Austin's favorite hotelier and restauranteur Jesse Herman shares with us his top picks for a stellar SXSW.
Where To Stay
The South Congress Hotel is the first boutique hotel in Austin that has a big food and beverage element.
Inside the hotel is Café No Sé, a West Coast-style restaurant inspired by modern California dining and Australian café culture. Ingredients are phenomenally-sourced, and we do a serious coffee program with customized La Marzano machines. Mañana is the hotel's coffee shop, and it's perfect for picking up coffee and fresh juices. Also within the hotel is Central Standard, a NYC-inspired restaurant helmed by executive chef Michael Paley, who came to us from 21C Museum Hotels in Louisville and Cincinnati.
The newest addition to the South Congress group is Otoko (slang for “bro”) by chef Paul Qui. It’s a 12-seat Japanese restaurant. We release tickets on the first of every month. So far, we’ve sold out in 90 minutes! It’s a blend of Japanese sushi with Kyoto kaiseki, 20 courses in total. Yoshi Okai is the head chef working with Paul on what I think is a truly unique Japanese food experience for the USA.
There's also Hotel San Jose or Hotel Saint Cecilia by the great Liz Lambert. Hotel San Jose is home to the perfect micheladas. It’s located in South Congress, which is a great neighborhood for wandering around.
Where To Eat
Austin is home to some of the best dive bars in the country. Some of them are hybrid cocktail bars too, so you can get a beer for three bucks as well as an actual cocktail.
My favorite is Whisler’s on the East Side. Just a few blocks from there is a dive barcalled the White Horse, which is the hipster version of a honky tonk. Whisler's also has food. Specifically, Paul Qui’s East Side King Thai-Kun, which is amazing. Get the khao man gai—it’s the best version of that dish I’ve ever had.
You're in Austin, so of course you have to try BBQ. You know all the famous ones like Franklin BBQ, but I'd recommend La Barbecue, which is awesome and doesn’t have the same three-hour line. One of their specialties is a BBQ beef short rib on the bone. They’ve got a trailer on the East Side, too.
Definitely try to catch a show at Stubb’s BBQ, which is a concert venue famous for their BBQ. They even have their own brand of BBQ sauce.
Justine’s is a really cool brasserie owned by a French couple. It’s way out east in an industrial area, and it’s kind of the only thing there, so checking it out is a fun adventure.
Ramen Tatsu-Ya opened four years ago and is crazy popular. I’ve traveled around Japan just to eat ramen and watch baseball games, so I know something about ramen. The tonkatsu here is as good as you can find. The South location at 234 S. Lamar Blvd has shorter lines. Go at lunch to try their chicken and shoyu broth ramen. You can add different vegetables and other toppings, including their special chili paste ‘spicy bombs.’
What To Do
In between meals, check out the Lady Bird Lake Hike-and-Bike Trail, which goes around the lake right in the middle of the city.
There’s also Barton Springs Pool, a massive natural spring-fed swimming pool.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is a movie theatre chain where you can enjoy a full bar and menu with your film. It started 15 years ago and is now expanding around the country (two new locations just opened in the Upper West Side and Downtown BK), but you want the quintessential original Austin experience.
Photos: Flickr (Dave Wilson), @cafenoseatx, @otokoaustin, @acondesaaustin, Facebook/Whistler's, @la_barbeque, Facebook/Justine's, Facebook/Ramen Tatsu-Ya, Facebook/Barton Springs Pool