My BBQ Guide for SXSW and Austin
I wrote this up shortly after SXSW, am adding it now that the blog has launched and will repost again next year.
This was my first trip to SXSW (for my take on it click here, short answer is: go) and my first time in Austin on anything but day-long visits for business. Needless to say I really looked forward to the BBQ. Here are my rankings and advice given the logistics of being there for SXSW.
- While I’m a big fan of Foursquare, I have to say the Gowalla’s Austin BBQ Bonanza Trip is great. I used it in combination with Yelp to figure out where I wanted to go. In fact I like the trip approach better than Foursquare’s “tips” feature – particularly when visiting from out of town.
- Several great joints (including my top-ranked) were not walking distance and taxis are hard to get outside of downtown. BIG TIP: stay at the Sheraton on 12th, on the last two days rent a car at the Avis across the street (parking it there), drive to lunch/dinner and then return the car to the airport, offsetting the rental cost by saving on the cab fare.
- I pity the poor pig who ends up in Austin. Beef is almost always the way to go with brisket and sausage usually being the stars.
- The regional plate default of a side of pinto beans, potato salad, white bread and a pickle is kinda charming but after a while I was craving BBQ beans. Couple that with the porcine problem and….
- ….while Austin is without question one of the BBQ capitols of the planet, (of course I’m going to say this) Kansas City still has Austin beat. Austin is a fantastic regional BBQ scene whereas KC (and increasingly NY but more on that in another post) BBQ’s cosmopolitan nature creates a competition on all fronts from pork to beans to brisket to chicken to…ok, on with the rankings as I’m now ready for lunch.
8. BBQ Heaven- This is a trailer parked on Red River and 7th in a liquor store parking lot. Unlike many of the online reviewers, I went there sober. Totally fine – pretty decent brisket – but completely outgunned by the competition.
7. House Park- A dive that is about a 40 minute fairly scenic walk (past the capitol building) from downtown. It’s on the Gowalla trip. It’s easy to see why it’s popular as its ambiance screams pit cred but the food just doesn’t measure up.
6. Green Mesquite – The location on Barton Springs Road is a 40 minute walk from downtown (again scenic, over the river). I tried to both call and hail a taxi and was halfway back by the time I gave up. Great neighborhood BBQ but only a must-visit for BBQ devotees.
5. Lamberts – About a 15 minute walk from the convention center, this is a fairly fancy place with attractive young employees (as opposed to virtually every other BBQ joint on the planet). I went there for their all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch which I suspect is a frequent last meal request among the myriad of Texas executees as it’s both phenomenal and can last forever. The BBQ was delicious but it was tough to rank it much higher as it’s almost a supporting player. That said, assuming you’re not on a diet, do not miss the brunch.
4. Stubbs – Yes, I know, it’s almost like being in Paris and hitting the Eiffel Tower just to check out the souvenirs on offer (Stubbs is a music/nightlife institution, impossible to avoid if you’re in Austin for SXSW) but the truth is the food is awfully good. I ended up having dinner there twice and was happy to have my earlier take confirmed on the second visit. The food, particularly the brisket, is fantastic. Look forward to your inevitable visits.
3. Salt Lick – For the uninitiated this is mecca on the Austin BBQ circuit, about 45 minutes out of town. While there may be some kind of bus/private tour option it pretty much requires a car or multi-hour taxi hire. For the uncommitted there’s also a location at the airport. The BBQ does not disappoint – it’s pretty awesome and the staff is great. That said, neither the food nor the setting were the best I experienced and, given all the effort involved, probably should have been. That said, still a fun trip with some serious Q (HEADS UP: It’s BYO).
2. Iron Works – This is right near the convention center with excellent food and a semi-open deck with a view. I only went once and regretted not making it again. Everything was exceptional.
1. Rudy’s – There are a bunch of locations; I went to 1451 S. Capitol Highway (located in a gas station like OK Joe’s in KC) about 20 minutes by car from downtown. It’s a huge, cafeteria joint with a patio. A particularly good policy is that if you’re a first time visitor they offer you samples at the counter to help you decide what to order. Everything was fantastic and the pork ribs made me wonder why no other Austin joint could master them. Not sure if they’re keeping up at the other locations but if so, this may be one of the greatest BBQ chains in the country. If you’re visiting Austin for SXSW (or any other reason) it is definitely worth the effort to make it here.