Austin might not be the biggest, most diverse or cutting-edge food city in the U.S., but we're being hailed a food city nonetheless. And certain things are just better left to the Lone Star State. Read on for six things the capital of Texas does best.
Contigo's beer garden (Photo by M40 Photography)
In a city where dining alfresco is the norm about 10 months out of the year, it would be silly for Austin restaurants not to offer plenty of outdoor seating. The majority of establishments offer a patio or courtyard and, whenever a cold front sweeps in, the ubiquitous heating lamps work their magic. Some of the larger patios (Contigo, Whisler's, Justine's Brasserie) even set up a temporary tent for added coziness, while still allowing Austinites to do what they love best: eating and drinking outside.
Supporting Local Businesses
Around these parts, it's more difficult to find a chain restaurant than a local one. And, even at that, Austinites would much prefer to dine at an Austin chain over a larger one. Both In-N-Out Burger and Shake Shack arrived with much pomp and circumstance, but P. Terry's is still taking over the city with constant new locations. It would take most Austinites a minute to pinpoint a Chili's, but they could rattle off three Torchy's Tacos with no problem. In fact, our city's steadfast support of local businesses often launches them into certain national success, as seen in the cases of Chuy's and the Alamo Drafthouse.
Barbecue from Freedmen's
Some of the state's best barbecue can undoubtedly be found between its major hubs — take Snow's BBQ in Lexington or Louie Mueller in Taylor, for example. However, as far as cities go, Austin reigns supreme when it comes to smoked meats. Franklin Barbecue certainly gets the most attention, drawing fans from across the globe to stand in its renowned line and be rewarded with a tray of thick, juicy brisket, snappy sausage and succulent pulled pork. But there are plenty of other delicious options in town too: La Barbecue, Kerlin BBQ, Freedmen's, John Mueller Meat Co, Stiles Switch, Ruby's BBQ and many more...BBQ Revolution has even mastered plant-based vegan barbecue.
Casual Fine Dining
Perhaps it goes back to all the outdoor dining, but showing up at a restaurant in a three-piece suit will likely turn more heads than arriving in shorts. Though many other cities are starting to follow suit (no pun intended), Austin was already riding the casual wave back when other places were still enforcing dress codes. In the same vein, white-tablecloth-style dining is quickly becoming obsolete (RIP Congress, laV and Jezebel) as our city's innovative and talented pool of chefs continue to redefine "fine dining" (as seen in the laid-back cool ambiance of restaurants like qui, Launderette, Barley Swine, Sway and many more).
ACL Eats (Photo by Reagan Hackleman)
Redefining Festival Food
Long gone are the days when "festival food" meant hot dogs and liquid-cheese-product nachos. Austinites are straight-up spoiled with options from the wealth of vendors represented at Austin's many music festivals. With South by Southwest comes an entire curated food-trailer park called SouthBites, where festers can enjoy dishes from both Austin food trucks as well as various visiting trucks from around the U.S. like Salt & Straw and Toki Underground. Austin City Limits dedicates a section of Zilker Park to ACL Eats, a sprawling food court featuring everything from gourmet grilled cheese to Indian lamb curry to vegan cupcakes to fish tacos.
Balancing Booziness With Healthiness
What remains as much of an enigma as our mysterious illuminated moontowers is the way Austin manages to maintain the fine balance between being an incredibly health-conscious city and being an alcohol-fueled party town. A visit to Ladybird Lake hike and bike trail followed by a JuiceLand smoothie is a far cry from a bar crawl on East Sixth Street ending with 2 AM fried chicken at Red Star Southern. And yet, somehow, the wild and wonderful residents of this city manage to juggle both lifestyles (perhaps each in spite of the other?) — and look pretty darn good doing it too.