I'm leaving Austin behind (at least for now) but there are a lot of good places here that I would like to recognize before I go. This is less a list of 'best of's and more a list of my favorite spots in Austin.
Cherrywood: This is my favorite coffee shop in Austin and they have good food and beer, too. You can be there pretty much all day for something - be it caffinating, drinking, meeting friends, working, watching a movie... they even have a farmers' market once a week. They show all the Saints games and it's often very crowded for a laid-back brunch on the weekends (with good reason), game or no game.
Counter Cafe: Best Benedict I've had in Austin. This tiny restaurant has great brunch but very limited seating. Worth the wait.
Casa de Luz: This is a very unique place. They're open for a few hours around breakfast, lunch and dinner. They only make one meal per time slot (Taco night! Guatemalan night! etc.) It's vegan and macrobiotic food. You only wish you could make a bowl of greens this good without a ham hock. If every I'm up insanely early, I love to come into this quiet, open dining room and have a healthy breakfast.
Boldin Creek Coffee: I only ever get the Garden Breakfast. You can order it a lot of ways but my favorite is vegan (they do some kind of delicious scrambled tofu unlike and worlds better than any other scrambled tofu I've ever had, and I get that with steamed spinach, sliced tomatoes, and rye bread). I make special trips to get it, it's so good.
El Chilito: My personal favorite breakfast tacos in Austin (a highly subjective subject). I also adore their fish burrito.
Hoover's: Southern comfort food. Chicken fried steak. Mashed potatoes. RIBS! BRUNCH! I used to come here at night just for decaf coffee and hot cobbler a la mode. You will eat a week's worth of calories at once (you can balance it out with a breakfast at Casa de Luz....)
Quality Seafood: Speaking of fried food, best seafood in Austin. They do craw fish boils in the spring (get about a pound per person plus sides).
Noble Pig: Everything you've heard (if you've heard about this place from the Food Network or the national food mags) is true. They have incredible sandwiches and know their way around a pig. I've only been there once and it left a mark on my brain forever. Don't bother with the sides - the sandwich is what you want. Maybe get two.
NeWorlDeli: Significantly closer to the city center, this place also has delicious sandwiches, especially the Reuben.
Royal Blue Grocery: I would go here for lunch a lot when I worked downtown. They have sandwiches and salads and other quality pick-up items. Beats your average mini-mart by about a million to one.
Veggie Heaven: This tiny spot is always crowded and yet I never seem to have to wait. It's on the Drag near campus so parking can be tough but they have a small lot. The menu seems to have one million items. If you've never been before, I recommend you start with Protein 9000 with brown rice.
Homeslice: Best pizza in Austin (again, highly subjective). The whole place smells like a garlic so that's pretty much wonderful. You may also have to wait a long time here, but again - worth the minutes.
Your Mom's Burger Bar: Best burgers in Austin (by now I think you understand that I'm not afraid to make a bold claim). There are a lot of good burgers in Austin (Alamo Drafthouse, Wholly Cow, Justine's and Flat Top come to mind). But Your Mom's burgers are massive, and my favorite part is that the cheese is inside the burger. YES.
P Terry's: Austin's fast food joint. They make my favorite fast food fries, the skinny kind with the skins still on fried in some kind of tasty oil that leave them brown and crispy. I think this is one awesome veggie burger, too, even if you're not a vegetarian.
Man Bites Dog: Come for the hot dogs, stay for the bun. It's a hell of a thing when the bun is a draw! Very casual place. Tots on the menu!
Blue Dahlia: I love the simplicity of this lovely bistro. It's got a rustic feel without being cheesy-theme-y. Buy some bread to take home. The daily quiches with a salad is what I almost always get.
Buenos Aires: This is a great date spot, with beautiful food without being wildly expensive. I've always had great service here, too.
Chez Nous: I've only been here for lunches so I can't speak to the nighttime crowds, but at midday it's not a bad wait. It's small and tucked slightly into a nook downtown. The simple French fare is quality stuff.
Hopfield's: Casual gastropub (*gastropub sounds lame but it's not) with a lot of good beers on tap and some tasty simple food. The sandwiches on baguettes credit the aesthetic that you only need a few high-quality ingredients to have an amazing meal.
Contigo: This place is outdoor-only, which can be hot in the summer and cool in the winter, but it's worth it. In the winter they have fireplaces and in the summer misting fans. You can bring your dog. They have $1 fried chicken on Thursdays (or they do at the time of this writing). They have tasty drinks. They have local produce and get meat from their game reserve outside of Houston. Good place for relaxing with friends.
Parkside: The most amazing happy hour in Austin is at Parkside weekdays from 5-7 (I think - check the website to be sure). Stunning craft cocktails are half off. The bar menu is half off, and that includes oysters, ceviche, sliders... and the fries. Oh, the fries! For garlic-lovers only. It's really a drinks-and-dinner happy hour, and both are delicious.
Justine's Brasserie: Tucked in a neighborhood without any other restaurants around, while you're looking for it you might give up and feel like you've gotten lost, but no. Keep going, it's out there. Once you see it it's super cute. They pork chops and the burger are awesome. The drinks are good. Play boccie while you wait. Sit for a while. It's worth finding it for sure.
Foreign and Domestic: A little upscale and a little small and with no waiting area. Get here right when they open. They give you a little amuse bouche. The kitchen is wide open to the restaurant. Everything is good here from soup to nuts. The portions are small so be ready to order a few things, over time, as you go.
Uchi: Do I really need to say anything about the best sushi place in Austin? This is not a cheap meal but if you like sushi, you should do it. I mean, Paul Qui worked here!
Barley Swine: This is one of the best restaurants in Austin. Very fine dining with delicious flavors that really play off each other. And look at that plate! It's stunning.
G'Raj Mahal: My favorite Indian place in Austin. It's technically a large food trailer that sits beside a large outdoor seating area under a giant tent, so 10 points for ambiance. They have table service despite that it's a trailer. It's reasonably priced and so, so good.
Titaya's Thai: Best Thai in Austin (did you see that coming?). It's in a strip mall in a nondescript portion of North Lamar. You'll know it by the throngs of people waiting outside. The waits can be enormous - but you can call in an order for pickup. Actually, sometimes you even have to wait then. Majority rules! This place is great.
Ho Ho: Chinese BBQ at its finest, Ho Ho is in a strip mall off of super duper North Lamar. It's filled with Chinese people speaking Chinese, so you know it's good stuff. The BBQ pork is spectacular. Go with a group and everyone get something different and share it.
Sweet Ritual: Vegan soft serve ice cream in vegan cones with vegan toppings. They make their stuff in house, in special flavors - salted caramel, green tea, etc.
Longbranch Inn: A fine dive, with good prices and little ambiance, but they do allow dogs and it was convenient to where I lived.
The Grackle: This is my favorite bar on East Sixth Street, way way at the east end of the strip. It's often crowded and loud and just a little dive-y. It's just a good place to be around people. There are two food trucks outside in case you get hungry.
Nomad: In a strip mall in North Austin, this place has a cool bar and cheap drinks for the place. It's just a pleasant, not too exciting atmosphere. Come and talk and enjoy.
Dog and Duck: This is one of the first bars I went to in Austin and I've had many a night with friends playing games, shooting the shit, and having a pint at this pub. Pint night is Tuesday and the beers are all on special. Its just such a great place full of fond memories (and admit to being partial to British style pubs).
Hopfield's: See above. Good for just beers, too, so I thought I'd add it in both.
Drink. Well.: This place is small and closes super early, but has enjoyable food and good drinks at a moderate price. Something about it is just comfortable and cute.
Easy Tiger: I love this place, and I wish it weren't downtown where parking is crap and the fratty portion of Sixth Street looms threateningly close. However! What's delightful is the beer-garden atmosphere downstairs (inside and out), that is below a bakery that sells bread and pretzels.
Parkside: See above. These cocktails are delicious so it bore repeating.
Weather Up: For fancy drinks, go here. They cost $10 each. This is probably the only place I like to go where I'd actually call the bartenders mixologists and feel neither pretentious nor like I'm misusing the word. The menu is broken down by alcohol type, then by style of drink. It is about the size of a small novel. The location is beautiful inside and out.
Farms and Farmer's Markets and Other Local Food:
Springdale Farm: Within the city itself are several small urban farms, and Springdale is my favorite. Its run by a friendly family and the farm stand is Saturdays in a little farmhouse with a farm dog by the owners' feet. They have ducks and chickens, and two big blocks of farmed land right off of Springdale Road. Their prices are very reasonable when compared to other similar farms, and they are just sweet people. Try some duck eggs and some herbs.
Green Gate Farm: Still within Austin city limits but outside of the real urban-feeling area is the much larger Green Gate Farms. They have chickens, of course, but also goats and giant pigs (and two enormous furry laid back farm dogs). The pigs are as sweet as can be, lying around under the trees, and you can pet the goats. You can wander through the barn and the fields, take a tour if you want, and shop at the lovely farm stand. You can buy produce, eggs, and other goods they bring in. You can also buy shares in the pigs and chickens and feel good about the meat you get. They have a CSA that has done some of my friends quite well.
Farmhouse Delivery: This is the CSA I belonged to because 1. they deliver to your house and 2. they sell produce from a bunch of different farms in the area (as well as their own) so you get a big variety of goods. They have a beautifully designed website chock full of recipe ideas. The farm has events for the members (and I suspect the community at large), which I highly recommend attending.
Hope Farmer's Market: There's a great big farmers' market downtown on Saturday morning, and a lot of others around town (from the Triangle to Cherrywood to Barton Creek Mall to several others), but this is my favorite of the small-scale ones. It's Sunday morning, too, not Saturday - so if you can't quite drag yourself out of bed after a long week to hit the big market (not that I'd know anything about this....), this is a fine option.
Antonelli's: What kind of cheese shop is NOT a dream come true? This one certainly is.
You get to sample the cheese! You can tell them what you're having then they'll help you pick a cheese to go with it - and I firmly believe there is a cheese to go with anything ever.
Spice Works: A whole store devoted to spices! It's a cook's dream! Well, along with the cheese store. A spice for every cheese!
Con O'lio: Whilst expounding on the delight of speciality food shops, I'll mention this purveyor of olive oils and vinegars. It's hard to find, but once you do its got such a variety of its few products that you'll spend enough time sampling and comparing to make the effort worth it.
Central Market (North Lamar): This is my favorite big grocery store. I'd go here for fun. It's just a great, big, probably overpriced, definitely well-curated grocery store. Enough said.
In.Gredients: This is my favorite little grocery store. It just opened recently. They only sell products in bulk. It's the first of its kind! Its in a little house. I love the idea. Bring your growler (or buy one) for beer or kombucha.
Strut: Cute, trendy clothes. Bright colors, yummy patterns. Get on their email list and you'll never pay full price for anything. Every single thing I get here, I get compliments on. Definitely my favorite overall clothing boutique.
Coco Coquette: This is a fun little place that is part salon, part wig shop, part vintage store, part burlesque costumery. They have fun makeup, amazing hair pieces, and a small but well curated selection of jewelry and clothes.
Room Service Vintage and Feathers: Side by side off of Congress, these vintage clothing stores have the best selection I've found. Their side-by-side nature makes it easier to see more stuff faster!
Underwear: Small store with lovely underthings at a not-outrageous price.
Hill Country Running: When you come, they'll have you run on a treadmill and film your gait, then show you shoes to help you correct your stride, reduce injuries, and increase effectiveness. You get to film yourself running in all the shoes you try on, too, so you can see which works absolutely best for you. They also have running groups to train and motivate you, if you're into that kind of thing.
Bows & Arrows: A very well-curated home store. They sell small items (more blankets and candles and less furniture) and I love the simple aesthetic.
University Cyclery: Reasonable prices on bikes, nice helpful people.
Natural Gardener: Set outside of Austin, this has everything you need for gardening in Austin. Everything they have out can be planted at the time of purchase and is acceptable for Austin's climate and environment. People here can help you with any questions you have. The only time I'd go anywhere else is once a year, to the Sunshine Community Garden Plant Sale - and when you go to that, go early before they sell out!
Peacock Salon - As with many women, I had a hard time finding a place to get my hair cut that was both not too expensive and also provided a consistently good haircut. I found that with Annie, the salon's owner. It's also a hip space that's easy to get to and has lots of parking.
Viva Day Spa - I avoided waxing for a long time after my initial experience with it was bad, but then a friend recommended this place to me and I tried it out. Viva is a beautiful, relaxing, high-quality place and the aestaticians are very friendly yet professional. Towards the end of my time in Austin I also went to Megan Deterling at Grapevine Salon. She works for herself (not in a salon) and has a small office in a corporate park. I admire that self-starting ethic and would also recommend her to anyone.
Synergy Fitness - I love a boot camp. I love the intensity of the workouts and the results that it brings. That said, my favorite boot camp I've attended in Austin is Synergy. The owner, Tim, is motivational without being too 'trainer-y', and was willing to work with me whenever I had a question or a special situation. They run a great deal on the cost of the classes, and when you sign up for one class you can go to any class at any time. I went to the camp at 7:30am at the park in the Triangle. The instructor, Ty, lead a fun class and was knowledgeable about fitness.
Eastside Yoga - I also love a yoga class. This became my favorite yoga spot. It's not too hip (No competition with the other yogis and they didn't play pumping tunes) and it's not too big (just one smallish studio space), and none of the classes were ever too cramped. The instructors I've had were all kind and thoughtful. Drop in prices are a reasonable $14 and as an added bonus, it's pay-what-you-can on Sundays.
Place to see a show: Mohawk: I love this venue. It's outside set into a rocky hillside, with sails overhead and multiple levels for standing and seeing the (I think three) different stages.
Place to see a movie: Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar: This is the best Alamo! I don't know why I'm so partial to this one. Is it the parking? Is it the layout? All I know is that there is no reason to see a movie anywhere but an Alamo. Of course, you might want to go to the Alamo Ritz as well. Both theaters have special events but I think the Ritz has more - and by 'special events' I mean sing-alongs, quote-alongs, TV screenings, mocks, weird shows.... so many things. I will miss having an Alamo around.
Place to see a classic movie: Paramount Theater: The exception to the above rule about the Alamo is the Paramount Theater for its Summer Classic Film Series, which is three months of double-features from cinema history.
Place to buy a car: Howdy Honda: The people at Howdy Honda are some of the best car salespeople I've found and their service department is top notch. I felt like they really cared so they're either really well-trained or really genuinely excited about Hondas, and I'm okay with either explanation.
Place to swim: Barton Springs: $3. Natural spring. Consistent 69 degrees year round. Nothing feels better in the Summer than a dip in the springs.
Place to See Art: Pump Project during EAST: This multi-stuido space is filled to the brim with artists showing their work during the East Austin Studio Tour (which is in itself a larger, more city-encompassing thing worth doing - just if you stop one place, this is a good one for variety, quantity and quality). Snacks and drinks, artists and art friends, children and parents... it's not at all pretentious and you'll enjoy supporting all kinds of craftspersons.
Place to find free stuff at SXSW: Showlist Austin: I know, SXSW can be a pain for residents and transit. It does not have to be! Big tips: 1. use a bike. You'll be 10x faster than any drivers, you can park anywhere, and you will have less stress. I cannot overemphasize this. 2. showlistaustin.com. This website lists all the free shows that don't require official wristbands - that means FREE MUSIC. It's an enormous list. Some you'll have to RSVP for free online (piece of cake). You might have to wait in line so go early. Some of these already free venues also offer free food and free beers. If you don't know enough about indie bands, but you want to have free fun, I'd recommend checking out the French Legation, Emo's East, or Mohawk - they have well-curated selections. You can also go see free big shows at Auditorium Shores - my last year I saw the Shins for free, with the Austin skyline in the background.
Monthly reading series show: Encyclopedia Show: A monthly reading series based around a theme (the periodic table of the elements! grammar! Christmas! Pfulguerville!), this is some of the funniest and occasionally most touching work around town. The show is incredibly fun and you will be laughing to some of Austin's best and/or funniest and/or most literary performers.
Fabric and Classes: Stitch Lab: This funky, adorable converted house in South Austin is home to a wide selection of fabric art crafts, including sewing, embroidering, crochet, etc. They also sell a good selection of mostly cotton fabrics and sewing accessories, good for quilting, bags and light clothes.
Video Rental: I Luv Video: You can't use Netflix for everything, and sometimes you just wouldn't want to. I Luv Video has an enormous selection of TV and films for rent and a funky and knowledgeable staff to help you out, should you be lost physically or at a loss of what to watch. Dogs are welcome! Free beer on Thursdays! Amnesty days on late fees twice a month!
Holiday Shopping Event: Cherrywood Art Fair: This ever-increasingly-huge annual event is held at Cherrywood Middle School one weekend in November or December, and is a perfect chance to buy unique, handmade goods for yourself or for holiday gifts. There is a huge arts and crafts community in Austin and this is one time when it centralizes itself for fun and shopping.
Unexpected Outdoorsy Event: Zilker Park Boat Rentals: Sometimes you just want to do something different from swimming or hiking outside. I suggest renting a canoe and paddling around Ladybird Lake. You'll float down the center of the city, be out in the middle of the water, get a good workout and yet can laze around in the sun, too.
Unexpected Indoorsy Event: Trapeze Austin: When you're really, really in the mood for something off-the-wall (literally), Trapeze Austin is a good time. You learn to swing and fall to the net in a one-hour class, and you learn to release and try to get caught by a veteran trapeezer (?) in a two hour class. It's a fun rush of a time and if you get hooked, they have longer term classes too.
Unexpected Underwater Event: Scuba Certification at Scubaland: All right, I know this is expensive and unusual, and you might or might not be planning a trip to an exotic beach location, but this is one of the most fun one-time things I did before leaving Austin. The Scubaland staff teaches you everything you need to get an Open Water Dive Certificate. It takes about a week of night classes (or two weekends) and you spend hours underwater in a pool then do some dives in Lake Travis, where you solidify your skills and get to swim around with fish and see sunken boats, cars, and other obstacles. And you get to stay underwater for like an hour! That's so cool!
Unexpected Learning Event: Motorcycle Lessons at Austin Moto Academy with a Scooter from one of the many scooter places in Austin: Perhaps another unusual suggestion, but if you're thinking of getting a motorcycle or scooter, these classes are great. They take place both mornings of one weekend (there may be other times too) then you can get a special driver license certification to travel on two motorized wheels. Having a scooter in Austin is fun, and you can park it virtually anywhere (alleviating a lot of the downtown parking issues...).
Dog Park: Redubud Island: You'll probably have to wait patiently in line for parking, but this is the only dog park my dog enjoys (she's very shy). It's an off-leash island where dogs can run free, play, explore, swim and frolic. It's got a nice path for you to walk around, too.