Ready to go!
When many of my friends went off to The University of Texas in Austin after high school, I promised I’d visit. But college life took me far away, and I didn’t get the chance. So when a few friends stayed in the area for graduate school, I once again vowed to stop by. Last month I finally made good on that promise—just in time for their graduation.
The trip left me wondering why I don’t visit Austin more often. As a city, it is vibrant, eclectic, and jam-packed with “weird” things to do and see. (Austin’s unofficial slogan is Keep Austin Weird.) Just like the larger cities of New York or Los Angeles, Austin caters to foodies of all types: vegans, meat eaters, healthy eaters, and definitely chocoholics! S and I drove down and spent a few days in the city, then my mom even joined us for the last two days. (Yes, I took a trip with my boyfriend and my mom. Make fun of me if you wish… I had too much fun to care!)
We crammed a lot into the one week, so I’m breaking it up into two posts. Here is part one, highlighting the best vegan Austin restaurants, sights, food, and things you simply must do if you’re ever in Austin:
We ironically started our Texas vacation in an unassuming Ethiopian restaurant called Taste of Ethiopia. When we’re back in Dallas, Matt and I often go out for Ethiopian food because it has something for each of us: meat for him, and vegan food for me. I found this restaurant through a google search and, upon reading the words “all-you-can-eat vegetarian lunch buffet,” was immediately sold. Above was my first plate, and I went back for more.
I obviously hated it.
I told this to the waiter… then regretted it because he didn’t realize I was joking. 😕
At the end of the meal, I got the brilliant idea to order some injera (the delightfully-fluffy Ethiopian teff pancakes) to take with me. I figured they’d bring out a small to-go box with 3 or 4 pancakes. But that is not what happened. They presented me with a GIANT bag of injera—a total of 14 pancakes, each the size of an extra-large pizza! I lugged it out of the restaurant in both arms, and S took to calling it the Injera Baby. I told him we would be eating peanut butter and jelly injera sandwiches for the remainder of the trip. (Thankfully, injera freezes well.)
We spent most of the afternoon in the UT area with two friends who still live there and ate dinner at a place called Noodles and Co. No photos, but everything was delicious. We ended up at a bar on Sixth Street, then walked back to the hotel. (I specifically mention this because I think it’s important for you to know my thoughts on the “no drinking and driving” thing. I take it very seriously. I won’t get behind the wheel after even one drink, nor will I let anyone else drive me home who’s had even one drink. No exceptions. If you think this is a bit extreme, you’ve obviously never known someone who died in an alcohol-related car accident.)
I woke up kind of late the next morning but decided to go for a run around the city anyway. And S somehow convinced me to meet him at Whole Foods for coffee and doughnuts when I was done. Therefore, I found my sweaty and tomato-red self inside a giant grocery store, surrounded by people, and I kept thinking, “What if somebody recognizes me?!”
The last time I had a doughnut (not counting my homemade donuts) was… I don’t even know when. It’s not that doughnuts were ever my favorite food, but just seeing vegan doughnuts for sale made me ridiculously happy. I chose a classic: a plain glazed doughnut. To be honest, this was just okay; too fluffy, too bread-y, and not sweet enough to really be an authentic doughnut. Disappointing, but I still had a good time soaking up the atmosphere. Austin seems much more laid-back than Dallas; after awhile, I even stopped feeling self-conscious about my post-run appearance.
Other highlights of the trip:
Barton Springs: a giant pool in the channel of Barton Creek, filled by water from the spring. It’s pretty cold, though. I barely got in past my toes!
Thrice Café: another unassuming place, with some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had. And that’s saying something, as I’m a very harsh judge when it comes to ice cream. Especially with non-dairy ice creams, they are usually too icy, too gummy, or too coconutty for my liking. But this vegan ice cream—and the café offered an impressive array of flavors—reminded me of Baskin Robbins in both taste and texture. I only wish I’d ordered three scoops. They disappeared too fast! (Thrice Café also offers a large selection of baked goods, many of which are vegan and gluten-free.)
Zilker Botanical Garden:
Can you believe the above picture was taken in a metropolitan city? Upon entering Zilker, all of the usual city noises—car horns, leaf blowers, blasting construction tools, shouting pedestrians—are replaced by chirping birds, gliding rivers, and rushing waterfalls. It’s a peaceful oasis in the middle of a bustling city; a “must visit” location for anyone feeling stressed or simply looking for an afternoon of peace and quiet. (Does anyone else hate leaf blowers as much as I do?)
Click for Part Two: More Vegan Austin Restaurants