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April 18, 2014

An Austinite’s Guide to #SAA2014: Places to go and family fun

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , , , , — John @ 11:19 am

With the Easter weekend upon us, I figured it would be a good time to post about some of things to see around Austin, especially if you’re bringing your family with you to the meetings. After this, we’ll delve more into the seedy world of bars, bar food, and live music.

Some of these places are easily reached by public transit (capmetro.org) or a (relatively) cheap cab ride, while others will require a car. We’ll start with those closest to downtown Austin, and work our way further afield. Some will require a swim suit, others might call for comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots.

One of the major attractions downtown, and Austin in general, is the Texas State Capitol building. I’m ashamed to admit I have yet to do a tour of the building itself! In addition to the Capitol building itself, the ground are beautiful and there are other government buildings in the area to see and maybe visit, including the Capitol Visitor’s Center, The Governor’s Mansion (tours Tue-Thurs only, from 10am to noon), and the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives Building (which is gorgeous).

Several blocks to the north is the Bullock Texas State History Museum. I won’t go into museum criticism here, other than to say that there’s not much about Texas prehistory here. Texans are proud of their state and their history, and it shows in this museum. And while the full exhibit isn’t ready, you can see hundreds of objects recovered from the shipwreck of The Labelle, one of LaSalle’s ship. Plan on at least 3 hours here. I would also recommend buying tickets for at least one of the presentations at the Texas Spirit Theater, especially if you have kids with you. It’s a little cheesy, but fun and informative. There is also an Imax theatre at the museum.

East of the highway, off of 8th Street, is the French Legation Museum, the oldest standing home in Austin. There are tours (40 minutes long), and the grounds are very nice (a great picnic spot, along with the Capitol grounds).

There are a number of museums and places to visit at the University of Texas Campus (Hook ‘em! \m/ ), and the campus is an excellent place to just walk around, look at sculptures and statues, and people watch. The South Lawn features a great view of the UT Tower and the State Capitol and is a lovely place to sit.

The Blanton Museum of Art is the closest Austin has come to a world class museum, and they are currently featuring an exhibit on Arts of the Ancient Andes (which I would love to hear about from my Trafficking Antiquities friends) curated (I’m almost positive) by one of my former classmates, Dr. Kimberly Jones. There will be a presentation by archaeologist Dr. Steve Bourget the afternoon of April 26th.

The Harry Ransom Center is an amazing museum and archive devoted to the arts and humanities, and UT has received the archives of a number of prominent writers and artists (some of whom are pictured on the windows). Among the permanent exhibits are a Gutenberg bible and the world’s first photograph. This is one of my favorite places to visit!

The Texas Memorial Museum seems to still be open, and is now part of the Texas Natural Science Center, which I assume means they’ve taken out all the archaeology and native Texan stuff they used to have. Side note: I had a work study here back in 1994, they had a storeroom full of amazing things. Anyway, this musuem is now focused on geology, wildlife, and dinosaurs, which are all cool things that kids love.

Finally, The LBJ Presidential Library, another one of my favorite places to take people. You learn a lot about LBJ’s life, which provides a fascinating window into early and mid-20th century Texas life (he grew up poor in a tiny town in the Texas Hill Country) as well as US history in the mid-twentieth century.

One last (indoor) place to take the family, at the new Mueller development on the NE edge of the central city, is The Thinkery. Yeah, it’s a bit of a Simpsons-esque name for what was once the Austin Children’s Museum, but my friends with kids LOVE this place. A great hand-on spot for children of all ages.

After all that fun indoors, I hope you save some time and energy to enjoy the amazing outdoor places in and around Austin!

Zilker Park and the Barton Springs pool are a must-visit, especially for families. The weather during the SAAs looks to be in the mid-to-high 80s, perfect for swimming. Barton Springs is ~70 degrees year round, which is a little cool for me but likely warm for Yankees and those who swim in the Pacific! The Zilker Zephyr is a fun train ride that takes you on a small tour of part of the park. There is also the Austin Nature and Science Center, the Zilker Botanical Gardens, and the Umlauf Sculpture Gardens. Outdoor enthusaists can rent canoes or kayaks, or hike the trails (click here for a link to all public trails in Austin).

Another swimming hole, and one that is more toddler-friendly, is Deep Eddy Pool, just west of MoPac and the downtown area. In addition to the historic pool there’s a play area and a hike-and-bike trail. The pool is fed from a well and not chlorinated, with water temperatures between 65-75 degrees. And, to cool down or relax after, pop in to Deep Eddy Cabaret (just north of the park) for a beer (cash only).

A little farther afield, but still within Austin city limits, is McKinney Falls State Park. This little gem is on the southeast edge of town, and would likely need a car or a cab. There are two small falls here (the Upper and Lower Falls), and some areas for swimming and fishing. The ruins of the McKinney homestead are on the property and can be hiked to, along with another historic structure. Unfortunately, a major flood struck McKinney Falls on Halloween 2013, severely damaging the Smith Vistor’s Center (still closed) and the Smith Rockshelter (which may still be closed), but there are several other trails to hike on.

Northwest of town (definitely needing a car) are Hamilton Pool and Reimer’s Ranch, both former private ranches now operated as parks and preserves by Travis County. Hamilton Pool is a sinkhole/collapsed cave into an underground aquifer, which now serves as a swimming hole. Capacity of the park is capped, and depending on the weather (rains) the pool may be closed due to bacteria from runoff, so call ahead if you plan on going. Note that the water is also very cold right now! Reimer’s Ranch is more for hiking, climbing, and birdwatching. There are also a number of other Travis County parks, click here for a list.

Finally, for those with a car and some time, there are a number of State Parks and Natural Areas within an hour or two of Austin, each offering a unique experience. Click here to see a map. Enchanted Rock is probably the most popular, and might best be visited during the week. This is a massive granite dome, over a billion years old. Great for climbing and hiking. Bastrop State Park is one of the many CCC parks in Texas, and is a remnant pineywoods setting. It was severely damaged by wildfires 3 years ago, but is recovering. Please browse the State Parks homepage to see which might offer what you’re looking for.

OK, that’s easily a full long weekend’s worth of activities for you and yours, combining history, nature, and fun!

An Austinite’s Guide to #SAA2014: Rainey Street

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , , — John @ 7:50 am

So far, I’ve focused on some basic details about Austin, the Texas essential cuisines, and a guide for vegan and veggie eats. This post will be a switch, as it will be about an “entertainment district”, and thus includes food, bars, and other entertainment (music, dancing, etc).

This particular entertainment district is known as Rainey Street, and it is just south of the Convention Center, so convenient for lunch, happy hours, after session drinks, and socializing. I’ll also add that it’s not a place I hang out. Basically, I find it a little expensive and full of yuppies. I also don’t know how it gets a pass on gentrification, considering that it’s a traditional, historic working-class neighborhood that was rezoned as a bar district by the city (read this slightly biased - but in a way I agree with - Wikipedia entry for details).

However, there are several places that have gotten rave reviews from my friends. Futhermore, I would not be doing this guide properly if I ignored one of the closest places to socialize, even better for most SAA attendees with no worries about the horrific parking situation.

By far, the top recommendation is Bangers, which is a place I’ve been meaning to check out (even if it means going to Rainey). As my British and Anglophile readers might have guessed, Bangers is a sausage house and beer garden. The sausages range from traditional to exotic and include veggie options, with a seasonal and rotating menu. There are also many other food options (one friend mentioned the beet and goat cheese, and the creamed corn) including poutine for homesick Canadians. There is also a huge beer garden, which goes well with the fact they have 100+ beers and ciders on tap, plus more in bottles and cans, with a huge selection from Austin and central Texas breweries. It apparently can get crazy over the weekends, but they handle crowds well.

Another place with several votes is Craft Pride, which as might be expected specializes in craft beers. Specifically, they specialize in Texas craft beers, with “54 taps and 2 casks representing over 20 breweries”. They look to have some outdoor space too. Another thing they have is a Via 313 trailer serving Detroit Style cheesy bread pizza starting at 5 pm. I’ve had Via 313 at their other location and while my New York self won’t call it pizza, it’s really really good, and it looks as if they have dairy-free options as well.

One friend mentioned Javelina (great Texas name there), on the south end of the Rainey Street district. Having not been there, it looks to have a decent bar area and outdoor space, a number of Texas beers on tap, some local and some lowbrow (my style) can beers, and some cocktails on the menu that look well suited for warm weather drinking. They also serve food, which they call the best bar food in the Rainey district. For the late-night sweet tooth, there’s a mini-donut trailer across/down the street called Little Lucy’s that my friend also recommends.

Someone else (an architectural historian who works for a CRM firm) mentioned seeing a show at Blackheart, a place she called just OK, saying “Too crowded inside, but the back patio has potential- you can see the skyline behind.” The bar area looks nice, tried to capture something of the historic idea of the district.The concept is a New Orleans brothel theme, and the bar is a whiskey bar, with numerous options. Anyway, if that’s your kind of thing, there you go. They also have live music over the weekends.

One last recommended place may not be for everyone, although they certainly welcome everyone: Chain Drive, Austin’s oldest LGBT nightclub. Not strictly a leather bar, but one of the main clienteles. They have a great patio and backyard spot with a view of the skyline, and dancing Friday and Saturday nights.

After this, no recommendations, but a couple other places that are down there:

G’Raj Mahal Cafe was an extremely popular food trailer that has now moved to a brick-and-mortar spot. They do Indian food, they now serve beer and wine, have a big patio. I went to the trailer once, didn’t want to wait 90+ minutes for food, and split. They have an pretty extensive vegan and vegetarian menu.

Bar 96 is an upscale sports bar with a taco trailer (Bomb Tacos). Clive Bar is, now that Lustre Pearl closed, the quintessential Rainey Street bar, with a wide cocktail selection and craft beers thrown in with low brow cans and bottles. There is some outdoor seating and a fancy indoor bar. Finally, Container Bar is a two-story bar and dance club built from shipping containers (perfectly in character with early 20th century bungalows), that’s only been open for a little over a month. They apparently have a tree-lined courtyard and are contemporary-yet-casual.

So that’s Rainey Street, or what I was able to suss. I apologize if I was overly negative and snarky, please feel free to avail yourselves of other review sites for more details and less bias!

April 17, 2014

An Austinite’s Guide to #SAA2014: Vegetarian and Vegan eats

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , , , , — John @ 11:37 am

At this point, I feel like I should repost this link to my introduction to this series, written back in January, to remind y’all of my perspective (especially if you’re reading this post without any familiarity with me).

As I mentioned there, I’m an omnivore, and while I certainly eat vegetarian and sometimes vegan meals, I don’t generally seek out these places, nor do I pay much attention to the menus at my normal places to see just how veggie/vegan friendly they are. I should note that most places in Austin will have some sort of veggie (if not vegan) option, although you might want to ask about how things are cooked (like beans and tortillas, sometimes cooked with lard), and if there are separate grills, if these things are important to you.

Anyway, I decided to crowdsource on Facebook, and got a lot of helpful answers.

First, the overwhelming favorite place was Schmaltz(or Shhmaltz as their Facebook page says). This is a Austin’s only vegetarian/vegan Jewish sandwich trailer, and is just across the highway from the Convention Center, on Cesar Chavez, behind Farewell Books. They appear to only be open for lunch, 12-4 pm, so plan accordingly. This review from the Austin Chronicle seems to sum up the menu nicely.

A little ways further down Cesar Chavez, but open for dinner (and Saturday and Sunday brunch) as well, is vegan restaurant Counter Culture. This might be a bit of a walk (1.4 miles according to the map), but there is also a bus that runs that way (the #17, capmetro.org for schedule. I’ve only eaten here once, back when it was a trailer, but I enjoyed the Meltdown (“tuna” melt), and I’ve heard numerous rave reviews of the jackfruit BBQ. They also have gluten-free options, soy-free options, and some raw options.

Yet another place on Cesar Chavez, in between Schmaltz and Counter Culture, is Mr. Natural, which is 100% vegetarian. They are open 8-8, so a great option for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They focus on Mexican food, but also have sandwiches, veggie burgers and hot dogs, salads, and smoothies. I’ve had their tofu enchiladas and they were delicious. There is also a bakery for muffins, empanadas, and other goodies to go!

One last spot on Cesar Chavez, although more of the “treat yo self” persuasion, is Capital City Bakery, a 100% vegan bakery. I say treats because this is a dessert bakery, with a selection of cupcakes, cookies, brownies, and cheesecakes. They’re open 10-7, but do sell-out early sometimes (much like a good BBQ place).

One friend recommended Cazamance, a place I’m totally unfamiliar with. Sounds like an interesting mix of African and other cuisines, and has meat options along with veggie and vegan. They’re not far from the Convention Center, but seem to only be open for dinner and late meals (6pm to midnight). To quote my friend: “they have weird hours. although totally worth it!”

A couple of people mentioned Baton Creole, which is just across the highway on east 6th Street, right before you get to all the bars. They have one vegan option and several vegetarian options, but it should be noted (as they did on their Facebook page) that they use a communal fryer for their tofu (as in same fryer as the meats). I haven’t tried this place yet, but Tofu Jambalaya sounds yummy.

Over on the west side of town is Beets Living Foods Cafe, open at 10am. As their name suggests, they are a raw “living” foods restaurant, with a selection of breakfasts, entrees, salads, and smoothies. I’m unfamiliar with this place as well.

As long as you’re over to the west, you can drop in at the flagship Whole Foods grocery for a quick meal. They have a wide variety of sandwiches and salads, a juice bar, a raw foods bar, and of course lots of produce and groceries.

As I mentioned above, many places downtown that aren’t veggie or vegan specific still have great options. These include Koriente, Chi’Lantro BBQ trailer, Yellow Jacket Social Club (the Frito Pie in particular), East Side King (which is at Liberty, the bar where my party is), and Hoboken Pie (although you would want to call an order a whole pie as they don’t usually have vegan slices). I’ll be talking more about most of these places in future posts.

Ranging further from downtown gives you many more options, including one of my favorite places: Bouldin Creek Cafe. I love going here for brunch (The Oven Cake Breakfast or El Tipico), and it’s generally pretty crowded then but open for all meals of the day. They do omelets (with Tofu Scrambler as a Vegan option), tacos, salads, sandwiches (a lot of people rave about the Wanna-BLT), and other hot foods (love the soul food plate). As far as a destination place to go to for veggie/vegan food, Bouldin Creek would be my recommendation, followed by a stop at End of an Ear to buy some music!

Another place south of the river, on South Lamar is Wasota African Cuisine. As they note, most of their dishes are vegan, with no dairy. They have an amazing homemade veggie burger, and the food overall is delicious and can be very spicy!

One friend mentions a food trailer park on North Loop with several vegetarian and vegan places. These include BBQ Revolution (vegan BBQ so you’re not left out!), Unity Vegan Kitchen,Taco Bout It (ha!), which does have some meat options, and Red Rabbit Cooperative Bakery (which also has products at some other places around town, including Houndstooth Coffee on 4th and Congress, not too far from the Convention Center, which I also hear is amazing coffee).

Finally, some places near the University of Texas (Hook ‘em!) campus. First is Veggie Heaven, a campus area standby. They specialize in Asian veggie and vegan cuisine, ranging from stir fry to curry, with lots of vegetables to go with the various veggie proteins. Madam Mam’s is one of the best Thai places in Austin, and offers tofu as an option with almost everything on the menu.

The Vegan Yacht has docked (sorry…) at several locations around town recently and is currently at Spider House Ballroom, on 29th and Guadalupe, and open from 6pm to midnight.

Lastly, another destination place up by campus (I can’t believe I forgot to mention this, and I’ve edited the post because it needed to be added): Wheatsville Co-op! An amazing grocery store and very very veggie and vegan friendly. The deli and prepared foods area has a great selection of sandwiches, tacos, veggie chili and Frito pie rice bowls, salads, and POPCORN TOFU, which is one of the most ridiculously delicious things you will ever eat (by itself or on a po-boy).

Well, that was a lot longer than I thought it would be! As you can see, there are many options for vegans and vegetarians in Austin, so that you can easily enjoy our city, cuisine, and nightlife without much trouble!

April 15, 2014

An Austinite’s Guide to #SAA2014: Tacos and Mexican food

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , , , — John @ 4:00 pm

In my last post, I introduced the concept of tacos, and what a “taco” is in Austin, then proceeded to ramble on about breakfast tacos to the point that lunch/dinner tacos is now being dealt with separately, in this here post. And, I figured I would go ahead and cover Mexican food in general here, because if you like tacos you may well like enchiladas and tortas as well.

A quick recap: tacos are “soft” flour or corn tortillas wrapped around fillings; burritos are bigger and “crunchy tacos” are fried corn tortillas. And a note: I’m trying to focus on places within walking distance (a mile or so) from the Convention Center, with notable exceptions (generally places I personally love or iconic joints).

And with that note, let’s start with the place that you’ve probably had recommended to you by someone who visited Austin within the last couple of years: Torchy’s Tacos. They went from one trailer to places all over town and other Texas cities, which gives you an idea of how popular you are. I’ll be damned if I could tell you why…actually, I take that back, Ask almost anyone and they’ll mention one of two menu items; The Fried Avocado and/or the “Trailer Park” which is a fried chicken taco. Both are perfectly okay twists on a taco, although nothing I wanted to have again. Nothing else stood out as special or worth the price. Obviously, many many others disagree, including my co-worker who likes the green chile pork. None of their locations are super close to the convention center, but the closest are near campus and on South First, both places you may well be visiting anyway.

So, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s talk about my favorite taco place, which also happens to be relatively close to my house and not close to the convention center: Papalote Taco House. Now we’re talking tacos, not gimmicks, although they smartly offer a fried avocado option. The menu includes an array of traditional “street” taco tastes, as well as a number of delicious interior Mexican options. I have had everything here that isn’t mushroom or cauliflower-based and it’s all really tasty. My love of mole generally leads me to the Guajalote en Mole (turkey) and Puerco en Pipian tacos, or a torta (taco fillings in a sandwich) when I’m really crazy. If you are up for travelling a couple of extra miles for the best tacos in Austin, Papalote is my spot. And if you’d like to read the opinion of another Austin archaeologist who is actually an occasional professional food writer, here’s Rachel Feit’s review from 2011.

OK, now to get you closer to the Convention Center. We’ll start with a place that has been getting a lot of buzz both among my taco-loving friends and in general: Veracruz All-Natural. I haven’t had it yet, although I plan on fixing that this week, but here’s what Yelpers have to say. Taco Journalism gave them 4 stars, here’s their video review. They have a location on east Cesar Chavez, not too too far from the Convention Center. Even better, they have a second spot at The Grackle bar, which is across the street from The Liberty, which is where my blogarch and tweet-up party is!

One other chain jumps to mind, in the vein of Torchys: Tacodeli. There’s a lot to like about Tacodeli’s commitment and history, but (in my opinion) not quite so much the food, or at least the limited times I’ve had it. Again, nothing terrible (with the exception of the Mexican mashed potatoes) but the only really good taco I’ve had there is the Frontera Fundido Sirloin. All that said, you might feel otherwise, as many Austinites do.While none of their 3 locations is close to the Convention Center, their breakfast tacos are available at a number of stores around downtown, Central, and south Austin.

Another series of chains you’ll find around town are Taqueria Arandas and Taqueria Arendinas. Both are pretty basic taquerias done in the Jalisco style, which is explained by one of the TacoJournalism guys here. Actually, there are numerous Jalisco style places (it’s often in the name) that would be similar. These aren’t fancy places, are primarily a Hispanic clientele and staff, and are cheap and delicious (with the exception of the East 7th Arandas, apparently, which is an avoid). You can order individual tacos, or a “plate’ that has meats, fixings (generally cheese, lettuce, and tomato, avocado usually extra), beans, rice, and tortillas. I’m a pastor and barbacoa guy myself, but there’s a variety of options.

While I’ve hit the highs (and lows IMO) of taco places, I would say that there are taquerias and taco trucks everywhere. If something smells or looks good that’s near to your hotel, ask the staff if they’ve heard anything, or just try it.

Now, for Mexican food. I’ll try and make this shortish and sweet, and we’ll start with Tex-Mex.

I don’t really eat Tex-Mex. Tex-Mex is things like crispy tacos, cheese enchiladas with beef enchilada sauce, fajitas, and the like. Most people go to them for comfort food, because they like a particular place’s margarita or Mexican martini, or for chips and queso. Now, I love queso, but I can’t drink tequila due to a teenage misfortune, so I’m the wrong person to ask on that.

When I do, it’s with other people, and it’s something like Maudie’s, Chuy’s, or Trudy’s. These are big, well known and loved local chains. Both Maudie’s and Chuy’s have what I think is okay and what others will say is great food. Given the choice, I’d go to Chuys. Neither has places close to the Convention Center though. Trudy’s is extremely popular for their Mexican Martinis and their queso, and a lot of people go there just for happy hour to enjoy those two things, which might be the only good things they have (although I can’t personally speak on the Mexican Martini).

One of the most famed Tex-Mex joints in Austin is Matt’s El Rancho, in south Austin since 1952. I know people who go there specifically for the margaritas, and for the chips and queso. I’ve never been there myself. It’s also not close to the Convention Center, but could be considered a destination stop if Austin icons is your thing. Another iconic place, near campus, is El Patio. It’s been around since 1954 and was said to be Lady Bird Johnson’s favorite place. I love her, but I really disliked this place. Just don’t, unless you’re going for icons.

Speaking of politicans, Democrat and Republican presidents alike have said that Guero’s Taco Bar is their favorite Mexican food in Austin. It’s in a great location on South Congress, pretty close to the Convention Center and in an area you’ll probably want to check out. THAT SAID, I think it’s super bland and overpriced, and usually really crowded as well. They do have a large vegan selection (which I suppose we’ll revisit later in that post).

So where do I eat Tex-Mex? If I were to go on my own, it would be El Azteca, partly because it was the first place I ever ate in Austin, partly because of the kitsch, and partly because they have amazing, spicy salsa. It’s not super close to the Convention Center though.

Interior/traditional Mexican cuisine is more my style, as evidenced by my taco recommendations. This one is easier for me.

First, a place near the Convention center I’m familar with: Manuel’s. This is an upscale, gourmet place, so if you’re looking to impress or on a big expense account, this is one option. They have a really unique, very spicy and savory tortilla soup that might be worth the trip. I honestly don’t have a strong recollection of anything else there.

La Condesa is on the far west edge of “near the Convention Center”, and I wasn’t impressed, but it’s been ranked by among the top 10 Austin restaurants. Another upscale place, with a wide menu.

A new spot that is close to the Convention Center is Licha’s Cantina. It’s a mescal and tequila place with a mid-range priced menu, located in a former house on east 6th street in the East Side bar district. Reviews have been positive and I’ve been meaning to check it out (and might do so tomorrow). Also, a friend of mine bartends there, often during happy hour, and she would love to have some intelligent, worldly customers.


First is Curra’s, one of my favorite places to eat. It’s not close to the Convention Center, but will be pretty close to the hotels on south IH-35 and is worth traveling to! One of their signatures is the Avocado Margarita, which tastes like slightly sweet, tequila-y guacamole (I HAD to try a sip). Their salsas are delicious. And basically everything I’ve had on the menu is delicious. I struggle to choose between carnitas, pastor, cochinita pibil, and the chile colorado. There’s also an amazing brunch. However, this place will get crowded! A willingness to sit inside (tough to want to do in the gorgeous Austin weather) can speed things up.

And last, a hipster favorite and becoming an Austin legend, is Polvo’s. Also not close to the Convention Center, but close to a great place (my favorite place) to buy records. Popular with families, 20 and 30 something hipsters and grad students, easy to find a seat at 5:00 but not at 8:00. Famous for incredibly strong Mexican Martinis, notorious for poor (but not rude) service. Their smoky salsa is to die for, and you can serve yourself from the salsa bar inside. Interior Mexican food that’s admittedly not amazing, but very good. There are a variety of sauces and meats to choose from to build your own enchiladas, as well as their specials. The fajitas are good (see, I eat them sometimes!), although my go to is a Goliath burrito with guisado de puerco or pastor.

Typing all that has made me very very hungry, and hopefully you as well. Feel free to ask questions in the comments, add your own recommendations, or tweet at me!


April 13, 2014

An Austinite’s Guide to #SAA2014: Breakfast Tacos

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , — John @ 1:03 pm

As I mentioned in my previous post, there are two things that you pretty much have to eat while you’re in Austin: BBQ and tacos. BBQ is relatively straight forward, as discussed in the last post. Tacos are a little more complicated, for a number of reasons.

First of all, what we call “tacos” in Austin (and most of Texas) isn’t what other places call “tacos”. Tacos here are made with corn or flour tortillas wrapped around the fillings, or what other places might call “soft tacos” or “street tacos; whereas we call fried corn tortilla shells “crunchy tacos.” There’s also something called “puffy tacos” which is more of a San Antonio thing. Also, what we call “burritos” are the large things like Mission-style burritos, or what you get at Chipotle.

So, when I talk about tacos, I’m talking soft tortillas. The crunchy kind are more of a Tex-Mex thing, and while I enjoy them very occasionally, it’s not something I really seek out or crave. So now that we have that down, there are two kinds of tacos: breakfast tacos and lunch/dinner tacos, which you can usually get at breakfast too, to make things a little more tricky :)

This post will cover just breakfast tacos, as it’s gotten a little long. A subsequent post will cover lunch and dinner tacos.

Before I get down to my opinions and recommendations, do yourself a favor and click over to Taco Journalism, bookmark it, follow them on Twitter (while in Austin anyway), and spend some time reading their reviews. These guys literally wrote the book on breakfast tacos in Austin.

Speaking of, I was asked on Twitter for a tutorial on breakfast tacos. One question people always ask is : Where can I get the best breakfast tacos in Austin? That’s easy: my house! I make the best breakfast tacos in Austin. But I can’t cook for all y’all and I’ll be staying downtown, so we’ll move on.

Breakfast tacos are both simple and complicated at the same time. You take a flour tortilla (rarely see them with corn), throw in some breakfast ingredients, and enjoy! Most places will start with a a list of two or three basic ingredients: egg and bacon, egg and sausage, egg and chorizo, egg and potato, bean and cheese. From there, you can add on fillings for a little extra. So, you can get egg, chorizo, potato, and cheese. Your basic 3-4 ingredient should run you around 2 bucks. Some places have 3/$2 tacos, but usually this is for 3 of the same kind with no extras. ALL PLACES should give you some salsa to put on the taco, and many will have at least two (red and green, with green often the spicier).

And here’s where I let you in on a little secret: most breakfast tacos taste the same. Most places use the same sausage (more or less), the same chorizo, the same eggs, the same cheese. There’s generally no seasoning in the eggs or potatoes. What distinguishes one place from another are two things: tortillas and salsa. Some places have fresh, homemade tortillas while others get them from a bakery (which isn’t a bad thing, but it makes a difference). Salsas can be a matter of taste, depending on your preferred levels of spiciness, garlic, onion, tomatoes, etc.

And for a second little secret: I don’t really go out for breakfast tacos! Usually, when I go out for Mexican breakfast or brunch, I order migas (cheesy scrambled eggs with tortilla chips and salsa) or some variation of spicy scrambled egss. I then wrap those in tortillas to make tacos.

I used to sometimes go to Tamale House #3, which isn’t that close to the Convention Center. But that was mainly because they were big and cheap, and I liked the salsa. Tamale House East is from the same family, and follows the same pattern, and is close to downtown, on east 6th (and near The Liberty). They also are open late on weekends.

Another place a lot of people like to go is Juan in a Million, on east Cesar Chavez. It was featured on Man vs. Food for the Don Juan Taco, which is a giant mound of eggs, cheese, potatoes, and bacon. It comes with 2 tortillas but I usually order two extra, because one Don Juan plate makes 4 tacos. It’s pretty tasty and VERY filling, and you also get the best handshake in Austin from Juan himself.

And then there’s Cisco’s, an Austin legend and place where a lot of politicians like to eat. I ate there during SXSW and was unimpressed, so take that as you will.

In conclusion, enjoy some breakfast tacos while in town, and browse the Taco Journalism blog for the best options nearest to you!


April 10, 2014

An Austinite’s Guide to #SAA2014: BBQ

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , , — John @ 8:45 pm

Well, the SAAs are only 2 weeks away, so I assume everyone has made their travel and lodging arrangements and is thinking about eating and parties. I know I am, and I live there! So we’ll ramp this blog back up and try and cover all the food and drink and entertainment basics in time for you to enjoy the SAAs in Austin to their fullest!

When you come to Austin, there are two things you pretty much have to eat at some point: BBQ and tacos. These are the things that everyone has already probably started telling you about. The things where, if you go back and tell people you were in Austin, they’re gonna say “Oh, did you have BBQ and tacos (maybe even breakfast tacos)?”, and you’re going to want to say “hell yes I did!”

Of course Austin is a big city now, covering a lot of area, so I’ll focus on options pretty close to the convention center, As in a mile or so walking distance, after all we’re archaeologists, we’re used to walking!

For now, let’s start with barbecue. As a note, Central Texas BBQ focuses on the “Texas Trinity”, which is brisket, pork ribs, and sausage. They should be slow smoked, and sauce is considered something that is an add-on, not a part of the BBQ. Brisket (in my ideal) comes with the bark on (the crusty exterior where the seasoning is), and can be ordered lean/dry or fatty/moist. Try some by itself, and then make a fold using the pickles, onions, and white bread that comes with it.

Lucky for you, four of the best BBQ options in Austin are within walking distance! Don’t take my word for it, check the BBQ Snob’s Top 50 in Texas list (although technically Mickelthwait is #51).

In no particular order:

Franklin Barbecue- 900 E. 11th

aka #1 on the list, winner of many awards and accolades, the best brisket in the world. Seriously amazing, and my favorite (sorry Tom and Mark), but it comes with a price: THE LINE. If you want to eat Franklin BBQ, which opens at 11 am, you will need to be in line by 9 am, and maybe as early as 8 on the weekends. If you’re not there by 11 at the latest, you probably won’t get food (or at least brisket, which is the whole point). If you are near the back, you might not eat until 1 or later. Yes, 4-5 hours in line. You can BYOB, bring a chair, and they also sell beer in line. It’s a nice place to meet people. BUT, you will basically be sacrificing a good chunk of one day of the SAAs to eat there.

Mickelthwait Craft Meats – 1309 E Rosewood Avenue

Down the road from Franklin, one of the many great food trailers we have in Austin. There is sometimes a line around opening (11 am) to noon, especially on weekends, but not long and moves pretty fast. Tom has the best beef rib in Austin, great brisket and pulled pork and amazing ribs. The sausage, however, is their specialty. They’re handmade from Tom’s recipes, and may include things like lamb, duck, and pork belly. You won’t usually know until you get there. They also have my favorite sides, including jalapeno cheese grits! Finally, have a homemade whoopie pie to finish your meal. They’re BYOB, and there’s a convenience store practically next door. Also a great outdoor seating area of picnic tables on a nice day. Last, but not least, they stay open later on Wednesday through Saturday (as late as 8, or until they sell out) so dinner there is an option.

John Mueller Meat Co. – 2500 E 6th St

John Mueller is a legend in Austin BBQ, both for his meats and his brusque demeanor. His BBQ trailer is on east 6th, closer to the bars (but past them). He’s also well known for his beef rib (and refused to enter the Austin Chronicle Beef Rib competition) and brisket. I have to admit, I’ve only had his food once, and that was catered at a tailgate so not the way it was intended. But he has his devoted fans and consistently ranks among the best in Texas. Also note that John Mueller stays open until 6 (or until sold out), so they are a late afternoon option as well. I think they sell beer there?

la Barbecue – 1200 E 6th St.

They call themselves “Cuisine Texicana” (see the webpage). They are the closest place to the Convention Center (worth eating) and right in the middle of the EastSide bar crawl. There is an interesting history here: La is owned by John Mueller’s sister LeAnn, and John was the original cook (he doesn’t want to be called pit boss) at what was called JMuellers. At some point, they stole (my words) John Lewis from Franklin, and then LeAnn fired John, which lead to this place being called la, and John opening his trailer. Then, la moved from their South First St location (closer to my house) onto East Sixth. ANYWAY, I’ve actually only had La once, when it was JMueller, and I don’t know who was the cook that day but it was excellent but not amazing and maybe a little overseasoned. Another place constantly ranked high with diehard fans, and also a close lunch option during the meetings (another place open 11 am till sold out).

And a place I’ve heard about and gets good buzz, but haven’t been at all is Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ, on 600 West 6th Street behind Star Bar. One nice thing about here is that they’re open late (mostly bar hours to feed the hungry drunks of west Austin). Another is that you can enjoy BBQ, or tacos, or both (they have a brisket taco). Looking at the menu, I might even try this by the time the SAAs roll around, even if it means going into yuppie bro-ville. And, speaking of tacos, the next entry (hopefully on Friday) will cover the other favorite food of Austin: TACOS.

Some final notes on BBQ.

People might mention Salt Lick. If you have a car and want a Texas-y place in a beautiful Hill Country setting (and BYOB) then you might consider a dinner at Salt Lick. But the food there is average. It’s an experience place, not a gastronomical delight.

The Iron Works is right by the convention center. Convenience is the only thing it has going. It’s not good.

Stubb’s is a huge place on River on the edge of the entertainment district, and has a huge outdoor music venue and smaller indoor place. They sell great sauces at the grocery store, and you might stop by HEB and pick up a bottle of theirs, and some Franklin sauce too. But the barbecue is average at best. You can do better nearby, especially at lunch.

There are BBQ trailers set up around downtown catering to the bar crowds. I’ve never had any. The smoke smells good, and if you’re out at 11 pm and craving a chopped or sliced beef sandwich you might give them a try. But no guarantees.

March 26, 2014

National Geographic use metal detectors, find new low

Filed under: archaeology — John @ 8:35 am


Wow, and I thought the American versions of these shows were awful…

Originally posted on conflict antiquities:

In what may be the most grotesque Third Reich-themed “edutainment”/”infotainment” show yet, National Geographic Channels International and ClearStory have filmed Nazi War Diggers . It is not about sappers. In this programme, you can watch metal-detecting antiquities dealers perform ‘human bone removal’ – ‘ hunt for relics and bodies’, the ‘ remains of soldiers from both sides’. National Geographic has urgent ethical and legal questions to answer.

View original 333 more words

March 24, 2014

10 years ago my Grampy passed

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , , — John @ 9:28 pm

My aunt posted on Facebook this morning that it was 10 years ago today that my Grampy, Elbert Brubaker, died. He was my grandfather on my mothers side, and spent almost all of his adult life as a farmer in southwestern Ohio, around the town of Gratis.


According to the search function, I’ve mentioned him twice before on this blog. Once was a reference to wearing one of his “gimme” hats in the field. The other was actually a brief reference to his death, and the fact that I was at field school in Belize when it happened. I made a brief reference on my old Livejournal, a couple of days after it happened (not linking there). For some reason, I really feel like I’ve written the longer story before, but I sure can’t find it, so here it goes while it’s on my mind.

I was working at my second field school, doing the spring 2004 semester at the Programme for Belize Archaeological Program at the PFB Ecoreserve. We were roughly two months into the 3 month season, and I wasn’t very happy. There’s no sense in going into the reasons now.

Around 10:30 or so in the morning, on Wednesday March 24, 2004, we were out on the site, about 5 minutes from the field camp. It was really a pretty normal day, until Dr. Valdez showed up out of nowhere with a serious look on his face and says, “John, I need to talk to you privately.” Well, I figured the worst, that I had finally done something to piss him off enough to send me home. Or maybe he decided that he had to do something about the barely surreptitious relationship that was going on. Either way, I figured I was toast.

So I was caught off-guard when he said “John, I’m sorry to tell you that your mother just called, and your grandfather passed away this morning.” He offered to take me in to town so that I could call her, and make travel arrangements, and assured me that someone would take me into Belize City and pick me up. I was stunned. I had honestly forgotten that my Grampy had severe cancer, and had already lived months longer than the initial 6-month frame he had been given.

I went back to the site and told a couple of my friends what had happened, then packed my stuff and went back to camp. We got to the place in town where we used the phone and the internet (which was a new feature in Blue Creek in 2004), and I called my mom and told her I was going to come to the funeral. She told me not to worry about it, but it wasn’t an option for me. Then I called the ticket desk at the Belize City airport and got to talk with the nicest, most helpful woman who went way out of her way to make sure I got home as soon as possible, leaving early the next day.

After this was done, I returned to the camp. It was only about 12-12:30 at this point, meaning no one would be back from the field for a few hours. Rather than sit alone being sad at the camp, I decided I wanted to go back out on site, where I would be with my friends and others, and have something to help occupy my mind. So I walked back out and joined back in the dig.

Unfortunately, within about 20 minutes I got bit on the hand by a Doctor fly. Before that, the bites had hurt a lot and swelled up briefly, but went away quickly. This time, for whatever reason, my hand started swelling really badly. Within a couple of minutes, it was the size of a small boxing glove, or like the gloves that MMA fighters wear. It was also hot, and hurt. I couldn’t dig, and I was on the verge of losing it.

I was basically ordered back to camp, where I took a dose of the ol’ Benadryl and slept the rest of the afternoon. The swelling went down in my hand, but it still was sore and not 100% back to normal size. I ate, and packed what things I needed to take with me to Ohio. This was going to be a bit of a shock, since I mostly had dirty field clothes and some casual clothes more suited for a tropical climate like the jungles of Belize, rather than the early spring chill of Ohio.

The next morning I was to the airport, and on my way. There wasn’t a huge turn-around time between when I landed in Houston and my connecting flight to Ohio, and Customs stood in between. I don’t know if it’s just Houston, or if it was a particular circumstance involving a lot of international flights landing at once, but Customs took forever. I was in line, staring at the clock, watching the minutes tick away, on the verge of tears. I finally got through with no time to spare, and took off in a sprint for my gate.

I’ve certainly run faster, and longer, but not that fast for that long. I got to the gate right as the door was closing, and tears started running down my face. I told the attendant that I was on my way to my grandfather’s funeral, that i was coming from Belize and that Customs took forever. Whether it was just kindness and sympathy, or the tears, she opened the door and I basically collapsed in my seat, physically and emotionally exhausted.

I wrote back in 2007, “These occasions are weird, because it’s a sad time, but it’s also something like a family reunion and so everyone is usually pretty happy to see each other for the first time in a while.” That’s been my experience anyway, and that’s kinda what it was like when I landed in Ohio and walked out to my family waiting for me. There were tears, but more smiles and laughs. Sadness and joy coexisted, almost comfortably.

I was actually able to find a nice set of clothes and dress shoes at a thrift store in Dayton, along with some warmer clothes and a couple of fun t-shirts. I ended up heading back to Belize about 5 pounds heavier and with an extra suitcase, and eventually finished the field season before embarking on what would be my career as a Texas archaeologist.

January 28, 2014

Blogging Archaeology #blogarch Carnival 2014: Best and Worst

Here it is, late January. I’m on a 4-hour weather delay at work, as the Austin roads are iced over and there are scores of accidents and closures. I have on April March and Los Cincos, my go-to “gray, wet, and cold” weather album. Seems as good a time as any to write my January post for Doug’s Blogging Archaeology 2014 Carnival.


Click here for a link to a summary of the December responses, which was on “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”. At the bottom of the page, Doug has the January question: “What are your best (or if you want your worst) post(s) and why? Compare and contrast your different bests/worsts.”

As Doug mentioned in the comments to my December post, I basically anticipated (and already answered) this question:

“My stats are pretty depressing, even when I was blogging pretty regularly. I have less than 15,000 total views. My most popular post, which  detailed some of the section 106 process and talked about how sites are both a dream and a nightmare, has 390 views. My favorite post has 113. I have gotten a lot of recent views for my Rising Star Expedition post, helped in part by Twitter promotion and retweets”

So my most viewed post is a pretty good one, and I’m happy that it has so many views. In terms of using my blog for outreach and public archaeology, it’s an excellent example of what CRM archaeologists do, and what our discoveries can mean for our clients. I felt like I did a good job of sharing the excitement of discovery and the disappointment most CRM archaeologists get knowing that finding a cool site doesn’t mean you get to dig on it (and for the sites in the blog post, the client opted to do a very long, expensive directional drill underneath them as an avoidance measure). I suspect that some of the hits come from the fact that I’ve pinged back to it in several other posts, and that it was shared on Colleen’s Four Stone Hearth compendium. But maybe some came from people looking for info on Section 106.

My favorite post is named after my favorite Ice Cube song: Today was a Good Day. It describes a typical day in the field that turns into a wonderful, atypical adventure. It’s my favorite for several reasons. First of all, it was just an excellent little adventure, getting to ride around in a WWII surplus jeep with an old rodeo cowboy (spoiler, if you didn’t read the original). Secondly, I felt like it gave a sense of what kind of people you can run into in the field, and that they’re not all bad. This is especially important to me for Texas, because so much of the country has a low opinion of Texas, particularly outside of Austin. Even a lot of Austinites can be snobbish about the rest of the state. Finally, I feel like I did an excellent job of telling the story (he says immodestly), especially once I remembered to add the punchline. I suppose I should also add that that particular day was probably the first good day for me in weeks, following a terrible stretch of fieldwork that almost broke me AND then getting separated from my now ex-wife.

My worst post could be any of the placeholders I put up promising to blog more soon, and then not following up. One might think these would motivate me to actually post more.

But in my December post, I specifically mentioned a post I made that was a little more emotional and personal than usual, and directly referenced a co-worker (although not by name). It related to concepts of masculinity, and feeling like I was occasionally slighted for not being traditionally masculine (in the big strapping lad sense) and treated differently for my slight stature (even though I’m pretty much at the median height and below weight). The bad part was that another co-worker saw it and replied, and defended the other person and essentially said I was making a big deal out of nothing (my interpretation, not necessarily their intention). It made things a little rougher and more awkward at work at a time when I was already struggling. It also reminded me that I needed to be careful what I said about work and co-workers, which essentially made me stop blogging during my really negative stretch at work (when realistically I really could have used the outlet). I didn’t link back to the original post because I’m over it, I’m sure you can find it if you really want.

Looking forward to next month’s question! Meanwhile, stay tuned for more of my “Austinite’s Guide to #SAA2014″


January 17, 2014

An Austinite’s Guide to #SAA2014: Lodging and getting around

Filed under: archaeology, archeology — Tags: , , , , — John @ 11:34 am

Hi y’all!

Note: we say y’all in Texas. Very few people, besides Aggies, say “Howdy”. There’s your language lesson for the week :)

After doing some research, I thought it might be best to combine lodging and transportation in a single post. This is because most of the lodging options near the convention center (ie walking distance) are pretty expensive, and I was tasked with finding cheaper lodging. Note that, as often happens, most of the downtown hotels have jacked their prices up during the convention weekend. I should also note that the downtown hotels are never really cheap (besides the La Quinta, which SAA took over for student housing), and the trend has been to build upscale/”hip” boutique hotels in the area.


First, if you are a member of Hosteling International, and/or not opposed to staying in a hostel, there is one located walking distance from the convention center, on Lakeshore Boulevard: http://www.hihostels.com/dba/hostel060035.en.htm?himap=Y#book. I’m surprised that this actually has availability that weekend, so maybe jump on that (and I may have to edit this in a week). I have never stayed here but have driven by it a number of times, and it seems to have decent ratings.

A number of people have mentioned finding a room or place from sites like AirBnB or HomeAway. I have never used these services (and it looks like there is a lot of overlap of listings between the 2) and don’t consider my listing of these any type of endorsement. There are some places walking distance, or easy mass transit distance from the convention center listed. I wouldn’t stay further south than William Cannon (and really, not further than Ben White Boulevard/290 West), further west than Lamar Boulevard or MOPAC (Loop 1), further east than Chicon Ave (and only in the immediate downtown area), and further north than St. Johns (which is kinda pushing it). Please check the “Getting around” section below for more details!

UPDATE 1/27/14: THE AUSTIN MOTEL IS NOW COMPLETELY BOOKED FOR THE SAA 2014 WEEKEND. One pretty cool place that I actually HAVE stayed, that is walking distance to the Convention Center is The Austin Motel. This place is something of an Austin icon (and not just for the phallic sign). You’ll have to call to check on availability (and it’s entirely possible it’s already booked solid), but there are some single rooms for under $100 a night, and if you have a roommate there are lots of two bed options. Each room has it’s own theme. It’s also located on funky/hip South Congress, so lots of restaurants and bars and shopping in the area.

Another place I’m familar with is Habitat Suites. This place isn’t walking distance (but on a transit line), and not really in an ideal location (by a failing mall) but it’s a great hotel, and a room for 1 is $99/night during the conference (or one with a sofa bed for $109). One proviso: if you stay out after midnight, you’ll be taking a cab here. On the plus side, they have an amazing free breakfast!!

Some other options (between 90 and 130 bucks per night before taxes) are around the UT Campus. I have no idea how nice those places are, but they’re all the lower scale “name” hotels: Days Inn and Rodeway Inn. Both are walkable, but not the nicest walk (along the highway) and I can’t vouch for the safety of this walk. There are buses that can get you close (again, check the section of Getting Around).

After that, you’re looking at the cluster of hotels on the SW side of the IH-35 and US-290 intersection, or along IH-35 south of the river. There are a range of options, from Motel 6 to Embassy Suites. If these places don’t offer shuttles (and I can’t tell/don’t want to look at every one of them), you will likely be taking a taxi or walking a bit to get to a bus stop.


This section will be important in helping to choose lodging.

First, as I stated above: I wouldn’t stay further south than William Cannon (and really, not further than Ben White Boulevard/290 West), further west than Lamar Boulevard or MOPAC (Loop 1), further east than Chicon Ave (and only in the immediate downtown area), and further north than St. Johns (which is kinda pushing it). Anywhere further than that and you will need to rent a car or pay for cabs. And you might have to do some cabbing anyway, because…

Austin’s dirty secret is that we have below standard public transportation (although it’s getting better), particularly when it comes to late night travel. Particularly for a progressive city that is now the 11th largest in the US. For a city that calls itself the Live Music Capitol of the World (still justifiably so) and promotes itself as an entertainment destination, if you stay out late and don’t want to drive/don’t have a car, you may be screwed or have to shell out some money. There are a limited number of late night buses on the weekends. These fill up fast, don’t go everywhere, and you may show up at 2am and not get on one until 4am. We have trains that run to the suburbs, and to a couple of the hip new developments. These also don’t run late.

Here’s the link to the Capital Metro website: http://www.capmetro.org/default.aspx. From here, you can look at maps and schedules, and plan your ride. For funsies, go ahead and enter your possible hotel/room location and the Convention Center, and check on various to and from trips, at different times. As an example, there is no bus that can get you within 3/4 mile of the campus area motels after midnight on the weekend.

So cabs. Here is a link to taxi fare info for Austin: http://www.yellowcabaustin.com/fare_info.aspx. From here, you can go to a fare generator. This should be very helpful in figuring out transportation costs from various lodging options. The trip from the Convention Center to the campus area hotels costs $10.53 (including the $1 surcharge for trips after 9pm, and not counting tip). It’s $16.50 to the hotels around 290.

One possible option is to use Car2Go, which is a Smart Car share program. You have to be a member, and please don’t do this if you are intoxicated! But, for trips within the center city and even to the edges of what can be considered the urban core (alas, my own house is just south) it could be an excellent option for getting around relatively affordably.


Downtown Austin is very walkable, especially for us CRM archaeologists used to walking 5-7 miles a day with heavy packs (sorry, a little good-natured rib at my academic counterparts). I consider anything within about 2 miles to be walking distance.

First, let’s talk safety. I consider Austin a pretty safe city, especially for being around a million people. Downtown is also very safe, although of course crimes do occur. You’re more likely to have to deal with drunk college students than muggers, but it happens. Click here for a link to the official 2012 crime statistics from the city website. The downtown zip code is 78701. The numbers are high, but remember this is a high activity entertainment district. The best advice is that which applies to any city. Be street smart: be aware of your surroundings, try and stay in well lit areas, travel in groups when you can. Once you’re away from the convention center or the immediate area: TAKE OFF YOUR BADGE. Especially late at night. Put it back on at the bar/restaurant if you want to meet people.

If you don’t feel like walking, or want to do something different, there are options. First, downtown is full of pedicabs. You tell the operator where you want to go and they’ll tell you how much it costs. Most have music and a sense of fun. It’s a good option to get someplace in a hurry, or just take a load off your feet, but it’s not super cheap.

A newer option (and something I haven’t tried yet) is the Austin B-Cycle bike share program. You can get an annual membership, OR purchase a daily or weekly pass (probably the best option for the SAA goer). You can ride the bike around and return it to any station (this is the critical part, it must be returned to a station to end the service time); the first 30 minutes is free. For getting around the immediate downtown vicinity, this seems like it might be a great option.

SO…that’s a lot of basic information! Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer, or shoot me a tweet at twitter.com/archaeocore (you can use that handy little widget on the side too)!

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