordito, all filled with el pastor (why order anything else here? although my notes also suggested the refried beans, guacamole, and cilantro salsa -- luckily got tastes of all these with our order as described). very, very delicious! i don't remember the guacamole specifically, but i do remember the el pastor being succulent, the cilantro salsa packing a lot of chile, hic-cup-inducing heat, and the masa in the gordita being full of corny-goodness. the refried beans had a great lardy flavor, which i hold to be holy. a must repeat on a future visit.

Thursday evening: Vespiao - S. Congress
my schedule would have had us going to El Chile for some classic Tex-Mex, but stumbled upon the menu at this place while checking out some of the antique-places on S. Congress, and it sounded so delicious, and i thought i remembered reading good things ... and the vote of all was for Italian vs. Tex-Mex. (although going to El Chile would've given me a favorite Texas experience of eating Tex-Mex for breakfast, lunch, and dinner - oh well). i wasn't counting on it being quite so hip and popular ... we went, and got to wait about an hour or so for a table ... a bit stressful since one of us didn't have the El Pastor snack, and we had another airport run to pick up some more folks ... but the wait was worth it ... the bread basket was terrible, with none of the breads standing out, although one bread was excessively doughy and undercooked, and fun to play with and yeilded some fun scultures. oh well, i don't mind resisting the temptation to fill up on bread. all menu items were much tastier, at the table we had: 2 spinach salads, from one i got almost all the goat cheese and candied walnuts, as the orderer is foolish enough not to like these things, i can't imagine... polenta con funghi, which was rich, wonderful, and lick-your-plate good. i was expecting soft, creamy potenta and was surprised by the fried polenta sticks. they were OK, but it was the mushrooms that were the standout. i would've preferred soft polenta. there was a day's special of a duck-soup, which was rich and wonderful and almost porky in flavor. i don't order soup much anymore, because it's usually way too salty for me, but this wasn't over the top. we had the lasagne, which i think is the best lasagne i've ever tasted, lots of flavors melded together beautifully. i believe the menu described the meats as being braised, certainly the flavor indicated this. lovely. also present were raviolli stuffed with orange-squash and browned butter, sage, and walnuts, which were like pillows of sin that you can just melt into. they were dessert. stellar, but i can't imagine eating more than 2 of them -- definitely a dish to share. the other order was for the rare tuna, which was very tasty in the bite i had, but not a stand-out. all in all, an excellent meal that rivals some of the better italian places in NYC, which is saying something. it might not be able to compete against all of the Mario Batali restaurants, but competes well with other NYC standouts. would repeat on a future visit for sure.

Fri morn: Angie's Tacos
I'll say right now, that this takes the prize, handily and easily, for my best breakfast this trip. This was almost everything i could desire. we all ordered the migas plate, and i got mine with cheese, corn tortillas, and a side of bacon. and a side of a carnitas taco for good measure. the only thing that fell short was the salsa, which was fine and possibly even good, but not stellar. although, it didn't matter -- the food was amazing. the migas were full of fresh flavor, the beans were full of lardy-goodness, and the tortillas were fresh and homemade (on site? nearby? doesn't matter). the bacon was strong and smoky, and it all came together beautifully. was also pleased by the recommendation i had on carnitas tacos, which i thought was heavenly, and loved the griddle-fried taco shell, which made it crispy, oily, and soft all at the same time. so good, and so hard not to just go back for every breakfast.

Fri lunch: Lockhart BBQ - Smitty's
all airport pickups complete, although still not our full-sized group, as we had some driving in from Dallas too to arrive later ... we ventured out to Lockhart. i didn't fully research this, just to know that we should go and try it. i wish i had researched it better, because i was disappointed. we ended up at Smitty's (not sure what made me pick this one) and the atmosphere was great, and walking into the smoke-pit was fun ... but i wasn't moved by the meat. i got some fatty-brisket slices, a hot sausage link, had a taste of someone else's ribs. had coleslaw, beans, onion, pickles, and .... i thought it was OK. the others all seemed to enjoy it a lot, so it was a good experience. i'll try Lockhart again, but with some more research. oh, and the bathroom was just about the foulest smelling restroom i've ever been in. made some porta-potties i've been in seem fresh by comparison.

Fri dinner: Eastside Cafe - E Manor Rd
this was partly fueled by nostalgia, but i also was pretty sure it would still be a great meal, and a great "Austin" experience for the out-of-towners. with a menu that fits all, lots of fresh stuff, and everything else, this was a favorite of the group. i fell into familiar patterns here, as my favorite is the artichoke manicotti and an upgrade on the salad to the goat-cheese salad. everyone was happy, and the few tastes i had of other's dishes proved that everything is good. especially notable was the mushroom crepes, which are now officially competing for my repeat business. and they handled our reservation and party of 10 with a lot of grace and charm. recommended.

Sat morn: foiled and confusion
one of my party had an injury, so we made an appointment to take her to ARC urgent care ... leaving not much time for breakfast. was hoping/planning on going to Maria's Taco Xpress on S. Lamar, but didn't know how popular it would be. en route to ARC, i parked and was hoping to get some to-go ... approached the line out the door and asked "is this a line for a table or ...?" and was then treated like i was trying to skip the line by a snippy (probably hungry) girl and told that it was the line for "everything". to confirm, i asked if that included take out? YES. i didn't have the time to wait, so i gave up, and took my friend to her appointment and thought that Enchiladas y Mas or Tacos Arandas are pretty close by ... ordered takeout migas taco & bean/bacon/cheese taco from Enchiladas y Mas ... i was famished, and ate the migas taco lickity-split. it was not good though. just tasted like eggs and cheese and tortilla. i returned the other taco, because they forgot the beans. feeling breakfast-taco foiled, i realized i was close to the Tam Deli, and might not have another chance to be this far north and get some Bahn Mi. so i went over there and got the roast pork, the shrimp/egg, AND the garlic fried shrimp. i had a few bites of each. was really disappointed in both the shrimp, as they didn't seem to come with the picked vegetables and the cilantro. i preferred the shrimp/egg to the fried-garlic shrimp though. the pork was good though, and my hungry friend was happy to eat it and finish it when i picked her up from ARC.

Sat aft: Hyde Park Bar and Grill - Duval
another nostalgia foray, and one that i knew would be good for the group. on my last visit i continued to think it was good. i was disappointed this time. the fries were NOT as good as i remembered at all (although everyone else enjoyed them), and i should have known better to order a goat cheese, carmelized onion with fig compote tart from them ... i was expecting a little round shell with lots of carmelized onions and herbs, with a smattering of pungent goat cheese, and a balsamic-fig reduction with a syrupy consistancy ... and i got a slice of cheesecake essentially. uh, not what i wanted. the side of wok-seared collards was green, but collards really need a bit longer cooking time. disappointed, but good for a group for lunch.

Sat night: Ruby's BBQ - 29th & Guadalupe
nostalgia, and the knowledge that it's good for a group ... and despite it's meaty BBQ focus, also a fair choice for any runners who wanna carbo-load, as they have great sides. i am a fan of Ruby's brisket (even when it's dry, which is often is) and their Elgin Sausage. Plus i like the flexibility of ordering options. i was perfectly happy with a combo brisket-sausage sandwich with slaw, and my sides of creamy coleslaw, collards, and ruby's potatoes. i can't say that i like their sauce, but i find it fine. TX Que isn't about the sauce anyway. and the brisket was fine that night, if a little bit dry. i liked it much better than my Smitty's experience, which might mean that i know nothing about Texas BBQ, but so be it. plus, i love the fact that their meat is hormone/antibiotic free. that kind of stuff influences me. recommended, esp. for a group.

Sun post-race: Stubb's BBQ gospel brunch
this is about the gospel brunch and not the food, so i wasn't expecting much. the "migas" were terrible. the grits were actually OK. the spinach-tortilla-pepper casserole was tasty, brisket was dry, and i hear the smoked chicken was actually very good. i don't really eat chicken, so i wouldn't know. a good time was had by all.

Sun, mid-afternoon: taco?
thought i might sneak in Maria's Taco Xpress after all, ran over, only to find that they close at 2pm on Sundays.

Sun evening: Uchi - S. Lamar
i really didn't know what to expect from Uchi, as i've become a real sushi snob here in NYC. and inventive Japanese snob too ... and i know that at places like Uchi, it's not about the sushi as much as it is about the other plates. i also knew that i couldn't count on my companions being super-adventurous, and couldn't convince any of them to split omakase with me... my favorite type of fish is Uni, which wasn't very good here, which wasn't a very good way to start for me. for sushi, i had the uni, the otoro, the hamachi, and the eel with orange/sea salt. they were unfortunately out of the scallop, which i thought sounded excellent. the otoro was good, but that grade would cost less in NYC. the hamachi was buttery and lucious. the eel with citrus/sea salt was stellar, and i would've happily eaten more. i had also ordered the uni teaser, which was a disappointment, as the uni wasn't so good. and it didn't work so well with champagne. a restaurant in Baltimore MD that closed 17 years ago offered an "uni shooter" which was much better: uni, quail egg, shredded nori, and cold sake. i'm a huge fan of berkshire pork, so the bacon steakie was a no-brainer and delicious. i also got the age-dofu, as i knew i like this dish, and it would help fill me for little cash. the table had the fried-brie which was OK, but not something i would order again. i felt the same about the avo-bake, but again, i would personally never order anything where "krab" was a component. i would've liked to try the carpaccio, but i didn't feel my budget could afford it. our waitress failed me twice, but was trying hard. her first failure i didn't recognize until much too late, i asked about one of the pork specials, which had "buta" in the name, and i asked if it was like buta kakani ... which she clearly didn't know what it was, because she then would've described that it was the same cut of meat, just prepared differently, but instead she told me that the special i was eye-ing was a pork chop, which sounded boring to me. a table-partner ordered it and it was fabulous, and i'm sad i didn't order it myself. her other failing of me was recommending the "shag roll" as their most popular, everyone loves it, etc. so i ordered it. all i could taste was fried, and no fish flavor. she was kind and exchanged it with something else, which was better, but i remained underwhelmed. i don't go to places like Uchi for an "inventive roll". all in all a good meal, and certainly special to Austin, but it didn't compare favorably to NYC experience, or possibly other big-city (LA, SF, etc.) experience. i would definitely go again if i were visiting from a place that didn't have something like this, or if i lived in Austin, but i wouldn't recommend as a "must try" it to someone who is serious about their fish that's been based in NYC, LA, Tokyo, etc. we had a few desserts as well, but only the cracked pepper sorbet really stands out. recommended with caveats.

Monday morning: planned on eating at Abarrotes Mexicanos, but when i got there at 9:30am they were out of migas?!? and it was really what i wanted. plus, i hadn't tried Maria's yet, so we went there. these were very good migas, and tortillas were good too (freshly made somewhere, not from a grocery store). salsa's were good and varied, but nothing to write home about. overall, it didn't compare to Angie's migas plate, but certainly a runner-up. (and according to my dining companion, better than Angie's take-out). glad i finally made it to Maria's and would return again. but Angie's first. and try Abarratoes Mexicano's second, then return to Maria's, then try something new.

then i had to leave Austin to return to NYC.

thanks again for the tips!

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