Weekend In Austin Texas – What To Eat

Weekend in Austin - Classic Austin Food Truck Park

I recently spent a weekend in Austin, Texas for a bachelor party and last fall the Fresh Hospitality squad did an epic food trip to Austin where we hit 17 restaurants in just over 24 hours (believe me I was stuffed after that one).

Being in the food business, I often get people asking me where to eat when they spend a weekend in Austin – so I thought it would be a great idea to create a quick blog post that lists some of my absolute favorite spots in Austin.

I don’t want to bombard with you with a ton of places so I’ve created a very selective list of only the best spots and ones that I most enjoyed while in Austin. Don’t miss the BBQ spots at the end! 

Epic Food Trucks

Gourdoughs – Big. Fat. Donuts.

http://gourdoughs.com/ 

Mandatory breakfast/brunch stop in Austin. You’ll get to experience the classic Austin style food truck park and chow down on some epically large and delicious donuts. My recommendation is to get the Mother Clucker for yoru savory fix (donut topped with fried chicken and a honey butter glaze) and polish off your sweet tooth with a delicious Heavenly Hash (brownie bites and marshmallow topped donuts). No weekend in Austin is complete without a stop at Gourdoughs. 

East Side King

http://www.eskaustin.com/

A delectable Thai and Asian food truck in Austin’s “dirty sixth” neighborhood. Warning – this food can be super spicy. It’s a mouth-burning can’t-stop-eating must-take-another-bite kind of heat that lingers for 20 minutes after you’re done eating – but its so damn good. You have to get the grilled bread as well – one of my all time favorite treats. Go here for dinner and enjoy the killer scene at this Austin food truck park.

Beer Gardens & Bars

Weekend in Austin - Bangers on Rainey Street

Bangers

http://bangersaustin.com/

Two of the three bars I recommend checking out are in Austin’s “Rainey Street” neighborhood. These are my personal favorite two, but the entire area has such a cool vibe that you will fall in love as soon as you set foot on the sidewalk. Bangers is a classic beer garden – with over 100 beers on tap and incredible – I mean incredible – sausages and brats. Sit down, enjoy a few beers – and don’t forget to try one of their ridiculous sausages.

Container Bar

http://austincontainerbar.com/

Another Rainey street bar – built almost entirely from shipping containers. This is a great spot to chill during the day. They have 2 sets of cornhole and possibly the most killer Fugees-inspired playlist I’ve ever heard. Between Container Bar and Bangers you will get a great feel for the scene in Austin and no weekend in Austin is complete without hitting up Rainey street.

Easy Tiger

http://easytigeraustin.com/

A uniquely Austin “Bakery and Beer Garden” – Easy Tiger’s baked goods are delicious – but the place really opens up at night when the beer garden comes to life. Sitting outside by the river you can enjoy a huge selection of beers on tap and play ping pong on one of their nearby ping pong tables. Plus, from Easy Tiger you can walk to Austin’s famous 6th street.

Tacos & Burgers

Torchys Tacos

http://torchystacos.com/

What would a trip to Austin be without Tacos? Torchy’s is a classic Austin taco spot with a great variety of delectable tacos. Check out the location on 1st street for another authentic Austin food truck park.

Tacodeli

http://www.tacodeli.com/

Another Austin taco joint that locals rave about – Tacodeli is the favorite of online marketing genius Noah Kagan (who happens to be an Austin native) – he recommends the Cowboy taco.

Hopdoddy Burger Bar

http://www.hopdoddy.com/

I had to throw in a few delicious burger joints as well. These are two local burger chains that are both great. Hopdoddy is a very upscale farm-to-table burger type of place with craft beers on tap and a killer atmosphere. If you’re in the mood for a good burger, you can’t go wrong here.

P. Terry’s

http://www.pterrys.com/

P. Terry’s is a much more old school double drive thru type burger joint – but if you want a delicious shake and a classic burger experience P. Terry’s is the place to go.

Barbecue Joints

Franklin Barbecue

https://franklinbarbecue.com/

Considered the premier barbecue spot in Austin. You’ll need fortitude to even attempt this one. The line stretches for blocks and blocks and people bring lawn chairs just to wait. That’s what it takes to eat at what’s widely considered one of the greatest BBQ restaurants in America.

La Barbecue

http://www.labarbecue.com/

Franklin BBQ’s feisty young competitor. La barbecue is considered among many in the BBQ world to be the new up-and-comer challenging Franklin for the best BBQ in Austin (and some of the seriously most insanely delicious beef brisket in the world). The wait is a bit more manageable here, and if you get there early enough you might be able to sneak in without too much of a wait. I still dream of the brisket here.

Salt Lick BBQ

https://www.saltlickbbq.com/

A world famous BBQ destination about 45 mins outside of Austin. The kind of place you go all afternoon for the live music, the killer gardens, and to soak in the scenery – but don’t miss the incredible BBQ as well.

Louis Mueller Barbecue

http://www.louiemuellerbarbecue.com/

An absolutely classic barbecue spot in Taylor, Texas (about a 45 min drive out of Austin) – Louis Mueller has been open since 1949. The beef brisket and the burnt ends are insane! Absolutely worth the drive for some truly authentic old-school Texas BBQ.

Matt Bodnar - Weekend in Austin

I hope you enjoyed this list – please let me know in the comments some of your favorite food spots and where you would eat for a weekend in Austin!

Why Fast Casual Is Not The Future Of The Restaurant Business

A new breed of restaurant is fast approaching on the horizon and starting to catch people’s attention. These concepts buck the traditional fast casual model in so many ways that it’s time to create a name for this new segment.

Who are the market leaders in Fast Casual? Despite all the up and comers, three stand apart as the dominant players in the space. Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Five Guys. These three goliaths dominate the market and the consumer’s mindshare when it comes to fast casual, the same way McDonald’s does for QSR.

I’ve heard people at restaurant industry conferences occasionally say things like “fast casual plus” or “premium fast casual” to try and describe this emerging market – but that doesn’t go far enough to capture it’s essence.

I’m officially drawing a line in the sand and calling this new segment FRESH CASUAL. Like Fast Casual before it, which sits definitively closer to the QSR side on the spectrum between QSR and Casual Dining, Fresh Casual sits on the same spectrum – but definitively closer to the casual or in some cases even fine dining side.

In essence, Fast Casual is casual dining quality food served in a QSR environment. Fresh Casual is a full casual dining experience with a limited (usually QSR) service model.

This may seem trivial at first, but the gulf between “Fast Casual” concepts and “Fresh Casual” competitors in the same exact space is so wide that it can no longer be ignored.

Here is how Fast Casual and Fresh Casual stack up on the MAJOR differences in market point (these are general categorizations and I realize that not every restaurant fits each definition perfectly).

Menu

Fast Casual – Customer driven menu. Most commonly featuring a “build your own” style menu where customers choose their protein, starch and flavor.

Fresh Casual – Chef driven menu. The menu is designed by a chef or culinary team to have specific dishes and flavor profiles. Often the menu is designed by a corporate chef and then executed by a kitchen staff in store.

Service Model

Fast Casual – Fast Casual differs little from the QSR service model – having customers order at a counter  and pick their food up there.

Fresh Casual – Fresh Casual retains counter ordering but then adds an additional layer of service –  running food to customers, refilling drinks, and bussing tables.  Once a customer orders at the counter, the rest of their service experience takes place at the table.

Décor & Design

Fast Casual – differs little from a traditional QSR design & décor, very sparse clean interiors, often with promotional materials and posters on the walls.

Fresh Casual – mimics a casual dining interior. Focus on higher quality furniture and fixtures as well as art and artifacts in store to create a relaxing and comfortable atmosphere.

Food Quality

Fast Casual – delivers higher quality than QSR, but still sometimes reheating and using frozen product. Prep and cooking is usually as simplified as possible

Fresh Casual – delivers food consistent with top quality casual or fine dining, often fresh and locally sourced and rarely frozen. More complex prep and cooking is required to deliver a higher quality of food

Platewear

Fast Casual – served with traditional QSR paper and disposable service ware

Fresh Casual – served on plateware and with glass (excluding to-go orders) similar to casual dining

Price Point

The price point is the same for both market segments – $8-12 dollars per meal.

Buildout

The square footage, which obviously varies between concepts, is similar in both Fast and Fresh Casual. Between 1500 and 4000 sq ft in a shopping center.

Now that you’ve got a better sense of this distinction, I want to point out 6 specific examples of the restaurants with the same type of food – currently both considered “fast casual” that are a world apart.

Mexican: Xoco vs. Chipotle

 

If you want to see what the future of restaurants looks like – visit Rick Bayless’s Xoco in Chicago. This beast of a Mexican concept is the most stark example distinguishing Fresh Casual from Fast Casual. As soon as you walk in the door you will realize exactly what I’m talking about (read here my site report on Xoco). Xoco is just on another level compared to Chipotle, Moe’s, or the other fast casual Mexican and burrito players.  The ambiance, the food quality, the service all fit perfectly into the fresh casual mold. The open kitchen showcases the handmade breads as well as the freshly prepared torta and soup. The ambiance is warm and cozy like a sit down restaurant – and after you order from the counter the service model is indistinguishable from top level casual dining.

Asian: Pei Wei vs. Panda Express

Pei Wei, one of the older players in the space, fits the Fresh Casual mold to a tee. It is a full blown casual dining restaurant that simply begins your order at a counter. The look, the feel, the service, the food quality etc all stand apart from a Panda Express (or even Chipotle’s new entry into the market Shop House) to such a degree that you can’t help but put Pei Wei in another category all to itself.

Italian: Vapiano vs. Nooi Pasta

 

Vapiano is a fresh casual Italian concept that hails from Europe. Despite their counter based service model, their food quality is astounding and the ambiance is very much that of casual dining. The cooks hand make pasta daily and boil it to order, pizzas are made from scratch before your eyes. The flavors are bold and delicious and so fresh.  While Fast Casual Italian is still a very young and under-served market, the fledging competitors in the space can’t hold a candle to Vapiano in terms of food quality or ambiance. (Learn more about fast casual Italian.)

Burgers: Shake Shack vs. Five Guys

 

I personal think the burger space is a huge bubble right now and there are too many concepts for all of them to survive. That said, one of the survivors will almost certainly be Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack. Meyer of Setting The Table fame is one of New York’s premier restaurateurs and arguably one of the guys who kicked off the entire “better burger” craze. After building a near empire in NYC’s restaurant scene Meyer finally decide to scale one of his concepts – and he chose Shake Shack. The chef driven deliciousness of Shake Shack is a fresh casual triumph over the build-your-own burgers of Five Guys. The freshness, quality , and flavor of Shake Shack’s food creates an unquestionable gulf between the plethora of fast casual burger joints and the big boys like Shake Shack.

Bakery Cafe: Wildflower vs. Panera Bread

 

Wildflower is a 10,000 ton missile aiming straight for Panera. I first ate here out in Phoenix for the RLC 2012. I had heard several people hyping Wildflower up and I was convinced that there was no way it could live up to the hype. Wrong. Wildflower is a Panera with great food, a full kitchen, a much sexier ambiance, and tremendous customer service. One spicy chipotle egg sandwich or order of pancakes (oh those fluffy, fluffy pancakes) at Wildflower and you will know the difference between Fresh Casual and Fast Casual.

Mediterranean: Taziki’s vs. Garbanzo

 

Ok ok I know,  I put Taziki’s on the list. But at Taziki’s we set out every day to define ourselves as Fresh Casual – to bring a new and better experience to our customers. Taziki’s food is all made completely fresh every day, no freezers and no fryers in the entire store. Our entire menu is designed by our team of chefs to craft delightful, different, and delicious flavor combinations. The décor is soft and inviting like a casual dining restaurant. The service model delivers much more to the customer than a traditional counter model, food is delivered to the customer’s table, drinks are refilled, and the table is bussed for the customer. Similar players in the Mediterranean space like Garbanzo and Roti are both focused on assembly line style build your own menus, with sparse metallic interior and counter only service (essentially replicating Chipotle’s model but replacing the proteins and starches with Mediterranean ones).

See For Yourself

Words can only do this distinction so much justice. Get out in the world and see these concepts for yourself. Eat at one and then the other and you will know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that Fresh Casual is here to stay. After travelling across the country week after week and personally visiting all of these concepts, I can say hands down that Fresh Casual is real and it’s a serious force to be reckoned with.

What 43 Hours In Denver Taught Me About Fast Casual (Part 2)

This is the second post in a series about Fresh Hospitality’s latest trip to Denver, Colorado to scout out some big competitors and learn more about them. These are just the raw facts and our thoughts from the trip – hope you enjoy. (Find Part One Here)

Next stop on the Fresh Express was the highly impressive fast casual concept Tokyo Joes. These guys executed very effectively and have a great concept.

Tokyo Joes

http://tokyojoes.com/

Tokyo Joes is an Asian (Japanese) fast casual concept located in Denver. In just the Denver market Tokyo Joes has 25 locations. What does that tell you about the strength of the concept? These is a very real contender in the fast casual space right now.

Tokyo Joes was structured with a build your own menu where you select your protein, carb, sauces etc and it also featured some pre-made dishes. Tokyo Joes did have the server bring the food out to you and had very friendly service across the board.

Tokyo Joes had great use of some awkward interior spaces, community seating, and wall seating. They also continued the trend of hammering the customer with the message that their food is healthy and local (full details here). We went in the late afternoon but you can tell that Joe’s does a really strong lunch.

 

Tokyo Joes is probably one of the strongest concepts in Denver and the leading fast casual restaurant. We also think the strong presence of Tokyo Joes may be why Chipotle (based originally out of Denver) chose to open their Asian fast casual concept ShopHouse in the DC market first instead of their native Denver.

Wanna see where the big lessons we learned on our trip? Find part three of our scouting trip right here.