Austin is a beautiful city and has a wonderful character that made me feel right at home. Veering left from its cousins Houston and Dallas, Austin is seemingly liberal and progressive teemed with hipsters, college kids, and tourists. Having visited this city a number of times, I have dabbled in the barbecue, beer and cocktail scene and am happy to share what I have found.
Austin was one of those places that I had on my list, and told myself I would visit eventually. If I had known how delicious the BBQ was, I would definitely have come sooner! Right out of the gate, the first thing we did was stop at Rudy’s BBQ who quintessentially coin themselves as the “worst Bar-b-q in Texas”. Our logic was, if we want to try the best, might as well start off with the “worst”.
Rudy’s was by our [California] standards, really great. The most exciting thing was wondering – if this was the worst, what the heck is the best?! It didn’t take us long for us to find out what the best tasted like.
Also, in case you were wondering… “meat sweats” are definitely a thing. I’ll leave it at that.
I found myself at La Barbecue, a well known barbecue joint that is both celebrated and revered by the locals. La Barbecue is carving out a BBQ culture that showcases the truest skills of a pitmaster, and brings the American past time of smoking meat to a whole new level. We waited in line for about an hour but I am happy to say that it was soooo worth it! La Barbecue was a spiritual journey. Never had I had such a delicious spread of meat in my entire life. It didn’t seem right to me, that I had lived my life completely unaware that barbecue like this existed, let alone was possible! I can confidently say that La Barbecue changed my life, and I will never look at barbecue in the same way ever again. Also, I should definitely mention that the line to La Barbecue was long and waiting in line can take hours, so please keep that in mind!
If you thought we were done with barbecue after this, we were not! We picked up some BBQ from Kerlin BBQ, an up and coming barbecue joint that has been praised by many locals. Kerlin’s was good, my favorite was their sausage which was really tasty. As with most great BBQ places in Austin, Kerlin BBQ does tend to have a line so it’s beneficial to dedicate at least half an hour to waiting in line for your food. Also, in case you were wondering… meat sweats are definitely a thing. I’ll leave it at that.
Lastly, you cannot talk about Austin BBQ without mentioning Franklin BBQ. Franklin’s may be the most famous of all the BBQ joints in Austin, and can be credited for having some of the best BBQ in Texas. Like La Barbecue, Franklin’s BBQ has very long lines and people line up very early to get a chance at grabbing a delicious piece of meat from these BBQ professionals. What some people don’t know is that you can avoid the lines by pre-ordering Franklin’s ahead of time! This is a great option if you want to experience the amazingness of Franklin’s BBQ with a large group of people and don’t have the time to stand in line.
Licha’s Cantina is my favorite place to go to dinner in Austin. I find myself always coming back here!! I love their patio, the ambiance is amazing and it’s the perfect place to grab a bite to eat on a hot summer day. Additionally, the food at Licha’s is always top notch and the $5 happy is unbeatable!!
In addition to the the amazing barbecue, Austin also has some great beer! One of my favorite breweries was Hops and Grain in East Austin. Hops and Grain was founded by Josh Hare in 2011, and offers a variety of brew selections. The first time we came here Austin had some restrictive alcohol distribution laws, we were not actually allowed to buy a beer at Hops and Grain, instead we purchased a $10 beer glasses and then we were given four beer tasting “donations”. This is not the case anymore, now you can order a pint the good old fashioned way.
If you want to make a day of it and do some brewery hopping on the East side, you can also visit Blue Owl Brewing. Blue Owl brewing focuses on inventive sour beer concoctions. This is a great place to visit if you want to step away from your run of the mill beer varieties and try something a little different. Another brewery that is located on the East side is Zilker Brewery, Zilker is a great place for beer traditionalist. If you want an IPA, Stout, ESB, and many of the other classics that are done right, then Zilker is your place.
If you like sour beers or farmhouse ales (to some they are the same thing but I digress),
Jester King Brewery is your jam. Jester King is located about half an hour west from Austin’s city center. The brewery is unique in the fact that it is located on a massive plot of land and has views of surrounding fields and orchards. It actually feels much more like a winery than a brewery. We found ourselves enjoying a flight out on the picnic tables, it’s the perfect place to relax in the sun with friends. The brewery has made a name for itself producing a wide range of beers from Le Petite Prince a farmhouse beer at 2.9% ABV to Black Metal a Farmhouse Imperial Stout at %10.8 ABV. With a wide range of brews to select from, it is easy for anyone to find something that they like.
If you are more of a cocktail person, Austin is definitely the city for you. After touring the city’s bar scene, strolling down 6th and spending some time on Rainey St. I got a strong feel for Austin’s cocktail offerings. Whistler’s is one of those places that epitomizes all of the things that I love about Austin, it’s grungy sub-culture and it’s use of refurbished space. Aside from the decor, my favorite part was that my cocktail came with a slice of beef jerky – now that’s hipster!
It’s impossible to talk about cocktails in Austin without mentioning Rainey St. I will have to admit that my memories on Rainey St. are fuzzy. We went to Icenhauer’s, Half-Step, Banger’s, Lucille, and Container Bar. If you are serious about your cocktails, I would recommend checking out Half-Step because they are serious about their cocktails and their ice. Half Step impressed me for a couple reasons, first their cocktail menu was succinct, second their cocktails were well made, and third they used the correct type of ice for each cocktail. Most importantly, the great thing about Half-Step was that everything on their menu is delicious so you cannot go wrong!
If you are looking for a more upscale scene, look no further than the Roosevelt Room. The Roosevelt Room is sophisticated not because it is trying to be, but because it actually is. The cocktails are brilliant creations with flavors that hit the tongue smoothly and easily. This is the type of place where I could spend all my money if I wasn’t careful, and at $13-15 per cocktail it is an easy feat but every drop would be worth it. If you appreciate the art of a great drink, you belong here.
You can’t leave Austin without having a margarita flight. This is where Baby Acapulco comes in. Stop here for a fried avocado and a frosty flight of margs!
What to Do
Contrary to popular belief, there are lots of other things to do in Austin besides eating barbecue, drinking beers, and enjoying the nightlife. Austin is primarily a flat city, but there are some great places to catch a beautiful view. Mount Bonnell definitely being one of them. Mt. Bonnell has sweeping views of the Austin landscape and looks over the Colorado River. Surrounded by stately mansions, it is a prominent landmark and a beautiful place to go on a clear day.
While in Austin, I also learned about the South Congress Bridge bats, apparently there are thousands of bats that have called that bridge home and they fly out in droves at sun-down. I have heard from some friends that this was an incredible experience. Unfortunately for us, the bats did not fly near us – so it was a bit of an underwhelming experience. However, the river was beautiful which made it worth it!
Last but not least, if you like swimming, check out Barton Springs Pool for a refreshing dip. Barton Springs pool is fed from a natural underground spring with temperatures between 68-70 degrees which makes it ideal for year round swimming. Just keep note that Barton Springs is closed on Thursday’s!