So Mr. Bourdain will be shooting an episode in Austin this summer. Of all the many places there are to eat in this fine city, which ones will he choose? The rumor is that the abundance of food carts will be the focus of the episode. While I love many of the carts around town, I would send him to more than just those. So Tony, here is my list for you.
1. El Azteca on East 7th
This restaurant opened in 1963 and has been family owned for three generations. They are still making the best TexMex in Texas. My family has been going here since the late seventies because they were the only good Mexican place serving vegetarian along side the old school classics. My dad goes there so often that he never needs a menu and they usually know exactly what he is going to get (the number seven). The number seven is a classic veggie combo plate with one bean taco, rice, beans, one cheese enchilada, guacamole and a tostada with queso. I often get the seven or seventeen (two enchiladas with rice and beans). They do serve free chips and homemade salsa once you sit down, which is amazing. The salsa is so good it has reduced my entire family to chili bliss giggles. This is the salsa that I always strive to copy when I make it at home. I know I was only raving about the veggie food here, but take my husband's word the meaty dishes are absolutely amazing as well. Just please, Tony if you come here don't film it because then it would change. I just want you to have the best, but lets keep it a bit of a secret still.
2. Torchy's Tacos in the South First Trailer Park
This place did not exist when I was here before, so I was surprised to find that there are five (maybe six by now) locations all over town. One bite and you will see why. The Fried Avocado taco is just too good for words. Slices of fresh avocado are battered and deep fried then topped with beans, lettuce, cheese and salsa. Despite the fried part, its not heavy or greasy at all. You can also make your own "breakfast" tacos in any combination. There is also a crazy taco of the month in which they really go all out (these are usually $4). My husband loves the green chili pork tacos. They use real New Mexican green chili (which is a big deal to us being from NM). The queso also has green chili in it and tastes just like Los Cuates in Albuquerque. At many of the locations not in the trailer park they also serve Boylens and Dublin Dr. Pepper in the soda fountain.
A plus of being in the tailer park is next door is Holy Cacao - little cake balls of heaven. My only complaint about Torchy's is that the price is higher than I am used to, but they use fresh ingredients and so delicious that I am willing to pay a few extra bucks for a taco.
3. Home Slice Pizza on South Congress
I'm not exactly a pizza snob, but I think this place is the best in town for slices or whole pies. The dough is simple, yet complex and delicious. The sauce is nice and flavourful without being overwhelming and in the way of the other components. My favorite is the Margarita, but their isn't a bad combination to be found here. Either sit in the original spot, out back or next door in the new "second" location. During peak times these guys throw a few hundred pies in a few hours, so calling your order in before you get there is not a bad idea. I also suggest hitting Home Slice after you hit the clubs because their hefty slices taste amazing with a Shiner or after you've been parting all night. Be sure to grab a pie to go for the morning after, as they are just as good cold and hung over as they were the night before.
4. Hut's on West Sixth
Hut's is an Austin tradition since 1939. These guys do not mess around with a good burger, be it buffalo, longhorn, veggie or even chicken breast. They are like a 1950's burger joint in style and this even carries over to the names of the burgers. I suggest the Alan Freed, Wolfman Jack, Arnolds Best or the Richie Valens. Grab a Malt or a beer as they both go well with the meal.
5. Changos on South Lamar
Changos is an amazing taco/burrito place. This is their south location and the only one I go to. The ingredients are simple, but amazing. They hand make their tortillas right in front of you (next to the registers) and they also make their own agua frescas (like juice, but not). We usually get the Del Jardin, Al Pastor or Burrito Maximo. Depending on who is on shift does kind of depend on how generous they are with your tortilla toppings, but its still tasty either way. And forget about the sodas and always get the frescas. Another plus is that it is not expensive at all. A couple bucks for a taco, five for the giant burrito (really it is two meals). Make sure you tip these guys, because they are working hard and making you delicious cheap food.
6. Enoteca/Vespio on South Congress
Here is my only shameless plug. Yes, my husband Jack works here, but get over it.
Before Jack worked here we went to Vespio and fell in love with the place. They have a garden out back and make most of their food from scratch and from local ingredients (there are exceptions and those are imported, usually, from Italy). It was also the place where we were formally engaged at. But then we moved away until six months ago and found that they opened a second restaurant next door called Enoteca. Both serve similar menus, but Enoteca is cheaper and also has a deli case so you can cook with some of their tastiness at home. I will admit that I have not been back to eat at Vespio, nor have I eaten in the physical dinning room of Enoteca, but I eat their food all the time. Jack brings me home pizzas, pastas, panini and different house made breads. If I had the money to throw around I would eat at both sides all the time. Here are the reasons you need to go here: they make almost everything fresh from scratch daily. This includes pizza dough, breads, pastas, sauces and mozzarella. Yes, they make cheese in house. Every week or so they also get in two whole pigs and whole ducks and butch them up themselves. They even cure some meats on site. At Enoteca/Vespio they are both Bloods and Crypts (anyone who has read Bourdain should understand) and are doing some of the best food in town.
7. Threadgill's on Barton Springs
Austin is supposedly the music capital of the world. It definitely used to be, but there is argument now for if thats true still. Anyway, Threadgill's is almost a shrine to the old days of Austin music, mostly featuring the posters and pictures from the Armadillo World Headquarters, which used to be on the same block before they tore it down for the bank building next door to Threadgill's. The food here is southern soul food. They have all the classics and fair veggie list. And yes, mac n' cheese is a fucking vegetable. So give a finger to the bank and then go in, have a beer, some soul food and learn a little about why Austin is/was the music capital of the world.