Our dining team shares their expert advice on where to eat, drink and be merry during South by Southwest.
Here’s what you gotta try ….
… when you want to grab a quick breakfast on the go:
Sitting down for a leisurely breakfast usually isn’t an option during SXSW. That doesn’t mean you can’t grab something and go. Caffé Medici (200 Congress Ave., 827-2770, CaffeMedici.com) in the bottom of the Austonian condo tower sells Umpqua Oats, yogurt, muffins, bagels, pastries and some of the best coffee in the city. Carrob’s (605 Sabine St., 382-0603, Carrobs.com), a café along Waller Creek, makes breakfast sandwiches the way we like them: a little messy and stacked with crisp bacon and a fried egg on buttery griddled wheat bread. With multiple locations downtown,Royal Blue Grocery(609 Congress Ave., 469-5888, RoyalBlueGrocery.com) has Austin culinary staples breakfast tacos (try the veggie chorizo or bacon, egg and chees), along with healthier options like fruit salad, yogurt bottled kombucha.
… when you find yourself camping out near Auditorium Shores or the Long Center:
Those attending SXSW Film and Interactive at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive, or any of the free music concerts at Auditorium Shores across the street won’t have far to walk for grub. Kebabalicious will serve their meat and falafel kebabs at the Long Center and will be joined by taco trailer La Fantabulous and San Antonio’s Sabor Colombiano.
… when you want to eat at a trailer on the East Side that is NOT an East Side King:
"Top Chef" champ Paul Qui and Co.’s trailers at Liberty, The Grackle and Shangri-La rule the East Side, but they’re not alone in offering excellent food. Chef Raymond Tatum’s Three Little Pigs (1209 Rosewood Ave., 653-5058, 3LittlePigsAustin.com) delivers comfort food with an Asian flare, such as pork belly sliders with a maple glaze and Asian fried chicken. The East Side Fillin’ Station at the corner of Sixth and Waller streets is home to cheesesteaks (Way South Philly), kabobs (Wholly Kabob) and hot dogs (Evil Wiener), but the jewel of the lot is Veracruz, who serve abundant and flavorful tacos (get the migas). Across from the Fillin’ Station, in the parking lot of Violet Crown Social Club bar,Via 313 brings pizza from the Motor City to Austin – fluffy, buttery squares of pie topped with a volcanic crown of sauce (try the Detroiter).
… when you need a vegetarian bite:
Savor the ravioli di zucca gialla at Botticelli’s (1321 S Congress Ave., 916-1315, BotticellisSouthCongress.com), rounded triangular bites of pasta stuffed with burnt orange butternut squash, topped with fried leaves of sage and served atop a rich brown butter sauce. The quinoa avocado dish at Snack Bar (1224 S. Congress Ave., 445-2626, SnackBarAustin.com) is layered with flavors and textures, with a pile of bitter arugula serving as a bed for the grainy baubles, with creamy avocado and acidic pineapple resting on top. Chop it all up and blend it together. Speaking of salads, that’s all Leaf (419 W. Second St., 474-5323, LeafSalad.com) does, and they do it well, with a host of local and organic options for you to build your own creation.
… when you have an expense account:
Or when you know somebody who does. And it will help if they or you have a magic touch with the reservationist. Congress (200 Congress Ave., 827-2760, CongressAustin.com) delivers flawless service in a genteel but relaxed setting and serves elegant food that does not skimp on flavor. Try the steak tartare, carrot ravioli and lamb strip loin. They helped set the bar for fine dining in Austin, and Uchi (801 S. Lamar Blvd., 916-4808, UchiAustin.com) still offers the best sushi in town, whether you want classic stylings or some innovative twists. Ruth’s Chris (107 W. 6th St., 477-7884, RuthsChris.com). Don’t be mistaken. The name may be familiar to out-of-towners but the staff here — especially at the bar — feels uniquely Austin. Best steak in town, and you don’t have to dress like you’re in Houston to enjoy it.
… when want to leave downtown for a dinner outside of the SXSW madness:
Foreign & Domestic (306 E. 53rd St., 459-1010, FnDAustin.com) has a way with heart, whether it be beef or venison, but they also have a great handle on fish.Lenoir (1807 S. First St., 215-9778, LenoirRestaurant.com) is a charming little jewel box of a restaurant serving food that has flavor profiles ranging from the Gulf of Mexico to Vietnam, and all hot weather spots in between. The communal seating at farm-to-table championBarley Swine (2024 S Lamar Blvd., 394-8150, BarleySwine.com) means you don’t have to raise your voice to tell your neighbors how much you enjoy the artful plating of items like foie gras, duck and some of the best vegetarian dishes in town.
…when you want to play hooky from panels to have a lunch date:
One of the keys to SXSW success is networking, and sometimes you’ll get more out of an impromptu lunch date with someone you just met or a social media friend you finally met in real life than attending back-to-back panels for five days straight.
Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden (709 E. Sixth St., 614-4972, easytigeraustin.com) is a great spot close to the convention center for catching up over a coffee and a pastry (or a sausage and a beer). If you can grab a seat at The Backspace (507 San Jacinto Blvd., 474-9899, thebackspace-austin.com), you’ll be rewarded with some of the best pizza downtown, but if you’re in the mood for burgers, try the 1886 Cafe & Bakery at the Driskill Hotel (604 Brazos St., 391-7066, 1886cafeandbakery.com), which serves a fun beer-and-slider pairing that showcases a variety of local beers. If you’re ready for a shot and one of the most unique dining experiences in Austin, check out The Russian House (307 E. Fifth St., 428-5442, russianhouseofaustin.com), which serves authentic Russian cuisine, including an array of in-house flavored vodkas, in a setting that defines kitsch.
…when you want to impress someone who you hope might one day be your boss:
Swift’s Attic (315 Congress Ave., 482-8842, swiftsattic.com) is one of the new hip restaurants to open in downtown Austin in the past year, and it’s just fancy enough to suit a fine dining fanatic, but funky enough to feel like Austin. Over at Parkside (301 E. Sixth St., 474-9898, parkside-austin.com), you can order oysters and fish off the raw bar, spring for something daring like marrow bones or enjoy a solid burger and some of the best fries in Austin.
…if you’re at a SXSW satellite venue outside the downtown core:
If you’re at the AT&T Conference Center and don’t mind a half-mile walk up the University of Texas’ famed Drag (aka Guadalupe Street), check out East Side King (2538 Guadalupe Street, 422-5884, eskaustin.com), the brick-and-mortar location (inside club the Hole in the Wall) of "Top Chef" winner Paul Qui’s famed food trucks. Try the tortilla ramen or the Poor Qui Bun. The Carillon (1900 University Ave., 404-3655, thecarillonrestaurant.com) — the upscale restaurant inside the conference center helmed by another top Austin chef, Josh Watkins — is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Franklin Barbecue (900 E. 11th St., 653-1187, franklinbarbecue.com) is just a stone’s throw from the Sheraton Austin, but be prepared to stand in line for a few hours for what Bon Appetit has called the best barbecue in America. For a quick bite, check out Pelon’s (802 Red River St., 243-7874, pelonsaustin.com) for Mexican or Koriente (621 E. Seventh St., 275-0852, koriente.com) for Asian.
The Hyatt Regency is south of Lady Bird Lake but a 15-20 minute hike from the eateries along South Congress. Try Aussie’s (306 Barton Springs Road, 480-0952, aussiesaustin.com) for lunch (or a quick round of beach volleyball on one of the restaurant’s two outdoor courts) or El Alma (1025 Barton Springs Road, 609-8923, elalmacafe.com) for dinner.
…when you get a chance to stroll SoCo:
South Congress Avenue is perfect for people-watching and progressive eating and drinking. Start with a drink on the patio at Perla’s (1400 S. Congress Ave., 291-7300, perlasaustin.com) or a margarita at Guero’s Taco Bar (1412 S. Congress Ave. 447-7688, guerostacobar.com), grab a to-go slice of pizza from the window at Home Slice (1415 S. Congress Ave., 444-7437, homeslicepizza.com), hit up a few of the SoCo trailers in the 1600 block and then finish off with some pie from Woodland (1716 S. Congress Ave., 441-6800, woodlandaustin.com), if you make it that far.
…if you want to shop for groceries for your Airbnb rental and drink a beer while you’re at it:
The flagship Whole Foods Market (525 N. Lamar Blvd., 476-1206, wholefoodsmarket.com) is a must-see for visitors, and your first stop should be the wine bar in the back of the store, where you can grab a pint of beer or a glass of wine to enjoy at the bar or as you stroll the aisles of what really is an amusement park for foodies. Outside downtown, both Central Market (4001 N. Lamar Blvd., 4477 S. Lamar Blvd., 206-1000, centralmarket.com) and in.gredients (2610 Manor Road, 275-6357, in.gredients.com), a newly opened zero-waste grocery store, have spaces where you can sit down and enjoy a drink before, after or while you shop.
…when you’re tired of drinking free Lone Stars, but don’t want to bother with the wine or cocktail crowd:
Start with a taste of Texas at the recently opened Craft Pride (61 Rainey St., 826-1238, craftprideaustin.com), a polished bar that offers 54 beers brewed only in the Lone Star state, ranging from classics like Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap Pils to experimental and seasonal sips like Real Ale’s Mysterium Verum and Hops & Grain Greenhouse series. If you fancy more of a cognitive challenge, sort through the vast menu of 100 plus taps at Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden (79 Rainey St., 386-1656, bangersaustin.com), and be sure to chow down on one of their house sausages while you’re there. The centrally located Chicago House (607 Trinity St., 358-6202, thechicagohouse.com) has also quickly become a favorite among the local craft beer contingent.
…when you have time for a sit-down brunch:
Brunch favorites Moonshine Bar & Grill (303 Red River St., 236-9599, moonshinegrill.com) and Frank (407 Colorado St., 494-6916, hotdogscoldbeer.com) only serve brunch on Sundays, but if you can sneak away from downtown for a laid-back breakfast, check out South Austin’s Habanero Mexican Cafe (501 W. Oltorf St., 416-0443, habanerocafe.com), where you can get a killer Tex-Mex breakfast all day, any day of the week. Try Roberto’s Special (huevos rancheros and beef fajita meat) with a side of guacamole or the migas tacos.
…when the line to get into the Facebook party is wrapped around the block and you split to grab a late night cocktail:
If you’re in the thick of Sixth Street, look for the red vacancy light and duck into one of the cozy booths at former brothel Midnight Cowboy (313 E. Sixth St., 843-2715, midnightcowboymodeling.com), where you can find classic Manhattans and Sazeracs alongside house specialties that employ everything from celery bitters to paprika. At Bar Congress (200 Congress Ave., 827-2760, congressaustin.com), you’ll find some of the most innovative concoctions in town, including cocktails on tap. In the Warehouse District west of Congress Avenue, opt for a traditional absinthe drip at the decadent (and always bustling) pre-Prohibition-style Peche (208 W. Fourth St., 494-4011, pecheaustin.com). Find yourself on the other side of I-35? East Side Show Room (1100 E. Sixth St., 467-4280, eastsideshowroom.com) might be one of the first places in Austin to serve upscale cocktails, but they certainly haven’t lost their relevance. Step into the vaudeville-esque world they’ve painted and try one of the barkeep’s seasonal tipples.
…for dinner at 2 a.m.
24 Diner (600 N. Lamar Blvd., 472-5400, 24diner.com) is one of the only 24 hour restaurants downtown, and even though there might be a line out the door at 3 a.m., chef Andrew Curren’s thoughtful comfort food is worth the wait. Closer to the middle of downtown is Llama’s Peruvian Food Trailer (611 Trinity Street, 740-2032, facebook.com/LlamasFoodTrailer), a food truck that is open for both lunch and late-night eats from chef (and Peru native) Julio-Cesar Flórez Zaplana, who doesn’t close the truck until well after the bars close at 2 a.m. Magnolia Cafe and Kerbey Lane are two beloved, locally owned 24-hour diners, but neither has locations within walking distance of downtown, but a cab (motor or pedi) can get you there and back.