My suggestions for people visiting Austin are different from those I give to locals. For instance, I’m not going to suggest that someone from NYC go get pizza, or that people from LA go out for Vietnamese. If you’re visiting Austin, especially for the first time, you should eat everything that Austin and the state of Texas do best. These are my favorite places to suggest to out-of-towners.
Not Your Average Taco & BBQ Joints:
Veracruz All Natural: The migas breakfast taco
Trust me, you want to get this taco. Head to the East side Veracruz location or the one at Radio Coffee on Manchaca for the best breakfast taco you will ever have. Amigas taco from anywhere else will never taste as good. Migas is traditional Mexican breakfast dish made with eggs, tortilla chips, pico de gallo and cheese. Veracruz puts all this goodness into a tortilla (always get flour) and tops it with fresh avocado slices. Douse your taco in their creamy green salsa for the the optimal experience. I crave a Veracruz migas taco at least once a week.
The entire world knows that Franklin is “the best” BBQ, but there’s so much more to do in Austin than wait in that line for hours. For BBQ that is just about as good, go to Micklethwait. It’s not far from Franklin on the east side and you'll still have to wait in line on the weekends, but for nowhere near as long. They open at 11AM, so your best bet is to get there early. Always get the brisket, and if you have people you can share with, get the massive beef rib too. I also like the pork ribs and sausage to round things out. Standard BBQ sides are potato salad, coleslaw and baked beans, but I always skip those for Micklethwait’s jalapeño cheese grits. Don’t forget the white bread, raw onions and pickles. Those are the sides that make BBQ “Texan."
Odd Duck: The seasonal burger
Odd Duck serves only what they can get seasonally from local farms. So not only is everything fresh, but the dishes are unique. Having to use only what’s in season serves as a challenge to the kitchen team, but the resulting dishes are super awesome and creative. The menu changes quite often, and while it can be a bummer to have your favorite dish removed from the menu, there's always something new to become your next favorite dish. The burger (served only at lunch) is one of the best I’ve had in my life, and I can always count on Odd Duck to create condiments or sauces I never knew could exist (most recently: grilled cheese mayo made from cheese rinds that would usually be discarded). I’m also obsessed with anything made by Odd Duck pastry chef Susana Querejazu.
Musashino: Sushi with a Texan twist
Austin isn't known for its sushi, especially given its lack of proximity to water. But since sushi is my favorite food, I end up eating at Musashino a lot. It’s the only “Japanese” restaurant in Austin that actually feels Japanese. The fish is super fresh, the rice is done right, and they offer some traditional dishes you can’t find elsewhere in Austin. Musashino hints at Texas with things like jalapeño or habanero rolls or crawfish with cream cheese (a combination I have never be able to stomach). I love the dark, cozy, wood-filled décor. They are actually moving to a new location later this year, so I hope things stay mostly the same!
Things You Should Only Eat In Texas:
Kolaches: Kolache Creations, Odd Duck, Dai Due
I actually wrote my master’s thesis on kolaches, so this is a Texas regional food that’s close to my heart. The Czech yeast pastry is served both sweet (similar in style to a Danish, but with yeast bread) and savory (stuffed with kielbasa or other meats). The meat ones are actually called "klobasnikis," but the word “kolache” has come to encompass both. Kolaches are sold out of most donut shops around town and they usually have the savory variety (always get the sausage, jalapeño and cheese if they have it). The best sweet kolaches in Austin might be at Kolache Creations in north Austin, but a bunch of nicer restaurants around town also put them on the menu, including Odd Duck (sold at brunch) and Dai Due (sold in the butcher shop).
Queso: Torchy's, Matt's El Rancho
We love our queso here in Austin. Although I don’t love Torchy’s for their tacos, their queso is probably the best I’ve ever had. The green chile queso is topped with guacamole, queso fresco, cilantro and their diablo hot sauce. Matt’s El Rancho is also famous for their Bob Armstrong dip which is queso plus guacamole and ground beef. You can get queso pretty much anywhere in town, so I recommend eating as much of it as possible (specifically, on top of/inside your burrito, taco, or sandwich). Queso is what Tex Mex is all about.
White/Cream Gravy: Jacoby's, Hoover's, Dai Due, Dairy Queen, Whataburger
Speaking of Texas sauces, cream (or white) gravy is something everyone should eat while in Austin. When I lived in NYC I was depressed that no one seemed to be able to get white gravy right. It always ended up too thick and gloppy. White gravy is best served on chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes (get it from Jacoby’s Restaurant & Mercantile or Hoover’s). It’s also what makes biscuits and gravy so awesome (Jacoby’s does a great job with this dish, and Dai Due serves it with venison sausage). Honestly, even the white gravy at fast food places like Whataburger and Dairy Queen are delicious in Texas! Add in some Texas Toast and you're eating like a true Texan.
Photos: Flickr (Andy), @andrewoknowlton, Craftmeatsaustin.com, @oddduckaustin, Facebook/Musashino Sushi Dokoro, @daidue, @torchystaco, @jacobysatx