"I visit this town at least once a year, usually more. And I keep coming up with excuses to come back. I love the food -- and I really love the people. You'll see a kid with a nose ring talking to a 70-year-old woman. Every business is run like a mom-and-pop shop. You feel like you belong to the community, whether you're there for the first time or the hundredth. It's dog-friendly, one of the greenest cities in America and the live music capital of the world. (And you know that my husband, John, and I are huge music fans!)"
So, where's Rach? See her favorite places in Austin below, along with her recipes inspired by this great city.
tips + how-tos
Rach says ...
Austin has a casual vibe that begs for a burger.
Head right to Dirty Martin's Place (2808 Guadalupe St., 512-477-3173), where a burger can come topped with bacon, cheese, chili and a fried egg, or keep it simple and have a $3.25 version with mustard, onion, pickle and tomato. There's also a delicious burger at one of my new faves, Bess Bistro on Pecan (500 W. 6th St., 512-477-2377; burger $9.50). The grilled 8-ounce patty is nestled in a potato bun along with grilled onions and served with skinny, crisp french fries. Sandra Bullock owns the joint, and when I visited, she was right up front, eating a chicken potpie! Try their four-cheese macaroni and cheese gratin or the insanely good crêpes with mushrooms, eggplant, feta and spinach, which are on the lunch menu. You can feel good about going there, since they recycle everything -- including their cooking oil, which is turned into biodiesel fuel.
It's home to the best hotel experience I've ever had.
I fell in love with the Hotel San José (1316 S. Congress Ave., sanjosehotel.com, 800-574-8897; doubles from $160) the first time I checked in. I've stayed there a bunch of times since and always look forward to coffee at Jo's (512-444-3800; small coffee $2), which is in the parking lot. I'm a fan of the hotel owner, Liz Lambert, so I wanted to try her new place, Hotel Saint Cecilia (112 Academy Drive, hotelstcecilia.com, 512-852-2400; doubles from $300). It's pricier, but so worth it. Everything is thought out to the smallest detail. They have a record player in every room. The Bloody Marys come in antique glasses with spicy pickled green beans. If you can't swing a stay at Saint Cecilia, you might be able to eat there. The Dai Due Supper Club (daidueaustin.com; dinner from $55) hosts a weekly dinner party at different spots, and Saint Cecilia is in its rotation. Check the schedule online.
It's all about Tex-Mex and good times.
In Austin, they start eating tacos at breakfast. Do just that at Taco Xpress (2529 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-444-0261; tacos $1.50 for 2, migas taco $2.30), where the tacos are made with any combination of egg and chorizo, potato, bacon, ham, bean or cheese. I love their migas tacos, eggs scrambled with tomatoes, onion, jalapeños and corn chips. For dinner, try my favorite Mexican place in town, Polvo's Mexican Restaurant (2004 S. First St., 512-441-5446; entrées from $7). It's cheap and cheerful, with Christmas lights and mismatched furniture. The chicken and beef fajita al Gualjillo is amazing -- sweet and spicy at the same time, packed with sun-dried peppers, grilled onions and poblano chiles. My husband likes the beef cerveza fajitas. And the fish tacos are insane! We ate there twice in two days.
South Congress Avenue has plent of food, music and other goodies -- it's where you wanna be!
I like to feel at home when I'm in Austin, so right away I'll walk up to a grocery store -- either Cissi's Market (1400 S. Congress Ave., 512-225-0521) or Farm to Market Grocery (1718 S. Congress Ave., 512-462-7220) -- and load up on snacks for the hotel room. While I'm out, I'll swing by Uncommon Objects (1512 S. Congress Ave., 512-442-4000), which is full of cool housewares. If I'm ever hankering for New York-style thin crust, I walk over to Home Slice Pizza (1415 S. Congress Ave., 512-444-7437; slices from $2.75). At night I'll usually end up at The Continental Club (1315 S. Congress Ave., continentalclub.com) to see whoever's playing. If I'm lucky, it'll be my favorite Austin musician, Bob Schneider.
I've found a bunch of cool vintage clothes for low prices.
Feathers Boutique (1700B S. Congress Ave., 512-912-9779) is a tremendous vintage store with a great selection of summer dresses, rompers, shoes, jewelry -- you name it -- mostly for under $100, and plenty for much less. Before we go, John and I try to do one-stop shopping at the next-door neighbors Service Menswear (1400 S. Congress Ave., 512-447-7600), owned by two stylish guys, and the women's store By George (1400 S. Congress Ave., 512-441-8600). Both stock upscale brands (French Connection, Converse by John Varvatos, Ella Moss, Tracy Reese), so the prices can get steep, but check the sale racks, where the designer goods are up to 75 percent off.
The best part: there's music everywhere all the time.
And there's never more music than during the South by Southwest Festival. That's why I've co-hosted a party during the March festival for two years running. (Check out last year's party.) I ask all my favorite bands to play, invite a boatload of guests and cook up a mess of good eats for everybody. Last year was the inaugural party, and it was amazing. I didn't think it could be even better this year, but it was pretty fun! We had two stages going, and the New York Dolls played -- they rule. My husband's band, The Cringe, was awesome, too (then again, I'm biased). I don't think I stopped smiling once during the five-hour event. The festival itself is one huge party: Everybody's out in the streets, but it doesn't feel like a zoo. The vibe's really mellow, and there are dogs and kids everywhere. It's a festival for all ages and all types of music. I hope I get to join the fun for years to come.
*Prices and other details were accurate when we published this article in August 2009.