Austin barbecue is getting the recognition it deserves, taking up three spaces on Texas Monthly's top best BBQ joints list.
While Fort Worth's Goldee's Barbecue topped the list, coming in second was Austin's Interstellar BBQ; in fifth, LeRoy & Lewis; and in seventh, Franklin Barbecue. Four more Austin joints made the unranked list.
The list, which is the sixth of its kind to come out since 1997, was formulated after 411 barbeque locations across the state were visited by Texas Monthly and narrowed down by barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn and food writer Patricia Sharpe. The writers made note of a new generation of pitmasters that are challenging tradition and giving tried and true places a run for their money.
Interstellar BBQ, 12233 Ranch Road 620 N.
Much can be said about Interstellar BBQ, which beat out Franklin Barbecue in their list debut.
Interstellar opened in 2019 from John Bates, 46; Carlos Cruz, 43; and Warren McDonald, 53; serving up all the usuals with some traditional methods while also experimenting where they can.
Their secrets behind the goodness? Texas Monthly writes: "(Bates') brisket is simple: salt, pepper, garlic, and obsessive heat management. For his pork ribs, he eschews the usual glaze but, knowing diners expect a little sweetness, adds brown sugar to the rub. He also smokes what he calls the Tipsy Turkey Breast, which marinates overnight in hefeweizen."
LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue, 121 Pickle Road (food truck parked at Cosmic Coffee)
Another newer kid on the block is LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue.
Serving up "new school barbecue, old school service," LeRoy and Lewis opened in 2017 from pitmaster Evan LeRoy, 35.
What does new school barbecue mean? Texas Monthly writes: "At LeRoy and Lewis, the new-school approach means Evan LeRoy eschews pork ribs (though on Saturdays he does offer "bacon ribs"—massive pork ribs with the belly still attached) and turkey (except around Thanksgiving) and serves brisket only on Saturdays and Sundays."
Franklin Barbecue, 900 E. 11th, Austin
It's not a barbecue list without the iconic Franklin Barbecue.
Since 2009, Jordan Jackson, 39; Megan Nesland, 38; Matthew Van Orden, 46, have been serving up masterful barbeque that saw lines stretch around the block pre-pandemic. In 2013 and 2017, it captured the number one and number two spots, respectively, on the Texas Monthly list.
Should it still be in the top? Texas Monthly writes: "Franklin's drop into the bottom half of our top ten isn't a sign that the beloved establishment has diminished—no one does the traditional barbecue lineup better. But it is a sign that the new wave is reshaping the scene in ways we couldn't have imagined a few short years ago."
Honorable Austin mentions from the list (unranked)
- Distant Relatives
- La Barbecue
- Micklethwait Craft Meats
- Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ
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As summer temperatures continue to increase, so does Austin's "Party Island"—a hundreds-strong army of kayakers and paddle boarders who gather each weekend in the middle of Lady Bird Lake.
Born from the pandemic, the swarm of paddleboarding partiers has continued to grow each summer and can be seen from the nearby Lamar Boulevard Bridge. And while "Party Island" certainly lives up to one half of its name, it's not actually an island at all: instead, it's located at a shallow sandbar near Lou Neff Point.
With beers, burgers from portable grills and even DJ turntables in hand, more friends and strangers continue to beat the heat in new ways at the distinct Austin hangout.
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If you are a committed, grunge-wearing resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy–almost automatic–to look at Texas as an extraordinarily dry, hot and culturally oppressive place that is better to avoid, especially in the summer. Our two granddaughters live with their parents in Portland.
Recently we decided to take the older girl, who is 15, to Dallas. Setting aside the summer heat, a Portlander can adjust to the vibes of Austin without effort. So let’s take Texas with all of its excesses straight up. Dallas, here we come.
Our 15-year-old granddaughter and her sister, 12, have spent summer weeks with us, usually separately so that we could better get to know each individually. In visits focused on Austin and Port Aransas, the girls seemed to be developing an affection for Texas.
Houston and Dallas are two great American cities, the 4th and 9th largest, each loaded with cultural treasures, each standing in glittering and starchy contrast to Austin’s more louche, T-shirts and shorts ways.
Three hours up I-35, Dallas loomed before us as a set of gray skyscrapers in a filmy haze, accessed only through a concrete mixmaster of freeways, ramps and exits. I drove with false confidence. Be calm, I said to myself, it will all end in 10 minutes under the hotel entrance canopy. And it did.
The pool at the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas. (Crescent Court Hotel)
We stayed three nights at the Crescent Court Hotel ($622 a night for two queens), a high-end hotel in Uptown, patronized by women in white blazers, business people in suits, and tall, lean professional athletes, their shiny Escalades and Corvettes darting in and out, and other celebrities like Bill Barr, the former attorney general who shoe-horned his ample self into a Toyota.
Each morning as I walked to Whole Foods for a cappuccino, a fellow identified by a bellman as Billy the Oilman arrived in his Rolls Royce Phantom. Where does he park? “Wherever he wants to. He likes the Starbucks here.”
We garaged our more modest set of wheels for the visit. We were chauffeured for tips by Matt Cooney and Alfonza “The Rev” Scott in the hotel’s black Audi sedan. They drove us to museums, restaurants and past the enclaves of the rich and famous. In Highland Park, The Rev pointed out the homes of the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman along with the family compound of the Hunts, oil and gas tycoons.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s “Cartier and Islam” exhibit (until Sept. 18) attracted an older crowd; the nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science was a powerful whirlpool of kids’ groups ricocheting from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the oil fracking exhibit. Watch your shins.
A Geogia O'Keeffe oil painting called "Ranchos Church, New Mexico" at the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art. (Rich Oppel)
For us, the best museum was the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a 50-minute, madcap drive away via a 75 mph toll lane along I-30. Don’t try it during rush hour. The Carter has an exquisite collection of Remington paintings and sculptures and an excellent array of 19th and 20th-century paintings as well. Pick one museum? The Amon Carter. Peaceful, beautiful, uncrowded, free admission and small enough to manage in two hours.
The Fort Worth Stockyards, a place of history (with a dab of schmaltz), fun and good shopping, filled one of our mornings. The 98 acres brand the city as Cowboy Town, with a rodeo and a twice-daily (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive. We shopped for boots, drank coffee and watched the “herd” of 18 longhorns. So languid was their progress that if this were a real market drive the beef would have been very tough and leathery before it hit the steakhouse dinner plate.
The cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. (Rich Oppel)
But we could identify: the temperature was 97. “I saw a dog chasing a cat today,” said the emcee, deploying a very old joke. “It was so hot that both were walking.”
With limited time, we chose three very different restaurants:
- Nobu, in the Crescent Court Hotel; Jia, a modern Chinese restaurant in Highland Park; and Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Nobu’s exotic Japanese menu set us back $480, with tip, for four (we had a guest), but it was worth it.
- Jia was an ordinary suburban strip mall restaurant, but with good food and a reasonable tab of $110 for four.
- Joe T.’s is an 85-year-old Fort Worth institution (think Matt’s El Rancho but larger), a fine Mexican restaurant where a meal with two drinks was $115.
Sushi at high-end restaurant Nobu. (Crescent Hotel)
It was all a splurge for a grandchild’s visit. Now we will get back to our ordinary road trips of Hampton Inns, where a room rate is closer to the Crescent Court’s overnight parking rate of $52. And to corner cafes in small towns.
Did Dallas change our 15-year-old’s view of Texas? “Yes. I think it’s a lot cooler than I did. The fashion, the food.” So, not only Austin is cool. Take Texas as a whole. It’s a big, complex, diverse and wonderful state.