Why are college neighborhoods often food wastelands? Yes, students are notoriously cheap, but the world is full of inexpensive yet delicious eats, so that's no excuse. Do campus area spots rely on a captive audience of car-deprived students? Or are they just too drunk to care about food? It seems like every large university is surrounded by boring chain restaurants mixed with mediocre pizza, burgers, and Thai food.
Several subpar taco joints are the only thing distinguishing the food around UT-Austin from the selection around other large state schools. There are plenty of restaurant choices to accommodate more than 50,000 hungry students, but most of them aren't particularly great. I beg you—venture outside the UT area to experience the full breadth of the unique Austin food scene. But if you find yourself stuck around the school, you'll be just fine if you stick to these recommendations.
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For a sweet treat, Ken's Donuts sells a variety of glazed donuts 24/7, and it's emblematic of Austin doughnut culture. Try the sour cream doughnut-- it has just enough tang to counter the sugary glaze. You can also pick up a delicately spicy potato samosa for later.
For a heartier breakfast, Kerbey Lane is a casual stand-by even though regulars seem down on the restaurant's recent redesign. They also do sandwiches, burgers, and a seasonal locavore menu. But Kerbey does breakfast best. Choose from a large selection of flavored pancakes (the gingerbread are popular), or get the Eggs Francisco—an English muffin topped with scrambled eggs, avocado, crispy bacon, and smothered in their famous queso.
University students and employees are always in search of a quick lunch, so the sandwich zone is a particularly dangerous minefield of hit-or-miss spots. Fricano's Deli cranks out huge sandwiches on bread that's toasted to chewy perfection. I'm saddened their garlic roast beef sandwich is no longer on the menu, but the new ultimate roast beef sandwich with coleslaw, pepperoncinis, and horseradish is a worthy summer substitute. Treat yourself to some of the best chocolate chip cookies in town for dessert. Fricano's has one downfall: I always order my sandwiches without tomatoes because they're usually mealy.
Try Verts Kebap if you're bored by traditional deli sandwiches. The two owners are former MBA students who missed the doner kebabs available in their native Germany. This German fast food, originally introduced by the large Turkish population, is an excellent alternative to Chick-fil-A's choke-hold on campus. Pita is stuffed with your choice of humanely-raised lamb and beef, chicken, or vegetables and topped with garlic yogurt or hot sauce.
There are tons of Tex-Mex fusion taco joints in town, but Torchy's Tacos is one of the best. A true Austin success story, Torchy's started as a food truck in 2006 and has since expanded into a bonafide taco empire. Tortillas are piled high with toppings like fried chicken, green chile pork, or smoked brisket, but they're known for their fried avocado. They always have a selection of Maine Root sodas on the fountain, and their chips and salsa are surprisingly excellent.
I wish Boomerang's were open past 8pm because their Australian meat pies would make the ultimate late night snack. All of them are wrapped in the same flaky and buttery crust, but stick to the standard beef pies seasoned aggressively with onions and Worcestershire sauce. It is also one of the few spots in Austin that sells Coopers beers.
Those in search of something lighter can stop at Tom's Tabooley for a taste of old Austin. Around since 1977, this place is a throwback to times when tabbouleh, hummus, and falafel were obscure vegetarian health food. The relaxed atmosphere of board games and comfy chairs encourages guests to stay awhile. My favorite item, strangely enough, is their fudge—flavored deeply with cocoa, it's the best pick-me-up if you're ever feeling down.
There are many places to pound some beers near UT, but recently opened Hopfields has added some down-to-earth sophistication to the bar scene. This gastropub serves casual French favorites like a jambon beurre sandwich, steak frites and salade Niçoise to complement its extensive draught beer selection and small wine list. Those who prefer something lighter can snack on marcona almonds, olives, or artisan cheeses. Don't miss the best fries in Austin: twice fried in peanut oil, served warm, sprinkled with coarse salt and a little tarragon, and served with a side of house made aioli.
For a pub experience approved by both Englishmen and UT chemical engineers, hit up Crown & Anchor Pub. I've scoured Austin's best burger lists, hoping that Crown will someday get a shout-out because they serve my favorite cheeseburger in town.The bun to meat ratio is perfect, and it's best served alongside a pitcher of Shiner Bock.
This food truck is stepping up the neighborhood's drunk food game by staying open until 2am. Love Balls specializes in Japanese street food like takoyaki—Japanese pancake balls stuffed with octopus or mushrooms. They're crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside. These balls could convert anyone into an octopus fan, as the filling is savory, balanced, without the rubbery texture. They're best smothered in spicy kimchi.
So your parents are treating you to dinner? There's actually respectable fine dining right on campus inside the University owned AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center. Over the past four years, Chef Josh Watkins has transformed The Carillon into one of the top restaurants in town. This is no small feat considering its location, and the crispy pork belly is a can't-miss dish.