There are remarkable things that can happen when you wing a trip. We weren’t really ready for Austin, as it wasn’t part of our original itinerary. But then again, big brother Google Flights said the tickets to Austin were cheapest during the dates we decided to fly out. So we went for it anyway, without much prep and without fully knowing what to expect.
A lot of the people we talked to raved about the Austin food experience, so naturally this was something we really wanted to try! And as per our own little tradition, we started the trip with a back-to-back food tour with the same company! Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who did that, though. On the tour, we met another group of 6 who did the same. They were pretty much like us, too, being fans of these kinds of tours themselves. Isn’t it good to meet fellow enthusiasts?
But I digress. It was our first time in Austin, and we weren’t prepared for how its vibrant culture felt like on the ground. We were expecting more of a Texan atmosphere, but Austin turned out to be its own identity. And with everyone suggesting that we try lots of different things, it turned out to be overwhelming! In the end, I was thankful to start with this food tour because it served as a good springboard into the best of Austin. We were able to sample most of the things we should do or sample while we were here.
About the Tour
Austin Eats is rated as the top food tour (and one of the top tours overall) in the city. And in a city as vibrant as Austin, that’s really saying something! Founded in 2011, the tour prioritizes highlighting establishments that are born and bred in this side of Texas. In each tour, Austin Eats tries to highlight not just the good quality of food, but also the level of quality that goes behind the preparation of each meal. This passion extends to the way these establishments’ hospitality in treating their customers, too.
The company hires really knowledgeable tour guides, those that not only know Austin inside out but also have insider knowledge on the locale’s food scene. In fact, our Sunday tour guide Adam has worked in pretty much every restaurant-related job available. Most of the other people people working here or those who have traveled around the world and experience the best food finds from various countries. Some of them even make their own food in their spare time. This ensures that each tour is complete not just with a tasty experience but also a wealth of knowledge. These guides are always ready to regal you with behind-the-scenes knowledge, often centering on the origins of each restaurant, or how each place embodies the farm-to-table culinary custom that prevails in Austin.
Austin Eats is regularly on the lookout for new things to offer, so a tour today might not be the same as a tour two years down the road. This gives people something to come back to. They frequent various food places, looking for the next budding food truck or the next hole-in-the-wall that will become the talk-of-the-town. Austin Eats has also served a great variety of corporate clients, a testament to the quality of their service. Aside from public tours, the company also caters to special private tours.
SATURDAY: Into Austin Eats
Austin Eats offers a variety of food tours every week. These are public tours that anyone can join. On Fridays, they have a Happy Hour Walking Food Tour of East Austin. On Saturdays, they showcase the best of Austin food trucks, and have a separate tour for brunch, barbeque, and breweries. Every Sunday, they have another version of the brunch food tour, this time focusing on the deluxe side.
We signed up first for the Brunch, BBQ, & Brewery Food Tour, which took us through a whirlwind of savory meals and cool refreshments in three and a half hours!
The Tacos of Lazarus
The tour started with Lazarus Brewing Company, one of the many independent breweries in the city. It was a weekend, so it was an early rise for us, and we were in no condition to try the beers yet. That was a shame (which we made up for later in a pub crawl tour, but that’s another story). Thankfully, there was also the option to take coffee instead.
And what went with the coffee? Why, tacos, of course! These are perfect breakfast tacos, with a variety of salsa. The offerings took us through the full spectrum of spiciness, from the moderately spicy to the really spicy. There were also varying hints of sweetness, so it was a good taste experience to start with.
Lazarus is a great place for the mornings, and their tacos are perfect for getting our spirits up at such an early hour.
Next stop, it’s time for the bus!
On the way to the second stop, we got to know more about our tour companions. Our guide, Eric, was very upbeat and quirky. I think he really personified the city we’re in! He asked for our names and where we are from. He also got us thinking with his question: “If you were to die, and you were going to have a last meal, what would it be?” The guy definitely knew how to keep it upbeat, and how to keep up the hype in the group.
Of Beef and Coleslaw
The second stop was Kerlin’s, where we had some of the best barbeque in town! Of course everyone kept suggesting that we should try the famous Austin barbeque as soon as we land, and most of them suggested Franklin’s, a really famous barbeque stop. However, I found that Kerlin’s was already awesome, with a much shorter queue! I found myself even liking their coleslaw. Now, I’m not a coleslaw person but I must say I was impressed with the one they had. It was blue cheese coleslaw, so it might not agree with everyone, but everyone should try it anyway! They also had some jalapeño dill potato salad, and some kolaches.
We had brisket, which was really soft. It was Prime Angus beef, coming in generous slices which were in turn piled up in heaps. The ribs had that tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture, well-seasoned and perfectly cooked! They served so much food that our group had difficulty coping up. So when they asked if we wanted them for take-out instead, of course we said yes! After all, we were staying in an Airbnb so we had access to a kitchen. The excellent barbeque will live to be eaten another day (in reality, it did not last another day — the ribs and brisket were cooked for dinner, and they were still as good as when we first had them!).
Now for something completely different…
So far we’ve only eaten familiar food. I mean, of course we’ve never eaten here before, but we’ve at least tasted variants of these foods. The third stop on the tour broke that pattern with a bang.
We took the bus and hopped over to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, which was so famous that we kept hearing about it during our trip. Now, just the name alone is obvious enough, they sell both chicken and waffles. The keyword here, however is and — it’s not an either-or choice!
I was surprised when we were served plates heaping with waffles, fried chicken (just the thigh part), and and egg! Apparently, these were meant to be eaten in a single serving. On the side was a generous chunk of butter, and some ginger-honey syrup that complements both the waffle and the chicken.
The concept wasn’t totally alien to me, as we’ve seen various combinations of the sweet-and-savory type before. But this one really takes the cake for its unique concept. All my friends loved it, and even though I wasn’t sure how I would take it at first I ended up loving it as well!
Foreign Formula, Local Success
Now that everyone has had their full (really, we’re feeling our tummies!), we are just all too happy to go for a walk. That’s how we reached our next stop, which was Gelateria Gemelli. Yes, it was time for dessert!
The gelato is an Italian creation, so what was it doing in Austin? None of us cared, as we were presented with a delectable array of flavors, from the typical to the weird. Gemelli is a local hit, not just because of its wide variety but also because of its continuous support of the local scene. Most of their ingredients come from local farms, orchards, and other sources. The only times they don’t are are when when they can get it better somewhere else! This dedication to quality is certainly a plus, and the gelateria’s story makes one feel less guilty for splurging. As if you need anything else to make you happy when you have a cup of ice cream this good!
Back Full Circle
For the last stop on this tour, we went back to the beginning: a brewery. This time around, we visited the Zilker Brewing Company, located in its namesake neighborhood of Zilker.
Each of us had two tastings of their beer, trying out different types so we can decide on which type we liked best. And mind you, we took our sweet time deciding — they were all really good! They had some pretty weird creations, too, such as the Coffee Milk Stout which is brewed with lactose and coffee beans. They have original and proprietary blends, too. Most of these focused on the tropical and citrusy, but all were delicious!
This was officially the end of the tour, but our group had such good dynamics that we decided to hang out and drink some more after! Honestly, we loved each other’s company a lot. We bonded during the tour, but we girls couldn’t keep up with the energy of the others as much as we wanted to (we had a pretty big night before this, too). We also needed some rest, since we wanted to tour the East Side art district on our own, not to mention we have a pub crawl booked the same afternoon! So after a few more shots, we bid the group goodbye and headed towards our next stop.
Eric explained that in Austin, most restaurants start out as food trucks. Once it makes its name, only then will it transition into a brick and mortar shop. This made sure all such shops had a proven quality that served as the impetus of its creation. We also heard the same story from our guide the following day!
The Saturday Brunch tour cost $89, and can be booked directly from the Austin Eats website.
SUNDAY: Into Luxury
Sunday came, and we took a heavily upgraded brunch tour, also from Austin Eats! This time around, the tour focused on luxury brunch and libations. It lasts for a full three hours, and we gathered at 9:30 AM impatient to board our bus and get going. Yesterday’s tour was a great blast, and since Austin Eats only runs these tours on weekends (we only had a week in Austin) the decision to make a back-to-back tour was a no-brainer. When the tour finally started (with a mimosa, no less!), we sat back rife with expectations.
This is a pretty important tour for us, since it showcased the Sunday brunch culture of the Austin locals. It turns out there were places that specialized in the concept, with different styles and interpretations. The tour got us past the queues and reservations to test some of the best brunch food in the city, prepared by renowned chefs!
As the tour was about to start, we saw the same group of 6 from yesterday! That got the camaraderie going as we embarked on our journey to our first stop from the meeting point.
On a Cold Texas Morning
The first stop was Better Half Coffee and Cocktails, which was a small neighborhood bar. They serve a full menu, from breakfast to dinner, but they really stand out during these brunch sessions.
The place was good, and the food was also delicious. Unfortunately, though, we were unable to reserve the whole place especially at this busy time of the day. As a result, not all of us were able to get seats inside. Instead, we were given an outdoor table, which would have been awesome on other days. This specific day, however, was freezing cold. They gave us blankets,, but not everyone on the tour adjusted well to the temperature. As a result, most of the group decided to go through the meal quickly so we could go to a warmer place. Thus, we were unable to really appreciate all those served but it was really good, we just had to eat it way too fast. Well especially for us, since the heater died and we were really freezing.
Our next stop, the Odd Duck, was a demonstration of how simple food trucks can become Austin institutions, as Eric and Adam (today’s guide) has said. The Odd Duck was originally a Fleetwood Mallard (hence the name) trailer serving food sourced completely from local producers. That means local hogs, eggs, and more. The place has since evolved into a classy and elegant dining place, but its mission of quality and social responsibility still remains.
We had some really good Bloody Mary, and sampled the place’s ever-changing menu. We had a green bean casserole, which had hefty servings of duck, egg, chicken, and mushrooms topped with a cheddar crumble. We also had some creamy buttermilk pancakes (apple, whey caramel, cinnamon, and almond). Now that’s luxury! It was pretty much a fine-dining experience, and one that everyone is talking about. I’m glad we were able to personally try it.
Something closer to home
What’s a good food tour without something weird on the mix? Now, it’s weird that this appears weird at all. Being an Asian, this one hits closest to home. Still, it’s a completely different dining experience that is both visually and gastronomically appealing.
I’m talking about Old Thousand, perhaps the hippest and snazziest Chinese-style food stop in this side of the United States. They serve some of the best Asian food too, putting their own twist on comfort food we know well and love. The place is just as good for brunch as a good night out.
They served us some mean dumplings, along with a spicy sauce that you already know I love! Old Thousand turned out to be the favorite stop for most of the group, which in my opinion is well-justified.
Time for a Fixe
For the last stop of the tour, we went right back to our original meeting spot: Fixe Southern House. It seems Austin Eats has a penchant for bringing its tours to a close with a full circle!
Fixe is famous not just for the food it serves but also for its take on the classic French 75 cocktail, which it aptly names Fixe 75. The place has a really high-class feel, too. We were served a biscuit (don’t underestimate it, it’s really good!) and a tasty chicken burger.
The place is famous for other cocktails aside from its Fixe 75, but again it’s hard to binge on alcohol after the big Saturday night. I was done with the alcohol by this time, but if you’re in for a good meal with cocktails included then this place (and this whole tour) is a bargain.
One thing that stands out with Austin Tours is that it doesn’t merely focus on bringing the best food together for those who go on its tours, but it also makes sure everyone has hefty servings. It’s impossible to go on these tours without feeling full and satisfied after! Simply choose which tour suits you. The Luxe Brunch tour is at $119, a bit higher than the rest, but it’s totally worth it!
In the end, all of the Austin food places we tried had a single mission: to give each customer a memorable gastronomic feast. Wouldn’t it be a better world if all food businesses adhere to these same ideas?
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