Day 1 in Austin
I mention Jo’s not for their coffee, but for the story behind their famous and oft-Instagramed “I love you so much” mural. Jo’s is a well-known Austin landmark in the South Congress neighborhood. The turbo is their signature drink—a sweet, creamy blend of coffee, chocolate, hazelnut, and cream served over ice. There are always crowds, one for coffee and one for a photo op with the famous mural.
The story behind the Jo’s Coffee mural
Spoiler: it’s heartwarming.
Liz Lambert is co-owner of Jo’s Coffee. One night, after a fight, her girlfriend Amy Cook spray painted the message “I love you so much” on the wall of the coffee shop. It was the love letter that ended the fight. Every time they repaint the wall, they repaint the mural, and now couples from all over the world take their photo in front of it.
Whenever I go to Texas, my first stop after the airport is usually Torchy’s. (It’s also usually my last stop before the airport when leaving Texas.)
I always, always order the green chile queso at Torchy’s. To this day, it’s my favorite queso anywhere. It has just the right amount of spice from the green chile and diablo sauce. A solid kick, insanely dippable, and so satisfying that no one can talk you into being healthy today, this is comfort food at its finest.
True story: my brother (who lives in Texas) used to pick up Torchy’s queso to go, freeze it, and bring it with him on the plane when he came to visit me in California. I can’t emphasize enough how much I love this creamy, dreamy queso.
I always get the Trailer Park fried chicken taco (get it “trashy,” i.e., with queso on top) and branch out with one new taco. Torchy’s never disappoints. I only wish I lived near one so I could try all the different, vaguely politically named tacos on a regular basis.
Day 2 in Austin
Breakfast tacos at Veracruz All Natural
Named one of the top 5 tacos in America, the migas taco at Veracruz All Natural food truck is worth a special trip and the wait in line. They make their corn tortillas fresh to order (one of the reasons why the wait exists, I’m sure). Perfectly soft eggs and tortilla chips make up the filling, along with black beans poblanos, topped with cheese and avocado, and any combination of salsas and hot sauces you want.
I love migas and I love breakfast tacos. The migas taco is everything I want for breakfast.
Although I’m not one for pork in the morning, I’d make an exception for the al pastor taco at Veracruz. So juicy and flavorful, the homemade tortilla can’t contain it. Bits of well-spiced pork will inevitably escape this generously stuffed taco.
Everyone knows about Franklin’s BBQ in Austin. Lines start at 6am, and you might as well get there that early if you’re serious about eating some barbecue that day, because they will sell out.
I’m serious about barbecue, but I’m not that serious. Not let-me-spend-one-third-of-my-vacation-in-line serious. So instead of braving the lines and pitching a tent outside Franklin’s, I went to La Barbecue, an almost equally famous BBQ joint in Austin.
The brisket at La Barbecue is famous, and for good reason. Pitmaster John Lewis (previously of Franklin’s BBQ) cooks the brisket for 12-15 hours, and it’s so tender. As the staff use their hands to portion various cuts on a tray to order, you can see the meat practically flaking apart with ease between their fingers. The fat is perfectly rendered, every bite is juicy, and the meat truly does fall off the bone.
It’s common with barbecue that I find one or a couple of the sides disappointing. Bland mac & cheese, dry cornbread, or boring coleslaw. Not true at La Barbecue. Every side was really good—almost as good as the meat. I’ve always thought that barbecue was too much meat and not enough everything else for my taste—also not true here. I left feeling like I had a relatively balanced meal, with no meat sweats to speak of.
There are plenty of flies buzzing around the outdoor patio, which makes eating a little difficult since you need two hands to eat ribs but an extra hand to constantly shoo away pests. A small price to pay for a deeply satisfying meal.
Drinks at Craft Pride
Being from San Diego, I enjoy good craft beer. Craft Pride is Austin’s original bar serving craft beers from Texas breweries. This night was even more of a special event for me, because I was experimenting with going to a bar by myself—something that is still a phobia of mine. I ordered a stout and sat towards the back of the bar to drink and catch up on some reading.
To my surprise, an overly friendly group of Texans visiting from out of town invited me into their group and treated me like they had known me for years. Despite our differences (it was clear we had opposing political viewpoints), it was a warm, only sometimes uncomfortable night that taught me that going to a bar alone doesn’t have to be all bad, and that people are usually better than I give them credit for.
Day 3 in Austin
Biscuits & Groovy
This is the one place on this list I would not recommend. As a biscuits and gravy connoisseur, I had high hopes for this truck. A food truck dedicated to biscuits and gravy? That sounded like exactly my jam.
I’m a biscuits and gravy purist. I’ll occasionally splurge for some extra bacon or sausage with my biscuits if I’m feeling adventurous. But eggs? No. Cheese? Get it out of my face. I want to taste the actual biscuits and gravy. I don’t need extra toppings (aside from maybe some chives).
After waiting a good 20 minutes for my biscuits and gravy, I was so disappointed to see that the gravy tasted like it came from a packet. Plain white gravy, no bits of sausage suspended in it. Didn’t even taste like it was seasoned. The biscuits, likewise, were under-seasoned, plain, and unmemorable. I knew I was eating something, and knew what it was supposed to taste like, but it predominantly tasted like nothing.
Also, can we talk about the biscuit to gravy ratio? What is that, three biscuits to a spoonful of gravy? Not acceptable. After finishing a few bites off the top, I was left with a cardboard box of dry biscuit halves.
I should’ve gone with my gut and tried a local diner for biscuits and gravy.
Anthem on Rainey St
Anthem was the biggest food surprise of my trip to Austin. I stopped in because I was looking for a late lunch spot and it had good reviews, but I had never heard of this place. It sounded vague, almost healthy, maybe trying to trick me into vegan food? I didn’t know what to expect.
At Anthem, I started with the shishito pepper queso. It reminded me of a play on spinach and artichoke dip, but lighter. The shishito peppers had that artichoke-y flavor and texture, while the queso sauce was thinner than expected but didn’t stop me from dunking chip after chip. It did have less spice than I expected, though.
I also ordered the Thai hippie tofu because I had been eating a lot at this point and wanted to try to be a little bit healthy. I didn’t expect to love it—it’s tofu, after all—but at least I’d feel clean on the inside. I was surprised.
The tofu was so flavorful. Peanut sauce, lightly pickled cucumbers sliced thinly, covered in a sprinkling of sesame seeds. The peanut and onion slaw on top gave it a Thai-inspired flavor, but more delicate than traditional Thai food. I cut the tofu into tiny pieces so I could make the dish last longer. I didn’t want it to end. Never thought I’d say that about tofu.
Next time I’m in Austin, I’d definitely go back to Anthem to try a few of their other dishes. I lucked out—they also have happy hour all day on Mondays!
Next time in Austin…
I have heard nothing but rave reviews for this intimate restaurant serving craft Italian fare. Reservations are required well in advance.
Better Half Coffee & Cocktails
Austin’s restaurant of the year 2019, it’s a cafe that can take you seamlessly from morning to night. I really want to try their biscuits with jalapeño honey butter.
Brunch at Emmer & Rye
American food + dim sum? I’m so curious. The menu changes constantly depending on what’s available and in season.
Better biscuits & gravy
I’m still on a quest for good biscuits and gravy in Austin. Taking recommendations!