Hidden Capitol Kitchens

Living life on the Lege is difficult enough without having to figure out what's for lunch

Texas Capitol Grill
Texas Capitol Grill (Photo by John Anderson)

When it comes to Texas politics, it's not what you know, and it's barely who you know. Mostly, it's knowing where to eat. The 140-day session, with its irregular hours and stressful meetings, can play havoc with dining habits. While it's tempting to live on a diet of vending machine Fritos, veterans of the lawmaking process know all the good places to grab a quick meal during recess or – more importantly – the best places to hide from the party whip.

Texas Capitol Grill

Level E1, Texas State Capitol Extension, 472-5451
Monday-Friday, 7:30am-5pm
www.austincapitolgrill.com

There are two important things to remember about the only eatery within the Capitol: one, all-you-can-eat catfish on Mondays; two, self-serve soft-serve sundaes on Thursday afternoons. Hidden under the stairs in the underground extension, the Capitol Grill may look like a government canteen, but it's the ultimate source of comfort cooking and fresh salads (gotta eat your greens, even in the session). Legislative newbies will like having access to urns of Starbucks coffee, but the insider's trick is the Douwe Egberts machines by the soda dispensers – fresher, hotter, and cheaper.

Lobby Days

Capitol Grounds

Watch for tents on the South lawns: There may be barbecue. Throughout the session, advocacy organizations will select one day to highlight their favored issue, and some of the bigger bodies provide lunch for staffers, media, and occasional passers-by.

Scholz Garten

1607 San Jacinto, 474-1958
Opens daily at 11am
www.scholzgarten.net

It's a running joke that all the real deals in the Legislature are struck over a plate of ribs well before anybody gets to the floor. Not surprising: August Scholz opened his biergarten 20 years before the current state building was even finished. Conveniently situated at the Senate end of the Capitol, out of session it's a regular lunchtime hangout for Comptroller's Office staff from the nearby Lyndon B. Johnson State Office Building.

Texas Chili Parlor

1409 Lavaca, 472-2828
Daily, 11am-2am
www.cactushill.com/tcp

It's not clear what the parlor's proudest boast is: that it's spent three decades as one of the favored lunchtime hangouts for lawmakers and lobbyists or that they make you sign a release before serving you their Texas-style, no-beans XXX chili. Plus you can always impress visiting film fans by reminding them that this is where Kurt Russell got a lap dance in Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof portion of Grindhouse.

Nuevo León Taco Express

1500 San Jacinto, 236-8226
Monday-Friday, 6:45am-1:30pm
www.nuevoleoninaustin.com

Much of the prime parking for the Capitol is down San Jacinto, so it helps to have access to the satellite store of this East Austin Tex-Mex institution. The breakfast tacos, served until 10:30am, can be a lifesaver before those early-morning committee meetings.

Little City

916 Congress, 976-2489
Monday-Friday, 7am-11pm; Saturday, 9am-11pm; Sunday, 9am-10pm
www.littlecity.com

The closest coffee shop to the Lege makes great fresh sandwiches, but its future has been a little unsure since the Texas Public Policy Foundation bought the building. There was word that it would close, and that would be a real shame (not least because TPPF head honcho Talmadge Heflin has been spotted ordering the Reuben).

ThunderCloud Subs

1608 Lavaca, 478-3281
Monday-Friday, 10:30am-6pm
www.thundercloud.com

A favorite of staff at the nearby League of Women Voters, the Lavaca branch of the local sub chain is one of the best and most convenient sandwich-to-go choices.

Players

300 W. MLK, 478-9299
Sunday-Thursday, 10:45am-3am; Friday-Saturday, 10:45am-3:30am
www.austinplayers.com

Wedged between the Capitol complex and the UT campus, this old-school burger joint has become a favorite of University Democrats and ex-Longhorn lobbyists. Plus, if your bills are failing on the floor, you can always take out your frustrations on the vintage video games here.

The Hideout Coffeehouse

617 Congress, 476-0473
Daily, 7am-11pm
www.hideouttheatre.com/the-coffeeshop

A wide array of locally produced snacks – Rockstar Bagels, Full English flapjacks, and Amy's Ice Creams – plus some overstuffed couches and a good beer selection combine to make this one of the better places to grind through policy papers.

The Cloak Room

1300 Colorado, 478-2622

The fact that this tiny, underground drinking den is the closest bar to the Lege does not make it the Senate's unofficial social club. No matter what you may have heard.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Capitol complex, Downtown, restaurants, Texas Capitol Grill, Scholz Garten, Texas Chili Parlor, Nuevo León Taco Express, Nuevo Leon Taco Express, ThunderCloud Subs, Players, Little City, Hideout Coffeeshop, Cloak Room

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