The VICE Guide to Austin: Where to Eat
Tyson's Tacos. Photo by Josh Verduzco

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The VICE Guide to Austin: Where to Eat

Because not every taco in Austin is equal.
March 2, 2016, 6:00am

Austin is known for tacos and BBQ, and for good reason—there are no shortage of options for those things, and even the worst ones in Austin are pretty good. But there's more to the food in Austin than just the Texican staples. In the past ten years, the rise of food truck culture gave aspiring chefs the chance to try out proof-of-concept menus that have evolved to some of the city's best brick-and-mortar restaurants. Meanwhile, the city's population boom has meant that cuisines that have typically been uninspiring in Austin—Thai, pizza, Japanese, and more—now finally have enough of a constituency that places are serving them up well. You'd be a dummy to come to Austin and not eat BBQ or have tacos for breakfast most mornings, but you'd also be making a mistake if you kept your Austin menu restricted to just those things.

Franklin BBQ
You've probably heard about Franklin by now, because the place is fucking famous. It's famous because it has a long line, and it has a long line because it's genuinely the best brisket you'll ever eat. Initially our thought was to leave it off the list because you'll find it on every Guide to Austin ever written. But that'd have been dumb. The brisket is good because pitmaster Aaron Franklin sources only the best meat, which is also why it sells out so quickly, and why people start lining up at sunrise for a place that doesn't open until 11 AM. It's worth it, though—set an alarm, bring some lawn chairs, and just make a morning of it.

East Side King
Odds are pretty good you'll find yourself at an East Side King at some point during a trip to Austin, even if you didn't mean to, just because they're everywhere. The constantly-expanding Asian fusion food stand got its start as a truck with a menu created by Paul Qui—probably Austin's most celebrated chef—but now the owners have a combination of trucks, brick-and-mortar locations, and backyard setups at a half dozen bars serving pork belly buns, beet home fries, chicken kara-age, and brussels sprouts salad. Well worth the time.

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Bouldin Creek Cafe
Basically every vegan in Texas ends up moving to Austin in their 20s, and they all do it because there are restaurants like Bouldin Creek Cafe. Every item on the menu is either vegetarian or vegan, and the place can swap out the regular cheese with vegan cheese for 50 cents. These guys are not specialists in any type of cuisine—you can get pasta or enchiladas or fake BBQ or teriyaki stir-fry—but if you want to eat something extremely satisfying that involved zero animal suffering, you're in a good place.

Photo by Ben Sklar

Bowie BBQ at Whole Foods Market
If you can't do the line at Franklin, it's OK. It won't be nearly as cool to brag to your friends back home that you went to a fucking Whole Foods for some authentic Texas BBQ, but the flagship location on 6th and Lamar (which really has to be seen to be believed) has plenty of meat, no wait, and is near the top of the city's second-tier BBQ spots. It's not Franklin or La Barbecue, but it's a hell of a lot better than whatever slop they're passing off as BBQ wherever it is you're from. Get the moist brisket, watch a game at the bar, and try to pretend you're not at Whole Foods and you'll be unearthing a hidden gem.

Veracruz All Natural
There's so much delicious Mexican food in Austin, you're unlikely to go wrong with any of it. Like, if you just see some random Mexican restaurant five minutes away from where you're staying, it's probably going to have pretty good tacos. But if you're looking for the platonic ideal of the sort of Tex-Mex standards that people come to Austin for, Veracruz is the place to go. The menu is simple—breakfast tacos all day, steak or chicken fajitas, veggie tacos, quesadillas, aguas frescas, etc.—but Austin is a town of simple pleasures.

Tyson's Tacos photo by Josh Verduzco

Tyson's Tacos
Tyson's (pictured at top of page) is kind of overwhelming for the sheer variety of tacos served, all of which have rando names like "Wild Feminist" (egg, sausage, potato, avocado, pico) and the "Hippy Chick" (roasted tomatoes, corn, zucchini). A bunch of them are named after Star Wars shit, too, because Tyson is a nerd. He's also a nerd who leans hard into Austin's insufferable hipster image, promising free tacos to anybody who entertains the people behind them in line with a ukulele that the shop keeps in the window. Don't worry, nobody ever does that. Just buy your own tacos, but do it here, because these guys will deep fry egg yolks with bacon and cheddar, wrap that shit up in a tortilla, and feed it to you for three dollars. Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden
Did you know that central Texas has a whole bunch of German people? It's true—the first German settlers started arriving in the 1840s, which is why so much traditional Tejano music uses accordions. That's the sort of fact you can drop while you're spending hours at Easy Tiger, which is a chill beer garden with a massive patio overlooking Waller Creek downtown, and a German-themed menu for beer and food both. The stars of the show here are the house-made sausages (the garlic beef is fucking amazing) and the giant pretzels, but everything from the upstairs bakery is a solid A-minus or better.

Easy Tiger. Photo by Josh Verduzco.

The Omelettry
Check out this unassuming, kinda shitty-looking strip mall and find a whole bunch of good food (soup, vegan soft-serve, and more)—but show up in the morning so you can get breakfast. The Omelettry has been around since 1978, and there's still an hour-plus wait on weekends. The omelettes are all legit—it has 11 house omelettes, or you can build your own—but it also does the best pancakes/French toast/bacon breakfast in the city. It technically serves lunch too, but ignore that—the quality drop-off on that is severe—and just relive a youth of eating sugar and eggs for breakfast every morning.

Uchi
Once upon a time, nobody in his or her right mind would eat sushi in Austin, Texas. (Look at a fucking map.) Uchi changed that game, though, by being one of the best restaurants in the country even though it's a sushi spot in mostly landlocked Texas. People in Austin are still kind of yokels when it comes to spots like Uchi, so you'll want to make a reservation so you're not waiting around for a table with a bunch of goofballs in Longhorns ball caps, cargo shorts, and flip-flops, but the tempura alone will make it worth it.

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Cherrywood Coffee House
If you want your coffee served by a peppy baristas who definitely toured with a punk band in the mid 2000 and are still halfway committed to their artistic lifestyle even though they're finally finishing their degree, Cherrywood is the spot for you. It's a legit neighborhood coffee shop, which means you'll see people who are there 4–5 days a week whenever you go in, but that just means it's less touristy than most similar spots. It also has a full lunch/dinner menu that—surprise twist—has one of the best burgers in Austin.

Daruma Ramen photo by Josh Verduzco

Daruma Ramen
The conventional wisdom is that people don't come to Austin for ramen, they come for tacos and BBQ. That's not the whole truth, though—if you're coming from New York or San Francisco or something, sure, Daruma is a "maybe." If you're coming from East Dogshit, Texas, though, prepare for your mind to be blown. Daruma is a tiny noodle place in the middle of an otherwise-bereft stretch of Sixth Street that seats everybody family-style and serves four types of ramen (two of them come in vegan varieties). It's open for lunch and dinner every day—come for lunch and see people who work downtown enjoy the highlight of their workday, or come for dinner before going to a show on nearby Red River.

Via 313
Austin's never had much reputation as a pizza town, and that's fair—most of what the city has to offer is fine, but nothing you'd ever go out of your way for in a city with actual good pizza. Via 313 does Detroit-style deep dish so well, though, that even if you're visiting from the Motor City, you might want to stop by. This place started as a trailer, but by the end of 2016, there will be two brick-and-mortars to match up the pair of trailers near downtown. Go to Via 313, where pizza snobs with significant beards will take your order, and the burnt edges of the cheese on the thick, square pizza with a dollop of sauce on the top will take your heart.

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Amy's Ice Creams
This place is an Austin institution. If you've visited Austin at any point since the mid 80s, somebody probably took you to Amy's, or you got some at the airport. Good call! Amy's is fucking delicious, serving the creamiest of ice creams with a whole slew of cookies and candy and other junk to smash into it. The location on the tourist trap strip on South Congress has a mile-long line any day the sun is shining, which is like 360 days of the year, but any of the other locations will be easier to get in and out of.

Tyson's Tacos. Photo by Josh Verduzco

P. Terry's
There are plenty of great burgers in Austin, so if you're looking for where to get an all-natural, never-frozen sandwich, we'll direct you to the spot that is basically guaranteed to be within two miles of wherever you're staying, and where the burger costs $2.35 (add a quarter if you want cheese!). P. Terry's basically ignited a new trend for local fast-food chains that sell handmade, responsibly sourced shit that tastes better than McDonald's (think Shake Shack or In-n-Out or any other regional hamburger place that's a cut above), but costs the same amount, and it's still the standard-bearer for that group. With 12 locations all over the city and more probably opening soon.

Lucy's Fried Chicken
Fried chicken is a southern thing, and like all Texans, Austinites will argue that they're definitely not "the South," but that's a boring argument for snobs—the real question is, is the chicken legit? At Lucy's, it is—these guys do the usual parts, breaded and fried, but also gizzards and livers, fried green tomatoes, mac & cheese, chicken fried steak, and the rest of the best parts of southern cooking. It's a newer spot—there weren't really any straight fried chicken restaurants in Austin except for KFC and Popeye's until the late 2000s—but Lucy's gets it right, which is all that actually matters.

Photo by Ben Sklar

Food Trailers
Austinites love their food trailers so much, they forget the concept wasn't invented here (same with tacos). Regardless, there really is no better representation of the budding Austin scene than the hodgepodge of various cuisines hustling, cheaply, around the city. Franklin's, La Barbecue, and Chi'Lantro are just a few of now-popular brick-and-mortar spots that started with humble, trailer roots. Some popular places are scattered around, like near the North Loop area where there's the all-vegan taco stand the Vegan Nom, and just a few blocks away Biscuits and Groovey. Ever jones'd for Creole Peruvian fusion? Llamas, right by Dirty Sixth, has you covered. The best is when the food trailer parks coalesce around specific spots, so you've all the decadent choices of Nero's feast. The East Side Filling Station, in the heart of East Sixth, has exactly the kind of heavy drunk food you'd expect: There's Coat & Thai, and Wholly Kabob (self-explanatory), as well as Baton Creole, which includes fried jambalaya on a stick. Recently moved to just half a block east is Way South Philly, which offers the kind of greasy, disgusting Philly cheesesteaks that you only regret in the morning. The trailers at East Seventh Eats, just a couple blocks down, are for those drunk-munchers with slightly more refined palates. As with any food truck or trailer in Austin, tasty treats can up and leave with no indication of where they went. The solid Brazilian La Boteco is still there, but the city's best taqueria has since disappeared, like some drunkard's dream, replaced by a Asian-y looking place that looks respectable enough.

Photo by Ben Sklar

If you're more of the Saturday-in-the-park crowd, congratulations, you're body thanks you. And the reward is the Barton Springs Picnic and the nearby South Austin Social. The Picnic has laid down roots with a big, steel-and-concrete "roof" shading the picnic tables. The food's a bit higher-end and family friendly. The Mighty Cone sells friend (and sweet) things in cones. Turf N Surf Po' Boy's is a tad pricey, although generous on the portions, and Hey Cupcake! has a location there in case you somehow missed it on South Congress. Annoying in name, Hey! …. You Gonna Eat or What? does make up for it with some surprisingly complicated (and delicious) sandwiches that the staff members will spend forever explaining when they drop it off (it's because they care). A block away, the South Austin Social is less fleshy, but it does include some variety you don't see at other spots, including the Spanish Boca, the Lebanese Beirut Austin, a vegan spot called, ugh, Unity, and, a place simple advertised as "Eurasia Food." Known as "West Campus," this area of the University of Texas is what happens when college students are allowed to roam free, without any shock-collars. It is a terrifying place. Yet, among the rabble is Rancho Rio Eatery, with exactly the kind of variety you'd expect in a college cafeteria, but surprisingly better. There's a kinda-dodgy looking pizza trailer, Julie's Handmade Noodles, Korean Komfort, ATX Boudain Hut, MacDaddy's (mac 'n' cheese, get it). For dessert, there's the (also) cleverly named Holy Cacao for coffee and cakeballs (balls … of cake!), and the Cow Tipping Creamery. The tables are nice pieces of concrete-and-tile art, and there's The Glassmithtrailer, which, obviously does not sell food, but is exactly what you'd expect in a drug den like West Campus.