Food and a Movie
Strategic local restaurant suggestions to enhance your SXSW Film Festival schedule
By Claudia Alarcón and Kate Thornberry, Fri., March 11, 2011
Paramount Theatre, State Theatre, the Hideout Theatre
There are lots of dining options near the Congress Avenue venues that offer food for all tastes and price ranges.
• For light appetites and tight budgets, you can't go wrong with Little City (916 Congress), a favorite caffeine shop serving fresh, tasty salads and sandwiches such as roast beef with cucumber slices, wasabi spread, and organic greens on a baguette.
• Just a few doors down, Marákesh Cafe & Grill (906 Congress) dishes inexpensive but superb Middle Eastern sandwiches and plates – I love Marákesh's shawarma – with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options and a few Western sandwiches thrown in for good measure.
• Although a little pricier, Roaring Fork (701 Congress) is the spot for high-end cowboy cuisine with menu highlights like green-chili-pork stew with hot, homemade tortillas; a fondue pot with lamb chops, butternut squash, and chili-pecan bread; and the legendary "Big Ass" Burger (yes, it's huge!) topped with bacon and cheddar.
• For those looking for a very masculine outing, Perry's Steakhouse & Grille (114 W. Seventh) offers classic Texas steak house fare and a lengthy wine list in a swanky, dark, and elegant environment. It's open for lunch on Friday only, but dinner service begins at 4pm Monday-Saturday.
• The 1886 Cafe & Bakery at the Driskill Hotel (614 E. Sixth) is famous for its award-winning pastries, but it also serves a full menu of American fare and boozy hot chocolate and coffee drinks perfect for an after-the-movies dessert outing. The high-end sister restaurant Driskill Grill (604 Brazos) is set in an elegant dining room and serves modern American cuisine for dinner including wild game dishes. Items are available à la carte or in a three-course tasting menu.
• Annies Cafe & Bar (319 Congress) has a complete bistro-style menu for breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch, and dinner, and it's perhaps best known for creative craft cocktails, house-made pastries, and killer desserts.
• At the south end of Congress, longtime favorite Manuel's (310 Congress) serves modern takes on regional Mexican cuisine, some Tex-Mex items, and a large selection of margaritas (although I favor the cucumber lime martini) in a jazzy atmosphere. Happy hour from 4 to 6pm daily features discounted drinks and appetizers, and there's live music during Sunday brunch.
• Royal Blue Grocery (247 W. Third) specializes in local products and includes a wide variety of ready-made foods, from spring rolls with peanut sauce to savory Brazilian pastries, vegetarian and meat tacos, falafel wraps, and deli-style sandwiches. Royal Blue is open until midnight every night and delivers in the Downtown area.
• Around the corner, BarChi Sushi (206 Colorado) offers happy hour 3-7pm daily, with additional happy hours 10pm-12mid on Thursdays and 10pm-2am on Fridays and Saturdays – perfect for noshing before or after a movie – featuring a variety of sushi, maki rolls, appetizers, grilled robata items, and drinks. Happy hour specials are good all day on Sunday too.
• The informal and laid-back Second Bar + Kitchen, tiny Bar Congress, and fine-dining mecca Congress (200 Congress, in the new Austonian building) are the current places to see and be seen. They feature fantastic cuisine from chef David Bull, one of the best wine lists in the city handpicked by award-winning sommelier June Rodil, and superior craft cocktails. The food is playful and eclectic, with a definite emphasis on seasonal, farm-to-table ingredients. For a snack, try the ridiculously delicious beef short rib croquettes with Gruyère fondue or the addictive buffalo fried pickles. The thin-crust pizzas are incredible.
• In that same vein, newcomer Trace at the W Hotel (200 Lavaca) even has a forager on staff who sources almost every ingredient locally for the chefs to create their seasonal inspirations. It is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and sports an ultrahip bar scene when you're ready for liquid refreshments. – Claudia Alarcón
Austin Convention Center, Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz
Some of Austin's finest restaurants are in this several-block area of southeastern Downtown. Start from the Convention Center and head up toward the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz on East Sixth.
• Iron Works BBQ (100 Red River), located in the actual iron works where much of our city's iron fencing was cast, predates the Convention Center by decades, and by the grace of fortune was left standing right next door, serving exactly what most out-of-towners want to eat: Texas barbecue. Options include ribs, brisket, sausage, pork loin, chicken, ham, and turkey, available by the plate, sandwich, or pound.
• Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill (303 Red River) serves innovative, reasonably priced down-home fare such as "corn dog" shrimp, chicken-fried steak, and green-chile macaroni in a historic group of buildings just across the street.
• Piranha Killer Sushi (207 San Jacinto #202) has several things going for it, not least of which are the location and ambience. The sushi has a reputation for freshness, and the non-sushi entrées are plentiful and excellent.
• Vince Young Steakhouse (301 San Jacinto) is a new arrival on the scene and follows the usual steakhouse pattern: Entrées, sides, and salads are all ordered separately. The quality is high, and the overall experience is luxurious (and pricey).
• Eddie V's Edgewater Grille (301 E. Fifth) qualifies as an Austin institution; it is the place to go for outstanding seafood in a posh atmosphere.
• TRIO at the Four Seasons (98 San Jacinto), on the ground level of Austin's fanciest hotel, is another top-drawer restaurant where you can be assured that you will get the very best chef-created cuisine, featuring a great deal of pastured local meats and seasonal vegetables from farmers' markets.
• Casa Chapala (101 San Jacinto) brings it back down to Earth. This colorful, inexpensive Mexican place is just a step from the Convention Center and features margaritas, tacos, enchiladas, and other standard Mexican dishes.
• Blue Ribbon BBQ (120 E. Fourth) is another fine Texas barbecue spot, serving smoked meats of all types with traditional sides.
• the backspace (507 San Jacinto) boasts a roaring 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit brick oven where Neapolitan-style pizza is made to order, along with cool, crisp salads and piping-hot side dishes. March 11-19, chef Shawn Cirkiel's parkside spin-off will open for lunch service at 1pm.
• Chez Nous (510 Neches) is a lovely, authentic French bistro. Opened in 1982, Chez Nous has been offering carefully prepared cuisine in a relaxed setting for nearly 30 years – it's a universal favorite.
• El Sol y La Luna (600 E. Sixth) is one of the very best Mexican breakfast places in town, with wonderful Interior Mexican fare at hard-to-beat prices – great for lunch and dinner, too.
• Habana (709 E. Sixth) is Austin's first successful Cuban restaurant and offers a wide variety of Caribbean dishes, but it's especially known for its Cuban sandwiches.
• Casino El Camino (517 E. Sixth) is absolutely the place to go Downtown for awesome burgers, and it often has long waits during SXSW. It's well worth the effort and a good post-movie option because it's open late into the night.
• parkside (301 E. Sixth) is one of Austin's finer restaurants, serving modern, ingredient-driven cuisine prepared by Shawn Cirkiel, one of Austin's best chefs. Like its sister restaurant, the backspace, parkside will serve lunch March 11-19 starting at 1pm.
• B.D. Riley's (204 E. Sixth) is an Irish pub, one that concentrates on wonderful food and ale for grownups. Fish and chips, burgers, and nachos are on the menu, but there are a variety of other award-winning dishes, soups, and salads that prove its slogan, "Not just the usual pub grub." – Kate Thornberry