Best of all, Austin is one of the unsung food meccas of America, with a vibrant and unique food culture unlike anything I've ever experienced. It's eccentric, it's different, and of course absolutely delicious. Austin offers bougie food with a down home feel, often times out of an airstream or a trailer. And the people serving up these delights are friendly, relatable, and really passionate about what they do. It's definitely my kind of town.
Here are a few of the culinary highlights of our trip. I would highly recommend any and all of these places for those visiting Austin. I really do feel that you can tell a lot about a place from their food, and these places certainly make up a good sampling of some of the finest Austin has to offer.
After reading a pretty incredible New York Times article a few months ago, one of the things I was most excited for about visiting Austin was breakfast tacos. Now I know breakfast items wrapped around a tortilla isn't anything new, but it's breakfast burritos that are popular in California, and I have to admit, I'm not a fan. I have a pretty big appetite, but the idea of eating all that in the morning just sounds revolting. Breakfast tacos are everything that's great about breakfast burritos but in a much more reasonable serving size. Plus, the idea of my breakfast resting nice and pretty in a taco is so much more appealing than being mashed up in a burrito. Not to mention the fact that breakfast tacos are just generally cuter.
We hit up a place called Torchy's Tacos the first morning I was there to find some. Torchy's is popular with the locals, uses only fresh, Texas grown ingredients (except for their green chilis, which are from New Mexico), and came highly recommended by Nick's foodie friend. I chose a taco with egg, chorizo, and cheese, added green chilis, and topped it with tomatillo sauce. It was perfect. The tortilla was fresh and soft, the chorizo and chilis added so much flavor, and the cheese made everything creamy and rich. It was a perfect Texan breakfast to start off any Texan day.
Artz Rib House
People take barbecue pretty seriously in Texas. Seeing as how I'm kind of a barbecue fanatic, I knew we had to find a pretty reputable place to get it. Now, there's all sorts of argument and debate as to what place is the greatest or even as to what constitutes great barbecue in the first place, but after chatting it up with some locals, we decided that Artz Rib House was the way to go.
There's nothing pretentious about this place and people like it that way. The atmosphere is friendly and casual, with checkerboard tablecloths and a local country music band. Baby back ribs were the clear choice for me, with a Lone Star, the fiercely defended local brew. My plate arrived, brimming with fat and carbohydrates, and I went to work. The ribs were fall off the bone tender and perfectly seasoned and the sauce was spicy and tangy. It was authentic, it was delicious, and it was real down-home cooking.
I found this gem of an airstream reading a great blog called Oh Joy Eats. Giant gourmet donuts. I immediately bookmarked the link and reviewed the extensive menu. Let me tell you, the choice was not an easy one. What with maple bacon, habanero jelly and cream cheese, and peanut butter and jelly donuts, I was hard-pressed not to come back here for every meal to try 'em all (I probably would have developed diabetes and had a heart attack before I made it half way through my second one, but they sure looked good).
I went for the Miss Shortcake, fresh strawberries with cream cheese frosting. The huge donut is fried while you wait and piled high with all its scrumptious ingredients. The donut was light, warm, and gooey and the strawberries offered a wonderful summery freshness. Austin clearly takes their donuts very seriously.
Big Top Candy Shop
This place was an amazing find. Big Top Candy Shop is a genuine old fashioned candy shop complete with a real soda fountain. It was the kind of place that takes you back to some long lost but deeply treasured glimpse of Americana, it felt like something really special. As it turns out, there's nothing like a freshly made raspberry mango italian soda on a hot, Texas afternoon. Plus, this place is in the greatest location right in the heart of an adorable vintage shopping district on South Congress. Be sure and stop by if you're in the area. It'll make you feel like a kid in a candy store, quite literally.
Bananarchy was definitey one of the culinary highlights of my Austin visit. As the story goes, a couple of girls at the University of Texas opened a small business for their senior thesis, and they got inspiration from Arrested Development's infamous banana stand. Yes, these are real Bluth bananas, only gussied up a bit. You can get yours dipped in chocolate, VEGAN chocolate (there are vegans in Texas?!), vanilla, or peanut butter. They're then rolled in any range of toppings you can imagine, from sprinkles to crushed espresso beans to granola. All of the banana's are fair trade and the spoons they skewer them with recycleable. The gal working there was happy to tell us the story of the stand and even put up with us asking if there was in fact "money in the banana stand." I had my banana dipped in chocolate and covered in coconut flakes which was an excellent choice. Frozen banana's were the perfect treat on a hot day, especially when they come from a place as cute, chichy, and wildly delicious as this.