My brother and sister-in-law used to live in Brooklyn, and I would visit them all the time. But ever since they moved to Austin, TX last year I haven’t been able to see them. A plane ticket isn’t quite the same price as a Chinatown bus, ya know? Well, recently my sister and I decided to visit our brother and took a short trip down south to Texas! He asked us what we wanted to do and we both said, we just want to eat good food! So, I present to you my Austin, TX food map.
Side note: My family is originally from the Philippines. We moved to the U.S. when I was four years old, so I don’t know anything but America. But that trip across the world to permanently move here was also the only other time I ever rode a plane. Unlucky for me, I had no memory of it, being four and all. I also never got another opportunity to ride a plane after that–we always drove everywhere as a family! You can imagine my excitement and absolute elation when I finally got to ride a plane and remember it! Basically, I love planes now and I’m looking for any chance to get on one. Okay. Back to the food map!
Without a doubt, the best place we ate at in Austin was the first place we ate at in Austin. The night we flew in we went to Ramen Tatsu-ya, and it was mind-blowing. The website says that the owners “want to educate people on what ramen truly is. It’s the soul food of Japan.” It is absolutely not the ramen that we all get at Walmart for no money at all, the ramen I practically lived on when in recovery. This ramen in no way resembles that, and to compare the two is frankly a disservice to the grand flavors served at Tatsu-ya.
Let me set the stage: my sister had a bit of a cold, so my sister-in-law suggested that we go to Ramen Tatsu-ya to help clear up her sinuses. The line was out the door and around the building. My brother insisted that it was worth the wait. Plus, we got cocktails almost immediately in line.
Once we finally made it inside, you could see why people wait so long to get in. It’s casual eating; you order at the cash register, pay, and then sit at a table. It’s that simple! But the food is anything but. The ramen is soaked in a flavorful meat broth. Every bit of the dish plays off the saltiness of the broth. I had the Mi-So-Not and it was insanely yummy. It’s such an extra fine dining experience, you would never believe that it could be casual dining at an affordable price. But it is! This one is a must have if you’re ever in the area.
The first time my brother moved to Austin he started working at a local pizza place, Home Slice. He doesn’t work there anymore, but the drummer and bassist in his band do! So, of course it was on my list of places to eat when I was in town. What I’m about to say next may be surprising and controversial. I never thought that the best NY-style pizza I’d ever have would be in Texas! Now, there are two locations that happen to be right next to each other–literally! One is the dine-in restaurant with a bar and a Brooklyn-vibe. The other is a much smaller take-out location for–you guessed it–take out and only slices for eat-in.
The best thing about Home Slice pizza pies is their crust. They aren’t too thin like some NY-style places where the crust is pretty much just a platform for toppings. They also aren’t too thick like in some other pan pizza places where it’s 60% bread and 40% toppings. They’re juuussssttt right (she said in her best Goldilocks voice). You can taste just enough of the crust to know that it’s a hand-tossed pizza, but not so much that it overwhelms the toppings’ flavors. Along that vein, there’s also the perfect proportion of sauce, cheese and toppings. We ordered the garlic knots and two pies, the pepperoni & mushroom and the white clam. You may think that sounds weird, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! It’s so damn good. Do yourself a favor and eat a slice at Home Slice. (See what I did there?)
The Little Darlin’
We weren’t in town for too long, so we didn’t get to eat as much as I wanted to. We never got around to great Mexican food or even great Texas-style barbecue. But we did manage to squeeze in a night at a bar. We went to the Little Darlin’ for a late-night dinner on the second night of our trip. That night we watched a movie and got out a little late, so we wanted to go somewhere open late where they’d still be serving food. Hence, a bar.
My sister and I split an order of fried quail. I’ve never had quail before, but it was yummy. My brother, though, ordered the shrimp and grits. I’ve had very little grits in my life. In my experience, I wasn’t too impressed. But these grits were fantastic. These grits are why people go nuts over grits. The shrimp is perfectly grilled and the flavors just pop out at you. It will be difficult to for any other shrimp and grits to ever live up to it.
Nights in Austin are pretty great. The sun is down and the sweltering heat goes with it. At night it feels like a regular breezy spring evening. We ordered drinks and dinner at the Little Darlin’ and sat outside on the patio. Outside is so gorgeous. They’ve got a lawn with some swinging benches, tables and benches, and a slew of outdoor string lights above it all. So, grab yourself a plate, a beer and a seat at the patio!
My brother is a barista by day and a member of Ladyfang by night. This time living in Austin he got a job at a local coffee shop, not far from Home Slice, at Seventh Flag. Fun fact: the name Seventh Flag is a reference to the six flags of Texas. On the outside it looks like a little cottage house with a few benches and chairs outside. It feels just as cozy and homey on the inside. It’s got that calm cafe feel you want in a great coffee place. It’s inviting for those who want to hunker own with a laptop or those passing through with two siblings from out of town.
Side Note: BUY THE BRAND NEW LADYFANG ALBUM, “FOR MORGAN” ON ITUNES, GOOGLE PLAY, OR AMAZON NOW!!!!!!!
They make quality coffee here. Their menu is simple, just the basics. But what else do you need? This ain’t Starbucks, nor is it trying to be. I know for damn sure though that whatever you do get will be made with care. The flavors will be pure coffee-centered. You can adjust drinks according to your preferences, or your dietary restrictions. But like I said, this isn’t Starbucks, nor should you want it to be. This place is all about great coffee, and that’s exactly what you’ll get.
The Tasty Spoon
On our walk through the surrounding SoCo area, we stumbled on a gelateria, called Tasty Spoon. Like Seventh Flag, it looks like a small house with a little porch and table outside. On the inside it’s white, modern, and smells of delicious gelato. It’s no secret how much I love sweets, so is it really any surprise that we stopped to get some kind of sweet treat? What better to have in hot Austin than some cold, refreshing gelato?! I’ve tried a lot of gelato over the years. There’s a few places in Charlottesville that I love, there was that place in Chelsea I mentioned in my Brooklyn food map, and now the Tasty Spoon.
I had a small cup of hazelnut and mint chocolate. The former was exactly what I expect it to be. The latter was a new iteration of an old standby. Rather than mint ice cream with chocolate chips, or mint chocolate ice cream, it was mint ice cream with a hardened chocolate drizzle. It was so much better to have the drizzle than the chunks. I’m big on texture, so it helped that I wasn’t crunching down every few bites on chocolate chips. I’d most definitely go back for more.
It did not take very long for me to notice the word “SoCo” everywhere around where my brother lives. A lot of the time it was a huge graffiti-like painting on the sides of buildings. I asked my brother what it was and he said it was a reference to the South Congress area, located around South Congress Avenue. SoCo was a play on New York’s Soho. I get it though. We spent a lot of our trip on or near South Congress. In fact, many of the places I just mentioned are either directly on or near South Congress Avenue. It also happens to be pretty close to downtown Austin.
But the real reason that we went there is for the shopping. The whole area is plastered with cute local boutiques and specialty stores. Unfortunately a lot of these places closed around 6 or 7 PM during the week, so I didn’t get to explore as much as I’d like. We went to a trading post to look at local artisan products, a boutique where I bought a bracelet and my sister bought some gorgeous shoes, and my brother’s favorite vintage store. Like I said, there were other places too, but just a peek into the few we went to was enough to satiate my shopping-addicted heart.
We watched two movies during my trip: Beauty and the Beast and Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2. In case you’re wondering, I’m a huge fan of both–#disneyandmarvelforever. We watched the latter at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. I thought this place was pretty local, or at least local for Texas–Alamo, Texas, ya know? Turns out there’s locations everywhere, including one in Northern Virginia! I’m not sure why I’ve never heard of it before, but it was quite the experience.
It’s exactly what it sounds like it is: a movie theater and a drafthouse. You walk into the theater, hand in your ticket, and go straight to your seats. The seats are movie seats with small tables attached and a menu on top. A waitress (yes, a waitress) comes by and takes your drink order and lets you peruse the menu while she heads to the bar. If you get there before the movie, you can have this interaction. If the lights are already out then simply write your order on the provided paper and the waitress will come by and pick it up. The menu is a full menu–not just your movie popcorn and candy. It’s a drafthouse after all! They serve burgers, salads, chicken fingers, fish and chips, sandwiches, pizza and more. We also had some incredible chips and queso–cheesy and spicy.
What I’ve learned is that you have to be ready to eat your food in the dark. You have to plan for it. I may try it here in NoVa and see if it’s any different. I wouldn’t not do it again. It was so fun and I enjoyed having real food at the theater for once…you know, without sneaking it in. But it is hard to share chips and queso between three people in the dark. My suggestion: go with a movie that doesn’t require your 100% attention because your food will need a little of it. Go wearing clothes that you’re willing to spill food on. And go with an open mind, because while it was just eating in the dark, I still really enjoyed it.
Lady Bird Lake
Probably the activity that I enjoyed the most was our day at Lady Bird Lake. There’s a small park area and dog park near Lady Bird Lake with a bike and walking trail. We spent most of the day walking the trail and watching the dogs jump into the lake. The trail isn’t too strenuous or too long, so it was my kind of hike in a dress and sandals. The views in the area are beautiful, and the lake is so clear. Apparently at night you an also see bats flying. They even have tours!
After walking the trail we decided to actually get on the lake. So, we rented a canoe and paddle board for less than $20 for an hour. My siblings and I took the canoe and my sister-in-law led the way with the paddle board. My sister-in-law actually took some hilarious video of my siblings and I failing to maneuver the canoe. Then my brother joked that it felt like a siblings retreat with forced teamwork activities. He wasn’t wrong. We eventually got the hang of it and had a blast cruising around the lake. It was a fun and relaxing way to spend a day outdoors.
There is definitely more that I wanted to do in Austin. It felt like we didn’t have enough time for it all! There was definitely not enough time to eat everything that I wanted to. I suppose that means I’ll have to go back before they pick up and move again! Whenever that next trip happens, I’ll be thrilled to hit up some of these old spots while experiencing new ones. I do hope that it helps you if you’re visiting or just passing through, or looking for a new place to go if you live there. Until my return, stay weird, Austin.