Sietsema's 10 Favorite SXSW Austin Area Restaurant Recommendations for New Yorkers Heading to the Festival

Categories: Featured, Sietsema

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Migas at Cisco's is a don't-miss Austin dish if ever there were one, served with your choice of tortillas or piping-hot homemade biscuits. (Ask for both.)


Last year I made some Austin restaurant recommendations for friends traveling to SXSW, the yearly music and interactive extravaganza in the Texas capital. I coughed up 10 of my favorite places, some dating to my college days at the University of Texas, others explored during the frequent visits I still pay there to visit my parents and a brother, who live in the vicinity.

These places have long withstood the severest tests of time and taste. A majority are barebecues or Tex-Mex spots, cuisines that find their most perfect evocation in the Austin area. I'm going to SXSW this year, and making a point of revisiting as many as I can, so the guide can be updated next year. Enjoy Austin -- one of the loveliest cities on the planet.

By request, Fork in the Road is reprinting the article.


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The mixed-meat plate at the Salt Lick is quite a deal at $11.95, plus homemade rolls.


Austin is a city that now boasts imitations of nearly every kind of restaurant you can think of. There's a sushi bar that's been nominated for a Beard Award (it's awful), and a place that does as good an approximation of Tuscan food as you can find in, say, Columbus, Ohio. Actually, the Tuscan place isn't bad; I had a near-excellent pizza there a few months ago.

But what you want to get in Austin is something authentically Texan. That means two things in the capital area: barbecue and Tex-Mex, with maybe a little no-account cowboy cooking thrown in for good measure. Here, then, are my 10 choices for South by Southwest dining while in Austin. El Rancho and Sandy's are within walking distance of the convention center, but the rest of the places require a bus or taxi ride. Three places are out of the city limits, but all are well worth the effort it takes to get to them.

10. Dirty Martin's Kum-Bak Place (2808 Guadalupe Street, 512-477-3173)
This greasy spoon up on the northern stretch of Guadalupe used to be about as far north as students would stray. The ramshackle premises, which date to 1926, include an outdoor seating area, an inner dining area with swiveling stools, and a bar, which was once the gas-station part of the business. You'll understand everything when you see the place and munch down on one of their excellent burgers, which come in a dozen permutations, each gooier than the last. The place is also very proud of its onion rings and chili.

9. Tamale House (5003 Airport Boulevard, 512-453-9842)
This temple of Tex-Mex used to be a literal shack down on Congress just north of the river, and it was constantly being shut down by the health department in a neighborhood that was suspiciously short on stray dogs. Nowadays, it's up on Airport Boulevard in north Austin, in an area suspiciously short on airports. No matter, the locals line up in front of this place in the parking lot starting at 7 or so in the morning, and it's only open till 3 p.m., closed Sunday. The specialty is Tex-Mex "brunch" -- breakfast tacos, huevos rancheros, and migas -- a delightful scramble of tortilla chips, eggs, cheese, and salsa.


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19 comments
Brian
Brian

Gross. I live in Austin and have never set foot in any of these places.

Austin has so much more to offer.

Thank_TX_4_Brisket
Thank_TX_4_Brisket

Sietsema's adventurous eating has taken me and a select coterie on many delicious journeys through 4 boroughs (sorry Staten Island). The man is a legend - simple as.

The suggestions here reveal scant knowledge of the Sietsema's lifework of eating (recommending eastside showroom - are you having a laugh?). Also, keep in mind his audience - if you're coming from New York (or the other megapoli Chicago or L.A.) food and drink unique to Austin should be placed at the front of the line even if it means ignoring places that indicate Austin's vibrant, increasingly cosmopolitan and food-centric status.

With that said the commenters criticisms about a few selections (Dirty Martin's and Matt's El Rancho) do ring true - bland, greasy and nostalgic.

Bob, no carts? What? No little taco trailer? No fancy foodie carts? ¡Cabrón!

Check out this columnist's 10 ten trailers in the chronicle for a good lay of the land. http://www.austinchronicle.com...

Seeing as this eating hero of mine will be back in town for SxSw, I'd like to humbly suggest that he and his devotees check out:

Snow's - Lexington is a pretty long trip and Saturday morning during SxSw it may sell out early, but worth driving through pasture land sliced open by huge mines for the brisket! (only open Sat. morning and there's a cattle auction down the street, sells out around 10:30am). It's beautiful brisket if on the smokier side (TX Monthly named it #1). I've been 4 times and it's consistent and deservs it's accolades. With a 76 year old Tootsie Tomanetz as pit boss (and school bus driver) it deserves his time and yours. I love Smitty's (Lockhart) and Louie Mueller's (Taylor) too. Happen to think Smitty's on its day has the best brisket (and unrivaled sausages), but that Mueller's of the top places is the most consistent.

Franklin BBQ - (SxSw friendly) They're trying to open on E 11th right across I-35 in time for SxSw. They'll do an awesome amount of business, but maybe lower expectations since these will be their first days post-trailer. Their brisket is better than any other I've had in town. Of late it's kept me from heading out to points beyond. Didn't necessarily want to like it, these guys don't look like your typical Austin or central Texas pitt masters...But give it a go. Or for something fancy, Lamberts offers tasty if pricey brisket in a nice atmosphere with plenty of other offerings.

Rosita's al Pastor (late night friendly 3am) - Riverside. Great TaP and delightful pancake-like flour tortillas! Go to the cart in front of the shopping center (restaurant is less consistent and has regular hours). Shocked this isn't a Sietsema fav :( Eating al-fresco, often being the only gringo and having an armed security guard protect you and your fellow patrons from the occasionally passing-by crazies, junkies and spill-over gang violence should not be missed! Besides, the nightclub is now gone and there were only two homocides over there anyway. Get the tacos al pastor on flour w.onion and cilantro. Cash (or card w/$5 minimum).

Habanero's (Oltord and S. 1st) - The beef fajita ranchera is very hot and spicy and delicious!

Tam Deli/Pho Danh (both North Lamar) - Good stuff. Banh mi at the former and pho and also pork dishes at the latter. Banh mi has caught on all around and obviously has it's outposts in New York and while there's good of vietnamese to can be found in the big apple considering the population of NYC the Vietnamese community is surprisingly very small. Anyway think both these spots will both impress.

Coreanos/Chilantro (SxSw friendly) - Current peoples fav. and the original entry n town. Korean/Tex-Mex fusion. Concept and culture imported from LA. Been to chilantro a few times and spicy kimchi bulgogi cheese fries are obviously worth Robert's time! If not in the mood for chili cheese fries then go w/ taco with caramelized kimchi.

Odd Duck (South Lamar across from Alamo Draft House) - Gourmet cart food locally sourced. Well balanced flavors and can get a crazy doughnut from Gordo's right next door after. If you can get a table, they've also opened a gastro-pub Barley Swine. Odd Duck is byob.

East Side Kings (SwSx friendly). Back of Liberty Bar on E. 6th) - Don't tell him that East Side Kings has affiliation with Uchi folks (cooks?), but the fried chicken bun is juicy, sweet and savory. As our friend Kyle says, "It's the tits!". So good still haven't gotten around to the pork bun... They've opened another cart a block down the street in front of the new pub the Grackle (good beer and bourbon selection) doing yakitori. Cash.

El Primo (S. Lamar) - Breakfast tacos, eggs cooked for each order. Would recommend Tacodeli too, a place that's easy to dislike in theory, but pretty good in fact (Cowboy taco in particular). Unfortunately of late their eggs have been tepid and too salty so instead get over to this south austin cart. Wish I went this morning! Cash. Taco Alayna (Manor) gets some great shouts for it's migas taco.

Taco Rico (Vargas near Montopolis) - Head over here and get some knock-out barbacoa tacos and bistec sope! Maybe the best of the taco carts, although there are plenty of contenders! Cash.

Galloway's (SxSw friendly) - E. 12th. Limited hours, so check before going, but soul food cooking at it's finest. Doesn't disappoint, great people too! Meat and Two (sides). Need to get more fried chicken from Mr. Galloway asap! Never been for breakfast, but think they've got that covered too. Cash. See Austin Chronicle or chowhound for good reviews.

Three Little Pigs (SxSw friendly) E. 12th. New food cart with chops. Had the pork belly slider and fried chicken w/sweet sauce - tasty and worth repeat visits. In the parking lot of a wine shop which is convenient as they don't have a booze license. Think it's cash only.

StayInNYC,FauxHipsters
StayInNYC,FauxHipsters

Don't listen to them, folks. Great list! Please eat at the listed places, leave as much as cash as you can, then go home and tell everyone how hip you are.

Have a nice day. Back in the Big Phony Apple.

Kwame Evans
Kwame Evans

Robert, this list is faded. Austin is a big city now (more than 800,000+ more than 3/4ths of Dallas). We're doin' an 8-ball full of high-class choices. Get used to it. It's our time !

North Robert
North Robert

Follow these choices if you want some really lousy meals. Other than the BBQ choices, these aren't even close to the best we have to offer, but anyone who calls the Beard nominated Sushi Joint (uchi) awful has no credibility anyway.

austinhomey
austinhomey

"El Rancho and Sandy's are within walking distance of the convention center"? Well, Sandy's would take about 15-20 minutes for an average walker. El Rancho? Pal, that is a good 45-minute hike from the convention center if you really push it and have on comfort shoes; and a lot of that trek is on dicey S. Lamar sidewalks and uphill. My wife and I have walked that far from our downtown home on days when we want exercise, but I don't think that is what most SXSWers are seeking.

And by the way, the gorgeous interior of Fonda San Miguel is anything but "cavernous." Take it from someone who has been a regular there since they opened the doors in 1975.

What Jen says!

OrdwayFerkin
OrdwayFerkin

Each to his or her own on the Bar-B-Que - Salt Lick is probably the best in the area.

And I agree with Amber on the Tex-Mex....lots of good places in Austin.

Jonathan
Jonathan

some of these recommendations are good. I've created a SXSW restaurant guide based on a survey I did of locals in the Austin area. Feel free to check it out here:www.grubthis.com/austinrestaur...

Personally, you can't go wrong with Torchy's Tacos.

JonathanGrubster - Know What to Eat

P-Sav
P-Sav

Terrible list. If you are coming to Austin there are 30 places better then here. ASK A LOCAL when you are on the ground here in Austin. He or she will guide you to many places better than these.

Tonijim
Tonijim

the frisco shop is a must - Austin tradition best old fashion hamburger in austin :)

The Frisco Shop
The Frisco Shop

Hi Folks. What an honor to be with such great company! Just wanted everyone to know thatThe Frisco Shop is located at 6801 Burnet Rd. Hope to see you all here!

Heather
Heather

What Jen says. As a native Texan and native Austinite you can find WAY better places to eat. Jen's list has my favorites except I also love Eddie V's and Thai Passion is really great for Thai and is open until 3AM. For food truck go to Not Your Mama's Food Truck. Trudy's is always a favorite for Tex Mex and has much better food than Matt's. The only time I go to Matt's is for margaritas on their back patio. Sandy's has good milkshakes but don't get their burgers. Try Hopdoddy's on Congress for burgers or Your Mom's for burgers. For sushi most of my friends are liking the new Uchiko better than Uchi (run by the same people--Tyson Cole chef) though they are both outstanding.

Swizzle
Swizzle

You can't forget Threadgills. Great food. Great music. It's classic Austin.

kt
kt

Seriously DO NOT go to Sam's. Their motto is "You don't need no teef to eat out beef." Which would be funny, except that they are serious, and the average patron might just kill a hipster.

Jen
Jen

I don't mean to trash Robert's selections as I imagine there's a bit of "sentimental" value going on here, but most of these restaurants are nowhere close to representing the best of Austin, and definitely not places I'd recommend as an Austinite. Fonda San Miguel is fantastic, as are the Lockhart BBQ restaurants (primarily Kreuz), but there is actually better BBQ in the actual city limits - check out Franklin BBQ. Try Barley Swine, Odd Duck, Uchi and Uchiko, Parkside, Justine's, Chez Nous, Peche, Wink, Vespaio, South Congress Cafe, Haddingtons, Congress, Frank, Perla's, Buenos Aires, Cafe Josie. For trailers: The Peached Tortilla, Coreanos, Odd Duck, Gourdoughs, East Side King, G'raj Mahal, Izzoz Tacos, Cazamance.. I could go on...

Amber
Amber

These are bland Tex-Mex joints and greasy burger shacks near The University of Texas...

Where is Peche? Justine's? East Side Show Room? Uchi/Uchiko? Heck, even Juan in a Million...

Emilymiller06
Emilymiller06

Agreed, Ick. Yuck. Barf. With the exception of Fonda San Miguel and Kreuz (pronounced "Krites") - and oh yeah, don't ask for a fork or for sauce, 'cause they ain't got 'em! Would suggest any of the Taqueria Arandas, but love the one on Burnet Road. Cheap, real food, and a chance to practice your Spanish. Skip the trendy Elsi's across the street.

flimflamini
flimflamini

kt- you're getting your barbecue mixed up. "Need no teef to eat my beef" is House Park Bar-B-Q's slogan. They're located on 12th and lamar.

John Doe
John Doe

Amen -- I like Tom Seitsma, but you should ignore these recommendations. He clearly has not lived in Austin in 20 years.

This Austinite would advise anyone coming for SxSW to spend some time on chowhound -- there's plenty of up-to-date advice, regardless of what you're looking for. And while I would second his suggestion to head to Lockhart, there's plenty of great food within walking distance of downtown.

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