Food and drinks in Austin
The one thing you will quickly notice about Austin is all the food trucks. There are a lot of them. This can be a problem, because there are also a great many terrific restaurants and bars, so it all becomes rather overwhelming. Having lived here for over a year now, I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. However, there are some clear favorites that the ISAC-ISSS crowd should consider. Separating food and drinks is not very helpful, since most places have both, so I’ve divided the list into neighborhoods (some areas, like North Loop, are excluded because they’re a bit out of the way).
Manor: Close to campus
Right east of campus and the LBJ School you’ll find Manor Road, cutting through the neighborhoods Cherrywood and French Place. Like most of the eastside, it is in the midst of gentrification, but has several good eats and bars. El Sapo serves delicious Tex-Mex burgers (mmmm, chili burger with queso fries), while Haymaker has a big patio, a good beer list, and poutine [Steve asks: poutine in TX?]. There’s also the Butterfly Bar across the road with the excellent fresh-pasta food truck Patrizi’s. Of course, there are lots of Tex-Mex and taco joints too (El Chilito, El Chile, Mi Madre’s), but Manor also has affordable fine dining (Dai Due) and cupcakes (Sugar Mama’s, if you like that sorta thing).
East Sixth: Hipsterville
Further south on the eastside there’s East Sixth (Sixth street is divided in three, with the other two parts being frat central Dirty Sixth in the middle and the more grownup West Sixth in west downtown). This too is a gentrifying neighborhood, but full of hipsters. Not to worry though, there are some seriously great bars and food trucks there. At The White Horse you can do some two-stepping before enjoying some seriously good tacos out front at the Bomb Tacos food truck (try the bistec and picadillo tacos). There’s also amazing food at East Side King’s new truck behind the bar Wonderland (recently named one of the hottest new restaurants in the US by Bon Appetit). It’s all part of Paul Qui’s growing food empire and should not be missed (if you have money to burn, go to his new brick-and-mortar location Qui on the same street). There are plenty of other bars on the street, with Rio Rita being a particularly good cocktail location (try their Desert Sessions, Spicy Knees, or Bloody Mary), as well as The Liberty Bar, The Grackle, and Whisler’s. They all have large outdoor seatings, like most bars in Austin, and the temperature is finally tolerable now.
Rainey Street: Proper bar crawl
The best place to get great cocktails is Rainey Street, south of downtown. What used to be an old residential street is now a bunch of old houses turned into bars (sometimes it feels like you’re walking into someone’s living room). Icenhauer, Half-Step, and Clive’s have great cocktails, and the latter also has a mescal bar that seems to be open at random dates. Further down the street there’s Blackheart, which has live music, and Craft Pride, which has a seriously good beer list (oh, and it has Detroit-style pizza out back in the Via 313 food truck). For a proper sit-down dinner, go to G’Raj Mahal Café for delicious Indian food. Or just go to the food truck lot across the street. Oh, and there’s Banger’s, which specializes in sausages and has a 100+ draft beer list.
Downtown/Dirty Sixth: Frats and grownups
Downtown Austin is a mixed bag. There’s Dirty Sixth, which is where all the college kids go out on the weekend (or so it seems), but not without its charming dive bars (Jackalope and Casino El Camino), and the terrific beer garden and bakery Easy Tiger. Tucked away on Lavaca Street there’s The Ginger Man, one of my favorite beer bars in Austin.
There are also ways to enjoy food in Austin without going to a bar. There’s an abundance of taco joints, but the local chain Tacodeli is not to be missed (for either breakfast tacos or regular ones), and Veracruz All Natural on East Cesar Chavez has some of the best fish tacos in the city. Hopdoddy’s on South Congress has fantastic burgers, but be warned, there is always a line out the door. If you’re feeling particularly indulgent, go further down South Congress to Lucy’s Fried Chicken and share a bucket with some friends along with their delicious deep-fried deviled eggs. For desserts, go to Lick Ice Cream on South Lamar. They have lots of weird flavors, both savory and sweet, and definitely not to be missed.