It's Austin City Limits time again: 3 days of live music, parties and fun in the hot Texas sun. For many, the bulk of the weekend will be concentrated on the festival grounds and running between Big Boi, Bright Eyes, Stevie Wonder and Arcade Fire, but for those looking to eat well in the process, here are some of the best places to eat and drink in Austin, no matter what time of year.
Swanky Spaces, Great Eats, Drinks and Apps, Brunch and Late Night:
Haddingtons on West Sixth street is a gastro pub that serves fancy cocktails in a cozy wooden oasis, with a patio space right in the middle of the people watching, bar-hopping mayhem. It has a full menu that includes everything from baked Texas oysters to olive crusted sea scallops and prime rib; the late night offerings include toast pots of duck liver mousse and truffled egg custard that's worth eating at any hour. They serve food until 2 AM and a killer brunch.
Parkside on East Sixth is also a place to get great food in the midst of the Dirty Sixth madness. With a patio that overlooks all the action, it is at once a place to savor some oysters, take in the surroundings and sample some of the best garlic and parsley French fries on earth. Their full menu is a treat, with options like sea scallops and steak frites, making it an excellent place to start the night as well as end it. They serve bar menu until 12:30 AM every night.
Second Bar and Kitchen, the creation of David Bull, former chef at the Driskill, has a trendy vibe and offers some of the best food in Austin by way of fun, fresh and thoughtful items like coconut-ginger marinated ceviche lettuce wraps, blistered shisito peppers and short rib pizza. Cocktails like the crowd pleasing Moscow Mules are served in an icy cold specialty tin cups, carefully crafted, and an easy ask of the expert bar tenders. It's open until 2 AM on the weekends and for Saturday and Sunday brunch.
La Condesa on second street is also a stylish, upscale Mexican restaurant serving divine ceviche, street food-inspired dishes like fire roasted cornand cocktails and the watermelon elder flower martini. It was recently nominated as a James Beard finalist for "Best New Restaurant" and outfitted in a sexy space downstairs from Malverde, a swanky bar overlooking the 2nd street district. The brunch is also fantastic.
Olivia is a beautiful space with a wall of windows on South Lamar, a little ways out of the hustle and bustle, and serves excellent continental fare. The beef carpaccio with mustard, arugula and fried capers is a dream, as are many of the rotating farm fresh dishes. They have a Sunday brunch and will also be flexing their gourmet quick turnaround muscles with a stand at ACL, offering what is sure to be an outstanding fried chicken experience.
Juan in a Million has been around for a while and was recently featured on a food network for their famously ginormous Don Juan taco, which is a bona fide pile of food. However, the real attraction comes by way of dishes like their sauce covered huevos rancheros, refried beans and huge Bloody Marys. The bustling, casual atmosphere is charmingly no frills and lends itself to the authentic small town Austin experience of yore.
Taco Deli has several shops, and even though they distribute widely throughout Austin, the quality of flavor and ingredients make it stand out from the pack. On top of having a spicy, delicious creamy green house-made salsa called La Dona, their migas, breakfast tacos and lunch offerings like adobo braised brisket and grilled catfish make it an absolutely delicious taco destination.
Polvos, a locally celebrated, casual interior Mexican spot on South First, serves up some intense margaritas, gooey bowls of queso and killer fish fajitas. The cuisine is lighter and more subtle than many Tex-Mex joints and very delicious.
If you can brave the lines, Franklin BBQ on the East side of I-35 is the Austin power BBQ house, with goods that sell out by 1PM and the honor of being named Bon Appetite's best BBQ in America. So hot right now, this place lives up to the hype and with a char sent straight from heaven, it's a destination for authentic Texas BBQ.
Not too far from there is Iron Works, also an Austin BBQ institution in the heart of the downtown. The beef, pork ribs and chicken (blasphemous?) top my list of favorites and the potato salad and hot jalapeños on the side often lure me in whenever visitors come to town.
Odd Duck Farm to Trailer on South Congress is my favorite in Austin. The ingredients are brought fresh from local farms and each small plate is deliciously thoughtful. It's inexpensive, BYO and a large part of what seemed to start a movement of all-but-ubiquitous pork belly sliders served up around Austin. Odd Duck will also have a stand at ACL and should be a delightful addition to the stands at ACL.
East Side King is a mini dynasty of outstanding trailers started by Paul Qui of Uchi/Uchiko that sit behind three bars on the East side: The Liberty, Shangri-La and the Grackle. The menus are different at each location and the Asian inspired delectables, like beet home fries, steamed pork buns and chicken yakitori, are crave-worthy and explosively flavorful. They have become an Austin staple for everything from lunch to late-night.
With all of the options in town and food trailer craze, this section list is by no means comprehensive, but luckily there is a website called Food Trailers Austin, a robust resource for these meals on wheels.
Congress, the upscale sister to Second Bar and Kitchen, is another restaurant by David Bull and was recently voted "Best New Restaurant in Texas" by the New York Times. At Congress, the continental menu, focused on sustainable products, changes daily and is truly exceptional in everything from quality of food to knowledgeable service. The deconstructed white lobster bisque with tomato jam and sweet potato beignets with salted butter ice cream are not to be missed.
Uchi is another standout fine dining experience, presented in a little red-wall papered cottage and an atmosphere that welcomes everything from jeans to a cocktail dress. At Chef Tyson Cole's Japanese fusion restaurant, the fish is flown in from Japan each day, and with original creations like the hama chili, yellowfin tuna marinated in a dreamy blend of citrus and chili and maguro sashimi and goat cheese on the list, it's easy to forget you're in the heart of Texas. Cole recently earned a James Beard award for "Best Chef of the Southwest," making Uchi an absolute must for anyone whose wants to experience the best fish in Austin.