The 27th annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Conferences & Festivals landed in Austin on March 7 for 10 days of non-stop performances, panels, parties and film screenings throughout the city. And while brisket and breakfast tacos should be eaten often and enthusiastically, opt for a memorable meal at one of the following restaurants, all of which are centrally located yet feel worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the citywide extravaganza.
Chavez is the newest culinary venture from chef-owner Shawn Cirkiel, known for his nearby oyster mecca Parkside and The Backspace, which specializes in wood-fired Neapolitan pizza. Chavez features contemporary Southwestern cuisine in a modern, spacious setting realized by design guru Michael Hsu. Ditch the crowds to cool off with a smoked cherry margarita and some snacks from the raw bar while enjoying a beautiful view of Lady Bird Lake. Breakfast brings classics such as migas (tortilla strips, charred peppers and toast) and oak-fired steak and eggs, while lunch offerings include five kinds of tortas (flatbreads), and everything from lamb en mole to oyster taquitos (fried corn tortillas) can be found on the dinner menu. The hours will remain unchanged during the festival, including a daily happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m., with half off the entire bar menu. While reservations can be made on the phone or online, walk-ins are accepted as well.
Qui (and SouthBites)
The menu at Paul Qui’s eponymous eatery changes often, so you never know what creative dishes the winner of the ninth season of Top Chef: Texas might be serving on a given night. But the succulent 30-day dry-aged Niman Ranch côte du boeuf is a mainstay, contrasted with fluctuating items such as the fish toast (shima aji, mojo verde, Thai chili and trout roe) and the dinuguan (pork, blood, gnocchi and chickweed). Also not to be missed is the delicious take on halo halo (shaved ice, evaporated milk, fruits, jello, boiled sweet beans, and more) or the acclaimed Filipino-inspired cheddar cheese ice cream sandwich. Limited reservations will be accepted during SXSW, and the bar and patio area will be serving the bar menu and drinks such as tepache (aged pineapple, spice and Lone Star beer), recently named the official drink of Austin. For more casual fare, check out SouthBites, a pop-up food trailer park curated by Qui and his fiancé Deana Saukam. Besides Qui’s own popular East Side King concept and local favorites such as Micklethwait Craft Meats and Garbo’s Lobster Truck, diners can also look forward to ramen from Houston’s Goro & Gun and delicious frozen concoctions from Ohio’s Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.
Located just far enough east on Fifth Street to escape the ever-sprawling East Side venues, Justine’s is a cozy oasis where the only music you’ll hear during SXSW will be coming from the restaurant’s extensive record collection. Chef Casey Wilcox changes the specials daily at this French brasserie, but count on favorites such as the silky French onion soup and the juicy Royale burger with cheese (think Angus beef, Gruyère, tomato, and housemade mayonnaise on a ciabatta bun) to stay on the menu. And since the kitchen is open until 1:30 a.m., this is the place to fulfill a midnight steak frites craving, or to simply enjoy a cold glass of Kronenbourg while playing pétanque under the twinkling string lights. Only parties of six or more may make a reservation and the rest of the seats are fair game for walk-ins.
Chef Mat Clouser and his team serve delectably imaginative fare at Swift’s Attic, which, true to its name, is tucked away above the Congress Avenue jazz club, Elephant Room, (and is definitely worth a post-meal visit). Indulge in the steal of a “business lunch” special: only $8 for half a sandwich and soup, salad or fries with combos such as the “porkstrami” sandwich with fontina, Russian dressing and jalapeño kraut, and the Warm Brussels sprout salad with miso glaze, edamame-horseradish purée, watermelon radish and pickled grapes. A variety of small and large plates are served until late for dinner (11 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and midnight on Thursday and Friday). Sunday brunch brings creative offerings such as forbidden rice bibimbap and a “Pragel & Trox” plate (handmade pretzel bagel, house-smoked trout and accouterments). The bar area is the perfect place to rest between sets with one of the well-crafted cocktails — try the New Fashioned with ginger-infused Forty Creek Whisky, muddled grapefruit zest, grapefruit bitters and tarragon syrup — and a playful plated dessert by pastry chef Callie Speer, such as her signature “Popcorn & a Movie” (butter popcorn gelato, housemade candy bar, caramel corn and root beer gel).
LaV opened the doors of its much-anticipated, newly built space on Austin’s East Side on March 6. Executive chef Allison Jenkins and Advanced Sommelier Vilma Mazaite moved from Aspen to Austin for this new venture, joining forces with pastry tour de force Janina O’Leary. Design highlights include a breathtaking two-story wine room, glittering crystal chandeliers and oversized velvet pillows nestled against high-backed diamond-tufted seating. The upscale Provençal-inspired fare includes selections such as hand-cut pappardelle with lamb sausage, wood-oven bouillabaisse, pan-roasted monkfish with beluga lentils and warm beet vinaigrette, and veal two ways (cheek and sweetbreads with mustard spaetzle and shaved Brussels sprouts). Walk into the restaurant’s first two spaces, which have bars and plenty of room for lounging, but be sure to make a reservation for dinner in the third (and largest) dining room.
Photos Courtesy of Nick Simonite, Bonjwing Lee and Jody Horton