Insider Eating: 5 Austin Restaurants You Need More Of In Your Life

Live music and tasty eats in abundance, that’s what Austin is about. Well, also outdoor activities, manicured beards, cyclist’s right to the road, vintage-branded beers, rescue dogs, and start-ups but we’ll table those for now. What Austin really has in abundance is an entire city full of people who have yet to even scratch the surface on all of the out-of-this-world, smack-ya-mama-in-the-face, first-slot-on-the-speed dial, crazy awesome restaurants. The sheer amount of these tasty eateries can sometimes make the task of settling on just one a little daunting. We’ve broken down a mix of our favorite Austin restaurants, both old and new, to help get you started expanding your ATX taste palette.

I know what you are thinking, “Blue Dahlia, isn’t that on the East side….? Isn’t that where hipsters eat…?”

Yes, it’s on East 11th Street. Yes, hipsters eat there sometimes. I, too, went to Blue Dahlia for the first time with these exact prejudices. And then I had the goat cheese and red pepper tartine and I fell in love. (Unfamiliar with tartines? They are simply the French take on an open-face sandwich.)

Fav Food: Happy Hour Tartines! The hummus, avocado and sprouts tartine ($5) and the salmon and garlic herb cream cheese ($6) are both flawless.

Tasty Beverage: $2 Mimosas…I’ll leave it at that.

Tip(s): Happy hour is too good to pass up. From 3-6:30 on weekdays you can order select delicious things for HALF off. A $5 tartine? You simply cannot beat that.

Provence, France in Austin, Texas. My heaven on earth! This place does a phenomenal job of replicating the rustic yet refined cuisine and overall atmosphere of that region. Not to mention they have an impeccable wine list, a friendly and cordial staff, and a gorgeous wine room that seats 10. If you’re like me, you’ll only need to go once to fall in love (but you’ll go again and again just to be sure your love is true…it is).

Fav Food: The Chicken Liver Pate. It’s on the appetizer menu but I would definitely consider ordering it as an entrée. Trust me, you will NOT want to share!

Tasty Beverage: I loved the Lambrusco Rose which is a sparkling Rose and very refreshing on a warm spring day. Their entire wine list is fantastic. It would be hard to go wrong!

Insider Tip(s): If you are in the mood for cheese, there is a cheese board on the dessert menu that is just as good as an appetizer. Also, there is a 10 person wine room that can be reserved for private dinners, and it’s kept at normal wine cellar temperature year-round.

Formerly Madam Mam’s, Sap’s may have undergone a shake-up, but the tastiness has prevailed. Long and short of it is that Ms. Mam and Mr. Sap cut ties and although we’re not picking sides here, I’m picking Sap’s side. Delicious food and zero judgment when you make multiple to-go orders in a week (“Yep…it’s Callie…again.”). This place is so consistently delicious that even though I’m not even close to having tried everything on the menu, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that anything they make is going to blow your face off with its awesomeness (and possibly spiciness).

Fav Food: This is like picking your favorite kid but here it goes. My absolute favorite dish is P4 – Green Curry with Fried Tofu. Or the Red Curry…or the Tom Kha…or the Pad See Ew. They are all tasty gifts to the world!

Tasty Beverage: Admittedly, Sap’s isn’t trying to woo you with its vast drink selection. They have a few interesting Thai beers but their Thai Iced Tea is where it’s at!

Insider Tip(s): If you’re really hungry and trying to decide between ordering out or eating there, eat there. They give you WAY more food when you dine in as opposed to picking up food to-go.

Right, so, Alamo Drafthouse is by no means ‘underground’ but I figured I would highlight this particular location because I love it oh, so much (Re: Tips). I will go straight Augustus Gloop on some hatch green chili fries and that’s just to get things started. In fact, I would venture to say that the world would be a slightly dimmer place if it weren’t for the ingenious combination of dinner AND a movie. Throw in their zero texting tolerance and you my friends, have the pinnacle of culinary entertainment.

Fav Food: Chicken and Chorizo Pizza. Don’t fear it. Embrace it!

Tasty Beverage: I don’t drink so I haven’t explored the cocktail list but you have to try the Espresso Chocolate Shake.

Insider Tip(s): It’s definitely best to go in the morning because the tickets are usually cheaper and no one really goes that early so you can just kick back and enjoy.

Oh 888, where do I even start professing my love for you? 888 (actually said ‘Triple 8’ I just learned) calls itself “Pan Asian” but what they really mean to say is that they serve everything from Vietnamese to Indian and wreck shop doing so. Their service is always super quick and the staff is really helpful and not afraid to help you navigate their HUGE menu. And, as an added bonus, they’re open until 2 am for those middle of the night Pho cravings. They’re a thing, promise.

Fav Food: Anything, seriously. It’s all good! My favorite is their Chicken Pho but the Pad Thai and Shrimp Spring Rolls are delicious as well.

Tasty Beverage: Not really a huge drink place BUT they do serve their water in funky color changing glasses, so don’t be alarmed when your water looks green.

Insider Tip(s): The only version of their menu that you can find online has the prices wrong. Add about $2 to those prices and you’ll have a better feel for what you’re going to owe!

New Year’s Luck

Just as the days of 2011 are disappearing, so are cans of Black-Eyed Peas at your local grocery store. As New Year’s Day is less than 72 hours, this is the perfect time to start making your favorite Black-Eyed Pea recipe!

Now, if you didn’t grow up in The South, Texas, or happen to be from somewhere foreign, like Bulgaria, you may wonder why everyone born south of the Mason-Dixon Line makes sure to a least get a bite of this funny little legume on the 1st of each year.

The story that I was told of the origin of this tradition dates back to the Civil War, when Union troops invaded the South and destroyed everything in their path;  including all stored food, crops, and livestock.  At that time, the Yankees considered “field peas”  suitable only for animal feed, and did not steal or destroy this humble food.  Thus, our noble Southern brethren were only left with “Hoppin’ John“  to subside on – and we eat this dish on New Year’s Day as a reminder of their “luck” to not starve to death! (Author’s note: I did grow up in The South, and this is the version of History that I was taught by my Great Aunt, who was as Southern as they come.)

Now, I don’t really like the traditional “Black-Eyed Pea” recipe; so I thought I would introduce a few variants for you to enjoy!

TEXAS CAVIAR

2 cans black-eyed peas, drained
1 can white hominy, drained
1 bottle Italian dressing
2 tomatoes, chopped
6 green onions, chopped
1 tsp. garlic salt
1 green pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno peppers, chopped (or more if you like it spicy)
1 small. onion, chopped
1/2 c. parsley, choppedCombine all ingredients, except the salad dressing; mix well. Pour salad dressing over mixture, then cover and let marinate for at least 3 hours in the refrigerator. Drain mixture and serve with tortilla chips.

Black-Eyed Pea Casserole
1 can Plain Black-Eyed Peas (do not drain the juice)
1 can Jalapeno Black-Eyed Peas  (do not drain the juice)
1 medium onion (chopped)
2-3 slices bacon chopped up
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 1/2c. cooked white rice
Salt & Pepper to taste
Pepper Jack Cheese (or whatever kind of Cheese you like)

Cook bacon and save the drippings, set bacon aside. Cook onion in the drippings until translucent.  Mix everything together (except the cheese) and bake at 350 for 30 or so minutes, (I usually throw in leftover Christmas ham, and it really adds to the flavor of this casserole!). For last 5-10 minutes of baking,  add the cheese on top to melt.

If Black-eyed peas aren’t really to your taste, other “lucky” foods include cabbage, collard greens, & ham or corned beef! Enjoy, and good luck in 2012!

Eat, Drink and Stay Local

This weekend is the 5th Annual Edible Austin Eat Drink Local Week, Austin’s premier local food event celebrating local food and foodmakers in Central Texas! This culinary festival raises money for Urban Roots and Sustainable Food Center.  This exciting week kicks off this Saturday December 5 at 10am at the Downtown SFC Farmers’ Market with proclamation by the Mayor of the City of Austin, a 24-carrot salute and other special activities. Saturday’s events also include an Urban Farm Bicycle Tour followed by a Pig Roast and Harvest Dinner at Springdale Farm.

Sunday follows with the Coffee and Chocolate Festival. Sample coffee and coffee drinks from Central Texas’s favorite coffee roasters along with chocolate delights from our local chocolatiers at Texas Coffee Traders from 11am–3pm.

Events continue throughout the week at quintessential Austin locations like the Alamo Drafthouse, The Carrillion, and the Domain. Tuesday and Friday are the designated “Dining Out” nights with participating restaurants creating special dishes for the festival. This list includes some of my favorite Austin eateries!  ASTI Trattoria, FINO Home Slice Pizza, Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Olivia, TRACE, Uchi, Uchiko, & Wink are just a few of the HUGE LIST of places to find local fare.

To make things even more exciting, Edible Austin brings you an Online Chef Auction! Through December 10, you can bid to have your favorite Chef create you a superb meal (for up to eight guests) at your home or another location. Three of my favorite Austin chefs -  David Bull,  Zach Northcutt, and Bryce Gillmore – are all up for bids. (Please feel free to invite me to dinner if you win!)

Be sure to like them on Facebook and pick up your free copy of the Winter 2011 Edible Austin!