Architect Nicole Blair has spent all but 10 years of her life on the tree-lined streets of East Austin, and to say that she knows the area pretty well is an understatement.
When she's not at her architecture firm, Studio 512, she's exploring the neighborhood she thinks has received an undeserved bad reputation over the years. As the place where she played freely in her yard as a child, it's a series of hidden treasures and popular eateries that she recommends both locals and out-of-towners should try.
And with dining hot spots like Franklin Barbecue and Hillside Farmacy located on the street where she lives — East 11th — it's no wonder she doesn't have to go far for good food.
Not that she ventures into the barbecue favorite during the lunch rush. Her secret is "going at just the right time" — the minute it opens at 11 a.m., she says, or at 2 p.m. Rather than staying to eat, she often takes the meal home and saves it for later.
Another East Side restaurant that Blair likes to frequent is Justine's, a French brasserie in a restored 1937 bungalow off East Fifth Street. She says that it has a great outdoor patio and loves that it's open until 2 a.m.
Enjoying some retail therapy or nursing a green thumb is also possible in East Austin, she says. Take Heart, on East 11th Street, is a boutique selling a variety of artisan pieces, some locally made; Domy Books, on East Cesar Chavez Street, is a bookstore where Blair can find the art and architecture books needed for her job.
East Austin even boasts a nursery, the Tillery Street Plant Company, where unique and exotic plants abound. Expect a garden wonderland that can have tomatoes near more decorative offerings such as coral honeysuckle.
Blair also enjoys East Austin's art scene, which she calls young and constantly changing. For some art gallery-hopping, she suggests Co-Lab Space, on Allen Street, and a newer space, Tiny Park, on Navasota Street.
But she doesn't avoid the other side of Interstate 35, or any other part of Austin, for that matter.
"When someone from out of town comes to visit, I like to give them a tour," she says, naming Ski Shores Café as one of the stops on the tour. It's a laid-back hamburger joint on Lake Austin that sometimes offers live music.
And she recently planned a picnic dinner to watch "The Sound of Music" at the Zilker Hillside Theatre.
Contact Ari Auber at 445-3630