South by Southwest is a marathon, not a sprint. But unlike a marathon, you can’t subsist on orange slices and cups of water. You also can’t skate by on the free energy bars from your branded swag bag or the tacos given out an app-launch parties.
I’ve compiled a list of some of Austin’s major food groups below, with options in and around the festival environs (read: downtown and just east of downtown). I didn’t include trailers, because they can be hard to pin down during the festival and you can just wander the streets hungry and searching should you so desire. Asterisks indicate my top picks.
Keep in mind some restaurants may offer irregular hours during the festival, so give a ring or check their websites before heading over. And, if you're looking to venture beyond the categories below, check out the Top 50 restaurants and more at austin360.com/eats.
Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que. 217 Congress Ave. 512-474-4227, coopersbbqaustin.com. The Austin outpost of this famed Central Texas barbecue joint that started in Llano serves lunch and dinner.
*Franklin Barbecue. 900 E. 11th St. 512-653-1187, franklinbarbecue.com. Stand in line for a few hours and not only will you have some new friends and a good story, but you will also have access to world-class brisket.
House Park Bar-B-Que. 900 W. 12th St. 512-472-9621, houseparkbbq.net. Smoked meats with a side of history at Austin’s oldest barbecue restaurant.
Iron Works BBQ. 100 Red River St. 512-478-4855, ironworksbbq.com. Queue up for sausage, chicken, ribs, a slew of vintage celebrity photos and a view of Waller Creek.
*Kerlin BBQ. 1700 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-412-5588, kerlinbbq.com. The brisket at this East Austin trailer is good on its own or stuffed inside a kolache for the ultimate Central Texas treat.
*La Barbecue. 2027 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-605-9696, labarbecue.com. Some of the best barbecue in Central Texas. Start with the brisket and hot guts sausage and go from there.
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue. 401 W. Second St. 512-494-1500, lambertsaustin.com. The fanciest barbecue spot in town, Lamberts smokes traditional meats such as pork shoulder and beef brisket and serves some of the best side dishes of any barbecue spot in Austin.
*Micklethwait Craft Meats. 1309 Rosewood Ave. 512-791-5961, craftmeatsaustin.com. Inventive and flavorful sausages and items such as pulled lamb that you won’t find at many other places. Sides and desserts are also stars here.
24 Diner. 600 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-472-5400, 24diner.com. Fried chicken biscuit, Belgian waffles and more breakfast favorites are served around the clock.
*Counter Café. 626 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-708-8800, countercafe.com. You can almost reach over and touch the grill at this modern diner that pairs eggs with crab cakes, quail, steak and pork chops.
*Cenote. 1010 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-524-1311, cenoteaustin.com. Stop in for coffee, breakfast sandwiches, scrambles, bagels and granola.
Jo’s. 242 W. Second St. 512-469-9003, joscoffee.com. Good coffee, breakfast sandwiches and pastries in the 2nd Street District.
Juan in a Million. 2300 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-472-3872, juaninamillion.com. Juan in a Million has been putting out Tex-Mex classics such as huevos rancheros and breakfast tacos for more than 30 years. Expect a line.
*Paperboy. 1203 E. 11th St. paperboyaustin.com. The breakfast sandwiches are beautiful representations of the form, with fluffy brioche buns and perfect sunny-side-up eggs.
*Walton’s Fancy & Staple. 609 W. Sixth St. 512-542-3380, waltonsfancyandstaple.com. Avocado toast, challah French toast and shrimp and grits are a few of the breakfast menu items at this historic charmer owned by Sandra Bullock.
*Casino El Camino. 517 E. Sixth St. 512-469-9330, casinoelcamino.net. All red and black, this cavernous Sixth Street classic has a devilish attitude and serves up thick, aggressive burgers.
*Chicon at Fareground. 111 Congress Ave. contigotexas.com/fareground. The owners of Contigo serve their popular burger in Austin’s first food hall.
*Dean's One Trick Pony. 111 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-473-1570, thelinehotel.com/austin. The casual spot at the Line hotel serves a burger smothered with queso. Uh huh.
Hut's Hamburgers. 807 W. Sixth St. 512-472-0693, hutsfrankandangies.com. This nostalgia-packed restaurant not only serves up burgers made with Texas-raised beef but also make burgers with buffalo and longhorn meat.
Jackalope. 404 E. Sixth St. 512-472-3663, jackalopebar.com. The stars of the show here are the fat burgers. Try the honey jalapeno bacon burger or the Chupacabra (goat barbacoa).
*Parkside. 301 E. Sixth St. 512-474-9898, parkside-austin.com. This Texas gastropub serves one of the best burgers downtown. It’s small but packs a savory punch.
*P. Terry’s. 515 Congress Ave. #130. 512-473-8722, pterrys.com. Patrick Terry’s patty empire runs on humanely raised and antibiotic-free Angus beef and chicken. For the record, my order is a double with bacon, cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, onions and jalapenos.
Roaring Fork. 701 Congress Ave. 512-583-0000, roaringfork.com. Poblano peppers, cheddar and smoked pepper bacon layer this Southwestern burger with a naughty name we can’t print here.
*Second Bar + Kitchen. 200 Congress Ave. 512-827-2750, secondbarkitchen.com. This New American restaurant on Congress Avenue puts you right in the middle of downtown and serves an incredibly juicy burger with mildly funky gruyere.
*24 Diner. 600 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-472-5400, 24diner.com. Farm-to-table comfort food like a fried chicken sandwich in a modern diner setting. Pretty much always open.
*Casino El Camino. 517 E. Sixth St. 512-469-9330, casinoelcamino.net. Grab yourself a fat burger off the grill with a side of whiskey and attitude at this Sixth Street staple. Kitchen is open until 1 a.m.
*Delray Cafe. 1133 E. 11th St. 512-987-4294, nickelcitybar.com/#delray. Yes, many food trailers are open late, but this one gets recognition because it’s connected to one of the great late-night drinking spots (Nickel City, the former Longbranch Inn) and serves straight ahead renditions of classics like chili dogs and chicken wings.
*Justine’s. 4710 E. Fifth St. 512-385-2900, justines1937.com. A blend of style and grace, Justine’s offers a unique dining experience, whether you’re sitting at a small table in the dimly lit intimate dining room listening to vinyl or out under the trees and twinkle lights. The party goes until late.
Max’s Wine Dive. 207 San Jacinto Blvd. 512-904-0111, maxswinedive.com. It’s always the right time for fried chicken and champagne. Open until midnight every night but Sunday.
*P. Terry’s. 404 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-473-2217; 515 Congress Ave. #130. 512-473-8722, pterrys.com. Get yourself a double with bacon and jalapenos (or a veggie burger, if you’re into that sort of thing) until early in the morning.
*Second Bar + Kitchen. 200 Congress Ave. 512-836-5700, secondbarkitchen.com. New American with great burger and pizzas in the heart of downtown. Open until 1 a.m. on weekends.
*Via 313. Multiple locations. via313.com. These thick squares of pizza are my favorite thing to eat after a night of drinking. Open late.
*Cisco’s. 1511 E. Sixth St. 512-478-2420, ciscosaustin.com. Breakfast, lunch and now dinner tacos are served, along with migas plates, fajitas and more at this Tex-Mex staple that has been in business for almost 75 years.
*La Condesa. 400 W. Second St. 512-499-0300, lacondesa.com. This beautiful restaurant feels plucked from the leafy streets of Mexico City’s hip Condesa neighborhood and serves excellent tacos (try the short rib in mole) and one of the best margaritas in town.
*Dai Due Taqueria at Fareground. 111 Congress Ave. daiduetaqueria.com. One of the city’s best restaurants now has a taqueria (think wild boar al pastor on homemade tortillas) in Austin’s first food hall.
*Fresa's. 915 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-428-5077, fresaschicken.com. Walk up or drive-through for complex tacos like the El Santo with agave-lime chicken, pickled carrots, jicama, jalapeno and more.
Joe's Bakery. 2305 E. Seventh St. 512-472-0017, joesbakery.com. This family-owned restaurant has been drawing crowds for more than 50 years with their perfect crispy beef taco, enchiladas and menudo.
*Licha's Cantina. 1306 E. Sixth St. 512-480-5960, lichascantina.com. Get a taste of Mexican street food such as huaraches with huitlacoche and superb tacos such as beef tongue and grilled chicken thigh with morita-orange salsa at this rustic bungalow with expansive outdoor seating areas.
*Pueblo Viejo. 502 Brushy St. 512-373-6557, puebloviejoaustin.com. The tacos are, of course, the stars. But the five salsas, from the smoky dusk of an exceptional black habanero to the morning glow of creamy jalapeno, make for a great supporting cast.
*Tamale House East. 1707 E. Sixth St. 512-495-9504, facebook.com/tamalehouse.east. The grandchildren of the original Tamale House founders carry on the family tradition with wet migas and famous breakfast tacos.
Torchy's. 110 San Antonio St. 512-792-5909, torchystacos.com. The folks who started a cult based on the strength of creations like a fried chicken taco with green chili queso now have a location downtown.
*Turf N' Surf. 407 Lavaca St. 512-276-2763, lavacastreet.com. Fresh tuna, snapper, shrimp and mahi are grilled and blackened for great seafood tacos.
*Veracruz All-Natural. 1704 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-981-1760, veracruztacos.com. This growing empire serves the best migas taco in town (and more).
*Counter Culture. 2337 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-524-1540, countercultureaustin.com. Try the Philly cheesesteak with seitan or the jackfruit barbecue sandwich at this vegan restaurant in East Austin that also serves many gluten-free dishes.
*JuiceLand. 120 E. Fourth St. 737-300-2120; 2601 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-351-8349, juiceland.com. Find grab-and-go vegan dishes packed with impressive flavors, from Mexican and Thai-inspired wraps to falafel and an assortment of snack packs.
*Leaf. 115 W. Sixth St. 512-474-5323, leafsalad.com. Choose from one of Leaf’s salad options, or make your own with a variety of ingredients, many of which are locally sourced.
Mad Greens. 419 W. Second St. 512-213-0160, madgreens.com. Build your own salad from the array of options at this national chain, or order one of their house specials.