Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My "Last Supper" list for SXSW - a.k.a Where to Eat in the ATX

I don’t cook. Not even a little. However, I made it through college waitressing and bartending in fine dining restaurants in Austin and have lived in the capitol city for 17 years. I also interned at the Texas Restaurant Association and was once published in Restaurants & Institutions magazine thinking I may end up a food critic. I love eating out.

More than simply eating out, I love finding the amazing treasures that only locals know about. I want finds that are slap-your-mother good. Meals that are instantly added to my “last supper” list. (see Death Row incarceration, etc) When I travel, I skip the concierge, find a bar and seek counsel from the waitstaff and bartenders on where to go. Waiters pride themselves on knowing ‘the best’ while concierges are paid by local restaurants for referrals.

So while I have no business cooking a meal for anyone, I can certainly share my favorite picks and feel confident that you’ll dig at least some of them. Assuming that most of you will be in town for up to five days, I’ve compiled my top five breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals to cover your stay. And as a bonus, I’ve also included my top five happy hour spots. My approach is based 100% on my personal preferences, so check out Yelp for additional context or validation against your preferences. Enjoy and please leave comments if you try (or also recommend) any of these recommendations…..even if you hated it. Salud!

Top 5 breakfast or brunch meals:

1) Maria’s Taco Express – potato & egg, chorizo & egg breakfast tacos009-tacoxpress

2) South Congress Café – classic eggs Benedict with smoked gouda potato pancake and horseradish cream - or - wild boar pozole

3) El Sol y La Luna – Machacado breakfast plate – or – machacado breakfast tacos on homemade corn tortillas (machacado is scrambled eggs with dried beef, onions, tomato and jalapeno)

4) Chez Zee – Maryland crab cakes Benedict

5) Kerbey Lane – one word, pancakes (go to the original location on Kerbey Ln.)

Honorable mention: the entire Sunday brunch table(s) at Fonda San Miguel – haven’t been in while so couldn’t solidly recommend, but I remember it felt like death by mole.

Top 5 lunch meals (interchangeable with dinner if you want super casual):

1) Vivo – beef fajita tacos ON CORN tortillas – or – chile enchiladas - or - puffy tacos

2) Guero’s – thinly sliced beef tacos on corn tortillas with charro beans and rice – or – tacos al pastor (pork with pineapple pico de gallo) - or - chicken al carbon tacos on corn. BEST margarita's evah.

Chips and Salsa

3) Enoteca – Fettucini al fungi, rigatoni with spicy Italian sausage, or penne puttanesca

4) Mekong River – B6 (vermicelli with chargrilled pork & egg rolls) - note, service is not the main attraction here

5) Little Mexico – Jerry Jeff Walker dip, carne guisada plate (warning, this is not a traditional tex mex joint, don’t go for fajitas or enchiladas here) - 2304 s. 1st Street

Top 5 dinner meals (chi-chi picks relative to the lunches):

1) Uchi – their entire menu of sushi and/or specials. Make a reservation now. Seriously. Now.

2) La Traviata – endive & prosciutto salad, mussels, rigatoni with lamb meatballs, fettuccini con fungi, osobucco (who am I kidding, everything is good here).

3) Wink – their entire menu, local farm-fresh produce meets Austin fine dining

4) Sullivan’s – only for the steamed Alaskan King Crab Legs & creamed spinach – eat at the bar if not too crowded

5) Ranch 616 – the buttermilk biscuits & kitschy cowboy-chic attitude alone are worth it, but I’ve had great luck with their mixed grills especially when quail is available

And drum roll please…..Top 5 Happy Hour Joints:

1) Belmont – great patio & people watching

2) Cedar Door – Mexican martini’s and great patio

3) Rain – definitely a gay bar, without a doubt the best patio in Austin, and did I mention the dancing?

4) J Black’s – can get a little scene-ish, but really great snacks and people watching

5) Gingerman/Woodrow’s – great beer selections (note: Gingerman is moving, so may or may not be open - call first)

Wait - what about barbecue???

It occurred to me that I didn’t include any barbecue picks on these lists – if you have a craving for barbecue, you’re in the right spot. Hit the Salt Lick (BYOB) for a total Texas barbecue experience – especially with a large group. Honestly, though, my top pick strictly based on the food is Rudy’s. Warning: Rudy’s is also a gas station. They offer the best barbecue chicken I’ve ever eaten.

1 comment:

  1. A great overview for new Austinites like me! Thanks for taking the time! Jay