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

CASUAL

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

El Borrego de Oro #2
3900 S. Congress Ave., 512-383-0031
Daily, 6 a.m.–10 p.m.
$

Homemade corn tortillas, real Mexican Coke, and the best Austin hangover cure: birria (a Mexico City regional dish of shredded goat or lamb, eaten either in tacos or in a soup). The pork with green sauce is simply ethereal. In this authentic Mexican joint, with its plastic cups and tortilla-chip baskets, you can eat well for only $6 to $7, not including margaritas. (South Austin)

El Gringo
1917 Manor Road, 512-391-9500
Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Fri., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sat., 5 p.m.–10 p.m.
$–$$

A new restaurant, instantly popular for its creative interpretations of regional classics (posole made with duck, fried oysters in a cracker-crumb crust with Tabasco aioli and lemon sauce, chicken-fried rib-eye steak with pepper-cream gravy) at affordable prices ($8 to $11 for any of the above). This large, relatively posh spot gets crowded and noisy. But the good news is that on the pecan tree–shaded back patio next to a raging fire pit, the owners renovated a former storage shed into a bar. Called the Red House Lounge, it quenches your thirst if you’re waiting for a table inside and stays open when El Gringo closes at night. The same folks own neighboring El Chile and El Chilito, also good if you’re looking for nearby alternatives. (East Austin)

Güero’s
1412 S. Congress Ave.,
Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–11 p.m.
$–$$

Housed in a big old feed store with hardwood floors, this slightly upscale Mexican-food spot is celebrity sighting central, particularly during SXSW. The decor is Mexican-cantina-meets-renovated-warehouse, and the atmosphere is low-key. The margaritas are some of the best in town, thanks to super-fresh lime juice, and don’t miss the tacos al pastor. (South Austin)

Hoover’s Cooking
2002 Manor Road, 512-479-5006
Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 8 a.m.–10 p.m.
$–$$

Part of the newly gentrified Manor Road restaurant row, this comfy soul-food joint features owner Hoover Alexander’s southern Louisiana influences in a simple, informal atmosphere. Big platters of ham steak with jezebel sauce, jerk chicken, and chicken-fried steak are served up with more than a dozen rotating vegetable sides, like Moroccan-inspired carrots with orange juice, mashed potatoes with roasted garlic, and creamed spinach with jalapeños. Come for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and enjoy a cocktail too—drinks are nice and strong. Lots of high-backed booths for dining in, or get it to go. (East Austin

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)

Madam Mam’s
2514 Guadalupe St., 512-472-8306; daily, 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m.
4514 West Gate Blvd., 512-899-8525; daily, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
$

Tired of barbecue and Tex-Mex? Thai food that’s nearly as good as you’ll get in Thailand can be had at one of two locations, one (West Gate) just 10 minutes by car from downtown. The menu’s based on street-vendor and home-style dishes, like kao soi, the famous red curry noodle soup from northern Thailand, and keow wan pla grai, green curry with homemade fish balls. Large portions, made from the freshest components, and small prices seduce throngs. It’s a casual spot, with lots of close-together tables, mismatched chopsticks, and a student crowd, especially at the Guadalupe Street location. If you’re with a big group, send somebody ahead, or call and put your name on the list. (North and South Austin)

Oaxacan Tamaleo
1300 W. Anderson Lane, 512-289-9262
Mon.–Sat., 8 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.–3 p.m.
$

Half Mexican-owned mini-mart, half bare-bones restaurant, this friendly little discovery is known for its big Oaxacan-style tamales, steamed in banana leaves. The lamb barbacoa (slow-cooked over an open fire) and mole are also incredible. A little out of the way (on the north side of Austin, about 15 minutes by car from downtown), but worth it. (North Austin)

Polvo’s
2004 S. First St., 512-441-5446
Daily, 7 a.m.–11 p.m.; drinks until midnight
$–$$

Polvo’s is arguably the best restaurant in town, at least for Tex-Mex, and one of the most comfortable, with a big, casual outside area. Standouts include puntas de filete (beef tips with mushrooms and corn in chipotle chile sauce), and shrimp sautéed with lots of garlic, mushrooms, and tequila. You’ll find big plates and little prices, with serve-yourself salsas and verduras escabeche (spicy pickled veggies). In the morning, get machicado—dried beef, typically served in northern Mexico, that is shredded like thin jerky—in your breakfast tacos (see Local Lingo). Eat them with a side of rajas—strips of roasted poblano chiles. (South Austin)