My younger brother Henry lives in Austin, Texas and works for South by Southwest. I had been meaning to visit him for the longest time, but life kept getting in the way and I realized somehow two years had gone by since he moved there, and I still hadn’t been to visit. There’s always a reason not to travel (work is busy, the Uber to the airport alone is $70, I just want to sit on the couch and watch House Hunters.) Sometimes you just have to take the plunge and book it. The moment I book the flight, or hotel, and a trip becomes real, I always wonder what took me so long.
Fresh off the plane, Henry picked us up and drove us straight to Veracruz All Natural, a taco truck in East Austin. The line wrapped around the truck twice, and while we waited we drank beers and watermelon juice and soaked up the Austin sun. (Much needed after winter in New York.) The famous taco at Veracruz is the Migas Taco- eggs, avocado, tortilla chips, pico de gallo and cheese. I can say from experience there is no better breakfast after 5 hours of early morning travel. And am I implying that we were drinking beers with breakfast? Maybe.
Speaking of drinking, Austin is an excellent place to do lots of it. The number of bars with outdoor areas, live music and good food is almost overwhelming. The choices! I recommend finding a spirit guide to help steer you through the options. Or, if you’re on your own, I checked out a couple of watering holes to get you started.
June’s All Day. Great for drinking and eating all day, but you didn’t need me to tell you that. Stopped here after an hour of looking through vintage stores on Austin’s South Congress for the *perfect* jean jacket. Also recommended as a reward for spending an hour looking for the *perfect* pair of cowboy boots at nearby Allen’s Boots.
Tiniest Bar in Texas. The place to go if you’re downtown, it’s 100 degrees and you want something cold and cheap and alcoholic. We sat here for an hour drinking prickly pear margaritas (very Texas) and people watching. And by people watching, I mean wasted-at-2PM bachelorette party watching. One thing you need to know is you will encounter a number of bachelor and bachelorette parties in Austin you didn’t think possible. Depending on how look at it, it can be annoying or endlessly entertaining.
Justine’s. Hands down, my favorite spot of the weekend. Justine’s is a little French bistro in East Austin with a big outdoor bar and seating area. The wait was long so we got a bottle of rosé and made the best of things. The coolest thing about Justine’s is that there’s a tiny photo studio out back that does incredible tintype portraits. This is the real deal, so the photographs aren’t cheap, but I can’t emphasize too strongly how worth it they are. (See the last photo in this post.)
Okay, before you start wondering if I all I did was drink in Austin, let’s get back to the food. Austin is known for barbecue, and has a few famous spots that get a lot of airtime. I want to tell you instead about Smitty’s in Lockhart, Texas. A thirty minute drive from Austin, this is serious, no-frills Texas barbecue, and you’d better go hungry. We ate brisket, smoked turkey, garlic and pepper sausage, coleslaw, baked beans, and plenty of white bread and Saltines to go with it.
Walking into the dining room at Smitty’s feels like taking a step back in time. The interior is bare-bones, with nothing but long communal tables, chairs, and a lot of napkin dispensers. Guests enter the restaurant through a dark, smoky room that houses Smitty’s giant barbecue pit and place their orders right next to the counter where the meat is being carved. It’s a barbecue experience truly unlike any other.
Portrait of Henry, our barbecue spirit guide.
On the last day of the weekend, we were finally feeling a little full. The perfect remedy was a trip to Austin’s famous Barton Springs for a lazy swim and nap on the grass. This is #1 on my do-not-miss-list if you’re visiting. And if you’re going on a weekend, go in the morning (I promise it will be hot enough) to beat the crowds.
Our final meal in Austin was at Café No Sé in South Congress Hotel. Ready for something fresh and light (at least lighter than barbecue), I ordered the golden quinoa bowl with fried chickpeas, an egg and lots of veggies. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. The doctor also ordered a bunch of baked goods, and the doctor’s friend had a breakfast sandwich, and everything was absolutely delicious.
I leave you with this tintype photograph.
“I look like a serial killer.” – Me
“This is the best photo of me ever taken.” – Joe