In a town that doesn’t do things by the half measure (think thousands of music fans swarming the streets for film festival South by Southwest or the 106,000-seat football stadium), you can be sure that the same goes for food. Austin is a city which boasts some of the greatest barbecue in America, as well as a host of independent restaurants and fast food trucks on any given street which will unanimously confirm that everything in Texas is, indeed, bigger.
No place epitomises this more so than Franklin’s, the legendary Austin BBQ establishment that’s been featured on just about every food network show there is; but Franklin’s is more famous for the experience than anything else — every day of the week, without fail, a line will form from the entrance and snake right round to the back of the restaurant. You have to get there before 10am or your chances of being let in become incredibly slim — I arrived at 9.30 and didn’t make it through the doors until well after midday. On the plus side of having to wait three hours for food, you get to experience that true American pastime that is ‘tailgating’ as Franklin’s roll out the deck chairs, equipped with drink holders so you can get a buzz on to pass the time. And when you get in, the sides and the schnitzels are great, but do yourself a favour and get a pound of brisket meat. It’s cooked slowly for around twenty-four hours and is only nice to eat for the first hour after it’s taken out, which is why Franklin’s is only open for such a short period over lunch every day. This may well be the best brisket in the world, so really, sitting around drinking beer isn’t the worst way you could spend a morning while you wait for it.
One of Austin’s more appealing qualities is that it’s distinctly unlike other American or Texan cities, in that the downtown area is very walkable. Franklin’s is only fifteen minutes or so from the bars and buzz of 6th Street and there are a number of other great restaurants in the downtown district such as Gus’ on 2nd, who fry their chicken in peanut butter oil — heavenly. American football fans will remember Vince Young as the talented quarterback who led Texas to victory in the National Championship game a few years back but his new venture, the aptly named Vince Young Steakhouse brought more joy to me with its great quality beef and massive portions than seeing him scamper past the USC defence to win the trophy — even the ridiculous amount of American cheese they loaded onto the potato gratin didn’t ruin one of the best rib eye steaks I’ve had the pleasure of eating. This is pricey but seriously good food.
Vince Young at his steakhouse source: 365thingsaustin
If you walk around downtown enough, you can also stumble upon any number of food trucks serving quality cuisines from the world over. Most are open really late to cater for the stumbling drunk crowd that inevitably forms around 6th Street in the wee hours of the following mornings.
Much like getting blind drunk, Whataburger is a Texas institution. As locals will tell you, ‘It’s our answer to that In N’ Out Burger garbage’ but, being in a decent position to judge American fast food, I can’t say it really has anything on In N’ Out, Five Guys et al. For Austin’s ‘Best Burger in Town’ (officially voted), head across the river to the Hopdoddy Burger Bar on South Congress — without fail the tastiest you’ll have in Austin. If you’re not really too keen on having another burger while you’re travelling, at least go there for the parmesan truffle fries, a ridiculous creation which is as good as it sounds.
An authentic taste of America wouldn’t be authentic without visiting an ice cream shop, of which Austin has many: my pick would be Amy’s, which has three central locations and whose servers make every trip a fun event. (Side note: I was chided by them for ordering plain ice cream). The locals prefer to ‘load up’ their cups with a variety of toppings, ranging from gummy bears to chocolate drops, and the servers will put on a royal show for you as they mix these extras into your cup.
Amy’s Ice Cream – source: David Ingram
As with all the establishments mentioned, Amy’s is a local business and you really get a taste of that welcoming, Southern hospitality here. The same can be said for the best-named restaurant in town —and probably in history — Juan in a Million. They serve up monster breakfast burritos for ridiculously low prices and the portly, smiling figure of Juan himself is often on hand to personally thank you for visiting. The lack of chain restaurants in Austin is a pleasant change, and it’s these little intricacies of the local joints that grew on me; forget the music and sport (for a minute) — this is a foodie town first.
Featured photo © Philip Kromer