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SXSW: Eating your way through downtown Austin

Posted by on March 12, 2012

You’ve set your SXSW panel schedule, RSVP’d to every party in town and you know you can get free food if only you can beat out the other bazillion people trying to score some lunch.  Where do you eat when you’re downtown and miss out on the freebie food?  By no means a comprehensive listing or even a definitive list, here is a brief rundown of a few food establishments that local Austinites enjoy, that are within walking distance of the main areas of the fest, by meal category:

Breakfast, the most important meal of the day.

  • Cafe Crepe  200 San Jacinto, at the intersection of 2nd Street.  Try the Crepe de Paris, with eggs, swiss cheese, bacon or ham. Even better, this restaurant offers wifi.
  • Taco Shack402 Brazos, at the intersection of 4th Street, in the Frost Bank building.  Many will argue that there are better tacos to be found in Austin, but you can’t go wrong with the breakfast options in this joint.  I suggest the fajita & egg taco, add avocado, on corn tortillas with their green salsa.
  • One Taco 6th & Nueces, next to Little Woodrow’s.  Watching the waistline?  Order the Green & White, a delicious egg white, avocado and jalapeno taco.  Need a hangover cure?  Get the Jefe (fried egg, steak, black beans and pico de gallo) and a Mexican Coke.
  • Patika Coffee 2nd & Congress.  Great little trailer for coffee and pastries.
  • Jo’s Coffee 242 W. 2nd.  Pancakes!  Need I say more?  Okay, in addition to other breakfast foods, Jo’s also sells cigarettes and beer, if you need them.
  • Austin Java 301 W. 2nd, Austin City Hall building.  The Hippie Hollow omellette is the closest most festival goers will get to the infamous Travis county park.  Eggs, spinach, tomatoes, mushroom, onion and red bell pepper mix and mingle in a mouthgasm that won’t net you a quick trip to jail by park police.

Lunch, recharge & relax.

  • Mekong River 215 E. 6th, between San Jacinto & Brazos.  A Thai and Vietnamese dive, I try to order something different each time I visit but the B6 vermicelli bowl is my fall back dish.  A hefty bowl of chargrilled pork and egg roll slices with rice vermicelli, bean sprouts, lettuce, green onion, pickled carrots and a scattering of roasted peanuts, this is a meal that ensures you won’t need to seek out food anytime soon.
  • Piranha Killer Sushi 207 San Jacinto.  If you’re jonesing for sushi or grilled salmon for lunch, Piranha is your place.  Order the Marry Me Roll and enjoy the explosion of flavor from shrimp tempura and ginger cream topped with avocado, tuna and strawberry.  Yes, strawberry.  Trust me on this one.
  • Second Bar + Kitchen 2nd & Congress, on the ground floor of The Austonion.  If you eat nothing else while in Austin, surviving on air and the smell of patchouli, please go immediately to Second Bar + Kitchen and order a fried egg and avocado sandwich.  This is the most messily scrumptious sandwich I’ve eaten in a long, long time.  Rich, runny yolk, sweet onion relish and black pepper aioli will guarantee a food memory you’ll dredge up long after returning to your home city.
  • Frank 4th & Colorado.  Two words:  Militant Manhattan.  A bacon infused Maker’s Mark cocktail that will turn lunchtime into funtime.  Housemade sausage rules here and if you order the Jackalope, you’ll be rewarded with an antelope, pork  and rabbit sausage with huckleberry compote, sriracha aioli and cheddar cheese. Do it.  Gluten-free options are available here, so you can have a hot dog without suffering the consequences of a wheat bun.
  • Chi’lantro BBQ food trailer at 2nd & Congress.  Check their website for schedule, as the trucks do travel.  Your tummy will thank you for chowing down on the pork bulgogi tacos topped with kimchi.  Do not be afraid of  the kimchi!  The kimchi fries will hook you, too.
  • Ironworks BBQ 100 Red River, at Cesar Chavez.  Lunch service starts at 11am and saavy festival attendees show up early or do lunch late, as this small historic spot is a sure bet to be wall-to-wall at straight up noon.  Order the Fred Flinstone-esque beef ribs, with a side of beans and potato salad and grab an icy bottle of Big Red from the drink trough.

Dinner, or supper, depending on what part of the world you hail from.

  • Casino El Camino 512 E. 6th, between Red River and Neches.  Sure the goth dungeon atmosphere is a bit unsettling, as are the multi-tatted and pierced staff, but hide your initial misgivings and go confidently into this ultra-dive bar, back to the small window where you’ll find menus and a most likely grouchy cook waiting to take your order.  Bring cash!  And choose one of the amazing burgers, with fries, of course.  The Amarillo Burger boasts roasted serrano chilies, jalapeno jack cheese and cilantro mayo.  For a veggie delight, try The Blackjack, with grilled eggplant, roasted tomato, provolone, olive tapenade, romaine, and shallot mayo on a foccacia bun.
  • Easy Tiger 709 E. 6th, in the first block West of IH-35.  Also open for breakfast, this bake shop and beer garden has a fantastic selection of Texas craft beer.  Try the housemade corned beef, or the vegetarian sausage.  The pretzels with beer cheese dip are highly addictive, so consider yourself warned.
  • The Backspace 507 San Jacinto.  The roasted mushroom pizza will rock your world.  As will the white anchovy, gaeta olives, cherry tomato and oregano pizza.  Tip:  from 5-6:30 all beer, wines by the glass and antipasti are half off.
  • Trace 200 Lavaca, in the W Hotel.  Swanky comfort food in a luxury hotel environment.  Have the Branch Ranch Butcher Burger, with a fried egg on top, but leave room for the Drunken Donuts dessert.
  • Peche Austin 208 W. 4th.  Often overlooked for food, Austin’s first absinthe bar has a menu that will tantalize your tastebuds.  Their menu is tweeted daily, and their hours during the festival will vary, so be sure to follow them to stay in the know.  From spring vegetable soup to duck confit, slow cooked shortribs to grilled calf sweetbreads, this is a varied menu with solid wins coming out of the kitchen.
  • Trio 98 San Jacinto, in The Four Seasons.  Need to impress a potential client?  Take them to Trio.  Between an impressive wine list curated by sommelier Mark Sayre, and a solid surf, turf and farm menu from Chef Grant Macdonald, your dinner meeting can only end on a high note.

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