Attending South by Southwest means basically paying for the privilege to wait in endless lines. Want to catch the keynote tech disrupter at interactive? Line. Dying to see the movie that got rave reviews at Sundance? Line. Seeing a mega star at in an intimate setting sounds like a great idea, but guess what? Before you squeeze yourself into a room full of sweaty music lovers, you’re going to have to—you guessed it—wait in a line. It makes since, then, that the conference would be in Austin, where the art of queuing extends to the city’s culinary scene. People take personal pride in their ability to stand and wait for hours for something they’re about to digest. (But dang if that brisket isn’t the best you’ve ever tasted.)
The sheer number of people who invade Austin during the ten days of SXSW, means that the serpentine waits at some local foodie hot spots will swell to resemble a Fader Fort crowd. So in an honest attempt at saving your stomach a few grumbles, here are your best bets for fast and delicious dining near downtown. After all, you’ve got more lines to wait in.
Quick sit down
There’s no better start to a day than a simple bacon, egg, and cheese taco—or two—at Tamale House in East Austin. The crowd at the order counter might look intimidating, but quick service and ample self-seating make this a stress-free breakfast or lunch (their fish tacos were named on Texas Monthly‘s top tacos list in November 2015). Up your relaxation with a mimosa.
Frank’s gussied-up hotdogs caused quite the stir when it first opened in 2009. The hype around the restaurant has cooled, but the artisan ‘dogs (think smoked antelope or duck sausage) are still delicious. If you want to slow yourself down, order their poutine as a starter. You won’t leave until the plate has been licked clean.
Walton’s Fancy and Staple
Elevated deli and diner food is served up at Walton’s, which doubles as a flower shop. Breakfast is served until 2 p.m. if you get a late start (the challah French toast is drool-worthy), and hearty sandwiches, salads, and soups are on the menu until closing time. Take a couple of extra minutes to relax in the light-filled dining room.
Turf N’ Surf Poboys
Poboys might have come from our neighbor to the east, but Turf N’ Surf put a Texas-sized signature on theirs. The tacos, poboys, and salads are all generous servings, featuring your choice of market fish or meat. Split a plate with a friend and order the hush puppies on the side.
Nutrition conscious doesn’t have to mean bland. Koriente’s menu is a hit with herbivores and omnivores alike, a mix of fresh vegetables and fresh fish in pan-Asian style bowls and wraps. It’s a great way to fill up without dreading the inevitable four miles you’ll have to walk later.
On the go
At least once a week I treat myself to the decadence of Slake Cafe’s jalapeño sausage and cheese kolaches. I’ve been told that they have other breakfast and lunch items—such as quiche, salads, soups, and sandwiches—but I find myself ordering the oversized savory pastries as if by muscle memory. With soft bread, snappy sausage, and a smothering of melted cheddar cheese, if you get two, plan on it being breakfast and lunch.
Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon
The drive-thru or walk-up location on North Lamar (there’s a second sit down location on South Congress), is the perfect filling-but-not-guilt-inducing dinner spot, featuring wood-grilled chicken, succulent shrimp, and brisket, topped on your choice of tacos, salads, or “bols” (like Chipotle, but, uh, better). If you have room, grab a side of their crispy brussels sprouts with spicy aioli.
Over its decade in business, Austin’s beloved homegrown burger stand has expanded to fourteen locations throughout the city. P. Terry’s is fast food done right. The 100 percent all-natural beef patty—topped with fresh, crispy lettuce, juicy tomatoes, and proprietary “special sauce”—is the perfect portion size for lunch or dinner, served up with addicting shoe-string french fries.
Royal Blue Grocery
A one-stop shop for a quick meal, Royal Blue Grocery offers pressed sandwiches, soups of the day, and fresh salads, all made in-house. They also carry the inventive slices of East Side Pies pizza and daily fresh sushi from Komé, plus an array of other snacks. It’s effectively Austin’s version of an upscale bodega.
These build-your-own tacos, burritos, and rice bowls are topped with your choice of Korean barbecue fair (including tofu). Chi’lantro’s downtown food truck doesn’t have its famed kimchi fries, but they are worth the trip to one of the four brick-and-mortar locations scattered throughout the city.