Lots of good eating out here in Austin this year. While it's true that I had my best meals elsewhere [ Istanbul, Budapest, Cincinnati ] Austin still managed to put out some pretty serious chow for me.
While new restaurants fell from the sky like the fabled tacos of East Austin, it was my old favorites that provided most, but not all, of my quotient of intense deliciousness.
But first the new:
Fine Dining: Odd Duck Farm To Trailer pulls off the neat trick of doing fine dining from a cart on a gravel parking lot. You can run the table on the entire menu for about $30 bucks. Best pork dish, best grilled vegetables, best egg dish, best quail dish...the list goes on. Their chef is at the top of his game and he still has room to improve. Scary.
1219 S Lamar Blvd 512-695-6922
Barbecue: Finally Austin has a Lockhart/Taylor level barbecue joint in Franklin Barbecue. Sublime fatty brisket, ribs with a good tug to them and sauce that enhances the meat instead of masking it. Pit boss Aaron Franklin has come a long way from his days in the kitchen at Little City on the drag.
3421 N IH 35 512-653-1187
Runner Up: Sam's Barbecue Queens Veronica and Waunda's passing has not slowed the Mays family from their appointed rounds. This is where I come for the best smoked chicken in Austin, camaraderie from the counter man and an always good dessert of the day.
2000 E 12th St 512-478-0378
Sandwich: Annie's on Congress is currently putting out the finest sandwich in town. I made many trips to her cafe for her Italian wedge stacked up with hot meat, cheese and a New Orleans level olive spread. While it's reputed that Annie herself is a bitch she's definitely done a good job on hiring in the kitchen.
319 Congress Ave 512-472-1884
Runner up: Fricano Deli's Israeli-Mex Spicy Pastrami. This joint raised their game considerably in the last year going from mediocre to good.
104 E 31st St 512-482-9980
Italian: La Traviata is still the best Italian in town. It's always a treat to go in at lunch and see Chef Gilchrist in a nice dress and heels owning the saute' line. Best carbonara in town.
314 Congress Ave 512-479-8131
Burger: Zax Pints and Plates bleu cheese and bacon burger made a heavy impact on me this year, paired with one of an array of local micro-brews preferably.
312 Barton Springs Rd 512-481-0100
Runner Up: Cherrywood Cafe could be a contender but for their sickeningly sweet "bun". Hand patted patty, fresh toppings, house cut fries. I guess their choice of roll is popular with the ketchup crowd.
Coffee: Austin has entered the upper level of national coffee contenders with old school stalwart JP's Java now facing serious competition from Once Over Coffee Bar, Caffe Medici and now Houndstooth. Competition baristas are tuning up their games all over town with hot rodded, straight from Italy espresso machines and groupies lined up all over town ready to hit the rack with this new breed of caffeine bull.
Once Over Coffee Bar emerges victorious with an incredible toddy [best in Austin] insanely good Double Americano [best in Austin] and a drip that's better than most barista's best pulls.
2009 S 1st St 512-326-9575
Vietnamese: I know there must be at least one other Vietnamese restaurant in town that's not Tam Deli but I'd have a hard time naming it. Ok, Baguette House does have a good Banh Mi Kong but Tam is still the queen. Vietnamese breakfast with fried eggs smeared with homemade mayonnaise, house cured ham, pate' and a crusty baguette?
8222 N Lamar Blvd 512-834-6458
Thai: It's gotten surreally expensive but Surin is still the queen of local Thai out in Garfield at Little Thailand. I can only afford to eat there once or twice a year but she still puts out the best Yom Nua I've ever eaten.
4315 Caldwell Lane Del Valle, Texas 512-247-3855
Mexican [Cart]: Hundreds of Mexican carts in town and not one can challenge Yolanda's Rottweiler grip on the number one spot. El Taco Rico stands alone atop the vast pile of would be contenders.
Best cart barbacoa, best tostada, best enchilada, best green salsa, best corn tortilla. Simply the best. I had to laugh when some random poster on chowhound piped up describing her world class barbacoa as "fatty and bland".
I reckon there's one in every crowd.
810 Vargas Rd no phone
Runner up: La Flor down on S. 1st St where no less a luminary than John T. Edge weighed in on Angelas' tacos in the New York Times. Amazing picadillo and hand patted corn tortillas.
Corner of South 1st St & Heartwood Dr no phone
Mexican [ Restaurant ] La Reyna still has the finest #1 combo in Austin: A crispy taco, enchilada and tamale with rice, beans and scratch flour tortillas for under $8 bucks. Brought to table by a smiling Mexican lady who's genuinely happy to see you.
1816 S 1st St 512-447-1280
Mexican [ Carniceria ] La Monita has all the meats by the pound you can want or need. Buche', Carnitas, Barbacoa et al and they now make their tortillas from scratch. The only barbacoa source in town on par with El Taco Rico.
2200 E 7th St 512-479-656
Mexican [ New ]: Takoba house fries their own totopos, puts out the best queso fundido in town and saw the wisdom of spiriting Cafe Annie's hotshot bartendress Zoe away in the dead of night. Try a Takoba Fire followed by a shot off their incredible Mezcal menu.
1411 E 7th St 512-628-4466
Mexican [Salsa Bar/In A Gas Station]: Pretty easy as Mi Ranchito just runs away with this one. A dozen or so Lexan pans nestled on ice and filled with a candy store of homemade salsas. Some are scorching hot, some creamy and mild and others tasting about as Mexican as Tikka Masala. Otherworldly and delicious [and free].
5200 E William Cannon Dr 512-632-9196
Soul Food: While it's always going to be true that Tuscaloosa, Alabama has nothing to fear in this category at least we have the Galloway family to put out big plates of perfectly cooked roast beef, good collard greens, broccoli casserole and a brown gravy that had my Parisian chef buddy swooning like a 10 year old school girl.
1914 E 12th St 512-482-0757
Pizza: House Pizzeria cooks with love. While some may prefer Eastside Pies, who cook with nonchalance, I'll take House any day. House obsesses over crust, the single most important element of pizza. Housemade sausage and the knowledge that less is more when it comes to sauce round out their prowess.
They offer a perfect sized pizza at a perfect price. I wish like Hell they'd step up their salad dressing selection but til then I'll keep pissing them off by smuggling in my homestash of Ranch.
5111 Airport Blvd 512-600-4999
Breakfast: I never made it by Zandunga for their $5 an egg breakfasts cause I was busy wolfing down Tamale House's delicious $4 breakfast platters. Best Huevos Rancheros in Austin.
5003 Airport Blvd 512-453-9842
Steak [Old School] Hoffbrau has been quietly griddling steaks for 3/4ths of a century in a run down building on 6th Street. It's the only place in town you can get a New Orleans Wop Salad, which makes a fine vinegary counterpunch to their superbly buttery Top Sirloin. Something about sitting on a metal folding chair and drinking a cold bottle of beer makes this one of my favorite, vanishing, Austin dining experiences.
613 W 6th St 512-472-0822
Overpriced tacos have landed in Austin. Sadly, most of the places that are mugging their customers don't even bother making their tortillas from scratch. Austin can now boast of $10 guacamole appetizers and $12 tortas.
Would our forbears blame us if we installed headstocks on the grounds of the Capital for these shameless carpetbaggers?
Well, I'm certain that I left a few out but that's the best I can come up with right off the top of my head. Hope y'all got your belly full of some good chow this year.