Because I don’t eat meat, I’m frequently limited when I travel. When I visit many other countries or cities, I don’t expect to eat the regional delicacy — and I’m respectfully OK with that. But on more than one occasion, I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised that I’ve been able to eat very, very well in places I didn’t expect that would be possible.
One such place was Austin, where I assumed I’d find a city overflowing with pulled pork and steak or whatever kind of barbecue meat eaters eat. (#Clueless.) Such was not the case. I found plenty of barbecue, of course — but that included a vegetarian barbecue sandwich I’d gladly pick as my sole desert-island food. It also included a huge selection of light and health-minded fare, including an impeccable peach salad and melon soup, just right for the 100-degree heat. And of course, it included some pretty epic dessert (which I approached in totally unrestrained fashion because vacation.)
So if you’re a vegetarian in Austin, or going to Austin, I present for your consideration a few of my favorite things in town:
Unforgettable Bites for a Vegetarian in Austin
Summer melon soup and peach salad at Trace
During our visit to Austin, the temperature hovered around 100 degrees. I don’t mind heat — and of course, in the middle of summer in Texas, I expected it. But heat is a known appetite suppressant (OK, so much for that), and it also contributes to cravings for cool, refreshing food and drink, of course.
That’s why I had two dishes during our dinner on the chic outdoor patio at Trace that completely hit the spot.
The first was a melon soup, served cold, made with celery, avocado, cilantro, and serrano.
The second was the peach salad, with arugula, verjus, farmer’s cheese, and cinnamon pecan peach crumble.
Combined, these two dishes were the perfect starters to what was an indulgent but still light dinner. (Until I had to go and order that cheese plate for dessert.)
BTW, the soundtrack for this epic Saturday night meal was a DJ on the patio playing such jams as a sexy slowed-down cover of Mariah Carey’s “Touch My Body,” so you know I was in my happy place.
Vegetarian barbecue sandwich at Jo’s
We strolled over to Jo’s Downtown for breakfast, just because it was right across the street from our host hotel W Austin. The breakfast was tasty, but not especially memorable. However, I spied something on the lunch menu that I knew I’d have to go back for.
So after a morning of sightseeing, we stopped at the Brown’s Bar-B-Que trailer for hubby to eat his meaty lunch. (Pause to note an Austin-specific trend: Mobile food trailers team up with bars and park outside them, creating a symbiotic relationship with shared outdoor seating.)
But I saved my appetite (not that I could have eaten anything but coleslaw there anyway) and called in an order at Jo’s on the way back to the hotel: that vegetarian barbecue sandwich that had called to me from the lunch menu earlier in the day.
The sandwich mimicked pulled pork, but with wheat protein drenched in barbecue sauce, slaw, and onion on a sweet bun. It was absolutely to die.
For all I knew, Jo’s might have had no street cred — maybe it was the Arby’s of Austin, for all I knew. (I’d later ask people in the know who said that’s not the case at all.) But regardless, that sandwich is divine and if I lived in Austin I’d eat it every day for six months until I got sick of it and never ordered it again.
Veggie “Renedict” at Bouldin Creek Cafe
One thing I love about traveling is getting spontaneous recs from friends on social media. (For instance, we discovered an awesome light festival happening right at that moment just blocks away from us while in Barcelona last year, thanks to a friend in San Francisco who commented on one of my real-time Facebook posts and let us know.)
My friend Lisa is the second-most well-traveled vegan I know, and while we were in Austin, she posted to my Instagram, “Check out Bouldin Creek Cafe for brunch!” We only had space on the calendar for one remaining meal — and we filled that slot with Lisa’s rec.
On the pretty, shaded Bouldin Creek Patio — which is the place in Austin that most reminded me of the environs around my alma mater Berkeley — I had the “Renedict,” which is grilled ciabatta served open faced and topped with baby spinach, two over-medium cage-free eggs, local tomatoes, tofu bacon, and homemade vegan Hollandaise.
I subbed potato cakes for the bread and tofu for the eggs. And seriously, “wow” is all I can say.
Granola at Odd Duck
For our very last meal in town, we met up with a former colleague who I knew couldn’t possibly steer us wrong. That’s because she’s Nadia Chaudhury, who just came on board as the official new editor of Eater Austin. For our double date, she suggested Odd Duck on South Lamar, with its rustic interiors and bar top lined with cool-looking labeled jars of pickled everything.
Although the menu was hardly a vegetarian’s paradise, I managed to order one thing that somehow tasted better than the sum of its parts could possibly taste: a bowl of coconut yogurt with fig granola and peach preserve. So light and refreshing. Downright Californian in a lot of ways, you might say.
Dessert amenities at the W Austin
I’m a sucker for 1) anything with my name on it, 2) all things that can be describe by my trademark phrase “fun and festive,” and also 3) pretty much anything sweet. (How I reign in that last tendency when not on vacation — and continue to work on my postpartum fitness — is a topic for various other posts!)
For all those reasons, I was beyond stoked when we walked into our suite after checking into the W Austin and saw what were the absolute most fun and whimsical amenities I’ve ever gotten in a hotel room.
Two separate over-the-top dessert offerings welcomed us. The first, dark chocolate mousse cake with berries and a super-festive presentation, was a nod to my belated birthday. This felt extra special to me, because I made my husband promise I could always be a pretty princess in celebration of my birthday forevermore — even though my baby twins’ birthday now falls exactly one week later.
The second was a seriously lavish blogger welcome: house-made chocolate and salted caramel macarons with a towering chocolate floral branch! We didn’t even realize that decorative part was edible until the next day (at which point we promptly devoured it like savages, obviously).
Just look at these beauts:
Now you tell me: Vegetarian or not, what’s your favorite thing to eat in Austin?
Disclosure: Starwood and the W Austin paid for this travel with the expectation that I would write about my experience in town here on this blog. My itinerary — and menu — was totally my own to create, and I based it on my personal interests and travel and recreation style. As always, I only cover on this blog the products, services, and experiences that are worthy of my endorsement and my readers’ consideration.