The CHOW Guide to Eating and Drinking in Austin, SXSW edition

DOWNTOWN

$ = Under $10, $$ = $10-$25, $$$ = Over $25

Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas
409 Colorado St., 512-476-1320
1120 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-476-1320
Call for showtimes.

A movie theater with table service offering beer, wine, mixed drinks, and really good food, Alamo brings up the question: Why hasn’t this concept taken off across the country? Food like pizza, burgers, and brownies with espresso in them is served at a narrow table that runs the full length of the row. Movies are mainstream (at the time of this writing, Casino Royale was showing), and big-name directors often prescreen flicks here and take audience questions afterward (Quentin Tarantino makes regular appearances). Watch for special theme nights when food is paired to a movie’s subject matter. There are several locations, including one downtown, but the original, biggest, and most popular theater is on South Lamar Boulevard in South Austin. (Downtown and South Austin)

Aquarelle
606 Rio Grande St., 512-479-8117
Tues.–Thurs., 6 p.m.–9 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 6 p.m.–10 p.m.
$$$

A cozy converted 1920s bungalow serving impressive French-influenced cuisine made with seasonal, market-fresh ingredients. Dishes such as rabbit loin with artichokes and sunchokes, or cold foie gras with green grape chutney and sancerre syrup, are elegant and delicious without being precious or stuffy. No vertical towers of food or little drops of sauce you can’t make use of. A great wine list with French, American, and notably Texan selections (see The Best Local Beer and Wine). If you’re looking to celebrate a special occasion, this cozy, quiet restaurant is the place to go. Reservations recommended, especially during SXSW. (Downtown)

Betsy’s Bar/The Hi-Lo
301 W. Sixth St., 512-480-9433
Betsy’s, daily, 8 p.m.–2 a.m.; Hi-Lo, Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.–2 a.m.
$–$$

It’s two, two, two bars in one! Betsy’s Bar features overstuffed antique furniture, a laid-back crowd, and two Atari game consoles. This is the kind of place where you can carry on a conversation with friends and never want to leave. Better during the week when the upscale swingers from the connected Hi-Lo don’t spill in. Accessed through the doorway, the Hi-Lo exudes a curvilinear swank, suede-covered ‘70s vibe, with top-shelf cocktails and a beautiful crowd. (Downtown)

The Brown Bar
201 W. Eighth St., 512-480-8330
Mon.–Tues., 4 p.m.–midnight; Wed.–Fri., 4 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sat., 5:30 p.m.–2 a.m.
$$–$$$

An Austin bar striving for big-city impact, the Brown Bar serves specialty martinis ($8 and up) and the best mojitos in town in swanky shades-of-brown decor to beautiful people and those who aspire to be. (Downtown)

Casino el Camino
517 E. Sixth St., 512-469-9330
Daily, 4 p.m.–2 a.m.
$

A neighborhood-style bar in the midst of hectic Sixth Street that manages to attract both the after-work crowd and those sporting extreme ink. If you’re lucky, local circus sideshow man Mr. Lifto may be tending bar and lifting beer kegs by his nipples. Serves up the best hamburgers in Austin, along with giant orders of fries, but it can take a while. Order at the grill window, then relax with a cocktail or hit the excellent jukebox. (Downtown)

Club de Ville
900 Red River St., 512-457-0900
Tues.–Fri., 5 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sat.–Mon., 7 p.m.–2 a.m.
$

Arguably the most magical outdoor patio in a city where bar patios are standard, Club de Ville’s is set beneath a gorgeous, naturally occurring limestone cliff face. (It’s also decked out with Christmas-tree lights, ample seating, and a great stage where live music is often featured.) Enjoy one of the well-made cocktails and contemplate the Paleozoic Era in an atmo that attracts an artsy-hipster crowd. Conveniently located a few short blocks from the conference center. (Downtown)

Driskill Bar
604 Brazos St., 512-391-7162
Tues.–Sat., 5:30–10:30 (bar until midnight, Fri.–Sat. 2 a.m.)
$$$

A favorite of the record label folks, the bar of this gorgeous historic Texas hotel is quite a scene on the nights of SXSW. The smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies put out by the hotel staff mingles with herbal aromas wafting from closed doors, and rich, artsy types with expensive haircuts get drunk in the amber lighting on buttery leather seats. An all-encompassing wine list and great food (see Splurge) make it even better. (Downtown)

Driskill Grill
604 Brazos St., 512-391-7162
Tues.–Sat., 5:30–10:30 p.m. (bar until midnight; until 2 a.m, Fri.–Sat.)
$$$

An expense account is a plus here, but the cost is worth it. Exciting, exuberant, innovative New American cuisine with Texas nods by executive chef David Bull, served up in Austin’s most gorgeous, historic hotel. Standout dishes include beef tartare with fried oysters, caviar, and hot mustard; pistachio-crusted scallop with chanterelles; and veal tenderloin with sweetbreads, papardelle pasta, and mornay sauce. Be sure to check out the bar as well. During SXSW, it’s packed with entertainment-industry bigwigs (see Power Bars). (Downtown)

Four Seasons Hotel: The Lobby Lounge
98 San Jacinto Blvd., 512-478-4500
Mon.–Thurs., 1 p.m.–1 a.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–2 a.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.–midnight
$$–$$$

Hobnob with the high-flyers over lychee martinis (yeah, they’re still serving them in Texas), truffled popcorn, and tuna sashimi on the patio overlooking the lake. That’s Town Lake, the verdant public water hole made from the damming of the Colorado. Stake out your table early! (Downtown)

The Ginger Man
304 W. Fourth St., 512-473-8801
Mon.–Fri., 2 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sat.–Sun, 1 p.m.–2 a.m.
$$

The best-stocked beer bar in Austin, if not Texas: about 120 bottled selections of craft brews and micros (with only a few of those macros), and 76-odd selections on tap (kept at two different temps) from all over the world. Try a Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest, Rogue Shakespeare Stout, or Westmalle Tripel. It can get crowded. (Downtown)

The Jackalope
404 E. Sixth St., 512-469-5801
Daily, 11:30 a.m.–2 a.m.
$

A friendly dive with a punk-rock edge, the Jackalope is a favorite for its central location, reliably strong drinks, and superior bar (blackened burgers with blue cheese, jerk-chicken hoagie, chipotle wings). Inside is red-padded leather, painted-on-velvet nudes, pool tables. Outside is a patio with a fire pit. (Downtown)

Las Manitas
211 Congress Ave., 512-472-9357
Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–4 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 7 a.m.–2:30 p.m.
$

You’ll no doubt wind up here anyway during SXSW, but if for some reason you haven’t yet, stop into this downtown Austin breakfast and brunch joint for Mexican made from high-quality ingredients. Migas (see Local Lingo) with mushrooms, menudo with marrow, chile relleno, and the Zacatecan enchiladas are required eating. Fried plantains are also delicious. Check the board for daily specials. (Downtown)

The Mohawk
912 Red River St., 512-482-8404
Tues.–Sat., Grizzly Bar, happy hour, 5–8 p.m.;
the Mohawk Main Club, 8 p.m.–2 a.m. (when there’s live music)
$

Club de Ville’s neighbor the Mohawk has not one but two outdoor patios (upstairs and out back), a fireplace, a dance floor, and three stages often featuring live music and local DJs. The bar’s website describes the decor, all made out of reused hardwoods, as “woodsy recycled Texas ski lodge.” CHOW likes the Mohawk so much that we’re throwing our SXSW party there. (Downtown)

Roaring Fork Saloon
701 Congress Ave., 512-583-0000
Daily, 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.
$$

A Western-themed watering hole on the street level of the beautiful old InterContinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel, the Roaring Fork does one better than your typical hotel bar with its drinks and food. It’s a popular gathering spot for the after-work crowd from the capital and downtown districts, so expect to see some Dockers. Try the huckleberry margarita or the Big-Ass Burger: 12 ounces of juicy, aged, wood-grilled beef loaded with cheddar and toppings. (Happy hour is 4:30–7 p.m. daily for half-price apps and drink specials.) (Downtown)

Whole Foods Market Flagship Store
525 N. Lamar Blvd., 512-476-1206
Daily, 8 a.m.–10 p.m.

The massive flagship of the Whole Foods grocery store chain, which first opened in Austin in 1980, is 80,000 square feet and features a chocolate café with a chocolate fountain you can dip fruit and cookies into, a Pike Place Market-esque fish market, an ice cream/gelato shop, a smokehouse, a wine bar, a massive prepared-foods area, and over 600 cheeses. Like the San Francisco Marina Safeway of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, this WF is a notorious Austin pick-up scene for 20- and 30-somethings, as well as a date spot where couples move from mini-restaurant to mini-restaurant and make a night of it. While you’re in the neighborhood, check out Book People across the street, the largest independent bookstore in Texas, and the famous indie record shop Waterloo Records nearby at 600A N. Lamar Blvd. (Downtown)