Dine Austin - Take a Bite Out Of The Capital City
When people think of exclusive cuisine, Texas is at¬†the top of the list. Everything is bigger in Texas,¬†they say, and that includes appetites, portions and taste. Austin¬†has recently been heralded as a hotbed of creative gastronomic¬†exploration and hosts fabulous restaurants for the tourist and local¬†to explore, as well as dozens of events every year to please your¬†palate.
It used to be that one would have to travel to larger cities for¬†exclusive cuisine. But notable chefs and foodies have named¬†Austin as noteworthy when it comes to sumptuous offerings.¬†Famous chef and restaurateur Richard Sandoval recently named¬†Austin as a ‚Äúculinary hotspot‚ÄĚ and with events like the Austin Food¬†& Wine Festival, which is hosted by Food & Wine Magazine, and the¬†much-anticipated Austin Chocolate Festival, we couldn‚Äôt agree¬†more. Another major event in Austin is the Annual Film & Food¬†party hosted through the Austin Film Festival & Conference. Held¬†in the prestigious Driskill Hotel in October, it brings to Austin¬†some of the most notable chefs the state and country have to¬†offer. The proceeds of this culinary experience support another¬†blooming Austin arena: filmmaking.
In 2012 Texas was excited to host Top Chef: Texas, the ninth season¬†of the beloved series, which premiered on¬†Bravo. Austin saw plenty of excitement when¬†the chefs and the show came to the capital¬†city and visited local icons such as the¬†Driskill Hotel and the Salt Lick Barbeque.¬†The show‚Äôs famous ‚ÄúRestaurant Wars‚ÄĚ¬†episode was filmed in empty locations¬†downtown, and locals were excited to¬†recognize familiar buildings. Two Austinites¬†made it to the final rounds of Top Chef: Texas, and Austin couldn‚Äôt have been more¬†proud when local chef Paul Qui took the¬†grand prize, effectively lauding Texas, and¬†specifically Austin, as a celebrated food¬†destination.
Chef Qui has recently been joined by¬†several of his contemporaries in the¬†development of a handful of small yet¬†ambitious restaurants that push the¬†boundaries of innovative culinary offerings.¬†Often sourcing their entire menus from¬†local, sustainable farms and ranches,¬†these ‚Äúfoodie finds‚ÄĚ offer sharable plates¬†that combine a thoughtful and totally¬†unexpected m√©lange of flavors and¬†ingredients. Several of these locations have¬†been recognized by nationally renowned¬†food critics and publications, such as Food & Wine Magazine, Zagat and Bon Appetit, and¬†the accolades continue to roll in.
Austin restaurants have also been featured¬†on a variety of network television shows.¬†Food Network‚Äôs Diners, Drive-ins and Dives has visited several Austin locations, our favorite of these being the unique Casino El¬†Camino on the corner of Sixth Street and Red River. Keep in mind¬†the wait for a burger here is often an hour long, so order some fries while you wait and get a cocktail at the bar while you listen¬†to the authentic jukebox. If you dig spicy food, go for the Amarillo¬†Burger, which boats roasted Serrano chiles, jalape√Īo jack cheese¬†and cilantro mayonnaise. Another local favorite is known as The¬†Pitts, a burger smothered in melted provolone, mushrooms, onions¬†and zesty sauce.
Texas has a rich history and culture that gives its food a one-of-a-kind flavor. Tex-Mex cuisine is unique to this region and¬†combines influences from Spanish and Mexican-Indian foods¬†with cowboy and European fare in Texas, resulting in a delicious¬†hybrid of flavors that is served in restaurants across the state.¬†Tex-Mex is known for its use of meat, beans, spices and corn or¬†flour tortillas, and while the basic components have not changed,¬†the dishes have evolved. Nachos, crispy tacos, chili con queso,¬†chili con carne and fajitas are all Tex-Mex inventions. This cuisine¬†hybrid has grown in popularity and these days can be found in¬†many independent and chain restaurants throughout the rest of¬†the country and the world. Dozens of Tex-Mex restaurants have¬†opened from Paris to Abu Dhabi, so much so that tortilla chips,¬†margaritas and chili con queso are now wellknown¬†staples around the world.
Chili, a favorite Tex-Mex dish, is one¬†of the first things that come to mind¬†when you think of Texas and food.¬†Texans claim that chili originated in¬†their state and it was named the official¬†state dish of Texas in 1977. This is¬†especially fitting since Texas has not¬†one but two official state peppers: the¬†jalape√Īo and the chiltepin. There are¬†several ways to prepare it, but staunch¬†traditionalists will remind you that chili¬†in Texas should be all about the meat,¬†and should not contain beans. See for¬†yourself what the debate is all about¬†when you visit the Annual Hot Sauce¬†Festival, which happens in August,¬†or America‚Äôs longest-running Lone¬†Star Vegetarian Chili Cook-Off, which¬†happens in November, or any of the¬†innumerable local chili cook-offs that¬†occur throughout the year in Austin.
One thing that cannot be missed on your¬†trip to Texas is, of course, our barbeque.¬†The American South is famous for it, but¬†Texas has put its own spin on charcoal,¬†grills and slow-cooked meat. Since¬†the weather is almost always nice in¬†Austin, you need to know everything¬†there is to know about this great Texas¬†tradition, because there is always a famous outdoor barbeque joint waiting¬†for visitors. What makes this popular¬†style of cooking unique in Austin and¬†Central Texas is the prominence of¬†a cut of meat called brisket, which is¬†melt-in-your-mouth heavenly. Be it¬†chopped on a bun or sliced on a tray,¬†it‚Äôs a select cut of beef that you‚Äôll find on¬†every single barbeque menu across the
state. Meat is always the main focus of¬†Texas-style barbeque, accompanied by¬†a red tomato-based sauce served as a¬†condiment (as opposed to being used to¬†baste meat during the cooking process).¬†Though sliced white bread is commonly¬†served on the side, don‚Äôt be surprised¬†if you‚Äôre asked if you want flour or corn¬†tortillas to wrap around your meat. And¬†don‚Äôt forget to order sausage, which is¬†almost always made from local farming¬†communities in and around Austin.
While it‚Äôs easy to get lost in the sway¬†of Tex-Mex and barbeque, don‚Äôt forget¬†that Austin is also known for its fine dining¬†offerings. Steakhouses serve up¬†succulent cuts of meat and fresh seafood¬†ranging from pastoral to fine. Don‚Äôt¬†worry if you forgot to pack a coat and¬†tie on your trip; Austin dining culture¬†takes a somewhat laissez faire approach to dress codes, which are almost never¬†enforced.
If something more exotic is to your taste,¬†seek out hundreds of sundry options¬†in the form of sushi, Asian infusion,¬†backyard burger joints, 24-hour diners¬†serving up breakfast and so much¬†more. If you‚Äôre travelling down the road¬†and spy a food trailer with a line downthe block, stop! Mobile food vending¬†isn‚Äôt just about corn dogs and nachos anymore, and Austin is on top of the food¬†truck craze that has been developing¬†across the country. In fact, some of our¬†city‚Äôs most delicious and innovative¬†offerings can be found, not in a posh¬†bistro, but from the windows of these¬†modest kitchens on wheels.
While exploring all that the capital city¬†has to offer, take a moment to enjoy a¬†bit of local food in the form of barbeque¬†and Tex-Mex, but also be sure to try the¬†emerging food options that have put¬†Austin, Texas on the culinary hotspot¬†map.