The most famous slogan of the city of Austin is “Keep Austin Weird.” But I don’t see anything weird or strange or odd about Texas’ capital city. It certainly has however, something unique and quirky about it making it different standing out from the rest of Texas. It’s got its own personality.
Whenever I travel to Austin, it is always on business and ending up staying at a hotel in the downtown area (remember, I still have a day job). Because I have a schedule to keep for work, it makes it difficult for me to do anything else fun. But one thing I noticed about their downtown area is a good amount of restaurants and cafes offering good food against the warm Texas heat. For the business traveler like myself, I prefer walking around downtown Austin to restaurants and cafes which I find easier and more convenient than renting cars. Here are some of the places I frequent in downtown Austin.
Magnolia Café – open 24/7 for one and all. The one I always visit is their location at South Congress Avenue. This little gem of a café was first recommended the front desk clerk at my hotel during my first visit to Austin and I have been returning here ever since. This café offers simple yet hearty meals from your morning omelet to your salads and grilled sandwiches. It’s a small café with a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere. The décor is eclectic but I did not mind, I care more about their food. This is the kind of place where you can have an omelet for dinner which is exactly what I did on my last visit. I ordered their Popeye Omelet with spinach, onions and bacon accompanied with home fries. Another favorite of mine is their version of the chef salad which includes broccoli and bean sprouts (I know! I’m eating my veggies!). Check out the rest of their menu at http://www.magnoliacafeaustin.com/.
Le Crepe Café – a little French twist in Austin. Located at San Jacinto Blvd., it is another small café right next door to the Hampton Inn. It offers both sweet and savory crepes starting at breakfast and closes at 4pm daily. The café has both indoor and outdoor seating and is very popular with the locals especially on the weekend. I would often come here for breakfast and order my favorite item on the menu which is Chloe’s Crepe with strawberries accompanied by a large cup of mocha. Yum!
The décor of the Le Crepe Café is a hodge-podge of old tin French street signs, pots in various sizes hanging on the ceiling, even the plates they use to serve their doesn’t always match. The chairs and tables are not all the same for inside and outdoor seating. This place is so popular with locals even French expats go here when they feel homesick for crepe. I know this because overheard the owner speaking flawless French to a family next to my table. Oh yes, the website is http://www.cafecrepeofaustin.com/default.html.
Berry Austin – By now you would have realized that I love ice cream especially when the weather is on the warmer side. This soft-serve self-serve yogurt shop is located in Second Street which is their “2 go” shop. They rotate ten soft serve flavors at a time so there is a chance that your favorite will be offered in the next rotation.
Part of the allure of this place is not just the yummy yogurts but the interior wall is made of reclaimed porcelain products from your everyday saucers and plates to leftover bathroom tiles from a DIY project. Get as much yogurt as you want with as much toppings as you want and enjoy. They have two other locations in Austin. Checkout their website at http://berryaustin.com/ .
Ironworks Barbeque – The sign says “Official Texas Barbeque.” Though if you enter the restaurant, it may not look like much. The building itself stands between the convention center and the currently under construction, Fairmont Hotel. My biggest concern about the place is might get overpowered and overshadowed by its two gigantic neighbors and disappear. But I doubt it as every time I come to this place, the dining area is packed with patrons. The exterior does not look like much. Some might think it’s rustic to the very essence of the word. It is made of wrought iron products such as old gates, window grills and galvanized metal roofing.
But don’t judge the book by its cover just yet. Inside this very rustic joint is a very large smoker behind the order counter in plain view of customers producing some of the best barbeque in Texas. The walls of the back dining room of this restaurant have some kind of a “Wall of Fame” feel to it. It has a large collection of autographed photos from celebrity patrons who once visited and dine here. My favorite item on the menu is the Sampler Plater which includes beef (which is actually brisket), sausages and ribs with potato salad, sliced bread and pickles with a bottle of chilled beer. Check out the rest of their menu items at http://ironworksbbq.com/. FYI: the restaurant is closed on Sundays.
Cooper’s Barbeque – One local told me ‘they are very glad Cooper’s now have a location in Austin.’ Other locations are in Llano, New Braunsfels and Fort Worth, Texas. This is a place where you can buy the barbeque of your choice by the pound. They offer beef, pork, and chicken in different cuts. The location in Austin also has a bar perfect for eating barbeque at the same time watching the game. My favorite item is the brisket with potato salad and mac and cheese. Their website is www.coopersbbqaustin.com
Big Top Candy Shop – I go here for my chocolate fixes while in Austin. This is the type of candy shop where you can buy chocolate malt balls, taffy and other candies by the pound. Located at South Congress Avenue, they have no official website or at least I couldn’t find one. But they offer various candy and other sweet treats that you have either never heard of before or brands you thought had gone extinct. It’s an old-fashioned candy shop in a way where both young and young-at-heart would often visit. PS – if you could find a website for this shop, please let me know. I would love to hear from you.
Amy’s Ice Cream – They have a location at South Congress Avenue that would often have long lines of patrons especially during warm days. So I often go to the one at the airport for a quick treat before boarding my flight. I love that they have a very good flavor base in the menu such as Mexican Vanilla and Dutch Chocolate, even Sweet Cream, but then there is a large selection of toppings to choose from to customize your order.
I would often leave out the toppings and just go for an order of Dutch Chocolate, my particular favorite. I love that they have the taste and texture of good ingredients making each ice cream rich, smooth and decedent. They also offer milkshakes. They have locations in Austin, Houston and San Antonio. You can buy their ice cream online at http://amysicecreams.com/.
There is a chance that I may be returning to Austin in the future. If you know other great places to eat in Downtown Austin, please let me know so I can check them out.