Located 12 miles northwest of Bandera, this bucolic Hill Country town traded ranching for apple farming in the 1980s. Because Medina apples stay on the tree longer, their sugar content is higher than that of Washington state apples, a fact best appreciated while eating a scoop of Medina apple ice cream. The harvest season is from late June to early October, with the annual Medina Apple Festival occurring the last Saturday in July.
Few foods are as commonly cooked as poorly as bacon and eggs. We've learned to live with bacon that is either soggy and underdone or burnt to a crisp. Finding our yolks hard when we've asked for our eggs over easy doesn't shock us. So the most surprising thing about breakfast at Dan's (beside that fact that a hamburger counter joint serves such an awesome sit-down breakfast, and for so cheap, too) is the remarkable consistency. The bacon and eggs are perfect every time. Every time! It's so great to know there are some things we can count on.
Dan's Hamburgers, 844 Airport, 512/385-2262
Dan's Hamburgers, 4308 Manchaca, 512/443-6131
Dan's Hamburgers, 610 Old San Antonio, Buda, 512/321-5361
Louisiana home cooking, so close to downtown Austin! Swing on down to the Shoal Creek Saloon, and you'll understand. The best deals come on Wednesdays and Fridays, 11am-2pm with the lunch special: all you can eat buffet (catfish, hush puppies, coleslaw, pinto beans, the works) for $9 or six whopping pieces of catfish for $7. Just like they advertise, there's a color TV over the bar, shuffle board and pool tables, and the outdoor back deck.
With the marriage of crabmeat and cream cheese came the much-loved Crab Rangoon, which has become a staple on nearly every Chinese restaurant's appetizer list since. Sun Hing's tasty version, known as Crab Puffs, stick with the traditional taste, but at half the size. The result is the same tasty appetizer we've learned to crave, but with more filling in each bite-sized piece.
Sun Hing, 2801 Guadalupe #4, 512/478-6504
Granted, it has no drive-thru, and there are no opportunities to supersize, but Zen does qualify for fast food status. However, its relatively guiltless menu has choices to amaze the palate on top of merely sating the stomach. The Spicy Bowls are piquant enough to make your mouth water, but not so hot that the burning overpowers the delectable taste. Plus, stationed next to Blockbuster, it makes the best choice to accompany a movie. If a snack is all that's needed, the salmon or California sushi rolls are delicious and cheap. The Oyako bowl, with its light sauce and bits of egg, is mainstream enough for kids. Zen also offers a unique Jasmine tea to accompany each meal. Ahhh, inner peace, real fast!
Perfect flan is elusive. Too many restaurants use watery, overly sweet packaged stuff that sits individually wrapped and condensing in a fridge before they dump it onto a plate. A good flan retains that thicker-than-jello texture, allowing the spoon to glide through smoothly. As the custard hits the tongue, POW! you are in another delicious dimension. Zuzu's flan is a delight to roll around in your mouth, and the taste of the light syrup poured on top is divine without being too sweet. Our spoons are raised in admiration.
Plucking the chewy noodles from the steaming soup is so satisfying; stuffing them in your mouth even more so. These are fresh noodles, and they're kind of slippery, so we recommend you wear a bib if you've got your good Sunday pants on. But let nothing stop you from trying them. Equally tasty are the dumplings, steamed or pan fried, and wrapped up by hand in the back too. Make sure you double up on the sweet and spicy soy sauce that accompanies them.
Yen Ching Noodle House, 2910 Guadalupe, 512/472-4754
The original Nathan's may have invented the "Coney Island" (a hot dog smothered in chili, mustard, onions, and melted cheese), but Houston's James Coney Island perfected it. Since 1923, JCI has been satisfying the guilty-pleasure pursuits of hungry Houstonians. The secret is in their patented chili recipe and the tasty orange cheese that comes out of a metal squirtgun. If you miss Houston, JCI's Congress Avenue outpost now gives you one less reason to.
James Coney Island, 609 Congress, 512/494-0113
Wouldn't you just love to find a little family-owned Italian restaurant in Austin? One where the owners are almost always there, working on making sure you feel right at home. At Asti, it doesn't stop there. You also get creative blends of the best and freshest ingredients available, cooked in a creative Italian style. Most of all, though, we love this place because everyone who works there make us feel appreciated, like our Mom is serving us our birthday dinner.
For years, boaters on Lake Travis have been stuck with party-hearty food. Cafe Bleu has changed all that. Now we have brilliant food served in a gorgeous setting overlooking the lake. Even better, they have a great little wine list with the cheapest prices we've ever seen. We especially love their spinach pies drizzled with Dill Crème Fraische ($6) and the Tagine of Lamb with Artichokes and Apricots ($13). Wash them down with a bottle of Colosi Nero d'Avola ($18). Yumm!
When we're asked for adjectives to describe Austin's food service and culinary community, words like talented and creative naturally spring to mind. However, based on their stellar track record in the fundrasing department, we think generous should automatically be added to the regular description. Even in the face of an economic downturn and a summer that was painfully slow for business, our good neighbors in the food business can still be counted on to raise funds. Whether you need to raise money for cultural organizations (Umlauf Sculpture Garden Party, AMOA's Dolce Vida, the Austin Girl's Choir), community groups (Communities in School's Food for Thought, The Green Corn Project), health issues (Dine for Life, the Rib-Ticklin' Affair), hunger prevention (Share Our Strength, Eat, Drink, Watch Movies), or for victims of the recent terrorist bombing (Fork It Over), Austin chefs and restaurateurs will tie on an apron, fill up a chafing dish and help you out.
With no disservice to the beloved Dog & Duck Pub (especially since it is run by D&D alums) Opal Divine's has, in a very short amount of time, become one of the most popular watering holes in town. The old house at Rio Grande & Sixth has finally found its niche as both working professionals and local residents crowd its two cozy levels, two outdoor deck areas, and numerous rooms that give its sometimes close quarters an air of neighborhood friendliness. The menu is a cut above the usual bar food, too, with sweet raspberry tea a perfect soother for the blistering heat.
Oops, we mean Best Gnocchi ... But serve your sweetie some of Pasta & Co.'s delectable potato-semolina dumplings and you may be gettin' some ... In our quest for the perfect gnocchi, these take the prize, hands down. Allergic to potatoes? Pasta & Co. has a freezer full of prepared dishes like lasagna primavera and canelloni that you can bake in the oven and pretend to have slaved over. We always find choosing difficult and leave with a little of everything from the display case of various tender pastas, tortellinis, and raviolis.
Only one thing trumps finding gorgeous just-picked organic veggies at a farmer's market, and that's having a bushel basket of them delivered to your doorstep once a week. Discover that the tender-skinned, dead-ripe tomato that looks and tastes like a tomato was not a figment of your childhood imagination. If you're interested in getting on the waiting list for next spring-into-summer's seasonal delights, e-mail the folks at the farm for information.
Tired of that same old lunch from those corporate sandwich places? Try Azul on the corner of Cesar Chavez & Comal; they have that Austin atmosphere in spades. Sandwiches range from the simple PB&J or egg salad to turkey and havarti (our favorite) to mixtures of portobello tapenade, spinach & Swiss, or pork tenderloin, goat cheese and apple, all on your choice of bread. The coffee and soda offerings are extensive, and the decor is as original as the chow. Tchotchkes, pieces of art, and photographs cover the walls and shelves, and the outdoor patio is surrounded with sculptures by local artists. Nothing like a delicious hometown sandwich served in a thought-provoking atmosphere to add calm to the workday lunch break.
Azul, 1808 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/457-9074
Owners Randy and Cathy Osban make some of the best barbecue around. But Cathy's pies are a work of art. Buttery, flaky crusts adorned with heavenly fillings. We can't imagine life without her chocolate pie: creamy, decadently rich, and with a perfect combination of sweetness and the just-bitter sharpness of the cocoa. We offer our thanks to Cathy for getting up at 3am to make them.
Back in the back left corner of Wheatsville, just to the left of the deli, are tubs and tubs of organic nut butters. Cashew, almond, peanut, they all look so tempting you want to dip the oversized metal spoon in and cover yourself, denying the little plastic receptacle you hold in your hand the pleasure of feeling that gooey goodness. But since this would make a big mess, you content yourself instead with sampling the puffed rice "krinkle" treats made with these same nut butters. Perhaps your sweet tooth is acting up, so you trot over to the bakery and ask for a cashew butter cookie or maybe an organic peanut butter cookie with rolled oats laced in peanut butter. In the end, it doesn't matter in which form you take your nuts, because they all reach the same place, your heart.
Wheatsville Food Co-op, 4001 S. Lamar, 512/814-2888
Oh, sure, it's the best restaurant to open in Austin in decades, and Will Packwood was anointed by Food and Wine one of America's 10 best young chefs, but look at that fork! That water glass! What a cool bud vase! For those who care about such things, Emilia's is a bastion of quality. In a town where even fine dining houses share their tableware with school cafeterias, Emilia's gives you the place setting you deserve (at least with those prices).
Between the lattes and the sushi that are regularly knocked back, sometimes we forget we're in Texas, by God. What we need is a dose of campfire coffee, biscuits & gravy, hot flapjacks, and the like to remind us of our location. Ain't no finer or more authentic place to get your fill of the hearty chow than at the Cowboy Breakfast that routinely opens the Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo each March. Starting at 6am (cowboys get to work early) on the grasses of Auditorium Shores, the bounteous breakfast is served up among covered wagons, steer, horses, and cowboys galore. Country & Western tunes abound, and get this: it's FREE. Real Texas-friendly like.
Love stir-fry but hate the tons of peas and carrots that always seem to come with them? Have a companion who loves those peas and carrots and would be happy to scarf them up for you? Well, Mongolian BBQ has come to the rescue many a time for those of us who typically order an extra plate to house the offending veggies. This classic choose-your-own-meal locale is even better now with the recent additions of coconut and lemongrass sauce options. And because you not only select all of your ingredients but watch them cook as well, this one's perfect for mixed company – vegetarian and meat-eater.
The folks at Tamale House shut down at 3pm, so best to get there early in the day and expect a wait. The service is a little gruff, but then, if you were pounding out the finest, messiest, most divine migas and breakfast tacos in town (sans air conditioning), you might be a little terse too. Try the migas with cheese and a pint of salsa to wash it down.
It had been 13 long years since the "Home of the Sizzler" served up a platter of steak and fries, but with the help of KVET's Bob Cole, the Austin landmark Hill's Cafe is once again open for business. No doubt old-timers who remember the first Hill's will notice some changes since its previous incarnation, what with the major interior remodel and large outdoor seating area. But with menu items like the chicken-fried steak with yellow gravy, barbecued turkey, banana pudding, and an appetizer called the "Basket 'o' Fried Things," customers both old and new will revel in the tradition of Texas diner cooking that has been resurrected in South Austin.
If you've eaten at this Eastside Mexican food mainstay, you know Mr. Mesa's handshake: warm, perfectly firm, heartfelt but not overlong. And his gaze - he looks straight at you, he remembers you. You return, Mr. Mesa recognizes you. He's almost always there, circulating among the tables, and when he shakes your hand, you know you're not just a stomach with a wallet, you're his guest. As with his famous Don Juan taco, you may just want to use both hands.
Juan Mesa, Juan in a Million, 2300 E. Cesar Chavez, www.juaninamillion.com
In addition to a wide selection of the best seasonal organic produce that Central Texas has to offer, you can purchase other locally created products such as emu oil, Greek and Italian baked goods, farm eggs, cut flowers, homemade soaps, goat cheeses, fresh salsas, homemade lemonade, even a massage. Shop to the frequently food-oriented music of Jimmy Joe Natoli. Open every Saturday, 10am-1pm. Bring your sun hat and a large basket.
Barton Creek Farmers Market, 2323 S Lamar, 512/280-1976
We can't let a birthday pass without putting a few candles in a Tres Léches cake from La Mexicana Bakery. The moist vanilla cake made with sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk and whole milk will make you forget all the other sheet cakes you've ever ordered. And since they're custom decorated and reasonably priced, it's easy to think of all sorts of sentiments that would sound more sincere if they were written in icing.
Speaker: Welcome to Airport Haven Hamburgers, can I take your order, please? Driver: Um, yeah, I'll have a cheeseburger, a gyro, an order of saag paneer, some curried vegetables, a milkshake, and a lemonade. Speaker: That will be $17.93, please drive through. Driver: Does that come with naan? Speaker: Yes, and yogurt sauce. In one of the weirder signs of the times, AHH makes it possible to satisfy all your cravings in one quick, affordable, and eclectic stop ... or drive-thru. In addition to their pat Texas fare of hamburgers, fries, and shakes, they went eastlectic and now offer Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisine. Catering available.
Airport Haven Hamburgers, 6800 Airport Blvd., 512/459-9653
What do we like better than jalapeños (and we don't mean canned)? Nothing. Our friends think we're a little strange, but sometimes we start out the evening at Z'Tejas for one of their tangy jalapeño margaritas, and then head south on Lamar to Hunan Lion in the Brodie Oaks shopping center for an order of their outstanding jalapeño chicken. If we haven't had enough, there's always tomorrow.
Newcomer Fleming's fired a shot at all the other steakhouses in town by offering more than 100 different wines by the glass. Now you can have a Pinot Noir with your steak while your partner has a Pinot Blanc with the tuna. We are excited that a price gouge doesn't accompany the "by-the-glass" program. In fact, the 2-ounce samplers, the 6-ounce glasses, and the whole bottles all have the same proportional pricing. We hope more restaurants follow Fleming's lead.
Cool water. When summer hits with its mighty, sweaty fist, it's what we Austinites crave. We want to swim in it; we want to float on it; we want to drink it. The mouth waters. The senses reel. The parched lips crack a smile. It's summer and the one sure cure is Hoover's lemonade. It's not just the fresh, delicious taste, it's the big ol' frosty, icy, pitchers of it they serve. It's so cold and tart and thirst-quenching we find ourselves dreaming of it in winter. More, please! Changos' agua fresca also offers a tasty twist to plain old H20. Delicious flavors like watermelon, canteloupe, and strawberry are not too sweet and refreshingly natural, making them more thirst quenching and cooling than your average pop. The pulp in the drinks also gives it a somewhat healthy feel, like you're drinking something good for you. The four daily flavors change regularly, and refills are free.
Cool water. When summer hits with its mighty, sweaty fist, it's what we Austinites crave. We want to swim in it; we want to float on it; we want to drink it. The mouth waters. The senses reel. The parched lips crack a smile. It's summer and the one sure cure is Hoover's lemonade. It's not just the fresh, delicious taste, it's the big ol' frosty, icy, pitchers of it they serve. It's so cold and tart and thirst-quenching we find ourselves dreaming of it in winter. More, please! Changos' agua fresca also offers a tasty twist to plain old H20. Delicious flavors like watermelon, cantaloupe, and strawberry are not too sweet and refreshingly natural, making them more thirst quenching and cooling than your average pop. The pulp in the drinks also gives it a somewhat healthy feel, like you're drinking something good for you. The four daily flavors change regularly, and refills are free.