Every Austinite gets burned out on SXSW crowds at some point. It just isn’t possible to go hard for 20 days in a row. As much as we all love free booze and alt party girls, one can only take so much.
So when you’re ready to dodge the crowds and get some peace, use my list of 10 places to dodge all the SXSW insanity.
Note: these are in no particular order. Also, I’ve selected restaurants in the middle to lower price range. Without booze, two people can eat at every place on this list for under $30 and be totally satiated.
- Satellite Bistro – map – Way down south in the suburbs of Circle C — shutter — sits a fantastic little bistro and bar. I’ve been a few times now and I have to say I really enjoy this place. Go for brunch on Sunday and enjoy the tasteful live music while enjoying some eggs benedict. I had the Flying Saucer which is vegetarian (gasp!) and I also sampled the burger special which had caramelized onions, blue cheese and was cooked to perfection. The scalloped potatoes were to die for. I could have eaten a whole meal of them. If you go for dinner, I surprisingly enjoyed the scallops (though, they could have had a little more crust), any of the burgers and if you want all veg, the chefs veggies are just a giant plate of vegetables cooked in white miso. And they rock.
- Red’s Porch – map – Red’s (as locals call it) is one of my go tos in the event that I can’t make a decision about what to eat and I just want some damn good food and a pint (or three) of some local brews. The “Porch” part of the name stems from the fact they have a massive porch on the second level that looks out over the Barton Creek Greenbelt. My favorite meal here is the Smokehouse Chicken. Pay an extra $1 and get the spinach casserole. You won’t be sorry. I also love the burgers. The manimal and black & blue are fine burgers, but I’ll just take a bacon and cheddar. If you want to go a little southern, have some pot roast or chicken fried steak.
- Baker Street Pub – map – You’re probably wondering what a chain restaurant is doing on my list. Well, Baker Street is a fun place to drink and has a great patio. They also have open mic nights where both talented and maladroit musicians come to show their skills (or lack thereof). The menu isn’t nearly as exciting as the local/draft beer selection (currently 36 on tap). At some point, you’ll want to offset all the beer with some food. Go with a burger, fish taco or you can eat my staple: chopped cobb with extra chicken. Baker Street isn’t fancy, but the crowd is cool, you can bring your dog and the beer is cold.
- Azul Tequila – map – This is one of my very favorite Mexican establishments in town and is also on the Fed Man 55. If you like mole (say moh-lay), you absolutely must get it here. I think it’s the best in town by a landslide. I also really enjoy the cochinita pibil, but my favorite dish (aside from the mole) is the Pescado Al Mojo De Ajo. It’s a huge slab of fish with lots of garlic and butter. Yes, please! For a side dish definitely get the refried beans. They could be the best in Austin. Try out the queso flameado or the queso compuesto if you have a queso hankering. And don’t forget to drink some tequila. I like Tres Generaciones Resposado. It’s a reasonable price and quite good.
- Bone Daddy’s – map – Bone Daddy’s is a small Texas only chain that is basically bar food you can get at any old place. However, there is one menu item here that is outstanding: chicken wings. You’re probably asking yourself “what makes theirs better than anywhere else?” They are smoked and grilled and served whole. I’m telling you right now they are probably the best in town. The beer selection here is acceptable, but nothing to write home about. Did I mention the servers are all beautiful Texas gals? You’re welcome.
- Workhorse Bar – map – Workhorse is a relaxed little place on North Loop that always has an excellent local beer selection, many times pouring special brews from in and around Central Texas. The menu is incredibly simple which makes ordering easy. To start, I’d absolutely go with the White Wings. Chicken, bacon and jalapenos cuddled up and drenched in wing sauce. It’s really tasty. You don’t have to get the hamburger, but I absolutely would and I’d add cheddar. For your side get the sweet potato fries and don’t look back.
- Tarka – map 1, map 2 – Tarka is kind of like the Qdoba or Chipotle of Indian food. Fast, fresh and very good every single time. Without a doubt the two best things on the menu are the korma (I always get lamb and my wife gets double veggie) and the mirch masala (again, I always get lamb). Their korma is different than others I’ve had with more pureed cashew. Trust me, this is a good thing.
- Jack Allen’s – map – If you can make it to Jack Allen’s for Sunday brunch, you have won. It is a massive and affordably priced buffet with everything you can imagine. For starters (so, not the buffet) I like the bacon wrapped quail, layered queso, beef rib quesadilla and blue crab gratin. For entrees, I love the green chile cheeseburger. But, if you’re burgered out (which can happen in Austin) try the ruby trout, the chorizo stuffed pork tenderloin, fish tacos or if you want a real artery clogger go for the chicken fried beef rib. I don’t eat chicken fried stuff, but if that’s your thing you will absolutely love it.
- Hopdoddy – map – You want Hopdoddy but you don’t want to deal with South Congress? I don’t blame you. South Congress is a tourist hell on the weekends. But I’ve got good news: there is another. Hopdoddy North has all the same awesome, is slightly bigger, and even though it will still have a line, the line moves faster in my experience. I really don’t think I need to recommend anything specific because you literally cannot order anything bad off the menu. One piece of advice: if you get the chili cheese fries, get extra chili cheese or you may end up fighting over it.
- Drink.Well – map – Drink.Well is a pub. That means you order your food at the bar and come back to the bar to pick it up. There are no servers. All tables first come, first serve. They have a of really nice cocktails here. I tend to order Old Fashioneds at cocktail bars and the one I had here was pretty tasty. There’s also plenty of beer, wine and spirits. Your alcohol lust should be easily satiated. For food, I’d go with the burger for sure. Add bacon, pulled pork and a fried egg if you need some extra calories. If you’re looking for something lighter, try the Ratatouille on Rye. If you want something even lighter, just eat a handful of nuts and drink more booze.
There are a ton of articles and blog posts out there with recommendations on where to eat in Austin for SXSW. Not a single one of them is right.
So, as a public service I’m going to divulge my list for SXSWers.
If you’re looking for great barbecue you’re in the right city. Austin is barbecue rich. But, barbecue is not created equally. Some popular BBQ joints in Austin flat out suck. Here’ are my top BBQ joints in Austin.
- la Barbecue – map – This is my favorite place in Austin right now. Everything on the menu is money. You just can’t go wrong. Get a slice of lean and a slice of moist brisket. If you love pork, get a pork rib and a bit of pulled pork slathered with tangy sauce. They make their own hot guts (that’s Texan for sausage) that is spicy and wonderful. If you want the full experience, order a slice of lean brisket, a slice of moist brisket, a pork rib, quarter pound of pulled pork, one link, and a beef rib. Eat every bite and bask in the glory of some of the best BBQ in the world.
- Stiles Switch – map – Stiles Switch is an indoor joint a bit north of downtown and absolutely worth the drive. I suggest the moist brisket, as the lean can get a little dry. The beef rib here is delicious so definitely sample that. Also, they have a hot link that I think is one of the best around. Did I mention they have an awesome selection of beer on tap? So basically, you get great ‘cue and great beer. You can’t go wrong with that.
- John Mueller Meat Co – map – This is a new joint but the pit boss is a seasoned pro (and a surly sumbish). When I think John Mueller I think beef rib. Always a thick, crackling bark and lots of black pepper. For the brisket I’d definitely go for the moist. The cooking style renders the lean a bit dry. And you absolutely must get a sausage, maybe even two. I also advise you to order and then get the hell out of the way. Mueller isn’t much on talking. But that’s why we love him.
- Mickelthwait Craft Meats – map – Tucked into a tiny trailer, Mickelthwait is putting out some solid ‘cue. I’d go with the moist brisket as the lean can be a tad dry. And you absolutely must have one of the sausages. He’s always got something different and tasty. Also, you may want to go a little later in the day because the brisket isn’t always ready during lunch.
- Lamberts – map – Some folks hate on Lamberts because it is a nice restaurant and not your typical barbecue joint. Well, to hell with those people. I find their brisket to be hit and miss. When ordering the brisket, request moist pieces with plenty of bark. If what they bring you is too dry, tell them and they’ll fix it. The sausage is very tasty and the pork rib, although a tad too sweet sometimes, is still very good. Order the crispy boar ribs if you want something new. Also, anything and everything off the grill (steaks, etc) is money and will be cooked perfectly.
What About Franklin Barbecue?
Franklin is good but it doesn’t make my list because the lines are too long. I think it is a complete waste of time. John Lewis, the former pit boss at Franklin Barbecue, is now at la Barbecue (see above). His brisket is better than Franklin, he makes the hot guts in house and he has a beef rib to die for. Looking at this objectively, why would I wait 2 hours for Franklin when I can have something better in 15 minutes?
- East Side King – map – There are a few different locations for East Side King, but my favorite is definitely the one at Liberty bar. Literally everything on the menu is stellar. Pork belly buns are fantastic, fried beets are a must and fried brussel sprouts are always in my order. Liberty Bar is pretty awesome, too. Tons of East Austinites in their hipster garb, drinking their tall boys of PBR or Lone Star. To continue the party, head down the street to The White Horse and catch some live music and enjoy the Texas National Past Time: drinking beer.
- Hopdoddy – map – Home of some of the best burgers you’ll ever eat, Hopdoddy is a guaranteed win. The Llano Poblano is great but the Greek is the show stopper. Definitely grab some chili cheese fries and do yourself a favor by ordering some extra chili cheese. It will get consumed. Also, don’t be scared by the line. It moves fast and they have a great system for making sure everyone is served.
- Freddie’s – map – Freddie’s makes the list because it has a bad ass South Austin vibe. The burgers are always on point but the onion rings and sweet potato fries will steal the show. I also enjoy the pork chops quite a bit. Don’t forget to order your Jack and Coke.
- Elizabeth Street Cafe – map – Elizabeth St Cafe is a wonderful Vietnamese and French restaurant. Start with the escargot and carpaccio. Be sure to soak up all the remaining butter from the escargot with some bread. Your main meal can go a few ways: pho, banh mi, or one of the special dishes. If you go with pho, I recommend the flank steak and beef skewer (30B), chicken thigh and cilantro chicken meatballs (32B) and the cauliflower white miso (34B). Always add a soft boiled egg. You can thank me later. If you choose banh mi, you have to try the House Specialty (20). If you really want some mouth sex and you’ve got a big appetite, do the Singapore Noodles from the Specialties list. Be sure to try some of their drinks, too. The Director is a great choice if you want some punch. I would go with a bottle of the Cabernet Franc. It’s the cheapest wine on the menu but it is very tasty.
- Sway – map – Right next door to Elizabeth St Cafe and across from la Barbecue is Sway, one of Austin’s newest additions. I’ve only been here once (it’s really new), but holy hell was it good. Go with the satay to start. If you have a big appetite and a few people, get more than one. The food here is served in slightly larger than individual portions but is intended to be shared. Each person should order a dish but plan on sharing. I loved the Son in Law (pork shoulder with a deep fried egg). We also ordered the Jungle Curry (tri tip in a spicy sauce) and it was awesome. The most unique aspect of the meal was the green peppercorns that came with the Jungle curry. Pick them off and eat ’em. Mind (and taste buds) blown. I imagine you can’t order anything bad at Sway.
- Lenoir – map – You definitely need a reservation for Lenoir so plan ahead. Austin’s number one food critic, Mike Sutter, thinks Lenoir is the best restaurant in Austin. There has definitely been some heated debate about that choice, but I second his pick. Lenoir is prix fixe ($35/person) and you choose three dishes from different categories. The menu changes all the time and always reflects what is currently fresh. I can’t really recommend a specific dish since the menu constantly changes, but you cannot go wrong here. Just eat everything. My only suggestion is to order a whole bottle of wine.
- East Side Showroom – map – In the heart of East Austin, amongst the hordes of hipsters lies East Side Showroom. A pre-prohibition/speakeasy vibe is what’s going on here and it rocks. For drinks, I’d absolutely get the Old Fashioned. Then I’d get 3 more. For food, it’s all about the pork belly. Their pork belly is like glass on the top and soft and supple on the bottom (queue euphemism). I also enjoy the beef heart tartare and you can’t go wrong with the burger. Stick around after you eat, have a few more drinks, watch the hipsters pour in and enjoy some of the always awesome live music. If you go during happy hour you might hear some old jazz being played from a phonograph. I like to call that person DJ Edison.
- Justine’s Brasserie – map – Justine’s is way out east but is worth the drive. This is yet another restaurant where you can’t go wrong. My personal favorites are Steak Frites and Steak Tartare. They have fish specials from time to time that I also really enjoy. If you are picky, get the Royale with Cheese and you’ll be in burger heaven. I always get an order of the escargot. They are exceptional here.
- La Traviata – map – There isn’t much decent Italian food in Austin but thankfully we have La Traviata. You absolutely must get the carbonara. It’s one of the best dishes I’ve had at any restaurant. To start, you really have to get the beef carpaccio with the fried raddichio and a bottle of wine. You may want to make a reservation as it gets a bit busy on sometimes. If you want to take your significant other, request the table in the front by the window. You’ll be getting more than food if you take that advice.
- Swift’s Attic – map – Swift’s Attic sits atop my favorite bar in Austin, the Elephant Room. Here’s how you play this: go to the Elephant room first, listen to some jazz and have a few cocktails. If you want to be classy, go with a dirty martini. After you’ve worked up an appetite, go upstairs to Swift’s Attic. They’re open fairly late and the plates are small so you’ll need to order a few. I’d say 3 plates for every 2 people, depending on which plates you order. I’ve picked out my favorites: blistered shishitos, whole sardine, brussel sprout salad, baby octopus, duck wings, pork cheeks and the always reliable steak frites (this is a bigger plate). Be sure to try a cocktail or order one of the draft beers (they always have a nice selection).