Once you get used to the patés, the gourmet hams, and the chopped barbecue pork that grace the inside of a sandwich at Ba Le Vietnamese/French Bakery, cold cuts will seem bland and lifeless by comparison. Forgoing the standard lettuce/tomato combo, fresh cilantro, and the delicious pickled carrot and daikon are the toppings on these crusty subs, all served on a baguette made onsite. A nice list of choices, all at $2 or $2.50, means there's plenty of funds left over for a side of dumplings or some of the seasoned jerkies and odd desserts that fill the refrigerated cases.
Owner Phil Newton's tart tongue may come from the delicious chicory coffee he serves, or from substances consumed in a paisley past. Whatever - his banter is quicksilver, sharp and fun. Locals drop by to be testy with him, and to enjoy his surprisingly good food and stimulating beverages of tea and coffee. Once part of a popular downtown scene, High Time split the high rents to be friendly neighborhood folks, but the uptown edge is still there, and Phil's got plenty of arrows in his quiver.
Wild as we are about the cuisine of Louisiana, we were thrilled when the enterprising Bunch family of Baton Rouge opened a local outlet of their beignet business. These sugar-dusted, deep-fried golden pillows of dough aren't the best beignets in town just because they're the only beignets in town. They're the best because a heavenly order of these New Orleans doughnuts and a hot cup of genuine cafe au lait transports us to the Crescent City for a lot less than the cost of a plane ticket.
Not since the late, great Night Hawk on the lower end of the Drag has there been such a perfect place to make the parents feel at home when they come for the game. Owner Ray LeMay has created a comfortable and inviting Texas hunting lodge where the food is good, the portions are generous, and the service is hospitable.
Who isn't impressed with dazzling innovations in liquid refreshment like banana mango lime kiwi smoothies, high-carb blue-colored sports drinks, and honey spirulina orange pineapple juice? But on a scorching afternoon with only a half-dollar in our pockets, we love to give our change to the nice lady at the cart in exchange for a plastic cup of ice. Then we can pour our own sweetly simple drink from the cooler marked "Cherry Lemonade" as the bees buzz about the spout.
Their eclairs are still the biggest in town, but when you're hankering for a macaroon, Quackenbush's has your chocolate-covered fix. Everybody we've turned on to them has loved 'em. Thinking it would be safe to keep these plump chewy mounds around a coconut hater was a big mistake - the macaroon converted him, and now we have to share.
They call 'em burritos, but we think they're really wraps. No matter. Freebird's World Burrito, new to Hancock Center and fresh out of College Station, is the best thing to come from our college-town rival. Never mind that a burrito as thick as your arm is like gourmet dining to an Aggie, or that part of the appeal is that there's no silverware required. The place is enormously popular in College Station, and has quickly picked up regulars in Austin. Don't be fooled: It's not just the displaced Aggies who keep this spot going. At Freebird's, an abundance of assembly-line servers put together big-as-yo'-face concoctions for flocks of students and local business types looking for a quick lunch fix. Fresh ingredients, a fun, casual atmosphere, and their patented "Bad Ass BBQ Sauce" make this place a must-try. But be forewarned: Plan early for the lunch hour, when lines are out the door - with good reason.
The jingling bells and the cry of "Paletas! Paleeetas!" send kids of all ages running up the street, money in hand, to greet the paletero. He'll deliver you from the heat by delivering cool, sweet paletas y helados (popsicles and ice cream treats) directamente a su barrio.
We can't vouch for the true "vegetarian nature" of Hoover's vegetable side dishes, but boy can we vouch for their flavor! The jalapeño-spiked creamed spinach is downright decadent, and the green beans stewed in bacon fat remind us of trips to grandma's house back when pork fat wasn't frowned upon. If starch is more up your alley, dip into a plate of hot, creamy cheese grits, then go ahead and indulge in a big bowl of crisp fried okra or super-buttery carrots.
With its clean, high-ceilinged new location on Burnet finally open, Phoenicia is the perfect place to stop for Mediterranean imports, no matter what part of town you are in. Forget the maniac pace of the nearest superstore and browse over the odd canned fish, jellies, and candies. There're bags of hard-to-find spices, an olive bar, and wall refrigerators full of homemade yogurt, farmer's cheese, tabouli, and frozen imports. At the entrance is a full-service deli counter stocked up with imported cheeses and meats as well as enticing display racks of Mediterranean pastries made at the south location. At the lunch counter in the back you can pick up the best gyros, kaftas, and Greek salads in town. The only problem is what to do with your ready-to-eat goodies; there is nowhere inside or out to sit. In the parking lot we always spy hungry impatients snacking in the front seats of their cars.
You need fajitas, but for some reason you can't have fajitas. Or you're just tired of the chicken-steak dichotomy. There's a third choice, and it ain't just extra avocado. The Rastafarian Ital Loaf, a tasty chunk of grilled wheat roast from White Mountain Foods. Served up with beans, rice, and all the traditional sides for just $8, it's an affordable horizon expander.
This supremely talented gentleman cooked in India, Europe, the Far East, and the West Coast before coming to Austin as chef of the Clay Pit, where they describe his dynamic, sophisticated cooking as "contemporary Indian cuisine." Ahmed's pairing of traditional Indian techniques and flavors with items such as mussels and salmon, plus a diverse selection of robustly seasoned vegetarian choices, make every dining experience at the Clay Pit memorable.
Crestview is an old-fashioned neighborhood - the kind where you know your neighbors and shop at the mom-and-pop corner stores. Among the many delights of Crestview Plaza is the lunchtime-only Little Deli. An exuberantly friendly bunch of servers takes care of carnivores and herbivores alike, with the best roast beef sandwich in town and a veggie sandwich loaded with artichokes, olives, and capers. And they'll remember your name.
For seven years Sno-Beach - located conveniently close to Barton Springs Pool - has been a happy summertime tradition (as the long lines suggest) at the little trailer with the purple snow cone on top. Independent owner Don Powell and his wife Connie, along with long-time employees Adrienne and Venessa, give Sno-Beach a distinctly friendly family feel. Mr. Powell was careful not to divulge the secrets which set Sno-Beach apart from his competitors, but the huge selection of high-quality flavors (tip: add cream to whatever you get!) lubriciously poured over fine-shaved Hawaiian ice don't hurt. And neither do the more-than-reasonable low prices!
When we wake up early enough on Saturday morning, images of the Westbank Farmer's Market and white rounds of fresh goat cheese float before our eyes. From their wooden table and booth, the Pure Luck entourage from Dripping Springs encourages tasting and dialogue about their award-winning cheeses. Beat the supermarket and meet the chevrephiles.
Pure Luck Texas
The ratio of the circumference to the diameter of these pies is Pi. No argument here. But there is argument all over town about Austin's best pizza Liberty Pies is so much more than pizza, that we didn't want to just focus on that. Owner Louis Lambert (whose name got around quite a bit during his tenure with Word of Mouth caterers) acquired his pie experience, not by luck, but by Puck - as in Wolfgang. Lambert tossed with the San Francisco sheik of pizza-chic, so the gourmet twist in the small South Congress take-out is a given. In addition to a scrumptious pizza menu, the items in their gourmet case change daily. On any day you might find roasted vegetables or cous-cous salad, herb-crusted beef tenderloin or meatloaf, and all manner of cobbler, pie, crumb-tops, and lattice tops. Additionally, they offer a freezer full of Binasco's amazing gelato and sorbetto. Come around for a slice and learn that the essence of Pi(e) is so much more than 3.14159.
Fire ripped through the Green Mesquite's Barton Springs restaurant recently, forcing them to close their doors for massive remodeling. They promise they will rise again from the ashes sometime in October. In the meantime, there are the Oak Hill and Scholtz' Garden locations. But look for the bluegrass to begin anew come October, every Sunday night with WST Bluegrass until the weather turns cold.
When dining at Tocai, we've learned to surrender ourselves to the expert wine suggestions of owner/sommelier Anthony Garcia. Whether he recommends a smoky Chateau-Neuf-de-Pape to go with the rich cassoulet or matches the perfect bright Spanish white with an appetizer of prosciutto, manchego cheese, and whisper-thin pear slices, his unerring palate and encyclopedic knowledge of his ever-changing, eclectic wine list always deliver the perfect wine to complement Tocai's tasty Mediterranean fare. That's what keeps us coming back, time and again.
Good mall grub may seem oxymoronic until you venture into the food court of Northcross Mall, pass the cacophonous din of the video parlor, pass the ice skating tykes, and head to the western end, home of Taco Arriba/Chelo Kabob. Serving up some serious Persian cuisine, and of course the taco part, it's the perfect spot for parents to partake of high-quality Near Eastern cuisine, while the kids get the tacos they love so much. And with the parade of mall mavens and twirling skaters, both parental and children's attention spans are sated. Try the chicken kabob with basmati rice pilaf, grilled tomato, salad, feta cheese, and nan bread for $6.99. Not that hungry? Try the Yogurt and Shallot Dip with Nan Bread for $1.99. Watch for their rotating menu of specials.
This expression may be the Mexican equivalent of "Oh my goodness!" but who amongst us doesn't first think of that weird little Tex-Mex talking taco dog? Eat your corazón out, Taco Bell, for this new Austin restaurant is barking up the right tree. Featuring homemade specialties from the Mexican interior, including chile rellenos, fresh sangria, three different moles, and a house table salsa that won a Second Place award at the most recent Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival, the owners are proud of their food, and locals are proving them right. Can Austin handle another Mexican restaurant? You bet. Ay Chiwawa!
You can see them glimmer invitingly in an enormous brine jar as soon as you walk into this homey little honky-tonk. The sausage is a dollar per segment and the eggs are 50¢ apiece. Each are served with a generous handful of saltines. Between these budget entrees, the free country music, and the $1.25 cans of Schlitz, an evening at Ginny's is the thriftiest way to treat your squeeze to a night on the town that we bet he or she will never forget.
The combination of Schlotszky's sourdough sandwiches and Bread Alone's fresh pastries make this the best stop for runners on Town Lake's hike-and-bike trail. They can make a quick detour south at the Lamar Street bridge to load up on plenty of carbs, and still make it back to the trail to finish their run before sundown. Whether it's the fresh sourdough bread, the bakery's huge peanut butter cookies, or a little slice of heaven that is their key lime pie, this place has just the pick-me-up serious runners need. Better yet, the upstairs deck has a great view of the trail, where runners can look out at their fellow exercise buffs and chuckle as they excuse themselves for reasons of cramping.
2545 W. Anderson, 512/419-0031
1915 Guadalupe, 512/457-1129
111 W. William Cannon #202, 512/462-2222
5105 Balcones Woods Dr., 512/338-9494
13201 FM 620, 512/257-2112
500 Canyon Ridge Dr., Bldg. G, 512/873-8700
ABIA: Schlotzsky's, 3600 Presidential, 512/530-2242
6301 W. Parmer, 512/918-2867
Situated at the mouth of Sixth Street, draining I-35, is this little Cajun joint, which serves all shellfish (no catfish!) and the best gumbo west of New Orleans. They don't believe in utensils at The Boiling Pot, and they let you eat food the way you were made to eat food: with your hands. This place is a hell of a catch - good food, over 70 different types of bottled beer, and, according to one manager, "the best looking waitress in the city." Awwwwww. If that's not enough for you, get outta town.
The work day is over, the traffic is subsiding, the temperature is dropping, and it's time for a beer! Tejas Ice House combines the action of a busy street corner with the comfort of a neighborhood bar. Its convenient location and open-air seating make it a place where families congregate, friends celebrate, and neighbors conversate - one of the few watering holes in town where you'll see kids happily chatting in the shade while their parents enjoy a cold Bud. We love to plunk down in a plastic chair, watch the commerce on East Cesar Chavez, and chill under the emerging stars. Open until 11pm, seven days a week.
Tejas Ice House
1646 E. Cesar Chavez
Well, if you really want to know what's going on around A-town or just want to catch a glimpse of a certain big celeb, hang out in the funky back patio of this great food eatery and watch who comes in to have some of El Sol's mouth-watering enchiladas. Joan Baez had breakfast here every day while staying at the Austin Motel, and actor Treat Williams fell in love with the place while on location. Rue McClanahan came in while house hunting for her son, and the food critics and crew of Good Morning America made a stop, as well. Huh! And we don't have to tell you that local legend Jimmie Vaughan eats here regularly. Other sightings include the Butthole Surfers, Sandra Bullock, Sean Lennon, Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Gov. Bush's daughters, Ann Richards, Glen Maxey, Ken Oden, and lots of judges who have ruled this place tops.
Rare is the Friday afternoon we don't battle the traffic south to settle in around the outdoor tables at this Mexican eatery. Polvo's whips up a mean margarita and maintains a self-service salsa bar with several homemade selections, among them a smoky chile concoction we just can't get enough of. Then there's the cilantro laden taco al pastor that surpasses all others in town, the heaping bowl of ceviche, and the restaurant's extensive list of regional Mexican specialties served without pretension. We can hardly wait till Friday!
We delight in the continuing expansion of our town's restaurant scene and the seemingly endless array of places to see and be seen. But when we're in the mood for something with less fanfare, we head back to Chez Nous, where we are never disappointed in our search for superior bistro fare. There's no fear of butter here, but its success lies in its dependable and splendid execution of such French basics as paté maison, pommes dauphine (those potato puffs we could make a meal on), and chocolate mousse. And the surrounds transport us to a very relaxed, very casual, very Gallic eatery across the big pond. For a quick trip to Marrakesh, be sure to visit the women's restroom.
We would never discourage anyone from eating inside the Eastside Cafe, but there are days when time is tight and their divine artichoke manicotti still calls. Never fear, their darling little garden store Pitchforks & Tablespoons carries a limited but delicious selection of their menu items just steps away from the restaurant - pasta dishes, salads, and sandwiches. Okay, so we can't help picking up some their little items, too, because they are so cute: cotton tea towels with cunning designs, heavenly scented soaps, notecards with pressed flowers, miniature wire whisks, dozens of things to amuse kids, plus those ever-popular Eastside Cafe cookbooks. Who says eating on the run can't be fun?
We anxiously awaited the long-delayed opening of a south Central Market location. While we wondered whether it could live up to the sensational central location, we never dreamed we'd be seduced by the aromas of various roasting meats as we perused the now-familiar astounding array of meats and seafood. We've tried the tri-tip, the rack of lamb, the various roasted chickens, and the pork tenderloin, and still we have yet to sample everything in the case. Vegetarianism will simply have to wait.
Conventional wisdom dictates it takes most restaurants at least a year of operation just to catch on, so there's nothing conventional about Vespaio's success. Positive word of mouth about this cozy neighborhood Italian joint has had customers waiting two hours for tables since the fall opening. Chef/co-owner Alan Lazarus' food has been attracting loyal crowds for a year without even a sign, much less an advertising campaign.
It's just a stone's throw across the lake, but the drive is something else. Once off the main road it weaves and winds down a dark, secluded two-laner that makes you feel miles from anywhere. At the bottom of the hill the reward is stumbling upon this lakeside shack that recalls the set of a 1960s teen movie. Frills are few here in this building's design, with its walkup order window and outdoor seating, but that just adds to the character. Hamburgers, french fries, and cold beer prevail to guarantee an evening or afternoon of unadulterated lakeside lollygagging.
This Tex-Mex cafe in deep South Austin elicits a lot of strong feelings both ways for its food and service, but it's hard to go wrong with their stuffed jalapeños - hand-breaded peppers with a white cheese filling. The red jalapeño jelly makes them unique and superb. Four for $4.95 makes them a good deal, too.
There once was a man who was a lover to every woman, who could bring ecstasy to the body with a simple touch. His legacy thrives at Juan in a Million, where a taco named in his honor is able to satisfy our every desire. Overstuffed with piping hot potato, egg, cheese, and bacon (or without, for veggies), this is a wildly gratifying, two-fisted meal, which requires ordering (at least) one extra tortilla. We also appreciate that Don Juan knows that pocketchange has been scarce as of late, and that he still will not withhold pleasure, charging an almost criminally cheap $1.80. His name was Don Juan. In this taco, his legend lives on.
The chicken-fried steak is practically a work of art, yes, but there is something about Hoover Alexander's cream gravy that renders us dumb, at a loss for words to describe it. The perfect fluffy texture, the luscious peppery tang, the lingering, filling taste - It ain't the meat, it's the gravy (but the meat is great, too!).
A little off the road from the confusion of Sixth Street is a cafe to soothe the spirit. Ancient cigar boxes decorate the bar as if in honor of the 100-year-old building's past. From its comfortable chairs to the library of books both old and new, HighLife Cafe caters first and foremost to relaxation. The food is made from scratch: Fresh-baked bread and homemade soups and salads highlight a primarily vegetarian menu. Every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, live music complements the atmosphere with style.
Located in the shopping center on the corner of Cameron Road and 183, Corner Pizza serves up Asian-American and Italian-American food while El Capitan sells fried chicken, fish, Mexican food, and Chinese food. In record time, local high school students get their pizza or chow mein to finish in time for class for a reasonable price.
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