Listen up, new Austinites. Austin loves its food and rightly so—it certainly has its own brand of vittles. The cuisine scene is leveling-up and diversifying day-by-day, though Austin has long been a hub for excellent grub.
Whether you just moved here, are just visiting or have lived here your whole life, here are some food options that you must try to get a feel for Austin's unique gastronomy.
As the birthplace of the breakfast taco, if you only try one food in Austin it must be the humble breakfast taco. You may have heard of similar breakfast fares, like breakfast burritos or taquitos, but the breakfast taco stole the hearts of Austin's Tex-Mex-loving populous. A cheap, easy and timeless staple, breakfast tacos are Austin's unique soul food.
By way of two brothers from Monterrey, Mexico, Vaquero Taquero, 104 E. 31st St., sells tacos of both the breakfast variety and otherwise. With the choice of in-house fresh corn or flour tortillas, topped with eggs and chorizo, bacon, machacado or nopales, Vaquero Taquero's breakfast tacos are made with love.
Tacodeli is another excellent stop on the breakfast taco front, having served them to Austinites for 22 years. Serving popular options like the sirloin, egg and cheese or the freakin' vegan, with refried black beans and avocado, Tacodeli has options for all kinds of palates.
If you're new to Austin, you're probably confused about the whole "kolache" thing and if you're not, believe it or not, kolaches can be found in other states as well but they just aren't as popular as they are in Central Texas. Brought over by a wave of Czechs searching for new opportunities before the Civil War, Texas became home to sizable Czech communities who brought along the popular pastry.
Flaunting kolaches of all kinds, for breakfast lunch or dinner, Lone Star Kolaches has got you covered. The locally-owned chain has six locations across Austin so you're never too far from your fix—they even sell breakfast tacos!
If you're willing to venture outside Austin City Limits, Dos Gatos in San Marcos will treat you to an enormous array of Texas, Czech and seasonal flavors. With over 30 varieties to choose from, these kolaches are well worth the drive.
Don't get a local started on Tex-Mex unless you're ready to listen—Austinites have a particular love affair with the altered cuisine, characterized by its abundance of queso and fusion influences.
When looking for Tex-Mex restaurants in Austin, there is no shortage of options. Tamale House, 1707 E 6th Street, has been serving up tamales, tacos and tortilla soup for the Austin community since 1958. The East location is situated in a cozy garden and will make you feel right at home as you chow down.
Another oldie, Matt's El Rancho, 2613 S Lamar Blvd, has been peddling Mexican comfort food since 1952. You can get their famous migas here among other places, and if you don't know what migas are—well you'll just have to try them. While it started as an unassuming family-owned homemade tamale cart, the restaurant has come full circle, still makes everything from scratch and is proudly family-run.
Food trucks may not be unique to Austin but the city has the fastest-growing food truck industry in the nation. In fact, even well-established restaurants, like Austin's beloved Torchy's Tacos, have broken into the food truck biz.
While Gourdough's also has a brick and mortar location, the restaurant started in an Airstream trailer, 1503 S. 1st Street, in 2008. Combining a love for southern cuisine and donuts, Gourdough's proudly serves decadent, indulgent "Big. Fat. Donuts." like the "gettin piggy with it" donut burger, which is served with pulled pork and candy jalapenos, or the sweet "baby rattler," which is topped with fudge, Oreos and a two-foot gummy snake.
Now with several locations, Veracruz All Natural also started as a trailer in 2008. Started by two sisters who were born and raised in Veracruz, Mexico, the pair were taught to cook by their grandmother and now use their culinary prowess to bring flavors of their childhood to the people of Austin. Veracruz serves a taco for everyone, homemade salsas and refreshing aguas frescas.
Bouldin Creek Cafe, 1900 S. 1st Street, is more than just a locally woman-owned vegetarian restaurant, it is a community staple that supports the community it serves. When you order from the restaurant, whether it is their kool hummus sandwich or vegan blueberry cornbread, you are helping support the small businesses Bouldin Creek Cafe sources from as well.
JuiceLand has been slinging green juice right here in Austin for 20 years but the juice joint, which was the shop's former name, sells more than just vibrant drinks. Each JuiceLand store has a full plant-based vegan menu with options ranging from jackfruit carnitas to the queso roller. Plus, if you've never had a wheatgrass shot, this is the place to go.
You can never go wrong with Amy's Ice Cream. As a brand that is essentially synonymous with Austin, Amy's has made a name for itself by dancing the "Time Warp" with customers and doing elaborate, acrobatic tricks with the scoops. With crowd favorites like Mexican vanilla, a rotating myriad of flavors and important homages like Zilker Mint Chip, Amy's is the ice cream of Austin.
Growing up in small communities where they only ate homemade ice cream, Anthony and Chad could never eat at a big box ice cream chain. Together, they created Lick Honest Ice Creams to make a rotating menu of fresh treats from locally sourced ingredients, the way it should be. When you walk into one of Lick's three Austin locations, you can choose from a huge amount of specialty flavors like Goat Cheese, Thyme & Honey or Cilantro Lime, all made from Austin ingredients.
I'm getting hungry just thinking about all these local favorites!
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A theory that’s been swirling around lately is that the web as we know it is on its way out and something called Web3 will take over.
It’s hard to know what Web3 is without first understanding the original versions. The first web is the 90s Internet where people had their own random websites that didn’t link together, making it decentralized. In Web2, we saw the rise of Google, Facebook and other major players who configured standard ways for people to share and receive information.
Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood and other blockchain developers say a decentralized version of the Internet, Web3, is on the way. Web3 can be thought of as synonymous with cryptocurrency, meaning it is based on the blockchain. Platforms and apps built on Web3 won’t be owned by a central gatekeeper, but rather by users. Those in the Austin crypto community believe to see a growing presence of Web3 in Austin.
Pujaa Rajan, an engineer at financial software company Stripe and adviser for startups, describes herself as a “digital nomad.” She has traveled all over from Hawaii to New York and San Francisco, looking for the crypto community in each place.
Having been in Austin for the past month, Rajan organized a Web3 meetup this week at Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden in South Austin open to folks working in crypto or the crypto-curious. About 30 people showed up. "Compared to a lot of other cities that I went to, it is a lot more open and community-oriented here, which is what Web3 is all about,” she said.
Pujaa Rajan, an engineer at financial software company Stripe, organized a Web3 meetup in Austin during a visit. (Andrea Guzman/Austonia)
ATX DAO member Roberto Talamas, who stopped by the event, talked about the crypto group’s expansion. Web3, in Talamas’ view, expands on the previous versions which allowed people to read, then read and write. Now, he says, people can read, write and own. To Talamas, blockchain technology has powered that ownership aspect, and it can be utilized through groups like a DAO, a group that pools together capital and goes on to make investments or take on blockchain-based projects.
“The ecosystem of work with (Web3) companies here in Austin is still relatively small,” Talamas said. “And that’s one of those things that we’re trying to deal with at ATX DAO is to do all the advocacy work needed to make Austin the best Web3 city.”
Part of that community, however, has gotten a bad rep for being “crypto bros.” Rajan acknowledged that Web3 involves both finance and technology, which are fields women have historically been excluded from. But, she says the decentralization aspect creates a clean slate and a new means to form groups. “I feel like we can kind of take back the power or create a world for ourselves,” Rajan said.
The meetup at Cosmic brought together crypto users to talk about the prospects of Web3. (Andrea Guzmán/Austonia)
Meetup attendee Jonathan Hillis also talked about the idea that Web3 creates an opportunity to start over and how this could be something that grows in Austin. Born and raised in the capital city, Hills has left his Bay Area Web2 Instacart job behind to live in a cabin outside Dripping Springs last year. He and his wife, along with a group of internet friends formed a DAO called Cabin, and he's now writing on the Web3 version of Medium, known as Mirror.
When it comes to the state of Web3, four cities stand out. “The dam broke in Covid,” Hillis said. “Everybody no longer had to live in the Bay Area for tech.”
San Francisco is still rooted in Web2 traits with Big Tech and software as a service venture. New York is financial technology. Miami is another major player. But with Austin, Hillis sees a lot of potential.
“Austin is great at being a place for independent online creators of many types—musicians, but also artists,” Hillis said. “What excites me about Web3 is the opportunities for putting creators at more of the center of the value capture.”
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Once a bargain-hunter's paradise, Austin's reputation as a cheaper California seems to be dissipating. But does money have more value in Austin when compared to other U.S. metros?
For Carson Stanch, who moved to Austin from Brooklyn, New York, to be near family, Austin's lower cost of living was just an added bonus. According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, a $100 bill is worth $98.20 in Austin when compared to the national average in 2020, while it's worth just $84.53 in New York.
Houston native Carson Stanch moved from Brooklyn, New York to Austin just before the pandemic. (Carson Stanch)
Stanch soon realized she was a trendsetter—or perhaps a fortune teller—as the pandemic hit a few months after her move. No longer willing to spend extra money on their more expensive apartments, Stanch said many of her friends and other New Yorkers left the city amid COVID lockdowns.
"It's so expensive to live there (and) all of the reasons why you live in New York, you couldn't really do anymore," Stanch said.
Garrett Watson, a senior policy analyst with the Tax Foundation who wrote a 2018 report on the value of $100 in U.S. metros, told Austonia the report factors in the costs of goods and services with residents' incomes and compares them to the national average. The result is price parity, a number that varies drastically across the country—for instance, a $100 bill won't get you near as far in Austin as it would in more rural parts of the Hill Country.
While a Ben Franklin note was worth $4 more in New York in 2020 when compared to 2018, a $100 bill decreased by $1.60 in value in Austin. Austin's cost of living also saw the 12th-highest increase among U.S. metros from the 2010 to 2020 census.
And as the pandemic's nationwide housing boom gained extra momentum in Austin, peaking at a median home price of $575,000 in June 2021, Watson said the value of $100 could have dropped even further.
"There's just been a chronic hunger for building houses on the coasts and in certain cities in the heartland," Watson said. "Especially this year, we're seeing more and more discussion about that in Austin, and so that is a big, big factor."
Price parity bleeds into other factors as well—in San Francisco, where the value of $100 sits at $82.63, residents are nearly 18% poorer than their higher incomes suggest. But with higher incomes than the U.S. average, they may find themselves more flush with cash when moving to a cheaper city like Austin.
Many out-of-towners have used that extra change to make housing offers much higher than the asking price, Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather told Fox7 Austin.
"All those migrants are bringing with them high-paying jobs who are used to much more expensive housing and they’re willing to pull out all the stops to win these homes and move to Austin," Fairweather said.
But Austin is catching up to those traditional hotspots: the area was predicted to be the most expensive metro outside of the Golden State by the end of 2021.
In just two years, Stanch said she's seen some signs.
"I feel like I look around certain areas of Austin (and) they do feel more similar to downtown Brooklyn," Stanch said. "Some businesses I see might tend to cater to folks who have a little more income."
I cannot believe there’s a Hermès (an Hermès?) store opening around the corner from where I live. Oy vey. The scrappy, cheap, charmingly dusty locals-only South Congress of yore is receding into the past so very quickly. 😭 pic.twitter.com/sUHxI4pX8F
— Cari Marshall (@CariMarshallTX) August 3, 2021
So why not move to, say, Florence, Alabama, where money is almost 20% more valuable?
Watson said the difference comes down to the value of amenities—something the study can't track.
"Part of the value in New York City is all the amenities that you're near, the value of Broadway, the value of being able to get food delivered to your door," Watson said. "So that may be reflected in people's willingness to pay higher prices... there's a lot of really great reasons why people may want to be in Austin from an identity perspective that you can't get in other parts of Texas."
In Austin, tech salaries rose 5% from 2020-2021 as big-name corporations like Oracle and Tesla—alongside Tesla's billionaire owner Elon Musk—flocked to the nation's new "boomtown." With an ever-increasing job market, eclectic culture and reputation as one of the world's best cities for move-ins, Austin's appeal might still offset its price.
But for Stanch and many others, there may still come a time when price wins over location.
"If I was to the point where homebuying was more important than being near friends and family, then I would move to get the home," Stanch said. "I think that's kind of part of my plan."