Wondering What to Do in the Live Music Capital of the World?
Having had the good fortune of calling Austin my home for six plus years taught me a thing or two about what natives call, “the live music capital of the world.” So when I was asked to create a list of things to do in Austin I combined that experience with a quick consult of some of my hip Austin-based friends to create a collection of some of the “must do” activities for visitors.
One “must try” delicacy when you are in Austin is the breakfast taco. No, these aren’t the hard, crunchy shelled-tacos many of us grew up eating but rather soft, fluffy flour or corn tortillas stuffed with scrambled eggs and options like cheese, potatoes, sausage, bacon or chopped brisket. Two of the best places to sample these breakfast delights are Taco Deli and Torchys Tacos. If you make it the latter, be sure to indulge in the queso. You will think you have died and gone to cheesy heaven.
If breakfast tacos aren’t your thing, another Austin icon is Café Magnolia. Be prepared because on the weekends the wait can touch an hour plus. But the gingerbread pancakes, Royal Toast, Eggs Zapatino (scrambled eggs over English muffins smothered in queso), or huevos rancheros are all well worth the calories. Yes, Café Magnolia does have lunch and dinner menus but I would strongly suggest opting for breakfast regardless of when you go. Other delectable options for breakfast/brunch include Hillside Farmacy, Sway and the South Congress Café.
While outside seating in Austin during the day can be on the “warmish” side from April until October, dining al fresco can be quite pleasant for the other five months out of the year. And many local venues also provide covered seating with fans and misters to help keep patrons cool. It’s hard to choose from the hundreds (if not thousands) of places to dine for lunch, but these three eating establishments are vintage Austin and all provide unique experiences that you won’t want to miss.
The first “must do” Austin eatery for your midday meal is Hula Hut. A couple of miles outside of downtown on Lake Austin, there is no better place to enjoy the delicious chili con queso and chips along with one of the most refreshing drinks you’ll ever try, the Avion Smash. Do yourself a favor and skip everything else on the menu and go for the grilled fresh fish tacos – you won’t regret it. If that’s not enough, the view of the lake is a rare treat. If you want something closer to downtown, Second Bar & Kitchen offers indoor and outdoor seating. With craft cocktails, amazing apps like their buffalo fried pickles and black truffle pommes frites and mouthwatering entrees that range from pork belly bahn mi sandwiches to the 44 farms steak frites.
It may seem odd to suggest an oyster bar in the heart of barbecue country, but trust me when I tell you that Clarke’s Oyster Bar is a can’t miss. Tucked off West 6th Street, this cozy oasis is fun, quirky and approachable. The oysters are some of the northeast and northwest’s finest served with a heavenly mignonette. If oysters aren’t your thing, go ahead and order the Crab Louie salad or the tuna salad sandwich.
Other places to check out while you are in town are Frank (who knew hotdogs could be so
elegant), Juan in a Million for some TexMex on the east side and if you are up for a drive, try Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza co-located on the property of one of the hottest up-and-coming breweries in the country aka Jester King Brewery.
There are so many great places in Austin to dine, it’s hard to narrow down the list. But here are three restaurants that stand out among the rest if you spend any time in Austin.
Eating at the Salty Sow is as fun as the name sounds. The atmosphere in this gastropub is casual yet inviting with an amazing local beer menu, sharable plates (try the pastrami salmon and the truffled deviled eggs) and amazing but affordable entrees like crisp chicken thighs, succulent milk-braised pork butt and a delicious slow-cooked beef shoulder.
If it’s a burger you crave, look no further than Hopdoddy on South Congress. And while there are now about a dozen locations nationally, the location in SoCo is the original and you will be hard pressed to get a better burger anywhere in the country! With fresh baked brioche buns, you can either build your own or choose from a dozen amazing combinations including the El Diablo (beef burger with spicy fixings), the Hoss’ Hot Chicken or the amazingly tasty Ahi Tuna burger. If you can spare the calories, don’t be afraid to try one of their amazing shakes (Nutella & chocolate pretzel is my favorite). The sweet potato fries are also a nice accompaniment to your beautiful burger.
No, this isn’t New York pizza but it is still **bleep** tasty. Not only is Home Slice Pizza a favorite of the locals but it also serves up a surprisingly good kale ceasar salad and world class subs (the eggplant parm is ridiculously tasty). Yes, it is perfectly acceptable to order plain cheese pizza but don’t be afraid to add black olives, hot cherry peppers or even garlic to your pie. Due to popular demand, be prepared to wait. Fortunately, the backyard patio is a fun place to grab a drink, kick back and enjoy a warm spring evening.
Other local greats worth trying are Perla’s (one of the best lobster rolls you’ll ever eat),
G’raj Mahal (surprisingly good Indian food in the heart of Austin) and La Condesa (authentic but upscale interior Mexican food).
It seems like a new bar pops up in Austin every week. And while that may actually be true, there are some that stand out head and shoulders above the rest. For starters, it’s worth walking down Rainey Street. Just across from the Austin Convention Center, this hub of amazing bars and restaurants has something for everyone. Outdoor space where darts and corn hole rule the day, craft beers and farm to table dining. If you don’t like one bar, guess what, there are 20 others for you to try.
A new(er) but remarkably cool place to hang while drinking cocktails is Corner located at Second and Congress on the ground floor of the JW Marriott. Comfortable outdoor seating and some of the best people watching in Austin are just two of the things that makes this bar unique. If you want to know where the Austonians go for libations, check out the Stephen F’s bar on the second floor of the Stephen F. Austin hotel. With views of the Capitol, the option to light up a cigar and a bit of an old world feel, this place is one of a kind. Outdoor seating fills up early so arrive closer to 5:00 PM if you want to grab your own table. Other cool Austin bars include Guero’s on South Congress (vintage Austin vibe), Easy Tiger (fun beer garden and ping pong), and Cenote on Cesar Chavez on the East side.
One would hope that a city that calls itself the live music capital of the world would also have great music venues. The good news is that they do. Some might argue that there are almost too many to choose from. The most iconic venue in Austin is easily Stubbs. Located on historic Red River Street, this 2,000 person music venue also offers some tasty barbeque. With a small stage inside and a larger “backyard,” Stubbs can accommodate up-and-coming artists just as easily as it can nationally recognized acts like Bob Dylan, Metallica and Ed Sheeran.
Kitty corner across the street from Stubbs is The Mohawk. This music venue is a little smaller and intimate but still offers some amazing shows. A great mix of indoor and outdoor space and a friendly staff. Like Stubbs, this venue is booked by SXSW so most likely will be for badge holders only during the festival (March 9-18, 2018). For more of a “nightclub” scene, there’s also historic Antone’s on 5th Street that features all types of music from blues, to country to good old fashioned rock and roll. If you’re lucky, you may even catch Texas’s favorite native son, Willie Nelson, playing a sold out show there.
Other unique live music opportunities in Austin include free tapings of Austin City Limits at the Moody theater (anyone from Tony Bennett to Wilco), or if you are seeking out a fun “dive bar” experience with great local music, check out Friends on 6th Street.
Yes, no list of things to do in Austin would be complete without a guide to some of America’s favorite barbecue. For the uninitiated, you might want to brush up with Thrillist’s useful regional barbecue guide because when you are in Texas, you are in serious brisket country. And for the real purists, there is a belief that no barbecue sauce should ever touch your meat.
The gold standard for any brisket anywhere in the United States is Franklins Barbecue. The conundrum here is that there is a minimum wait of at least three to four hours to sample their wares. Some people I know say that no food is worth that long a wait. Having eaten Franklin’s smoked meats (yes, they do ribs, sausage and pulled pork) several times, I can assure anyone that it’s worth trying at least once.
If you’d like some really good brisket but don’t want to stand in line for several hours, Terry Blacks on Barton Springs Road is a great alternative. The owners come from the “Blacks” family hailing from Lockhart, TX (the birthplace of Texas barbecue). This spacious venue offers a broad range of tasty sides, cold beer and an opportunity to watch the pit masters do their thing.
Certainly not last nor least, there is Kerlin BBQ which takes the form of a food truck in a lot on Cesar Chavez just a few blocks east of highway I35. Offering brisket, succulent ribs and a unique cheese and brisket kolaches the most unique aspect of Kerlin is there blue cheese coleslaw that is literally to die for. At a minimum, it is worth trying at least one food truck while you are in Austin and this one is as good as any to start with.
There are numerous other venues that sell barbecue but a few other joints that many locals would recommend are La Barbecue (from the same TX BBQ family as Aaron Franklin) and Stiles Switch BBQ (meat sourced from the same place as Franklin’s). If you don’t mind a 20-30 minute drive, The Salt Lick is a true Texas barbecue joint experience with rustic tables and open pits. On the weekends, there is free live music outside.
There are hundreds of other things to do while visiting Austin like taking a run around Lady Bird Lake, enjoying panoramic views of the Colorado River and the city from Mt. Bonnell or a stroll through beautiful Zilker Park along the river. If you are really feeling ambitious, take a stroll out to Hamilton Pool which is easily one of the most beautiful places on earth.
All content provided in this blog is supplied by Aaron Strout and is for informational purposes only. Barclaycard makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the blog or found by following any link within this blog.
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