If you are heading to the Moontower Comedy Festival, you will be busy following comedy all night, every night. But you have to eat sometimes, and if you’re an early rising type, you’ll have a full day to fill while waiting to immerse yourself in comedy all night.
Last year, we made sure we found time to get around the city and we want you to take advantage of it too. Rule #1 in Austin, is go local. Everything in Austin that we saw (with the exception of the day we took a cab past U of T), was 100% local, especially downtown. Rule #2 is that Austin will please those of you who want to eat meat as well as those of you who want to eat cleaner.
And if you haven’t purchased a badge yet, stop wasting time. Go to austintheater.org to get your passes, starting as low as $99 or buy single tickets to individual shows!
Down(town) and Dirty (and nearby)
If you’re in Austin for Moontower, the first area you’ll check out is 6th Street, also known to the locals as Dirty Sixth. It’s hard to avoid, as many of the Moontower venues are on and nearby Sixth, and you’ll find yourself passing through on the way to all the shows. Austin locals seem to stay far away from Dirty Sixth, and you will too eventually, but don’t be so anxious to act like a local that you miss the fun of walking down the street hearing live music, with as many as five live bands at a time, coming out of every bar in earshot. Yes, its annoying that these bars are 18 and up and attract a college crowd, yes, they tend to play to the tourists, but that’s okay, hang out walk around, grab some Voodoo Donuts (actually a Portland original, but still pretty good in Austin and open 24/7). Check it all out and then move on to other areas.
Just off of dirty Sixth there are some great places to eat, most of our favorites were west of Congress street. We checked out Frank’s hot dogs, Gourdough’s Public House where you get a donut with everything you order, and our pick for the best food in the Moontower zone, Turf N’ Surf Po Boy. With a window to the sidewalk and another one inside the adjoining Lacava Street Bar, they have some great tacos, and Po Boys. Also check out a downtown institution, Moonshine bar and Grill for southern cooking.
Venturing Out… (a little)
Get out of the immediate downtown zone without going too far, stretch your legs and head to the popular South Congress area, and Rainey Street. Just hit up Congress, and walk south (or grab a cab) and walk the extensive length of South Congress from Riverside to Mary and enjoy the massive stretch of shops, restaurants, bars and food trucks. Guero’s (recommended to us by of Goddamn Comedy Jammer Johnny Skourtis) was fantastic. Skip the inside experience and head straight out to the outdoor taco bar, with live music, all the tequila you’ll ever need, and more fish tacos. If that’s not your thing, there are dozens of great looking places to stop in and eat, you could spend weeks eating your way down Congress, including a pretty good cupcake truck, a joint that serves the infamous bullet/butter coffee, and Amy’s Ice Creams. South Congress is also where you’ll be able to get your hands on cowboy boots and shirts at Allens Boots, all things vintage, old timey candy, Tom’s shoes, and some authentic jerky, if you’re there during the week.
Most of Austin is pretty gritty. If you’ve had enough gritty after a day or two and want to sit somewhere pretty, take a ride over to the relatively newly developed Rainey Street, where beautiful bungalows have been transformed into a row of cute eateries, with live music all around, a great taco truck, and Banger’s, a beer garden with all kinds of wurst, sausages, amazing sides and a massive beer list. Beware of anything that might have ghost peppers lurking, they are not fucking around at Banger’s.
Meat, Meat, Meat
Those of you who want meat have many choices. The city’s most famous BBQ joint- Franklin Barbecue – will get you into arguments about whether it’s worth their marathon wait, or just a waste of time. If you go, you’ll be there for somewhere in the area of SIX HOURS waiting in line. People begin lining up at 5:45am. They open at 11. If you get there by 7am, you’ll probably be eating pretty close to that 11am open time, but that’s still four hours. It’s a fun day if the weather’s good and you’ll meet all kinds of interesting people, and they sell beer in the line. But a few ways to avoid the wait- call ahead and get take out, and bring it back to your hotel, or show up around 3pm and take a chance that they won’t run out.
Or just skip Franklin’s altogether, because there’s plenty of good BBQ to go around. Locals swear by Salt Lick, Micklethwait, and Freedmen’s, or check out La Barbecue.
Want no line and still some kind of Brisket and beef ribs experience? Try Terry Black’s on Barton Springs
Bars, Live Music, Late Night and Other Random Thoughts
If you like it old school, with good food and great live music, you want to check out Texas Chili Parlor, and Austin Standard. Other places to go hear live music– Saxon Pub, the Elephant Room, and the Continental Club.
Looking to Tex-Mex it? Maudie’s, Gloria’s (interior), or Uncle Julio’s, especially if you are dealing with a hangover. Matts El Rancho will also hit the spot.
After the bars close, when you realize you forgot to eat and you’re starving, you’ll be grateful for the 24 Diner, or when you just need something to eat. Don’t thumb your nose at local chains like Amy’s Ice Creams, Torchy’s Tacos, Taco Deli, and P. Terry’s. Amy’s ice cream is sublime, we recommend the simple, clean, sweet cream vanilla with your choice of great toppings. P. Terry’s serves some great, slow, fast food burgers, fries and shakes. If you’re from the Northeast, think of it as Austin’s version of Shake Shack. Both P. Terrys and Torchy’s are open late.
East Side King, a food truck recommended by absolutely everybody for Thai Fusion, and Veracruz Tacos, and La Reyna should be on your list too.
Want Tacos? You gotta get breakfast tacos at Veracruz, real die-hards can hunt down a little orange trailer called Tacos Guererro where a Mexican grandma named Yolanda makes very cheap tacos in the parking lot of an insurance company on the east side.
Austin’s Finest: The Chef Restaurants
Whether you want farm to table or haute cuisine, Austin has it all. Mostly you’ll be eating quick and light, but if you want to make time for one dinner at one of the best chef restaurants in Austin, here are some to choose from. We haven’t been to any of these spots, but they came highly recommended from a very trustworthy source, so if you’re looking to step out, and step up, check out Eden East, for breakfast or dinner, Dai Due for wild game, in a farm to table environment, Eberly with drinks at their Cedar Tavern, Barley Swine, Mattie’s, Jack Allan’s Kitchen on US Highway 71, Ramen Tatsu-ya , and Swift’s Attic to get a little funky. Also check out Odd Duck, and for a uniquely Austin experience, Contigo has Ranch to Table dining.
It’s out of the way, but Daniel Johnston fans must go the U of T campus to see Jeremiah the Innocent. If you have no idea what that means, go get a copy of The Devil and Daniel Johnstonthis weekend. You’ll thank us. Everyone should check out the bats at the Congress Bridge (Google it), two stepping at the Broken Spoke (closed Sunday), the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue, some of Austin’s best water spots like Hamilton Pool, and Barton Springs Pool, ziplining at Lake Travis, Chicken Shit Bingo at Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon – and of course the original Alamo Drafthouse.
One final note. If you find yourself leaving Austin, and you’ve missed your chance to get any BBQ or local ice cream, there is one last chance for you to check it all out. At least one terminal at Austin’s airport has a few local joints. Is it the same as eating in the city? God no. This is an airport food court. It should never substitute for the real thing. But if somehow you find yourself leaving town without trying anything, and you’re from a part of the country where BBQ means flame broiled cheeseburgers, at least go over to Salt Lick and grab yourself some brisket and sausage. And yes, they’re open at 6am, and serve breakfast.
Stay tuned to see our picks for the best shows to check out at Moontower 2017. We can’t wait! And by all means, if you have favorite places to go, things to do and foods to eat in Austin, please add them in the comments.
Thanks to Rich and Wes, a couple of locals who gave us many of the recommendations on the list
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