Full disclosure: It’s been a long time since I lived in Texas and when I did, it wasn’t in Austin. However, over my 23 years in that state, the city became my kinda-Mecca. (Sacred, yes. Holy, no.)
All of which is not a bad way to describe the perspective of the tens of thousands who converge on SXSW every year. If you’re among them, you deserve to eat well. Or to put it another way: You’re a fool if you don’t. The best breakfasts in any city/state/country. Fantastic Tex-Mex. And, of course, the barbecue.
With that in mind, I’ve assembled a top-10-plus-five list: Ten places I know, love and can vouch for; five that I don’t know but hope to based on recommendations from Those Who Know. Some, but not all of these places are within or walking distance from Austin’s downtown. For the closest-to-definitive list of SXSW-accessible restaurants, go to SXSW Baby!, the terrific and utterly unofficial SXSW blog. There you’ll find a fairly exhaustive rundown, complete with Google Map.
Our lists share some names, but I’ve given myself the luxury of including spots that demand a rental car. (A small price for gingerbread pancakes at Kerby Lane.)
Enough preamble. Here’s the food, sorted by name and SXSW proximity.
Driskill Grill. Inside the Driskill Hotel, it’s probably fancier than anything you need but the former home of a cattle baron provides a hell of a dining room. 604 Brazos St. (512) 474-5911
Iron Works. Next door to the Convention Center, but you’d drive miles for barbecue this good. 100 Red River. (512) 478-4855
Las Manitas. Migas, breakfast tacos, cinnamon coffee and everyone you’ll ever want to run into at SXSW. 211 Congress Ave. (512) 472-9357
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue. Open a little more than a year, billed as “fancy barbecue.” Have yet to test the oxymoron. 401 W 2nd St. (512) 494-1500
Restaurant Jezebel. Open for dinner only and only if chef-owner Parind Vora is there. Reservations: Good idea. 914 Congress Ave. (512) 499-3999
Roaring Fork. Half-price happy hour, convenient and hard to get through SXSW without meeting someone here for a drink. 701 Congress. (512) 583-0000
Torchy’s Tacos. A new Downtown location for the Austin institution. Haven’t tried it yet; that will soon change. Open until 3 am on weekends. 511 E 6th St. (512) 474-7000
Hudson’s on the Bend. Another road trip, this one high end; home to the best game and smoked fare you’ll ever eat. 3509 Ranch Road 620 North. (512) 266-1369.
Salt Lick. About 20 miles from downtown, it’s practically a day trip. Worth it. 18001 FM 1826, Driftwood, Texas. (512) 858-4959
Café Magnolia. Another 24-hour bonanza, this one the home of Mag Mud: Queso, black beans, avocado and pico de gallo. 1920 S. Congress Ave. (512) 445-0000
Fonda San Miguel. This is not Tex-Mex. Order sangria and one of the chile rellenos. 2330 W. North Loop, (512) 459-4121
Hoover’s Cooking. The smothered pork chops are said to be exemplary. And yes, Texans eat like this all the time. 2002 Manor Road; (512) 479-5006
Jasper’s. Owned by Kent Rathbun, who kicked Bobby Flay’s butt on the 2008 season premiere of “Iron Chef America.” The secret ingredient was elk. 11506 Century Oaks Terrace. (512) 834-4111
Kerbey Lane Cafe. Gingerbread pancakes. ‘Nuff said, but it’s also open 24 hours. Four locations, including 2606 Guadalupe St.; (512) 477-5717
Tamale House No. 3. Ignore the name; it’s the breakfast tacos you want. And at 85 cents each, you can want a lot. 5003 Airport Blvd. (512) 453-9842