Great Texas food should be part of your fun at SXSW. Get your share of great authentic BBQ, Tex-Mex, tacos, gulf shrimp, and the incredible explosion of "foodie" food trailers. The trick is to balance the eating with the drinking: don't be so desperate that you end up eating 6th Street pizza slices for the whole trip and don't do daytime drinking on an empty stomach.
TIMING: WHEN TO EAT
If you are planning on catching the punk rock bands playing on the pedestrian bridge at 3:00am, you should probably stop reading right now. I can't help you. Otherwise I recommend the following 1) eat a big breakfast, 2) eat an early dinner.
The daytime bands and FREE BEER start at NOON. You need to eat before noon, even if you are not a breakfast person. Luckily, Austin invented the breakfast taco and Mexican restaurants offer breakfast 24/7. Then there is the dinner crowd line up situation: there are a 100,000 people in town for SXSW, and almost every single one of them decides to have dinner at 7ish, before the night shows start. If you eat dinner early at 5 or 6, you have a MUCH better chance of getting into a restaurant. Otherwise you walk around for 2 hours wasting time in restaurant lineups. You can always have a late night pizza slice or taco truck snack. I try to eat a big Mexican breakfast as a drinking base, maybe a taco or pizza slice in the afternoon if necessary, and then dinner AND COFFEE around 5 or 6 for the night shift. Keep in mind that I do not have the luxury of a nearby hotel room to nap in. I go out and stay out. It's like going to war.
A big deal in Austin. Everyone goes out for breakfast, almost every day. And why wouldn't they? The breakfast taco is genius: Order two. Egg and potato, chorizo, whatever, you can't go wrong. Even non-Mexican places offer these. Even the 7-11. My usual order: eggs scrambled with tortilla chips, usually with potatoes, beans, chorizo. Tortillas on the side. You are allowed to drink Bloody Marys or a Tecate beer with breakfast. No one will bat an eye. But plan your nap time.
- COUNTER CAFE - on Lamar, near Waterloo Records. Really excellent diner breakfasts and burgers. Small. I love this place
- 24Hr DINER - on Lamar right beside Waterloo Records. Very good. Big
- MARIA'S TACO EXPRESS - South Lamar, far south. Big. Hippie gospel church there on Sundays.
- POLVO'S - on South First. My fav Mexican restaurant. Good to go here before you go to Yard Dog/South Congress day shows. Giant breakfast tacos. Killer margaritas.
- BOULDIN CREEK CAFE - on South First, near Polvo's. Breakfast tacos, great coffee.
- JO'S - on South Congress, near the San Jose. Coffee, Coffee, Coffee!
Lots of good stuff here, so I am just going to categorize my recommendations. Remember, I do a big breakfast, then grab a late lunch/early dinner.
All the Mexican places above serve lunch/dinner options as well. Other Recommendations:
- EL NARANJO - on Rainey St. near the Convention Centre. Rave reviews. Want to go.
- Z TEJAS - around the corner from Waterloo Records. A bit more upscale.
- GUERO'S - on South Congress. Pronounced "wwwwher-o's." Everyone ends up here at least once. Great bar and patio. Really part of the SXSW scene.
- POLVO'S - I am repeating POLVO'S because it is really good food. While you are waiting for your table, order a margarita and hang out in the parking lot. Fun!
- La CONDESA - upscale Mexican across from the W hotel. Excellent but $$$$.
This is a noun in Texas, not a verb. Order ribs or brisket. Sides are separate: beans, coleslaw, pickles. You will also get white Wonder bread.
- ARTZ RIBS - on South Lamar. Excellent.
- FRANKLIN Barbecue TRAILER - Rave reviews. 11th Street. Want to go.
- IRON WORKS BBQ - downtown near Convention Center.
- LAMBERTS BBQ - very good, but $$$.
- STUBB'S - on Red River. OK. A convenient location.
- SALT LICK - car ride north of city if you have time.
- THE COUNTY LINE BBQ - car ride north of city if you have time.
- LOUIE MUELLER'S BARBEQUE - in TAYLOR, TX. If you have time for a day trip before or after SXSW, I highly recommend this place. About an hour away. Completely authentic. Wild west. Great building used in a zillion movies - great photo ops. People will believe you actually WERE in Texas. Award winning food.
This is tough. There is mostly crap food right in the heart of the bar area where you will be most evenings. These are the edible exceptions.
- FOOD TRAILERS off Red River - You will see people lined up for KEBAB-A-LICIOUS for a reason. I expect even more Food Trailers this year.
- RAINEY STREET - up and coming n/s hipster street near the convention center. Good restaurants like EL NARANJO and GARAGE MAHAL. BYOB.
- DRISKILL HOTEL - on 6th Street. Fast way to get decent food on 6th st: eat at the bar in the hotel cafe. Also, order drinks and hang in the crazy wild west lobby.
- CASINO EL CAMINO - 6th Street. The best burgers in town, according to the Fearless Critic. I am too fearful to eat there myself: very punk rock. You eat in the dark surrounded by the pierced and tattooed. The red head rock goddess Sabrina of A Giant Dog is a cook there, FWIW.
- FRANK - West off Congress. You can see the sign painted on the building. Hot dogs, cold beer. Lots of hot dog options. And bacon-infused Makers Mark.
- IRON CACTUS - on 6th Street. Pedestrian Tex-Mex, but edible.
- THE BOILING POT - on 6th Street. Cajun, crawfish, etc. You wear a bib and the boiling pot gets dumped on the table. Fun!
All the restaurants on this strip are good to very, very good. Try to eat here before you head back to 6th street.
- GUERO'S - everyone ends up here.
- HOME SLICE PIZZA - excellent.
- PERLA'S - Fantastic seafood restaurant. Expensive, but worth it. Try happy hour.
- VESPAIO - very good Italian.
- ENOTECA - Vespaio's little sister, very Terroni-ish (Toronto reference!)
- SNACK BAR - global organic.
This area has exploded in the last year...like Ossington/Dundas (Toronto reference!). Lots of new restaurants/bars --- and a FOOD Trailer Park here.
Only the more upscale restaurants take reservations during SXSW, but many will tell you what the wait time is and take down your cell number and call you when your table is ready. Ask. This frees you up to drink in their parking lot or a neighboring bar. ALWAYS ask if you can order drinks if you need to wait. You'll make friends. Some restaurants are dry, but allow you to bring in your own wine or beer. Madam Mam's Thai on Guadalupe is one of these.
FOOD TRAILER PARKS: most are dry, but many allow you to bring in your own beer or wine (which you can buy in the gas station, y'all.) Nothing more fun than sitting outside on a warm Texas night eating great food at a picnic table, under Xmas lights, with your own cheap wine or beer. So civilized.
You may ask for a "Go Box" for leftovers. Perfectly acceptable and often done, but you have to fill the styrofoam box yourself, which I find hilarious. Alamo Drafthouse movie theaters serve food, wine and beer. Yes, while you watch the movie. Don't eat before the movie. I always order the deep fried pickles.
- BEER: Lots of local Texas and micro brew beers to try, as well as Mexican. (Texas was settled by German and Czech immigrants! Who knew?)
- WATER: Every bar has a water cooler and plastic cups at the end of the bar. Look for it. Keep yourself hydrated. Do yourself a favor and have a glass of water once in a while.
- TOPO CHICO: Mexican mineral water in glass coke-like bottle. SO REFRESHING! I try to balance one Topo Chico per two beers.
- ICED TEA: This is real unsweetened ice tea. Not the sugary stuff we get in bottles. Again, really refreshing when you've been drinking all day.
- MEXICAN COCA COLA: For Coke addicts, this IS the real thing. Look for bottles with the paper sticker on the side. Pure sugar cane or something.
- MARGARITAS: With the freshest of lime juice. Yum. Every bar/restaurant makes them a different way. Again, I love POLVO'S.
THE BEER KOOZIE!
Yes, the foam beer cooler thingy: bands, bars, and parties will be handing these out. Get them, keep them and use them. Learn to love them. Texans keep them in their back pockets. Really.
Please tip your servers and bartenders!!! Tip the volunteer serving up that FREE Beer! Tip the waitress on her third 16hr shift! Texans tip $1.00 on a $3.50 beer. Do not act like a Yankee cheapskate.
WHERE NOT TO EAT
Jovitas: Drink there but don't eat there.
6th Street Pizza
Dog and Duck Pub: Chips, yes. Fish, no.
Damn! Thanks for the info Jen! Now I'm hungry and thirsty.
Here are three more bands which I would check out if I was going to SXSW, which I am not. Feel bad for me.
Whitey Morgan and the 78's - I Ain't Drunk.mp3
Buy: Whitey Morgan and The 78's (2010)
FRI 18 Yard Dog Party, 3:00pm
SAT 19 Bloodshot Records Showcase, Red Eye Fly, 1:00am
Sharon Van Etten - One Day.mp3
Buy: Epic (2010)
WED 16 UT-FM Live Broadcast, Hilton Lobby, 10:30am
WED 16 Brooklyn Vegan Showcase, Swan Dive, 12:00am
THU 17 Other Music Party, French Legation, 3:00pm
FRI 18 The Onion A.V. Club Party, Mohawk, 3:00pm
SAT 19 Red Ryder Showcase, Central Presbyterian Church, 8:30pm
Dolorean - The Unfazed.mp3
Buy: The Unfazed (2011)
THU 17 End of an Ear, 4:00pm
FRI 18 Brooklyn Vegan/Partisan Records Party, Swan Dive, 2:00pm
FRI 18 Overtone Party, J. Blacks Feel Good Lounge, 4:45pm
FRI 18 Knitting Factory Showcase, Rusty Spurs, 9:00pm