More than Brisket and Burritos

Scott Francis
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Love this article in the New York Times, about Austin eating.  Not because it hit all the best spots in Austin, and not because it completely captured what’s going on here. But it gives you a hint of what’s happening to food culture in Austin, and what has been happening over the last 20 years.

I lived in Austin for most of my adult life. If I ever move back, it won’t be for the Mexican food and barbecue. Not that I don’t suffer, in my current D.C.-marooned state, occasional fever dreams about the salsas at Polvos or the pork ribs at La Barbecue. It’s just that Austin today offers a new dining experience — one in which you can go five or six days eating out on the town without being limited to tacos and brisket.

I used to joke that in Austin, we had both kinds of food – Tex and Mex (borrowing from Blues Brothers).  But these days, Austin has a lot more to offer.  And at the same time, Austin now offers what I call “differentiated” BBQ and TexMex.  In other words, when someone says they’re “up for Mexican food” the right question is “what kind?”… And if they want BBQ… what kind?  Because now there are choices beyond the sign on the door.

But Robert Draper turns his attention to the other options.

The city’s indigenous compulsion to self-invent has at last caught up to its culinary scene. The young chefs there don’t feel any more duty-bound to flog the Southwestern leitmotif than its musicians do to riff like Stevie Ray Vaughn. Unsurprisingly, the keep-Austin-weird crowd frets over whether this new celebration of highbrow dining is part of an ominous new trend. A local friend laments that “Austin is so busy congratulating itself that it is losing its soul. … The fun has been corrupted by money, and it’s sad.”

A fair point. Can we discuss it over monkeyface eel?

I’ve noticed the rise of young chefs here as well. But I think it goes beyond the ones we know about – Paul Qui and Tyson Cole and David Bull – it also goes to the line cooks and sous chefs that are being turned out of the Culinary Institute in North Austin – providing a baseline of talent for these many restaurants to draw on.  Not to mention the fact that Austin draws talent from Texas’ other big cities.

Mr. Draper covers four restaurants – Qui, Barley Swine, Uchi, and Arro.  Great recommendations.  But you could go a lot deeper in the Austin of 2013.  Second Bar+Kitchen, Congress, Contigo, Foreign and Domestic, 24 Diner (Austin is the kind of town where you have to ask what kind of 24/7 diner you want to go to), Paggi House, Clark’s Oyster Bar, Winflo, Bess Bistro, Lucy’s Fried Chicken, Garridos, La Condessa, Lambert‘s, and more. And that’s just going from memory, I’m sure I’m leaving out some great spots.

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