The 2004 lakeside dining guide
It's been two years since we checked out the lakeside dining scene. We returned to find the water level high, housing development booming, and dining options more diverse than ever. With more and more year-round residents in the lake area, there's finally a chance for a stable restaurant economy. The Food staff MM Pack, Barbara Chisholm, Rachel Feit, Claudia Alarcón, Erin Mosow, Mick Vann, Wes Marshall, and I ate our way from Briarcliff to Lakeway to Lago Vista, on the water and on the road, to get the scoop. Joints were jumping! Buster's has been so successful they had to move to a bigger location; Hill Country Pasta House has new owners with a new focus and some great new menu items; there will be a new Rudy's Country Store & Barbecue near the Four Corners later this year; and the Chef's House Meats & Deli opening later this month in Lakeway Commons promises to be gourmet heaven. If you're headed to Lake Travis, this issue is a keeper. The number next to each restaurant name corresponds to its location on the map.
1) Lee's Almost by the Lake
801 Pace Bend Rd., 264-2552
Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-8pm; Saturday breakfast, 7-10:30am
Lee's Almost by the Lake call their food "almost fine dining," but I think they're selling themselves a little short. The place is very small and casual, but everything we tasted was first-rate. Carnivores will love their Leeburger ($4.79), a huge double-meat, double-cheese hamburger stuffed with fresh jalapeños. It's so juicy, you'll need plenty of extra napkins. Their Philly Cheesesteak ($5.69) was also terrific, with mounds of beef. If you are on the way to Pace Bend Park, you'll be happy to know that Lee's offers take-out food.
108 Pace Bend Rd. S.; 264-8911
Opens Wednesday-Monday, noon; closes when the crowds go home, usually 2am; closed Tuesdays
Elmo's is an archetypal Texas icehouse. It's open on two sides with no air-conditioning and decorated with funky furniture from multiple garage sales and decorated like Elmo just tacked up whatever made him happy. But don't let the looks fool you. It's a pleasing place with a great Willie-laden jukebox and ice-cold beer ($2). The food is surprisingly adventurous, with crab cakes and frog legs on the chalkboard menu, but we stuck with the sandwiches, including a great Pulled Pork Sandwich ($6) and a perfectly done and juicy Cheeseburger ($5). Both came with fries that were wedges of a whole potato cooked to perfection.
3) Lakehouse Cafe
406 Sleat Dr., 264-7040
Wednesday-Thursday, 5-9pm; Friday, 5-10pm; Saturday, 11am-10pm; Sunday, 9am-9pm
The Lakehouse Cafe was built as Willie Nelson's Lighthouse four years ago. It was blessed with one of the most beautiful decks on Lake Travis, and the deck is still a great place to sit on a summer evening. I ordered their Rib Eye Steak ($17.95), which, unfortunately, turned out to be spoiled meat. I took the dish back and they replaced it, but on the same plate, so that the fusty aroma kind of clung to everything. The macaroni and cheese was delivered in extremely small portions, but it wasn't very tasty anyway. On the plus side, the Lakehouse Burger ($7.79) and the Mushroom Swiss Burger ($7.59) were juicy, and the fries were nice and fresh.
4) Cabo Loco
1900 American Dr., 267-7222
Monday-Thursday, 11am-12mid; Friday, 11am-2am; Saturday, 7am-2am; Sunday, 7am-12mid
Located in the Casa Lago resort, this restaurant has the same requirements as any hotel/motel dining establishment: to keep a variety of ages and appetites satisfied through multiple meals while they vacation. Wisely, they've adopted the time-honored tradition of keeping it simple and keeping it familiar: there are nachos, queso, fried everything, and the like for starters. Sandwiches and burgers are offered, too, along with pasta, steak, and even lobster, which allow for more posh dining options when you want to feel like splurging. I went for the Loco Caesar ($5.25), an enormous and unconventional portion of crisp romaine and baby spinach with mushrooms, tomatoes, and black olives. If it hadn't been drowning in its overly creamy dressing, it would have been a complete success. The dining room offers a lovely view of the lake and pool, too.
5) Moon River
2002 Pace Bend Park Rd., 264-2064
Opens Tuesday-Friday, 11:30am-2am; Saturday 11:30am-2am; Sunday, 10am-2am; Monday, opens at 5pm and closes when the crowds go home, usually between midnight and 2am
Moon River is the kind of neighborhood bar where everyone knows everyone else. Ice-cold beer (mostly $3) and a full bar attract a crowd that likes to sit and talk (most of them smoking). The food has been consistently good for years, especially the burgers and fries. This time, we decided to try something different. The Chicken Fried Chicken ($8) had a nice crispy crust, along with first-class gravy. Their Fried Catfish ($8.25) was also very good. Unusual for a lake food place, the steamed vegetables were nice and crispy.
6) Deli Werks
7500 Lohmans Ford Rd., 267-0065
Monday-Thursday, 10am-9pm; Friday, 10am-11pm; Saturday, 11am-11pm; Sunday, 11am-5pm (varies with number of patrons)
This sandwich shop is housed in a cute, almost adorable building and features sandwiches made fresh with Boar's Head meats and cheeses. Take 'em out or dine in on one of the cafe tables.
7) Willie's Diner
20520 FM 1431, 267-3451
Monday-Saturday, 6am-9pm; Sunday, 7am-9pm
You scale your expectations to the location as I did with this restaurant located within a gas station and convenience store. It's a fast-food setup with counter ordering from the mounted menu. Burgers, fries, chicken, breakfast tacos, etc. make up the selection. Still, you'd do better here than at a chain. For one thing, there is a unique charm to its small-town feel, and the counter help couldn't be friendlier. The chicken twister taco ($2.26) featured crackling crisp and juicy chicken with fresh pico de gallo and homemade (if mild to the extreme) salsa. Plus you can gas up the car while you gas up the gullet.
8) Dee Dee's Tacos & More
7717 Lohmans Ford Rd., 267-2300
Monday-Tuesday, 5am-2pm; Wednesday-Friday, 5am-9pm; Saturday, 6am-9pm; Sunday, 8am-1pm
Don't let the double-wide trailer put you off: There is some seriously delicious food being served up by the Sanchez family here. Everything in this bright, clean, and charming establishment, which sits back from the road, is homemade: the fluffy flour tortillas, the superb salsa, the creamy refried beans. I tried the Picadillo Taco ($2.50) and was rewarded with a rich, savory filling of ground meat stewed with potatoes, peppers, and onions swathed in a hot and fresh tortilla. It would make getting up at 5am bearable if I knew I could have a couple of their breakfast tacos to get me started. Saturdays and Sundays menudo is offered, too.
9) Remington's Bar & Grill
20602 FM 1431 #100, 267-7292
Located in a strip mall, Remingtons is the closest thing I found to a fine dining establishment in town. It has a full bar, an extensive menu, a pseudo-swanky-sounding name. Still, that doesn't necessarily add up to good eating. Even in midday, it's as dark as a cave, thanks to the chocolate-brown color scheme of everything in the interior. The menu offers lots of steaks, chicken, catfish, salmon, burgers, and sandwiches and tops out in price with a surf-and-turf deal for $16.99. I went with the hand-breaded fried shrimp ($11.90). It came with a house salad that was dressed with the sweetest raspberry vinaigrette this side of Hawaiian Punch. The shrimp was properly fried, but had been frozen so long it was indistinguishable from chicken (or anything else) and the accompanying green beans were cooked until they cried uncle. Still, it's nice to have a place where you can order a real drink and a steak when it's date night.
10) True Grits Texas Grill
18645 FM 1431, 267-4749
Although a dozen or so miles outside of Lago Vista, this charming roadside cafe provides the best dining in the area. The food is of the real deal, made-from-scratch, Texas cafe variety. It's simple stuff, with beef anchoring the menu, plus chicken-fried everything catfish, pork chops, and even tuna and salmon. The daily special of marinated skirt steak with sautéed bell peppers and onions with a melt of Monterey Jack on top ($7.95) was prettily arranged with corn confetti and crisp tortilla strips. It came with two sides, and I opted for the jalapeño cheese grits and garlic sautéed spinach. The grits didn't dazzle; they had the consistency of cornbread stuffing instead of creamy grits, and I would have preferred the spinach less cooked. But the steak was deeply flavorful and perfectly cooked. Dozens of homemade pies (the peach is good this time of year) and a sturdy cup of coffee make for a dandy finish.
11) Cafe Bleu
8714 Lime Creek Rd., 401-2538
Thursday, 5-11pm; Friday-Sunday, 11am-11pm
Cafe Bleu is the new home for chef Fred Geesin (late of Gilligan's and Zin). His creative dishes utilize many high-quality ingredients. For instance, the terrific Grilled Chicken and Roasted Yellow Tomato Wrap ($9) was stuffed with delicious chicken, a flavorful tapenade, and a nutty pesto. We also had a tasty Steak and Egg Plate ($12.99) with an unbelievably tender Angus beef sirloin steak, cooked exactly as ordered. All of Cafe Bleu is outdoors, but they have done a nice job of keeping the customers cool with a combination of shade, fans, and misters. Add in the beautiful waterside decks and the well-stocked bar, and we understood why the place was filled with happy customers. This is the best food on the Lake Travis waterfront.
12) Smoky J's BarBCue
7008 RR 620 N., 331-4888
This is a definitive Texas country barbecue joint with a smoking pit out back, window service, and a screened-in set of picnic tables where you can chow down. Meat is available by the sandwich, the plate, or the pound, and it's still BYOB.
13) Boat House Grill
6812 RR 620 N., 249-5200
Sunday-Thursday, 11am-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-9:30pm
Excellent down-home cooking genes run in Tracy Collins' family, and that's why her little joint is a necessary stop on any trip to the lake. We love the Frito Pie ($4.29), made with her hardworking grandmother's legendary chili recipe, and we're especially partial to the Fried Green Tomatoes ($4.99) and the Southern Fried Catfish Basket ($6.29). This trip, we were pleased to note the new expanded dining area an enclosure with picnic tables sheltered by an oak tree. Live music here on weekends.
14) The Oasis
6550 Comanche Trail, 266-2442
Monday-Thursday, 11:30am-10pm; Friday, 11:30am-11pm; Saturday, 11am-11pm; Sunday, 11am-10pm
There are few views more breathtaking than the one from the porches of the Oasis, the sprawling multitiered restaurant that has become a must-see destination at the lake. The chow at this ever-popular lake spot, however, sometimes makes a less favorable impression. Not that this seems to bother the throng of customers who come from miles around to sip mixed drinks and watch the sunset. The voluminous Oasis menu can always supply a reliable, if uninspired, bite be it a bowl of chili con queso, a meaty hamburger, chicken-fried steak, pasta, or fajitas to go with the view. A full bar, plenty of beers, and fantastic live music sweeten the deal. A visit to the Oasis is not really about the food; it's about atmosphere, and for that the Oasis delivers.
ROUNDABOUT RR 620
5000 Hudson Bend Rd., 266-9994
Monday-Friday, 11am-8pm; Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday, 9am-3pm
Kayman's is a home-style deli located at "Three Points," the intersection of Hudson Bend and Beacon. They offer a three-pronged culinary attack: breakfast on the weekends; hot and cold deli sandwiches at lunch (made with Boar's Head brand cuts); and good old-fashioned plate-lunch items for dinner, such as oven-roasted chicken and pork loin, grilled mahi, and pot roast (at $8.50, the most expensive item on the menu). They seat about 20 inside, have tables outdoors, and do a booming business with the construction crews and to-go orders from the neighborhood locals and the boat people. Kayman's now carries the soon-to-be-famous Jones brand of drinks also.
4919 Hudson Bend Rd., 266-8998
This building on Hudson Bend Road has been many different bars and restaurants in the past. Its latest incarnation, Healthy's, is the prototype for a fast-food franchise that intends to provide healthy, nonfried, nonprocessed, fresh, fast foods. Although the concept is great, the only item we really enjoyed was the air-baked fries, which were actually excellent. The space itself needs an improvement, as sharing with a church seems a little strange, and the menu items could use some flavor. They plan to open their brand-new concept at a better location in Northwest Austin, hopefully with better results.
17) Hill Country Pasta House
3519 RR 620 N., 266-9445
Monday, 5-9:30pm; Tuesday-Thursday, 11am-9:30pm; Friday, 11am-10:30pm; Saturday, 3-10:30pm; Sunday, 3-9pm
Brian Gilbert and former Houston chef Jimmy Mitchell are the new owners and partners of this longtime lake-neighborhood favorite. They brought plenty of new energy and great ideas. There's an organic garden in the works and tantalizing new Tex-Italian menu items. We really loved the pizza with sun-dried tomatoes and melting gobs of Texas chévre ($11.45), a great big Italian Grinder ($7.95) sandwich straight from the brick oven, and an appetizer of grilled Shrimp Diablo ($8.95). Catering is available, as well as curbside takeout. The food here is worth a drive from town.
18) Hudson's on the Bend
3509 RR 620 N., 266-1369
Sunday-Monday, 6-9pm; Tuesday-Thursday, 6-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 5:30-10pm
Jeff Blank's restaurant is now the granddaddy of fine-dining destinations in the lake area. While Blank develops such new projects as resort restaurants in Lajitas and Marble Falls, the Hudson's kitchen is firmly in the hands of new executive chef Robert Rhoades. Rhoades is an alumnus of the Jeffrey's group and ran the kitchen in their Washington outlet for two years. Now Hudson's has him, and we assume the game cooking in the comfortable stone cottage is as fearless as ever.
19) The Iguana Grill
2900 RR 620 N., 266-8439
Iguana is known for its spectacular views of the lake from the huge hillside-perched patio. It features a seafood-friendly Tex-Mex (or Lake-Mex, as they prefer to call it) menu, and a full bar that leans heavily toward Mexican beers and anything tropical or made with tequila. It's easy to pass an afternoon noshing on the likes of citrusy fajitas and carnitas, shrimp enchiladas, tuna ceviche, or the rest while watching the tiny boats skitter across the water's surface below. Their excellent smoky chipotle salsa, some chips, and a Texatini (or two) make for the ultimate chill pill.
20) Aunt Tilly's
16410 Stewart Rd., 266-0331
Monday-Thursday, 11:30am-12mid; Friday, 11:30am-2am; Saturday, 11am-2am; Sunday, noon-12mid
The frame building surrounded by pleasant decks overlooking Yacht Harbor Marina has seen many restaurants come and go. The newest venue opened in May with a big, splashy party and plenty of music. The menu offers such island-inspired dishes as jerk skewers from Jamaica, tostones and Cuban sandwiches from Cuba, and conch fritters from Grand Cayman. There are burgers, too, along with an inviting selection of salads. The rum drinks look potentially dangerous, but you should have no worries kicking back with a cold Red Stripe, mon. Check the Web for their weekend live music lineup.
21) Big Dave's Dam Saloon
1113 RR 620 N., 266-2279
Monday-Wednesday, 11am-12mid; Thursday-Saturday, 11am-2am; Sunday, noon-12mid
Two years ago, one of our reviewers described Big Dave's as "working-class male to the core." When we checked in this year, nothing had changed. They still suggest you leave the kids at home and park your weapons and attitudes outside the door. You order hearty, affordable bar food at the counter and pick it up yourself. With music from the jukebox and lighting courtesy of neon beer signs, Big Dave's is a Texas roadhouse with reliable food.
22) Travis Restaurant at the Lakeway Inn
101 Lakeway Dr., 261-6600, 261-7325
Travis Room: daily, 7am-2pm; 5-10pm
Travis Bar: daily, 11am-2am (all ages until 6pm; after 6pm, 21 and up)
Huge windows offer stunning lake views at this grandfather of restaurants on the lake. Still, the Lakeway Inn, built in the early Sixties, seems just as current as ever. The menu here is decidedly country-clubby, catering to the resort set, but gives a nod to the Southern comfort foods that remain popular among locals around the lake. Cobb salads share space with chicken pot pies, while lobster ravioli competes with Hill County meat loaf. The reasonable prices can vie with any of the popular lake eateries. Meanwhile, first-rate service ensures that you don't forget you're at one of the region's most popular golf and recreation resorts. If you're not in the mood for the formal setting of the Travis Room, step next door to the bar and have a casual basket of buffalo wings or a plate of chips and salsa. Look for the resort to overhaul its Italian-influenced dinner menu with trendy low-carb dishes in the coming months.
23) Cafe Lago
1200 Lakeway Dr., 261-8141
Monday-Friday, 7am-4pm; Saturday, 7:30am-2pm; Sunday 8am-2pm
This charming cafe has long been our favorite breakfast venue in the lake area because of all the choices. They'll whip up good egg dishes, bagels, pancakes, breakfast tacos, croissants, fruit, and wonderful coffee. The food is fresh, the portions generous, and the service is usually friendly, depending on the summer help. For lunch, we like the Cobb sandwich, the Cobb or Greek salads, an iced coffee drink, and a buttery lemon bar to top it all off.
24) Sandy's Hamburger Hut
113 RR 620 N., 266-1524
Monday-Friday, 7am-7pm; Saturday, 7am-5pm; Sunday, 9am-3pm
Affiliated with neither Sandy's nor Hut's Hamburgers, SHH is nevertheless ground from the same loin. We're talking old-school mom-and-pop hamburger-stand action here. Burgers are made from patties that are not calorie-friendly, but delicious and juicy as hell: just the way they should be. Hand-cut fries and hand-dipped onion rings that have never seen the frost of a freezer. Morning sees big breakfast-taco action with the work crews, and the drive-through and takeout business is brisk. Travel back to those old tasty ways with a stop.
25) China Pacific
107 RR 620 S. #107, 266-9328
Monday-Friday, 11am-9:30pm; Saturday-Sunday, 11:30am-9:30pm
This Chinese restaurant provides good, fresh, standard Chinese fare at reasonable prices. It has been a reliable takeout option for Lakeway-area residents and is also a good dining option for lake visitors seeking an alternative to nachos and burgers. This quiet neighborhood restaurant has been around for quite some time and boasts a fair share of regular customers.
900 RR 620 S. in Lakeway, 263-3305
Monday-Friday, 11am-2am; Saturday-Sunday, 11:30am-2am
A nice neighborhood sports bar and grill offering respite from the summer heat with cold beverages, cold AC, and 25 TVs for your sports-watching pleasure. Mulligan's has two separate smoking and nonsmoking game rooms with professional pool tables, foosball, shuffleboard, etc. Full bar, with happy hour every day from 11am to 7pm. Live music Thursday through Saturday. The menu includes everything from appetizers to steaks in a laid-back family atmosphere. Perfect place to wind down and cool off after a day at the lake.
26) Rocco's Grill
900 RR 620 S., 263-8204
Monday-Wednesday, 11am-2pm, 5-9pm; Thursday-Friday, 11am-2pm, 5-10pm; Saturday 5-10pm; Sunday, 5-9pm
This festive, theatrically decorated family restaurant attracts loyal diners, who love Rocco's thick steaks and mushroomy chicken marsala. Dishing up classic Italian food with a Texas twang, Rocco's menu features pastas, steaks, and seafood of copious proportions. Rocco's big-plates-with-big-flavors approach seems to be working at this busy destination, though on a recent night we found that the hazelnut crusted trout and the penne with chicken, roasted garlic, tomato, and basil sounded better on the menu than they tasted. Despite a $10 price tag on the crab cake appetizer, the dish came out looking uncharacteristically skimpy and tasting a little bready.
26) Chef's House Meats & Deli
900 RR 620 S., phone pending
Opening later in July
This new spot will not be open by press time, but it sounds so promising, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to tell you about it now so you can check it out in the future. Well-traveled chef/owner Rick Taylor describes his new lake-area venture as a full-service butcher shop and "a real old-style deli like in New York and Los Angeles, with sandwiches named after famous comedians." He plans to feature the best-quality natural (grass-fed, pastured, no hormones or antibiotics) meats available, imported deli meats and condiments, a full menu of home-style meals to eat in or take out, custom-baked goods, and delivery service from Oak Hill to Steiner Ranch. We will definitely be back to try this place.
26) Paradise Ice Cream
900 RR 620 S., 263-0363
Sunday-Thursday, noon-9pm; Friday-Saturday, noon-10pm
When visiting Lake Travis, we always make time to stop at Paradise for ice cream, and Mark Alsup never lets us down, though I will say the grainy strawberry sorbet on the last trip was not his best work. Stick to his luscious assortment of made-fresh-daily ice cream flavors, and they will put a smile on your sun-burned face, for sure.
27) Ciola's Italian-American Restaurant
1310 RR 620 S., 263-9936
Monday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday, 11am-11pm; Saturday, 4-11pm; Sunday, 4-9pm
Dan Ciola attended a conference at Lakeway a few years back and decided to relocate his family and business to the lake area. We're all the better for it. One step inside Ciola's and you'll forget you're in a strip mall you've found your way into the dining room of a friendly family with roots in the southern tip of Italy's boot. The menu offers plenty of tasty Italian-American comfort foods to match. Take your family, and they'll even serve it family style. The biannual Big Night dinner parties here are not to be missed, so we're told.
27) Thai Spice
1310 RR 620 S., 263-2221
Monday-Thursday, 11am-2:30pm, 5-9:30pm; Friday-Saturday, 5-10pm; Sunday, 5-9pm
Those Vicha ladies, Vicky and Tut, have commandeered the old Lemongrass location on 620 and made it into a reliable Thai food respite for the Lake-prone crowd. In a bright, open space that conceals its strip-center home, TS offers a fairly complete selection for the Siam-deprived: with a menu heavy on the seafood, and medium on standard curries, noodles, soups, and salads. Sushi is now offered Wednesday through Saturday, 5-9:30pm. You might need to tell them to crank up the heat a tad and let them know you're not just another sissy farang (Westerner).
27) Flores Mexican Food
1310 RR 620 S., 263-9546
Monday-Friday, 11am-10pm; Saturday-Sunday, 9am-10pm
The lake-area outlet of this homegrown chain serves grilled meat and fish dishes of the northern and coastal states of Mexico, plus a generous helping of Tex-Mex to go with them. We're partial to the Pollo Poblano ($8.25) and the Camarones Caliente ($13.25). Lunch here means daily specials at $5.50, and they offer a good breakfast on weekends. The Flores family will treat you right. They pride themselves on the quality of their rums and tequilas and boast one of the best margaritas in the neighborhood.
28) Texas Star Kitchen
1602 RR 620 S., 402-0222
This small, family-owned Lakeway outfit has been doing brisk business for the past two years, providing excellent home-style fare at great prices for area residents and visitors alike. The drive-through and walk-up window provide two fast, convenient ways to take home anything from charcoal-grilled burgers to meat loaf with homemade mashed potatoes, salads, veggies, and desserts for a complete and tasty lunch or dinner. For those wishing for a lakeside picnic, call ahead and pick it up on your way out to your favorite Lake Travis spot. Make sure to ask about their daily specials.
29) Pao's Mandarin House
2300 Lohman's Spur #134, 263-8869 (Lohman's Crossing Shopping Center)
Daily, 11am-3pm; 4:30-10pm
Lakeway residents are blessed to have one of the top three Chinese restaurants in Austin within spitting distance of their exclusive enclave: It's a shame they don't patronize it as they should! Chinese Bacon Hunan-Style makes us swoon, their Mapo Dofu is exquisite, and the onion pancakes and dumplings are to die for. Lunch and dinner daily, the Northern Chinese Brunch on weekends, and now sushi, too? Be still my beating heart! Seriously, these folks make absolutely killer Sino cuisine (especially from the real Chinese menu), and if you're out at the lake anyway, you'd be foolish to pass it up.
2303 RR 620 S., 263-8888
Daily, 11am-10pm (lunch buffet, 11am-3pm)
Hearty dishes from northern Mexico alongside Tex-Mex standards are what you'll find here. There's a popular fajita buffet every day at lunch and on weekend nights. We sampled carne guisada, queso, fajitas, and a chile relleno and found them to be just fine. Service is friendly, and the full bar is stocked with a wide selection of tequilas and Mexican beers. A selection from the list of tropical fruit margaritas could cool you down after a hot day on the water.
31) Buster's Bar-B-Que
3927 RR 620 S., 263-3999
The pork at Buster's is so popular, the owners moved from their little rock house near the dam in the fall of 2003 and took over the old Bee Cave VFW Hall farther south. Now, there's plenty of room in which to enjoy what Buster's does best, and that's pork pulled pork, pork ribs, and the legendary Garlic H-Bomb. The ambient talk radio is conservative, the side dishes are good, and the peach cobbler just tastes like MORE.
32) Springhill Catfish Company
13212 Hwy. 71 W., 263-3244
Sunday-Thursday, 11am-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-9:30pm Buffet daily: 11am-2pm
If that visit to Lake Travis makes you hungry for fish, the Springhill folks will be happy to do all the work for you. The crew can all relax with a cold brew or a bottomless tankard of iced tea after a long day on the water and eat their fill. The daily buffet always features fried catfish, vegetables, and salad bars. The Pflugerville location gives nonboaters a taste of the goods, including a weekday special (chicken-fried steak, King Ranch casserole, chicken-fried chicken, enchiladas, etc.). Several good choices for non-fish-eaters, as well.
ON THE WATERFRONT
33) Johnny Fins Floatin' Bar & Grill
16405 Clara Van Trail, 266-2811
Sunday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-12mid
This floating-dock cafe/bar is a classic lakeside hot spot, open year round with live music on Friday through Sunday nights. The bar is extensive and specializes in fun (if sometimes bizarre) cocktails, shots, margaritas (on tap!), and beer. Although the food runs the requisite gamut of specialty burgers, sandwiches, wings, and nachos, there are some pricier dining options, more ambitious and varyingly successful. Best bet is the fillet-in-foil ($15.95); mine was a nicely prepared snapper with lemon and chipotle butter, served with perfectly steamed broccoli and a flavorful rice. However, our half-pound of boiled shrimp ($11.99) was overcooked, and Johnny's Chops ($11.99) turned out to be a dry and flavorless slice of pork loin. Fried green tomatoes ($8.57) are yummy crispy, hot, and generously portioned.
18200 Lakepoint Cove, Point Venture, 267-1845
If there is such a thing as a venerable institution when it comes to lake food, Shades is it. For 13 years, come floods or drought, Shades has always been there, serving great burgers, mountains of tasty nachos, and the well-made cocktails. We started with Supreme Nachos ($11.95), which is enough food to feed three people as a main course. Their Fajitas ($13.95 for the small order) had juicy beef, as did the Alpine Burger ($6.45). We topped off everything with made-to-order margaritas ($4.95). Special note to parents: This is a great place to take your young children and watch them ooh and aah over the huge catfish and carp waiting just over the banister for an occasional tortilla chip. For folks that live on the Austin side of Lake Travis, Shades offers a $1-per-person water taxi from the Lakeway Marina.
35) Carlos'n Charlie's
5973 Hiline Rd., 266-1683
Monday-Thursday, 11am-12mid; Friday-Sunday, 11am-2am
Sweet, designer drinks with suggestive names like the Crazy Monkey, Skip and Go Naked, or Love on the Rocks say it all. Carlos 'n Charlie's does not cater to maturity. On the other hand, this fun-loving restaurant is a charming interlude to a sun-soaked day at the lake. The spacious patio overlooks the water, and a new live-music stage showcases the sounds of local bands. The diverse menu captures any craving. Satisfying fish tacos, po-boys, fresh salads, quesadillas, and a yummy coconut fried shrimp make this restaurant one of the better dining spots on the lake. The slightly too-familiar but efficient service is custom-designed for socializing. On weekends this place regularly fills up, so prepare to wait for a table during peak mealtimes.
36) Volente Beach Sundowner Grill
16107 FM 2769, 258-5109
If exhibitionist adults go to Hippie Hollow to maximize their lake experience, then tots and their keepers head to Volente Beach, where waterslides, a beach, and a playful pool provide a family party atmosphere. When hunger and thirst demand attention, the Sundowner Grill is a short, steep climb up from the lake. The usual suspects are available at the walk-up McDonald's-style window: burgers, chicken, etc., and all at $7.99. This is food designed to minimize surprises and satisfy hungry swimmers. A full bar satisfies the thirsts that frolicking in the sun and chasing children work up. Clearly, the food isn't the draw here: The chicken tenders had an astonishing heft that only thick breading and a long soak in the fryer could create. The fries were acceptable, the burger met minimum standards, and the frozen margaritas ($6.25) were not overly sweet. But you're here for the rides and the sun; if you're looking for delicious dining, stock your own cooler and bring it in. If you're looking for fuel for more wet fun, the Grill fills the bill.
37) The Pier on Lake Austin
1703 River Hills Rd., 327-4562
Monday-Friday, 11am-12mid; Saturday-Sunday, 7am-12mid
Boaters on this section of the Colorado River have been finding their way to the Pier for years, ever since it was a lakeside speakeasy. These days, it's just a familiar, comfy, ramshackle old hangout where the food is tasty, the drinks are cold, the volleyball is competitive, and the music is often very hot. Check the Web for a menu and map, the music lineup, and the volleyball schedules.
38) Ski Shores Waterfront Cafe
2905 Pearce Rd., 346-5915
Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30am-9pm; Friday, 11:30am-10pm; Saturday, noon-10pm; Sunday, noon-9pm
Serving lakegoers since 1954, Ski Shores is an awesome place to park the boat and have a hearty meal. Their menu is full of lake classics, offering a wide variety of burgers like the Border Burger topped with grilled onions and jalapeños a bacon cheeseburger, and even a veggie burger for nonmeat eaters. Chicken tenders, fried catfish, and a grilled chicken sandwich are available, as well as sides of okra, onion rings, and stuffed jalapeños. Their outside dining area is perfect for a weekend gathering of friends, with lots of tables around which to drink a beer or two. If you are lucky enough to live in the neighborhood, they'll deliver one of their piping hot pizzas to your door otherwise, drop in for a slice and some live music.