Just after last night’s Academy Awards ceremony, ABC talk show host Jimmy Kimmel appeared on Austin’s KVUE-TV to explain why he’s bringing his show back to The Long Center for SXSW 2015. His reason? It’s simple. “We had so much fun” in 2014, Kimmel explained, that he wants to do it again.
So, we went and re-watched all of Kimmel’s Austin shows from last year and realized that he did not talk about the activities in town so much as the food. Then we noticed a theme in Kimmel’s foodie shoutouts: BBQ. It became clear that Kimmel’s last time in Austin was spent literally dripping with BBQ leavings, and there’s no shame in that. Thrillist named Austin the #1 city in America for BBQ for a reason, after all, but there’s lots more to explore in the Texas capital.
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So, for Kimmel’s sake and all those who love food, we wrote this guide. In Austin, not all meals are created equal. Still, it is still impossible to go wrong with any of the establishments below…
This food trailer is parked in the backyard of Spiderhouse Cafe, where patrons enjoy pancake-battered Japanese street food topped with amazing sauces and, for the daring, bonito flakes (dried and aged fish) that actually move on their own as the muscle fibers absorb moisture from the food. It’s not just a good meal: A tray full of Love Balls is also fascinating as hell to look at, which is why they got a plug on The Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods.” Pro tip: Come here after 5 p.m. for happy hour. If it’s Wednesday, stick around for a Mario Kart 64 tournament.
This is, no kidding, one of Austin’s most-decorated food trailers. One bite and you understand why. As their signage says, they do not serve fast food, they serve quality food. As such, expect to spend 15-20 minutes chilling at Radio Coffee & Beer in south Austin as they prepare your order. Just tell yourself it’s worth every second of the wait, because it is. Pro tip: Come by on the weekend for their barbacoa, which is only served Saturday and Sunday, and make sure to wash it down with a strawberry or pineapple agua fresca. You’ll never look at tacos the same again.
Enoteca Vespaio is a high-end establishment on South Congress specializing in seasonal, locally sourced menu items. There are two faces to this restaurant, as well: Enoteca is a lunch cafe whereas Vespaio serves a more refined selection for dinner, and each offers a unique experience. Pro tip: If you’re at Enoteca and a pork belly panini is on the menu, look no further. You’ve just found one of the best sandwiches in Texas.
Mellizoz, the favorite taco joint of Austin Mayor Steve Adler, has a wide variety of tacos on their menu, but we figured this meal offers a chance to go meat free and not even notice. Pictured above is their fried avocado taco with tempura-fried gooey green bits (seriously yum), arugula, tomato, cotija cheese, and chipotle sherry vinaigrette. Of course, if you’re still craving flesh and avocado doesn’t have you salivating, there’s always the Slowrider, a taco made with braised machaca beef, caramelized onions, and cotija cheese. Set in a chill little trailer park off First Street just south of downtown, it’s not far from the action. Low prices and quick service also help set this one apart. Pro tip: Don’t bother trying to park in this lot if you’re coming during peak time. Check the adjacent streets and walk a couple blocks.
This is the foul-mouthed kid brother to a couple of Austin’s best-known culinary institutions, Uchi and Uchico. Founded by master Chef Paul Qui, one of the two minds behind the Uchis, East Side King has grown from a trailer behind Liberty Bar on east Sixth Street to multiple trailers and a stationary location inside Hole in the Wall. The fare offered here is a less refined than the edible artistry on display in his other restaurants, but that means it’s also affordable — making all of their dishes the perfect pairing for a cold beer on a warm spring night. Pro tip: Try the ramen. It’s insane.
This restaurant does not serve ultra-refined cuisine from all the corners of the Earth, and there’s very little ethnic flare on this menu. That’s because Jack Allen’s Kitchen has a laser focus on doing American food right, and they have been wildly successful. Although both locations are a considerable drive from downtown, the fare on offer here is absolutely worth a trip. What the menu will feature when you visit is another question, since Jack Allen’s serves up a constantly changing array of delightful dishes. There’s enough variety on the menu to please any taste, particularly the carnivore’s. Pro tip: The bartenders here are always creating unusual and intoxicating beverages. Get a cocktail with this meal.
This is one of Austin’s most cherished breakfast spots, and they’ll serve you five people’s worth of food no matter what you order. It is the very best kind of overkill. Walking out of Juan in a Million after a breakfast like the one pictured above, you might have the inclination to head directly back to your place of lodging, curl up under the sheets, and go right back to sleep in one of those epic, four-hour-long food comas. Of course, staving off the caloric hangover is what the coffee is for. Make use of it. Pro tip: If queso is your thing, try the con queso breakfast special. It’s eggs cooked anyway you like ’em with queso, carne guisada, potatoes, and tortillas.
You’ll be impressed with the creativity on the menu at Odd Duck just as much as the performance of their kitchen. Watching this crew work during a dinner shift is mesmerizing, but tasting the product of their labor is even better. Delicate is a solid word to describe Odd Duck’s offerings, which are carefully balanced for flavor and artfully presented on the plate, even if the menu tends to be heavy on the meats and carbs. Everything here is locally sourced as well, with local farms earning prominent placement in the restaurant. They even grow their own herbs right at the bar, often snipping them to include in dishes as their patrons watch. Although this meal is on the expensive side, Odd Duck is one of the nation’s most exciting new restaurants, according to Bon Appetit, so you can trust that it’s worth the price. Pro tip: Tip well. The waiters here are very friendly and passionate about food. Treat them well and you might get something extra.
Rosita’s Al Pastor
You’d never guess that one of the best pork tacos on planet Austin can be found in this unassuming trailer parked in a lot at 1911 E. Riverside, but it’s true. Rosita’s Al Pastor is actually listed on Facebook as a “religious center,” because they serve tacos that regularly save the souls of Austinites at many an odd hour. A dose of these tacos can sober up the sloppiest drunk, brighten a depressing day, and maybe even give you a new outlook on life. Despite intense competition around town in the al pastor pork arena, Rosita’s family recipe for spit-cooked pastor has not yet been topped. When that sweet, chewy goodness does the tango in your mouth with that spicy green sauce, nothing is wrong in the world. Pro tip: Eat these right away. They’re not quite as good 10-20 minutes later.
Welcome to meat heaven. It’s true that Franklin is the most popular BBQ joint in town, but Lambert’s is the most refined. There’s few words to capture how moving a meal at Lambert’s can be, so we’ll just let the photo speak for itself. That’s just one of a dozen or more meat-based menu items that somehow just get more decadent the further you read into the menu. A big dinner here with friends is an experience you’ll never forget. Pro tip: There’s almost always a line at this place, so get a reservation for dinner on a week night or show up early for Sunday brunch.