Austin's South by Southwest Festival 2014 (SXSW) kicks off next week, when the massive 10-day event returns with its blend of live music, independent films, and emerging technologies. Despite a packed lineup, there are still pockets of time that allow for meals at some of Austin’s new dining attractions.
While most of the hot spots will be under siege during the festival, it's still possible to experience some highlights of the culinary scene if you plan accordingly. Of course, you can start shopping for reservations now, but many Austin restaurants have a no-reservations policy, meaning first-come, first-served is a way of life. With that in mind, it's best to dine at the best spots during off-peak times; that way, you can nab a seat quickly and get back to your program as quickly as possible.
Keep in mind that the weather is usually perfect during the SXSW week, so take advantage of restaurants like Austin sushi favorite Uchi, which serves special bites from the kitchen while you wait for a table in their Japanese garden. You’ll find that other restaurants offer patio specials as well, and there’s no better way to enjoy Austin than out on a breezy porch. Here are some tips for the other restaurants you won’t want to miss in Austin.
East 6th Street: Qui
One of the most widely buzzed-about restaurants of the year, Qui is the brainchild of James Beard Award-winning chef Paul Qui. While the menu is somewhat Asian-inspired, dishes range considerably in both technique and flavor, from creamy potage poured over seasonal local veggies (an ode to Michel Bras) to the restaurant’s signature main course, “Rabbit 7 Ways,” which showcases the humble animal in a nose-to-tail fashion.
Aside from a few private parties booked on the early end of SXSW, Qui is open to the public—although it's best to book a reservation immediately. Walk-ins are also welcome, and although there’s often a wait, small parties can usually get seated pretty quickly. Just order a cocktail at the bar, which also serves the full menu, or head to the patio, where you can enjoy Qui’s specialty Philippine “Pulutan” pub-food menu. And if the wait is really long, leave your name and number with the host staff; they’ll ring you when it’s time to make your way back for your table.
Downtown 6th Street: Easy Tiger
During SXSW, this stretch of 6th Street is nothing short of madness, and Easy Tiger, with its bakeshop and beer garden, is a central hub for food and beer lovers. With one of the best beer lists in town, not to mention a tasty selection of cheese and charcuterie boards, house-made sausages, clever bar snacks, and monster artisan sandwiches, it will be nearly impossible to get in by the time night rolls around.
The restaurant is set to close for private parties all but four nights of the event week, but you can check their Facebook and Twitter feed for special announcements about the nights it will remain open. Don’t forget that this place is also a bakery by day—and one of the best in the city. If nothing else, stop in for a buttery croissant and a hot cup of coffee in between music sets.
West 6th Street: Arro
While it may be a fight to get into Easy Tiger, you may have better luck at its new French-gilded sister, Arro. Manned by Easy Tiger’s chef-owner Andrew Curren, Arro offers a casual yet refined spin on French bistro classics such as croque monsieur and steak frites. For a superb dining experience, the $25 three-course menu is an absolute steal. Plus, on weekdays from 5 pm to 7 pm, the restaurant features a special Cinq à Sept happy hour with food and drinks for $5 to $7: pours from the exclusively French wine menu, specialty cocktails like the house specialty Arro G&T (with No. 209 Gin, Caonton, Bosc pear purée, and lemon), and appetizers like classic raclette (melted cheese over Parisian ham, herb-poached potatoes, and pickled vegetables).
All in all, this is a perfect spot for a quick re-fuel before the evening shows. While reservations are definitely required during peak times, your best bet is to come late after shows have wound down.
East Cesar Chavez: Bufalina
Located on Austin’s east side, this petite restaurant may be small in size, but it’s unquestionably big on pizza appeal. With less than a year under its belt, Bufalina specializes in artisan Neapolitan pizza fired straight from a brick oven imported from Italy. These light and savory pies are a perfect centerpiece to a handful of starters that are whipped up daily with seasonal local ingredients, plus a side of the house-made mozzarella of the day.
Be sure to take advantage of restaurant's wide selection of local brews and astute offering of global wines. Bufalina enforces a strict no-reservations policy and is currently free of private party bookings throughout the week of SXSW. The best way to get in on the action here is to sneak in when it opens at 5 pm, or later in the evening, near closing time at 11:30 pm.
Rainey Street District: Craft Pride and Via 313
Taste what Texas craft brewing has to offer in a beer hall that's dedicated to Texas beers, located in the hip Rainey Street District. With more than 54 craft brews on tap from across the state, Craft Pride is the best place to taste a variety of local beers. Out back, enjoy the fresh spring weather and a piping-hot square of Detroit-style pizza from Via 313, a food trailer owned by two brothers who put their own fresh twist on Sicilian-style pizza. All of the dough is cold-fermented for at least 24 hours to yield a special chewy texture and yeasty flavor. Next, a generously thick layer of salty cheese is spread right to the crust's edge and drizzled with a house-made marinara sauce, which caramelizes with the dough to produce a nice, crispy crust.
South Lamar: Odd Duck
This storied food-trailer-turned-restaurant recently opened to a swarm of Austin foodie fans. Headed up by James Beard Award-nominated chef Bryce Gilmore, Odd Duck is baby brother to the heralded Barley Swine, located a few block down the road. As you might expect, creativity runs deep in this family, with uniquely flavored dishes that seem relatively straightforward but arrive with a bit of surprise. Mustard-seed tater tots are a deep-fried revelation served with a creamy smoked-fish dip, fish tacos are served with redfish prepared two different ways, and citrus cabbage and crunchy sunflower seed candy are must-try items. Don't leave without a trying a chocolate-potato-chip cookie, the perfect sweet-and-salty finish to any meal.
The restaurant takes reservations for about half of the tables but also welcomes a steady flow of walk-ins. To avoid the masses, slip in for the recently launched lunch menu, available Monday through Friday.
Plan the perfect trip to Austin with recommendations and advice from the experts at Fodor’s Travel, including useful tips for SXSW 2014. Whether you’re planning months in advance or last minute, discover the best of Austin, book hotels, and receive discounts on attractions right from the Austin Fodor's city app on iTunes.