I went to Austin for the first (and certainly not final) time in April of 2014. I planned for a year, looking at what food stops I wanted to make and basically planned my whole trip around that. Here’s a list of the places I ate, drank, and some things to do around town. It’s not even scratching the surface of what Austin has to offer, but it’s a place to start.

What to eat:

Franks

Franks was out first stop after checking in. We landed around 9am, so by this time we were ready for some food, coffee, and a Bloody Mary.

Franks

Hot dogs, cold beer, and cocktails. At Franks, they have their version of the Bloody Mary called Red Headed Stranger. The. Best. EVER.  Seriously. It’s made with in-house infused bacon Tito’s vodka, and served with a strip of bacon because, “Rabbits eat celery. People eat bacon.”. Food wise: these are not your every day hot dogs. These are house-made, artisanal sausages and bratwursts. They have gluten-free bun options (hooray!), and a wide array of brats to choose from.  I had the Jackalope: antelope, rabbit and pork with cranberry compote and srirachi aioli. It was beyond delicious. They also have amazing, fresh roasted, fresh brewed for you, coffee. Who would’ve thunk? hotdogscoldbeer.com

Barley Swine

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I made reservations for our dinner at Barley Swine months in advance. The chef, Bryce Gilmore, was nominated this year for a James Beard award, but the place is ANYTHING but stuffy. I wore jeans and a tank top and was perfectly comfortable. The place is small, so make reservations.  Not only that, but he’s the man cooking your food. It’s not just his name on the menu…he’s actually on the line cooking every night. The menu is not a la carte. It’s a constantly changing chefs tasting menu, at market price and it’s worth very single penny. They use a ton of local, sustainable ingredients and even list for you the farms from which they’ve gotten what’s on your plate. It was so good, they brought me a spatula to scoop up every last bit of sauce from my plate. I legit wanted to cry it was so good. Everything was. If you’re having libations, I suggest paying the up charge for the beer/wine pairing. Every other course or so, they bring you out a perfectly paired beverage to have with one of your 12-14 courses.  By far, one of, if not THE best meal of my life. If you have dietary restrictions, simply tell them when you make your reservation and they will accommodate you. barleyswine.com

La Condesa

I wanted two things in Austin: Local and Mexican. La Condesa hit both.  They use Broken Arrow Ranch for their venison. A pasture, humane ranch right there in Texas. Lots of small plates in a very cool, airy atmosphere. We went for dinner, but I’ve heard their brunch is outstanding.  Salsas, and Guacamole = a given. Get the trio and try everything.  Ceviche is hard to beat when it’s well done. The scallop ceviche was fresh and light with a little kick. Moving into the main, I had the venison taquitos (duh) and they were cooked beyond perfectly. The margaritas were, clearly, amazing. I requested their house-jalapeno infused tequila with lime juice and club soda a la NorCal margarita.  lacondesa.com

Olivia

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When we pulled up to Olivia for brunch, I was really happy to see a chicken coup and little garden right outside. Even if you have to wait for a table, the outside area is so pleasant, it’s almost fun.  Check out the chickens, look to see if any strawberries are popping up. It’s easy to enjoy and you almost forget you’re starving. The space is absolutely beautiful. Homey, comfortable, and light. The menu is small, but cooked practically right in front of you.  The food is a reelection of the space itself: comforting, simple, and elegant.  I had the shrimp and grits, because I felt like I wanted something really southern-comfort and I wasn’t overly concerned with staying on the Paleo train this trip. The shrimp were tender and sweet and the grits were absolutely perfect. Every plate that walked past us, though, looked wonderful.  The short rib cheeseburger, the scallops, the eggs… Olivia-Austin.com

Holy Cacao & Torchys Tacos

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I knew we had to find some breakfast tacos on our trip, so I took to Google. Torchy’s Tacos kept popping up so we hopped on the bikes and headed over. It’s in a little food truck park on South 1st Street, with picnic tables set up to boot. We grabbed some tacos, with green chiles, duh and sat down to wait. Right there, like a beacon of light, was Holy Cacao. I had heard to go there for some chocoaltey goodness, but I had something else on my mind: COFFEE.  We grabbed some of the iced variety and were not let down. Rich, delicious, and wonderfully cold. I definitely suggest posting up for a great start to the day. TheHolyCacao.com TorchysTacos.com 

Picnik

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I think just about everyone in Paleo-land has heard of the storage container that is Picnick by now.  Taking a picture of the big old door seems to be second only to a picture in front of the Austin mural.  A legitimate Paleo-Haven: It’s probably the only place to get butter coffee (hot AND iced) along with a plethora of other paleo-goodies. WE grabbed a blondie, and plopped down at a picnic table before heading to Franklin BBQ for what would be a long (but insanely delicious) morning.  It’s not just coffees, smoothies, and treats though. Every day, you can grab some meals to go (or stay!) like pork belly with tomatoes, grass-fed lamb, or grass-fed sirloin with broccoli based on whats locally available and in season.  picnikaustin.com

More good coffee:

Jo’s

Halcyon

Austin Java

Franklin BBQ

Yes, there are lots of places that you can get BBQ, even great BBQ, in Austin without having to get there three hours before opening and waiting in line all morning. I’m telling you: Franklin BBQ is WORTH THE WAIT. Every day, Franklin BBQ opens up with a line already formed. They take down what you’re planning to order to they can decide where the “we’re out!” sign will go (or rather, on who’s back it will be stuck). Once their out, their out. Waiting in line at Franklin is a right of passage for food lovers who visit.  If eating all the best Austin has to offer, you can’t skip this stop. Get there early and go on a week day. You’re still gonna wait minimum two hours (we went on a Tuesday. Got there at 9, ate at 12:30.). The wait isn’t so bad though! Especially if you hit Picnik first. You can rent a chair from some guy that they let post up outside for $5.  If you want beers, they start coming around at 11 with ice cold cans for purchase. Even without the chairs and beers, you’re surrounded by other carnivores who are happy to spend their whole morning waiting on brisket.  Everyone is hungry, yet happy. It’s almost impossible not to make friends with the people next to you in line. It’s a long wait, but the experience as a whole is part of what makes it so special.  Not to mention the mind blowing, melt-in-your-mouth, brisket that awaits you at the counter. I will never have brisket anywhere else again after what I had at Franklin since I doubt anything will every match up.  Guess I’ll just have to go back. franklinbarbecue.com

The Salt Lick

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If you have a car, I definitely think it’s worth the 45 min drive out to Driftwood to have dinner at the Salt Lick. It’s a BBQ institution.  You drive onto this massive peice of property, park in the gravel lot, and make your way though a huge outdoor dining area inside to be greeted by a big ass open pit fire. Yea…that’s where they cook the meat. On an open pit flame. Time between sitting down and eating is maybe 10 minutes. The food is fantastic.  Brisket, ribs, pickled veggies. It’s classic TX BBQ, but it’s really the history of the place that I think make it something worth driving to. SaltLickBBQ.com 

More food (some we didn’t get to but meant to) that are Paleo-friendly: 

Snap Kitchen (to-go meals & shakes)

Hopdoddy (Grass-fed Burgers)

Lamberts (BBQ)

Wholly Cow (Burgers)

24 Diner

It’s also worth it to visit the Whole Foods. It’s freaking huge. It’s also the first one and their home-base.

Other food worth noting, though not at all paleo: Gourdoughs (Maple Bacon Donughts, anyone?) East Side King @ Hole in the Wall (Pork Buns), Ramen Tatsu-ya, Easy Tiger Bake Shop, Lucy’s Fried Chicken (we got fried chicken livers…AMAZEBALLS)

Ice Cream Spots:

Lick – Unique flavors with local ingredients. I had Salt Lick Caramel and Strawberries & Cream. It’s right next to Barley Swine. It seems great food sticks together. ilikelick.com

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Dolce Neve – straight up real deal gelato in the heart of Texas. I mean it. Francesca, one of the owners, trained at the Carpigiani Gelato University in Italy, and worked at the Golosario award winning (2012) Gelateria De’ Coltelli in Pisa Italy.  They source, again, local ingredients for their amazing gelato.  The day we were there, they only had a few flavors to offer because  they were in the process of making everything else. Hard to be mad about that. What we DID get to enjoy, though, had JUST been made and was absolute creamy perfection. I could easily see this being a daily stop for gelato-lovers. Plus, it’s right across the stress from the Austin Mural, so you can go take your obligatory picture afterwards. dolcenevegelato.com

Things to Do:

The Bats

If you’re there in the bat season, I really thing it’s worth doing. We were going to skip it after someone told us it was over rated. I disagree. We ended up riding by on our bikes just as people were starting to crowd on Congress Bridge and decided to stay and see what up. Once the sun set, hundreds of bats poured out from under us.  It’s a little tough to see them coming out since the sunlight is fading, but when you look off in the distance, you can see what looks like the smoke monster from Lost streaking through the sky.  It’s a very cool, and uniquely Austin sight to see. Don’t skip it for fear of being a “typical tourist”. You are a tourist…go check it out.

Farmers Market

Saturdays from 9-1. Local farmers, lots of honey, home brewed kombucha, coffee, macarons, strawberries…what else? It’s a really fun way to spend your saturday morning. Don’t eat breakfast first, though. There’s plenty to snack on at the market, and you can sit down for some grade-A people watching once you’ve loaded up.

Lady Bird Lake Bike Trail

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Rent yourself a bike (use the Austin B-Cycle’s that are virtually everywhere) and go for a trail ride around Lady Bird Lake on the Ann and Roy Butler Trail. You can hop off at Congress Ave, Rainey Street, Barton Springs, it’s a 10 mile bike and walking trail that goes all through Austin. I definitely needed a good bike ride after all of the food!

Barton Springs Pool

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A little oasis in the middle of the city. Barton Springs Pool is a natural spring that is always chilling right around 70 degrees.  It’s absolutely stunning and such a fun place to spend the afternoon in the sun.

For some bars and nightlife, I saw head to Rainey Street

Yes, I went to 6th Street but I gotta say I preferred what Rainey Street had to offer. What looks like a residential street during the day, turns into a neighborhood of some of the most unique bars I’ve ever sat foot in once the sun goes down.  Lots of local Texas beer and interesting craft cocktails. My favorites:

Craft Pride – 54 taps and 2 casks of all local Texas brew with a big old backyard and food truck serving up pizza slices.

Lucilles Patio Lounge – a stunning outdoor patio bar – they even have hammocks! Dog friendly (like most Austin institutions) with funky and delicious cocktails. It feels like your hanging at your friends house.

Container Bar – One of the newer additions to Rainey Street, Container bar is made up of stacked shipping containers. The drinks and beers are standard, but the atmosphere and building itself makes it worth a visit.

Half Step – Another new member to the Rainey Street Line Up. In my opinion, one of the most interesting cocktail bars I’ve been to.  Old school cocktails meet new school mixology.  Our drinks took about five minutes to make, but were not only special and unique, but delicious. Again, as it seems every Rainey Street bar is required to have, there is a great backyard area with picnic tables all lined up. It’s hard not to feel like you’re at home. Right next door is the food truck Tapas Bravas – a must-stop for Spanish eats. (after writing this, I actually saw Half Step on Esquire Networks show – Best Bars in America. it was named one of the best bars in the US in 2014.)