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.