March 10, 2004

Where to Eat for you SXSW geeks

After hearing horror stories from Lia's experience at Mongolian Grille last year at SXSW, I've decided to put together a list of recommendations of where to eat in Austin for those of you coming down for the festivities. I tried to keep this list as concise yet diverse as possible and limited it to the immediate downtown area within walking distance of the convention center because I know that too many options can be confusing. But if you are looking for something specific or want suggestions for outside of downtown, contact me personally and I'll be happy to assist you to the best of my knowledge.

Granted this is purely subjective and honestly, I really will eat just about anything if I'm hungry enough, I like to think that I know when I'm eating something good. Some of my friends (that I pay to say nice things about me) might agree. Note: I'm especially picky about Asian food, so if you aren't as picky as me you may want to glaze over some of those less than stellar reviews of the Asian spots listed below. Also, I really like meat. You've been forewarned. Local Austinites and those in the know, please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments.

Yum factor is my personal rating system on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 being bad, 10 being YUM!

Breakfast Tacos:
before 9:30 or 10, if you walk up and down 6th you might find a truck or two selling breakfast tacos on the street. prices vary ($1-$2), but these are probably the best tacos you will find. If you don't see any of these trucks, head to

Marisco Grill
211 E. 6th (between Brazos and Congress)
Some of their main dishes are questionable (although I do love some of their seafood dishes and tortilla soup), but their breakfast tacos are great, especially chorizo.
Yum factor: 8 (for breakfast tacos)
Pros: big tacos, fresh salsa, great price
Cons: kind of scary atmosphere, you're on your own for lunch (it's been hit or miss)

I also here that Las Manitas has good breakfast tacos, but I've never had them.

Homestyle Breakfast/Lunch:
Apple Annie's
221 W. 6th street (between Colorado and Lavaca, down in the basement of the Bank 1 building)
They serve up traditional breakfast: eggs, bacon, biscuits, gravy, fruit. they also have really great salads (the salad sampler is excellent), soup (the most amazing tomato and brie soup) and sandwiches for lunch. A great hidden lunch spot.
Yum Factor: 8
Pros: really fresh, really good food
Cons: lots of business types, atrium eating area has lots of birds that like to poop. eat inside, or take it to go!

Casino El Camino
517 E. 6th (between Red River and Neches)
The most amazing, delicious, thick, 1/2 lb. burgers in Austin, with fresh cut fries are hidden deep inside this punk rock bar.
Yum Factor: 10
Pros: Late night eats, fun atmosphere, pool tables and golden tee!
Cons: Smokey and the burger wait time can be up to an hour sometimes, but well worth it IMHO.

Iron Works
100 Red River (on the corner of 1st/Cesar Chavez and Red River, directly behind the ACC)
Excellent BBQ and the most amazing beef ribs ever. One of my favorite BBQ joints in town.
Yum Factor: 10
Pros: MEAT
Cons: can't eat enough MEAT

214 W. 4th (between Colorado and Lavaca)
Great beer selection and excellent pub eats. The food used to be lacking, but now is impressive. Some of the best Fish n Chips in town.
Yum Factor: 8
Pros: great laid back atmosphere, lots of room and lots of beer!
Cons: can't really think of anything

Las Manitas
211 Congress (between 2nd and 3rd)
Yum Factor: 7
Pros: very affordable, authentic mexican food, great fresh salsa and juego fresco!
Cons: very crowded at lunch time (expect a wait), walking through the kitchen for seating in the back could be a violation of health codes, but whatever.

310 Congress (between 3rd and 4th)
Excellent, pricier mexican food. Favorites are enchiladas suizas, chile relleno, and the ceviche.
Yum Factor: 8
Pros: great food, great margaritas
Cons: can get crowded in the evenings, sometimes hard to get large crowds in there, a date type place so you know be on your best behaviour

La Traviata
314 Congress (between 3rd and 4th)
This is one of my most favorite Italian Restaurants. They serve the most authentic Bolognese I've found in Austin. The chicken pannini (with a nice layer of goat cheese) is also very good.
Yum Factor: 9
Pros: excellent pasta (they KNOW not to drown your pasta in sauce) and good wine selection
Cons: can get expensive after adding wine and dessert to your meal but I still go anyway

310 Colorado (between 3rd and 4th)
This place is very popular, but I think La Traviata is better. The menu selection, portions and prices have changed over the years and I'm not sure if they still have it right this time. But overall you can get a good meal for a decent price (now that they've lowered their prices and increased the portions). Sometimes they are a little heavy on the sauce.
Yum Factor: 7
Pros: cute space, friendly atmosphere, great lunch deals
Cons: La Traviata is better

Mekong River
215 E. 6th (between San Jacinto and Brazos)
Excellent Vietnamese specialties. Pho and vermicelli bowls are some of the best in town, quick service and cheap prices.
Yum Factor: 9
Pros: very affordable, very good
Cons: very busy at lunch, if you get stuck upstairs service can be somewhat lacking

315 Congress Ste. 200 (between 3rd and 4th, upstairs above Elephant Room)
The sushi here is not consistent (sometimes really good and sometimes really bad), and the service is hit or miss, but unfortunately, this is the only sushi place that is not completely pretentious and overrated (re: Kenichi) downtown that I've been to ever since Pango shut down because the manager was secretly videotaping female patrons using the bathroom (it's a shame too, pango was really good) However the atmosphere is great and they have affordable bento box lunch deals. The other sushi option is Sake on 6th, where I've not been to but it also looks pretentious to me.
Yum Factor: 6/8
Pros: tatami rooms and good food when it's a good day
Cons: sometimes the service is really bad, and wait times can be very long for sushi orders during busy hours. i would suggest going right before they stop serving lunch (2pm), when the place has cleared out. also they don't serve authentic ponzu sauce with tempura orders. :(

107 W. 5th (between Colorado and Congress)
This is one of those "noodle bowl" fast food places that seem to be sweeping the nation. It's alright. Although they try to serve some authentic Asian noodles like Dan Dan Mien and Beef Noodle Soup it doesn't come close to the real thing. But the servings are large, the food is fresh, service is great and the prices are reasonable
Yum Factor: 6
Pros: nice atmosphere, excellent service, large portions, lobster bibs!
Cons: some of the recipes seem to be bad interpretations of the real dishes they are trying to recreate

There are no Chinese places downtown that meet my approval ever since Pao's Mandarin House moved. *sob*

Middle Eastern:
906 Congress (between 9th and 10th)
This deli serves up traditional american hoagies and salads along side middle eastern specialties like gyros, shawarma, falafel, hummus, stuffed grape leaves and other yummy goodies. Some of the combo plates have odd sides, but overall everything is very tasty.
Yum Factor: 8
Pros: very affordable, vegetarian options, large portions, great place to get a quick bite to go
Cons: can be very busy during lunch

Ranch 616
616 Nueces (between 6th and 7th)
This is more of a walk, but well worth it. This is like New American/Fusion-Tex-Mex-Southwest cuisine. Whatever it is, it's good. Fish tacos, jalapeņo stuffed burgers, grilled quail and fried oysters are on the eclectic menu.
Yum Factor: 9
Pros: great food, nifty space with interesting art/decorative pieces
Cons: dinner is expensive (but great!) so go during lunch

407 Colorado (between 4th and 5th)
This is like a southern cuisine kicked up a notch type place. I've only eaten here 3 or 4 times, but I've been very impressed so far. They have great daily happy hour specials with half off appetizers.
Yum Factor: 9
Pros: really great food with interesting dishes and crazy martini/drink selection
Cons: dinner can be very expensive but lunch is very affordable

Bitter End
311 Colorado (between 3rd and 4th)
I used to not like the food here, but I think it is growing on me. Friday they have a chicken lunch special that certain friends of mine flip out over. I like the chicken salad and fried calamari. They brew their own beer too which is good.
Yum Factor: 7
Pros: nice space for large crowds, affordable for lunch. B-side next door has happy hour pint specials and intimate spaces for hanging out with friends
Cons: the food is good but nothing to write home about, can be pricey for dinner so go for lunch

Louie's 106
106 E. 6th (between Congress and Brazos)
This is looks like a very expensive tapas bar but lunch time is more laid back and has a nice selection of excellent Spanish and Mediterranean inspired dishes from pasta and risotto to roasted chicken and yummy salads. If you are smart with your selections you can walk away with a lunch under $15.
Yum Factor: 9
Pros: good for entertaining/impressing that someone special, good food
Cons: lots of business types, can be a bit intimidating

Posted by yimay at 12:43 AM | Comments (8)