Friend and travel buddy, Adrienne, rounded up 8 of her nearest and dearest and we headed to Austin (aka, the home of Tito’s Vodka!) for her 30th birthday. We had an absolute blast, ate and drank our faces off and really enjoyed the town. 4 days is NOT enough time to eat your way through that city. I’ll definitely be back soon.
Coming from Mexican-starved DC, we ran to the closest place we could find to scratch our taco itch. Las Cazuelas was a close walk, cheap and delicious. The pre-meal beans were an unexpected delight and the food was great. The carnitas taco was my favorite.
We moseyed on down to Mongers Fish Market where we realized we were in for an amazing weekend of hospitality. After splitting a bottle of wine, our lovely server gave us samples of the house sangrias. The white one was made of rum and reminiscent of a rum punch. Ironically, I’m not huge on sangria or rum punch (typically too sweet for me), but this concoction was delightful! And look how gorgeous they and the birthday girl were.
For dinner that night, we went to Uchi. Eat sushi?? In Austin?? YES, EAT SUSHI IN AUSTIN. There’s a reason Uchi is constantly at the top of many Best of Austin lists. The food is impeccable, the service delightful and the price was enough to make me consider relocating. Our big city appetites got the best of us and we ordered way too much. Luckily our waitress made us hold off for a bit. Our favorites:
Hama chili baby yellowtail with ponzu, Thai chili, orange supreme – fresh, delicious, delightful.
Bacon steakie – pork belly with watermelon radish, citrus, Thai basil. Adrienne just loved saying this. It was great and a nice, meaty change of pace. The girls loved the watermelon radish.
Spider soft-shell crab with green apple, Thai basil – now I love a spider roll, but throw in some Thai basil and I’m sold. The description did not do this roll justice. The combination of the apple and the basil was so flavorful. Add in the ponzu sauce it was served with and whoa. This shouldn’t even be called a spider roll. Other spider rolls should just crawl away and rename themselves. And look how pretty it is!
Uchi salad consisted of bluebonnet farms hydroponic baby romaine with a edamame-jalapeño dressing. Honestly, this was my one complaint of the meal. The greens were fresh and the edamame-jalapeno dressing was flavorful and spicy, but not overwhelming. But the proper way to eat this dish was to pick up the leaves and dip them into the dressing. This drove me nuts. Can you please just dress my salad and give me a fork so I don’t have to eat it like nachos….because no matter how much I pretend, salad will never be nachos.
Last and most definitely not least, the madai, or Japanese sea bream with shiso, meyer lemon zest, olive oil. Mind Blowing. A revelation. Mouth love. These are all the words that come to mind when I think back to this dish. We actually did not order this. Our waitress recommended it and we poo-poo’d her silly suggestion. She surprised us with it anyway (Austin has some of the best hospitality I’ve ever experienced). When it arrived, we were told to flip it over and eat it upside down. Great, another gimmick, I prematurely thought. This was no gimmick. Eating it that way makes sure your taste buds experience the shiso, lemon zest, olive oil and salt as you’re eating the sea bream. All of our faces absolutely lit up. It was a needed reminder of why your server recommends certain things and why our stubborn selves should listen to them. At the recommendation of our server, we headed down the street to Gibson Street Bar, where we drowned in Tito’s cocktails and conversation with fascinating locals.
The next morning, we made our way to Counter Cafe where I went with the classic biscuits and gravy to save me from the day’s hangover. And we may or may not have ordered the peach pancakes to share. Don’t judge us. You haven’t lived until you’ve ordered a breakfast appetizer. Topped off with a nitro cold brew coffee from Cuvee, we were ready to take on the day!
For dinner, we checked out Second Bar + Kitchen for the birthday girl’s actual birthday dinner. We ordered an array of appetizers with some of the highlights being the black truffle pomme frites, the buffalo fried pickles and the avocado fundido. I thought I wanted the burger, but at the advice of our server I went with the pressed pork shoulder. Served with green chile polenta, pineapple, pickled onion, achiote vinaigrette, not only was it delicious but it was gorgeous.
That night we heard some great live music including a jazz musician, Karen Tennison, who had a gorgeous voice.
We went to the Firehouse Lounge, an alleged speakeasy – but you know what, if you can read about it on Yelp, it’s not really a speakeasy. We did have to enter through a bookcase.
They had great drinks and an amazing band named Sons of Santos. They stole our hearts with a bluesy rendition of Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of a Bay” but mostly sang their own music. They were incredibly talented and oh-so easy on the eyes.
The wonderful Jennifer, who we missed dearly, set up a whiskey tasting at our house. It was amazing. We learned so much about the process of making different whiskeys and tasting the difference in each of them. Educational AND boozy. Best of both worlds.
On our final night, we ate BBQ at Freedmen’s which was surprisingly good, but we probably could have done better (pro tip: don’t try to find good Texas bbq at night – go during the day). They did, however, serve my favorite drink I had in ATX, called Easy Like Sunday Morning. White whiskey, Aperol, lemon juice and Angostura bitters, it went down like a champ.
After a few drinks at the adorable Stay Gold, we stumbled outside to discovered a late night bbq truck. The woman told us they were running low on most things, but they could make us a cheesy sandwich with the sausage and pork they still had. Um, yes. As we walked home to chow down and we passed the newly-opened Craftsman, I realized I had 10 minutes to get my last Austin drink (I didn’t know I’d be in for a 4 hour flight delay the next day)! We walked in, I told the bartender I needed a final drink in Austin, and she made an amazing concoction of muddled blueberries, club soda, Tito’s Vodka and just a little bit of simple syrup. It was perfect. As was the sandwich I devoured 30 minutes later.
We needed about 5 more days to eat all of the food we really wanted. We never got a standout margarita and due to poor planning the barbecue we had was good, but not earth-shattering. Therefore, we will MOST definitely be back.
The trip ended by seeing a dude ride a horse down a sidewalk, a metal dragon being towed across the street and a Lyft driver who gave us ring pops.
You were perfectly weird and delicious, Austin. Never change.
TL;DR? Eat at Uchi and Second Bar. Drink at the Firehouse Lounge. Plan for at least 5 days. You’ll need them!
*I swear this was not sponsored by Tito’s. But how I wish it was.