You know when you meet someone and you just like them? Like, like them in your guts. That’s what happened when I met Roslayn Rojmar while in Austin, Texas for the ATX festival with my Suits castmates a couple months ago. It didn’t hurt that we were twinning in matching panama hats and cat eye frames, or that she was so effusive about her love of the show, and even moreso of The Tig. And then it dawned on me – while most Insider’s Guides have been from friends in the celeb/high profile spectrum, at their core, these guides are about getting the best intel on a city from someone whose judgment you trust – no matter what they do, or where they come from. Simply cool people who aren’t going to send you to a tourist trap. Cue Rosalyn – the kind of gal you look at and say, “I want to eat where she eats, shop where she shops, hang where she hangs…and walk my dogs where she walks hers.” Serendipity at its finest for this perfect guide to Austin, Texas. Thanks Rosalyn! You really are such a gem. #TigTeam for life.
Call it divine intervention or just pure dumb luck but when Meghan asked if I wanted to write the Insider’s Guide for my beloved Austin, well I’d ask you to pinch me, because I’d have to say I was dreaming. Austin, you spoil me every day! Your combination of weirdness, southern heart, western spirit, and Yankee intellect make it hard not to brag and in writing this for The Tig, you made me fall in love with you all over again. Here’s my home, my weird little city!
Launderette – What was once a laundromat is now the new standout of this year, mostly because Chef Rene Ortiz and pastry [genius] Laura Sawicki are absolutely fearless in the kitchen. Their Mediterranean influenced menu is both complex and approachable. Favorites include the very trendy soft egg-asparagus toast, the branzino, the lemon curd tart and after all that finish it off with a birthday cake ice cream sandwich – adorned with sprinkles of course. You know what, scratch that. Everything. Just order everything on the menu. Just go. Wait, finish reading and then go.
Sway – My “Welcome to Austin! Pretty please don’t move here!” ice breaker restaurant. Community tables that evoke conversation with strangers, family style plates meant for sharing, and every dish has a respectable amount of fusion of Asian flavors. I came to this Thai inspired restaurant when it first opened during lunch and I couldn’t quite get enough so I returned that same day for dinner! Listen, they just get it. Finally a menu that isn’t afraid of flavor. Cue dishes like the Son-In-Law, Jungle Curry, their Tom Kai Gai is out of this world and of you still have room in your happy belly then I double dog dare you to order the white miso semi-freddo with mango sorbet. This is my go-to when I have friends in town and it continues to deliver.
Franklin BBQ – Bring a folding chair, a Yeti hopper full of beer and a good book because after the 2.5 hour wait you’ll enter barbecue nirvana. Believe me it’s worth the wait, the hype, and then some. Just ask Bon Appetite, they boldly named Franklin the Best BBQ Restaurant in America. Snappy sausage as juicy as you’d like, sweet and succulent pork, turkey as moist as a rib eye and the brisket is Aaron Franklin’s piece de resistance – it’s really the best brisket in all the land! Needless to say, get everything including the Lemon Chess pie. Otherwise, you’ll have one serious case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) if you don’t.
Qui – Quick confession, I secretly judge everyone’s meal when it comes to the table in hopes that I win. When it comes to Qui, everyone wins because behind the counter is none other than Top Chef Winner, James Beard recipient and Austin’s very own superhero Paul Qui. If you pay close attention, rumor has it that the design of his brick and mortar is a structured lab coat and it’s safe to say after a few visits, Qui and his group of chefs are going to do whatever they want. Their boundless imagination clears the high bar they set for themselves. They tinker and toy, dream and discover, formulate and test and the results can be as whimsical as the wall art of Peelander Yellow, as refined as the pottery from Keith Kreeger and as comforting as the recessed wooden walls. They offer (2) seven course tasting menus (which changes almost every week depending on what’s in season) and if by chance you’re there when they’re serving the short rib or the rabbit seven ways, everyone get their own. Everyone’s a winner.
Uchiko – Consider this one of the crown jewels. Frankly, I’m not sure there are enough superlatives for this one. Here’s one gastronomic. Founded by James Beard winner and mentor to Paul Qui, Tyson Cole was the pioneer that brought Austin from behind the shadows and into the limelight. Uchiko pushes the envelope with their unique marriage of flavors. Rather than sitting at a table, head straight to the sushi bar. It’s absolutely exhilarating and inspiring watching all the chefs (mostly women) working and learning together as a team. They put their passion in each dish and the quality is second to none. Take the plunge and treat yourself to the daily omakase. It’ll be some of the best fish you’ll ever have!
Food Trucks – Personally, you can eat your way through Austin. Which brings me to food trucks. I’ll make it simple – they are in a league of their own. If you need something fast, convenient and just as yummy as the aforementioned restaurants, here’s my fast, convenient and yummy guide:
Veracruz All Natural – Migas Breakfast Taco
Chilantro – Kimchi Fries with a fried egg (my husband’s favorite)
East Side King – Chicken Karaage and brussel sprout salad
Mighty Cone – Hot and Crunchy Chicken Cone with avocado
Gourdoughs Donuts – Any donut and then pat yourself on the back
Drink.Well. – This off-the-beaten-path intimate gastropub in the North Loop District serves up craft-forward elixirs in a vibrant atmosphere; and if you’re like me, my drink resume could use a facelift. Boasting over 75 different whiskeys and a whole menu section devoted to tiki cocktails, you’ll be writing down the exact measurements of the ingredients to remake it back home. Rainy Street – Not technically a bar or pub, however this street is chock full of them. Instead of heading to 6th street, I opted to take my friends to Rainey, Austin’s not so best kept secret. The neighborhood is tucked away on the southeast corner of downtown and is lined with old houses that have been converted to bungalow style bars. Think of it as a swanky house party for grownups, minus the solo cups. Bonus, pets are encouraged. I’d recommend Clive, Bar 96 and Icenhauer’s.
Dolce Neve – Just a few blocks south from Sway, continue your food crawl over to some authentic gelato. Need I say more? Sticking with the Austin theme, owners Marco, Leo and Francesca’s gelato is made from scratch with local and organic ingredients. What’s even more impressive is that they brought their vertical batch freezer all the way from Italy, a technology that dates back to the 60’s. It requires the user to know exactly when to stop the machine. The result is superior gelato. What’s the best flavor? Well, let’s just agree to disagree. Juan Pelota – Say what you will about Lance Armstrong, it takes a sense of humor and ah hem pelotas to name your café Juan Pelota. Not only that, this café serves up one seriously yummy cortado. I’d highly recommend taking your cup of Joe next door and browse around Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop; chances are you’ll run into a slew of cyclists that just finished their morning ride. So get there early!
Hotel San Jose – Built in 1936, this urban bungalow style hotel amidst lush garden courtyards really hits home for music lovers and artsy types. It’s an understated gem on South Congress Avenue. You can rent a bicycle and pedal over to the Congress Bat Bridge at dusk to see them fly into the night, tinker on a Remington typewriter or borrow an iPod stocked with tunes and jam out to some local music. The food at the restaurant and your fridge for that matter is organic and all locally sourced; the staff is over-the-top friendly and helpful. You’ll even find that in lieu of house slippers, you’ll find Toms or Havaianas for your wearing pleasure. Breakfast is delivered to your room in Bento Boxes, yes, Bento Boxes. At night, the pergolas twinkle with lamps and the musicians play alfresco. Hotel Ella – Southern charm combined with twenty first century décor and top notch service and you’ll be one of the cool kids staying at the new “it” hotel in Austin. The hotel itself is breathtakingly romantic; almost as if it came of a Nicholas Sparks novel. After you are done gawking at the gorgeous white pillars, head over to the oh-so-chic Parlor Bar and order a Cranberry Thyme cocktail and relax in their garden.
South Congress Avenue – Large department stores aren’t really our forte so we’d like for you to channel your inner Ariel because these quirky, eccentric boutique shops have got gadgets and gizmos a plenty, whozits and whatzits galore. It’s an array of store fronts that range from cowboy boots to an old school candy shop to an impressive costume shop. Heck, one of the boutiques is named Uncommon Objects. Nonetheless, this strip of misfit stores is great for strolling and window shopping.
Zilker Park/Barton Springs Pool – Our host to all of our 835 festivals. Austin City Limits Music Festival in October, Blues on the Green every Wednesday in the summer, Kite Festival, Fun Fun Fun Fest, just to name a few. Over 350 acres of outdoor serenity, one can play sand volleyball, soccer, have a picnic, yoga, get married – you name it. This park can do it all. After all that, hop over to Barton Springs Pool. The natural spring water is running at a cool 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Extra cool points if you jump in and do cannon ball.
Moody Theatre – If you didn’t come here for the food, then you certainly came here for the music. Nicknamed the “Live Music Capital of the World,” you better believe live music is playing in every other club, bar or venue on any given day of the week. Located inside the W hotel in the 2nd Street District is Moody Theatre, where Austin City Limits Live is recorded and has made many unknown artists into the superstar you know today. Just around the corner, the statue of Mr. Willie Nelson is there to greet you. This venue is super intimate so there’s not a bad seat in the house visually or acoustically.
Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail – It’s ten gorgeous miles of trails surrounding Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin and it serves as a social hub for runners, walkers and cyclists. Once there, you’ll find all walks of life from the hardcore marathon runner training for his/her next race to the family that is taking their new rescue dog out for a walk. It’s a wonderful sense of community. The neat thing is that you’re right by the water so rent a paddle board and spend the rest of your day with your head in the clouds.