There's a reason nobody wants to be called a "tourist"— the term usually conjures up images of a lost, map-wielding newbie who sticks out like a sore thumb. Luckily, we're here to help you not be that person with this handy guide to staying well fed — and hydrated— in the capital of Texas.
How to get your hands on Texas barbecue without standing in line
Franklin Barbecue is known across the globe for its epic lines. And, while the meat might be worth it, some folks just don't have time for that kind of wait on a brief visit. Have no fear: there are plenty of places to get your brisket fix without spending your whole day obtaining it. Just down the street from Franklin, Micklethwait Craft Meats serves artisan sausages, unique sides and seasonal moonpies, plus all your usual cuts of meat. Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ is worth the trek into South Austin for both Tex Mex inspired dishes and homegrown Texas barbecue. Freedmen's and Ruby's BBQ, both located near UT campus, sling high quality 'cue into the nighttime (and both are restaurants where you can sit down and stay awhile).
The best barbecue line to stand in (if you must)
If you're one to abide by the "when in Rome" motto, you may just find yourself in line for barbecue anyway — and that's okay too. Just be sure to consider your options. While you can easily stay caffeinated thanks to Legend Coffee's location at Franklin Barbecue, regulars know to BYO everything else, from lawn chairs to coolers full of beer, for a wait that can take upwards of four or five hours. Those in line at John Mueller Meat Co often enjoy free beer courtesy of the legendary pitmaster. But La Barbecue takes the (beef)cake by offering free beer and live music on most weekends. Plus, its proximity to other food trucks make it easy to stay hydrated and happy with treats like Thai iced tea and mango sticky rice from Dee Dee Thai, smoothies and acaí bowls from Raw Goods and gelato and sorbet floats from Gelateria Gemelli's new truck.
How to stay cool in the scorching heat
For out-of-towners, the Texas heat can be a rude awakening on a spring or summer visit. Be sure to familiarize yourself with all the local swimming holes, from the very necessary Barton Springs and Deep Eddy to spots along the Greenbelt (after enough rainfall) to nearby gems like Jacob's Well and Hamilton Pool. Be sure to plan food and drink accordingly (check out this recent post for some more ideas) and rest easy knowing that most Austin bars also offer frozen relief. Choose from a variety of "poptails" (cocktails in popsicle form) at Cheer Up Charlie's, visit Haymaker on Fridays for adult slushy happy hour and check out the most recent frozen offerings at bars like King Bee, Contigo, The Hightower, Geraldine's and more.
How to barhop while avoiding "Dirty Sixth"
The truth is...it's quite avoidable. In fact, the only people who really hang out on the section of Sixth Street between I-35 and Congress (aka "Dirty Sixth") are college kids and tourists. Of course, there are some exceptions to the rule (Midnight Cowboy, Parkside and Backspace are all discreetly tucked into the belly of the beast), but there are also plenty of outlying areas for barhopping. Rainey Street is the slightly more adult version of Sixth Street, with lively bars a-plenty set in bungalows, legit cocktails at Half Step and all the Texas beer at Craft Pride. Pass under I-35 and discover a whole new world in East Sixth Street, where the bar options begin with Shangri-La and end with Whisler's. And in recent years, Cesar Chavez has become another barhopping destination, with Weather Up, Stay Gold and Drinks Lounge clustered together, just a short walk from plenty of restaurants.
Where to refuel on South Congress Avenue
You're walking around in the heat, popping in and out of shops on South Congress Avenue and suddenly you're famished and the icy margaritas at Guero's are looking pretty nice. While the iconic Tex-Mex restaurant is great for people-watching from one of the coveted sidewalk tables, head down the hill toward the Capitol, passing the epic line at Hopdoddy, and opt to lounge on the patio at Perla's for oyster happy hour and drink specials. For more of a pick-me-up, visit the South Congress Hotel's new coffee and juice bar Mañana, which also features pastry chef Amanda Rockman's sweet treats, which are half-off each day from 5–9 PM. On weekends enjoy treats from the Stephen F. Frostin' ice cream truck too.
Where to dine after watching the bats
If your plan is to linger on South Congress all day and then watch the bats emerge from under Congress Avenue as the sun sets, be sure you have dinner reservations arranged. As the winged ones make their way into the night in search of their own dinner, they leave behind a swarm of hungry tourists looking for food in the vicinity afterward. Book ahead of time at Otoko, the South Congress Hotel's 12-seat omakase concept from Yoshi Okai, or enjoy classy Italian food at the iconic Vespaio. Venture across the bridge into Downtown for a three-, five- or seven-course tasting at COUNTER 3.FIVE.VII. or relax over a more casual dinner at Swift's Attic, Second Bar & Kitchen or The Bonneville.
Where to wine and dine before or after a UT football game
Unless you happen to have friends parked in the epic tailgating circuit surrounding UT, arriving to a game hungry means you'll be a slave to the Darrel K. Royal-Texas Memorial food court (which certainly isn't the worst thing in the world, now that they boast a Torchy's Tacos and Hat Creek Burger Co). But if you're looking for a more substantial meal with drinks near the alcohol-free stadium, there are several great options. Hopfields carries an awesome selection of beer and wine to accompany its French inspired cuisine, Goodall's Kitchen serves upscale American fare inside the Hotel Ella and The Carillon crafts modern, Texas-inspired dishes (and both the latter restaurants boast a full bar with craft cocktails and extensive wine lists).
Avoid the brunch rush (to the best of your ability)
Austinites sure do love brunch, so if you roll out of bed late on a weekend and expect to easily snag a seat somewhere, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise. However, there are plenty of places offering brunch these days, so your best bet is to choose somewhere slightly more off-the-beaten-path (and always call to see if a reservation is possible). Try Elizabeth Street Cafe (where you can find an almost-identical French-Vietnamese breakfast menu at 8 AM daily, in case you miss weekend brunch), Whip In for unique Tex Mex-Indian offerings and Austin Daily Press, which serves the city's favorite meal on Sunday–Thursday from 11 AM–11 PM and Friday–Sunday until midnight. For more suggestions, check out these recent unique brunch and brunch gems posts.