Austin, TX, home of SXSW, is known for its live music and its food. The fact is, you’d have to work pretty hard to find a bad meal in Austin. The people here take pride in being one of the food capitals of America. The weary SXSWer may have a hard time sorting the great places from the merely good, though, so as a local, I’m here to help out. Here are the places and meals you shouldn’t miss while you’re in town.
10. Pluckers Wing Bar. Locations: All over town. This chain of wing stops was started by some UT students. Pluckers isn’t fancy but it’s local and good, and has restaurants all over town.
9. Bacon. Location: 900 W 10th. It is exactly what it sounds like — a restaurant devoted wholly to the appreciation, nay worship, of bacon. Be forewarned that this restaurant is tiny and seating can be difficult to come by. But it’s incredible.
8. Hut’s Hamburgers. Location: 807 W 6th. Hut’s is part burger joint, part time machine. The burgers are juicy, the fries and shakes are fantastic, and the decor hasn’t changed since the Eisenhower administration.
7. Whole Foods. Location: 550 Bowie St. I know what you may be thinking: Isn’t Whole Foods a grocery store? It is that, but it’s so much more. This is the original Whole Foods, the loins from which all other Whole Foods sprang. It is the Mecca for any foodie, it has an incredible selection of local everything, and it has a cafe boasting a huge array of cuisines.
6. The Noble Pig. Location: 11815 620 N. Suite 4. The Noble Pig isn’t actually in Austin, it’s in Cedar Park. But if you have wheels and some time, you must eat here. You must. They slow cook their pork to the point that it’s almost a liquid. They make their fantastic potato chips in house. The place is small so seating is tight, but on a nice day you can occupy the picnic tables out front and feel like you’re eating pork cooked on a spit over an open flame. It’s amazing. Plus, if you’re here, you’re out of the downtown crowds for a while.
5. The Texas Chili Parlor. Location: 1409 Lavaca. It’s impossible to capture the Texas Chili Parlor’s ambiance and character. “Hole in the wall” doesn’t do it justice. They serve a Frito pie that is a Texas delicacy, and if you pile on enough jalapenos, it can take the top of your head clean off.
4. Torchy’s Tacos. All over town. Another local chain, Torchy’s started out as one of the ubiquitous taco trucks that dot the sides of Austin’s roads and parking lots. But Torchy’s rose to the top by being absolutely awesome in every way. Their salsa and hot sauces are killer. Get the Baja shrimp taco. You may never want to eat anyone else’s taco ever again once you’ve experienced Torchy’s.
3. Mighty Fine Burgers and Fries. Location: South, north-central, and way north (Round Rock). Texans love our burgers. We love our fries. Mighty Fine was born in Austin and makes both mighty and fine. And their shakes are among the best available on the planet.
2. The Salt Lick. Location: Driftwood (south), Bergstrom Airport, and Hutto (north). The Salt Lick is another out-of-the way place but it’s worth a drive. They cook their meats over an open pit right there in the restaurant. It’s as good as any barbeque you’ll ever have anywhere, at any time. The brisket melts in your mouth. The sides make grandmas everywhere burn with envy.
1. El Arroyo. Location: Downtown at 1624 W 5th, Far West at 7032 Wood Hollow. El Arroyo is an Austin institution from its signature sign out front to its salsa. When you go there, get the shrimp diablo. You’re welcome.
Honorable mention: Franklin’s Barbecue on 900 E 11th. Franklin’s has only been around for a few years, but it already dominates the Austin bbq scene. Like Torchy’s, Franklins started out as a parking lot cuisine. Now they practically run the town. If you want to experience their barbecue, though, you’ll have to line up early and be very patient. Word is, Franklin’s actually serves the best barbecue in the world. No kidding — Bon Appetit hailed it as America’s best barbecue in 2010. The reason I didn’t give it its own spot in the top ten? I haven’t been able to get in to eat there. It’s always, always, packed.