Sure, most of us go to SXSW for the music (or the gaming or the interactive whatever if that’s what you’re into), but dammit if I don’t also go to Austin every year to stuff my face with BBQ and drink like a thousand Lone Stars too. Newsflash: There are other drinks besides Lone Stars in Austin and there’s also other food besides BBQ. So follow along while I take you on this glorious ride of the best things I consumed in Austin, otherwise known as “how I got this wicked heartburn that won’t go away and loved it.”
The name is a mouthful and located at “601 N Interstate 35 Frontage Rd”, it’s as cutty as the address would suggest. Served out of a trailer with an adjoining deck on the corner of a Chevron parking lot, this was like an oasis when I stumbled upon it empty-stomached on an early afternoon and heading into Downtown for another day of SXSW. I had a bacon & egg and a chorizo & egg taco and they were a simple, unassuming expression of the Austin breakfast staple. I added fresh green salsa and at first, questioned the shredded cheese heaped on top of the taco, unmelted. But as I wrapped the warm tortilla around itself to start eating, the cheese slowly melted as I ate and I realized right then and there [The Wonder Years narrator voice] that this was a perfectly constructed breakfast taco.
I make a point to stop at a proper cocktail bar every year during SXSW and The Roosevelt Room might’ve just become my yearly go to. The bulk of the cocktail menu is broken down by eras and I went for the Corpse Reviver #2 from the “Prohibition (1920-1933)” section, which made sense, cause dammit if I didn’t feel like a corpse come Thursday. Made with Citadelle Gin, RR Triple Sec, Cocchi Americano, lemon and flamed Absinthe, it was the refreshing kick in the pants I need to start the evening. The presentation of the drinks at The Roosevelt Room is lavish, if not a bit over-the-top, but it’s more fun that way ya old horse! My #2 was served on an ornery copper coaster and a Luxardo cherry garnish rested on top of the glass through two crossed skewers. The large bar area was dimly lit and not too loud, exactly the type of atmosphere I want when taking a respite from the crowds over a fancy cocktail.
I’m convinced that Stiles Switch BBQ on N. Lamar Blvd is the best damn BBQ joint in Austin and maybe even the whole country (Hit me on Twitter to put me on blast if you disagree with the latter.) Housed in the same building as The Emporium from Dazed & Confused (seriously) it’s the most important 20 minute ride I take outside of Downtown every year. The gigantic beef rib is perfectly seasoned, crispy on the outside and falls right off the bone and the only thing more immaculate than the rib is the brisket, with pronounced grains, mellow smoke flavor and the right amount of delicious rows of fat in just the right places. I drool over their Instagram account all year waiting for my trip to Austin and when I’m there, sitting on the patio in the sunshine with live music playing is where it’s at.
Pinthouse’s flagship IPA has quickly become an Austin craft beer classic. It’s a beer that has recently vaulted Pinthouse on the Texas craft beer map and sees the almost seven-year-old pizza-and-craft-beer staple with now three locations in Austin. Packed with Simcoe, Galaxy, Citra and Aacca hops, the hazy brew has crazy tropical notes, and I just wanna drink a million of ’em. Can’t make it to one of their three brewpubs outside of the Downtown area? Look for them on draft around Austin and even at the airport (I had one before my flight home at 11am—no shame in my game.)
I went to this event put on by UberEats about LA hip-hop and Tacos where ace hip-hop journo Jeff Weiss guided a convo with Kogi-honcho and celebrity-ish chef Roy Choi about, you guessed it, hip-hop and tacos (lighten up, it’s South By.) Weiss prodded Choi about the music over the years that marked his gradual ascent to taco truck stardom and more, while Choi casually seasoned carne asada, grilled it on a Philips brand electric tabletop grill along with tomatillos, which he then put into a food processor for a salsa verde. Then (still mid-conversation) Choi heated corn tortillas on the same grill, chopped up the meat, onions, cilantro, and passed tacos into the crowd and holy shit they were incredible. Aaron Franklin even stopped by at one point with a brisket (This was ridiculous enough already, so why the hell not?), but Choi’s simple tacos stole the show. The dude didn’t need much to make a taco as good as any of the others I had in Austin and straight up, he’s a master.
The best way to get through a week at SXSW? Feed your body and do it right. Oaxacan restaurant, El Naranjo, was the canvas for my nicest dinner of the week and I’m still thinking about it. We ordered the Queso Oaxaca Fundido with mixed toppings, which is melty, stringy cheese, topped with chorizo, mushrooms and huitlacoche; the latter is a fungus that grows on organic corn and it’s a game-changer. I love trying unusual flavors and the extra umami of the huitlacoche provided a different profile to the familiarity of chorizo, mushrooms and the dense Oaxacan cheese. I should note that I also had a killer Costilla de Res, and the salsa macha that comes with the bread is the very essence of Oaxacan dishes like molé (I took a jar of it home, cause you can do that.) Plain and simple, Chef Iliana De La Vega’s restaurant puts on one hell of an experience amidst cluttered Rainey St. Go there.
Banger’s on Rainey St is a beer lover’s paradise. 200 beers on draft?! Each of the two 100 beer bars at Banger’s is separated by a corral of sorts, with ample picnic style seating during the day and a large stage during SXSW. They claim to have “the largest tap wall in Texas” and if another establishment chooses to challenge this claim, then I’m there! I came by to see Open Mike Eagle and De La Soul play at the StubHub showcase on Wednesday night and tried my best not to take forever to order as I stared at what felt like infinite options. I settled on a classic, Lone Pint’s Yellow Rose IPA, a Smash beer (single malt and single hopped; Mosaic) that I generally take a four-pack of bottles back home when I’m in Austin and had never had on draft. Made two hours east of Austin in Magnolia, Texas, Yellow Rose has a pronounced malt bill and is a fine expression of the mosaic hop. At 6.8% ABV, it was a great starter for a hip-hop show and I came back later for the Dallas-based Community Mosaic IPA (can you tell I like Mosaic hops?) and then a Maui Coconut Porter. If you want 200 great beer choices, Banger’s is your jam.
The Torchy’s Northshore location right off of Downtown is something else. It’s more of an elevated taco lounge with a full bar mixing craft margaritas, etc.. I got invited to an event put on by Edible where you could order any of the 12 Torchy’s tacos of the month. The Tokyo Drifter especially blew my mind with get this: “Teriyaki glazed pulled pork with sweet and sour veggie slaw, fried wonton strips, sesame sriracha mayo, cilantro & a lime wedge served on a flour tortilla” Not a traditional taco by any stretch of the imagination but it’s SXSW, c’mon.
If you’re in the Downtown Area, Cooper’s is your best bet for legit Texas BBQ. Four of us ordered moist brisket, a ribeye steak, pork ribs, lots of sides and perhaps the best Jalapeno Cheddar Sausage I’ve ever had (pictured up top). The gobs of cheddar cheese in the casing were gooey and the sausage was juicy and delicious. Give yourself a long walk around the block after visiting here though, you’re gonna need it.
I know, they’re just scrambled eggs and I don’t have a picture, but I swear to you, they were everything! Having a 2am breakfast before bed at The Magnolia Cafe on South Congress was the most nostalgic way to end my week on Saturday night. This place is open 24/7 and the clientele that night were SXSWers from all different walks of life. It felt nothing short of poetic to be soaking up the sins of our respective evenings alongside each other with a plate of buttery scrambled eggs. See you next year Austin.