Insider's Guide to Austin
Time to explore
With its seemingly endless offerings of cool and interesting places to eat, drink, hang out and explore, X Games is beyond excited to be moving to our new summer home of Austin, Texas. We hit up some locals to get the inside scoop on the best places to check out in the city and figured we'd share in case you're coming to Austin this year or need some motivation to join us next year. Enjoy.
In Texas, barbecue is considered an art form. The emphasis is on the quality of meat, not the side dishes or sauces (though those are pretty tasty too), and one of the best barbecue restaurants in all of Texas is Salt Lick (pictured). Visited by celebrities and state dignitaries as well as food magazines and television shows, Salt Lick is renowned for its brisket and ribs that melt in your mouth. Salt Lick is located 23 miles outside of Austin in Driftwood, but the restaurant also has an outpost at the airport. Grab some when you fly in or are (sad to be) leaving. Another barbecue spot not to miss is Franklin Barbecue on East 11th Street. Anthony Bourdain and barbecue blogger Daniel Vaughn, aka BBQ Snob, have famously waited patiently in line to eat at Franklin Barbecue and declared afterward that it was one of the "best of the best" barbecue places in all of Texas.
If you are in need of a new setup or threads, look no further than local indie skateboard shop No Comply on West 12th Street. The shop is best known for its laid-back, friendly and knowledgeable staff and impressive skate team roster. Team rider Evan Smith will be on hand for the "No Board Left Behind" event, sponsored by Element, to show folks how to turn old decks into a cruiser complete on Friday, June 6. Get yourself a board and head out to the X Games!
If you're a film buff, you may recognize The Counter Caf from Austin director Richard Linklater's iconic film "Slacker." Locals say Counter Caf's burger is the juiciest in town, but the Counter Benedict, which comes with slices of seared pastrami instead of ham, is out of this world. This tiny eatery is so good that it was featured on Guy Fieri's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives." Bouldin Creek Caf (pictured), on First Street, is the best vegetarian (with vegan options) breakfast in town with standouts including the Zucchini Migas and the Renedict. Apparently Bouldin Creek is so good that Radiohead is known to dine here. A Sunday brunch not to miss is at Yellow Jacket Social Club on East Fifth Street.
Eat: Food Trucks/Trailers
We never met a food truck/trailer we didn't like, and Austin has a record number of them roaming the city streets and parked at food trailer courts. Check out the website Food Trailer Austin to locate them and get the most up-to-date insider's scope on the food trailer scene. Tim League, owner of the Alamo Drafthouse, suggests escaping the downtown madness for the East Side King at Hole in the Wall on Guadalupe Street. Acclaimed Austin chef Paul Qui has taken over the back porch at the landmark music venue for one of his several East Side King locations. League's favorites include the thick-cut beet fries and pork belly buns paired with the cheap draft beer at Hole in the Wall. Speaking of beer, La Barbecue Cuisine Texicana on East Sixth Street serves free beer (while supplies last) while you wait in line for its delicious authentic Texas barbecue. Veracruz All Natural on East Cesar Chavez has the best breakfast tacos in town. And for vegan and vegetarians, it's all about The Vegan Yacht located inside the Spider House on Fruth Street.
Bike and skateboard are the best way to navigate Austin's city streets. Ozone Bikes is a grassroots bicycle shop that has bikes for commuters, trail riders, students, racers and casual riders. It can cover all categories of bikes from BMX to road, 29er to fixie, hardtail to freeride and anything in between. You can also rent a bike for $25 to do some urban exploring or hit the BMX park or trail.
At the Skylark Lounge (pictured left), you can enjoy a drink while soaking in Austin's rich blues history. The fabled lounge, originally called the Airport Bar & Grill, has been a favorite of famous blues musicians for over 30 years and still retains its charm and magic. X Music performer Gary Clark Jr. has played here, and Skylark's Happy Hour with the legendary Margaret Wright singing the blues is not to be missed. Other waterholes to visit in Austin include the legendary hot spot Spider House Cafe & Ballroom, which is a perfect place to enjoy a laid-back evening with friends in an eclectic magical garden. Another bar known for its amazing outdoor vibe is the stylish Clive Bar, where local beers and specialty cocktails flow, but Monday night's Good Evening Austin -- a weekly songwriter showcase hosted by Johnny Coconuts and Corey Baum from 7-10 p.m. -- is not to be missed. Volstead Lounge and its neighbor Hotel Vegas are both places to enjoy a drink and see the next new band on the local rock scene. Finally, we can't leave out the honky-tonk White Horse (pictured right), which is a dance hall and community center that hosts such events as the Texas Book Festival and Cajun dance lessons.
A town or city is only as good as its local independent record store, and Austin's Waterloo Records is the best. Since 1982, the record store has been an integral part of the Austin music scene with an extensive selection including a robust local music section and a staff of friendly music lovers. You bet your bottom dollar you'll find vinyl, CDs and merch from all of the Austin bands performing on the KUTX stage at X Games this week.
Stay Cool: Movie Time
There is nothing like escaping the afternoon heat for the ice-cold AC and darkness of a movie theater. Austin is home to the Alamo Drafthouse, one of the coolest movie theaters in the U.S. The Alamo is loved by everyone from Hollywood directors and actors who premiere their films there during SXSW and Fantastic Fest to Austin locals who come out en masse for quirky quote-alongs of cult classics and crazy eight-hour Lord of the Ring movie marathons. The Alamo also loves food almost as much as film and serves it (delicious, real food) along with cold beers and cocktails during their films. There are Alamo Drafthouses all across the nation now, but nothing beats the original one.
Eat: Ice-cold Sweets
Casey's New Orleans Snowballs (pictured) is the Austin family-run snowball stand. The soft, fluffy shaved ice with thick and sweet homemade syrups have Austinites lining up around the corner on a hot summer day. Out of the 60 available, it is best known for its chocolate and cream flavors, which are traditional New Orleans flavors. Another Austin sweet treat is Amy's Ice Cream. With 13 locations in Austin, our favorite is on South Congress, a perfect spot for people watching. The premium homemade ice cream is nothing short of divine. Don't believe us? Try a scoop of the Mexican vanilla or strawberry.
There is no shortage of great Mexican food in Austin. For over 18 years, locals have been going to Curra's Grill (pictured) on East Oltorf Street for its authentic Yucatan style food and avocado margaritas. Earlier this year, the restaurant was named one of the top 5 Mexican breakfasts in Austin by the Austin Chronicle. Another spot to check out is Torchy's Tacos on South First Street. In 2006, chef Michael Rypka left his fancy executive chef job to start his first taco trailer. Torchy's now serves 11 locations in Austin. Enjoy the Brush Fire (Jamaican jerk chicken, grilled jalapeos and mango) with bottomless chips. Takoba on East Seventh Street was described by a local as great, healthy Mexican with a healthy cocktail menu, referencing the restaurant's extensive Mescal list. Everything is handmade, including the signature Chile Relleno en Nogada and the mango habanero margarita.
Another popular spot to shop for locals and visitors, due to its array of eclectic shops, boutiques, antiques and galleries, is the avenue known as South Congress. Two shops to visit are Uncommon Objects Antiques and Vintage Shop (pictured) and the Yard Dog Art Gallery just next door. Take your time to rummage through UO's quirky, magical and downright weird treasure trove for fun souvenirs for friends and family. Or support local and regional artists by taking home a piece of art from Yard Dog's impressive (and affordable) collection of old-school folk and outsider art from the American South.
Stay Cool: Go Tubing
Come Monday morning you'll need to decompress from the weekend's events. What better way than a leisurely float down a river with friends? Austin filmmaker Geoff Marslett (check: "MARS" and "Loves Her Gun") hipped us to the favorite Texas pastime of tubing. Forty-five minutes outside of Austin, in the town of New Braunfels, you can float the refreshing spring-fed waters of the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers. Pick up your own tube on the way or find a reputable outfitter on the river to begin your one- to three-mile journey downstream.