The world knows Austin for its Tex-Mex and barbecue — overstuffed breakfast tacos, melty bowls of queso and even meltier brisket, with long lines to back up their fame. The city has become a full-blown food destination filled with restaurants that fuse those flavors with other kinds of cuisine, such as Korean or Japanese. But this month, when the South by Southwest festival returns in-person after a two-year hiatus, the food scene will go into overdrive, with food trucks, pop-up restaurants and drink specials flooding the downtown area.
With a crowded schedule of panels, parties, live music, film screenings and brand events to check out, finding food becomes a matter of time and proximity. Sometimes the best meal is the one closest to the location of your next meetup, or whatever restaurant can be found with a free table to share with friends on short notice.
Here are some local favorites worth checking during the conference, broken down by their proximity to the main event.
Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill
This Southern restaurant neighbors the rear, east side of the Austin Convention Center, making it ideal for a nice sit-down lunch when SXSW exhaustion sets in. The menu is hearty, with fajita steak salads, corn-dog shrimp and chicken-fried steak among the dishes. Instead of bread, you will get complimentary seasoned popcorn to start. Moonshine also stocks a solid selection of Texas-brewed beers, bourbon, whiskey, rye and a dealer’s choice moonshine flight.
303 Red River St., Austin, Tex., 78701. moonshinegrill.com
Perhaps Austin’s biggest dining success since it opened in April 2019, Comedor was named one of the best new eateries in the state by Texas Monthly and one of the 22 best new restaurants in America by Esquire. The restaurant is the newest venture from Philip Speer, who was the director of operations at Uchi, one of Austin’s most beloved restaurants for years. Critical raves have gone to the restaurant’s elevated Mexican cuisine, rich with goat barbacoa tamal and chichilo negro mole, and for its stunning dining room. A mix of shareable dishes, pricier “Fuerte” entrees and rich desserts, including the tamal de chocolate, have contributed to this young restaurant’s fast rise.
501 Colorado St., Austin, Tex., 78701. comedortx.com
This underground food hall includes Austin staples such as TLV Israeli street food and Henbit’s farm-to-table dishes. There is also a full beer and wine bar, and brunch every weekend until 5 p.m. It’s easy to miss below ground at 111 N. Congress Ave, just north of the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, but it’s worth finding for quick, nourishing bites.
111 Congress Ave., Austin, Tex., 78701. faregroundaustin.com
Veracruz All Natural
“Tasty tacos” and “healthy eating” don’t typically go together, but Austin’s Veracruz All Natural has built a reputation for that since its first food trailer opened in 2008. Now with six locations (three restaurants and three trucks), the local chain has become known as one of the most reliably excellent taco joints in the city. Its staples include migas tacos, open-faced chilaquiles tacos, mole chicken tacos and a cochinita pibil tacos with sweet, fried plantains. Visit the Cesar Chavez location, which is a few blocks from the convention center.
111 E. Cesar Chavez, Austin, Tex. 78701. veracruzallnatural.com
Texas Chili Parlor
If you think it’s a joke how seriously Texans take their chili, just try to argue with one about whether beans belong in it. Texas Chili Parlor does the classic as well as any restaurant in town, with spicy gradations going from mild to say-goodbye-to-your-loved-ones hot. For the whole Texan experience, try the Frito Pie, the Parlor’s bowl paired with Fritos, onions and melted cheese.
1409 Lavaca St., Austin, Tex., 78701
Whole Foods Market flagship store
The headquarters and flagship store for the Austin-born, Amazon-owned healthy-food empire is a sight to behold, with a gorgeous rooftop deck, generous underground parking and more tofu than any human could ever hope to digest. For quick meals, though, it’s also home to miles of salad bars and treats, as well as counter-service eateries including Bowie BBQ, a noodle bar, pizza by the slice, and draft beer and wine bars.
525 N. Lamar Blvd. Austin, Tex., 78703
The food trailer where people lined up for some of Austin’s best brisket and other barbecue has become a brick-and-mortar grocery store, bar and restaurant that still serves long lines. When you weigh the quality of meats against the queue (usually about an hour or less during the week), La Barbacue is a more sensible, no less delicious alternative to Austin’s most famous brisket house, Franklin Barbecue. Great meats, great sides, and far enough from the craziness of downtown that you’ll feel less crowded. It closes at 6 p.m. and isn’t open on Mondays and Tuesdays.
2401 E. Cesar Chavez St., Austin, Tex., 78702. labarbecue.com
This shabu-shabu nabe (hot pot) restaurant is from the team behind the city’s successful Ramen Tatsu-ya restaurants. You’ll pay for steamy pots of broth into which you’ll dip vegetables and meats such as Wagyu beef, pork belly and shrimp meatballs. You can go big with a “Baller Omakase” or keep it simple with modest pot setups depending on the hunger and size of your sharing group.
7301 Burnet Rd., Suite 201, Austin, Tex., 78757. dipdipdip-tatsuya.com
Juan in a Million
This breakfast-and-lunch restaurant covers a wide swath of landlocked Tex-Mex cuisine, from barbacoa breakfast tacos to carne guisada and tres leches cake. Don’t expect coastal seafood dishes at Juan in a Million, but do expect to get a very inexpensive meal with traditional beans, rice and lots of cheese. Seating is plentiful, and you won’t be waiting too long before your belly is filled with fresh flour tortillas and queso.
2300 E. Cesar Chavez St., Austin, Tex., 78702. juaninamillion.com
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