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 yi at March 10, 2004 12:43 AM

great idea, y. but what about chez nous? it's been ages since I went for lunch, but i can definitely vouch for their fixed price dinner (delicious, wonderous feast for $25, i think). only you MUST splurge for the profiteroles.

also, for not-so-downtown desserts, is it possible to beat the warm, perfect, succulent chocolate bread pudding at cafe caprice? i think not.

Posted by: p at March 10, 2004 10:12 AM

Ooo, good eateries in downtown. Is their anything better than Hoek's Pizza?

Here's what I'd add to a great list:

Katz's Deli -- 618 W 6th St, New York deli-style food. Best bagel & lox I've had in Texas, and they're 24 hours.

Mother Egan's Irish Pub -- 715 W 6th St, Awesome Irish pub. Reportedly started by a couple of former Fado's managers. In my opinion, the Irish coffee at Mother Egan's is far superior to Fado's... and the food's great, too!

I'll second Casino El Camino for their burgers. Simply outstanding, especially the Amarillo burger.

Frank and Angie's pizza -- 508 West Ave. Big pies. Get the Lugosi's Lament if you like garlic.

There's also Hut's Hamburgers, operated by the same people who run Frank & Angie's -- 807 W 6th St.

Posted by: elgato at March 10, 2004 12:28 PM

Las Manitas is closed from 4-6 as George and I learned the hard way today. But we popped across the street to Manuel's, and it was delicious. Our friendly waitress ("devo") also recommended a tasty and filling vegetarian option for us.

Posted by: dj at March 11, 2004 10:30 PM

Has anyone tried Malaga on 4th Street?

I've been meaning to go there, but I haven't made it in. I like the idea of it, anyway.

Posted by: Damon at March 13, 2004 12:02 AM

Also try the new place behind the convention center, Moonshine, excellent food! The resteraunt inside the SFA hotel on Congress is very good, it's called the Roaring Fork. If you go and eat in the bar the food is super cheap.

Posted by: SXDUDE at March 13, 2004 1:03 AM

malaga is pretty good, but not spectacular, although the seared tuna dish is very tasty and they have a nice selection of wines. it can get expensive for dinner (remember, tapas dishes are very small portions). BUT, malaga has a happy hour special from 6-7pm on weekdays. you get one tapas item (from a limited tapas happy hour menu) and a glass of wine for $6 which is an excellent deal, i think.

Posted by: yi at March 13, 2004 11:31 AM

We ate at Manuel's for lunch today and it was delicious. Thanks for the tips about Malaga!

Posted by: Damon 2.0 at March 13, 2004 11:36 PM

i haven't been to chez nous ever since the new chef took over. i thought the crepes were alright for the price. the other items i had weren't THAT great but seemed very expensive. i should go back to try again.

just say no to katz's deli. except for the $7 cheesecake milkshake.

i've only eaten at mother eagan's once. i had the fish and chips. i will never order their fish and chips again

hmm, not a fan of frank and angie's so much. the pizza is good but the pasta is a no no. they seem to always overcook and oversauce the pasta, and i'm not a huge fan of american pizza so you know, it's somewhat agonizing for me to eat there.

never been to moonshine, but it's next on my list!

Posted by: yi at March 17, 2004 10:34 PM