Ahhh Austin! One of the top Southern foodie hot spots and an amazing city in general! And I was lucky enough to spend last weekend there, shoving my face full the entire three days. I wasn’t sure how to exactly write this post, as the food scene in Austin is literally overwhelming, but eventually I decided to condense all my restaurant excursions into one blog post so you can get the full sense of my food-packed trip in one location. But if you want the shortened version of what I’m about to rave on about then here it is: GET YOUR ASS TO AUSTIN!
Just curious, have you ever met someone who’ve said they don’t like Austin? Like have you ever been speaking with someone and were like “hey let’s go to Austin,” and they were like “no thanks, I don’t like Austin.” If you have, then I want you to keep that sociopath away from me. But I hardly doubt that you have, because anyone who’s human and has a soul would enjoy Austin. What’s not to enjoy? The food is off the hook, the people are friendly, it’s rich in culture and history, and most of all it’s FUN! If you haven’t been, you need to go now. The best part is it’s cheap too! So there is literally no excuse in the entire world not to go. By the end of this blog post I want you to have your Expedia flight confirmation pulled up on a separate tab.
I’ve been to Austin quite a few times; my mom’s family is from Texas and we used to go down every summer as kids to visit my grandparents. As we got older though we stopped going, and the last time I went I believe was three years ago to help my grandma move. That last trip was my only trip as an adult and my mom and I didn’t have much time for fun. On that occasion we only briefly got to go to Sixth Street, and I didn’t get to see a lot of the things that everyone always raves about. So when Matt was like “hey do you want to go to Austin?” I was like “umm yeah pal”.
So this trip was my first time going all out eating, drinking, and running amok in the city, and man oh man was it fun! It made a perfect three day weekend adventure and I’m already excited for next year. I admit, the entire time I was thinking about food and where I was going to get my next glorious meal; it’s hard not to! I think the main two food categories I sought out were Tex-Mex and Barbecue, although to be fair the city is ripe with all sorts of options and cuisines. And I’m proud to say I successfully completed my mission and ate both types of food I had my heart set on.
When Matt and I got to our hotel it was about 10 AM and too early to check in, so we dumped our bags behind the desk and took off to downtown Austin. It was Friday and a lot of restaurants didn’t open till 11, so we walked around Sixth Street a little bit until 10:55 when we posted up outside a tex-mex restaurant Iron Cactus until they opened. I saw that they had good reviews for tex-mex on Foursquare so we decided to give it a shot. Immediately I was reaffirmed in my belief that I have above-average restaurant picking skills, because the menu looked fabulous and it was just what I wanted. And then, I ordered a Bloody Mary and all my worries just melllllllllted away. For godssake, check out this Bloody Mary!
Tell me your mouth doesn’t water when looking at that bad boy. The bartender used “Texas” Absolut vodka, which is actually made by Absolut and is flavored with chili peppers and lime I think, with a cute little boot on the bottle. And it just hit the spot. I honestly think it was one of the top five bloodies I’ve ever had. So we sipped our cocktails and chatted it up with the bartender who was giving us suggestions of things to do and restaurants to eat at. And she was super adorable when she apologetically said that the $8 Bloody Mary we just ordered was “kinda pricey”, when the same drink anywhere in NYC would be $15. Oh how we laughed.
I ordered the vegetable enchiladas for lunch, served with a side of refried beans and lime rice. And they were pretty damn good! What impressed me was the veggies they used for the enchiladas; not your typical zucchini and mushrooms or whatever, they used sun-dried tomatoes and fresh corn! Oh it was awesome! I was sad that it was so small, but we did order off the lunch menu so fair enough. Most of all it just tasted so fresh and was overall just a tasty dish. It’s hard to say what this place would be like at dinner time since we literally opened up the bar and were the only customers, but I had an enjoyable time! This place gets 3.75/5 stars!
After lunch Matt and I decided to just go all out and start partying while we were waiting for his friends to fly in, because it was our vacation after all and we had to make the most out of our limited time in the city! So we started hopping around the bars on Sixth Street that had just opened for the day. I won’t go into too much detail about the bars we went to, but just know that it was a lot. Everything starts blurring together after a while so I’m glad cell phones exist so I could document everything in detail:
By about mid-afternoon we met up with a couple of Matt’s friends who had just flown in. The bar hopping continued, and I guess they went back to the hotel at around 5 and Matt and I decided to search for a food truck. I was DETERMINED to get a good food truck meal! But I don’t know if we were just being idiots because we were drunk but we couldn’t find any! We came across a couple in a parking lot but they weren’t open till 9! So we resigned ourself to a couple appetizers at a nearby restaurant and resigned ourselves to finding a food truck the next day.
For dinner the whole group went to Chupacabra Cantina, on Sixth Street. Matt and I were still kind of full from our appetizers so we decided just to split an order of nachos. When the order came out, it was clear these were NOT normal nachos. To this day I’m still not sure how I feel about them. They were large tortilla chips individually topped tostada-style with beans, cheese, and the toppings served on the side. A part of me likes the ease of eating an individually covered chip, but the other part of me wanted to tear into a big heaping cheesy mass. However, everyone else at the table LOVED their meals, so I’d definitely recommend checking it out if you’re looking for a tex-mex place.
The next day I think it’s safe to say I felt like death. Waking up in the morning felt so…. wrong. It took everyone a few hours to get rallied that morning, and I had to nap post-breakfast before I started feeling normal. But Saturday was the day of the UT Homecoming and we all had plans to tailgate before the game and pretend to be college students again! So eventually we sauntered down to West Sixth Street where there were a lot of great outdoor patio brunchy/loungy places. We decided to get brunch at J. Black’s Feel Good Lounge, which was a pretty nice little brunch spot. The atmosphere was really enjoyable, and the food wasn’t bad. I decided to get a “breakfast taco” which apparently are all the rage in Austin. It was really more like a burrito and could have been more flavorful, and all-in-all it was good.
This place also had a Bloody Mary bar, which is exactly what it sounds like. They basically gave us a cup of vodka and we could make our own Bloody Mary’s with whatever toppings we wanted. I was really pumped at first, but then I started thinking about how unsanitary that actually is and started getting grossed out at the thought of everyone’s grubby fingers touching my olives. Needless to say I switched to a mimosa afterwards.
What was really nice about this place was that they provided a free shuttle to the UT game! We didn’t really know what was going on at first but we just kind of wandered on the shuttle, which was really more like a party bus, and some woman was handing us Moscow Mules in plastic cups. We were confused but accepted the alcohol nonetheless, but we had to ask the bus driver who was paying for this, to which she said the restaurant had hired them. Thanks J. Black’s!
I won’t go into detail, but the tailgate was super fun and made me feel young again. Actually, I take that back. It actually made me feel really old to look around and see little 18 year olds drinking their shitty beer with their whole lives in front of them with not a care in the world. I wanted to go up to them like *******CHERISHHHHH ITTTTTTT******.
Anyways, afterwards I was DEAD SET on finding a food truck. As a group we decided to venture to Rainey Street, which I had heard a lot about and is a more classy and tame alternative to Sixth Street. Also Rainey Street has a whole cluster of awesome food trucks! In case you haven’t figured by now Austin is a huge food truck city and they get really into it, and I was NOT leaving without participating in all the fun. So we took a walk to Rainey Street and found the Mecca of wheeled food destinations.
I walked around for probably 15 full minutes debating what kind of food I wanted. There was Thai, Indian, pizza, doughnuts, and so much else. Eventually I decided on tacos, because duh it’s Texas. Matt and I got the shrimp tacos at the taco truck and they were out of this world. The flavor combinations were just so unique and fresh! Look, they actually put mandarin oranges on them! Gimme!
This food truck experience really satisfied my craving. Next time I’m in Austin this is a for sure go-to spot. And, the best thing, the Rainey Street food trucks are something that are completely unique to Austin. Definitely go there, not to mention the bars on Rainey Street are so cool. They basically look like old houses, but inside they’re beer halls or restaurants or dive bars or whatever. I wish we had another night there to explore more.
The real star of this food trip was The Salt Lick, which is an incredibly famous barbecue restaurant that we actually rented a car to get to in Driftwood, Texas. It’s about 30-40 minutes outside Austin, and definitely you need to get there in any way possible. Not only is the barbecue something out of a dream, but it’s more than just a restaurant! There’s a wine and beer cellar that does tastings right next to the restaurant, and it’s located on a large piece of land that’s also a vineyard and has tons of outdoor seating. As soon as you walk in you basically see an entire cow and pig smoking in their huge smoker, filling the air with a mouth-watering aroma. We ended up staying for about 4 hours and I enjoyed every minute of it. And, I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but I ordered a whole pulled pork sandwich and ate it. Don’t judge me! Yes, I’m a pescetarian, but I’m also a foodie and a traveler and I believed in this instance it was acceptable to enjoy some of the best barbecue in the world. And I don’t regret it! We stuffed ourself on so much barbecue and I honestly think it was the most delicious thing I’ve ever had. The meat was unreal; it had obviously been smoked for like ever and more tender than I ever thought possible. And it was perfectly drenched in their homemade barbecue sauces and paired with the most perfect sides.
My pulled pork sandwich was topped with a small amount of coleslaw and both spicy and mild barbecue sauces, and served with more coleslaw, potato salad, and baked beans. Matt got the brisket (which they usually serve lean, but you can also order marbled), and pork ribs. My mouth is watering just looking at the pictures. Afterwards we were all in such food comas we were considering going to vomit just so we could keep eating more. But Matt of course ordered Blue Bunny ice cream, which is a knock off of the famous Blue Bell, but good nonetheless. The waitress told me they used to use Blue Bell but apparently the factory had an “incident” or something and they don’t use it anymore. I remember eating Blue Bell as a kid so I was sad, but then I ate another bite of pulled pork and forgot about everything. The Salt Lick earned 5/5 stars (my first 5 star rating)!!!!!!!!!
The last restaurant I’m going to review is Chuy’s, on Barton Springs Road. Chuy’s is a tex-mex place with a few different locations around Austin that has been around forever, and which I had been to a couple times with my family. Even though I was still stuffed like a sausage after our meal at The Salt Lick, Matt and I had the rental car so we decided to drive to get our last Texan meal before we boarded our flight. The fact that we were still full hindered our ability to fully enjoy the entire experience, but the food was really good. If I had more room I would have devoured the chips and the creamy jalapeño ranch dip that they were served with, and sipped down a couple more margaritas. But I ordered the veggie enchiladas and I was just happy I got through 60% of them. They were pretty delicious, and again, so fresh and flavorful! The corn was still stuck together like it had just been scraped off the cob, and the whole dish tasted pretty authentic. Matt got the chicken burrito, which he struggled to get down, but apparently it was good too. Chuy’s get’s 4.5/5 stars for it’s authenticity and atmosphere!
I know this was a long post, but I had a lot to say! I wish I had more time in Austin and I’m sure I would go on and on about the food scene forever. But definitely if you’ve got a couple days in Austin make sure to try out a couple of the places I tried! Who knows, maybe I’ll move down there one day and can create an Austin food blog as well 🙂 Stay tuned!