Tens of thousands of you will be coming to my hometown, Austin, Texas, over the next few weeks for the film, music, and interactive festivals the world knows as South by Southwest. Your days and nights will be packed -- you'll be going to panels and performances, networking, tweeting, posting. You'll be drinking, a lot. And of course, somewhere in there you'll need to eat something to keep up your strength.
Some of you are going to do the easy thing and purchase street food or even, God forbid, fast food. Some of you will have the good sense to order from the food trucks "curated" by master chef Paul Qui downtown--Austin is one of the homes of food truck culture. But others of you will want to take some time to discover why Austin is a world-class food city. It's for those of you who mean to eat well and find the true taste of Austin that I offer the following.
If you're coming to Austin for South by Southwest, I beg of you, please don't nosh on nachitos from 7-11 or fill up on something you can get anywhere else on the planet. Try out some of these places for a great meal and a great feel of Austin, Texas.
Truly "our house," for thirty years this French bistro has been homely--and serving food like Mom would make if Mom were well-trained in French cookery. The charcuterie is top-notch, the small wine list well chosen, and the duck confit with cherry preserves worth coming back for time and again. Tiny, but worth a wait if there is one. Just off 6th Street at 510 Neches St., (512) 473-2413.
The Driskill 1886 Café
Housed in the wondrous landmark hotel on 6th Street, their great bakery makes for wondrous breakfasts, but they also serve amazing soups, salads, fried chicken, and what my friend Chef Russell Reeves calls one of the best hamburgers in Austin. Open at 6:30 am for breakfast, and until midnight on Friday and Saturday. 116 Sixth Street, (512) 391-7066.
Sure, you could go to a Starbucks. But just up the hill from 6th Street, check out this hidden treasure inside one of the best venues for SXSW Music, St. David's Episcopal Church. You'll find locally-made breakfast tacos, sandwiches, wraps and paninis, and all sorts of coffee and smoothie options. And for an afternoon treat, try a float or milk shake made with another local treasure, Amy's Ice Cream. 301 E. 8th St, (512) 610-3550.
A staple for sushi downtown since 2001, and a reliable place to eat locally-sourced food, drink saki, see and be seen. Their staff will order wondrous things for you if given the chance, and the restaurant gears up for SXSW, including a Sake Bomb Party on Friday, March 8. Try the beef dishes to branch out from sushi--or the miso black cod. 419 Colorado St., (512) 320-8883.
Worth a Cab
What? You were going to come to Austin and not have barbecue? Truth is, you could eat fine bbq all over town. We're that good at it. But try out what Bon Appetit calls the best barbecue in Texas, if not the nation. Begun in a trailer that sold out of brisket daily, now in a bricks and mortar location, Franklin's excels at pulled pork, pork ribs, sausages, and especially on their perfectly tender and coated brisket. 900 E 11th St., (512) 653-1187.
If you're at South By then chances are you are hip and happening, and this French bistro should fit you like a glove. Enjoy classic drinks like a Sazerac or French 75 with some cheese or charcuterie while you're waiting for your table. Then savor your mussels, scallops, or steak frites either inside the funky old house or out on the patio if the weather is nice--and it probably will be. 4710 East 5th Street, (512) 385-2900.
They serve good food at a vegetarian Mexican restaurant and bakery? Si! Try their meat-free albondigas or what my friend Greg Rickel calls the best veggie burger he's ever tasted--the first thing he wants to eat when he returns to Austin. You can order off the menu, but I suggest the lunch or dinner special, which changes daily. Try the enchiladas verdes or with mole if they're on order, or the soy guisada. Two locations: Eastside at 1901 E. Cesar Chavez, (512) 477-5228; Across the river at 2414 - A South Lamar, (512) 916-9223.
Uchiko is set apart by Chef Tyson Cole's creative combinations of foods in a simple Japanese framework. Amazing sushi and beef dishes, signature brussel sprouts, and creative desserts. On a recent visit, we enjoyed a dessert combining beet puree (!), white chocolate, and five other flavors. It shouldn't have worked--but like everything they put out here, it did. Also worth a drive--Cole's mothership, Uchi, on South Lamar. 4200 North Lamar,(512) 916-4808