Food & Drink

Austin Unchained: Local Alternatives to Classic Fast-Food Cravings

Published On 11/14/2016 Published On 11/14/2016

While we can appreciate the affordability and availability of chain restaurants, let’s be real: You can do better. So to help you make the transition from questionable fast food and suspicious fried [fill in the blank] appetizers, we’ve scouted out some Austin spots serving up similar items destined to satisfy your guilty cravings. After all, if you’ve been bragging about being a local, it’s about time you put your money where your mouth is.

Courtesy of Frank

When you’re craving the crunch of waffle fries...

Frank

Address and Info

Downtown

While Frank is best known for hot dogs and cold beer, if you’re looking for a hot-and-crispy snack or are participating in some alternate-reality race for which waffles fries constitute “carbing up,” Frank has also got you covered. Although The Jackalope is a close contender in this category, Frank wins extra points for their smothering skills, and whether you opt for the Chili Cheese, Queso, Reuben, Canadian Waffle Poutine, or even the vegan option, it’s way more satisfying than dipping your fries into a pathetic little container of something like Polynesian sauce. And, even better, these waffle fries are even available on Sunday.

When you feel like a frappe

Bennu Coffee

Address and Info

East MLK

You don’t have to wear Uggs, appreciate Bon Iver, or identify with the term “basic” to enjoy drinks of the frap-a-whatever variety in Austin.This 24-hour establishment -- a student favorite -- offers frappes in latte, vanilla, and mocha flavors that are sure to give you a caffeine kick and simultaneous sugar rush. Sorry, you’re still SOL when it comes to the PSL.

Arlo's

When a big, sloppy burger is essential...

Arlo’s

Address and Info

Red River, North Campus

We already whine about Californians, so why not take it one-step further and boycott their burger, opting instead to chow down, uh, animal-style on an Austin-based option. Though Arlo’s is admittedly a vegan equivalent and wouldn’t qualify as the fastest of foods -- especially given their popularity around 1 am -- this is some seriously messy, meat-free fare that will satisfy anyone’s munchies. Haters will say it’s... real?

When you’re in need of some serious breadstick-and-salad action...

Reale’s Pizza & Cafe

Address and Info

Anderson Mill

If your mother were to accompany you to Reale’s, she’d warn you not too eat too many breadsticks so you don’t ruin your meal. You wouldn’t listen, though, because these things are basically crack in garlic-coated-carb form and -- even better -- come free with every entree. (You also get some salad... if you’re into that.) Warning: You will be unbuttoning your pants and totally hating yourself afterwards, but hey... it’s worth it.

Flickr/Jessica Spengler

When it’s 2am or 2pm and you need a big pile of pancakes...

Star Seeds Cafe

Address and Info

East Austin

A one-off local spot boasting breakfast 24/7, Star Seeds has an authentic retro vibe that simply can’t be reproduced by off-every-other-freeway-exit diners -- no matter how many special syrups they offer. While Magnolia Cafe and Kerbey Lane are also tasty options, there’s the sense that some weird shit has gone down over the years during Star Seeds’ “Legendary Austin Late Nights”... though there’s probably never a free pancake day.

When you want to dunk some donuts...

Little Lucy’s

Address and Info

Rainey St

This Rainey St spot deals exclusively in mini-donuts (meaning you can eat like a million), and doles out rings of the sugar-coated fried pastry from a hot pink truck until 12:30am on weekdays and 2am on weekends. The only catch is that the opening hours (7pm weekdays, 3pm weekends) mean that you can’t score them during the “traditional” breakfast window. That being said, you’ve never been a traditionalist, and everyone knows donuts taste better post-drinks anyway.

Sundaze

When you’ve got fried-chicken fever...

Sundaze

Address and Info

South Lamar

Whether you want to wrap your mouth around a fat fried-chicken sandwich or dip some crunchy chicken nuggets into a sweet selection of sauces, this food truck can provide with both carnivorous and vegan options of each -- any of which would put any clown or colonel to shame.

Changos Taqueria

When nothing will do but a big-ass burrito...

Chango’s

Address and Info

Guadalupe

The home of what we’ve dubbed one of the best burritos in America, Chango’s is a close-to-campus spot serving beast-sized burritos that the budget-conscious student could likely even stretch to two meals. Alternately, Cabo Bob’s has locations on both Ben White and Rio Grande, and offers burritos bursting at the tortilla seams with veggies, chicken, brisket, or fish. And the best part: On many of the burritos mentioned, the guac is already included, no extra charge.

When you’re chasing cheesecake...

OMG! Cheesecakery

Address and Info

South Lamar

If you’re looking for cheesecake that isn’t, shall we say, Factory farmed, look no further than this local purveyor that’s churned out cheesecake in fun flavors like Peanut Butter & Jelly, Cinnamon Chai, Maple ‘Kevin’ Bacon, and even avocado. While OMG! Cheesecakery’s hours may be spotty (its page mentions a focus on catering efforts), the food truck’s “mobile, personal-sized cheesecake bliss” is worth hunting down.

Angry Egg Roll

When you feel egg rolls are in order...

Angry Egg Roll

Address and Info

Red River

While not quite a cult classic a la the Southwestern variety offered by a certain chain, and not as readily available as that offered at a certain Chinese fast-food joint, if you’re looking for something delicious, local, and wonton-wrapped, this definitely does the job. (The proximity to Sixth St and late hours are an added bonus.) The cart serves nothing but “big, angry egg rolls,” which are available in two forms: The Drunken Master -- “probably pork” -- and the vegetarian variation, The Grasshopper. Fortune cookie says, “You can make your own happiness”... but hey, why not just eat it?

When your stomach demands a sub sandwich...

Toastie’s Sub Shop

Address and Info

South Lamar

Built-to-order subs with fresh-baked ingredients are the name of the grubbing game at Toastie's, where the menu is stacked with big, satisfying sandwiches ranging from classic and veggie clubs to Cubans, Reubens, and Veggie Banh Mi. No word on if they’re exactly a foot long.

Flickr/Michael Coté

When you’re itching for an ice-cream treat...

Nau’s Enfield Drug

Address and Info

Clarksville

Want to wax nostalgic about the good ol’ days, when you could see a movie and get a bottle of soda pop for $1.25? Well, you’d be lying, because if you’re reading this on the internet, you’re way too young for that to apply to you. That being said, this old-school soda fountain serves up dreamy and creamy floats, milkshakes, malts, and ice cream sodas that -- though they may not be served upside down or by someone in roller skates -- are far sweeter than most of the things being blasted or blizzarded these days.

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Sam Sumpter is a writer and food enthusiast who only eats at Taco Bell sometimes, swear. Follow along as she gains her winter weight: @Sam_Sumpta 

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Frank 407 Colorado St, Austin, TX 78701 (Downtown)

Although Frank is known for its creative hot dogs and sausage sandwiches made with nontraditional meats like antelope, venison, and kangaroo, it also boasts an extensive selection of fries, including chili cheese and Reuben waffle fries. Its cold beer menu includes gluten-free ales, rare craft beers, and ciders.

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2. Bennu Coffee 2001 E Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Austin, TX 78702 (South Austin)

Bennu is more than just your average coffee shop. Located in South Austin, it’s got a neighborhood feel and a menu from local vendors, Torchy’s Tacos and Russell’s Bakery among them. Good for quality coffee drinks, breakfast, lunch, dinner, or all of the above, they’re open 24-hours, seven days a week. Their coffee selection is diverse, with a Gourmet Mocha program featuring drinks named after classic works of literature (like the Don Quixote, an Azteca D’Oro spiced chocolate mocha). Bennu Coffee is dedicated to community, only sourcing organic and Fair Trade beans.

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3. Arlo's 900 Red River St, Austin, TX 78701 (Downtown)

Head to the back patio at Cheer Up Charlie's and guaranteed, you'll have died and gone to food heaven via Arlo's, the dopest vegan food truck in the ATX. When it comes to bar-based food trailers, Michelin-star status isn’t really a requisite (the inebriated aren’t quite cuisine connoisseurs), but this truck -- which occupies patio space at Cheer Up Charlies and Drinks Lounge -- boasts vegan fare that’s satisfying whether you’re gobbling it up post-drinks at 2am or scarfing it down sober on a Tuesday afternoon.

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4. Reale's Pizza & Cafe Ross Plaza 183, Austin, TX 78750

This home away from Rome has been dishing out New-York style Italian since the '90s. Count on red sauce staples and quality pizza from this family-run establishment.

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5. Star Seeds Cafe 3101 Interstate 35 Frontage Rd, Austin, TX 78722 (East Austin)

Intense comfort food that's available 24 hours each day -- which means if you want chicken fried steak and eggs right now, you can get chicken fried steak and eggs right now.

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6. Little Lucy's Mini Donuts 74 Rainey St, Austin, TX 78701 (Downtown)

Adorable mini doughnuts are what's on offer at this Rainey St pastry shop. You won't miss this food truck, which operates out of a hot pink van. Some of our favorite flavors include the blackberry & walnut and peanut butter banana mini doughnuts. Lucy's also offers classic flavors like cinnamon sugar and old fashioned yeast.

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7. Changos 3023 Guadalupe St, Austin, TX 78705

Chango’s is a casual Mexican joint within walking distance of UT’s campus, serving up items like the “Maximo Burrito” and “Quesadillas Gigantes” for the hungriest of Austin’s students, residents, and visitors. Their burritos, quesadillas, and tacos are served on seriously fresh tortillas (read: they make them in-house), and their chile con queso is not to be missed. They serve breakfast until 11am on weekends, featuring classic dishes like huevos rancheros, breakfast tacos and burritos, and chilaquiles. It’s an authentic taqueria where the portions are “gigantes” with a price point fit for college students.

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8. Toastie's Sub Shop 215 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704 (South Austin)

Located in the former Lift Café space, Toasties Sub Shop is the stop for timely, quality, affordable sandwiches, tacos, and salads. Their sandwich repertoire features Texas-inspired classics -- like Cuban, Banh Mi, and Reuben Subs -- and their tacos are classically Tex-Mex, with options like barbecue pulled pork and baja shrimp. They offer salads, wraps, and smoothies for the health-conscious diners, gluten free and vegetarian options for those with dietary restrictions, and foosball for the folks that just can’t sit still.

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9. Nau's Enfield Drug 1115 W Lynn St, Austin, TX 78703 (West Austin)

Located in historic Clarksville, Nau’s is a pleasant reminder of bygone days, having maintained the feel of a small-town malt shop. This diner and old-school drugstore hybrid is the perfect place to grab any timeless, American dish. Be sure to try one of the famous burgers (we recommend the classic cheeseburger) or barbecue, and finish with an extra-thick shake or malt.

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