Pinky Brand’s Austin Tips
First off RegistryOffice is a proud sponsor of NamesCon 2020. We look forward to seeing you!
We will have staff presenting during the following sessions and invite you to participate:
Fighting DNS Abuse at Scale – Wednesday January 29, 2:00 PM – 2:30 PM
DNS Abuse: Threats and Responses – Friday January 31, 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM
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With the above plugs out of the way let’s get on to my tips.
I’m a native Texan and proud to call Austin my home. We used to be a somewhat sleepy capital city of about 350,000 but have grown up considerably in size (now over 1 million) and complexity. The pace of growth here has always been astounding, but even more so in the last couple of years. Even if you were here last year for SXSW you won’t believe how much the inner city and East Austin has changed since then!
Overall understand that Austin is indeed a food town and has been known for food trucks all around town before food trucks became a thing. Don’t be surprised to find long lines at the most popular spots on the weekends—perhaps less so during the week away from the lunch hour.
Nightlife is fabulous here—Texas style. Of course there is 6th Street, but also South Congress, the West End, Rainey Street and plenty to experience over in East Austin that for certain is *the* hippest area in town at the moment. So if you see ***EAST AUSTIN*** below with any below suggestion this is what I’m talking about.
Weather and getting around: Understanding that it is January in Central Texas, it could be 70F/21C one day and then 36F/2C the next. Typically in late January it is about 61F/16C during the day and about 41F/5C in the evenings. With that said if the weather is pleasant and you don’t want to walk or take a taxi/Uber/Lyft there are plenty of scooters, electric bikes etc. to rent.
For industry friends visiting from overseas: Sales tax is not included in the price for most anything that you might purchase in Texas, except for fuel. 8.25% will be added to your bill. Tipping is expected and how wage earners, especially in restaurants, make ends meet. You won’t get fired for tipping 15% for normal service, however 18-20% has become the norm. I even see 25% for exceptional service. Tip: Just double the sales tax on your bill to calculate a basic tip of 16.5% to your bill and you’ll be OK. A 10% tip is OK if no table service is involved.
Below is my video outlining arrival/RideApp tips at the airport, a short tour of NamesCon venue at The Omni, my favorite inner city spot to be outdoors in the morning or on weekends, and then my own live music video experiences demonstrating why Austin is The Live Music Capital of the World! No matter what your musical taste is there is something for you to enjoy, and most likely for free while you are in the Austin area!
Pinky’s Austin Restaurant Suggestions
Unless specifically called out, all of my suggestions are relatively close to the Omni and downtown Austin. Most are within a 10-15 minute drive.
First off let’s talk barbecue. Besides tacos and margaritas just about everyone who visits Austin these days is dying to get some barbecue. Just before my start in the domain industry I was a co-investor and operator of a barbecue joint in Houston that counted NBA players among regular customers. That’s another story for another time.
Many believe Aaron Franklin’s temple of barbecue is the best on the planet, if not in Austin. They don’t open until 11 AM. Lines form early—like at 7 AM. Bring a lawn chair and your laptop. Make some new friends along the way. Hope they don’t run out. They usually do by 2PM.
Tips if waiting in line is not your thing.
Aaron also recently opened Tacos & Coffee located on the same property. Get a morsel of that famous smoked taste on a breakfast taco plus some coffee on your way in to NamesCon if you’re not staying at the Omni. Aaron is also known to be a coffee nut so the coffee should be really good.
Loro, in South Austin and billed as an Asian smokehouse, is co-owned by Aaron Franklin. I’ve eaten here several times with friends and family. The menu is unusual but very tasty and can include brisket and ribs on some days, but prepared quite differently. It has a very “local Austin” feel to it that is kind of typical for this area. It’s quite casual. What you do is walk up and order your food and drinks at the bar. They give you your drinks and then they bring the food to your table as it’s ready. This is a bit further out and depending upon traffic perhaps 15 mintues from downtown.
Black’s BBQ – My personal favorite within Austin and where I took my NamesCon friends last year. 90% as good as Franklin’s but 10% of the wait. It’s a relatively small spot located at 31st and Guadalupe just north of the University of Texas campus. There could be a short line of a dozen or so people at lunchtime but it usually moves quickly. Order the beef rib if they haven’t run out of it. It’s dinosaur-Fred Flintstone sized and a meal in itself. Wash it down with cold local Shiner Bock beer. Don’t confuse this spot with the much larger Terry Black’s south of downtown owned by relatives of Black’s but a completely different style of barbecue and a subject of a barbecue royalty family feud a few years back.
Micklethwait Craft Meats – I eat lunch occasionally at this food trailer in East Austin. If the weather is decent it is worth a shot. ***EAST AUSTIN***
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue – This is a pricier sit down spot that takes reservations and has live music. I’ve taken domain industry colleagues to this spot as well over the years. They have great cocktails and the barbecue is good enough among other menu items that even will satisfy vegetarians. Note that it is closed on Wednesday evening January 29th for a private event. Not sure if that private event is related to NamesCon.
La Barbecue – Never been but it gets rave reviews. It’s actually located within a Quickie-Pickie convenience store in East Austin that has been styled up a bit. Lines can be long at lunchtime or until they run out—and that’s one reason I haven’t been yet—I am somewhat allergic to long lines at barbecue joints. Let me know how you like it if you hit this spot. ***EAST AUSTIN***
Cooper’s Barbecue – One of my all time out-of-town and overall Texas favorites (pit style barbecue) but only the original location in Llano, Texas that is a 90 minute drive from Austin. Don’t have time or patience for a 3 hour round trip drive just to eat some barbecue? Head to their newish downtown Austin location to get a taste. It’s distinctively different from whatever you may have tried in the past although I can’t vouch for the downtown location as I’ve haven’t visited it yet.
My favorite Texas barbecue of all time? It’s in a typical small Texas town about 45 minutes to an hour from downtown Austin. It’s a secret I don’t want to share publicly. It’s cash only and they don’t have any forks. You literally have to separate and eat all the meat with your hands and wash it down with cold beer. The atmosphere is like you walked onto a movie set—except that it is authentic to the core. Hit me up at email@example.com and we can talk about it. 🙂
Last and no joke, within the Austin airport itself is a branch of The Salt Lick. You cannot go wrong getting breakfast tacos or lunch after you arrive or before you depart. You can even purchase several pounds of brisket or ribs to-go and they’ll pack it in a special portable cooler so you can bring it on your flight back home. I’ve been going to the original Salt Lick in Driftwood, TX (45 min. drive from downtown) since I was a child. Now its become quite the operation and a bit crowded, but the barbecue itself remains among my favorites—and the experience of going there itself adds to the enjoyment.
Tips on the Salt Lick: Go to the original Driftwood location and order all-you-can-eat family style, especially if you are a large group. Also it used to be located in a “dry” precinct, but no more. Nevertheless you can still bring your own cooler of your favorite beer and wine and there is no surcharge. Otherwise they do have plenty of beer and wine on premise. They now own the vineyard next to the property. It’s great for larger groups!
Suggestions by others for other good barbecue sandwich spots can be found here.
General restaurant suggestions
Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden – In the Rainey Street district among tons of other bars and brand new high rises that replaced what used to be a sleepy block of residential homes. Consistently rated among the top spots in Austin and part of this year’s Fun Day (Saturday Feb. 1) at NamesCon. The food is really good and there’s more on the menu besides sausage. Perfect for alfresco dining, drinking, networking, good times and people watching. See you there at NamesCon! The nearby Hotel Kimpton Van Zandt has a super indoor/outdoor happy hour bar/restaurant/pool scene plus live music.
Uchi – The best sushi in town and always at the top of any Austin fine dining recommendation list. You absolutely need reservations (can be completely booked out weeks in advance) and be prepared to spend mega $$$$. There is also an offshoot called Uchiko that is also highly rated.
Suerte – Newish east Austin modern Mexican cuisine and hip spot. Plenty of “beautiful people” good drinks and food, although smaller portions compared to most spots. ***EAST AUSTIN***
Vixen’s Wedding – A new semi-Indian/Goan/Portuguese favorite of mine in East Austin—actually located in a brand new boutique hotel just across from Suerte mentioned above. Excellent cocktails and generally smart crowd. Right next door to this is Lefty’s Brick Bar for some good food and cocktails as well. ***EAST AUSTIN***
Odd Duck – You’ll need reservations. Very different and interesting food combinations and has been listed among top best new restaurants in the USA. This guy started as a food truck. Another Austin success story. Been here a few times.
Justine’s Brasserie – Hip. Very late night kinda rock-n-roll casual French dining and drinks. Eclectic crowd including some rock and rollers from time to time. ***EAST AUSTIN***
Buffalina – Local hip joint and good wine, not to mention really good pizza. Can be a bit loud with all the concrete. ***EAST AUSTIN***
The Peached Tortilla – Another original food truck startup that now is brick and mortar. Highly rated in near North Austin. Good spot for some lunch if you have extra time. Reservations are usually needed for dinner.
Jeffrey’s – Continental and been around for decades but has always evolved with the times. Modern, pricey and fancy but in an Austin style fancy way. Dress up a bit and take your best customer or prospect here, or your significant other.
Holy Roller – Good all woman owned rock-n-roll sort of spot for brunch in the West End, especially on Sunday. Their biscuits are amazing.
Easy Tiger – Great very casual spot (underground and a beer garden in the back) on 6th street near the Interstate for all kinds of beer, fresh pretzels, home made sausages, curated booze. One of the best bakeries in the city. Ping pong table setup in the back unless there is live music. Usually open until 2 AM on Thu, Fri, Sat.
24Diner – No surprise it’s open 24 hours and one of my favorite spots in the West End for a hearty breakfast or casual lunch or dinner. Try the fried chicken and waffles combo to get that calorie count through the roof. It’s diagonally across the street from the main flagship Whole Foods Market and world headquarters. Whole Foods was started just af few blocks away when I was attending the University of Texas at Austin (yes I’m ancient) and now of course owned by Amazon. Speaking of the Whole Foods mothership, they’ve got a regular bar, juice bar, taqueria, plant-based Next Level Burger restaurant, a seafood restaurant and huge hot and cold food self-service food selection, so hit them up if you need to stock up your Airnbnb while in town.
Magnolia Cafe – A 24 hour Austin institution minutes from downtown. Go to the South Congress location to get your carb load and head off any hangover after a late night out—even at 4 AM. There’s something on the menu for everyone. Weird decor, even weirder customers at certain hours. Good food. Great service. Local South Austin gossip.
Bouldin Creek Cafe – A vegetarian (with tons of vegan options) and rather bohemian Austin institution right smack dab in the middle of an old South Austin neighborhood undergoing gentrification just minutes from downtown. The food is all made from scratch and totally delicious and satisfying even for meat lovers such as myself. Lots of locals moaning about all the rapid change while watching the world go by. Other good and longtime vegetarian/vegan spots include Mother’s Cafe and Counter Culture.
Launderette – Literally located in a repurposed old self-serve laundry it is one of the trendier spots in East Austin. Nevertheless the food and drinks are great, beautiful people and such. When you arrive you’ll wonder why it’s located where it’s located, but that is what makes Austin weird. ***EAST AUSTIN***
Perla’s – Great fresh seafood on South Congress. Sit outdoors if the weather cooperates. Fashionable spot owned by the same folks that own Lambert’s mentioned above.
Hopdoddy – One of my favorite burger joints on South Congress. Went here with the NamesCon folks. This is the original location (now a small chain in a few States). There is usually a line out the door but you can drink margaritas while you wait and the line moves quickly enough.
Wu Chow – Modern farm to table Chinese and place to be seen, hip-hop music and tiki drinks.
Red Ash– Modern Italian—beautiful people, good bar, great food. Great downtown happy hour scene. You’ll need reservations.
Sway Thai – Very cool modern fusion Thai spot—but among the spiciest curry I’ve ever experienced—even spicier than what I experienced in Thailand! Hit the original location on South First Street.
Torchy’s Tacos – Fast casual Austin institution (originally food truck) that’s now a Texas chain. Go there for a taco lunch and a beer/margarita— typical Austin tacos on your first visit. The Flagship location is on South Congress. There’s also a new location closer to The Omni. It’s across the street from the Google skyscraper complex on 2nd Street.
Radio Coffee & Beer – One of my favorite hyper-local spots to get street style food, beer, coffee and do some outdoor work on the laptop on some nicer days. Great on-premise food truck eats from Veracruz All Natural for Mexican and Dee Dee for Thai. Alwasy techie and start-up type folks hanging at this place. Of course there can be live music (check the schedule) and this is a good 15 minute drive south from downtown. Although only a few years in business it represents a “what-Austin-used-to-be” type of place that is getting harder to find as older neighborhoods get redeveloped at an increasing pace.
Mozart’s Coffee – Sit outside on a huge deck overlooking Lake Austin and homes in Westlake Hills where several of the tech titans and billionaires live or keep homes. Sip your cappuccino and munch down on some artisan baked goods. Do some work on your laptop among many others doing exactly the same on any given day, especially if the weather is fine. A good 15 minute drive west from dowtown. Right next to it is the Hula Hut which is just OK on Tex-Mex food but does the job especially if you wash it down with their Polynesian style cocktails.
True Food Kitchen – It’s a chain but it’s good. “Healthy” food on the West End in the Seaholm District. You can sit outside if the weather is in good form. It’s located very close to the currently tallest building in Austin, The Independent.
Pinky’s Austin Bar and Dancehall Suggestions
The Roosevelt Room – One of my favorites anywhere on the planet when it comes to fabulous cocktails. It’s across the street from WPEngine and has some of the best cocktails anywhere—like really really inventive and fabulous cocktails spanning decades of refreshing beverage concoctions and trends. Most of the time you need reservations, especially for a group.
Small Victory – Tiny secret speakeasy crushed red velvet type of place in a parking garage just steps from The Omni and The Driskill hotels. Hard to find so a small victory in itself figuring it all out. Press buzzer to get in the door. Incredible cocktails. Late night spot for sure, if you can get in.
Plenty of new bars and bar scenes amid a multitude of luxury boutique Austin hotels such as Austin Proper that has a delicious Eastern Mediterranean restaurant and cool lobby bar on the premises. I went there this past weekend and can vouch for them.
The White Horse – I highly recommend this spot for a cultural experience and cool honky-tonk/dancehall on the east side. Live music every night + 2-Step and Swing dancing lessons most evenings around 7 before the live music gets going. I took the NamesCon folks here and always bring out of towners to this spot. Cheap drinks and all kinds of characters. Ranchers, rockers, bikers. Great people watching. Prepare to do a little country and western dancing even if you don’t know how. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to dance by a total stranger of either gender. It’s typically innocent and drinks usually help. ***EAST AUSTIN***
The Best Rooftop Bars in Austin according to Thrillist.
Essential bars on or near the “Dirty Sixth” area
Beware of “Dirty Sixth” Street area. It can get a bit rowdy, especially on the weekends.
Midnight Cowboy– Reservations only. Intimate.
Broken Spoke – Last but not least. If you dare for an insanely cultural central Texas dancehall experience out of Austin’s past, want to learn how to dance and don’t mind being asked to dance by total strangers, head to this spot. When I was in school we dared each other to go here. It was out in the middle of nowhere and seemed kind of sketchy. Now it’s wedged between apartment buildings, but it’s still there, in defiance, and brings in folks and tourists from all over the world. Still smells like a beer when you walk in the door. You’ve been warned.
Breweries, distilleries and wineries
If you love refreshing beverages but want to get away from downtown or Austin a bit — we’ve got breweries, distilleries and wineries galore, even with the city limits and especially in the surrounding counties. Some of my closer in town favorites include St. Elmo Brewing Company way the hell down South Congress in a warehouse complex also housing a winery and whiskey distillery. It’s only 15-20 minutes from downtown. Sometimes you’ll find me here on a sunny Friday afternoon on my laptop with a beer and some killer Thai/Texas food from the on premise Soursop food truck while getting some work done. Check the schedule for live music.
Want to get away from Austin for a day and drink wine in the Texas Wine Country? I can recommend Signor Vineyards and Willam Chris Vineyards especially if the weather is nice. You can sit out among the vineyards and estates if the weather is OK, and of course there will be live music on the weekends.
For booze I recommend Garrison Brothers Distillery (fabulous Texas whiskey) in Hye, Texas and Deep Eddy Vodka tasting room in Dripping Springs. For Tito’s Vodka lovers—Austin is the home of Tito’s Vodka however I’m not aware they have a tasting room anymore.
OK you’ve got my suggestions that are admittedly heavy on the food and refreshing beverage side. Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want some suggestions on working it all off with a long hike, a mountain bike ride, or a day trip while you’re in the area. Otherwise a big “howdy and welcome to Austin” and see you soon!
Posted 15 January 2020 by Pinky Brand