tom in austin's Profile
Great plan. I'd only suggest one mild turn: SXSW doesn't wind down until Sunday. Should we kick the can to a later date to make sure things aren't obnoxious? I'm game to punt if y'all are...
As for venue, I'm wide open.
The best possible choice is clearly a Scrumptiouschef-organized popup, usually at Tamale House East. It keeps it "in the family" and guarantees his involvement.
Probably the three most incendiary choices would be Franklin, Ramen Tatsu-Ya, and Hopdoddy; they all have absurd lines/waits that make them fundamentally questionable dining decisions, yet everyone seems to enjoy their product. Luckily we're saved from feuding on these points, as the wait times themselves make them impractical meetup options. More's the pity, especially regarding the ramen, where I'm on the fence. Franklin is hellish-yet-worth-it, and Hopdoddy is (to me!) clearly not, and somehow icky almost to the cusp of ghoulishness. Tatsu-Ya is the dweller on the threshold of a particular catastrophe theorem, and IMHO the jury is still out, maybe way out.
If we're not doing a Scrumptious joint, I'd lean more towards any place with amazing Chinese or Korean, especially the authentic, North, Far North, and NW Austin choices. I'd also consider a trailer like Via 313 @ Violet Crown, or anything else similar (in demesne, not food trope).
Best way to reach me is email or via this site. 'Looking forward to it!
I'm game. Let's pick something great. I'd prefer something with a hotly contested, almost controversial scorecard, and it should be newish as well, or a hidden sleeper newly on the rise.
Also: please invite now-offsite legends like MPH and Scrumptiouschef.
Habanero's toothsome fajitas come with a tang of mesquite. Totally different from Houston-style (Ninfa's, Papasito's, Lupe Tortilla, Cafe Adobe[RIP]) which focuses on tender succulence, these can be chewy or even a tad bit tough, but the flavor is fantastic. For those who haven't had them, this is an absolute must for Austin Tex-Mex dining. Go for breakfast and get Roberto's Special, which is huevos rancheros and fajitas.
And FWIW I really like Lupe Tortilla (and Houston-style fajitas), although the pricing is usurious.
I used to live blocks away and hit this place all the time as one of my neighborhood joints. I was mostly offended by the state of their breakfast offerings: extremely miserable tortillas with somewhat less miserable (but still inexcusable!) breakfast taco fillings. Just unacceptable.
W/ regards to the other standard metrics that I use to calibrate awesomeness, Polvo's has not done well. Bad chips. Bad tortillas. And thusly bad enchiladas, tacos (of all stripes), and everything else that has a tortilla as an ingredient. My favorite Polvo's item is the queso, which comes with a plate of fun stuff to throw in as your proclivities recommend.
Even following the recommendations of my fellow hounds, let me be unequivocal: there is nothing good here. Simply some stuff that is alight, and then some stuff that is decent, and then a lot that is mediocre-or-worse.
The absurd issues not related to their food (autogratting on a 4 top, erratic staff, uberslacker clientele, parking shenanigans) are footnotes. I care about food. But in considering Polvo's, it is difficult to pave over the non-food obnoxiousness.
On the positive note: I'm a fan of the gringo queso with tons of stuff thrown in it, so I've always loved their queso. YMMV, but given my warped preferences, this is my favorite item they offer.
I think it is. (This is me admitting I've been to Polvo's a few times in the last year.)
I've ordered only items that the Chow Austin gang have recommended in my visits. Team, thanks for helping me navigate their menu in my unavoidable meetings there.
Hi. Welcome to Austin. I'll be your guide.
Breakfast through Lunch, take a taco tour, all grouped in East & South Austin, to be hit in this order:
Getting full? Time to wind this thing down at a sit-down restaurant w/ a bar, either:
Finally, go home and take a nap!
Appendix A: Other good places to get tacos that I left off this itinerary:
I've never had good fast food crinkle fries, with the exception of Mighty Fine's, which are excellent.
Culver's, White Castle, Crystal's, Church's; the fries are all pretty bad. I haven't had Burger King's new ones (nor will I, barring an unforeseen dining mishap).
I'll try Shake Shack's as soon as I get the chance.
I also live in the area and have been In Search Of. I've done China Hill a few times and haven't seen it, but that could be my fault - what should I order?
LA BBQ is your best bet; a bit of a hike (or a very, very short cab ride), but worth it. http://labarbecue.com/
Jack Allen Kitchen's Diana Sanchez, maker of nigh-immortal desserts, has thrown in with the newest scrumptious east austin popup. She isn't alone.
Have you ever had a dessert at Jack Allen Kitchen? Even Phillip Speer gushes over the yumminess. Now that she is joining forces with Scrumptiouschef and Cream Team's Nathan Myhrvold-inspired cheese attack, this is a done deal.
Let's make this a Chow Austin meetup, in the memory of what we once were, and what we could be again.
To begin the process of determining the best burger in Austin, we should start with a decent list of all possible contenders (regardless of whether you prefer fancy burgers, fat burgers, or skinny burgers). An attempt, let me know if I'm missing any legitimate burgers worthy of consideration.
I'm ordering them deliberately into what I deem their conceptual groupings.
How anyone could call Franklin, the most consistent quality BBQ I've ever experienced, a "crapshoot" is completely beyond me. Everything about the place is outrageously certain; here are six things that you're assured to experience if you go to Franklin in the next week or two:
1. You will need to get there around 7 AM if you want to eat around 11:15 AM. This number keeps inching earlier and earlier.
2. It will deliver insanely great brisket. Only a few places can do better, and then, only sometimes. Franklin's average is meaningfully higher than any other place I've ever been to.
3. It will be a giant pain in the arse.
4. Aaron will probably be there; in fact, he'll probably slice your brisket himself. I've been there more than a dozen times, and only once was he not there, and only 2-3 times did he not work behind the counter.
5. It will be absurdly expensive, especially given the emotional costs already paid for having waited so long.
6. It will nearly ruin you on many other barbecue spots that you've long visited. You'll begin to notice that their best efforts are as good as what you had at Franklin, but that your old faves are annoyingly erratic in the quality of their finished product. It'll start to eat at you... It used to be so easy to justify a trip to Lockhart, Luling, Llano; now, just get up early and get in line and your assured an experience as-good-or-better, and without the ding from the rising price of gas.
Dagoose, well done w/ the post-trip report. You got a lot of the "Now" of Austin in on your trip and I'm glad you had a good time.
Dagoose, here are my notes on this thread.
First, Thai Noodle House on Guadalupe used to be absolutely terrible, but I haven't been there in many years, and I had figured it had closed by now. I'm going to cross my fingers that it has recently been rebooted and is now a shining example of Thai for Austin. (Anyone have some info here from recent visits? I'm hopefully just behind the times.)
As for ranking the places listed in this thread for fancyish dining, here we go:
If you take the Cisco's, Tacodeli, and Lambert's recommendations, you're going to get a very distorted idea of what Austin does best. Our town's tacos and BBQ are fantastic. To put up a straw man, it'd be a real shame if you came to town and hit Bill Miller BBQ and Taco Cabana.
Commentary like this, "no one wants to admit after waiting that long the bbq ia just ...well...bbq" reveals that the poster doesn't appreciate BBQ the way some others do, so take her advice in this field with a grain of salt. I definitely admit that Franklin (and the Austin BBQ zeitgeist) is surrounded by irrational exuberance, obnoxious lines/waits, and usurious price hikes. That being said, comparing Franklin to Lambert's brisket and finding them approximately equal is fundamentally absurd. That being said, LA BBQ, John Mueller, and Stiles Switch are all great w/o the wait.
Dagoose, it all depends on what you want from your Austin experience. If you want our best restaurants, period, that is a different experience than asking for the best things that you couldn't get at home. Do you want to optimize towards any personal preferences? Based on your comment: "Mostly looking for things that are either specifically Austin (like breakfast tacos, which I'm pretty excited about, because I love both breakfast AND tacos) and things that we can't get here in the NW--like super solid Mexican food, BBQ, etc.," I would very specifically steer you away from things like Lambert's [upscale, decent brunch, but mediocre BBQ], Cisco's [decent chow, but its fame is more a factor of nostaliga - definitely a genuine Austin landmark though], and Tacodeli [a modern Austin taco chain; decent, but far from what I think you're looking for]. You know my opinion on the matter as to what makes for good BBQ and tacos, as you've read the thread where I provided an itinerary for a 'hound visiting from NY.
That being said, so I can better calibrate: can you tell me what sort of Mexican food you're after? Cheesy plates of enchiladas con carne with beans and rice? Or tacos al pastor, carnitas, barbacoa, etc. on just-made tortillas? Both are legitimate, but they're rarely available at the same venue.
> Canada vs USA taco throwdown
Uhhhh. If the contest is fair, I think I can predict the winner.
For the sort of cachet you're talking about, I'm guessing you want Franklin? Just put the brisket on a tortilla.
Austin's great taco thing is that we have all these great places to get tacos. We don't have a Franklin of tacos; we've kept it much more distributed (and thankfully, with much fewer long waits and much cheaper prices).
You could go to a mini-chain like Torchy's or Tacodeli or Taco Shack or Taqueria Arandas, etc., but you're seriously missing the point if you do this. None of them have the credibility or universal foodie acclaim of (for example) Tacos Rico. http://www.yelp.com/biz/el-taco-rico-...
If you have to pick one of these sorts of places, I'd say flip a coin between Torchy's and Tacodeli. If this is the way you're picking the contestants, there is a good chance Canada could win! ;)
Good news. John Mueller will be open on the 4th.
"Great news, patriots! John Mueller Meat Co will be open on 4th July. Celebrating Independence through BBQ." via https://www.facebook.com/johnmuellerm...
I've got a couple friends who are running trailers, and they say it is tough. Without full facilities you're guessing on product day to day, and extremely erratic business curves mean you can't easily capitalize on the rare surge in business because you can't hedge bets with greater on-hand inventory.
The good news is the overhead is lower, so you can afford to do it at a loss for longer.
I think a large business with central facilities managing a fleet of trailers could destroy these issues, having a true best-of-both-worlds scenario. Called "roach coaches" on the west coast, these traveling feed bags should have low prices and usually do.
But for the bespoke trailer owner with scant resources? That markup keeps them alive while they try their best to make every plate count and hope for something viral to happen. (Figuratively. Literally viral would be bad.)
Indiefoodie, I made an assumption that German, Southern and Soul cuisine would all have strong NYC representation. I cannot say whether this is true. While Austin may surpass NYC in these areas, it is hard to tout since we're so far behind other regions for these cuisines. To some extent, it is like telling a visitor from Tokyo to get Mexican food in Boise. Sure, it is better than Tokyo's Mexican food, but still a considerable distance from San Antonio.
My favorite CFS in Austin was at Tony's Southern Comfort, RIP.
"La Condesa or El Naranjo. Period. Curra's and Fonda San Miguel are both sentimental favorites but their food doesn't even come close to the first two."
La Condesa and El Naranjo are both great restaurants with better food than Fonda San Miguel; all three are in the same price bracket, and are fancy dining destinations. Fonda is absolutely a sentimental favorite, as you say.
However, if you're looking for some sort of optimization between Austin and delicious, why go with La Condesa or El Naranjo? You can have similar experiences in Dallas or Los Angeles or NYC.
(And obviously, Curra's is in a different category altogether, occupied by places like Polvo's, El Chile, etc.: much more affordable, much more laid back. The venerable MPH had some acronym he'd use for this sort of place that I can't quite recall.)
So if we're looking for pure deliciousness, removing Austin as a factor, Uchi/Uchiko, Barley Swine, Parkside, (and, I'd argue, Sway) are clear winners over both La Condesa and El Naranjo.
Certainly a New Yorker should recognize the influence of David Chang a bit in Uchi and a lot in Uchiko and East Side Kings; yet, the OP stated a desire to hit an ESK joint. I could just direct OP to tour every restaurant with "Momofuku" in the name, plus Má Pêche, Milk Bar, etc. and supplant all Paul Qui offerings.
What can you find in Austin that NYC cannot compete with, from a pure deliciousness perspective?
It depends what OP is after. Are they purely chasing deliciousness? Then they better not miss Franklin. Are they chasing Austin and/or Texan experiences? Then both Franklin and Lockhart's trifecta are great options.
And in no case is La Condesa (for example) an Austin experience; it is very good food, and the vibe is Dallas. If you're looking for the spirit of Austin, you won't find it there.
Parkside has TVs in the bar area. You could call and ask if they'll have sound turned on during the game.
(Probably not, but the food is really great.)
Cover 3 is decent, way above average for a sports bar. I'd be worried that it'll be packed to the gills for this game, but who knows, and heck, maybe that'd be fun.
Other options along these lines are the Tavern (Lamar and 12th) and Third Base (West 6th and Mopac), both above average for a sports bar, but not nearly as good as Cover 3.
Pre-order: You're just getting the first off-the-smoker meats. Call the number on their website. I've done it a few times.
The thread, as far as I can tell: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/590507
"(W)e ended up at The BackStage Steakhouse"
Backstage Steakhouse was one of my favorite restaurants in/near Austin; you had the good fortune of visiting it just before it shuttered. (Hopefully during that decline it was still excellent.) After it closed, executive chef Ray Tatum (formerly of Jeffrey's) opened a trailer called Three Little Pigs. http://3littlepigsaustin.com/
Other advice in the thread:
"Salt Lick. ... Billys Brew and BBQ ... County Line ... Stubbs and Ironworks down town are great as well. ... Evangeline Cafe on Brody(sic)"
Salt Lick is just OK. It gets more hate and more love then deserved. Some people swear by their slaw, others by their sauce. Clearly more of an Austin institution then a place for great chow. On a good day, their beef ribs (not part of their standard family style) and their pork ribs are their standout items, IMHO. Brisket highly erratic, possibly because it is rushed.
Billy's is worse than Salt Lick, as is County Line (a chain). Stubb's isn't serious barbecue, but definitely an Austin institution that you should catch a show at. Iron Works never had great brisket, but had some of the best beef ribs and sausage inside the city limits before the recent renaissance that has put it at the back of the leader board. Evangeline on Brodie is a spunky, homestyle Cajun joint. I like it, but not because the food is great.
"Polvos on 1st st has awesome authentic menu(little austin secret) Curra's on Oltorf is another authentic choice. El Arroyo on 5th is great. Guerro's on Congress is over rated but nice so instead go to this one down the street: El Sol Y La Luna. Enchiladas Y Mas on Anderson(north austin)"
El Arroyo is completely mediocre at best; calling it great while slamming Guerro's is silly. El Sol Y La Luna was already on its steady decline in 2009 and cannot be considered a good option. (In 2002, it was a very nice place to eat instead of then-nearby Guerro's.) Enchiladas Y Mas is a fantastic place to get classic, gloopy Tex-Mex, as is (for example) Dart Bowl; I don't think it is what the OP is after. (Note: calling Polvo's an Austin secret in 2009 is really quite bizarre.)
"Austin Java, Marias Tacos, Magnolia Cafe has absolutely awesome pancakes and migas."
These are terrible options. People go to Mags (Magnolia) because it is open 24 hours. Magnolia is inferior in almost every way to Kerbey Lane, which is also bad, although superior in almost every way to Star Seeds, another all night spot. (I'd rather find a 24 hour minimart and buy a handful of Slim Jims and a Topo Chico than go to Star Seeds.) Austin Java is solidly mediocre, but it'd be a real shame if you went there on any trip to Austin that was shorter than 3-4 weeks.
"Threadgills is a restaurant on N Lamar or on Barton Springs that has homestyle cooking and is awesome!"
I like the place, for what it is, but per a friend who worked there, they get their copious vegetable sides out of cans, not fresh. Going to the original location is probably a good lunch stop if you're in Austin for more than a three weeks.
"Green Mesquite ... I did a simple search on this board, and while there are critics, the general comments about the place are quite positive..."
I'm torn on this one. I love the place, and have been going since the mid-90s, but their food isn't great. Hitting Green Mesquite for near-frozen beer to recuperate after a run around Town Lake: that is what this place is for! I like their chopped beef, which is considered the most pedestrian BBQ offering, but whatevs. In 1999, I would have told you it was one of the top five barbecue joints in the city limits. That is just not the case anymore. That said, I'd rather eat a BBQ-only plate at Green Mesquite than Lambert's.
"I'd recommend getting the Don Juan taco at Juan in a Million."
Juan in a Million's breakfast tacos are the epitome of the gringo breakfast taco style - big flour tortillas with lots of scrambled egg, bacon, orange-yellow shredded cheese, and copious red salsa. Nothing wrong with it if that is what you're seeking. Not my personal jam, and if I am craving that sort of food, I hit El Meson Burleson and special order it; freshly made flour tortillas. "Made in the light, it must be right."
"Don't miss Uchi. ... The best BBQ in Austin proper is definitely at Sam's, ... And another halfhour south on 183, in Lockhart, are the big three BBQ legends -- Black's, Smitty's, and Kreiz's(sp)."
Best advice in the thread. Uchi is amazing, possibly a top five national sushi contender (in landlocked Austin!). And in 2009, my top five picks for BBQ in Austin city limits would have definitely included Sam's, House Park, Ben's Longbranch, Ruby's, and Iron Works, although not in that order.
"Steakhouse - either Sullivan's of Fleming's... I would suggest County Line... Eddie V's, downtown location... Matt's El Rancho for Tex-Mex... Z'Tejas or Fonda San Miguel for interior-type Mexican food..."
Sullivan's Austin used to be great, and their bar burger was one of the best burgers in town. Last few trips there for steak were downright insulting.
County Line is one of the better BBQ chains, superior to Bill Miller or Dickie's, inferior to Rudy's (not related to Ruby's). Not for serious destination consideration.
Matt's El Rancho is a genuine Austin landmark. Like Dart Bowl referenced earlier, if you're wanting to hit Critical Austin Spots, frankly, Matt's is totally legit. Their food is just OK. I like the Bob Armstrong, which is a bowl of hot velveeta with a bunch of stuff in it, and their brisket tacos. It is made more special by the fact that my parents' generation (and probably your parents' parents' generation) adored the place when they attended UT.
Z Tejas is not interior Mexican in any authentic capacity, but its founder bears the honor of siring and raising Bryce Gilmore of Odd Duck and Barley Swine fame. Bryce is the heir to Z Tejas?
Fonda is the Grand Old Lady of Austin dining. Still going strong. I love her, but she is showing her age. She has weathered it better than Castle Hill/Corazon, but still, long in the tooth and getting less reliable all the time, with a bigger final ticket. If you're staying in Austin two weeks or more, I'd make it a dinner or brunch spot.
"I live in NY which has pretty decent pizza, I wasn't very keen on it."
Via 313 is probably worse than what a NYer can easily score, although it is important to note that it isn't NY-style pizza; it is "Detroit-style": http://via313.com/style
"The area that you mentioned - what is it like? Bar scene, artsy, something else?"
I'm notoriously vacant about those sorts of atmospheric concerns, being focused on chow & drink yumminess, and to some extent finding all such nightlife obscure (and often, vaguely irritating). Hopefully someone else can chime in here. I think the area has a lot of bars and food trailers along a strip of road and should be pretty fun? Somebody help w/ better descriptors.
"Based on what I read, there seem to be mixed reviews about Curra's... Polvo's... La Condesa."
La Condesa has the best food of those three, and it isn't close, but it is also pretty far from an Austin experience. I wasn't intending to put La Condesa up against Curra's for the final stop on your taco tour, rather up against Barley Swine+Lick. In my opinion, Barley Swine blows La Condesa out of the water, again, not close. Curra's and Polvo's aren't epicurean delights, but they are both unequivocally classic South Austin slacker/hipster hangover joints. Between the two, Polvo's clearly trails Curra's IMHO, YMMV, mostly on the back of Curra's being more consistent, having much better service, and turning in a very good pibil. (El Meson, Fonda San Miguel, Curra's: in what order? On a good day, Curra's is number one.) You also mentioned tamales, which they have. [Protip: Tamale House doesn't have tamales.]
"I'll try to squeeze in Mueller."
If I were you, I'd include JMueller in your July 4th plans for a local BBQ tour and kill the Lockhart trip altogether, as I said earlier. If your heart is set on a road trip, do it, but when you finally do eat at Mueller, LABBQ, or Franklin and say, "WTF!? this is tons better than the Lockhart stuff -- huh!?" don't say I didn't warn you. If you're insisting on a road trip, Louis Mueller, Cooper's, Opie's, and Luling City Market are all preferred over what I'm now getting in Lockhart. (Snow's too, obviously, but that is Saturday AM only.)
"The 2.5+ hour wait for Franklin, in the blazing July sun is scary :("
It is truly a miserable experience. Get there early enough to be first in line, giving you a coveted seat under the thin awning (and thusly, maximum shade). Bring a big cooler full of ice, beer, and bottled water. Consider bringing a battery powered fan. Hit Home Depot nearby and buy some 6 dollar tailgating chairs. Bring laptops or something and catch up on your correspondence. Better yet, drink and share beers with people in line. Talk Austin, barbecue, Texas, food, and so on with the throng. This is a hazing. It will suck, but at least there is the social experience of doing it together with other people. I'm sorry. I wish it wasn't like this, but it is an Austin experience. It won't always be like this (for one reason or another), and having been through it is something you'll share w/ a lot of other aficionados, zealots, and bandwagoners. (I will say this: I'd rather wait 2.5 hours on a July morning to be first at Franklin then wait 30 minutes for a beer at a packed hipster bar.)
You wouldn't be blamed for skipping it, certainly. You do have another option, if what you're seeking is just food. You can call ahead to pre-order. You'll need to order above a certain threshold, and you'll need to fit to their schedule (better call soon), but then you just show up at 10:30, go in early, and leave w/ your to-go order.
"East Side King @ Shangri-La and LibertyBar is open till 1:45. I was thinking that I could go here from the airport on Wed. How does that sound? Also, which location is better? The LibertyBar one has the beet fries (which I think are good) but Shangri-La seems like a more exciting menu to me."
It sounds like you'll miss Via 313 if you go that route. Their hours are Tue/Wed: 5p - 12a, Thu-Sat: 5p - 2a. I also think you're not leaving enough time to hang out in that area. YMMV.
"I was thinking of a sit down Mexican meal @ La Condesa."
It's alright. It isn't Austin. It is to Mexican as Sway is to Thai, and FWIW I think Sway is better. I'd slot in Barley Swine way ahead of either: Bryce Gilmore is an Austin success story, much like Tyson Cole, Paul Qui, and Shawn Cirkeil.
"Tom, thank you very much for your detailed answer."
You're welcome! I should have also mentioned fajitas at Habanero on Oltorf, which is also in the area, for your taco tour. A single mesquite-fired, toothsome fajita taco will do ya. Lots of tacos to consume in your tour. Additionally, you mentioned craving tamales; Curra's has them and they're above decent. They also do a decent mole, all in addition to a cochinita pibil that is top three in town, so there is another reason to end there. People love their avocado margaritas as well (I think they're kind of vile, but seriously you might love them, people do). Additionally, I think Curra's is a quintessential South Austinite joint, whatever that means. [So is Polvo's, but the food there erratic, prone to grossness, and the service abysmal.]
"John Mueller's new place is a must do. Would it be possible to squeeze that in post Franklin?"
Absolutely, assuming it is open. It doesn't have comparable crowds to Franklin. I wouldn't personally skip Franklin, as right now it is the quintessential Austin experience, including the grueling and lame line waiting experience. When telling Austin stories, if you don't have a getting-to-Franklin-at-8:30-AM story, you're kind of missing the resonant figurehead of our current barbecue zeitgeist.
Welcome to my nabe, popvulture! Off the top of my head, here we go:
Mexican is great down here - south and east Austin rule this category. There are more then a dozen options for this down here. If not for my explorations and adventures into this field, I would have completely despaired for our hood's cuisine. Sadly, this is the only category that we win, and I'm throwing a wiiiiide net with who I'm claiming as ours, mostly because I'll drive much further for a taco then other foods.
Indian is good, mostly carried by the strong shoulders of Asiana and Whip In. The Clay Pit fast food place (Tarka) is decent, too.
Chinese is bad - the best I've found is the non-gringo menu at Tien Jin, which still isn't good. Nothing in the same orbit as the northern options. Hao Hao's Chinese menu is alright I guess. Their Vietnamese menu is good. They have a soup I love.
Sap's is great, and if you're near Westgate that means you'll probably eat there twice a month. Subsin's, like Sawadee before it, was poorly seasoned. Haven't been to its most recent incarnation (Tuk Tuk).
For Cajun, Cypress Grill is decent, but Evangeline is a treasure. I don't think the food is masterful, but something about the place is charming beyond the chow alone. I'm supposed to be immune to those sorts of effects. Likewise to Mandola's for Italian near Costco: the food isn't great, but if you have kids, it is a great option w/ affordable kid plates that they're likely to enjoy. It has a bocce court, a rather nice hidden playground behind it, and a toystore a few doors down.
Our pizza down here is terrible. Yaghi's, Double Dave's, Austin's are our best options; all poor replacements for Homeslice, Enoteca, East Side Pies, Cipollina, Salvation, Via 313, Spartan, etc. I'd say Mandola is your best bet for pizza. Yeesh.
Mighty Fine gives you a strong "simple burger" option. I think they're quite yummy. P Terry's, Five Guys, Dan's, Red's, Whataburger, Short Stop, and Culver's round out your other burger options down here, I think. No Hopdoddy/Barlett's/Bar Congress/Parkside/Counter Cafe-class fancyburgers, at least as far as I can recollect.
Barbecue is pretty crap. Best option is probably Vic's or Railroad Bar-B-Que. We also have Bill Miller, Dickey's, etc.
Tony (of Tony's Southern Comfort fame [how I miss thee!]) cooks fried chicken once a week at Hyde Park Bar & Grill; that's a treat. Somehow not the same as his old joint.
No worthy upscale to speak of. Best fancy choice in our territory... It doesn't really count, sort of out of bounds to the west, but Jack Allen's is really good.
Welcome to the land of "COMFY FATTIES"! (See attached map graphic.) Let us know what cool things you find!
Based on your comments, I've planned your itinerary. Have fun.
Wed: "It'll be 12:00 in the night before we get anywhere. ... Any suggestions for an awesome late night dinner place?"
Thu (July 4th): "We're planning to drive down to Lockhart. ... I was hoping to try East Side King and if possible, some other must visit food trucks and then maybe check out some of the bars"
The current pack at Franklin requires that you get there at 8:15AM if you want to score first in line. By 9:30, you may well be too late. This is updated recon after the most recent Texas Monthly tizzy, and is bad news for us Franklin fans, as it used to be that 9:15-30AM was good enough for first. There is free, open wireless: bring a laptop and a few tallboys, get some work done and start with the hair of the dog.
Don't miss this, y'all. For extra insanity, RL is offering this hellacious dare: http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/index.cfm/2013/6/6/Attention-Austin-Texas-Competitive-Eaters-Take-Our-Mega-Beef-Burger-Pop-Up-Restaurant-Challenge
"Here's the challenge: Our Mega Beef Burger.
If you require crab legs or claws, you're going to seriously cut down on your options. I've collected some menus for you to peruse. Good luck!
Decent Austin seafood places (not including sushi or Chinese, which I doubt is what you're after):
Justine's isn't a seafood place, but fish is the best thing to get there. Actually, a number of other places have solid fish options (Parkside, Wink, Chez Nous, Whole Foods and many more) but they definitely aren't seafood places.
If I had one non-sushi, non-Chinese seafood meal to eat in Austin, it'd be Clark's.
I think the steaks at Vespaio are always very good, sometimes excellent. (The hanger steak next door at Enoteca is decent, but often a little overseasoned.)
Post-Backstage Steakhouse (RIP), El Arbol (RIP) was the answer to this, but now it is Olive & June. I do love Shawn's cooking; it is possible their steak (still oak-fired, per the menu) is the answer.