Last week my friend visited me from London. She’s been living there for about three years now, and I’ve taken advantage of her ex-pat local a couple of times, but this was the first time she’s visited me in Texas since she moved across the pond! I wanted to show her a good time, and she wanted to eat as much Mexican food as possible, so the day after she arrived in Dallas we caught a flight to Austin! My brother and his friend were there house-sitting for my cousin and her husband, so luckily they were nice enough to let us crash at their lovely home. (Thanks April and Ben!)
The warm weather (75 and sunny) was enough to excite us upon arrival. The vibe of Austin is friendly, homey, and creative. Hippies, hipsters, vegans, cowboys, stoners, musicians, students, vagabonds, and yuppies have congregated in this city to enjoy the live music, parks, art, and food!
Later that evening we made the trek about thirty minutes outside of the city to a town called Driftwood for some real Texas bar-b-que at the infamous Salt Lick. We started out after dark, so we weren’t able to fully appreciate the scenery. Driving down the two-lane highway we passed ranches and cruised through rolling hills. The restaurant was impossible to miss, as it’s lit up with twinkling white lights. The facility is huge and was crowded when we turned in (there was a man in a cowboy hat directing traffic). As soon as we parked on the gravel lot and opened the car doors, we were greeted by the smell of smokey meat! Our mouths began to water immediately.
We had to endure a 45 minute wait, but it wasn’t all bad. The Salt Lick allows you to bring your own booze, and we had a twelve-pack of Tecate to keep us entertained. It was a perfect night- the air was still, the smell of smoked meat surrounded us, and we enjoyed some great people watching. When our table was ready, we were seated in a huge glassed-in patio area with rows of picnic tables. We ordered an array of meat (ribs, brisket, sausage, turkey), sides (crunchy coleslaw and the Salt Lick’s special potato salad, made sans mayo), and fixins (pickles, jalapenos, onions, and The Salt Lick’s amazing sauce). After our Texan feast we managed to put away a blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Heaven! If you are in or near Austin, The Salt Lick is worth the drive!
The next morning we got up early to work off some cals from din with a hike. Of course, we needed to fuel up on breakfast tacos so our first stop was Juanita’s. The tiny restaurant is housed in a converted caboose. We got a bag full of breakfast tacos to go and made the short scenic drive to Mount Bonnell, the highest point within Austin city limits. The morning air was still foggy, but we had a beautiful view of the lake and the gorgeous houses that lined the water’s edge. It was the perfect spot to enjoy our tacos!
Craving more physical activity (I blame the tacos), we drove to Town Lake Park, just south of downtown. For twenty dollars, we rented two two-person canoes for an hour and went paddling on Lady Bird Lake. (Kayaks are available as well, but if you rent one be prepared to get wet!) It was the perfect amount of time to enjoy the water and the view of the skyline in the distance. The water was so clear you can see fish swimming and the algae-covered rocks on the river bed bottom.
For lunch, we hit up SoCo, the hip, action-packed shopping/eating/hang-out area on Southern Congress Avenue. The streets were crowded with people enjoying the weather, musicians, and food! Our first stop was the SoCo Trailer Park, appropriately named for the food “trailers” that line the gravel lot. We sampled fried pickles and “cones” (tortillas wrapped around fried chicken, coleslaw and avocado conveniently shaped to fit into a paper cone) from a trailer called “The Mighty Cone”. I couldn’t resist a gourmet veggie dog with all the fixins from “Wurst Tex.” I recommend the Veggiano made with eggplant, red peppers, fennel, and garlic. Delicious and filling! For dessert, we were drawn to the shiny, silver airstream trailer with a rotating cupcake on the roof. “Hey, Cupcake” has delicious sweets- cupcakes of course. We indulged in the Snowcap and Red Velvet varieties. Yum!
After lunch my friend and I went across the street and shopped around the fabulous vintage stores while my brother and his friend wandered around photographing street art. One of my brother’s favorite artists is Shepard Fairey and he was excited to see his works in person.
When our stomachs were full and wallets less than full, my friend and I headed to the airport. We felt great from the amazing food and spending time outside without freezing! Our flight was delayed nearly half an hour, but it gave us a chance to enjoy a live blues band in the airport! Austin is an amazing little piece of bohemia in the middle of Texas. My ex-pat friend had such a great time; I will keep this short, easy trip in mind for future out-of-state (or out-of-country) guests!