Inside Austin: Top Texas Restaurants

Where to find the best eats and drinks around Texas' 'weirdest' town

From March 9 to 18 Austin will be bursting with live music during South by Southwest. Whet your appetites for SXSW by celebrating this Texan city's other all-sensory delights with a whirlwind tasting tour of its food trailers and star chefs... Tweet us your #EatinginAustin tips @smithhotels

Dieters, look away now."Keep Austin Weird" was the turn-of-the-millennium bumper-sticker campaign that coined the slogan for a community that prizes all things locally owned and independent. With that in mind, we plotted up at a table in San José Lounge with a couple of Lone Star beers and a printout of our Smith Austin destination guide, and we mapped out some Texas-sized troughing with a trail of courses all over town. It went a little like this…

Our 48-hour food fest started in SoCo as soon as we parked up behind Jo’s coffee shop at Hotel San José. After a mighty fine café latté we crossed the street to Home Slice, where it’s pepperoni and mushroom for him and a slice of white pie with spinach for me. An amble up to the food carts at the 1600 block of South Congress earned me a creamy red velvet sugar hit from a glistening shiny Hey! Cupcake airstream trailer.

Despite a tip-off that Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar does a mean margarita, we took the 20-minute walk to Lamberts Downtown Barbecue for a slap of this state’s signature scran, but in a chichi context. Sticky Sriracha-slathered baby back boar ribs with blue cheese dip was washed down with a Shiner Bock. We wished we were there for the night, but with so many more flavors to guzzle, we bucked up and moseyed across the block to devour upscale street food. Zingy ceviche and calabaza and elderflower martinis awaited at La Condesa — I defy you to find better Tex-Mex in the world than at this vibrant contemporary Mexican joint.

With David’s Bull’s Congress fully booked, we walked a few streets over to its neighboring informal offshoot, Second Bar & Kitchen. Here, we tucked into a banquet of desserts courtesy of Austin-born-and-bred chef Ethan Holmes. With creations such as cheese-and-bacon ice cream, he is doing a doubly delicious job of keeping Austin weird.

After breakfast bento boxes poolside at Hotel San José, we checked out and headed to another food cart enclave, this time eastside at 1001 E. Sixth St. A long lazy lunch is whiled away in the searing autumn sun, grazing on Japanese Love Balls, Pig Vicious, Mati Greek Food, and Bits & Druthers. It is a miracle we managed to stay afloat that afternoon at our next boutique bolt-hole: Hotel Saint Cecilia, the glamorous SoCo sister to Hotel San José. (Now, if you're not greedy guts like us, but you're a sucker for snacks, the amenities in this place are award-deserving. Our "minibar" — full-size fridge more like — even included gourmet French cheeses and salamis.)

Appetites worked up (thanks only to serious willpower not to plunder our in-bungalow deli) and stimulated by refreshing and spicy health drinks (pomegranate and black pepper Prometheus Springs, anyone?), we headed toward the University of Texas campus for our last multicourse meal of this gorge-some getaway. Feasting doesn't get fancier — but without too much fuss — thanks to another savvy local chef, Josh Watkins and his simple-but-sophisticated modern American menu at Carillon Austin. Highest-quality ingredients and exciting flavors had us light-headed and full-bellied: tender cuts like butter steak and miso-marinated mero paired with first-class selections from an excellent international selection... mmm.

Our only regret after our action- and calorie-packed two days? We didn't get to world-class Japanese restaurants Uchi or Uchiko in Austin. But that's what next time is for...

— By Juliet Kinsman

Read my full Hotel San José review online. Rooms start from $175. At sister hotel, Hotel Saint Cecilia, rooms start from $295.

(All photos courtesy of Juliet Kinsman)

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