Lauren Bissell may have moved to Brooklyn, but her heart belongs in Austin, TX. She shares her off-the-beaten-path picks for food, drink, and dancing in her hometown.
Where to Eat
Dai Due: This butcher shop by day, restaurant by night offers a chic and cozy atmosphere with the most delicious and responsibly-raised meats around. They have amazing wine on tap as well as a daily "supper club" menu that features yummy apps, entrees, and desserts for an awesome price.
Uchiko: The newer sister restaurant to the much written about Uchi, Uchiko is an upscale Japanese farmhouse-style restaurant. It's always busy (for good reason), so make sure to call ahead. My favorite dish? The Wagyu beef belly nigiri. YUM.
La Barbecue: I had never truly fallen in love with BBQ until I tried this place...and that's a fact. They keep it weird as Austin likes to do (city motto = Keep Austin Weird) and only serve their delicious meats from a food truck. Every single cut is so tender, it melts in your mouth. Make sure to get there early...they usually run out by lunchtime!
Isla: This Cuban restaurant has recently won my heart as the best brunch spot downtown in Austin. Their pork belly breakfast tacos, shrimp Johnnycakes, and tequila Bloody Marys are the best hangover cure in town!
Hudson's On The Bend: For those who need a break from downtown during the SXSW madness, this is one of my favorite Austin gems. Enjoy the 30 minute drive past the lake and into hill country to soak up this spot's warm, whimsical atmosphere. They specialize in unique game dishes, so make sure to order their legendary Duck Diablos or Duck With Scallops.
Houndstooth Coffee: Hands down my favorite coffee shop in Austin. Ask them to make you their "Coffee Crème Brûlée," which is a liquid ginger espresso underneath a sugar flambé hard shell!
Nightlife, Music & Drinks
ACL Live @ The Moody Theater - If you are lucky enough to have a chance to visit this Austin staple, take it! The acoustically engineered venue features both concerts and television tapings for the famous Austin City Limits TV show.
Hotel Van Zandt: As if Rainey street wasn't cool enough already (think bars and music venues built inside of repurposed houses), this new hotel has made it my favorite street for nightlife in Austin. Head up to the roof bar, Geraldine's, for happy hour where you can enjoy craft cocktails next to the pool and the GIANT fireplace with a view of downtown Austin. They also feature acoustic shows inside by the bar.
Péché: This French absinthe bar specializes in craft absinthe cocktails and takes me back to the pre-prohibition era for the evening! Favorite Cocktail: The Silver Monk.
Midnight Cowboy: It's true, this modern-day speakeasy used to be a brothel back in the day. This hard to locate, pre-prohibition style bar is a reservation only oasis in the middle of the 6th Street madness. Call ahead—if you're lucky enough to get a table, your next feat will be to actually find the place. Pro tip: If you want to try your luck at a walk-in, ring the buzzer labeled "Harry Craddock" and try to sweet talk whoever answers the front door.
Black Heart: Located on Rainey Street in the downtown area, this is a great spot to post up and enjoy some grungy, New Orleans style blues. Rainey Street is a special place because the bars have all been set up in converted houses. While most of them have been remodeled, this one maintains its old-school charm.
Whisler's: Upon arrival, this place might look like another hip, backyard-style bar, but head inside to experience the beautiful rustic decor and amazing craft cocktails. If you're feeling adventurous, head upstairs to their Mezcalaria; a dark, candlelit room that serves traditional mezcal flights.
Barbarella: Anytime I need a break from this decade, I head to Barbarella on a Friday night for 80's night. This place is not fancy, and it's not proper. Be prepared for a sea of people who are dancing like they just don't care (they don't) underneath the laser lights. It's just a good old fashioned dance party. You probably don't want to show up before midnight or so.
Garage: As you might guess from the name, this awesome spot is located inside of a parking garage downtown and totally quenches my thirst for quirky spots! You'll find lots of music biz industry locals here on weeknights enjoying the craft cocktails and an underground vibe.
Photos: Flickr (Andy), Daidue.com, @isla_atx, @hotelvansandt, Blackheartbar.com