Until recently, Austin, Texas, wasn’t known for estimable eats. The nation’s “live music capital” has long been an easygoing college town, with hippie musicians, artists and typical urban sprawl. But today, the rock stars are chefs who’ve earned acclaim for trendy eats beyond just Southern staples. The booming region attracts more than 150 new residents each day. Here’s how they’re staying happy and full.
Breakfast tacos are served endlessly (well past dinner) and everywhere (from food trucks, especially) throughout Austin. Locals vouch for the low-fuss, cheap staple at Torchy’s Tacos. The chain started as a food truck 10 years ago and now operates a dozen locations throughout Austin, with more on the way. At Torchy’s newest location (1822 S. Congress Ave., 512-916-9025), find the chain’s usual crowd-pleasers, like fried avocado and green chile pork tacos. Another favorite, Veracruz All Natural, runs three separate taco trucks. Its original downtown location (1704 E. Cesar Chavez, 512-981-1760) serves migas — a cheesy taco with eggs, pico de gallo and tortilla chips.
Barbecue is another must. And at Aztec Food Trailer Park, La Barbecue (1906 E. Cesar Chavez, 512-605-9696) is the crown jewel. Pitted as one of Austin’s best barbecue joints, its brisket and buttermilk potato salad can draw two-hour waits. At its main competitor and predecessor, Franklin Barbecue (900 E. 11th St., 512-653-1187), prime meats are smoked with post oak wood at lower temperatures for longer. They’re such a hit, the joint draws waits as long as four hours.
Austin isn’t just tacos and barbecue. Hopdoddy Burger Bar is a local creation by four celebrated Austin chefs. At the flagship (1400 S. Congress Ave., 512-243-7505) in Austin’s hipster SoCo neighborhood, lines form for humanely raised meat in its house-ground burgers.
Across the street, Home Slice Pizza (1415 S. Congress Ave., 512-444-7437) serves New York-style pizza so popular that it opened a second building on the same block just to serve it by the slice. Alternatively, the lauded Via 313 (multiple locations, via313.com) takes on Detroit-style pizza at its two food trucks and full-service locations.
Worth the price
For proper meals, Austin flexes its creative spirit. The recently opened Central Standard (1603 S. Congress Ave., 512-942-0823,) is a show-stopping space, with showy plates of New American cuisine to match. Don’t miss the shareable potato bread.
Pedestrian ingredients get elevated at Qui (1600 E. Sixth St., 512-436-9626), helmed by former Top Chef and James Beard Award winner Paul Qui, with flavors like spicy peanut butter and banana ketchup.
Meanwhile at Emmer & Rye (51 Rainey St., Suite 110, 512-366-5530), seasonal dishes are sourced from daily harvests, while pastas and breads are made with heritage grains that the culinary team mills themselves.
Not unlike New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, Austin’s Sixth Street is a strip of bars touting well drinks and specials. But you can find serious drinks at Midnight Cowboy (313 E. Sixth St., 512-843-2715). The speakeasy-styled, reservations-only bar serves cocktails in a calmer atmosphere.
Beyond Sixth Street, another solid strip is Rainey Street, which features bars in formerly residential bungalows. The surest bets include Half Step (75 1/2 Rainey St., 512-391-1877), with its make-no-mistakes menu (just eight or so perfected drinks) and a relaxing backyard, and Container Bar (90 Rainey St., 512-320-0820), which serves straightforward cocktails in a stack of repurposed shipping containers.