Every year, around the second week of March, the floodgates of South By Southwest open, and every single music person/media person/tech person/PR person/hustler in the country suddenly descends upon our city.
You either fall into the camp of the descenders or the descended upon. But it doesn’t matter. If you’re a human being in Austin during SXSW, you’re going to feel the need to get the f*ck out at some point or another. And not just to the same place that every other attendee is using as an escape valve. You need actual distance. You need food and alcohol. And you need a place where “networking” is considered a bad word. Here are the best restaurants and bars in Austin to escape SXSW.
There is nothing slick or cool or even a little bit trendy about Quality Seafood. It feels like the kind of place you find in places even more landlocked than Austin, which is slightly confusing because they only serve seafood. But if you’re sick of being surrounded by people who seem to only eat foods involving turmeric and matcha, come here for some quality (and cheap) oysters, fried fish, and zero pretension.
“Keep Austin Weird” is the city’s official unofficial slogan, but things like SXSW and coastal-city expats and over-funded startups are threatening to render that saying completely meaningless. Thankfully, there are places like Paco’s Tacos still keeping the spirit alive, and doing so still mostly under the radar. Come here for breakfast tacos, a Bloody Mary bar, and a funky patio where you can hide from all the people you’re so tired of conversing about “scaling” with.
You're visiting Austin. So you want margaritas. And you want guacamole. And if you come from a place like NYC, you also want to be somewhere where you can enjoy the 80+ degree weather in March. But what you don’t want is to be told you need to wait two hours to enjoy those things. That’s when you head to El Alma, the centrally-located Mexican spot that, for some reason, many still don’t know about. Their margs and guac are great, but what’s even better is their multi-level back patio situation. You’ll want to camp out there for a while.
Austin used to be a pizza desert. You might as well have been eating DiGiornio - there weren’t much better options. That’s no longer the case, but if your goal is to avoid the SXSW masses, stay far away from the obvious pizza picks like Homeslice or Bufalina. Instead, make moves for Little Deli, a mom and pop joint in a residential part of North Austin. The pies are great, and so is the extremely chill, string-light and picnic table covered patio on which you’ll eat them. Don’t forget to pick up a six-pack or three on your way - it’s BYOB.
You’ve been doing some combination of networking, drinking, conference-watching, concert attending, and more networking for 14 hours. You need tacos, and you need to stuff a shameful number of them into your mouth without anyone watching. You need to go to Rosita’s. This taco truck off the beaten bath not only makes some of the best ones in town - it’s also open really late. Write its name on your arm so no matter how delirious (or drunk) you get, you know where to go at the end of the night.
You need to eat some BBQ, but you’ve come to the tough conclusion that you cannot, in fact, actually get away with spending eight hours of your work-sanctioned trip waiting in line for brisket at Franklin’s. And honestly, you don’t need to. Keep driving down the street from the place with the 200-person line and you’ll find Micklethwait sitting in a tiny little field off the side of the road, operating out of a couple trailers. Get there on the earlier side if you want your pick of the full menu, as they do run out of stuff. This isn’t Franklin’s, but this is still Austin.
If you’re visiting for SXSW, you’ve already been told you should be doing all of your drinking and hanging on the Eastside. But we’re willing to bet that no one told you about Buenos Aires. This is a cute little Argentinian spot that’s been serving quality food for years, and an excellent place for a low-key meal with that friend or two you’re actually excited to catch up with.
Say it with us now: avocado margaritas. If you’re not already convinced, know that Curra’s is an Austin institution - and one that represents what this town looked like before it became The Coolest Place To Live. (That’s a good thing.) While all the other SXSW people fall into one of the many Instagram traps around town, come here for no-frills Mexican food and the kind of laid-back environment you’re in search of after too many hours spent small talking.
Tacos might be Austin’s greatest achievement - you can find excellent ones everywhere. But if you’re looking for truly next-level tacos (deep fried egg yolks, duck confit) that not everyone else knows about, look no further than Tyson’s - a gourmet taco spot on a stretch of Airport Blvd not highly trafficked by tourists. If all that SXSW music has left you feeling inspired, you can play their ukelele for a chance at a free taco.
A dive bar on an access road of Highway 290 that feels like a classed up drug front and/or strip club (to be clear, there aren’t any naked people - but it feels like there should be). The bartenders are incredibly nice, and there’s a yuppie force field at the front door prohibiting all people with fancy jeans from entering the premise.
This Southside haven of friendly vibes, breakfast tacos (courtesy of Veracruz All Natural), cold brew coffee, and beer is a prime spot for launching your next LLC, or for an unpretentious date hang with that cool chick you met last night. This place is best used for an escape during the day - it gets more crowded at night.
You would expect to find a convenience store off the side of the highway. But you wouldn’t expect to find an Indian restaurant/brew pub/music venue/killer patio disguised as a convenience store off the side of the highway. And that’s exactly why you should keep Whip In at the top of your mind for when you need to hide from all people you’ve been talking to all week.
You were chatting with a few people at a panel, and then those few people turned into eight people, and then you went to another event and now you’re rolling deep with 15 people ready to drink beer and continue using each other for their connections. Head for the ABGB, a warehouse/beer garden well-equipped for huge groups if humans. Even during SXSW.
This is the beer bar to bring your dad, philosophy professor, or your friends to enjoy conversation over one of the best rotating tap selections in town. If you're around on a Saturday, come enjoy their free bratwursts.
A campus favorite, this is a place where students will come to pound a pitcher of beer and attempt to do their lit homework. It’s nothing special - all the better for your under the radar needs. They happen to serve a great burger too.
This dive is made for the bar-goer who gives the least amount of shits. Come ready to play pool and pound some shots. If not, get the f*ck out. This is as no- frills as no-frills gets.
Similar to Barfly’s, but on a smaller scale. This Christmas light-covered dive looks like a pool hall where rich men go to drink away the sadness surrounding their miserable marriage before making the drive home to their mini-mansions. If you’re not a cynic, you might think it looks like a set from Friday Night Lights.