A hot blast of dry air hits me in the face as I step out of the doors of the Austin-Bergstrom Airport. It’s a far cry from the frigid tundra that is NYC in March. An old mustard yellow Chevy grumbles up to the curb and reunites me with the west, Texas, and my old friend Drake.
He takes us to a bar that’s more ‘friend with a huge backyard’ than bar. The massive outdoor space is anchored by a giant tree, ringed by a bar tethered with string lights. Fire pits and corn hole boards are surrounded by laughing groups of friends and free range dogs weave through people’s feet.
Texas is cool.
Where to eat
If you don’t know already, Torchy’s is an Austin (and Dallas and Denver) institution. This is not the sort of place to come if you are craving an authentic Mexican taco. This is the sort of place to come if you want to eat a fried chicken taco smothered in queso (seriously).
Elizabeth St Cafe
This place is a French-Vietnamese spot by the same owners as June’s All Day and a few other much loved Austin eateries. I stopped by for an afternoon Vietnamese ice coffee and shortly after blasted into the stratosphere.
A sweet seafood spot right on South Congress. For a seafood restaurant, they were surprisingly really accommodating of my strictly vegetarian sister’s diet. We did order a lot of sides, but they were REALLY good sides. One thing about the menu I really liked was that you could choose fresh catches and choose from a few sauces and they would grill it up simple and nice with a little salad. I love a restaurant where I can get a simple, well-cooked plate like this that isn’t just over-done to death with purees and vinaigrettes and oils and crumbles and foams. Huge, beautiful patio area under a gigantic tree with little lights. 10/10 ambiance.
June's All Day
June’s, have you been reading my diary? I couldn’t have dreamed up a more perfect place with my exact tastes in mind. I love a place where I can grab a coffee and a pastry that is filling for a morning bite but not too sinful when I’m on the go. I love a place where I can grab a glass of wine with a friend and chat (without shouting) for a few hours. And I love a place where I can order a bunch of small plates and nibble this and that. June’s is all of these things.
We were here for brunch, so we got some coffees, an omelette, a bagel/smoked salmon board of sorts and a sourdough pancake ‘for the table’.
Cosmic Co ffee
This is a place I wish I could visit every weekend. Imagine a big dirt lot with a coffee bar anchoring the center. There is a fleet of food trucks off to one side, one offering some truly insane breakfast tacos (the others were closed, because it was morning I assume.), picnic tables and dogs and kids running around, a cute chicken coop and goats and even a magical little pond. I’ll take this moment to talk about how amazingly dog-friendly Austin is.
Valenti na's Tex Mex
Breakfast tacos are a way of life in Austin.
I can’t really talk about this place without getting a little teary-eyed. The tortillas on these breakfast tacos really blew my mind. They top it with some scrambled eggs, sharp cheddar that isn’t melted but it’s starting to melt in the best way, some salsa roja and a real thick slice of bacon that’s sort of crunchy and chewy simultaneously.
And that’s the simple one!!
There’s another called the Real Deal Holyfield (awesome name) that is packed with a thick-ass slice of fall-apart-tender brisket, bacon, a fried egg, salsa, beans AND potatoes. You really only need to order this one thing to satisfy perhaps your week’s allotment of breakfast but you should just order one of everything on the menu anyway.
Hand’s down best breakfast tacos in the world.
Salt lick bbq
There are a lot of barbecue restaurants in Austin. Like A LOT. But, if you really want to feel like a city-slicker in the country, drive your rental car all the way out to Salt Lick. It’s about a 30 minute drive through Texas hill country (gorgeous) and when you get there you’ll find a small building in a large open parking lot attached to a large park of sorts. You can put your name for a table inside (don’t), or order ‘to-go’ and sit at any of the shady picnic tables. I can’t really say this was the BEST barbecue I’ve ever had, but it was solidly adequate and the ambiance really elevates the mood.
Where to Drink
The Conti nental Club
A grungy little music venue right across the street from the Hotel San Jose. This place specializes in country and blues/rock. Typically a very affordable cover, and I’m told it’s been known to host a few huge names for secret shows during SXSW.
The Little Darlin'
That bar I mentioned in the beginning of this article? That’s The Little Darlin’.
Where To Stay
I’ve stayed at a few dozen hotels in my life, but it’s not often that I find myself actually blown away by the little details and touches that the Hotel San Jose provided. The hotel itself is not a sprawling complex, but our room felt cozy, quiet and private. Check-in was a breeze and we were delighted to find that they have polaroid cameras available for rent to any guest of the hotel (film is extra, $1/picture). The gift shop (read: few shelves in the lobby) was well curated with fun trinkets and gifts, plus items that you can find in your room or around the hotel, in case you wanted to take a little of the vibe home with you.
Don’t miss: the Frosé (Hotel San Jose claims to be the first to serve with addictive summer sipper)
What to Do
We took a little drive after breakfast and had a look at the famed Barton Springs. It’s a creek that’s been dammed up and made into a natural swimming pool of sorts. It was a touch cold out to jump in the 68F water but in the dog days of a Texas summer, this place is packed. The water is really very clear and clean for a natural river in the middle of a large city. The city of Austin takes a lot of care to keep it that way.
Step out of the city and explore some of Texas’ natural beauty. Explore 12 miles of creekside hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing, and did I mention it’s free? The water runs a frosty 68F most of the year, perfect for cooling off in the scorching summer heat.
Shopping on South Congress
New and old stores line the streets of the buzzing South Congress area. Outfit yourself at the decades old Allens Boots. Pick up some Mexican folk art at Tesoro’s Trading Company. Nab the perfect vintage look at Feathers. Get a costume for any occasion at Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds.
Explore East Austi n
It’s hip, it’s cool, it’s gentrifying. I didn’t actually know about this area until I just happened to drive through it. That’s when I discovered that not only does this place have several of the major famous barbecue restaurants, but also has a ton of cutesy little hipster shops and vintage stores. Pro tip: stop at Quickie Pickie for a food souvenir.
What I wish I did
-Ride a Bird or Lyft scooter
-Yellow Jacket Social Club (I actually heard no less than 4 random passerby mention this place)
-See the bats (wrong season this time)
-Try the BEST barbecue in the city (I’ll let you know what it is once I try it)
-Picnic basket at Rosewood