Saturday, January 12, 2013

Austin tour p.2: what I ate

The real question is what didn't I eat?  Austin has so many great cafes, restaurants, and food trailers that it was hard to fit it all in to 5 days.  But I tried.  Oh, I tried.

Casa Chapala: By the time we checked into the hotel and got Jon signed in for the conference, it was after 2pm.  We just popped in here for what we thought would be a small lunch to hold us over until dinner, but it ended up being pretty big.  No complaints about that, obviously.  Food was pretty good, but I don't think it's the kind of place that I'd specifically go back to again, just because there are so many other places to eat in Austin.  But definitely worth it if you need a quick and yummy meal and don't have time to go too far from downtown.

Where: Downtown, on the corner of 2nd and San Jacinto Blvd.

Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill: Jon had been planning a part of the conference with another meteorologist (he flies hurricane hunter planes!) via phone and email, and so he wanted to officially meet Jon for dinner to go over a few things before their program on Sunday.  Surprise - I went, too.  Unfortunately, I was too full from lunch to have an actual meal here, which sucked because the menu was pretty good.  I settled on an appetizer of corn dog shrimp (beer battered shrimp) and shared the fried asparagus.  
Photo from collegebarscene.com.
Two nights later, Jon's co-workers were in town for the conference and one of them decided to get dinner with us.  We suggested Moonshine because I was eager to try a real meal there and it wasn't too far from the hotel.  There was a small wait, so we got drinks (I tried the Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling and it's fantastic).  I liked how the restaurant was set up; there's a bar inside which was kind of crowded.  They checked us in for the restaurant out front at a podium, and instead of sending us into the bar, they brought us around to the patio bar.  Smaller, but quiet, and just off the patio area where we ended up having dinner.  A built-in stone fire pit added to the ambience outside.

Our meal started with seasoned popcorn brought to the table.  I skipped the appetizer this time and settled on the pecan crusted catfish for my meal.  Topped with crawfish tails, homemade hot sauce and brown butter sauce, it was... well, as my dad says, it made my tongue slap my face happy.  Enough said.

Where: Corner of Red River & 3rd St. just behind the convention center.

Elizabeth Street Cafe: This is one of the places I read about on a blog before we got to Austin.  French-Vietnamese Cuisine?  The adventurous spirit in me was intrigued.  Jon and I went for breakfast Sunday morning before the conference began later that afternoon.

Where: 1st & Elizabeth.  The number 10 bus has a stop just nearby.

The restaurant is so open and airy feeling inside, despite having limited seating (there is additional seating with heaters outside).  The waitresses all wore similar outfits of dresses with tights (totally my style), and the decor was a perfect mix of patterns and colors.  In short, I wanted to live here.

There are a few seats at the counter, where you can also order bakery items like baguettes, croissants, and macaroons.  Can you believe I'd never had a macaroon before that day?  I'd also never eaten breakfast with chopsticks before, so you know, it was a monumental kind of day.

Most of the time when I go to a restaurant, I expect to see some menu items that I wouldn't necessarily cook at home to draw my attention.  Call me a snob, but I can't even waste my time at chain restaurants for dinner anymore because it's the same old food that I could cook better, healthier, and cheaper at home.  Elizabeth Street Cafe did not disappoint.  With a cuisine labeled 'French-Vietnamese', how could it?

I got: Roasted Pork & Wood Ear Mushroom Omelete with a side of mango, cucumber, basil and crispy shallots.  This is one of those meals that I'm going to dream about for breakfasts to come.
Jon ordered the special which was a quiche with pork belly, chilis, and gruyere, topped with herb salad.  It was as good as it sounds (that is to say - friggin wonderful).
It was too hard to say no to the bakery offerings at ESC.  We brought two macaroons and a Nutella eclair (!!!) back to the hotel.  They didn't last much longer than that.

Crepes Mille: I spent a lot of time wandering around South Congress on Sunday, and had such a hard time deciding where to do lunch.  I settled on a crepe from the Crepes Mille trailer.  The menu isn't online, but they have all sorts of both savory and sweet crepes.  I got some sort of chicken curry with shredded carrots.  When it came out, it seemed like it was swimming in curry sauce, but as soon as I cut the crepe open, the chicken absorbed all the sauce and it was delish.

Where: At the corner of South Congress and Gibson.  Cash only, but there's an ATM right out front (not to mention all over the city).
Stubb's BBQ: Anyone else a fan of Stubb's BBQ sauce?  Jon and I discovered it in the "Eat This, Not That" books as one of the healthiest (read: low in sugar) BBQ sauces out there.  On the bottle, it says they're located in Austin, TX, so we made plans to visit the restaurant when we were there.  I got brisket; Jon got pulled pork.  Served up central Texas style with a slice of bread, the focus is on the meat.  On most nights, Stubb's also acts as a live music venue (their tagline is cold beer | live music).
Where: Red River & 8th St.  Walk there via 6th street if you want a peek at the different bars and shops without actually having to go in any of them.  6th was still decorated for Christmas when we were there, so that was a nice treat.

Hey Cupcake: I know food trucks and trailers are becoming ubiquitous all over the US, but I've never seen more in one city than I did in Austin.  And I think most of them aren't even mobile on a daily basis; there are bunch of 'food trailer parks' around Austin where several take up a semi-permanent residence.  When you're out and about on your own, and need a quick bite, they are cheap and yummy, so I did take advantage of them on this trip for sure.
Before I even stopped to get my lunch at Crepes Mille, I bought two cupcakes from Hey Cupcake.  They put them in this nice little to-go box with a separator inside, but I still managed to tip them around by the time I got back to the hotel.  But no matter - Jon and I agreed that they were still tasty.
No picture of the mushed cupcakes, sorry.
Crappy iPhone picture, sorry.
Where: They've got several locations, but I hit up the Hey Cupcake trailer on Congress & Milton.  There are a bunch of other food trucks parked here with picnic tables and when I was there, a man playing guitar.

Annie's Cafe & Bar: I stumbled across Annie's one day when I had set out to explore the 2nd Street Shopping district.  It turns out, I am not the fancy boutique type of girl.  I had more fun looking around the vintage shops on South Congress than looking through designer shoes and jewelry, so my shopping day was over not long after it started.  I desperately did not want to go back to the hotel, so I was trying to find a place that I could just sit with the iPad and read with a cup of tea since it was kind of drizzly and chilly outside.  On the search for another place, I rounded a corner and saw Annie's.  It's an inviting kind of cafe I imagine I'd find in France, so I walked in and plopped down at a table.  The only downfall I had was that unlike some of the other places I'd been so far, Annie's only offered a cup of tea rather than a pot.  I went through it pretty quickly.  Because it is counter service (full service if you sit at the bar), and I didn't want to leave my camera bag and iPad sitting there, I just made my cookie last as long as I could.
After awhile, it was lunch time and Jon and I were going to meet at a sandwich place a few blocks away.  Instead I had him and his coworkers meet me here (since it was filling up and I already had a table).  Our sandwiches and my soup were quite good and fresh.

Where: On (North) Congress, between 3rd and 4th.

Snack Bar: There's only so much I can do to entertain myself every day.  After walking around for so long, my feet start to get tired, and all I want to do is sit.  But not in the hotel.  So I try to find someplace that welcomes people who want to order little and sit for awhile.  Besides Starbucks.  I'd wanted to try Snack Bar and all its retro glory, but didn't think we'd have a chance go make it there for dinner or drinks, so I walked all the way down to S. Congress on a cloudy, chilly day (Monday?).  There was only one other guy there drinking coffee, and earlier in the week I'd seen a girl sitting around with her laptop there, so I didn't feel too bad.  A small order is better than no order, right?

A pot of tea (naturally) and fresh toasted banana bread.  I chose to sit outside despite the chill in the air, right next to the fire.  It was actually very cozy.  I stayed for about 45 minutes before I had to walk back to the hotel to meet Jon.
Where: South Congress and James St.

From my seat outside at Snack Bar, I could turn around and see Jo's Coffee.

Jo's Coffee: The Jo's coffee most people probably know of in Austin is on South Congress.  And I had planned to go there, but I got lazy and instead went to the one on 2nd St.  The SoCo location is outdoors (covered), but the downtown location is indoors.  It has a retro kind of vibe to the decor (which I love).  I got a pot of tea and a breakfast taco, and sat at the counter.
Where: S. Congress & James or 2nd St between Colorado and Lavaca.

Iron Works BBQ: We passed by Iron Works in the cab just before we got to our hotel.  I actually thought it was an iron works place, to be honest.  And I guess that's not too far off since it used to be one.  This was just around the corner from the convention center, so we figured it'd be an easy spot to meet for lunch.  

It got busy fast with all of the conference attendees, but the line moved quickly and there was plenty of seating.  We sat out on the heated covered porch.  Jon's coworker Chris got ribs - he said they were alright.  I got brisket, this time on a sandwich, and I thought it was fantastic.  They served it up with pickles and onions, so I tossed those suckers on the brisket, squirted some sauce, and dug in.  

Where: 1st & Red River St, just behind the convention center.
A customer placing her order at Iron Works BBQ.
The story behind IWB

Le Cafe Crepe: I forget what made me stop here for breakfast one day.  I think Jon needed to get to the conference early and didn't have time for breakfast, and so I showered up and pulled out the iPad in search of food nearby.  The road outside is under construction, so I probably would have walked right past if I weren't actually looking for it.

There must have been a break in the conference because just after I went in to the near empty cafe, meteorologists started coming in filling out the rest of the tables.  (My overachiever husband wasn't one of them.)  My server was super cool with me sitting there reading and offered to refill my tea pot for me.  I ordered the Morning Crepe (eggs, spinach, mushrooms, onions, and Swiss) and it was so damn good that I told Jon I'd get up early with him to get breakfast there again the next morning.  Only on that day, he ordered the special, and I was jealous that I didn't.  There were cheesy potatoes involved, you guys.  And bacon.  And a big fried egg on top.  Whaaaaaat?

Where: San Jacinto and 2nd.
I should have gotten this on the second morning.
But whatever, this was still good.  And healthier.  So hah!
Turf & Surf Po' Boy: That day I was meandering around trying to find a place to sit and get some tea, I saw Turf & Surf Po' Boy across the street.  You guys know I am not too good to eat street food.  And I have to say, I love po' boys.  And fish tacos.  But the tiniest part of me was a little skeptical of street fish.  But then it was like, forget it, the Yelp reviews are all good and I just want a damn po' boy.

So Chris suggested it for lunch on Wednesday and I was on board.  Don't be put off by the condition of the trailer... or the cardboard signs.  The food is damn good.  I got a crawfish po' boy, but Jon surprised me by getting fish tacos.  And he doesn't even usually eat fish!  I can't even describe how yummy these were, especially for having come from a truck on the corner in a city in the middle of the state.  Just scroll down to the pictures already.

Where: Currently at 4th and Congress, but they said they've got to move soon.  Whatever you do, if you go to Austin, find them.

Easy Tiger: I found this place online the day before we left for Austin.  It's a bakery/beer garden.  I'm a carb-o-holic, and my husband brews his own beer (mentioned just so you know that he's a beer connoisseur  not an alcoholic, hah), so it was kind of a win/win for the both of us.  This was our last dinner in Austin, but we didn't even really eat a true meal here.  Because just about every review of the place mentioned their 'boards', we got two to share.

Not my picture, and not what I ordered, but you get the idea.
The cheese plate had three types of cheeses, three kinds of breads, and a cranberry compote in the middle.  The German board was served with a large house-made pretzel (the ones pictured are the small), a bratwurst, kraut, beer cheese, potato salad, and house mustard.  The two boards were enough to fill us up as a meal, so you can do like we did and opt for that rather than getting a sandwich or something.  To finish off the night, we shared a pain au chocolat and bought a baguette to go (and brought it back to Virginia with us only slightly worse for wear).  We really enjoyed Easy Tiger and would go back next time we visit Austin.

Where:  Behind the Hilton Garden Inn, on 6th between Sabine St and Frontage Rd.  Walk along the rowdy bars on 6th and keep walking until you think there's nothing left.  You'll hit Easy Tiger before you reach the highway.

Torchy's Tacos/South Austin Trailer Park: So breakfast tacos are a big thing in Austin.  My dad makes them for breakfast all the time for us when we visit, so they're nothing new to us, but I like that it's a common thing in Austin.  I specifically heard good things about Torchy's.  Jon was supposed to come with me on our last morning in Texas to get breakfast here, but he ran short on time and couldn't.  So I just went alone.

Then I got there and realized that even though the breakfast tacos sounded just fine, what I really wanted was a 'lunch' taco.  And I suppose I could have gotten one for breakfast, but instead I asked Jon if he wanted me to come back and pick us up some tacos for lunch so we had some food before we went to the airport.  And he said yes.  So I did just that.  After the capitol tour, I took the bus back down to Torchy's and got Jon a green chili pork taco, and the fried avocado taco for myself thanks to a recommendation from my friend Abby.  Good call, Abby.  That taco was awesome!

Where: On S. 1st St, just before Elizabeth Street.  They do take credit cards, by the way.

Bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast taco in corn tortillas.

Are you hungry now?


  1. Srsly. I am so ready to go back and eat and eat and eat, haha. You'd love it there!