Good Food in Austin

No one should go to Texas without eating Mexican food, and we were fortunate to have my cousin Guy’s guidance to the good stuff. We ate at El Mercado (on Lavaca), some of the best Tex-Mex I’ve ever had. Standard enchiladas and fajitas, but the enchilada sauces (one green tomatillo, one red) were amazing.

We had Sunday brunch at Chez Zee, sitting at the bar because there was a half-hour wait for a table and I didn’t want to spend two hours on a meal. While trying to find decent food over Valentine’s weekend, I had occasion to reflect on the fact that it’s rare to wait for a restaurant in Italy – I can’t think of a single time we’ve done it, perhaps because, if a given restaurant is full, there’s always another great one nearby. Not always the case in the US. Chez Zee might even have been worth the wait, but eating at the bar was fine, especially as we were right behind the talented jazz pianist/singer, to better enjoy her music.

During our wanderings, Ross and I lunched one day at the Kerbey Lane Café near the UT campus, a great place for healthy food (including vegetarian). For one dinner we went the opposite route, with fancy steaks at Dan McKlusky’s. The food was very good, but the dining experience was spoiled by our fellow diners. Due to some weird acoustics where we sat in the front corner, everything seemed very loud, especially from the next table, where a man had invited two people for a business dinner in hopes of “getting your thoughts on this” (some business proposition). I don’t think he got many of their thoughts, because he did 99% of the talking himself – loudly – and we all learned far more about him than we needed to know. Lack of sensitivity to others is a common handicap among computer geeks, which he evidently was (his tales included his early days on punch-card machines and more recent excitement at visiting the world’s largest flight simulator facility). His daughter was student president of something or other at the University of Houston; evidently she is more astute in dealing with humans than her father is.

Our best meal was at the home of Julia and Dani. Julia is a friend of my old friend Barb. Thanks to Barb, she has been reading my newsletter for some time, and we’ve occasionally exchanged emails about something I’d written. So when I knew I was coming to Austin, I dropped her a line, and she invited us for dinner. “Spankyville,” as they call their place (named after their cat Spanky), is one of the most comfortable homes I’ve ever been in. Comfortable in the sense of a nice place to be: as soon as we walked in, we knew that we were among friends in a house full of warmth. It’s hard to explain, but a few rare places in the world make you feel that way. And we sure needed it right then.

The Chinese/Mongolian hot pot dinner was great; it’s a tradition in Julia’s family ever since her father, years ago, invited the entire Chinese Students’ Association of Texas Tech home for Thanksgiving dinner.

cooking at Spankyville

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