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I have a bunch of friends going down to the SXSW music festival this year and was looking to cobble a list of five Must-Try places to eat in in Austin. (This may end up on my blog, which is about music and food.) BBQ and Mexican (including a definitive place for migas, if there is a consensus on that), obviously, but anything awesome and relatively affordable is welcome.

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You might want a do a quick search, as there have been a handful of 'must try' Austin threads over the past year.

 

Best migas - Las Manitas on Congress. Just had breakfast there the other day, as a matter of fact. Great juice. And killer refried beans.

 

Best BBQ - Kreuz Market in Lockhart, about 30 minutes from downtown Austin. In Austin, I like Ruby's, among others.

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Best BBQ - Kreuz Market in Lockhart, about 30 minutes from downtown Austin.

I agree that the quick jaunt down to Lockhart is a MUST DO! And, if you can, sample a little from Kreuz, Smitty's, and Black's.

 

But, if you can only do one, there is simply, absolutely, positively no choice.

 

You must make it Smitty's.

 

The Smitty's building (which is the site of the old Kreuz Market that opened in 1900 and there's a grand story and if you don't know it let me know and I'll link to it) is the World Temple of BBQ. Walking through it is like walking on hallowed ground. And I mean seriously. The first time I went there, I actually found myself speaking in hushed tones, as though I had entered a church or something.

 

Of course, now I'm as loud and obnoxious there as I am everywhere else.

 

But still, you absolutely must go there. It's a quick drive south from Austin -- about 20 minutes from the airport on good highway. And be sure to walk through the whole building. A magical place.

 

And as for the quality of the BBQ, you cannot get any two Texans to agree as to who has the "best." And that's for many reasons, including not only each individual's personal taste and preference, but also the organic and inexact nature of the meat, and the smoking process. There are no uniform manufacturing standards when it comes to raising animals. You just do the best you can. And both Smitty's and Kreuz are on most folks' 'top five list,' every year.

 

The last two times I went to Kreuz, the brisket was inedible, it was so dry. In fact, I was going to just toss it, but instead brought it home and whirled it around in the food processor with some BBQ sauce to make chopped BBQ for sandwiches (which frankly, is considered sacrilege among most Texans). Although in previous years, I visited Kreuz often, and it was terrific.

 

You're really better off going to at least two, and preferably three, of the Lockhart 'joints' and getting a sample at each.

 

But DO NOT MISS SMITTY'S.

 

Got that? :unsure:

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Coffee at Ruta Maya. They just got a mention in Savuer as one of the 5 best places in the US to drink cofffee.

 

Go to Central Market and browse. You won't find another store like it in the country.

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Jaymes, did you ask for fatty brisket at Kreuz's? I find that makes all the difference.

 

I put Smitty's a notch lower, but like you said, it's hard to find two Texans who agree on such things.

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Best migas - Las Manitas on Congress. Just had breakfast there the other day, as a matter of fact. Great juice. And killer refried beans.

I'm betting I'm in the minority here, since even my husband likes this place, but I went there once when we first moved to Austin and loathed it. I'm sure I wouldn't like it any better now. Going out to breakfast makes me want comforting things, and I remember the coffee being acidic and 'thin', and when I ordered a soda instead, my Diet Coke was served in the can with a plastic glass with ice on the side. Just doesn't do it for me. And at least on that day, the migas were nothing to write home about (and I like migas a lot). I was also non-plussed by the general atmosphere and rushed feeling of the whole experience. In other words, I've hardly ever been so relieved to get out of a restaurant. Not to mention how annoying I find it to be nickel-and-dimed for every little thing you ask for, like a condiment that should've been included with the price of the meal... :unsure:

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You must make it Smitty's.

Hey Jaymes, how goes it?!

 

I'm with you on Smitty's all the way. It was my favorite place in town... :unsure:

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If the SXSWers don't have time for a road trip and need to stay in town, here are my top picks.

 

La Traviata -- easy access, tiny, great food, fun scene.

 

Starlite -- again, downtown, great food, good people watching

 

Uchi -- a cab ride, but worth it. The best Japanese food and sushi near downtown

 

Vespaio -- Good scene, great food

 

That's my list of hip and trendy places which are pretty easily accessible from downtown and serve great food. If you want to do the barbecue roadtrip and don't want to drive all the way to some tiny town nearby, I suggest Salt Lick. It's not as far as Lockhart and definitely has a fun scene (as opposed to Lockhart, which has none).

Salt Lick is an Austin institution. Granted, there are probably dives with better barbecue that you eat with your fingers and a slab of wonder bread, but Salt Lick is tons more fun.

 

The other places I mentioned are dinnerish places. I'm totally with Steven on the Las Manitas suggestion. It fills your Migas request and is close by and practical for SXSWers.

 

I also second Phil's suggestion of Ruta Maya. If you want to witness the true spirit of Austin, stop in anytime. Nice cross-section of the city on ANY given day.

 

Definitely don't let them come to Austin without visiting Whole Foods or Central Market. Feel free to PM me if you want more info.

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Jaymes, did you ask for fatty brisket at Kreuz's?  I find that makes all the difference.

 

I put Smitty's a notch lower, but like you said, it's hard to find two Texans who agree on such things.

I've been at this 'BBQ thang' for a damn long time, decades and decades literally. And I do always ask for the 'wet' or 'fatty' end. And I eat a LOT of BBQ and I stand by my contention that once you find yourself in the very top echelon of places, which both Smitty's and Kreuz are, it's pretty much impossible to say that one or the other place will be better on any given day. I just don't think you can. It varies.

 

Things like sauce, which are always made from a list of controllable ingredients, may suit one's palate at one particular place, every day, day after day. But I just don't think you can say that about the meat.

 

If I had to choose one, though (which I never do), to either go to myself or recommend to others, I would say that I find the brisket at Smitty's to usually be better, to my personal preference anyway, than at Kreuz. Although even given that, I never put all my money on it. When I drive to Lockhart, I always get some brisket from Smitty's, Kreuz and Black's. I feel like I'm hedging my bets and upping my odds that that particular day, I'll wind up with something fantastic.

 

I also get some pork chops, hot links, clod.... A nice little selection to haul back home.

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You must make it Smitty's.

Hey Jaymes, how goes it?!

 

I'm with you on Smitty's all the way. It was my favorite place in town... ;)

Terrific, and I've been following your madcap adventures from afar. I think I've offered my congratulations elsewhere on all of your good news, but let me add it here as well.

 

Next time I'm 'home,' we'll have to do a 'do' at Smitty's, okay?

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Uchi and its chef were featured in my Food Arts magazine which just came today.

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I FINALLY made it to Uchi - my son and I had their tasting menu. 9 courses, beginning with seaweed salad, moving on through various lovely raw fish, then grilled quail, then foie gras and ending with lychee sorbet quenelles on basil leaves.

 

It easily made my "10 best meals in my life" list. I even passed on the sake so that I could concentrate on the food.

 

It honestly wasn't that expensive - think "Austin expensive" as opposed to New York for the same meal! Tyson Cole worked the room and chatted about his food with us for a long time. (AND, by the way: he shops the seafood counter at Central Market all the time. Told me he LOVES the store and stays away from The Place That Shall Not Be Named. So HA.....!)

 

My only problem with Uchi is that I was also easily the oldest woman there and the only one without a boob job.

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My only problem with Uchi is that I was also easily the oldest woman there and the only one without a boob job.

One of which, of course, you could do something about, if you really wanted. Although at this late date, the standard equipment seems to have done its job quite nicely. ;)

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Nobody's mentioned Fonda San Miguel. I guess that's because we all figure it's been mentioned to death and thus is 'breaking news' to nobody.

 

But just in case neither you nor your friends have heard of it....definitely put Fonda San Miguel on your list of 'top five places to try in Austin.'

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