Austin - December 2017

+ We had been planning on a two-week long trip to Vietnam for Thanksgiving but after some unexpected big expenses, we could no longer afford those flights. So we were left with two-weeks of saved up vacation and a bit of extra vacation money. When I found ultra-cheap flights to Austin, we decided it would be the perfect weekend trip in December! And we were right. Maybe we'll make a trip to Austin in December every year.

+ I really loved Austin. It felt like the Portland of the south, and since Portland is my favorite U.S. city and Austin has amazing weather in December, it was absolutely lovely. Incredibly food (see below), cool people, quite a few bookstores (also see below), great weather, lots (of cheap things) to do. And it's so dog friendly! I loved it. Next time we visit, we're bringing the dogs so we can join the people who hang out in food truck parks with their adorable dogs. Bruce and Bernie would love it if we moved here.

+ My sister used to live in Austin, so when I asked her for recommendations, she immediately told me to get tickets to Master Pancake theater at the Alamo Drafthouse. It's a classic movie accompanied by a comedy show and we booked tickets without even knowing what movie they were showing. Oh man. We've been missing out on the glory that is "The Room" (Tommy Wiseau, not Brie Larson) but I'm glad we saw it for our first time with Master Pancake. So. Funny. Oh. My. Gosh. And ordering legit food (not the TGI Fridays level food that other dine-in movie theaters have) while watching was awesome. Then walking out of the theater to find the insanity that is 6th street on a Saturday night was pretty fun, too.

+ Barton Springs might have been my favorite part of this trip. It's been cold in Indiana and I couldn't wait to soak up some sun, even if it was a little colder than summer weather. Thankfully the day we decided to go to Barton Springs, it was warm and sunny and we got there early enough to catch the senior aerobics swimmers. The place was empty so it must have been a bit too cold for Texans, but we loved it. Once we were done swimming, we took a walk over to the dog-friendly area of the springs and worked on our tans while we watched dogs run around freely in the water. I could've sat there all day. 

+ I firmly believe that any place with a river should build a place like this. Sacramento, get on that! The combination of fresh water and natural rocky bottoms complete with plant life with diving boards, lifeguards, steps, and ladders is incredible! When we go back to Austin, Barton Springs will be at the top of my to-do list. 

+ Speaking of swimming, we loved the pool at the Sheraton downtown and had the whole thing to ourselves for an hour. We swam more on this trip than we did all summer and it was excellent.

+ Obviously we had to hit up the local bookstores! Austin has quite a few niched bookstores, as well as the mecca, Book People, downtown. Oh man, I loved Book People. I could've spent all day there, and Josh didn't complain when I nearly did. I found a number of books and magazines I haven't been able to find elsewhere and loved hunting around for their MANY signed copies. I spent so much time reading through all of the excellent staff recommendations. With Christmas coming, I only walked out with two books, but you can bet I'll be back there the next time we're in Austin and will budget to buy lots more. And hopefully we can plan ahead to be there for one of their author events they seem to host every day!

+ Not everything is bigger in Texas, but the Half Priced Books sure are. We went to a boutique near one of the chain bookstores, so we figured we'd stop in- it's fun to get an idea of a place based on what kinds of book donations they get. I couldn't believe how big the store was. At least twice as big as the biggest location in Indianapolis. Again. We spent way too much time there.

+ We went to a number of boutiques, but my favorite shop was Tesoros on South Congress. The prices were so good that I may have gone a bit crazy with the handmade jewelry. If we had enough room in our shared carry-on I would've bought a lot of home decor. Something to keep in mind for our next trip to Austin...

+ I almost feel guilty that our first stop in Austin was In-N-Out, but I'm a perpetually homesick California girl so get off my back. And that was the least busy In-N-Out I've ever encountered and I'm concerned for the judgement of Texans as they seem to not love In-N-Out as much as they should. So ungrateful. But anyway. It was amazing and I miss In-N-Out so much. Moving on.

+ For every city I want to visit, I have a list of places I want to go to. Whenever I come across articles in food magazines, recommendations from friends, city guides, etc. I add the places to these ever-growing lists so I am prepared should I ever visit. The first place I ever added to my list for Austin was Elizabeth St. Cafe. I discovered it in my graphic design days when I wanted to do branding for food businesses. Elizabeth St. was a prime example of incredible design, but it also featured a menu that seemed made just for me- pastries and Vietnamese food. So I had to check it out for myself while we're in town. We ate a lovely dinner of bún and banh mi with steamed buns and I couldn't stop raving about how cute the place was. I was a bit concerned, as reviews seemed to agree the place is overrated as it's overpriced somewhat Americanized Vietnamese food. They're totally right. It's not the greatest banh mi or bún I've ever had. But I was paying for the decor, design, and excellent service and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. If you need to take away my foodie card, I understand. We even went back for breakfast treats the next day. I highly recommend the everything croissant.

+ Torchys. Okay, so I grew up in California where tacos are everywhere and I've grown to believe that for the most part, they are nothing special. I don't often seek out Mexican food so I wasn't particularly excited to eat TexMex in Texas. We almost skipped Torchy's in favor of other more interesting looking food trucks. But we wanted a cheaper breakfast that had a breakfast menu for Josh and a not breakfast menu available for me (who doesn't love scrambled eggs) and Torchy's seemed like a good fit. Oh. My. Gosh. I want to live on the Trashy Trailer Park taco. And the green chile pork was excellent as well. It was the greatest breakfast I've had in a long time and felt so Texas, especially out under a mesquite tree on a sunny morning. We may or may not have gone to Torchy's again for a late lunch... No regrets.

+ Gourdoughs made us feel like the ultimate fatties. Holy wow those donuts are dense (and delicious). And we may have gone a bit overboard getting the concoctions topped with marshmallow sauce and giant chunks of brownie. I feel fat just thinking about it. Very good, but prepare yourself, my friends.

+ It's become tradition for us to get dessert to go and bring it back to our hotel so we can indulge while taking advantage of the TV and room we don't have to clean. This trip we got a few treats from Sugar Mama's, which might be the food I liked the least on this trip, but it was good. And the night we went to Alamo Drafthouse, we went to Voodoo down the street for donuts. I couldn't pass up a chance to get me a Mango Tango! Of course they did not disappoint.

+ But seriously, nearly every eatery in Austin is beautifully designed. The Peached Tortilla also made it on my Austin list during my graphic design days and I'm glad we stopped! It wasn't mind-blowing food and I'm a little confused about their name since it was mostly Asian-fusion and the "tortilla" implies Mexican-fusion but whatever. We loved the vibe and beautiful decor. And they convinced me to have a sweet breakfast of ultra-fluffy melt in your mouth french toast with miso syrup that I really enjoyed.

+ Our hotel was a short walk away from THE Franklin BBQ so we walked down one morning. We went. We saw the line. We turned around and left. Good thing neither of us are BBQ obsessed.

+ Hands down, Odd Duck served the best food we ate in Austin. Sorry Torchy's. I made a reservation on a whim after seeing it recommended by Bon Appetit and I'm so glad we did.
1) The service was amazing. They didn't just point me to the restroom, they walked me there. They didn't just tell me what dishes were corn-free (sucky allergy to have because corn is in EVERYTHING in America), they made an annotated menu with available substitutions just for me.
2) The food. Oh man, the food. A good chunk of the menu is vegetable based, which I normally wouldn't love but the descriptions made it sound amazing. At any other restaurant, I'm not sure I would've ordered an egg-based, broccoli-based, or squash-based dish but we did here and it was incredible. In fact, I almost wanted to order another butternut squash dish for dessert. But not to worry because they had a butternut squash Baked Alaska that was just as good- butternut ice cream on top of a spice cake and covered in a toasted meringue. Excellent and perfect for sharing. Sometimes I go to a restaurant and it makes me want to go back to my culinary school days when I was studying and experimenting with food all the time, and Odd Duck did that for me. I love when I fall in love and feel inspired by the food I'm eating. 

+ You can bet we'll be vacationing in Austin again and we might even do exactly what we did on this trip. We had a lot of fun and definitely needed that quick weekend escape.