South By Southwest 2011 Dining SuggestionsMarch 14, 2011
Well, it’s that time of the year again. The sprawling, dynamic bundle of creative energy known as South by Southwest has once again brought it’s unique array of music, film and IT folks to Austin. Now, recognizing that SXSW does change the dynamic of downtown dining a bit during its tumultuous 10-day run, here are some suggestions that both locals and visitors alike might find helpful.
Chinatown on 5th St.
Wonderful Chinese food by the reigning master Ronald Cheng. Open late and even more importantly, they deliver. His dumpling are to die for.
Péché on 4th St.
This is next door to one of Austin’s major music venues, Cedar Street. The food is French influenced and the cocktails are mixed by the most knowledgeable mixologist in the city. Great adult restaurant. Killer atmosphere. You know what a Sazerac is? Well you should find out.
La Traviata at 3rd and Congress
Best Italian food downtown prepared by the inestimable Marion Gilchrist. The Linguine Carbonara is absolutely scrumptious. Her soups are amazing. And get the Granita for dessert.
McCormick and Schmick’s at 4th and Congress
This is a great downtown seafood restaurant. Everything fresh. Best and coldest oysters around. Love the salmon preparations. And the whole Maine lobsters!
Perla’s on South Congress
Another wonderful seafood spot. Owned by Larry McGuire of Lambert’s BBQ fame. I love this place. Very creative chef who understands how to do a Lobster roll and especially Soft Shell Crabs.
Botticelli’s on South Congress
Chicago-style Italian joint that make killer Chicago beef subs and other dynamic fare. You’ll feel like you’ve never left the windy city once you try this place.
Piranha Killer Sushi at 3rd and San Jacinto
Great sushi and sashimi joint featuring a chef with a light and creative touch. Open late with a very cool vibe to it. I love the Sashimi Salad and the Salmon Ceviche.
Max’s Wine Dive at 3rd and San Jacinto
Next door to Piranha, this place has reinvented the art of fried chicken as a fine dining option. Don’t believe me? Try to get in on a weekend night. Great wine list as well.
That’s right, the fabled UT quarterback and current pro star with the Titans has his own steakhouse at 3rd and San Jacinto (across the street from Max’s). This is not just some celebrity joint where jock sniffers go to worship at the statue of Bevo. It’s the real deal. From the Charcuterie to the Ribeyes, it’s all good.
“2nd” at the Austonian. 2nd and Congress
This is uber-chef David Bull’s new joint in the Austonian and it rocks. Bull has pulled off upscale casual as few others can. From his Pepperoni soup to the Pork Bellies, it’s all good.
Trace at the W Hotel
Another neat new restaurant at the neat new W Hotel. There’s a new chef from New York City who is into local sourcing whenever possible and he’s got this place jumping. Upscale American cuisine.
Trio at the Four Seaons
Elmar Prambs and his crew are the best around. Stunning food year after year. The dinners are remarkable and Sunday brunches are even better. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried the Roasted Beet and Bleu Cheese Salad.
The Driskill Grill in the Driskill Hotel
This fine dining restaurant has seen its share of great chefs, beginning with the aforementioned David Bull, and then Josh Watkins. The current chef is no slouch either and a dinner there will prove to be expensive but worth it. Lovely ambiance.
Imperia at 4th and Colorado
This restaurant hit Austin like a spring thunderstorm a few years ago, then leveled off and found its form. Wonderful food with Asian accents and a terrific sushi bar under Tatsu San.
Cantina Laredo at 3rd and Colorado
This place defines Mexican in the downtown area. Way better than Maria Maria. Great tequila martinis and tableside Guacamole preparation. The Carnitas are worthy of great praise. Good service here as well.
Frank on Colorado
There is nothing I like more than a great hot dog. And Frank is all about that. They not only do every type of hot dog and sausage imaginable but also the fabled Canadian waffle poutine. (French fries with brown gravy and cheese curds.) Yum!
219 West at 4th and Lavaca
This place is all about sliders in every shape and size, great fries and other doo dads, and some really cool entrees as well. I’ve been a fan ever since it opened. Youngish crowd but old farts fit in as well.
Truluck’s at 4th and Colorado
Good seafood and steak place with a killer location at 4th and Colorado. They also do marvelous Stone Crabs if that floats your boat. Pretty cool bar scene as well.
Kenichi at 5th and Colorado
Japanese and American fare that has gone through its faze as the hottest restaurant in the city about 10 years ago to merely a good, jumpin’ kind of joint where the food is consistently good. The Dynamite Shrimp are well, dynamite! (Great dish invented by founder Kenichi Kenada.)
III Forks at Cesar Chavez and Lavaca
This is a grown up steak joint with the very talented Jamie Guttierez at the helm. Man can this guy bring it or what? I love the elegance of this place along with the wonderful piano bar. And the steaks? Baby they are prime and primal.
Athenian Grille at 6th and Congress
OK, the owner is Albanian and not Greek. But the food is damned good. These folks know how to do Lamb and all your other Greek favorites. The Pastichio is also a unique pasta treat. Open late and surprisingly affordable.
Perry’s Steakhouse at 8th and Colorado
I know, another steak house but we have to mention this one. Great, sophisticated environment with a terrific lounge and perhaps the best Pork Chop in the city. This place works on a number of levels. But you will enjoy it on each one. Some customers store their own wines here. I prefer to just uncork an ’03 Caymus Special Selection cabernet and get on with it. Great Silver Oak collection as well.
Mike’s Pub on 8th
Best burgers in the downtown area. This is a greasy little joint and I love every inch of it. The cheeseburger is so damned good that I dream of it.
The Roaring Fork at 7th and Congress
Stellar fare of the American west with flavors that are at once comforting and riveting at the same time. The Cowboy Pizza is one of a kind and every bite should be savored. Likewise and green mac and cheese with the Muscovy duck breast! Wow. Wonderful bar scene where, unlike in some parts of Texas, the women have only one first name.
The Belmont at 6th and Lavaca
Used to be better on the food front but still worth mentioning for its live entertainment. Pretty sophisticated lounge with a 25-54 crowd.
Hut’s Hamburgers on W. 6th.
This place goes way, way back and it still delivers a good burger. I like the Buddy Holly myself and the humongous Onion Rings are the best around. The eclectic décor is vintage Austin.
Bess on W. 6th
This is best known for its famous owner and some-time Austinite Sandra Bullock. If nothing else, sit at the bar and see if Sandy pops in. The bistro-style food is decent but there have been too many chefs parading through here. I’m still rooting for it to step up. It would make a nice story.
Opal Divine’s on W. 6th.
A neat little local chain owned by Michael Parker and his wife. Some of the best black pepper fries around and the Philly Cheese tacos are seriously good.
My Favorite Trailers in the Downtown Area
Royito’s on W. 6th. Breakfast tacos and adman Roy Spence’s seriously original salsa.
Wurst Tex on South Congress. Next to the Mighty Cone. Seriously good dogs and sausages. I mean really good.
Whazabi at 5th and Colorado. You MUST try this place. Owned by the staff of Chinatown and featuring pork bellies on a Chinese bun, bulgogi, and a variety of goodies.
G’Raj Mahal. Off Cesar Chavez and Red River. Good luck finding it and good for you if you do. Fantastic Indian food.
The Flying Crepe at Gibson and South Congress. There is not a crepe that they can’t make. And it’s all good. Well maybe not if you’re low-carbing it. But what the hell, it’s SXSW!!!
Hey Cupcake! on South Congress (adjacent to Wurst Tex). The cupcakes here are nothing short of remarkable. The Carrot Cake version is easily my favorite and will probably be yours as well.