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).