What I Ate: Austin, TX

Austin, like an increasing number of US capital cities, is in the throes of city wide culinary overhaul. The same thing is happening in Madison. It’s so exciting to see super talented chefs opening up new top-notch restaurants and food trucks, and one of my top things to do on my visit to Austin is eat! Read on for a summary of all the different food trucks, restaurants and cafes that I tried during my 5 days in the city.

Our first order of business after getting off the plane was getting some Texas barbeque. One of the most famous BBQ joints in Austin is the Salt Lick, located about 25 minutes outside of town in the country. We dropped our bags off and headed straight there, ready to stuff our faces with meat. With 8 of us, we did the all-you-can-eat Family Style Meal. We could get unlimited refills of beef brisket, pork sausage, and pork ribs. The unlimited sides included potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, bread, housemade pickles and jalapenos. I think my favorite was the beef brisket which was super tender and fatty, but smokey and well-seasoned. The sausage was also really good, especially slathered in their house made BBQ sauce. The baked beans were SO good, just the right balance of sugar maple-y and bacony.

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In such an amazing house, the GHT team couldn’t help but want to stay in and eat dinner. Austin has an amazing food scene though, so we felt like we would miss out if we didn’t go out. That’s when we decided to have the best of both worlds– hire a private chef! We invited Mike from Nola Kitchen to the Loft House to cook us a delicious Cajun & Creole 4 course meal for the evening. Mike was super social and talktive, and gave us tons of information about New Orleans as he cooked.

For our first course, we enjoyed a baked brie cheese (only my favorite cheese!) topped with a sweet and spicy pepper jam. Served with simple crackers, this was a rich and comforting way to start the meal. A crab & remulade salad made up our second course. This fresh but spicy traditional New Orleans dish isn’t something I would normally order, but I did thoroughly enjoy it. The highlight though was the seafood and meat gumbo. The rue stock was so incredibly flavorful I could hardly believe it was cooked in only an hour. The flavors were really complex and rich, but you could still taste each gumbo element. The final dish was bananas foster served tableside. I’ve never had bananas foster, since I used to hate bananas. But after this one, I would definitely order it again! It was just YUMMY! So rich, gooey and sweet, this dish made me happy.

For lunch after zip lining, we stopped at a roadside food truck spot, Trailer Park Hangout in South Austin. There are seriously so many food trucks here, I was overwhelmed by choices! But Torchy’s Tacos was a recommendation by our tour guides as the “best tacos in Austin”. Just about all the tacos on the menu looked amazing and deciding which ones to get was tough! I settled for 3 different ones, all on corn tortillas — the Fried Avocado, the Crossroads and the Trailer Park. I dare say that these tacos may be the best I’ve ever had. The tortillas were so fresh and flavorful, and the toppings were well balanced. Plus, they have a variety of tasty salsas go alongside for dipping and drizzling. The creamy poblano on the fried avocado taco was my favorite combination. And the queso. WOW! Seriously, best queso dip ever. So rich and creamy. I could eat that every day and die happy!

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For dinner in Austin, we decided to go “bourdaining” as my coworkers nicely call it. It’s basically when you choose a street or a neighborhood in a city, and then go into all the restaurants & bars that look good to order something. It could be a small plate, a snack, a drink or a coffee, but you try a bunch of different shops. We decided to do this on E 6th street past the highway. Not the “dirty 6th” but the up and coming part. There were a bunch of places to check out, so we started our food tour at Licha’s Cantina.

With a beautiful outdoor patio, this upscale new Mexican eatery was a cool hang out with a perfect sharing menu. There were a bunch of dishes I had never even heard of such as huaraches and pambazos. We got a bunch of things to share, including an amazingly delicious conchinita cazuelita, which is cooked in a small clay pot, and an creamy avocado sopecito.

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The next stop on our bourdaining tour was Liberty Bar, home to the East Side Kings food truck. This food truck is the brain child of Top Chef winner Paul, and has an excellent selection of unique Asian fusion food. The menu is packed with buns, curry plates and meshi. The five of us split 3 orders of bun as well as the beet fries. The beef tongue buns were really well seasoned and the meat was pretty tender (for tongue). The peanut curry sauce was AMAZING. But the poor qui’s buns were definitely the winners. So much flavor! The beet fries were perfectly cooked and strangely delicious. I had never eaten something like that before!

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The next day, we headed over the South Congress street to do some Sunday shopping, which proved to be the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. We had a cheap tex-mex breakfast at Gueros. The atmosphere here was great, very fun! I ordered the chilequiles, and an order of queso. The food was decent, pretty standard Mexican food. Definitely a comforting hangover cure!

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The last stop we tried was Joe’s Coffee. Home to the famous “I love you so much” mural painting, this is a street side joint with an adorable outdoor patio. On Sunday’s, they have a live house band playing folk rock and blue grass style music. We wound up hanging out here for nearly 3 hours because the ambiance was so inviting. It was a beautiful warn & sunny day, and there were tons of people hanging out in their patio area. Older couples were line dancing together while families with their children colored in coloring books. We all ordered different coffee drinks, including the Iced Turbo which was by far my favorite! Made with espresso, chocolate, milk, coffee and syrup, this rich and sugary concoction went down a little too easy.

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Author: Megan Arz

I am a travel and food obsessed Midwesterner living in Chicago and dreaming of the world. I work as a full-time program manager for Greenheart Travel, but I am also committed to integrating the travel lifestyle into my every day routines. I am passionate about ethical travel, meeting new people, creating unique memories and eating local cuisine!

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