We at BAD and the Alamo Drafthouse recognize that while Austin might double as a second home for some of you, it could also be the very first journey to our city for others. You’ve heard it before but it bears repeating, the local cuisine accompanying your stay is crucial.
Below is the annually evolving MUST VISIT lineup, master curated by Alamo Drafthouse owner Tim League and piggybacked by the rest of the team as we tossed in a few recently opened spots and a 10% off discount at an establishment named after the saltiest, most delectable character from E.B. White’s classic children’s novel.
First on the list because they’re a Texas institution, and one of the fastest, most thrifty and filling breakfast options you can choose.
- Maria’s Taco Xpress (2529 S. Lamar Blvd. - 512-444-0261) - All hail the South Austin queen of breakfast tacos, Maria Corbalan. *Our recommendation: take a bottle of her Argentinian-influenced Loco Maria Chimichurri sauce home with you to feed the subsequent addiction.
- Curra’s Grill (614 E. Oltorf St. - 512-444-0012) - For a more traditional approach, Curra’s offers the Interior Mexican take on the breakfast taco.
- El Chilito (2225 Manor Rd. - 512-382-3797) - While a smidgen trendy and not too terribly authentic, their tacos are not to be denied.
- Michocana Meat Market (1917 E. 7th St. #1 - 512-473-8487) - A homegrown grocery/butcher shop with a great restaurant counter in the back.
- Polvo’s (2004 South 1st St. - 512-441-5446) - Breakfast tacos by morning, generously strong margaritas and delicious fajitas by evening. Prepare for multiple trips to that self-serve salsa bar.
- Taco Deli (4200 N. Lamar Blvd. - 512-419-1900) - Wipe that guilt free slobber from their electronic menu. *Our recommendation: Don’t leave the place without a bite of the Cowboy. Use caution stating the last bit aloud.
- Tamale House (5003 Airport Blvd. - 512-453-9842) No official website, but Yelp boasts the radiant lady chefs who will cure your FF hangover at a low price.
- Torchy’s Tacos (multiple locations) - A staple for local taco enthusiasts, however inauthentic. Unique flavors comprised of fresh ingredients and rather giant in size.
*Read while you wait: SXSW’s Jarod Neece provides the definitive guide to taco culture, breakfast and otherwise at Taco Journalism.
More Breakfast, Sweets and Coffee
It’ll be news to us if you tire of the breakfast taco, but here are options beyond the shell.
- Bouldin Creek Coffee House (1900 S 1st St. - 512-416-1601) - Frankly, it’s a once a week stop. Fairly priced, wholesome, flavorful vegetarian fare. *Our recommendation: Chick Pea “Chik’n” Salad Sammich
- Counter Cafe (626 N. Lamar Blvd. - 512-708-8800) - Small, revamped, environmentally conscious (though not meatless) cuisine. *Our recommendation: Texas Quail & Eggs
- Sugar Mama’s (1905 South 1st St. - 512-448-3727) - Don’t waste your time trying to locate a better cupcake in town.
- La Patisserie (602 W. Annie St. - 512-912-0033) - Heavenly macaroons and French pastries are the specialty of this quaint South Austin newcomer.
- Toy Joy Cafe (2900 Guadalupe St. - 512-320-0705) - A tiny (organic/vegan) coffee shop nestled in the back of Austin’s notorious, must-see toy shop. *Our recommendations: Black Bubble Tea, a Vegan Cookies n’ Cream Shake or a sweet potato flavored Kit Kat from Japan
- Caffe Medici (multiple locations) Experts report they pull 2 oz. of espresso at 26 seconds in 18 gram baskets. I’m just going to tell you it’s the best damn coffee in town.
- And for the fanciest of pants try the Sunday brunch at Green Pastures (where you can also marvel at a lawn full of peacocks) or any of the upscale hotels downtown: The Driskill, The Four Seasons or The W.
- Whole Foods Flagship (525 N. Lamar Blvd. - 512-476-1206) - Austin was the birthplace of the very first Whole Foods back in 1980. This location is the ULTIMATE supermarket, featuring a dozen restaurants scattered throughout along with enormous specialty gourmet sections. Shockingly, Whole Foods also houses some of the best bbq in town, but we’d all suggest a stop by Franklin first (see Barbecue section below).
- Quality Seafood Market (5621 Airport Blvd. - 512-454-5827) - It began as Austin’s premier seafood retailer/wholesaler years ago and thanks to a brilliant owner now offers outstanding grilled/fried seafood from a bar at the center of the shop. *Our recommendations: Raw Oysters, Catfish Beignets or any of the Po-Boy Sandwiches *Closed Sunday
- El Pollo Feliz aka Pollo Regio or Pollo Borracho (6615 Berkman Dr. - 512-933-9557) - Tim says, “They begin smoking the chickens at 7 in the AM and by 11 those in the know are lined up for what I consider to be the best birds ever to pass my lips. The menu has expanded a bit, but I never venture from the chicken: half ($6) or whole ($11). Each comes with a stack of fresh corn tortillas, a roasted onion, rice and the tastiest creamy green tomatillo salsa on the planet. Several stands in town now, but my favorite is the trailer at 6615 Berkman Drive.”
- Hai Ky (multiple locations) - Cheap, scrumptious Vietnamese offerings (vast variety of vegetarian options as well). In the words of the Hai family themselves, it hits the spot “pho real” whether you’ve downed a Vermicelli Bowl or a piping hot bowl of their traditional noodle soup. *Our recommendations: The entire menu. Not kidding.
- Casino El Camino (517 E 6th St. - 512-469-9330) - Austin’s world famous, award-winning burgers. The size of your adult head and grilled slowly to a perfect medium, so be prepared to wait at least a half hour. One of the best jukeboxes in town, too, so you’ll hardly notice the time spent.
- Hopdoddy’s (1400 South Congress Ave. - 512 243 7505) - Fantastic, new burger bar. Fresh baked buns and local ingredients. Don’t let a long line intimidate you here as it tends to move quickly. *Our recommendations: Ahi Tuna Burger, Kennebec Fries and a Dublin Dr. Pepper from the fountain.
- Your Mom’s Burger Bar (1701 E. Cesar Chavez - 512 474-6667) We’re broken records about this place and justifiably so. Amazing stuffed burgers. *Our recommendations: Frieda Kahlo or John D. Rockefeller.
- Nau’s Pharmacy (1115 W. Lynn - 512-476-3663) - A historical and quite hidden traditional soda fountain lunch counter with some of the best prices in the whole city. *Closed after 4 p.m.
- P. Terry’s (404 S. Lamar Blvd. - 512-473-2217) - Old fashioned “In and Out” style burger joint.
- Bacon (900 W. 10th St. - 512-322-9777) - Yes, please. A very new burger bar in town offering all Fantastic Fest badge holders a 10% discount! *Our friend J.C. secured that discount (thanks, man) and recommends their signature, the Doublegrind.
Texas bbq opinions can be dangerously STRONG, but don’t let that rub you the wrong way (intended, sorry). That being said, the BAD team is no exception. The best (one might even say elite) barbecue joints close down shortly after lunch and many are closed on Sundays, so check in before heading out.
- Franklin Barbecue (900 E. 11th St. - 512-653-1187) - Hands down - best barbecue in Texas. Newcomer Franklin Barbecue has sent shock waves through the barbecue community and everyone is itching for a taste, so expect a really, really long line. Get there no later than 10 AM and be prepared to wait an hour. *Our recommendations: ALL THE MEATS and a Bourbon Banana Pie for dessert.
- Smitty’s Market (208 S. Commerce St., Lockhart, TX - 512.398.9344) - About 30 minutes south of town on 183 S lies the oldest barbecue joint in Texas and the inspiration for Hill Country Barbecue in Manhattan. They don’t offer sauce (so don’t embarrass yourself and ask) because they believe its sole purpose is to mask inferior meat. *Our recommendations: Juicy Porkchops, Fatty Brisket, Sausage and Rare Prime Rib.
- Louie Mueller’s (206 W. Second St., Taylor, TX - 512-352-6206) - Tim says, “Still in the family and truly authentic. World Class!”
- Snow’s (516 Main Street, Lexington, TX - 979-542-8189) - It’s a haul out to Snows, so allocate about an hour and don’t arrive any later than noon. Ranked #1 BBQ in TX by Texas Monthly (but only because they have yet to reprint and rank Franklin as king).
The following are decidedly a step down from everything above, but also slightly more convenient.
- Vic’s (3502 Burleson Rd. at E. Ben White - 512-445-4250) - All jokes aside, he has some of the best sausage in Austin. See also: ribs, brisket and chicken.
- Mann’s Smokehouse (8624 Research Blvd. - 512-459-5077) - A local spot receiving quite a bit of local buzz.
- Rudy’s (multiple locations) - Surprisingly tasty and consistent for a bbq chain offering.
*Note of utmost importance: Deviate from this list and take what could be a glorious barbecue future in your own stupid hands.
Trailer options have exploded over the last couple of years and the variety you can find in these unassuming metal boxes is endless. Many even have top-notch chefs moonlighting at the helm. *We suggest browsing: foodtrailersaustin.com or austinfoodcarts.com.
- The Odd Duck Farm to Trailer (1219 S. Lamar across from Alamo South Lamar) - Daily changing fresh, epicurean menu. These fine folks also run a delicious, new South Austin gastropub, Barley Swine (see Dinner section).
- Gourdoughs Donuts (1219 S. Lamar, next to Odd Duck) - Earth shattering donuts in a dizzying array of sweet and savory concoctions that sometimes cleverly describe post devouring feelings, *Ex: Black Out.
- East Side King (1618 1/2 E. 6th - 512-422-5884) - Epic Asian fusion offerings. Permanently parked in the outside portion of Liberty Bar, Shangri-La, or The Grackle. *Our recommendations: Tongue Bun, Curry Bun or Instant Ramen w/ pork belly.
- Flip Happy Crepes (400 Josephine) - They beat Bobby Flay in a head-to-head challenge on the Food Network.
- Lucky Puccia’s (817 W 5th St, next to Tiniest Bar in Texas - 512 739-8785) - Holy wood-fired Italian sandwiches, Batman!
- Chilantro Barbecue (Twitter: @chilantrobbq) - Austin’s answer to LA’s Korean taco sensation, Kogi Tacos. *Tip: Constantly on the move, so follow them @chilantrobbq.
- Uchi (801 S. Lamar Blvd - 512-916-4808) - Within walking distance of the Alamo South Lamar location, Uchi is by far our favorite restaurant in town. Executive Chef and co-owner, Tyson Cole, has been a contestant on Iron Chef and was named one of the top ten chefs in America by Food and Wine Magazine. They boast an ever-changing menu of Japanese and fusion dishes and the fish is flown in daily from the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.
- Uchiko (4200 N. Lamar - 512-916-4808) - By default, our second favorite restaurant - branching out from the former but with a completely different menu and a larger bar area. *Our recommendation: The Omakase tasting menu and allocating enough time to savor it.
- Olivia (2043 S. Lamar - 512-804-2700) - Head chef James Holmes was nominated by Food and Wine Magazine as “people’s best new chef” of 2011. Holmes was also once behind the kitchen wizardry at the Alamo Drafthouse Village location.
- Hoover’s (2002 Manor Rd. - 512-479-5006) - Yummy “stick to the ribs” soul food and southern-style home cooking. The atmosphere is said to leave a bit to be desired, but the deliciousness of the food more than makes up for it. *Our recommendation: Fried Pork Chops.
- Barley Swine (2024 S. Lamar - 512-394-8150) - Compact, often crowded (so allot extra time) gastropub with radical beer options and ever-changing selection of small plates.
- Foreign and Domestic (306 E. 53rd Street - 512-459-1010) - Awesome, quaint new Austin restaurant near the North Loop shopping district. Frequently rotating artisan menu.
- Justine’s (4710 East 5th St.) - Charming East Side French bistro. *Our recommendation: Steak Tartare.
- 24 Diner (Corner of 6th and Lamar - 512-472-5400) - Surprise, it’s open 24 hours. High quality menu offerings all day and all night. We’d say it’s the best on this late night list.
- The Highball (1142 S. Lamar Blvd. - 512-383-8309) - Possibly bias resulting from the fact that the Drafthouse owns the place, but The Highball offers bowling, karaoke and a 60’s style diner/cocktail lounge. Located right next to the Alamo South Lamar location where all Fantastic Fest films are screening. Fantastic Arcade is held here, too.
- Parkside (301 E. 6th St. - 512-474-9898) - Sean Cirkiel’s downtown French bistro - great food and open late.
- Backspace (507 San Jacinto - 512-474-9899) - Located directly behind Parkside is his new wood-fired pizza concept. Boasting intimate dining or a quiet hideout for a glass of wine.
- East Side Showroom (1100 E 6th St.) - Trendy, old-fashioned cocktails and bistro snacks.
- Thai Passion (620 Congress Ave. - 512-472-1244) - Delicious Thai offerings and open late - a godsend for post-midnight movies.
- Home Slice (1415 South Congress Ave. - 512-444-PIES) - An Austin staple for a fan of NY style ‘za. *Visit their neighbor, More Home Slice, for a quicker piece on the go.
We confess it’s an incomplete list, but it certainly represents a handful of the establishments that help to make Austin such a well-seasoned, extraordinary city.
No matter what your course, the BAD team and the Alamo Drafthouse as a whole hope you enjoy your stay and return often.