BBQ, Tex-Mex and muic are typically among the highlights of a trip to Austin, TX. But those who regularly attend SXSW often report back on the laid back, casual vibe that the city offers its guests. From the crowded movie theaters filled with slackers (or those who just sport the look) and industry attendees alike, to concerts all around town at the many local venues, Austin will be jammed with out-of-towners in the coming days. There are loads of movies to write about, but to ignite indieWIRE‘s coverage of SXSW ’09, we decided to try something a bit different by taking a closer look at the city itself. Thousands of people will converge upon Texas’s capital and coolest city over the next ten days or so for the film, music and interactive festival/conferences, socializing and networking all over town. indieWIRE surveyed a group of Austin locals and insiders about their favorites places to eat, drink, shop and chill, including some of our own tips gleaned during our past jaunts to Texas. The results of our informal, subjective survey follow.
EDITORS NOTE: This article was originally published last year, at the start of SXSW in Austin.
We invite readers and SXSW attendees alike to discuss, dispute and react to the suggestions offered. Comments and corrections are invited at the end of this article, so go for it. We’ll take another look at it next year. But until then, here’s to a lively, productive and fun 10 days in Texas. Cheers.
Included in this are tips from people who gave us their suggestions originally when this article was published, in addition to some updates for ’09 by the Austin Film Society’s Agnes Varnum, producer PJ Raval (“Trouble the Water”) and journalist Clay Smith. Other tips and suggestions were originally provided by filmmakers Margaret Brown, Bryan Poyser (who really ruled with his reactions) and Josh Sanchez, local Stacy Bryan, former SXSW staffer Matt Dentler and current staffer Jarod Neece, new SXSW Film Festival head Janet Pierson, and former iW staffer Jacque Lynn Schiller.
Places to go in an around the downtown area, homebase for SXSW.
UPDATE: Sad but true, this great suggestion and former haunt of many a SXSWer is now closed!!! But read on in silent mourning…. Will it re-open somewhere else?BEST BREAKFAST: For brunch a couple of folks recommended the weekend buffet at Moonshine, but by far the hot spot downtown for the first meal of the day is the highly recommended Las Manitas (211 Congress Ave). “This is THE place for eating, and spotting local luminaries from politicans to rock stars,” enthused an insider, “Cheap and delicious.” Another local offered that you can judge the worth of a Mexican restaurant by the quality of its tortillas and beans, noting that Las Manitas gets an ‘A+’ on both. A local recommended ordering the Migas con Hongos (a popular egg dish), adding, “That’s all I have to say,” while yet another local strongly suggested the posole on weekends.
Update: Mi Madres has deeelish breakfast tacos. It’s located on Manor a bit north of Vivo.
Update: The chilaquiles at Curra’s (614 E. Oltorf) – it’s a popular hangout for musicians and artists around town on the weekends – there can be a little bit of a wait, but it’s worth it. Mulberry (360 Nueces St.) is getting large crowds on the weekends for their brunch.
BEST TEX MEX: Overall the top place for Mexican food was the highly recommmended Manuel’s (310 Congress Ave). A local noted that it’s, “Not cheap, a bit noisy but convenient and tasty,” while another encouraged, “If you’ve never had mole (pronounced, “moe-laay”) enchiladas, go here, order them and prepare to be a convert.” While Manuel’s was the top choice, other noted suggestions included the always crowded Guero’s on South Congress.
Update: Also, Off the beaten path, but well worth the adventure: Polvos on S 1st Street. Authentic food and super-strong margaritas.
Update: Juan in a Million (2300 E. Cesar Chavez) is known by locals as the best spot for hangover rescue when it’s so bad you have to wear your sunglasses just to get out the door.
Update: Polvos on south 1st. “Highly recommend is the chile relleno al nogal. I don’t even like chile rellenos – it is that good.” Also try Curra’s on Oltorf- their avacado margarita is worth a sip. Also el azteca on the east side rocks..
Expensive: Try Fonda San Miguel, great food “but for me Tex-Mex is all about the cheap.”
BEST BBQ: As for the other Austin culinary staple, BBQ, there is only one choice, according to the majority of survey participants — Iron Works Barbeque (100 Red River St). And it couldn’t be much closer to the main SXSW site downtown. “The Convention Center was built around this corrugated metal shack,” explained a local, “Good luck getting a table.” Another respondent praised, “Hands down great choice. Right next to the convention center and terrific BBQ. Closed Sunday!”
Update: ” I like Iron Works but I don’t think it’s the best BBQ. It’s good and close to the Convention Center. The pulled pork at Stubb’s is great and lots of folks seem to miss it as a great BBQ spot,” says one insider. “Also, Art’s Rib House on S Lamar has amazing ribs.” And for those who love The Salt Lick, but don’t want to travel out there, there is a new location in Round Rock that serves alcohol and takes credit cards (the original doesn’t).
Update: Lambert’s (401 W. 2nd St.) – it’s fancy-pants but still really authentic.
HAPPY HOUR: Again Manuel’s figures in as a recommendation, with a local advisig that it offers low-cost margaritas and 1/2 prize appetizers. Others suggested a range of places, from the bar at the Driskill Hotel (604 Brazos St), the Roaring Fork Bar (701 Congress Ave), Saba Blue Water Cafe (212 W 4th St) or Malaga Wine & Tapas Bar (208 W 4th St). Finally, another insider recommended, Casino El Camino (517 E Sixth St), noted for its “Punk rock vibe bar with the best burgers in Austin.”
Update: Eddie V’s is a great, expensive seafood spot right downtown, but Happy Hour is half priced apps and they usually have some live music. Yummy and cheap.
Update: La Condesa (400-A W. 2nd St.) is getting raves all over town as the best new bar in town
EXPENSE ACCOUNT DINNER: As for that place to go when someone else, or their company is dishing out the Cha-ching, a pair of locals recommended the Sushi place Uchi restaurant (801 S Lamar Blvd) and Sushi spot Maiko (311 W 6th St) was also praised. Uchi was spiced as, “Incredible Japanese fusion right across from the Alamo South,” with an Austin resident warning, “Try to get in on offtimes–early or late otherwise it’s too full.” “Best sushi near downtown,” added one Austinite. Meanwhile, another offered Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse (Congress at Sixth) as a tip, explaining, “Make sure someone else is paying for the $30 steaks (that’s just for the meat, sides are extra, but it’s all decadently good).”
Update: Eddie V’s. I had an amazing dinner there once on someone else’s account.
Update: Uchi! “Make them pay a lot for sushi,” suggests one Austinite. They have a taster’s menu / chef’s choice or “omakase” if you’re a sushi head. “I also like Chez Nouz (fancy French) on Neches and Vespaio (Italian) on South Congress. Around town: Clay Pit (Indian) on Lavaca is also fun.
COFFEE OR A QUICK BITE: On the other end of the scale, those looking for a coffee or a quick snack should head to Jo’s Coffee (1300 South Congress & 242 W 2nd St), a highly recommend Java spot that has free Wi-Fi. Meanhile, near the Paramount Theater on Congress is The Hideout (617 Congress Ave). One local suggested, “Their Espresso Rocket Shake is a chocolate/caffeine kick in the face.” Other recommended spots include Little City (916 Congress Ave), Progress (500 San Marcos), Momoko (705 W 24th St) for bubble tea and The Greenbelt. And for those with no time to eat in between films, why not grab a meal during the movie. “Alamo Downtown (409 Colorado St.) has amazing food!” offered one insider, adding, “Try the pizza or the burgers at the Alamo Downtown and Lamar locations while you watch some SXSW films.” (And great air-conditioning).
Update: Jo’s on South Congress is a great spot for people watching; Mozart’s on Lake Austin Blvd. sits right on the water with a fantastic deck.
COCKTAILS: For the well-steel livered, SXSW has many parties and coolios hopping out and about, but for another option, locals recommended The Speakeasy (412 Congress Ave) and its roof-top hang-out scene, along with the pet friendly Opal Divines, and the Driskill Hotel (604 Brazos St), which is always popular. For the best margarita downtown, one local recommended Vivo. And to those looking for a late-night drink, they offered a tip to drop by the popular Beauty Bar (617 E 7th St) or Foundation (307 W Fifth St). Cheers!
Update: If you are a filmmaker, musician, artist then you should too. try: Rio Ritas (cafe and cocktails), good knight (drinks and some small bites) or Shangrila all on east 6th all within a block from each other. Around town: Longbranch on East 11th.
LATE NIGHT FOOD: Anyone hungry afterhours is tipped to try McCormick & Schmick‘s (401 Congress Avenue) late-night happy hour featuring, “insanely cheap and delicious appetizers & limited entrees.” Other locals suggested Kerby Lane (open all night, 3704 Kerbey Lane). But the widely recommended Magnolia Cafe (1920 S Congress Ave) is without a doubt a good choice anytime, it’s open 24 hours and offers an array of tasty items.
GAY SCENE: SXSW being a haven for alternative film, music and interactive folks, there’s bound to be a number of festival and conference attendees wanting to check out the local gay scene, right? Unfortunately, according to locals, there aren’t many options in terms of queer bars. Calling it, “the elder statesman of downtown gay bars,” most respondent’s recommended Oilcan Harry’s (211 W 4th St), an “Oldie but goodie,” but an insider added that the spot is mainly for the guys. For the ladies, Thursday night at Peacock (515 Pedernales St) is worth checking in on, according to a survey participant. Others tipped nearby Rain as an alternative. Outside downtown, the tip was Charlie’s (Lavaca and 13th St.), which was called, “Scary but fun” (hmmm, bring it on — we think…)
Update: Rusty Spurs is a relatively new gay bar downtown – kind of cowboy-themed. “Contrary to what your sources said last year, I actually think there are a number of gay bars downtown:” Oil Can Harry’s, Rain, Rusty Spurs, Rainbow Cattle Company, the Cockpit and Charlie’s up on 13th St., a bit more removed from downtown proper.
Update: Cockpit: next to convention center – name says it all. More adventurous? Chain Dive behind the iHop on Cesar Chavez and I-35 – LEATHER BAR! Proudly flying the bear flag! Two stepping gays (of cours emainly lesbians ;) Rainbow Cattle Company most likely to have adrag king show: rusty spurs
Sunday gay night dance spot: ’80s night at Elysium.
SHOPPING: South Congress is the place to shop, according to most locals, boasting a variety of shops. “Blackmail (1202 S Congress Ave) is great for clothing,” noted one respondent, a suggestion that was seconded by another participant, while one person suggested, “Uncommon Objects (1512 S Congress Ave) for exactly what the name implies.” And other recommended The Corner Shoppe (5900 N. Lamar), noting that it sells cow skins and taxidermy. For food, an insider recommended the massive Whole Foods downtown and for, “high fashion for thin women with money — Shiki (3407 Guadalupe St) & By George (524 N Lamar Blvd).” Finally, for ethnic art & tchotchkes, try Tesoros (209 Congress Ave). And last but not least, Austin being a music town, the place to go is the one and only, Waterloo Records (6th and Lamar).
Update: Room Service Vintage on North Loop. They’ve got wonderful kitch to browse, clothes, etc. It’s an Austin experience.
Update: The Second Street District has some great, really innovative stores, like Mercury Design, Kirk, and Finch.
OTHER DOWNTOWN TIPS: For a final round of recommendations, we asked the survey participants to suggest a few more bits of insight. One person noted that the Austin Museum of Art is worth checking out. Whereas another quipped, “The 4th St. Warehouse area is nice when you’re ready to get away from 18 year-olds seeking tattoos.” Still another suggested a downtown hike and bike trail, “Enter several places on Cesear Chavez or just south of the Town Lake — beautiful walking, running, bike path.” Another participant highlighted, “Capital Metro’s Film Fest Flyer — for the first time this year, the city’s bus system has a dedicated film festival route. It’s 50 cents but it’ll take you from the Dobie to the Alamo South and all theaters in between.” And lastly, another insider cautioned, “With the mass exodus of the abundant bar scene, don’t plan on catching a cab between 1:45 a.m. and 2:30 a.m.”
Places that are still in Austin, but a little off the beaten path.
FAVORITE BREAKFAST PLACE: Paggie House on S. Lamar was a recommendation. “Paggie’s is THE place for a weekend brunch buffet,” commented one local, “The bottomless mimosas, bloody marys and build-your-own Belgian waffles are more than worth the price of admission.” Others recommended: Maria’s Taco Express on S. Lamar (Sunday Gospel Lunch, great breakfast burritos), Star Seeds Safe. Tamale House on Airport, recommended as “the hangover spot for all of Austin on Saturday morning,” and El Chilito on Manor Rd.
PLACE TO CHILL OUT/RELAX: “[Spider House] is a University of Texas area coffee shop always buzzing with activity,” said one Austin resident. “Bring your laptop, your smokes and your sense of campus cool and you’ll fit right in.” Others recommended Barton Springs for taking a dip, “Just make sure you see ‘The Unforeseen‘ first.” And after a swim, Shady Grove. Other suggestions included Central Market; Moose Lodge on East Side (“Ask Lee Daniel to bring you,” tipped our insider”).
TOP TEX MEX: Chuy’s remains a poular suggestion, while others suggested El Chile (on a three-block strip just east of I-35 on Manor Rd). It was highlighted for its enchiladas, with another participant saying, “El Chile has a limited but delicious tex-mex menu, try the chicken nachos and a michelada (a goblet full of spicy beer).”
GREAT BBQ: Many people consistenly recommend local legend the Salt Lick, specifically, “the original one in the Hill Country 40 minutes from downtown.” Another survey participant called it, “The real thing! BYOB,” adding, “Be prepared to wait.” While other favored Ruby’s. “Ruby herself will probably serve you their classic all-natural beef, or any other meat-pile you desire,” said one Ruby’s adherent, but added, “It would be a real shame if you left Austin without trying the renowned Elgin Sausage brought in from nearby Elgin, TX.” “Ruby’s is why I am no longer vegetarian,” added another.
Update: Billy’s BBQ on Barton Springs is good and they have a great patio.”If you’re hard core enough go to Lockhart for Black’s. And if your fanatical enough try the Texas BBQ trail: http://www.texasbbqtrail.com/ …. Bring a camera and some Tums.
THE EXPENSE ACCOUNT DINNER: For the free meal outside of downtown, a tip is Fonda San Miguel, with a local calling it, “Authentic interior Mexican cuisine to die for,” noting, “Beautiful Latin American art on the walls, too.” Other tips included Z Tejas in the Arboretum, and Jeffrey’s on West Lynn.
THE BARS: A variety of suggestions were offered by locals and insiders, including Longbranch Inn, Near East Side at 11th Street (called a spot that has, “quickly become a destination for hipsters from all over town”). Other tips included, Mean Eyed Cat, Red’s Scoot Inn, Starlite, Cedar Street, Emo’s, The Peacock (on Pedernales and East 5th Street).
BOOK STORE: Book People on 6th and Lamar, which was highlighted by a few folks. “This has been named the best independent bookstore in the country a couple times and when you see their three full floors of books, you’ll understand why,” says an Austin resident about Book People. “Best book store in Texas,” added another. “Conveniently located across the street from Waterloo Records,” tipped another fan. Also suggested was 12th Street Books.
MORE SHOPPING: Toy Joy, which was praised with the tip, “Your inner child will come out as soon as you step in the doors.” Other recommendations included Cadeau, Uncommon Goods, Factory People, By George. The aforementioned South Congress Ave. and also the 2nd Street district.
MUSEUMS AND ART: The Laguna Gloria Museum of Art was recommended. “This small but charming museum on the lake also has beautiful grounds and natural amphitheater,” said a resident. “Come here to breathe, relax and bliss out.” While others recommended: Harry Ransom Center, called the, “Best Museum in Austin,” by one survey participant. “They have the worlds first photograph, the Gutenberg Bible, and nice traveling exhibits.” Others recommended: UT Museums; Texas State History Museum.
MORE TIPS: Amy’s Ice Cream. At the Austin favorite, a local suggested ordering Mexican Vanilla with Reese’s crushed in, “Heaven!” And onother recommended the Mexican Martinis at Trudy’s or Cedar Door. Another tipped Hut’s Hamburgers. Finally, a local offered some guidance. “Highway 183 is also known as ‘Research.’ Loop 1 is also known as ‘Mopac.’ Certain parts of Highway 71 are referred to as ‘Ben White.'”
A few places that would require a 1 – 2 hour drive my car, or further.
FUN DAY TRIP: Krause Springs was recommended. “If the weather’s nice, head out to take a dip in this privately owned natural spring about an hour-and-a-half northwest of Austin,” said one adventurous local. “There’s a grotto that looks straight of out ‘The Blue Lagoon,’ beautifully out-of-place in central Texas.” Other tips included: San Antonio; outlet malls in San Marcos; Lake Austin; Tubing down the Guadalupe River in New Braunfels. “Don’t go north,” cautioned a born and raised Texan, telling it like it is. “All that’s up there is Waco and Dallas. No thanks.”
UNIQUE TOURIST SPOT: First off, there’s Enchanted Rock. “This giant pink granite mound of rock will take your breath away when you finally see it on the horizon,” commented a native. “And, it’ll take your breath away again as you climb up. But, once you’re on top, you’ll swear you’re on the Moon…” Others recommended Fredrickberg or Wimberley (calling it, “hill country kitsch”)
GREAT PLACE TO EAT: First up, why not try Cooper’s BBQ. “It’s a helluva drive, but if you make it as far as Llano, TX on Hwy 71, you must sit down and devour the brain-meltingly good brisket at Cooper’s BBQ,” said a Texan carnivore. “They ship this stuff to fans in Japan, so I ain’t joking here about the brain-melting.” Or there’s Taqueria Arandas, which, “Has the best carne asada in the world,” enthused one fan).
And then, finally, there’s Rosario’s in San Antonio, a place deservedly called, “Yumalicious.” A bit of a trek down to San Antonio, but well worth the trip (oh, and to see where Ozzy took a wazz on the Alamo, uh-hem). The indieWIRE crew took a break from all the festivities in Austin one fine hazy Texas day last year and that Rosario’s dinner is still one of the most transcendent culinary experiences ever! We talkin’… EVvvvvER y’all!!! We were bumpin’ multiple palate orgasms… Yeee-haw!
A bit off the beatin’ path and 15 minutes walking distance from that River Walk thing (yes, take a walk) in an up-and-coming area that looks like it’s getting more chi chi amongst the grit (notice the used clothing stores, galleries, restaurants and gays — there go the real estate prices!) And cheap…! (not the gays per se, we mean the food at Rosario’s). Is there a flaw? The margaritas were merely good… But, we promise that Rosario’s will reveal a better Bush or whatever… or your next year’s subscription to indieWIRE is free! No, really…
Get the latest from SXSW in indieWIRE’s special section, updated regularly throughout the festival.