Back in January, David and I had a sunny weekend fling with Austin and San Antonio. One of our favorite parts of Austin was that our hotel, the Embassy Suites Austin- Downtown/Town Lake, was within easy walking distance to the popular Lady Bird Lake Trail running along the edge of downtown. We hit the trail every morning, along with what seemed like the entire population of the city. Crowds of physically fit locals, many wearing snazzy Lulu Lemon outfits, zoomed up and down the path at an impressive (daunting, even!) pace.
We definitely got the feeling that Austin is a work hard/play hard type of place. It seemed a bit like a flattened Denver with a Type A-Southern twist, or like a place where New York or Silicon Valley personalities might end up if they preferred a funkier, less-crowded city with a bigger sky.
For us, the best part of Austin was the food. I loved the original Whole Foods location (the corporate offices are stacked high above it’s downtown store) with so many intriguing healthy items to exclaim over and taste. We stopped by to pick up snacks or a meal every day we were in town. They even had an entire station devoted to beans, greens, and grains!
Whole Foods is where we admired the cute Longhorn shortbread pictured above. I was more interested in the oat-spelt vegan cookies made with maple syrup instead of refined sugar that we found in the bakery case, though. They were chewy and substantial, and one was an espresso-chocolate flavor. The local Bearded Brothers energy bars were also good, especially the chocolate-maca and ginger-peach flavors.
It was a special treat to be in the same city as raw and vegan restaurants, and we squeezed in all the meals and snacks we could. We took a particular liking to Beets Cafe, a completely raw eatery. We had three meals there. I especially loved having dozens of choices for sweets and desserts, from smoothies to “cheesecake” to date-sweetened “ice cream.” It tended to get a bit busy for the small staff, so meals there took some time, but we enjoyed everything and left feeling virtuous, satisfied, and giddy over all the health-conscious choices.
We also tried Counter Culture, which billed itself as serving Austin’s finest vegan comfort food. I adored the quirky turquoise decor and patio, and the laidback, comfortable attitude of the servers. We loved the raw bruschetta, and both our plates were great too.
Food trucks and trailers seem to be a big deal in Austin. We drove down to the South Congress shopping district one day, which was funky, eclectic, hippy dippy, and crowded. We had our eye on the Nomad Dosa truck, which serves up large, gluten-free, South Indian style crepes. I got the butternut squash-coconut curry filling. You can take my opinion with a grain of salt because in 32 years I have still not figured out what Indian cuisine to order to make my tastebuds sing, but I was underwhelmed. The crepe was a nice, light, airy texture, but not amazingly or compellingly flavored. The filling was just sort of a typical finely ground Indian mixture.
Not far from the South Congress shopping area, we picked up wood-fired iced coffee at Summermoon. It was a pleasant, laidback little shop and the coffee was good. Not too different or smokey tasting, but a nice slight change-up from typical blends.
We had hoped to see the bats emerge from their home in the Congress Avenue Bridge, but it turns out that spring, summer, and early fall are better times of year for that. We were also unlucky in missing Barton Springs, a three-acre pool fed from underground springs that keep it about 68 degrees year-round. Robert Redford learned to swim there, apparently! It was closed for construction when we visited.
A few other places to consider: La Condesa looked like foodie, modern Mexican with vegetarian options; artisan ice cream at Amy’s; vegan ice cream at Sweet Ritual; a battered and fried portabello taco topped with carrots at Torchy’s Tacos; the gourmet, family-owned restaurant and bar East Side Showroom, where elderflower appeared more the once on the cocktail menu.
One thing about Texas is: watch out for the toll roads. They are all cash-less and unattended, so if you get on one in a rental car, your car company will charge you the toll and a convenience fee. It looked like there tended to be non-toll roads running right alongside the toll roads, so read your maps carefully. There didn’t seem to be any toll roads right in the cities of Austin and San Antonio, we only ran into them when we ventured a little ways out to Lockhart for a barbeque adventure (see below) and the outlet stores north of Austin.
The is going to seem odd for a plant-based blog, but I’ll include the following for those readers who are seeking serious, authentic Southern food/travel experiences, or who are married to meat-eating gentlemen. If you are strictly vegan, you will probably want to stop reading here. :)
On our drive between San Antonio and Austin, we stopped in a barbeque restaurant, Smitty’s Market, that was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was in a small town called Lockhart, which apparently is the BBQ Capital of Texas. Obviously, in a Southern state, that is a notable honor! We entered via a long, dark, cool, vaguely dungeon-like hallway that led to a couple of stone rooms, barren except for the absolute necessities like a few benches, scattered tables and chairs, and a built in stone bar without any stools and only a firepit behind it. There were at least three open fires on the floor, which you passed as you stood in line. (We could not imagine how hot it would be in the summer!)
You ordered and paid for your pile of meat at a counter in the same stone room where it was cooking in huge pits. Then, you passed into a glass-enclosed cafeteria-style room where you could order afterthoughts like cheese, pickles, etc. People sat down with their meat at a few long tables on casual chairs or benches. The whole experience was quite a sight and adventure. If you know a serious BBQ fan, this would be a great place to take them.