Note: With South by Southwest kicking off on Friday, March 12, until March 21, we knew there'd be bunches of hungry people in Austin. We turned to Austin-based blogger Citizen Taco to create our food-tineraries during the Music, Film, and Interactive festivals. —The Mgmt.
There's nothing like South by Southwest (SXSW) Austin's three-pronged mega-major arts festival now in its 24th year, to draw thousands of visitors to an unknown city. Yes, you'll be running around crazy all week (parties, panels, screenings, and more parties) but you can still experience the best of what Austin's food culture has to offer.
Though if you really want to eat well amidst the festival madness, be prepared for a little extra leg work. Nearly all the great food spots hide outside the downtown area.Read about the best tacos, street food, barbecue, coffee, vegan eats, dive bar, and draft beer, all after the jump.
How do you choose a single favorite in a town of so many superlative tacos? I can't, so instead I'll recommend Tacodeli, an Austin institution that boasts the best taco menu. With more than 30 different tacos (bison picadillo! portabella mushroom!) plus daily specials, you'll have a hard time deciding what to get.12001 Burnet Road, Austin TX 78758 (map) and 1500 Spyglass, Austin TX 78746 (map); tacodeli.com
Food Trucks: Odd Duck Farm to Trailer
The food truck fad has only invaded Austin within the last year or so, and more trucks open every week. One of the latest (and so far the greatest) is Odd Duck, where the simple yet inventive menu of small plates changes daily according to what's fresh on local farms, particularly artisan meats and cheeses. Head here for dinner before or after a screening at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar across the street. 1219 South Lamar Blvd, Austin TX 78704 (map); oddduckfarmtotrailer.com; Open Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m., and Friday/Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight.
Barbecue: Smitty's Market
The capitol city's reputation for having great barbecue is a bit undeserved, only because the best in Texas happens to be around Austin, out in the hill country. You'll no doubt see caravans cruising toward the infamous Salt Lick, but if you aim a little farther Southeast, the real experience awaits in small town Lockhart at Smitty's Market (where, as per tradition, your hands are the only utensil). 208 South Commerce Street, Lockhart TX 78644 (map); 512-398-9344; smittysmarket.com
Coffee: Caffe Medici
Coffee is decidedly less fussed-over here than in, say, Portland or Seattle or New York, but the closest thing you'll find is at Caffe Medici. Both locations cater to a quieter crowd, serving French press and house blend espresso without a surfeit of self-consciously uber-hip baristas. 1101 West Lynn Street, Austin TX 78703 (map); 512-609-9899; and 2222 Guadalupe Street, Austin TX 78705 (map); 512-474-5730; caffemedici.com
24-Hour Diner: La Mexicana Bakery
If you're looking for outstanding diner fare at all hours of the day—and don't mind nosebleed-inducing wait times—your best bet is Magnolia Café, but for a real adventure I like the neon mania of La Mexicana Bakery, where breakfast tacos still taste amazing at 3 a.m. 1924 South 1st Street, Austin TX 78704 (map); 512-443-6369; la-mexicana-bakery.com/
Vegan: Counter Culture
While Odd Duck relies on meat and cheese to work its food cart magic, Counter Culture uses neither one. Everything is vegan and half the menu is raw as well, including some of the best desserts (raw or not) anywhere in the city. Try signature items like gluten-free bruschetta or a jackfruit barbecue sandwich and save room for the weekly special "cheezecake" (if it's not sold-out). 120 E. North Loop Blvd., Austin TX 78751 (map); countercultureaustin.com
Dive Bar: Donn's Depot
Few cities do old-school dive bars as well as Austin. Where else can you find Chicken Shit Bingo every Sunday? (See it yourself at Ginny's Little Longhorn.) For something close to downtown without the festival madness, check out Donn's Depot, where a dance partner and retirement benefits are de rigueur.1600 W. 5th Street, Austin TX 78703 (map); 512-478-0336 donnar.home.texas.net
Draft Beer: Whip In
Though the best beer bar in the city has long been The Ginger Man, Whip In sports a powerful secret weapon: Indian food! Made from locally-sourced meats and produce, the recipes fuse equal parts Texas and tandoor. My personal favorite pairing? A pint of Belgian Kwak with a "Beef & Beer Chili" basmati rice bowl. 1950 South I H 35, Austin TX 78704 (map); 512-442-5337 whipin.com
About the author: Blessed with a fast metabolism and currently based in Austin, Texas, Citizen Taco eats everywhere and reports on the good stuff.