When we have people in from out of town, we almost want to prove to them, that yes, they too could pick up and leave New York or Los Angeles in favor of Austin. You can find here what you’re used to… you know, all that and a bag of chips (with queso, a Mexican martini, and fried pickle spears). So for all those thinking of visiting, here’s one New Yorker’s Food Bible to the Bible Belt (Not to be confused with my Insider Snob Guide to Austin, TX)
Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar: Now why wouldn’t my first restaurant suggestion in Texas be some land and cattle place, or at least some rockstar TexMex? I mean really. The nerve. The answer, my friends, is because there’s Perla’s. It’s as if you’ve just pulled up your yacht, except Perla’s isn’t on the water. It’s interiors remind me of the Hampton’s, the delishingly refreshing parts of the Hampton’s, not the lines outside the velvet rope go-to no-to spots. When I say I had the best cocktail of my life at Perla’s, I’m not messing around. I actually sent a little tweet bo peep from my seat:
And it’s true. The cocktails inspire you to race to your nearby liquor store, to stock up on all the ingredients to recreate it at home. Because it’s that good. Go for their daily frozen special. And yes, begin with an entree, only share it as an appetizer. Go by way of the lobster roll and fries. But if you’re looking for bread to nibble, order a sandwich, because hushpuppies are the carbs to nosh at Perla’s.
Roaring Fork (and Eddie V’s): If you’ve ever hit up Wildfish in Newport Beach or Scottsdale, you have an idea of what Roaring Fork is like. Only put the seafood on simmer, and add more wood to the fire. They don’t use burners–everything is cooked over a real flame. Imagine farmhouse grits served in a mini cauldron, and a burger titled "The Big Ass Burger." This is where we bring people who typically favor steakhouses. The salads are exceptional (Rotisserie Chicken Club Salad with Red & Golden Tomatoes, Apple Wood Smoked Bacon, Avocado, Candied Pecans & Creamy Green Chile-Buttermilk Dressing), and the "safe eaters," who always stick to what they know, can predictably order the crab cakes, and finish with the Hot Chocolate Lava Brownie. Personally, I’m a fan of the antler chandeliers. Nothing says Texas quite like roadkill over a mantle. I will admit that the Roaring Fork "uptown" is sub par and overpriced. I ordered scallops last time I was there, and they came in a pool of oil and were overcooked. But I do love their downtown happy hour.
If you like Roaring Fork and Eddie V’s, you’ll also like:
Truluck’s: awesome dessert towers & known for their stone crabs
Roy’s: I’d been to the one in NYC years ago, and liked it here in Austin
Fleming’s: I don’t like Steak Houses; the food is pretty much the same at all of them: plain. With side dishes. Eh. It’s never all that creative. So if you want plain, head to III Forks or Sullivan’s. But if you want a place that offers 5 different burgers every night, and 100 wines by the glass!, hit up Fleming’s, especially for their 567 special: "5 cocktails, 5 wines by the glass and 5 appetizers. $6 each, served at the bar until 7 PM." Little known secret is that Fleming’s attention to quality is your gain: they won’t sell any wine past it’s time, so each day Flemings hands a list of opened bottles (3 days) to the bartender. Request to see the list; any glass on the list is $6. Seeing as many typically sell for at least double, here you have an opportunity to sample some great finds at a price that’ll make you tipsy.
Finn & Porter: The only reason I’m listing this bore of a spot is they have crunchy rice and a sushi bar, so if you’re craving LA’s Koi or Katsuya app, you can get it here. And, no, the Koi in Austin is not affiliated with the one in LA. They do not serve the crunchy rice, spicy tuna, with jalapeno topper. But if you really want sushi…
Uchi: Most Austinites will agree with me on this one. I would argue that the inventiveness of the dishes at Uchi kick a whole school of Nobu/Jewel Bakko fishass. This is THE place to go for sushi that’s creative–and I don’t mean believing something is creative because you add tempura flakes and mango. They served us a course on an actual salt lick. Whenever we go, we get the chef’s tasting menu. The one thing that can stand improvement? Their desserts. I’ve never had a really good one there. Next stop on our list is Tomo Sushi (the chef hails from Las Vegas’s Nobu), where I’m told it’s more straightforward sushi, traditional, fresh, with a rock shrimp tempura dish from Nobu (Phil’s favorite).
Aquarelle: If you’re looking for fancy, for prix fix, for a place to spend a special birthday or anniversary, or if you’re looking to have an affair with an older man whom people will assume is your dad, hit up any of these lovely jewels: Hudson On The Bend, TRIO at The Four Seasons.
La Condesa: Holy crapjacks, skip the cocktail menu. I know it looks dreamy, but I promise, it’s all way too overdone, either too sweet, or too sour. Stick with the wines by the glass and "Oh, my stars" try the mushrooms that grow on ears of corn.
Pesche: On the night I was there the chef was making his own maraschino cherries. Need I really say more? This is the go-to spot for a proper cocktail. Skip their fries, but go for their Gougeres.
Wink: Small plates, a wink big, but the flavors are refined, the staff delightful, and the wine list dazzles.
Austin Barbecue: Forget Blue Smoke and Dinosaur. Poof. You’re in Texas now.
Rudy’s: Order the brisket, moist. I know, I know, no one likes the word. But you’ll like it in your brisket. Top it with raw onions wrapped in some white bread. Finish off with the banana pudding and wash it down with their real cane sugar Cola from the ice bins.
Poke Joe’s: You go for their beef ribs. Period. Secret- Tell them you have a dog and they’ll throw you some extra ribs for Fido…or Mr. Bikini, as it were.
County Line: Don’t clobber me with an oak log, but this place is best visited for the back deck. Feed turtles while drinking a Shiner and eating the ‘cue. Good barbecue but be forewarned you pay for bread, and the only thing on the menu other than meat is a big baked potato or their mustard based potato salad.
Salt Lick: I’ve said it before. It’s the kind of place where you bring your own everything. Your own water, even. For me, quite frankly, I’d stop at the Salt Lick in the Austin airport on your way home and take the chopped brisket sandwich to go. Salt Lick has my favorite BBQ sauce… it’s all sugar.
Whole Foods: Yes, I said it. Whole Foods smokes their own barbecue, and it’s a toothsome jewel of a surprise. Grab a bottle of wine from the enormous selection three aisles away, buy some pulled pork, then people watch at the meat counter.
Hitting up Lockhart, TX: I know no one wants to work to eat, but driving to Lockhart is worth it. The 30 minute commute brings you to Smitty’s and Black’s BBQ. Both prove why Lockhart is the BBQ capital of Texas. Black’s brisket and "rings" (a ring of sausage) matched with creamed corn make my chaps whistle. View photos and to read a more in-depth review
TexMex: If you’re expecting a Rosa Mexicano meal, you head to Fonda San Miguel. If you’re hoping for Zarella equivalent with liquid crack ‘ritas, you head to Trudy’s (or so I hear). My favorites are Z Tejas for cornbread served in a skillet, and Curra’s Grill for their pulled pork made with Dr. Pepper or Coke, or some other sweet can. A lot of people favor El Chile or Maudies, which I think are fine, but definitely not very memorable.
Don’t Bother With These Austin Restaurants:
Olivia: Where they’re not fries, they’re frites, and they come with more than ketchup: hello aioli. The problem is that you walk into Olivia with high expectations. It was recently named among the 2009 Top Ten New Restaurants in America by Bon Appetit magazine. In America! That’s damn impressive, and they should be over the moon and cow proud. But… I’m here to say, officially, that Bon Appetit got this one dead wrong. We’ve been there twice now, trying, hoping.
They have a lovely wine list, but the food falls short of everything you want it to be. It’s "okay," but it’s not spectacular. Yes, they offer lamb tongue and lamb corazon (heart), lamb ribs, lamb sliders, lamb neck, and lamb chops (and I fucking LOVE lamb), but to be honest, none of it wowed us. Mostly, we left disappointed, both times. I’m not a stickler for cleanliness mind you, but we did notice one evening that the chef continued to taste a dish she was preparing, slurping from a spoon, then using that same spoon to stir the dish some more. Did I mention that she did this repeatedly throughout the night?
Restaurant Jezebel: We asked the chef to prepare a tasting menu, and quite frankly, we weren’t impressed with any of it. No interesting flavor profiles or exciting brightness or complexity. The most memorable dish wasn’t memorable for good reason: it was greasy, burnt, and over salted. We wanted to like it, but couldn’t.