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