What I Ate in Austin, Texas

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There are a few things you need to know about my trip to Austin, Texas. First, the purpose of my trip was to support Craig’s film at SXSW, so while a typical trip to a new city would involve obsessive visits to any and every eating establishment, this trip I was pretty restrained and also a bit hobbled because I didn’t have a car. Craig’s film team had a van that would drive us to screenings and interviews and other film events, but to get anywhere food-related cost about $25 by cab because our hotel (a dilapidated Day’s Inn that we fled to after the house we rented had fleas) was way out in the boonies. Add to that the fact that my camera overheated and died (I used Craig’s camera instead), this was quite the challenging trip. And yet still, somehow, I ate really well.

The biggest revelation from my trip is illustrated in the lead photo. That’s my new best friend Cliff–Craig’s editor Jenny Lee’s fiance–who, along with me, had lots of time to kill as Craig and Jenny worked the festival. What Cliff is holding in that picture is my favorite culinary discovery from Austin, Texas: that, my friends, is a fresh tortilla.

Have you ever had a fresh tortilla? A really fresh tortilla?

I definitely hadn’t and, unfurling my first fresh tortilla at The Magnolia Cafe (a place I liked so much, we went twice), it was like finding a sacred scroll with profound truths written within:

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Fresh tortillas make all the difference. Whereas this plate of migas (eggs cooked with tortilla chips and pico de gallo) and black beans might be pretty standard (albeit, a lovely standard):

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Rolled into a fresh tortilla, it was sublime. The other dish to get at Magnolia (and I thank my readers, by the way, for all these suggestions) was a single gingerbread pancake. I loved it so much that I ordered it the second time we went there, before I left for the airport. Unfortunately, the waitress never brought it out and by the time she corrected her mistake, my cab was there to take me away. So there is no picture of gingerbread pancakes for you to look at. (Actually, there is, but it’s on my dead camera.)

One more thing about fresh tortillas. Fresh tortillas make killer tortilla chips:

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The tortilla chips I get in my neighborhood here in Park Slope, Brooklyn, are like pieces of wood; these were light as a feather. The lightest, most delightful tortilla chips I’ve ever had. (Those particular ones were actually at a forgettable cantina near where Craig had his second screening; but even at a forgettable cantina, the chips were like Harvard graduates compared to the bad Brooklyn chips I know too well.)

So yes, my main revelation was a tortilla revelation. Unfortunately, the other major revelation I was supposed to have–a BBQ revelation–didn’t really happen when I joined Craig’s whole family (aunts, uncles, neighbors, cousins) for a trip to the famous Salt Lick:

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Here’s what I loved about Salt Lick: I loved the scenic drive there, I loved how the place was so enormous with a parking lot that reminded me of Disney World, I loved how the place itself was like something out of Frontierland with wagon wheels leaned up against the wall, etc. But the food? The food was pretty good:

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That’s a plate of meat with brisket on the bottom, two ribs, several slices of sausage, beans, coleslaw and potato salad.

And here’s a big plate of meat for those of us who got all-we-could eat for $7 more:

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The brisket was a bit bland, the ribs were chewy but good, and the sausage was truly excellent, but all-in-all it wasn’t the kind of BBQ I’m going to remember 20 years from now when I write my BBQ memoir, “Adam’s Ribs.” (Yuk yuk yuk.)

Craig, on the other hand, had nothing but raves for Iron Works BBQ where he went for a fast dinner with his team before going to a screening. Says Craig now: “It was deelicious.”

It’s interesting that the sausage was my favorite bite from The Salt Lick, one of my other favorite bites of the trip was also a sausage: this bratwurst from The Best Wurst, a stand on 6th Street, right where all the SXSW action was going down:

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Here’s the wurst I shared with Cliff, Jenny and their friend whose name I forget!

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It was porky and topped with mustard and onions and kind of killer, especially after midnight on a Saturday when you’re a bit tipsy. Not that I was tipsy: drinking is for sinners.

Here’s a bad picture of the wurst close up:

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Finally, we ate lots of eggs and potatoes in Austin. Here’s the breakfast taco we had at Juan in a Million, a place many of you suggested:

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That’s the “Don Juan”: “A secret combination of potato, egg, bacon and cheese in a deliciously hot tortilla.”

Did it blow me away? Well, I really liked it–especially the fresh tortillas on which it was served. But more than that, I enjoyed the atmosphere, which felt authentically Austinesque. Look at these people, don’t they look like real Austiners? Not a tourist to be found.

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Check out this piƱata stand Cliff and I encountered on our walk from Juan in a Million to Craig’s big premiere:

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It’s a good final image for this post, a post that wasn’t very thorough: we missed the sushi at Uchi (I tried to get there, just couldn’t finagle it), Chuy’s, Fonda San Miguel, and Guero’s Taco Bar (all places I extracted from your suggestions.) But now I have an excellent reason to go back, don’t I?

Thank you all for your Austin help. And thanks, Austin, for showing us a great time: you are a fun city.

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