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Despite its status as the capital of Texas and home of the University of Texas’ main campus, Austin unabashedly takes pride in being weird. In fact, “Keep Austin Weird” has been the Austin Independent Business Alliance’s slogan since the early 2000’s.
Being weird is just part of Austin’s charms. This vibrant Texas city attracts residents and travelers from all the world with world-class art, music (the city claims to be the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’) and food as well as weather conducive to a range of outdoor activities from kayaking to mural-hunting.
Travelers who plan way in advance can attend major festivals like South by Southwest (SXSW) in the spring and Austin City Limits in the autumn. Others can enjoy Austin’s charms on a more leisurely basis, either independently or via activities like a mural tour or food tour.
Austin Food Favorites
Food travelers won’t have any problem finding food in Austin. One of the best American food cities, Austin is filled with eateries at all price points serving local favorites and fine cuisine. Not all of these eateries are stationary – more than 1,000 food trucks serve a variety of cheap eats around the city.
We get that Austin’s diverse food choices can be overwhelming. With this in mind, we recommend that you start your culinary exploration with the following Austin food favorites:
1. Texas Barbecue
Texas Barbecue is legendary and Austin’s location in Central Texas puts the city in the epicenter of the state’s BBQ action. Crowds queue for hours to eat copious amounts of brisket, pork ribs, chicken and sausage at the best Austin Barbecue joints, often making the wait part of the dining experience.
Unlike barbecue in Memphis, Kansas City and North Carolina, Texas Barbecue doesn’t rely on sauces and rubs for flavor. Instead, Texas pitmasters cook meat low and slow in a hardwood fire pit to achieve melt-in-your-mouth juiciness. Sides like pickles, onions and white bread complete the meaty meal.
Start your Texas Barbecue odyssey with brisket at Franklin BBQ, globally famous due to attention from the late Anthony Bourdain and New York‘s James Beard Foundation. Continue your carnivorous journey at local BBQ joints and trucks in Austin before driving to nearby Lockhart for the ultimate Texas Barbecue day trip.
Pro Tip: You can eat at Black’s Barbecue‘s Austin outpost if you don’t have time to venture to Lockhart. But, trust us, you want to make the half-hour drive to Lockhart.
2. Bar Food
Finding a place to drink is Austin is the opposite of a challenge. As a college town and home to a constant stream of 20-somethings moving to the city, Austin has a multitude of bars, beer gardens and music clubs serving all kinds of potent potables.
Tourists who flock to Austin’s ‘dirty’ Sixth Street will find big crowds, sports bars and chains like Coyote Ugly. Sure, there are some good spots in the mix, but we rather go to areas like Rainey Street for a more civilized drinking experience.
Don’t forget to eat before and during any Austin drinking session to avoid intoxication. Uber is a great transportation option if you end up drinking more than you eat.
You can chow down on sausages and beer at aptly named Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden or hunker down at a spot that serves pizza, Tex Mex or BBQ. The bar food options in Austin are practically endless.
3. Healthy Food
As home to the original Whole Foods Market, Austin has been ahead of the health food movement for decades. Since Whole Foods opened its first shop in 1980, both the store and Austin’s healthy food options have grown exponentially.
Dozens of fast-casual and sit-down Austin restaurants serve food appropriate for vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free diets. These menus aren’t limited to smoothie bowls, but you’ll find the same Acai bowls in Austin that you’ll also find in destinations like Bali.
Start your healthy Austin tour at the flagship Whole Foods. Not only is it cool to visit the chain’s ground zero, but you can kill two birds with one stone by shopping and eating while you’re there. Food bar options include seafood, tacos and BBQ.
Located less than a thousand miles from Mexico, Austin is a great place to eat Tex-Mex food. Originally a cuisine eaten by Mexican immigrants in Texas, Tex-Mex is now popular with all sorts of people looking for hearty food with a kick of spice.
When you eat Tex-Mex in Austin, expect Mexcian classics tweaked to include lots of cheese as well as spices not typical in Mexico. Pair your Enchiladas or Chimichangas with refried bean, rice and a Spicy Margarita. Why? Because you can!
5. Food Trucks
More than a thousand food trucks roam the streets of Austin with many of the best clustered in parks around the city. These clusters provide ample choices as well as tables for those who want to sit while they eat.
Plan to travel the world when you eat at Austin food trucks. In just a day, you can eat food from Brazil, Vietnam and the Middle East or you can keep it local with BBQ and Tex-Mex. If you want dessert, you can eat that at an Austin food truck too.
In Austin, the question isn’t where to find brunch. Rather, with so many restaurants serving the breakfast/lunch hybrid weekend meal, the question is where to find the best brunch for your mood.
We ate classic brunch dishes at 24 Diner and Tex-Mex at Maria’s Taco Xpress for our two Austin brunches. However, Austin brunch options have exploded since our visit. You can and should eat every type of food from the simple to the sublime when you do brunch in Austin.
You might not expect to find a lot of sushi in Austin considering the city’s distance from both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. You would be wrong.
In Austin, you can eat sushi at various price points and in different ways. This is a city where you can select sushi from a revolving conveyor belt or settle down to a ten-course omakase meal. As for us, we’re heading straight to Lucky Robot Japanese Kitchen for a dose of sushi fun when we return to Austin.
8. Upscale Dining
A visitor to Austin could easily spend a week eating cheap eats like Tex-Mex and BBQ all week long and leave full and happy. But that would be a shame considering the exciting crop of upscale Austin restaurants taking the fine dining experience in new directions.
Consider the money you save eating at food trucks as an investment in a special meal or two while you’re in Austin. Maybe you’ll want to blow your wad on sushi at Uchiko or at the Barrey Swin chef’s table. Or maybe you’ll choose to fulfill your Top Chef goals at season 10 winner Kristen Kish’s Arlo Grey.
9. Fancy Donuts
Gourdough’s opened its first location, a food truck, in 2009 and sells wildly creative donut creations like Funky Monkey, Porky’s and Baby Rattler, each big, fat and delicious. Portland’s Voodoo joined Austin’s donut party in 2015 with their colorful creations including our favorite, the colorful Marshall Mathers donut topped with vanilla icing and miniature M&Ms.
Try at least one fancy donut in Austin. When you do, take a photo before you take a bite. A good donut is always photogenic.
Don’t mess with a Texan when it comes to cocktails. The folks in Austin take drinking as seriously as they take their cowboy boots. In other words, they mean business when it comes to cocktails.
Austin is a city where you can satisfy your liquid passion at dive bars and classy lounges. We recommend The Roosevelt Room if you’re in the mood for an upscale mixology session. Otherwise, head straight to casual Curra’s Grill and order a wickedly tasty Avocado Margarita.
Austin Quick Facts
- Country – USA
- Continent – North America
- Currency – US Dollar
- Language – English
- Restaurant Tipping – 15 to 20%*
* Tips are expected and comprise a large component of a server’s compensation.
Plan Your Austin Stay
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.