As South by Southwest (SXSW) gears up to host a litany of musical acts, films and interactive events over the course of the next ten days (March 8-17), if you’re heading to Austin you’ll need to make sure you aren’t overwhelmed with the sheer volume of options. Though Sixth Street is worth a visit, and pizza from Home Slice is mandatory, this guide is intended to shed some light on the not-so-obvious Austin haunts while you’re there.
Counter Café is small, quaint and home to one of the best breakfasts in Austin. Think an upscale version of Waffle House with the words “local” and “organic” littering the menu, while the short-order cook is visible for your viewing pleasure.
Food trucks are an essential part of Austin’s dining experience. However, there are a few that stand out above the rest. East Side King sits at the top of the food truck pyramid. Started by Top Chef champion Paul Qui, ESK is a mix of various cultural influences. From chicken tortilla ramen noodles to pork belly sliders, your taste buds will never know they are eating from the back of a truck.
Located in the parking lot of a gas station on Cesar Chavez, Vera Cruz All Natural has one of the best tacos you will put in your mouth. Every tortilla is homemade, and besides having amazing steak, chicken and barbacoa tacos, Vera Cruz’s claim to fame is their La Reyna breakfast taco.
Franklin’s Barbecue is considered by some to be the best barbecue in Texas. See for yourself.
An alternative to Franklin’s that doesn’t require a long wait is Live Oak Barbecue. Run by Tom Spaulding, it’s a great place to eat proper Texas-style barbecue off the beaten path. We suggest the “Saturday Special,” where Tom cooks something that is not normally on the menu.
Contigo, located in far East Austin, is the quintessential ranch dining experience with most of the seating outside. Along with one of the best burgers in Austin, Chef Andrew Wiseheart cooks up rabbit and dumplings and ox tongue sliders. Minus an excellent Sunday brunch, Contigo is only open for dinner.
Papi Tino’s is located in a home built in the early 1900s just East of downtown. The restaurant is an improved take on a Mexican cantina. While many of Austin’s Mexican food restaurants specialize in Tex Mex, Papi Tino’s also has outstanding seafood options. The ambience is enhanced by the bands that perform Mexican tunes on the porch.
Although Yellow Jacket Social Club is only a few years old, it feels like it has been there for years. Playing music like Waylon and Willie, the only thing that doesn’t seem old are the folks who work there. During the day, Yellow Jacket is an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the festival.
Whip In is an old gas station that has been converted into one of the most interesting bars in Austin. The bar has more beers on draft than just about anywhere in the city. Apart from drinking a proper pint, the bar also serves a wonderful blend of Indian and Southern food. Quinoa cheese grits and curried collard greens are among some of the funky flavors you might encounter.
Located on “dirty” Sixth Street, Midnight Cowboy is the closest thing in Austin to a proper speakeasy. Reservations are required with a two-drink minimum. Manager Brian Dressel’s resume reads like a who’s who among craft cocktail bars in Austin. Not only are these cocktails tasty, but stout enough to satisfy the strongest of tolerances.
The White Horse is a special place. Defined by many as a modern honky tonk, this establishment brings together people from all walks of life. You are likely to two-step with a stranger while listening to dueling pedal steel guitars. Make sure to bring your dancing boots.
Stag embodies the Austin aesthetic. Taxidermy hangs throughout the shop, combined with local artists’ work displayed along the walls. Carrying Red Wings, RRL and Penfield, among other brands, this rugged yet well curated boutique ranks among some of the best in America.
Across the street, tucked away next to Perla’s, is Service Menswear. The small space provides Austin with classic brands like Moscot and Gant Rugger.