AFF 2012 Guide: Dining (and Drinking)

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Banger's MealWhether at home or traveling to new locales, I always try to stick to local fare or independent food establishments. Austin Film Festival (AFF) takes place at venues convenient to some favorites of our Slackerwood contributors, and this year we've put together our personal favorites in this food and beverage guide.

For AFF attendees interested in trying our burgeoning Texas craft beer, timing could not be better with the third annual Austin Beer Week taking place October 20 - 28. Over 150 events spread throughout 40 different venues over 9 days are sure to please craft beer fans of any level or palate. Find out more about food and beverage venues at the end of this article.

The guide is divided into four locales corresponding to the venues: Downtown (easy walk to ACC or Paramount or both); Slightly South (convenient to Rollins/Long Center), Slightly North (Bob Bullock) and Way Up North (Alamo Village). Thanks to my fellow Slackerwood contributors for their input included after the jump:

Downtown

Downtown Austin is jam-packed with food spots including chain restaurants Chipotle Mexican Grill (801 Congress Avenue) and Jamba Juice (600 Congress Avenue), which are great places to grab a quick bite during the day.

But the overwhelming favorite of Slackerwood contributors is the small urban grocery store Royal Blue Grocery with several locations downtown. Slackerwood contributor Elizabeth Stoddard recommends the 609 Congress Ave location, not far from the Paramount or Driskill. Elizabeth states, "I love their pre-made sandwiches, but they also have pizza (from East Side Pies, I think?) you can buy by the slice. Compared to other downtown eateries, Royal Blue is very reasonably priced. Even when there is a line, it's not too long, and it's a nice place to stop between movies."

Slackerwood contributor Austin Culp also recommends Royal Blue Grocery, and says, "If you're hitting the panels early in the morning, make sure to swing by. Besides a great selection of fruit and juices, you can also find what I consider to be some of the best breakfast tacos in Austin: Taco Deli. Their tacos go quickly so you might not have first pick, but every one of their options is delicious. Just make sure to grab the salsa before you go!"

If you have enough time between screenings at The Paramount or ACC, check out the following nearby places:

  • The Hideout Coffeehouse (617 Congress Ave) -- Located downstairs from an improv theatre off 7th and Congress, this locally owned and operated shop serves a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, sandwiches and pastries from morning to night, seven days a week. It's also where AFF's shorts are being screened this year.
  • Annie's Cafe & Bar (319 Congress Ave) -- Jordan recommends this cafe: "Inspired by European bistros and sidewalk cafes, this local homegrown favorite serves seasonal farm-to-market selections for breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week."
  • Hickory Street (800 Congress Ave) -- I haven't been to the new location yet, but here's what Elizabeth had to say: "I love the new Hickory Street! While the potato and salad bars are gone, the service is quick and friendly at the revamped restaurant. The food is organic and delicious, and the menu offers a great selection. Brunch here is the best, but there are also yummy lunch and dinner items (I recommend the crab cake salad!). It's another reasonably-priced option, caddy-corner from the Paramount. It's open 7 days a week."
  • Roaring Fork (701 Congress) -- Jette recommends the weekday happy hour food specials in the bar of Roaring Fork, located on the first floor of the Stephen F. Austin Hotel, next door to the Paramount.
  • TRIO Restaurant (98 San Jacinto Boulevard) -- Within walking distance of ACC downstairs in the Four Seasons Austin hotel, TRIO’s happy hour has become one of the hottest gathering spots in Austin. Monday through Saturday from 5 to 7 pm, enjoy $5 appetizers and half off more than 30 wines by the glass selected by award-winning Sommelier Mark Sayre.
  • Wholly Cow Burgers (619 Congress Ave) -- This burger joint located next door to The Hideout is an easy walk to downtown venues, is open on Sunday and now offers breakfast 7 am - 10:30 am Monday through Saturday. Burgers and cheesesteaks are made with grass-fed beef, breakfast is available six days a week, and a variety of sodas are available in bottles and on tap. Jette notes, "Be aware that their food takes longer to prepare than most fast food, and budget your time accordingly."

For dining and drinking, here are my personal favorites:Easy Tiger Bake Shop

  • Easy Tiger (709 East Sixth St) -- If there is one place that should not be missed, it is this wonderful establishment that moved in and renovated the old Empanada Parlour location on Waller Creek. The bakery opens at 7 am and the beer garden opens at 11 am, featuring fresh-baked pretzels and breads as well as housemade meats and sausages. For a light meal, I highly recommend sharing an "Easy Board" -- just in time for Oktoberfest, go with the German selection featuring homemade selection of pretzel, bratwurst, kraut, beer cheese, potato salad and homemade stone-ground mustard, and pair it with a Live Oak Pilz.
  • Banger's (79 and 81 Rainey Street) -- Located within walking distance just southeast of ACC, the newest and largest entry to the craft beer bar and eatery features house-made sausages from Olaf Banger's original recipes. Meals seem a bit overpriced for the servings and the sausage seem to be overcooked on occasion -- I tried the weisswurst served with a tasty German potato salad, sweet mustard and homemade pretzel bun, but it's the 100-plus craft beers on tap that bring patrons back.
  • Stephen F's Bar and Terrace (701 Congress Ave) -- This oasis of a bar features overstuffed leather chairs as well as outside seating and live entertainment with a wide selection of wines by the glass, cordials, Texas craft beer and whiskey along with upscale appetizers and an extensive martini menu. The terrace provides a spectacular view of Congress Avenue and the Capitol.
  • Thai Passion (620 Congress Ave) -- A longtime personal favorite for a quick and always delicious express lunch featuring the curry of the day, with great service all day long and into the night until 3 am. I love the Mus-Mun Thai curry with potatoes, peanuts, carrots, and onions in coconut milk. The entrance is actually located on 7th Street, just west of Congress Avenue.

Slackerwood contributor and AFS Community Education Manager Katy Daiger Dial shares the following recommendations for downtown fare:Jo's South Austin Speedball

  • Visit the West 2nd Street District -- it's a tiny bit of a walk from the Austin Convention Center, but totally worth it. It's becoming a go-to location for Austin downtown visitors. While there are many great shops and restaurants in the area, Lamberts (401 West 2nd Street), Jo's Hot Coffee (242 West 2nd Street) and La Condessa (400A West 2nd Street) are standouts.
  • Jo's is both a fantastic sit-and-people-watch type place and a I'm-starving-give-me-a-taco place. Very relaxed with a winning combination of good coffee and food. On weekends they serve breakfast till 2 pm.
  • Lamberts serves great meat -- wait... I'm a vegetarian. Still, you should treat yourself and go to Lamberts at some point during your trip to Austin. Yes, the meat is great, but try the side dishes! The chickpea and goat cheese salad is delicious, and the fried okra is so good.
  • For a Mexican food fix, head to La Condessa. It's great if you're looking for just a small meal or something heavier. And, they do lunch, dinner and brunch. But, my real secret is that I go to La Condessa for the margaritas. It might be pricier than you're used to, but it's like candy. They go great with everything on the menu.
  • Frank Hot Dogs (407 Colorado) -- I'm a vegetarian, and yet I love Frank. They offer amazing hot dog topping combinations that can go on veggie dogs. They also have a nice, relaxed Austin-y feel. To be honest, I never met a waffle fry I didn't like, and Frank doesn't disappoint.

Slightly South

Barton Springs Road features everything from a food trailer court to my favorite local barbecue joint, Green Mesquite BBQ, and a local brewpub:

  • Green Mesquite Barbecue & More (1400 Barton Springs Road) -- Features a great patio under oak trees. My favorite local source for pork ribs, where I also learned that BBQ sauce masks the deliciously smoked flavor of their chicken.
  • Sandy's Hamburgers (603 Barton Springs Rd) -- Just south of the Long Center, Sandy's may not be the best place in town to get a burger, but it's worth a stop for a frozen custard cone and their fare is cheap.
  • Threadgill's (301 West Riverside Drive) -- Enjoy great Southern fare in Austin at Threadgill's. The chicken fried selections are tasty, although I'm a big fan of their bronzed catfish and some of the best veggies you'll ever taste.
  • Uncle Billy's Brew & Que (1530 Barton Springs Road) -- Uncle Billy's is best known for award-winning craft beers -- the Bottle Rocket kellerweis beer just won a Gold award last week at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival (GABF). One of the "lightest" BBQ meals I enjoy routinely is the pulled chicken salad with chipotle vinaigrette. I love the Ax Handle Pale Ale, but the Hill Country Organic Amber balanced maltiness with a pleasant hop finish is great for pairing with their fare.
  • Zax Restaurant and Bar (312 Barton Springs Rd) -- A personal favorite not just for the awesome beer selection, but for the range and quality of the food. You can enjoy one of their signature pizzas, burger or a sandwich for less than $10, or indulge in upscale fare. I love the pizza with carmelized onion, Kalamata olives and goat cheese, but my favorite dish by far is the seared sea scallops meuniere. Their brunch is also a "don't miss," with a Bloody Mary bar.

Slightly North (near Bob Bullock Texas History Museum theaters)

There are quite a few places along the Drag on Guadalupe Street north of MLK Boulevard, but here are the highlights:

Dog and Duck Fish and Chips

  • Clay Pit (1601 Guadalupe St) -- Delicious Indian cuisine is within walking distance of the museum venues. I love the curried mussels appetizer that could be a meal in itself. Katie notes, "They offer a great (albeit simple) lunch buffet, as well as a dinner menu that has something even for the most skeptical person. For a crazy calorie bomb, treat yourself to the naan bread with cream cheese and jalapeños."
  • Conscious Cravings (1901 Rio Grande) -- Featuring meatless wraps with homemade sauces and dressing, from the seitan chimichurri to the pan seared tofu. Note that this vegetarian eatery closes at 8 pm and is closed Sundays.
  • Dog and Duck Pub (406 W. 17th St) -- This casual pub offers pub grub including fish and chips as well as bangers and mash, and you can also enjoy burgers, sandwiches and nachos here. Raise a pint of Guinness to recently deceased SXSW Creative Director Brent Grulke, who could often be found here engaged in conversation about music and sports with other regulars including local musicians.
  • Veggie Heaven (1914A Guadalupe) -- A longtime staple for serious vegetarians provides both vegan and vegetarian fare in an unhurried laid-back atmosphere.

Way Up North (near Alamo Village)

The Alamo Drafthouse at the Village features a full menu and recently opened a beer garden where you can relax before or between screenings. For other fare, check out the following:

  • Casa Chapala (3010 Anderson Lane) -- The original location features tasty Mexican fare and a wide assortment of tequilas. Try the chicken pipian made with grilled boneless chicken breast topped with a tasty mole sauce of roasted poblano, serrano pepper, pumpkin seeds and almonds.
  • Korea House (2700 West Anderson Lane, Suite 501) -- Although this restaurant can be difficult to find nestled in the middle of the complex, it is well worth the adventure with a wide assortment of sushi, sashimi, and Korean BBQ -- some of it prepared right at your table. Service is quite laidback so plan on enough time before or after a screening.
  • Star of India (2900 West Anderson Lane Suite 12D) -- A satisfying buffet is served daily and you can also order a la carte at dinner. My favorites include mushroom mutter, aloo gobbi with cauliflower, and chicken tikka masala.

Katy has the following North Austin recommendations:

  • Satay (3202 West Anderson Lane #205) and Madam Mam's (2700 West Anderson) -- Satay and Madam Mam's offer similar Thai cuisine, but are different enough that you could eat at each restaurant in the same day. (Disclaimer: I do love Thai food.) Madam Mam's allows you to stare out the window at the line outside the Alamo, but Satay has some scrumptious creations from head chef and Austin staple Dr. Foo Swasdee. I recommend the Miang Khum appetizer. Madam Mam's will be a quicker experience, with Satay being a more relax-and-take-your-time restaurant. Both are good choices if you're in the mood for Asian.
  • Indulge in an Austin Original: One of the days you're on your way to Alamo Village, pull into Austin's genuine drive-in burger joint Top Notch (7525 Burnet Road). Featured in Dazed and Confused, we Austinites get a warm and fuzzy feeling when thinking about Top Notch's simple, straightforward burgers. For vegetarians, you can't go wrong with their grilled cheese sandwich and tots. If you're on your way home from a screening at the Village, stop in for a classic chocolate malt. Good ol' fashioned American food.

Bonus Boozin'
One of the highlights of the week during Austin Beer Week that is located near the Austin Convention Center is Banger's Beer College, featuring both local craft brewers and experts from around the United States. New Belgium's sensory analysis expert Lauren Salazar will be in town to discuss exotic and experimental ales. Check out Salazar's 2010 interview on YouTube below with Beertown Austin at the Draught House as she talks about her role as a sensory specialist and New Belgium beers.

On Thursday, October 25 at 5 pm, Easy Tiger will feature Real Ale Brewing Company's Brewmaster Erik Ogershok who is bringing six casks with him from the Blanco-based brewery: Imperium, Signature Hop Pale Ale, 4-Squared, Dry-Hopped Porter, Russian Imperial Stout and Sisyphus. Real Ale's Black Quad will also be available on draft.

What are your favorite places to grab a bite or a pint near AFF venues? Feel free to leave a comment below.

[Photo credits: "Pint and a Meal" courtesy of Banger's; "Jo's South Austin Speedball" courtesy of Jo's Coffee; "Breads at Easy Tiger" courtesy of Easy Tiger; "Fish and Chips" courtesy of The Dog and Duck Pub]