Nommin’ Around in Austin

Get ready for the most epic Nommin' Around post to date! About a year ago really, Cole and I had our sights set on Austin as our next travel destination. Why?  Austin has been popping up left and right as the next hot city, for its food and music culture, which was reason enough to go. But we also really wanted to get our hands on some authentic Texas barbecue. Seriously! So we decided that this was the year we were going to make it happen. And we were not disappointed! We sort of maybe fell in love with it, in fact. 

Here are just a few reasons why we're newly in love with Austin: 

  1. Everyone is SUPER friendly. The Seattle freeze is real and it's quite honestly getting on my nerves! It was so refreshing to go to a new city where everyone was so welcoming and friendly. 
  2. Gas is stupid cheap. It was actually my first observation on our taxi to our Airbnb. When I saw that gas was well under $2/gallon I had to do a double take!
  3. Austin loves beer, and so do I. The end. 
  4. The live music scene is unbelievable. We managed to go to a couple casual bars where a band was playing on just a random week night. We also sought out an actual venue where they had a free happy hour show that ended up being one of the best live shows we both had seen. It was an unforgettable experience! 
  5. There's no shortage of good food and drink. In fact, one of the reasons why I'm now in love with their food scene is that you can get good, quality food at a fraction of the price as you can in Seattle, and from fun and unexpected places! Breakfast tacos from a bus? Restaurant quality breakfast sandwiches from a food truck? You never know what amazing food you'll find without breaking the bank!

And on that note, since we embarked on the ultimate foodie getaway, I knew that this was going to be prime material for the blog. While I was enjoying all of the tasty food and drink I could possibly stuff in my belly, I kept thinking how I couldn't wait to share about my tasty travels with y'all (yep, I just said y'all.)

So let's get to the juicy bits: what did we eat/drink?! The question really is: what didn't we eat/drink?! 

Day 1:

Liberty Bar and East Side King 

As soon as we stepped off the plane in Austin, we were in love. Yes, granted, it was raining and humid as balls but we were in Texas! It was exhilarating! And we were ready to drink/eat! And so we did. 

Just down the street from our perfectly located Airbnb was 6th street and a plethora of food and drink options. We just so happened to walk by Liberty Bar which hosts East Side King food truck. For all of you Top Chef lovers, this is Paul Qui's (season 9 winner of Top Chef) Asian fusion food truck. As soon as I saw this super cool, divey-chic bar with this critically acclaimed food truck conveniently located out back I knew we had to make it our first stop. It was the perfect way to dive right in!

What did we order?

  • Thirsty Goat Ambers
  • Thai Chicken Kara-age – deep-fried chicken thigh with sweet & spicy sauce, basil, cilantro, mint, onion, jalapeño
  • Poor Qui's Buns – roasted pork belly in steamed bun, hoisin sauce, cucumber kimchee*, green onion

The verdict? Beer was cold and quenching (we ended up ordering Thirsty Goat's quite a few more times during our time in Austin!) The Thai Chicken Kara-age was unbelievable – crisp, salty, spicy and super garlicky. Probably one of our favorite dishes of the whole trip! The Poor Qui's buns were also stellar. Can you ever go wrong with pork belly? 

Whisler's and Thai-Kun

Just down the street was another great watering hole that came highly recommended by our Airbnb host as well as Yelp, Eater, etc. (I did my research, guys). And for good reason! Whisler's atmosphere is what I would call hipster/grunge, but a different kind of hipster than Seattle's version of it. The bartenders were super friendly and knowledgeable about the drink menu and they had a super cool patio. Whisler's is also home to Paul Qui's second food truck, Thai-Kun so apparently we were in for a Paul Qui night and we were not complaining! 

What did we order?

  • Brown Derby – bourbon, grapefruit, honey
  • Josephine Baker – tangerine infused vodka, poppy flower liquor, tangerine, honey, burlesque bitters
  • Lava La Sandia – blanco tequila, aperol, watermelon shrub, lime
  • Black Noodles – sweet dark soy sauce and garlic oil noodles with romaine lettuce, bean sprouts, celery, peanuts, pickled mustard greens, croutons, green onions, cilantro and lime
  • Thai-Kun Fried Chicken – chicken fat rice, pickled cucumber and boom sauce

The verdict? Another Paul Qui home run! The Black Noodles were actually vegetarian and loaded with fresh flavor. The fried chicken was perfectly seasoned and crispy. Both were washed down beautifully with perfectly crafted cocktails from Whisler's. 

Day 2:

Veracruz All Natural 

All I could hear about Austin when we started planning for it was how amazing their breakfast tacos are. We're both huge breakfast burrito/taco lovers and couldn't wait to get our hands on some muy delicioso tacos. Luckily for us, our Airbnb was again perfectly situated next to one of Austin's best breakfast taco trailers, so we heard: Veracruz All Natural. Trailer isn't even accurate, because they serve legit breakfast tacos out of a school bus! 

What did we order?

  • Migas Breakfast Taco
  • Eggs, Potato Cheese and Eggs Breakfast Taco
  • Bacon and Cheese Breakfast Taco

The verdict? I actually never had a bite of Cole's, but my Migas taco was dynamite: eggs scrambled with pico de gallo, tortilla chips for crunch topped with avocado and melty jack cheese stuffed inside a homemade flour tortilla. It was everything. I'm actually really depressed that there isn't such a restaurant/food bus in Seattle with such high quality breakfast food! Because I could probably eat these every day. 

Franklin Barbecue 

The main event! If you haven't heard of Franklin Barbecue, then I can pretty much assume you've been living under a rock. James Beard Award-winning chef, Aaron Franklin, is the poster child of Barbecue and his famous Franklin Barbecue, which Bon Appetit dubbed as the best barbecue in the nation, attracts people from all around the country. Literally, because we actually planned our trip around Franklin – we are that committed to the barbecue!  

Franklin is closed on Mondays, with Tuesday and Wednesday being their "slow days." On weekends, and every day for that matter, people line up for delicious, nationally acclaimed barbecue for 3-4 hours. They open at 11am and yet people start lining up sometimes as early as 7am. It's intense! 

Little did we know when we arrived at 9:52 on a Tuesday morning, the slower day of the week, the line was already going to be wrapped around the corner. Newbie mistake! But what we didn't know was that waiting in the infamous line at Franklin was going to be one of the highlights of our trip. People truly treat the line like an event: they bring beer, wine, pull up a chair and get to know their line buddies! We met two other couples in line and had a blast talking with them and building up our excitement for barbecue. We kept even joking how the line felt like waiting in line for a ride at Disneyland, only without the disappointment at the end. Ha!

Three hours later…

What did we order?

  • Brisket
  • Pulled pork
  • Pork ribs
  • Coleslaw
  • Hops & Grain Greenhouse IPA

The verdict? First things first: was it worth the wait? Absolutely. Eating at Franklin after enduring a three hour line for one of the most highly anticipated meals of my life was basically a religious experience. As soon as we approached the counter where they were slicing brisket to order, we were lucky enough for them to be opening a fresh brisket and have the lady slice us off a highly coveted burnt end. Life changing! From that moment alone I knew the whole thing was worth it! 

Our first bite was pulled pork and honestly I've never tasted anything like it in my life. Extremely well seasoned, actually more peppery than I would've imagined, and melt-in-your-mouth tender. The brisket was also perfectly seasoned and the most tender brisket I had eaten up to that point (foreshadowing!) Our only regret was that our line buddies, who we ended up enjoying the meal with, opted in for the fatty brisket which is apparently the way to go when you're eating Texas barbecue instead of the lean brisket, which is still delicious. But fatty brisket is essentially a beautifully marbled steak that's been slow roasted to the point that the fatty bits blend into the meat. So yeah, you kind of what some of the good stuff! 

The ribs were also incredibly tender and well seasoned. Quite literally they fell completely off the bone. Eating all of our succulent smoked meats with a side of crisp, refreshing and zesty coleslaw and white bread was heaven. 

To sum it up, Franklin was an experience I'll never forget. The fact that I can now say that I've endured the Franklin line and eaten America's best barbecue is a feat in itself, truly! At least for foodies like us!

Craft Pride and Via 313 Pizza 

After a much needed nap and several hours later, we finally managed to leave the Airbnb and explore a new part of town that also came highly recommended, Rainey Street. Rainey Street is this super cute, unique part of downtown Austin that's a strip of bars but instead of standard industrial buildings all of its bars are in old residential homes with amazing patios. It's kind of the perfect place to bar hop on a humid day! 

We were in the mood for beer drinkin' (as always) and we read about Craft Pride, a Texas-focused taproom on Rainey Street with a food truck parked out back. We were sold! 

What did we order?

  • Hoptimist Flight
  • The Omnivore

The verdict? Being IPA lovers, our experience with Texas IPAs was interesting – not bad, just interesting! If you're an IPA lover living in the Pacific Northwest you know that we love our super hoppy, bitter IPAs. In Texas, after several IPAs we sampled, I can say that they are not a huge fan of the ultra hoppy variety but more lightly hoppy and citrusy. We weren't complaining! It was actually perfect to combat the humidity – which we definitely were not used to! 

When we finally mustered up the energy to eat again (meat coma was fierce), we ordered a Detroit-style pizza. I can't say I've ever had Detroit-style pizza before, nor would I have expected to try it for the first time in Austin (makes sense) but I now can say I'm a fan! It's sort of a cross between deep dish and pan pizza: doughy, crisp on the bottom, loaded with toppings and with the pizza sauce on top. It was certainly a nice contrast to the barbecue we had earlier. 

Lucille Patio Lounge 

Just down the street we stumbled upon another cute bar/house with a super attractive patio (there were fans! Hallelujah!) It seemed like the perfect place to cool down and continue our drinking romp. 

What did we order?

  • Lucille Sweet Tea
  • Austin Amber
  • Margaritas
  • More Lucille Sweet Tea!

The verdict? We were drinking super delicious patios on a super cool (in more ways than one) patio in Austin. How could any of that be bad? 

Day 3:

Paperboy 

Not too far from our Airbnb, I read about this up-and-coming food truck serving delicious breakfast food with a morning paper on the side. Hence the name Paperboy! Since we were craving some delicious breakfast to start a new day in Austin, we figured we had to make a stop. 

What did we order?

  • BEC – bacon, sunny-side up egg, spicy pimento cheese, brioche
  • Drip coffee

The verdict? Another favorite bite of the trip! It was honestly one of the best breakfast sandwiches I've ever tasted. The combo of the runny yolk, rich yet zesty cheese sauce and the buttery, crisp brioche was heavenly! 

Jo's Coffee 

Yes, admittedly we only came here for a really adorable photo op. But can you blame us?? Presh. 

But actually, the ambiance of this funky little outdoor coffee patio was super cute and worth it. So the moral of the story is: go to the touristy parts of town for a photo op! 

Oh, and the coffee was delish! 

 

What did we order?

  • Iced Turbos

The verdict? Holy caffeine, Batman! They don't call it a turbo for nothing. Coffee, espresso, chocolate, hazelnut and cream all poured over ice, this was a mighty delicious, sweet boost before a stroll down South Congress. 

Torchy's Tacos 

All of the locals, including the people we met in line at Franklin, told us we had to go to Torchy's Tacos. I also had done my own research to vouch for this. So I wasn't about to say no to more delicious tacos and queso! Get in my belly! 

What did we order?

  • Green Chile Queso and Chips 
  • Fried Avocado – hand battered and fried avocado, refried beans, pico de gallo, lettuce and cheese
  • Chicken Fajita – marinated and grilled chicken, grilled onions and peppers, cheese and pico de gallo
  • The Independent – hand battered and fried portobello mushroom, black beans, roasted corn, escabeche carrots, queso fresco, cilantro, avocado and ancho aioli
  • Beef Fajita – marinated and grilled skirt steak, grilled onions and peppers, cheese and pico de gallo

The verdict? I definitely wouldn't call this "authentic" Mexican food by any sense of the word but who cares? It was delicious! The queso was probably my favorite part: super spicy, cheesy and addictive! The tacos were loaded with fillings and no shortage of cheese on top. We were fat and happy after Torchy's to say the least. 

Hops & Grain Brewery 

After a little siesta in our pleasantly air-conditioned Airbnb, Cole did some research and found out that the Hops & Grain Brewery was about a 15 minute walk from our place! It also turned out to be a beautiful, warm day. So onwards we went in search of delicious beer on a sunny day in Austin! 

What did we order?

  • Greenhouse IPA
  • Zoe
  • A Pale Mosaic

The verdict? Delish!! But when do I not like beer??? 

La Barbecue 

We actually had planned for La Barbecue a different day so we could give ourselves a break in between barbecue destinations (our plan was to go to no less than three!! Game on!) But, as it turns out, when you have Texas barbecue for the first time in your life, you break some sort of barbecue seal and all you want is more Texas barbecue!

I kept hearing that La Barbecue was the underrated, up-and-coming version of Franklin that had to be tried if you were doing a barbecue tour of Austin. La Barbecue was also conveniently located across the street from our Airbnb. Boom!

What did we order? 

  • Brisket
  • Pork ribs
  • Pulled pork
  • Sausage link
  • Potato salad.

The verdict? This now being our second barbecue stop, we were now in full-on barbecue judging mode. Ready for the comparison? Brisket and pulled pork, not as good as Franklin. Not nearly as succulent or seasoned, but obviously still delicious. Brisket was comparable, slightly better even only because we got the fatty brisket that we didn't get to try at Franklin. Overall seasoning at Franklin beat La Barbecue though. Ribs I liked a bit better only because they were slightly saucy, and I feel like when you're eating ribs they have to be messy! 

We didn't get sausage at Franklin, to fully compare, but we absolutely loved the sausage at La Barbecue. Stuffed with oozy bits of cheddar and jalepeno, it was smoky, spicy and super juicy. Also favorites of the barbecue feast were the potato salad and dill pickles!

Stay Gold and Toaster 

Stay Gold was the surprising gem of the trip, also located literally across the street from our Airbnb. It came recommended by our Airbnb host given its proximity but honestly I might've ventured out to it even if it weren't next door. It was a really cool little spot! 

Side note: Have you noticed now many amazing restaurants/bars have been conveniently located next to our Airbnb?! It's like I did this on purpose or something…

Inside it was somewhat divey but still cool and hip. The chairs were all upholstered with dark leather and studded with gold. Outside was yet another extremely cool patio area with a food truck parked out back. Austin really loves its patio + food truck combos and I have to say I'm a huge fan too. 

What did we order?

  • Thirsty Goat Ambers
  • Tomato Soup Grilled Cheese
  • Baked Mac and Cheese
  • Buffalo Chicken Sammie

The verdict? Perhaps the alcohol was an influence here, but still I have to say that the grilled cheese was one of the best I've ever had! They did something genius by combining the classic grilled cheese and tomato soup flavor combo in one single, toasty grilled cheese, with gooey mozzarella, muenster, Swiss cheese and a sun-dried tomato cream cheese spread. That and the f****** delightful (these are actual words they use to describe the mac and cheese on the menu, no joke) baked mac and a deliciously crispy, savory buffalo chicken sammie were perfect drunk food munchies. 

Day 4:

Veracruz All Natural 

So good we had to go again! 

Shake Shack

I had the pleasure of tasting Shake Shack for the first time in New York last year and since it's strictly a South/East coast staple, I've been dreaming about it ever since! Naturally we had to make a stop at the location in Austin on South Lamar to get my fix. 

What did we order?

  • Double Shackburgers
  • Crinkle Cut Fries

The verdict? Just as amazing as I remembered! Juicy, cheesy burgers on a perfect sponge bun, it's just one of those perfect, greasy burgers. I made the mistake of comparing Shake Shack to In-N-Out to my Cali boy, so he was pretty skeptical – sacrilege, he said! But all in all he said while it could never replace In-N-Out, it was a downright tasty burger (in true Samuel L. Jackson fashion). 

Odd Duck

In between meals (we had to find something to do in between eating!) we saw a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse which was located in the South Lamar part of town that we hadn't yet gone to. It worked out perfectly too because when we walked out of the theater, it was happy hour time and what do you know? A cute little restaurant called Odd Duck was right across the street! 

Because I stalk Yelp/Eater/all the foodie news sources like a weirdo, I already knew that Odd Duck would be a good spot for us. While there regular menu was more on the pricey side, it worked out perfectly that we arrived right at happy hour because their happy hour menu was seriously legit! $2 beers, $5 draft palomas and half off the first half of their regular food menu. Yes please! 

Overall, Odd Duck was such a breath of fresh air. The ambiance was quaint yet hip without being too pretentious or hipster. We sat right at the bar and could even see the action happening in their open kitchen as the line cooks prepped for dinner service. It was kind of a treat for us food lovers! 

Plus, it was much needed and also super refreshing to have food that wasn't barbecue, tacos or burgers. Just for a change of scenery! 

What did we order? 

  • Draft Paloma – tequila blanco, grapefruit, tarragon, ginger, salt foam
  • Goat cheese spring onion dip, seeded cracker, pickled strawberry
  • Rye toast, shrimp and avocado salad, radish, mustard seed 
  • Black pepper sourdough bread, scamorza, house cultured butter
  • Spiced carrots, carrot curry, beer nuts, cilantro 
  • Duck fat fried rice, soft egg, ez cheese, brussels, chile

The verdict? Everything was truly phenomenal, starting with the draft paloma which was honestly one of the best cocktails I've ever had. The salt foam was everything! The goat cheese onion dip crackers with pickled strawberries were refreshing and perfect for the warm day. Other favorites were the house made sourdough with house cultured butter – to die for – and the spiced carrots. But honestly everything was exceptional. One of our best meals in Austin!

Day 5:

Kerlin BBQ

According to our Airbnb host, Kerlin BBQ (two blocks from our Airbnb) was the most underrated BBQ in Austin. Since we needed to hit our three barbecue joint quota, we decided to make this the third and final barbecue stop. 

Are you ready for it you guys? 

Kerlin was hands down our favorite barbecue of the whole trip. Yes, even better than Franklin! We saved the best for last, clearly. 

What did we order?

  • Brisket
  • Pulled Pork
  • Pork Ribs
  • Sausage
  • Blue Cheese Coleslaw
  • Dill Potato Salad

The verdict? So Kerlin hit it out of the park with the barbecue for the trip. But let me put on my barbecue judge hat and give you the play by play. 

Brisket: best of the bunch by a long shot. Melt-in-your-mouth, break it with a fork tender and seasoned to perfection. I've never tasted anything like it in my life. You've never even had brisket until you've had it like this!! 

Pulled pork: comparable to Franklin. Super succulent with beautiful pink smoke rings and seasoned to perfection. Tasted amazing on a slice of white bread! 

Pork ribs: slightly less tender than Franklin, only by a hair, but probably the smokiest, most flavorful of all of the pork ribs we tried. The smoke ring was intense! 

Sausage: extremely rich, but melt-in-your-mouth tender and smoky. We couldn't even make it past a bite of this each. La Barbecue won on sausage for sure, but this was still mighty tasty. 

Sides: won hands down. But we are sides people! Cole was all over the dill potato salad and I couldn't stop eating the blue cheese coleslaw. It was the perfect accompaniment to the savory barbecue. 

That's it for this epic Nommin' Around! Until next time, Austin. It's been real!

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