When my office offered to send me to the SXSWEdu Conference at the beginning of the month, I was excited to learn that Austin might not be sweltering in March. When Walker was able to join, we were intrigued to visit a city that draws lots of Brooklyn ex-pats down for the first time!
I should start by saying that SXSWEdu is a spinoff of the more famous South by Southwest that brings together industry experts, tech companies, teachers and administrators. My mind was totally blown with some of the forthcoming ed trends, and out of the 25 sessions I attended, nearly all of them were completely engaging. Loved it.
We stayed in the downtown area of the small city that is strangely un-walkable, but has a few charming neighborhoods here and there. The location of the JW Marriott was perfect for the conference as it housed many of the sessions right there, and we have nothing but accolades for the helpful service and app at the hotel.
In fact, everywhere we went in Austin, people could not have more been friendly without being fake. No joke, after he offered to give my friend a free to-go coffee at a small breakfast spot, our waiter, not wanting to leave me out, offered to give me a to-go water. Um?
A few fun spottings included our walk over the Ann Richards bridge which accidentally (serendipitously?) was at the same time the bats were emerging for their evening feedings. We had just planned to go for a walk and the bridge being near our hotel seemed a reasonable path, so we walked over and saw a small crowd of people gathered on the very ordinary overpass. We kept going past the bridge for 10 minutes and saw nothing except a tire store (seriously, you couldn't walk anywhere here!), so turned back. And as we approached the bridge, we saw the bats streaming in ribbons and swells and helixes from under the bridge out to feed. We didn't have the camera, but here's the bridge from a later walk. Where do they all hide?!
By far, our favorite nabe was South Congress
whose one street contained the most lovely shops intermingled with wacky and weird stores like Uncommon Objects (crystal covered skulls, stuffed squirrels, antique dominos)
and Science Cream where the owner created liquid nitrogen and mixed it in a Kitchenaid with liquid mango syrup to create sorbet in minutes!
My favorite shop was called Sunroom, and the Cove also had brightly colored boutique items as well. Good thing my suitcase had no extra space!
Food was far and away our favorite part of Austin. I did a little research before we landed and luckily (and thanks to the small size of the city), we were able to get into some of the best-rated restaurants in the City with only a few days notice. Here's a sampling!
Breakfast most mornings started at the insanely popular Blenders and Bowls, who serve acai bowls and smoothies in the heart of downtown. The service was friendly, but most days I waited 25-30 minutes for our bowls, which felt extra long as I was waiting to head to the conference. The bowls were fresh, but nothing like a real Hawaiian bowl.
La Condesa, our favorite lunch spot, featured fresh ceviches, tender tacos, and the most incredible dulce de leche/sweet corn cake. Since it was near our hotel, we stopped in twice!
Black's BBQ, famed for it's Lockhart location now has a spot in Austin who delivered to our hotel. No complaints about the tender brisket and mac and cheese; it was lacking a hipster vibe we often get in NYC and served with massive slices of raw onion and soft potato bread. Overall, not super impressive, but fine.
Fonda San Miguel, our first dinner in Austin, delighted us with it's hacienda-style, richly saturated decor, professional service and authentic Mexican cuisine. We tried queso, enchiladas, pork cooked in banana leaves, and crepes de cajeta (crepes with caramel sauce). The experience was perfectly executed and we loved it here so much.
The Launderette was our favorite spot of the trip, a repurposed laundry from the 50s with an open-air porch that stretched the length of the restaurant. The food, my goodness, was so incredibly amazing. We loved every single bite, from the burrata (which my autocorrect funnily wants to change to burrito!) with pomegranate molasses to the sticky ribs and brick chicken with aligot sauce to the unreal white chocolate and coffee semifreddo. Completely mesmerizing food with a hint of a Middle Eastern flair with tahini and date sprinkled throughout.
No Va on Rainey Street is the only contemporary house among a short street of quaint wooden cottages. To be honest, we went for the gluten free churros, which went melty and soft and wonderful, but the other dishes were hearty southern fare done well. We stopped in at the Lustre Pearl for a conference event after, which seemed to be a typical Rainey Street spot.
Elizabeth Street Cafe near South Congress Street was another open-air, breeze-infused restaurant the delivered fresh food. A fusion of french and Vietnamese, we absolutely loved our ginger pork sausage spring rolls, chicken lemongrass skewer pho, and red curry dan dan noodles. So pretty with the spring blossoms!
Corner Restaurant at the Marriott served surprisingly delicious margaritas and queso, as did Guero's on South Congress. And we tried exotic gelato flavors like orange cardamom and olive oil at Gelateria Gemelli.
One final tip if you're visiting Austin! We learned the hard way that cabs are pretty pricy and Uber/Lyft don't operate in Austin. Instead, we used Fasten, on a tip from a waitress, which worked well.
Thanks for all the melted orange cheese and sunshine, Austin! Next time we'd love to visit Barton Springs and a bit more nature. Hasta, Austin!