Food & Drink

The Secret Austin Restaurants You Can Only Find in Gas Stations

Published On 03/09/2017
Rudy's "Country Store" and Bar-B-Q

Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q

Rollingwood

Rudy’s epitomizes the cultural power of gas-station dining in Texas. Starting out as a mini-mart/barbecue shack on the side of the highway, it now has multiple locations throughout the Southwest, all selling the same reliably tender brisket smeared with syrupy BBQ sauce. You can still fill your tank, too, although prices have increased considerably since Rudy opened that grocery store in 1929.

JD’s Market

Shady Hollow

With its charmless fluorescent-drenched atmosphere and aisles of beef jerky and Takis, JD’s is pretty much the prototypical gas station restaurant. That said, the Mexican lunch counter at the back is also a prime example of the kind of culinary oasis you can stumble across if you run out of gas at the right time. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but good lord, the carnitas alone are worth pulling over for. Pro tip: Get them on a soft white bun, have them wrapped, and allow a little time for the flavors to settle and meld.

Taqueria Mi Trailita

Taqueria Mi Trailita

St. Edwards

This unassuming little food truck in a Gulf Gas Station parking lot serves up elaborately marinated meats of all varieties, in gordita, taco, or quesadilla form. Everything is crisped up on the ancient, beloved griddle, and laced with mild white cheese if you ask for it (you should). Taqueria Mi Trailita boasts the virtues of being vegetarian-friendly, super-cheap, and open till midnight (1am on Saturdays), making it a great stop for a quesadilla run to cap off a night on the town -- with a designated driver, of course.

Tierra Linda

North Austin

Pretty much every gas station in Austin will sell you breakfast tacos of one kind or another, whether they’re steam-table beauties with rubbery eggs or a couple of aluminum-foil pods pulled out of the bottom of a freezer and microwaved at your “convenience.” Save yourself the pain of a mediocre taco and go straight to Tierra Linda, the best gasser for breakfast tacos in town. The chorizo, egg, and potato is a favorite: fluffy eggs are studded with potatoes and crunchy little striations of chorizo, topped off with some creamy, spicy avocado salsa. These folks don’t mess around -- seriously, they make their own tortillas!

Giovannis Pizza Stand

Giovanni’s Pizza Stand

South Lamar

Texas isn’t exactly known for its pizza, but Giovanni’s does a pretty damn good job, especially considering it’s located inside a Valero. The pizzas are freshly made with a pillowy dough that forms a crispy crust, and whether you go with the pared-down Margherita, or the Greek pizza with olives, spinach, and feta, the toppings here are always spot on. The pasta is what really stands out, though, particularly the penne arrabbiata with chipotle peppers in spicy tomato sauce -- it’s the Tex-Italian combo you never knew you needed.

Chicken Lollypop

North Lamar

Hidden inside a nondescript mini-mart, Chicken Lollypop is home to some of Austin’s most unique Indo-Chinese food, with the added bonus of offering tons of options for your vegetarian passengers. Its overloaded naan wraps, tongue-tingling chili paneer fried rice, and the titular chicken lollypop -- spicy tandoori chicken with a sticky burnt glaze -- are all well worth a detour.

The Vegan Nom

The Vegan Nom

Windsor Park

If you’re a vegan, it’s a little harder to find top-notch gas station comestibles, as nearly every taco truck you might pop into is meat-focused -- even the beans in most burritos are usually cooked with lard. Fortunately, plausible deniability isn’t your only option! The Vegan Nom is here to save the day with its full menu of vegan tacos, including a variety of tofu scrambles, served all day.

El Norteño Pollos Asados

East MLK

There’s nothing remotely glamorous about El Norteño, a grimy-looking white truck tucked into a nook in the back of the parking lot of a Texaco station. What it lacks in glamour, though, it makes up for with the greatest al pastor known to man, rotating on a spit with a big hunk of pineapple on top. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Kinfolk BBQ

Jr’s Tacos

Tanglewood

If you’re a vegetarian at Jr’s, you’re pretty much screwed. For carnivores, though, this place is the answer to your gas-station Mexican food prayers. It has a full menu beyond tacos, including killer chicken enchiladas and breakfast burritos the size of a small child. Plus, the spicy, garlicky, and creamy homemade green sauce is the stuff breath-ruining dreams are made of.

Kinfolk BBQ

East Austin

If you’ve already spent a ton of time in your car, why not get some barbecue and fulfill two Austin stereotypes at once? Kinfolk’s brisket is the most underrated in town, slow-smoked in the old-fashioned style until it gets a thick charred crust, an aspect of Texas BBQ neglected by fancier joints that focus on slow melting fat and supple tenderness over the less elegant heft and chaw of a crusty end slice. This place is bare-bones delicious and, if you call ahead, it’ll pack up enough some of that delectably smoked brisket to feed a small army in the time it takes you to fill your tank.

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Austin's Best New Restaurants of 2017

Published On 11/13/2017
T here were plenty of restaurant openings in Austin this year, but the best ones all had a few things in common: comforting, un-gimmicky foods, served in chic surroundings, by (unsurprisingly) the top culinary talent in the city. They may not be the places with 4-dollar-sign price points, or the ones with two-hour weekend waits, but each of the restaurants below quickly earned top spots on Austin’s “You’ve gotta eat here” board. Whether you start with pimento and peacocks on the patio of a historic Victorian home, or by submitting your naughtiest behavior into a confessional box after an order of fries and soft serve, you’ll enjoy eating your way through Austin’s best new restaurants of 2017.
Thomas Allison / Thrillist

Bonhomie

Burnet Avenue

Casual-yet-refined French/American diner with classic cocktails
Chosen as one of Thrillist's Prime 13 best new restaurants of 2017, this French bistro/American diner mashup features the tinge of Asian flavors you’d expect from chef Philip Speer, former director of culinary operations at Uchi. Don’t expect to find any pretension here -- Bonhomie is approachable, casual, comforting, and yes, affordable! The double-meat burger is oozing with Dijonnaise and cheese, the pommes rosti are crispy potato birds’ nests with toppings like roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, and spinach (our favorite), and the croque monsieur and French onion soup are so over-the-top-rich that you practically have to share them. There are no literally no wrong choices, except not dining here -- or drinking here, thanks to the full bar and fantastic cocktail list.

Robert Lerma

Holy Roller

Downtown

Comfort food, cocktails, and kitsch from pastry chef Callie Speer
Callie Speer, former pastry chef of Swift’s Attic and Geraldine’s, opened punk rock diner Holy Roller as a labor of love, alongside an all-star team of women including beverage director Jen Keyser. The menu is full of comfort food, and each Texas classic is stamped with Callie Speer’s signature whimsy, like the addictive Trash Fries (gravy, sunny-side egg, sour cream, corn, lime, and cotija cheese) and the migas kolache (stuffed with queso, crispy potatoes, and jalapeño). Better still, Holy Roller caters to Austin’s brunch-obsessed masses by serving it all day on Sundays, including the Sunday School menu of pastries and tasty cocktails based off the Seven Deadly Sins. Drop a confession note in the box by the bathroom, and it might just get chosen as inspiration for Holy Roller’s next special cocktail.

Kemuri Tatsu-ya

East Austin

Mash-up of a Texas smokehouse and a Japanese gastropub
Describing Kemuri Tatsu-ya to the uninitiated gets convoluted: a Japanese izakaya in a former Eastside BBQ joint, with Texas influences and a killer Japanese whisky selection? Sure. The menu starts with bites like the uber-popular, Gouda-and-brisket-stuffed Hot Pocketz, and ends with ramen served with a thick dipping broth and fiery jalapeños, but not without a few twists and turns along the way. The “odd bits” menu offers tiny dishes of the (very) funky squid marinated in its own guts, as well as sweet and sour marinated jellyfish, while the yakitori offerings range from familiar chicken meatballs to challenging chicken hearts. And don’t even get us started on the cocktail program; arguably one of the best in Austin, the menu features fun, shareable portions served in kitschy vessels (like the Matcha Pain Killer, served in a cat-shaped cup). Think of Kemuri Tatsu-ya as a choose-your-own-adventure dining experience; stay in your comfort zone or get weird, it’s all up to you. Whatever you do, though, order a crisp Orion lager: it gives your go-to light beer a run for its money.

Nicolai McCrary

Soursop

South Congress

Pan-Asian fusion served on the patio of a craft brewery
Soursop, the pan-Asian trailer serving bar food on the patio of St. Elmo Brewing Co. is a standout in the neighborhood, the food truck landscape, and Austin in general for a few reasons: inventive flavor profiles, the fact that St. Elmo’s beers magically pair with everything on the menu, and the culinary team’s (possibly tongue-in-cheek?) shrine to Guy Fieri. Menu offerings occasionally change, but our favorites don’t appear to be going anywhere -- namely the Water-Burger (a refreshing burger made with ground chuck and brisket, caramelized onion ranch, lettuce, marinated cucumber, garlic pepper, and toasted rice powder), and the huge, sticky sambal wings (jumbo whole wings, Thai chili, palm sugar, fish sauce, coconut vinegar, peanut, mint).

Charles Reagan

Native Hostel

East Austin

Upscale hostel and bar serving modern diner classics
Hip digs and a kitchen with generous hours add up to Austin’s newest hotspot for sleeping, eating, drinking, and checking out live music and DJs. The kitchen has everything an Austin guest (or resident) could want, comforting diner food, brunch and lots of vegetarian options. With picks like the fried chicken sandwich (pickle brined chicken, dill pickles, pickled peppers, mayo) and the meatless chilaquiles (veggie chorizo, corn tortilla chips, pickled peppers, tomato, avocado, queso and sunny-side-up egg), this is the sort of food that late dinners and (ahem, challenging) breakfasts require. Pro tip: Native serves brunch until 3pm on weekends.

El Chipirón

South Lamar

Spanish tapas and cocktails found on first floor of residential building
A new kid on the block, El Chipirón earns its stripes with Spanish tapas and pintxos in a modern Euro setting alongside a lovely cocktail menu with an emphasis on gin and tonics (like The Tejano, which involves lots of smoke and herbs). The menu is decked out with meat and cheese boards, small plates, and a couple of large options like the juicy lomo de vaca (44 Farms strip steak, Padrón pepper, LaFou demi-glace, tomato, potato); standouts include the squid ink (colored and flavored) black rice with squid, mussels and scallops and tabla de ibéricos loaded with Spanish chorizo, Iberian ham, salchichón, and accoutrements.

Laura Hajar

Pitchfork Pretty

East Cesar Chavez

Stylish eatery taking a chef-forward approach to modern Southern fare
Helmed by executive chef Max Snyder, Pitchfork Pretty appeared seemingly out of nowhere -- before anyone realized what happened, East Cesar Chavez was home to a design-forward, A-frame building with a mix of chef-y small plates and hearty fried chicken, and cocktails that satisfy both the cucumber margarita and whiskey crowds. The concept is hard to pin down but easy to fall in love with. Critics are rightly swooning over the pickled quail egg on crispy leeks -- a perfect bite consumed like you would an oyster -- and the gluten-free, chickpea flour-breaded fried chicken brined in a habanero vinegar.

bao'd up

Bao'd Up

Mueller

Fast casual joint for steamed buns and bubble tea
Bao’d Up, Mueller’s new steamed-bun-dedicated restaurant from chef Ting Li, is making waves with its bite-size offerings made with the sticky, steamed bread in multiple forms: baozi, mantou, gua bao, and bao fries. We like the simple BBQ pork bao and Szechuan fries topped with spicy mayo, sesame, and green onion, and no trip to Bao’d Up is complete without a build-your-own bubble drink; the matcha and taro are favorites.

Nick Simonite

Mattie's

Bouldin Creek

Elevated Southern cuisine served among live oaks and peacocks
The former Green Pastures (which now refers solely to the event space), Mattie’s is the revamped new concept from Austin developer Greg Porter and La Corsha Hospitality -- which operates Second Bar + Kitchen and Boiler Nine. With its marble countertops, exquisite light fixtures, copper hardware, and textured wallpaper that begs to be touched, the new skin applied to the home’s old bones is incredibly gorgeous to behold. The menu is also just as impressive, whether you’re having dinner in one of the many dining rooms or on the lawn alongside the resident peacocks. Southern dishes sprinkled with French and Asian influence as well as untouched classics like pimento cheese and fried chicken eggs Benedict sparkle at Mattie’s... just as much as the dreamy surroundings.