One of the first places I was taken when I moved to Austin was Dart Bowl. We went for the bowling, the cheap beer, and the old school atmosphere (the trophy cases in the entry are straight out of the Big Lebowski, chock-full of knick-knacks and paraphernalia, including a clear bowling ball with a model of a human skull inside), but more importantly, we came for the enchiladas. This was my first hint of what Austin cuisine would be for me: cheap, greasy, and delicious.
There are many restaurants and bars in Austin that I have not visited, mostly because I’ve been pretty poor, but that turned out to be not such a bad thing. If you want to know about the swanky hotspots in town (and there are plenty), you’d be better off consulting Bon Appetit. What follows are some of my favorite low-cost foodie joints. Of course, I have not been everywhere, and I have not eaten everything. But remember when I met Tony Bourdain? I bet he likes a lot of the places on my list.
Unless otherwise noted, the pics are taken off the establishment’s website. My list also may be a bit Asian-food heavy for some people’s tastes, but it’s not my fault that Asian food is the most delicious food in the world.
Koriente Restaurant and Tea House
(7th and Sabine)
I wish I would have gone here more. Even though it is right down in the middle of the 6th St. madness, the staff is cool in an honest way (not a poser hipster way) and the food is healthy. Recommendation: Mixmix Bibimbap
Foodheads Cafe (34th and Guadalupe)
A great little cafe for sandwiches and breakfast tacos. Recommendation: Gypsy Grove sandwich
Casino El Camino (6th and Red River)
Unbelievable burgers and back patio.
Wheatsville Food Co-op (31st and Guadalupe)
Aside from being the best grocery store in town, the deli is tops. Whenever I am low on cash, I get the small rice and beans with jalapenos, sour cream and pico de gallo. It is SO cheap and very satisfying.
East Side King (Many locations)
So, how could you not have a massive food crush on Chef Paul Qui? His food is outstanding and inexpensive. His staff is hilarious and hot. He is beautiful and deservedly famous. Recommendation: Chicken karaage + fried Brussels sprouts salad.
Little Deli Pizza + Sandwiches (Woodrow and St. Johns)
Holy crap, this is some good pizza. Stop in to the Crestview Market in the same shopping center, which looks as if it was beamed here from 1955, complete with a staff that appears to be made up almost entirely of teenage boys.
Whip In (I-35 and Mariposa)
Texan-Indian food and lots and lots of beer! Plus their tagline is “Namaste, y’all.” Recommendation: The Travis Heights Panaani (it’s a panini made with naan, get it?!)
Arturo’s Underground Cafe (17th and Guadalupe)
About once a day at my old office, someone would peek around the cubicle walls and say, “I’m going to Arturo’s, do you want anything?” It is a testament to how good the food is that we never seemed to get sick of it. *sniff* I will miss you, Southwest Chicken Quesadillas.
Clay Pit (16th and Guadalupe) Right down the block from Arturo’s is another fine staple of Austin lunchtime cuisine. The Clay Pit has a stellar Indian food buffet and really affordable lunchtime entrees. Recommendation: Chicken korma (lunch version)
Momoko (24th St., in between Pearl and Rio Grande, at the corner of some God awful student housing highrise). If you ever find yourself in West Campus—and I pray for you that you don’t—get yourself to this itty-bitty Japanese gift shop that serves wonderful bubble teas and huge rice balls, which are kind of like sushi handrolls. Highly, highly recommended! But don’t go when you are in a hurry…
Pho Thaison (multiple locations) The staff is super nice and the pho is goo-ood. Recommendation: #1 beef pho. Get the small, unless you are trying to feed a small army.
And if you haven’t yet, you definitely should go to Franklin Barbecue (11th and Branch). It is every bit as good as everyone says it is.