You know how they say everything is bigger in Texas? (…Just look at the size of that gosh darn state, it’s ten times the size of most European countries!) Well, it seems as if that rule generally does apply…from the massive five and six lane highways to big Texas hair, to cowboy boots, large house and massive pickup trucks (not to mention lots of fake women’s chests), Texas sure knows how to do it big! However, fly into the most liberal city in Texas, and you’ll come across some of the slimmest and healthiest people in the USA driving Prius cars and Teslas (and nothing like most other parts of Texas). Austin is the #10 fittest cities in America and let me tell you, people here can be found jogging in 95-degree heat complete with six packs and biceps that would make Thor jealous. It’s so intimidating! Thankfully my girlfriend and I put our dreams of a sexy six packs on hold for a few days and went to town chowing our way through this super fun and funky, crazy hot (in more ways than one) foodie city. Here are seven stops I recommend making.
Stop 1: True Food Kitchen (Market District).
Before discussing arguably, the best sandwich known to man, the TLT sandwich, which was vegan no less, (I never thought the words ‘vegan’ and ‘best’ would ever come out of my mouth) …lets discuss the Market District of Austin. Amongst high end, luxurious condos, you’ll find many bars, farm to table restaurants, boutique shops and a brand-new gym on every corner. In addition to that, it’s minutes from beautiful running and walking paths along the water. You’ll highly consider signing a lease on one of these spectacular residential buildings after you spend some time here! But enough about the area, let’s talk food already! Located on a courtyard near an industrial park and next to an always busy Trader Joes is True Food Kitchen, which is a delicious farm to table restaurant with indoor and shaded outdoor seating. It’s no wonder this place is always crowded! Their drink menu alone is incredible, not to mention their actual menu. Fancy a wine? They have many by the glass in 6oz and 9oz pours. Perhaps a nonalcoholic beverage instead? They have a variety of teas, juices and kombucha drinks. All their sandwiches and entrees have a unique flair to them and emphasize local ingredients. Thankfully the vegan TLT sandwich which consists of smoked tempeh (soy product from Indonesia), butter lettuce, tomato, avocado, and vegan mayo on seeded grain bread came highly recommended because holy smokes, it was incredible! It was hard not to ask for a tub of vegan mayo and a loaf of seeded grain bread to go. The toasted seeded grain bread was toasted to perfection and the bread had so much flavor, you could taste every little seed. Dan Barber would have been proud. (If you’re scratching your head at who the heck I am talking about, check out his book, The Third Plate, which I wrote about here). The edamame dumplings in a light broth was another highly recommended dish, which was nice and refreshing on a hot summer day. Give this spot a try!
Stop 2: Popbar
It’s hard to pass up ice cream when it’s 98 degrees, the sun is pounding down on you, and you have so much back sweat going on you could easily quench the thirst of a small dog. At that point, Popbar is the oasis to you’ve been looking for – delightful handcrafted gelato on a stick in a store that billows freezing cold air and glorious smells. They have tons of flavors to choose from and offer to cover half of your pop with dark chocolate, white chocolate, chopped hazelnut and a variety of other things. (I did the banana pop with chocolate, delish!) In addition to these treats being incredible and essential in the Texas heat, they are also 100% natural and made with real fruit and only a handful of ingredients. They currently have locations in Texas, Florida, California, North Carolina, Arizona, and NYC AND even locations in Canada, Singapore, Panama and Russia. It’s the perfect non-alcoholic stop when bopping around the city.
Stop 3: Truluck’s
If you’re looking for a fabulous happy hour that’s much classier than Rainey street, and has an excellent martini and wine list and a fantastic piano player and singer, then Truluck’s is your spot. Truluck’s has a bit more of a upscale, bougee Dallas/New Orleans feel to it, rather than a hipster Austin feel. Its high-end leather couches with white tablecloth tables, high end wines, gorgeous floor to ceiling glass enclosed wine racks, and a mix of classy meets sexy. It’s the type of place where the same bartender has been there for 20+ years and so has the piano player, but that’s what makes it the type of place where people want to come back. They’re very proud of their extensive wine menu and the wait staff knows some excellent pairings, so don’t feel embarrassed in asking for their opinions. In addition to their fabulous wine menu, their martini menu also hits the spot and although I did not eat here, their dinner menu looked exceptional. Luckily for those of us that don’t live in Austin, they also have locations in Dallas, Houston, Chicago and South Florida.
Stop 4: Dai Due
Just like Austin itself, this restaurant is unique, charming, and authentic while also being a bit funky. It’s a restaurant, butcher shop and specialty food shop all packed into on. A one stop shop, if you will! When you walk inside, you feel like you just stepped off a small farm and headed to their own little shop right next door to buy some butchered meats and homemade sauces. Their restaurant prides itself on using local ingredients and has a wine selection that only includes only local Texas wines, which are surprisingly good. Arriving for dinner one evening with some friends, the very knowledgeable waitress recommended a local Pinot Verde type of wine which was excellent and very affordable. After that came the freshly baked bread with homemade butter. Their menu was meat dominant but also included a few fish options, and a separate supper club menu. We opted for the supper club menu minus the dessert. Everything we had was excellent. The chicken liver mousse off the first course was exceptional. Three chunky pieces of freshly toasted bread accompanied fresh chicken liver mousse with blueberries on top. A delicious mix of salty, sweet, and toasty. After that came the blue crab and crawfish dip and the grilled whole vermillion snapper with bay white shrimp atop a wooden slab containing more veggies than most people eat in a month. Interesting concept of cooking the whole fish, bones and all and providing large pieces of butter lettuce leaves to have patrons create their own lettuce based tacos. The herb mayo on the side really made this dish complete. The food was so fresh it would have made fisherman jealous.
Stop 5: Arlo Grey
When Eater.com recommends a restaurant AND it’s a Top Chef winner’s restaurant, you know it’s worth a stop. Arlo Grey opened its space in the brand-new Line Austin hotel (the old Radisson hotel), which is just as sexy and stylish as its Los Angeles and Washington D.C. counterparts (it’s worth noting these hotels are part of the Sydell Group which also runs the NoMad hotel in New York). If you’ve been to the Nomad hotel in New York City, you can see the similarities in the way the restaurant is presented at both hotels. At both NoMad and the Line hotel, the restaurant and hotel are seemingly intertwined in one. At Arlo Grey for example, there are no walls separating the restaurant from the hotel, it’s a huge open layout. A mere 100 feet from the hotel entrance is this beautiful, bright, airy, and eclectic restaurant space with floor to ceiling windows, olive trees scattered throughout the room, and a variety of high top, and low top tables, and a horseshoe shaped bar in the middle. The menu contains small, unique dishes bursting with flavor. The grilled acorn squash mixed the grilled charcoal taste with the sweetness of the cashew butter and the butternut squash with the sweet and sour taste of the pomegranate seeds. The chicken agnolotti en brodo dish was an Italian pasta soup in a chicken broth. It’s a traditional first dish for Christmas feasts in Italy. The dish was a perfect starter and perfect for a hot summer evening. The wine list presented some unique and tasteful international options and the cocktail menu also had some delightful options to choose from. A fantastic delight in Austin, this place is not to be missed.
Stop 6: 24 Diner
New Jersey diners have a bad rap. They smell like grease pits, the wait staff never looks happy to see you and the only time you get excited to visit one is when it’s 4am, you’ve been drinking all night and the thought of cheese fries makes you the happiest person alive. I can’t stand diners. I have actually broken up with guys for taking me to diners (judge me all you want). I was promised 24 Diner would be a much more pleasant experience and thankfully I am proud to say, I was quite pleased. When we arrived on a Sunday evening, most people at the one room 1960s style diner were gorging on their dinner time breakfast choices, like chicken and waffles or pancakes. Honestly, who can eat hearty food like that when it’s so hot out! We opted for their local cheese plate and one of their hearty, thick vegetarian sandwiches, the goat cheese sandwich, and two sides of mac and cheese. (Since when can you order a cheese plate at a diner? Keep Austin weird is their motto!) The vegetarian sandwich was super thick and came with two thick slices of multigrain bread, sundried tomatoes, beets, arugula, and goat cheese in a delightful lemon vinaigrette. It’s the perfect Sunday hangover spot!
Stop 7: The biggest Whole Foods Market in the USA
You simply cannot go to Austin without checking out this incredible Whole Foods, especially if you’re from the Northeast and your Whole Foods stores are 1/5 the size of this one and incredibly boring. WHY CAN’T WE DRINK WINE AND SHOP in NJ like TX can?! In Austin you can buy glasses of wine (or beer) in the store and walk around with it, or sit down and have a nice lunch of oysters and sparkling wine. How bad could food shopping be after two glasses of sparkling wine and some lovely aphrodisiac oysters? I reckon not so bad! When you check out they have a massive display of macrons and ignoring the fact that three of them will set you back your next mortgage payment ($2.49/each), take it from me, they’re well worth it.
I was only in Austin for four short days, so I didn’t have time to visit everything! What are your favorite foodie spots in Austin? Please comment below so I can add them to my list for next time!