Where I Ate Before Leaving Austin

I move to the St. Louis area this past June. For the final four-and-a-half months, I chronicled the restaurants, coffee shops, parks, and stores I loved, as I visited them for the last time. I posted these under the hashtag #texasfarewelltour on Instagram. One poetry friend from San Antonio commented on a restaurant post that he was using this farewell list as a way to keep track of places to eat at when he was in town. That comment inspired me to combine my final Austin food journey in one place, for others who might also consider it a must-do list.

Most of these restaurants are either local to Austin, or are regional chains. However, I have also included a few restaurants that are part of national chains, but do not have a presence anywhere in the state of Missouri. This list is organized in the order I visited each restaurant.

The Whataburger logo

Whataburger has actually made its way to Kansas City . . . but that’s on the other end of the state! For my last visit, I enjoyed the seasonal Buffalo Ranch Chicken Strip Sandwich, along with a Dr. Pepper shake.

Billy’s on Burnet has the best bar burger in Austin. Their patty melt is in my top 5. The onion rings and cheese curds are also excellent. Plus, they’ve always had fantastic vegetarian options.

A cheeseburger in a basket with fries.
A glorious burger at Billy’s

Oh-K-Dog currently does not exist in Missouri, but I hope it does someday! I love the Korean version of a corn dog (I love Korean street food in general, really . . . Okay, Korean food might be my favorite cuisine on the planet). The assortment of condiments makes it easy to shake up your order.

Ichiban was a monthly payday treat during my last few years in Austin. Not only is their sushi some of the best in town, but they also have an extensive Korean menu, which meant John could go with me sometimes (he has a severe shellfish allergy and avoids all sushi). I was glad to live in their delivery radius during the roughest months of the pandemic, but I always loved dining in the restaurant, especially in one of the booths.

There are a few Cooper’s Pit Barbecue locations around Texas, but my standby has always been the one in Llano. I loved having the opportunity to eat there after a hike in the Hill Country. The meat was excellent, but they were my favorite because of the side dishes. Their macaroni and cheese was the best, and their potato salad and cole slaw were also top-notch.

Monument Cafe is inextricably tied into my poetry life. I remember getting delicious lunches and dinners there during the Georgetown Poetry Festival. Although I didn’t get a chance to attend this year’s festival, I’m glad that John and I made the trip to Georgetown for one last brunch.

Thundercloud Subs is the iconic Austin sub chain. Of all the establishments that make vegetarian subs, Thundercloud is my favorite. Their chicken salad and egg salad are also excellent. And they always have a fantastic soup selection.

Biscuits and Groovy is an iconic breakfast trailer specializing in (obviously) biscuits and gravy. The bacon is always thick and perfectly cooked, the sausage is always well-seasoned, and the gravy is always peppery. Plus, everything can be made vegetarian or vegan.

Homeslice Pizza was the first place I ate when I moved to Austin. I always loved their white clam pizza, but I was pretty much the only person in my social circle who did. When John and I ordered from there, we did a custom pizza with hot cherry peppers, fresh basil, sausage, and extra cheese.

Kura Revolving Sushi Bar is another chain restaurant that doesn’t have locations in Missouri. It was the first (and so far, only) conveyor belt sushi restaurant I’ve been to, and I always had fun eating there. I was bummed that COVID kept me away from it for so long (it is always so crowded that it took me a long time to get back there), but I’m glad I got one last visit with one of my regular sushi buddies.

The P. Terry's logo

I remember when P. Terry’s was a single drive-thru establishment in South Austin. I used to grab a burger and fries there between my Saturday morning shift at BookWoman and my Saturday afternoon dance rehearsals. Their veggie burger is so good that I still ordered it, even after I gave up vegetarianism. The root beer milkshake was also a must-have.

Phil’s Ice House is another great burger joint. My favorite thing was to get an assortment of sliders with a side of sweet potato fries. I also think their chili cheese dog is the best in town.

Slider trio at Phil’s Ice House

I went to Amy’s Ice Creams as often as I possibly could before leaving. Amy’s is another place inextricably linked to my poetry life. The hosts of the I Scream Social Reading series (2015-2020) at Malvern Books served Amy’s flavors at every event. For my final visit, just a week before I left Austin, I met my friend Hector there, and I got a waffle cone with dark chocolate and popcorn ice cream flavors. It was quite the culinary send-off!

A paper plate with cole slaw, potato salad, pickles, sausage, and bread,
Salt Lick barbecue plate. I loved the potato salad and the slaw!

The Salt Lick is a Texas barbecue institution. The original Driftwood location is the place to be on a nice afternoon. I was supposed to have my birthday there in 2019, but that got rained out . . . and then COVID happened . . . but while the pandemic is still happening, we made the trip to the Salt Lick for my final Texas birthday. We got there early, staked out a spot away from the crowds, and I had a perfect afternoon hanging out with some of my dearest friends.

Nervous Charlie’s has the best bagels in Austin. They opened shortly before the pandemic, and I’m glad they were able to weather the chaos. Their bagel sandwiches are delicious, but my favorite thing was to simply get a dozen, and two containers of cream cheese (one garlic, one spicy). The pumpernickel was always my favorite flavor, but you really couldn’t go wrong with anything they served.

A plate of cacio e pepe
Cacio e pepe at Patrizi’s

Good Italian food is difficult to find in Texas. Patrizi’s gets it right, so it’s no wonder that they end up with 90-minute lines on weekends. John took me here for a beautiful dinner to celebrate me getting hired at St. Charles Community College.

Whether getting pizza, salad, or sandwiches, you can’t go wrong at Little Deli. It was a perfect place for when John and I were feeling indecisive about what to do for lunch. When I worked as the admin at Master Gohring’s Tai Chi & Kung Fu, I would come in nearly every Wednesday to find a Little Deli roast beef and cheddar waiting for me. My other enduring favorite was their muffuletta.

Fish tacos and pico de gallo
Fish taco plate from El Mercado

El Mercado was one of our breakfast standbys for years, but it also makes a great lunch and dinner option. Their fish tacos were my favorite in all of Austin. They offered fairly standard Tex-Mex fare, but it was always delicious. Whenever I went to El Mercado, I knew what to expect. It was a real comfort food place for me.

I thought I didn’t like thin crust pizza. Then I had East Side Pies. I loved the range of toppings, sauces, and cheeses that you could get. I think they have some of the most inventive combinations in town. When I lived on the east side, I was in their delivery radius, and pretty much every time I came home from a long trip, I would settle in by ordering a large pie from East Side.

An omelet and home fries.
Black olive omelet and home fries at the Omelettry.

I have so many fond breakfast memories of the Omelettry. It’s hard to pick a single favorite omelet, but my regular favorites were the black olive, the guacamole, the chili con queso, and the broccoli sour cream. I’ve always been grateful that they survived their move from Burnet Road to Airport Boulevard, and I wish them many good years in the future.

El Caribe was the first place I tried queso flameado, which was a game-changer for me. They have great breakfast options, but this place really was a lunch and dinner stand-by for me. The pollo relleno was my favorite, but if I was craving something lighter, the flautas were my go-to.

Jim’s is a Texas chain, and I feel nostalgic for it on Sunday mornings. We’ve been going to Waffle House while staying in the St. Louis suburbs, and while I enjoy eating there, it’s just not the same. Jim’s had some of the best breakfast options; my favorite was the chili and eggs. It was also the kind of place where, if you had a hankering for a breakfast cheeseburger, you could get a breakfast cheeseburger. I usually finished my meal too full for dessert, but I always grabbed a slice of pie to take home.

Little Mexico doesn’t have a website. The restaurant is staying strong on the rapidly-gentrifying South 1st Street. Their migas plate is among my top three favorites. For lunch or dinner, my favorite thing to order was the South First Special: a loaded burrito smothered with queso. John always loved that they serve regional dishes, such as carne asada, that aren’t always the norm at other places.

Taco Deli‘s Otto taco is one of my all-time favorites. The combination of refried black beans, avocado, jack cheese, and bacon, is perfect. Plus, their salsa options have a great range of heat, as well as delicious flavors. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to find one of their avocado and garlic t-shirts in my size before I left.

The Quality Seafood logo.

Quality Seafood is a market, oyster bar, and restaurant. The crab cakes are divine. The macaroni and cheese is some of the best in Austin. If you want a decent po’boy in Central Texas, this is the place to be.

Tam’s Deli is one of the best Vietnamese places I’ve ever been to. I sadly didn’t discover it until I was near the end of my time in Austin. Our favorite bahn mi trailer had closed, and we were looking for something else close by. Tam’s saved the day! In addition to excellent bahn mi, they serve a variety of Vietnamese crepes. If you’re an egg person like me, you will love these!

Black’s Barbecue is another place I love primarily because the side dishes are so delicious. (Let’s face it; I’m all about the sides.) It’s great to get out to the original Lockhart location if you can, but I can attest that the food is equally good no matter where you are. It’s one of the big three Lockhart institutions. I was sad I didn’t have time to visit all three of them. If you have time for just one, I vote for Black’s.

A cheeseburger, fries, pickles, and onions
The Bastrop Burger in all its glory

Workhorse Bar makes my most favorite burger in all of Austin. Their Bastrop Burger is my one true favorite. It’s thick, cooked to perfection, and has tons of flavor. This is also the place where John and I met, and where we had our last Austin meal together before he headed out to teach study abroad this summer.

The first place I had kimchi was on the Chi’Lantro kimchi fries. I was hooked! I remember when Chi’Lantro was only a food truck, and then saw its enterprise expand. When I lived in my last Austin neighborhood, there was a location in walking distance. The kimchi fries were always my favorite, but I also loved their burritos.

A basket with two tacos and two cups of salsa.
A republican taco and a fried avocado taco from Torchy’s

At one point in my Austin life, Torchy’s Tacos was part of my routine. My then-husband and I went virtually every Sunday. After my divorce, I sort of gave up eating there unless other people wanted to go. But I’ve always loved their fried avocado taco; none of the imitations out there can compare. So of course I had to make one last stop, for old time’s sake.

The last time I saw my friend Melanie, we met at Tiny Pies. There wasn’t anywhere to sit (we thought there had been a picnic table at one point, but it had disappeared), so we sat on the shaded steps of a law office across the street, ate pie, and talked. My only regret is that I only ate one pie. I could easily have had seconds.

The Steeping Room was my absolute favorite place to eat in Austin. I used to plan my blood donations for days they were open, so I’d have an excuse to stop by for a delicious lunch or scone. Of course, I’d have to pick up some loose-leaf tea to take home. I could always count on getting a delicious meal, whether I was craving comfort food, or something light and refreshing. The jasmine lemonade also is a must-drink. Once I’m finally settled in my own kitchen, I’m going to start trying to re-create their breakfast menu items at home. (But here’s hoping they maybe just decide to do a cookbook.)

Padre Island Burger Company logo

As you might have guessed from the name, Padre Island Burger Company is not in Austin. But it is my favorite burger place in the entire state of Texas. Right before moving, I snuck in a three-day trip to the gulf coast entirely for the purpose of getting to eat here one last time. If Bob Belcher ran a burger joint that was also a bar on the Texas coast, it would be this place.

Kick Butt Coffee is another Austin establishment deeply rooted in my personal history. I attended numerous fusion and blues dances there. It was one of the main venues for the Austin International Poetry Festival, and also boasts a long-running poetry and music open mic. Kick Butt is also where I first tried my hand at stand-up comedy (a phase that lasted all of a month before I realized I was not cut out for it). Plus, it’s owned by Thomas Gohring, of Master Gohring’s Tai Chi and Kung Fu, where I trained and worked. I ended up doing a bit of behind-the-scenes work for Kick Butt as well. The day I stopped in was a busy one, just three days before I left, and I was hurrying to get important errands done. I had the good fortune to drink a quick espresso with my old boss, and say goodbye. I got a mocha to go, plus a chicken wrap and cookie for later. It was tough to bid farewell to so much personal history.

The Mi Madre's Logo

Mi Madre’s makes my favorite migas plate. To my mind, there is no better one anywhere in the city. They are also the only place in town I found that makes cafe de olla, a sweet coffee brewed with cinammon and anise. There dinner offerings are fantastic as well. When John and I got sick of cooking from home during lockdown, we’d order the family fajita feast for pickup. It was a ton of food for just the two of us, but we made it last for days.

The Uchiko logo

Before I left, I made a date with one of my sushi buddies to go to Uchiko. We gave ourselves permission to go all-out, getting whatever we wanted. Over the course of a three-hour dinner, we sampled a variety of fish and vegetarian delicacies, including dessert. Of course, one of the most magical meals of my life, and I didn’t take a single photo until dessert. I just didn’t think about it. But I suppose that it’s better to be fully present at such times, anyway.

A plate with chicken salad, glass noodles, vegetables, and salad dressing.
A chicken salad plate at Nancy’s sky garden

It’s honestly hard for me to describe Nancy’s Sky Garden. When I am there, I feel like I am eating something straight from the page of a food magazine. I’ve never enjoyed produce so fresh, and never had a plate so colorful. Now that I have to pack a lunch for the first time in many years, I take inspiration from the delightful plate at Nancy’s to fuel my afternoon.

The first time I went to Michi Ramen was also the first time I tried takoyaki, and a lifelong love was born. A few months later, I tried mochi ice cream there for the first time. Their dipping ramen was always my favorite, but the jungle ramen came in close second. While there are a number of great ramen places in Austin, Michi Ramen was always near and dear to my heart.

Juan in a Million has the best refried beans in town. I’ve lived in north Austin for most of my life, so never got to eat here as much as I would have liked, especially with how popular it is on weekends. But on moving weekend, Linda and I ended up having to drive to Kyle (a south suburb) to get the U-Haul . . . and while that wasn’t an ideal situation, it gave us an excuse to go to Juan in a Million on the way back! Of course, I ordered the Don Juan El Taco Grande, which at $6.95, is well worth the price. It’s basically three tacos in one. You pretty much have to eat it with a fork. I was certainly well-fueled for a day of moving!

A pizza with olives, mushrooms, and sausage
Sausage, olive, and mushroom pizza from The Parlor

After a long day of loading my stuff into the U-Haul (according to my FitBit, I took 30,000 steps and walked 15 miles!), Linda and I wanted pizza. I decided on The Parlor as my final meal in Austin. I love their crust; it’s thick and soft, without being too doughy. They have excellent toppings, and I love that you can order a side of spicy ranch for dipping (I’m a Midwesterner, after all). Our sausage, olive, and mushroom pizza was a perfect last meal to cap off my Austin years.

The Buc-ee's logo

Even though I wasn’t hungry when I left Austin early the next morning, I of course had to eat on my way out of Texas! I stopped at Buc-ee’s not once, but twice. I arrived at the location between Austin and Waco mid-morning, where I got kolaches and coffee. Then I stopped at the location just outside Dallas for . . . kolaches and coffee. They have a lot of great food there, but honestly, it was my last chance for those kolaches. I regret nothing. (But I am sad that both locations were out of stock of cherry sours. And also, they have Buc-ee’s locations in Tennessee and Kentucky but not Missouri??? What a world!)

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