You know Austin, Texas because of its great music or the University of Texas Longhorns football team, but it's also home to some great food. Here's a brief recap of 72 hours of non-stop eating on my recent trip there with my dad to watch the Formula 1 race.
Cooper's Pit BBQ
217 Congress Ave.
Friday night. There's nothing like arriving in a place and immediately sitting down for a huge chunk of meat with a side of slaw and a beer, but that's exactly what we did on Friday night. The most famous place for barbecue in Austin is Franklin's, but that has insanely long lines and you have to show up early in the day and when they sell out of the delicious fare, you're just out of luck. (Nevermind that I was jealous when I saw that none other than celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay was also in town for the F1 ate at Franklin's, declaring it worth flying 16 hours to eat.) Franklin's will have to wait for another trip. My father and I did a quick internet search and found a downtown spot called Cooper's. Tucked among the impersonal high-rise office buildings of the Texas's capital city, it nevertheless had a legit roadhouse Tex feel to it, slabs of meat waiting on a grill, a bar right in the center of the front room, and a deli counter filled with side dishes. We ate: brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs and sausage (2 types). We also ate: cole slaw, corn, potato salad and beans. We also ate: cobbler (2 types - blackberry and peach) and ice cream (vanilla). If that sounds like an insane amount of food, it was. As I say, there's nothing like sitting down to a hefty portion of meat when you're hungry. While I have no doubt that Franklin's is something worth another trip to Texas, you can't go wrong at Coopers, where you'll get a nice vibe, good eats, and plenty of it. High recommend.
Chupacabra Cantina y Taqueria
400 E. 6th Street
Saturday night. Austin knows music and it knows parties. (It also knows homeless people, but that's another story.) For F1 Saturday, it shut down a section of E. 6th Street to traffic. Blues and rock bands played in bars and people walked about. (I saw 4 Ford Focus RSs parked in a row, again a story for another day.) Having felt rather successful on our Friday venture, we wandered down to 6th Street to see what we could find for eats on Saturday night. The concierge at the hotel (the Omni, which was a glass ziggurat with shamefully high rates for race fans) recommended Chupacabra for something vaguely taqueria-like, so we went. My fabulous margarita was followed by El Super Queso dip as an appetizer and then for me a Hippy Taco, which was veggie and designed to offset too much meat and cheese already consumed. The star of the show, however, were the Borracho Beans, a delicious medley of flavors. Sitting on the outside porch patio, watching the world go by on a warm October night, there are few things more enjoyable. Watching the Chicago Cubs over my dad's shoulder as they made their way into the World Series for the first time since World War II was only a fitting addition.
1400 S. Congress Ave.
Sunday night. The only place we reserved a table was at our final restaurant, Perla's, and that seemed overdone. Us East Coasters are so hung up on formalities. Perla's was the opposite, with a broad patio out on the street and then a large open interior that was comfortable and yet intimate, Perla's immediately spoke of a casual sophistication. The bigger question was, would the food be any good. The answer was unequivocally, "Yes!" In fact, it was better than good, it was delicious! It's a seafood themed restaurant which for central Texas seems odd. There's no salt water anywhere near the flat plains around Austin. So I focused on fish that could be gotten from the Gulf of Mexico, which seemed to me the most local any fish would be. I started with crab cakes sitting on a bed of frise with something they call sauce gribiche. Delicious. Then I had Crispy Texas Gulf Snapper, sitting in a sauce of lemon spinach and sofrito. Again delicious. For dessert, a butterscotch pot de creme with sea salt. This was fine dining in a casual, cool, hip Texas flair. As good as advertised. No, better.
Round Rock Donuts
106 W. Liberty Ave.
Round Rock, TX
[Addendum] I would be remiss if I did not include a great Texas institution, Round Rock Donuts, about a 20 minute drive north of Austin in Round Rock, TX. First seen on the television show Man v. Food, I arrived there slightly before 7 am on Saturday morning and the parking lot was already full, and the drive thru lane was 10 cars deep. I got a famous Round Rock donut that melted in my mouth, and then for humor purposes only, I got one of the largest donuts I've ever seen, a Texas-sized special. When in Round Rock, do as the locals do.
All in all, Austin is a happening place. You knew that already. Just make sure food is a big part of the experience the next time you get down there. You won't regret it!