As SXSW gets underway, let's turn our attention to hitting the road. Many folks will be visiting Austin in the coming week, and if you're among them, and not entirely game for waiting in line for half a day to eat barbecue, here are a handful of fine establishments that are worth a try.
Odd Duck, 1201 S. Lamar
Located away from the immediate zombie hoards that will be overtaking 6th Street and surrounding area, this South Lamar eatery does shareable plates and incredible cocktails packed with big flavors from the folks behind famed Austin restaurant Barley Swine and the former Odd Duck food truck. It’s sort of a glorified bar where you’re as likely to find pull apart pretzels stuffed with pig face carnitas as you are a plate of cornbread-stuffed quail. What you definitely don’t want to miss: The house paloma, a fizzy and inviting take on the refreshing grapefruit cocktail.
A walk down to The Golden Goose 2034 S Lamar, from here is a also a good idea. The neighborhood bar has a mid-century appeal, unfussy crowd, and killer juke box. Get a copper mug filled with a strong ice cold mule, or order off the list of intriguing cocktails.
Red Headed Stepchild, near 5th and Congress
You have to look for the Floppy Disk Repair Co. signage to find this downtown speakeasy, as it doesn’t actually advertise its location. You’ll also need a passcode to get in or a random stranger who feels like holding the door for you. Inside the decor borders on kitschy yet morbid and the drinks are much the same, harkening back to the horrors of college-aged drinking—refined amaretto sours, housemade SoCo.
There is an actual drink called the Gary's Fire Crotch Margarita. I opted for the Purple Drank, a fine variation of a lowbrow diabetic punch in a styrofoam cup with an ample amount of cinnamon to snazz-up the flavor profile. If you appreciate an air of the absurd along with creepy doll heads, ax murderers and watching grown men sip from bottles of boozy cereal milk, this is the spot to go have a scare, right down to the ax door handles in the bathroom.
Easy Tiger, 709 E 6th
It's a bake shop. It's a beer garden. And no doubt it will be mobbed during SXSW, but this downtown hub is definitely worth attempting to snag a seat outside at happy hour, maybe even get in a game of ping pong or two before the sun goes down. A fine selection of craft brews, pretzels with housemade pimento for dipping, and a great cheese board are all made better by a killer selection of sausage. The venison and cheese sausage with pickled peppers is a fine choice. The attached bakery lends its bevy of breads to the fromage plate, making for a pretty epic snacking situation.
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Second Bar + Kitchen, 200 Congress
A true lunch gem with numerous options, from sizable salads to a legit burger, the wood-fired pizzas really shine at this Congress Street hub. The truffle-laced black and bleu cheese pizza, with bits of pork belly confit and sweet medjool dates, is extremely decadent. The pizza bianco with the addition of housemade veal meatballs and arugula works as a lovely companion to it. Bonus: Outdoor seating is also available.
On the way out the door, you might always want to check out the neighboring location of Austin coffee favorite Caffe Medicci, 200 Congress, #2B, which has its own wrap around coffee bar as well as a quick walk-up counter. They also carry really delicious chocolate chip cookies from Blackbird Bakery that are... restrain your severe eye-rolling... gluten-free, though you'd never know it.