Tag Archives: frugal

Why you need to visit Austin, Texas

I recently returned from a week in Austin, Tx for the sole purpose of leisure and enjoyment with my brother and good friend. My brother made the suggestion to us and we all hopped onboard. We had a great place to stay with a friend. It was super helpful to have someone who could help point us to the top spots in the city.

I was impressed with Austin. The city is packed with amazing food, bars, and teeming with life. The people were friendly. The swimming holes were packed, yet chill. I recommend Austin for a travel destination. I will detail below the foods and activities we enjoyed. This is not exhaustive, but we did get around town. 35 restaurants & 4 swimming holes.

Luggage
I brought a minimalist pack on this trip: 10L. I carried essentials. Two Uniqlo Airism shirts, two pairs of Uniqlo Airism boxers, one raw denim pair of jeans (ACNE), one sweatshirt, one shoes (Onitsuka Tigers), toiletries, two pairs of Darn Tough socks, sunglasses, and one dress shirt. I packed everything in travel organizers to reduce the loose clutter in my backpack to which I’m accustomed.

This arrangement worked nearly perfectly. I wore every piece I brought. I didn’t end up with anything smelling gross. I had clothes for swimming, casual restaurants/bars, and church.

Landing Logistics
We flew into Dallas to save some cash. Austin is a more expensive airport. The round trip with Spirit airlines from PHL to DFW was only $108. I had a delay on the return which scored me a $50 voucher. We rented a car via Hotwire for a taxes-adjusted $25/day. We spent the first evening free at a Marriott I booked with recently-earned points using the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card. This card has earned me 4 free hotel stays for signing up. The Four Points Sheraton in Dallas/Fort Worth North was spacious, contemporary, and clean.

Dallas
Dallas’ downtown seemed uninteresting. I was intrigued by the Deep Ellum and Uptown districts. These areas house Dallas’ hip and wealthy. I was impressed by the selection of bars, restaurants, and the vivacity of the residents. Dallas, to my surprise, felt updated, sleek, and refined. Young professionals in impeccable dress sipped cocktails and dined on sushi. Not what I expected, being the ignorant Yankee I am.

Restaurants
Texas is all about comfort foods. Briskets, tacos, steak they did well. The top Italian and Japanese were lackluster. I’ve detailed the highlights below.

Standouts
Empa Mundo: Delicious & Cheap Empanadas filled with brisket. A blend of Tex and Latino.

Empa Mundo


Brown’s BBQ: Some of the best brisket we tried in Austin. The beef was tender, juicy, and fell apart. This brisket had the smokiest fat.

Browns BBQ Austin, TX

Torchy’s: My favorite taco place. Torchy’s has perfect meat execution, strong flavors, and unique varieties. A stop in Austin without Torchy’s would be unfathomable.

Tacodeli: Another great choice for a more premium beef cut. The tenderloin in the Cowboy taco was soft, charred, salty, and savoury. The fresh grilled flavor was masked by the fresh vegetables.

Micklethwait Craft Meats: Another well-executed brisket. We got there early to skip the line. This brisket is juicy, fatty, and smoky. There is a fat marbling that brings flavor to the whole brisket cut.



Halal Gurus: This was not on the list but stood out. Crispy lamb over rice. The lamb was juicy, savoury, and seasoned in a middle eastern tradition. The yellow rice tasted of a deeply complex stock and executed to optimal softness. Lettuce strips, diced tomato, and Caesar dressing brought cool flavors to balance the flavor profile.

Halal Gurus, Austin, Tx


Don Japanese: This recommendation came from Reddit. I had left it off the list and they called me out. I’m glad they did. Don is cheap. Don makes super fresh rice boxed dishes with the delicateness and intrigue of an authentic Osaka street food stand. There’s no surprise the restaurant was packed with young Asian college students. Their dishes are rice covered in a well-executed, subtly flavored protein.

Juan in a Million: A massive filling breakfast burrito for cheap. The flavors are balanced.

Stony’s Pizza: The perfect cap to a boozy evening. Stony’s crust is soft, a bit wet, with savoury cheese and a touch of grease. This was a pleasant surprise. Did not expect well-executed pizza in Austin.

Also, it’s not an Austin spot per se, but the area has plenty of In N Out burgers. If you haven’t tried these, you need to . This is certainly not a secret. But In N Out has awesome fast food.  Order a Double Double Animal Style.


Disappointed with..
Uchi: A highly rated Sushi joint. The happy hour was loud and obnoxiously crowded. The service was slow. Their plates were mediocre by Japanese standards.

Salt Lick: A very popular BBQ refuge way outside town. The location is cool. It’s nestled next to a vineyard. However, the brisket and ribs lacks smokiness and were poorly executed. The connective tissue remained unbroken.


Dylan’s BBQ in Dallas: Surprisingly poor brisket for Texas. Connective tissue was unrendered and bite had significant stick and chew.

Fricano’s: Austin’s take on an Italian deli is a miss. The diagonally cut sandwiches were warm, meat was of mediocre quality, and the flavors weren’t well-balanced or even Italian.

For more details view my extended reviews on jackmaguire.yelp.com

Swimming Hole Standouts
Sculpture Falls- Deep in the Austin Greenbelt there’s a large hole. 150-200 people gathered with a makeshift boombox and small granite jumping rocks 6 feet high.

Pace Bend State Park- A bit farther from town. This peninsula on Lake Travis has a dope variety of cliff heights, views of the Lake, and a youthful crowd.

Pace Bend Cliffs

Rio Vista Park- A crowded wide stream with man-made rapid chutes. There were a ton of people at this one on Memorial Day. 300 people.

Bars
Rainey street is a row of twenty bars that were recently houses. The area has a residential feel. Yet, it was consistently LIT (i.e. crowded.) The crowds were calm & friendly.

Sixth Street is a party zone. The police block off the street for foot traffic only. There are 50-75 bars all with lines out the door. The streets are packed with young party-goers from all other the world.

Austin is super fun. There are tons of food trucks with exceptional food. People are polite. The town is not obnoxiously hip or weird. It’s big enough to support a full week of adventure yet small enough to feel manageable. It’s clean and contemporary. Austin is a great place for a vacation.

 

 

How to Plan Meals

Meal planning

Several of you asked how I approach meal planning. I break this into nutrition, budget, time management, taste, and quantity. Getting your meal planning in order will help inform many other weak points in your life’s organizational structure.

Meal planning- Burger

 

Budgeting

Most finance sites recommend you spend no more than 14% of your budget on food. You can use this calculator to see how your food spending compares to people like you around the US. My philosophy is to spend as little as possible while eating food that is healthy and appealing to your palate. I don’t pinch pennies when it comes to food. I don’t have to. I buy the food I want at the lowest price I can find while also looking for discounts. I follow a hierarchy of purchasing criteria which I’ll get to at the end. This ends up being temporally staggered as I run out of things in the fridge. By shopping at ALDI first and filling out the weekly haul with the higher quality stuff from the bigger chain stores one saves significantly.

 

Nutrition

We all have nutrition goals. What we eat impacts how we feel, sleep, perform, and look. It can indirectly impact our self-image. Thinking about nutrition is a necessary piece in living consciously. To eat without choosing thoughtfully is to acknowledge that how you feel, sleep, perform, and look is not important to you. It’s denying that our food choices impact our mental and physical states in profound ways. If your mind and body are not important to you, do you think it will be important to anyone else?

That being said, consider your goals. They are extremely important in meal planning. Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to sleep better? Do you want to feel energized for exercise? Do you lag after lunch? Do you go to sleep distracted by hunger or being too full? I won’t answer these questions here, but think about them and think about ways you can address them. Food can be more than sustenance, it can be medicine. Use this web app to see what nutrients your diet is lacking. Get your levels lab-tested by a service like Spectracell or DirectLabs. Know about how many calories you want to eat and what your portions should look like. If you want to get it perfect, weigh your food with a simple scale. Your nutrition and health should set conscious parameters on what you buy and cook.

 

Taste

This one is all about trial and error. Using the insights you gain from your nutrition goals, what in your ideal nutritional diet actually tastes good? Identifying this will help you stick to your meal planning and help you get excited about meals and improving its structure. It is imperative that you keep an open mind during your initial meal planning stages. You may find that some things (like Kale for instance) suck in one form (raw) but are delicious in another (cooked and blended into a soup.) I eat a ton of blended vegetables because I find them much more pleasant like that. Try out restaurants and note how they prepare your favorite dishes. Do you understand salt/acid/fat and how they balance? Don’t even begin to add seasoning until you’ve got a handle on the balance of salt (e.g. table salt or Tony Chachere’s cajun seasoning), acid (e.g. lime juice or vinegar), and fat (e.g. olive oil, butter, avocado, ground beef). Learn the way seasonings complement certain meats. The Flavor Bible is an epic resource for this. There are some great cookbooks that focus on learning to cook. I love Ruhlman’s 12, 4-Hour Chef, and How to Cook Everything: The Basics. Each in their own respect will teach you to think like a chef. From there, with a basic understanding of ingredients and flavors, begin trying out recipes in one of the classic “everything” books: how to cook everything or the more classic and just as ubiquitous middle age-mom cookbooks, “joy of cooking”.

Meal planning- Flavor Bible

Quantity

Nearly one-third of all food in the US is thrown away. This constitutes a major ethical and financial issue. Don’t expect to buy the proper amount of food right away. Buy what you think you need and be observant of what you’re throwing away and what you’re keeping. Have an understanding of food expiry dates. Understand what bad food looks and smells like. After a few weeks of shopping, note how much you threw away. Being conscious of this will impact your purchase behavior at the grocery store.

 

Fresh produce and meat is great. But, it spoils quickly. If you’re trashing fresh produce now, chances are you will continue to do so. Don’t keep doing the same thing. Convert your fresh supply grocery list items into frozen. Frozen vegetables can be as nutritious as their fresh counterparts. Tend to purchase frozen vs. freezing fresh items. The professional freezing process is less damaging to food than your fridge.

 

How you prepare your meals is up to you. Consider how much variety you think you need. Do you really need it? I’m happy eating 2 different meals for dinner during the week and often the same things for lunch every day. It sounds boring, but it really isn’t. Food is satisfying when you’re hungry as long as it’s tasty. I sometimes prep meals in bulk (4-5 lunches) but I find that I end up wasting 1-2 portions each week. Batch cooking dinners and eating leftovers for lunch. But, I know that leftovers lead to uncontrolled snacking. To prevent between-meal snacking I prefer to have very little prepared food in my fridge. This is a personal preference as with so much of what I’ve written (perhaps not just here, but on this entire blog!)

 

Meal-building

Know your nutrition. Purchase with your budgetary standards in mind. Note your tastes. Note which fresh food items you frequently trash. Meal planning is an exercise in conscious living. Consider it an act in cherishing life.

 

My Meal planning purchase hierarchy

 

  1. Go to ALDI

    1. Is there something on deep discount that I’d enjoy? Buy that.
    2. Are there other items there I’d enjoy?

 

I usually end up getting a few deep discount items at ALDI, like

  • Eggs
  • Sauces
  • Specialty yogurts
  • Specialty drinks like Kombucha

 

I always buy there:

 

  • Avocado (1)
  • Onions (if needed)
  • Sweet potatoes (if needed)
  • Organic chicken
  • Organic ground beef
  • Staples like salt, oils, or flour
  • Jasmine rice
  • Hard cheese (Romano/Parmesan/Asiago)

 

  1. Giant or regular nicer grocer

  • Fresh herbs
  • Nicer pasta sauces without high sugar/HFCS
  • Wild caught fish
  • Grass-fed butter
  • Nicer salsas (I like Mrs. Renfro’s)
  • Ground chicken
  • Marinated organic chicken
  • Frozen vegetable blends (cheaper than ALDI).
    • I really like the Normandy blend
  • Frozen Kale (for Fiber and Micronutrients)
  • Strawberries to freeze
  • Bananas for smoothies
  • Better than Bouillon Chicken broth base
    • Very good for flavoring soups and sauces. (ain’t no way I’m keep a running frozen stock at my place with a fridge shared by 4 guys).
  • Ginger Kombucha

Meal planning- Salad

 

Consume Consciously

 

Think consciously about your meal planning choices. They impact you in lasting ways. Consider the impact your choices have on your budget, taste, and nutrition. Do your actions line up with your goals? Consider reflecting on the thoughts here to structure meal planning that caters to your overall tastes, health goals, and budget.

Two days in NYC: Where to eat in March 2017

The Plan

My friends are busy. We can’t ever vacation together. I decided to do something about this. I polled my friends to figure out what would work. What worked? NYC in early March.

7 of us are staying in a 3 bedroom apartment in Chinatown Manhattan. It will be a weekend of exploration, food touring, and horseplay. The rooms are $45pp/per night. Not bad for NYC. I want my friends to draw the most from NYC as possible. I’ve built a map of restaurants for us using Yelp and Reddit’s sentiment ratings (karma). I hope others can benefit from this project as well.

Creating the Map

I picked Yelp’s top cheap eats on the island of Manhattan using their site search functionality. I used my experience to filter through 30 pages of Yelp search listings. Yelp’s site uses a sorting system that isn’t descending-ratings based. There are some gems buried deep down the ranking list. I went deep.

This map has 35 Yelp listings and 27 local NYC redditor recommendations. Reddit locations include recommended menu items. I believe maps are better than lists or itineraries because they allow for more flexibility for breaks and weather changes.

The Map

Our schedule

  • Friday early morning: Drive to NYC. Beat rush hour.
  • Park in Staten Island (street or affordable municipal garage). Free ferry to Manhattan.
  • Walk to Chinatown apartment to drop bags.
  • Lunch in Le Bernandin Lounge (no reservations possible). $55 City Harvest lunch. 3-Michelin starred and #24 restaurant in the world. Jackets recommended.
  • Wander city
  • Rest/Hang out/Socialize
  • Dinner at Yasaka for omakase Sushi (reservations made.) Top affordable omakase in Manhattan.
  • Friday night on the town (Lower East Side or Meatpacking District)
  • Saturday morning breakfast snacks from Kopitiam and Round K.
  • Begin Saturday food tour 11am. Most restaurants then open for lunch.
  • Get two lunch items from 7 of the best and accessible places on the map
  • Saturday afternoon relax.
  • Saturday evening dinner at either Minetta Tavern (best burger in NYC) or Amelie Cafe (best casual sit-down).
  • Saturday night see how we’re feeling an adjust plans accordingly.
  • Sunday morning Church
  • Sunday afternoon Ramen tour: Ivan, Ippudo (make walk-in reservations early), and Minca
  • Sunday early evening happy hour with friends currently living in NYC setup via Facebook event.
  • Sunday evening depart NYC, return friends to respective states of residence.

Touring New York City for Food

New York City is constantly in flux. The best food places can open and close within a couple days. It’s important to have a plan of action in a city with limitless options fighting to win your attention. Many are mediocre fast food spots catering to speed and convenience over excellence. NYC has some of the greatest and most diverse food choices in the world. Be selective and reap the benefits of this world-class food destination.