"Austin is the best."
"You'll love Austin. It's just so...weird."
It was like a Shakespearean chorus of voices in my head as I landed in the Texas capital. As soon as I got off the plane, there were shirts, coffee mugs, everything with the city's catchphrase "Keep Austin Weird" written all over them.
Here's the thing, though: Austin isn't as weird as people claim it is. It's just a) weird compared to the rest of Texas and b) feels sort of like New York City's Lower East Side (or perhaps how the LES wants to be).
Austin residents certainly cultivate that image of themselves in order to show — it seems — that they aren't like the rest of Texas.
Yet...Austin's food isn't weird. Austin's people aren't weird. Austin's art isn't weird. Austin isn't weird. But I found that simply because locals took ownership of their quirks, it makes the place that much...weirder.
I had a lot to see in Austin in my three short days there. I wanted to experience everything Austin: the food, the live music, the shopping, the culture. That's a tall order in 106 degree heat.
The town of roughly 800,000 people has a lot going on, even in the dead of August. Austin City Limits starts up again on September 16 — the town, it seems, prepares for this world class festival all year long. The University had just started back in session: There was a brand new batch of doe-eyed teenagers running around town buying books, school clothes, looking generally as lost as I did.
I ran around like a banshee, trying to absorb the "weirdness" of Austin. My favorite meal? Probably my avocado, tomato and grilled chicken salad at South Congress Cafe. Sounds simple, but the avocados get all kinds of ripe down there. Runner up? An adorable dish called Basil Love Letters, consisting of home-made pasta, asparagus, zucchini & fennel salad, at Haddington's Restaurant. (Plus, oddly the best Moscow Mule I've ever had.)
Herewith, a selection of my favorite places, meals and shops — kooky and non — in Austin.