Hear about travel to Austin, Texas as the Amateur Traveler talks to Mike Hinshaw of nomadictexan.com about his hometown.
Mike says of Austin, “it is a fun place. It has wonderful food. It has great music. ‘It is the music capital of the world’ is one of the phrases they say about Austin. There are a lot of historic buildings and venues and museums. From my standpoint, the music when I was younger was the biggest attraction, but now it’s food because there is some wonderful food that I don’t think people know about.”
For things to see Mike suggests witnessing the flight of the bats that fly out from the South Congress bridge in the early evenings. “Everybody that comes to Austin I used to take and they were all goggle-eyed about it.”
The Spring has wildflowers in bloom as well as big festivals like South by Southwest. “If you like music, by all means, come. There are bands, probably 3000 plus every year for that and it’s growing. Austin has gotten to the point where it is very difficult to get a hotel room unless you book it way out ahead of time. They ask people who live in Austin to invite the bands into their homes because there are literally not enough hotel rooms. South by Southwest is more than just music. There’s a film portion now that has become pretty huge. It’s become almost a month-long now.”
Take a walk up Mount Bonnell with a view over the river or get out to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center or Hamilton Pool Preserve if the weather is good for outdoor activities. Or rent a bike and take advantage of the hike and bike trails around the city.
If you visit in the Fall, football in Texas on Friday nights is almost a religion and you should go see a University of Texas football game.
Presidential libraries are wonderful places to see and the LBJ presidential library in Austin is no exception.
Much of the music and many of the restaurants can be found on 6th street. Mike recommends the comedy at Esther’s Follies. There are also some historic hotels near 6th street like the Intercontinental and the Driskill Hotel whose lobby is filled with antique firearms and other collectibles. Find out where Mike recommends for a good steak, great Mexican food, or good BBQ in the Austin area.
You have to love this city that has adopted the motto “Keep Austin Weird“.
DK Eyewitness Travel Guides – One of my favorite guidebook series
Congress Avenue Bridge Bats
Barton Springs Pool
South By Southwest
Zilker Botanical Garden
ACL Music Festival
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Hamilton Pool Preserve
University of Texas Football
LBJ Presidential Library
Lady Bird Hike and Bike Trail
Bullock Texas State History Museum
The Salt Lick
Circuit of the Americas
Texas State Cemetery
Pubcrawler of Austin
Texas Roller Derby
Güero’s Taco Bar
Juan in a Million
Fonda San Miguel
Olive & June
Fabi and Rosi
Texas State Capitol
Just One Rhino
A shoutout to Bronagh McNamara who says Amateur Traveler got her started in the travel business.
I just wanted to shoot you a quick email to thank you for your AWESOME Amateur Traveler podcast! I only recently got into podcasts during my daily exercise routine, and as I am a very avid traveler (I travel about 200,000 miles a year), found your podcast after doing a search on my iPhone.
Your podcasts are professional, insightful, and encapsulate the essence of the destination being discussed, and I find it truly fascinating to hear your podcasts both about places that I’ve already been to, as well as to whet my appetite for places I long to go in the future.
I literally downloaded every podcast in the iTunes collection (which starts with #30), and I’m currently up to #111- Mongolia (as well as up to date on your current weekly podcasts produced over the last few weeks).
Chris: Amateur Traveler episode 471. Today the amateur traveler talks about lots of barbecue, live music and the LBJ Presidential Library as we go to Austin, Texas.
Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by DK Eyewitness travel guides. These colorful guidebooks are filled with great information and are one of my favorite guidebooks. I have 25 of them right here on my bookshelf. Learn more at dk.com
Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen. Just two weeks until the tenth anniversary of The Amateur Traveler as this show is recorded, but we’ll talk about that later. First, let’s talk about Texas. I’d like to welcome to the show Mike Hinshaw from nomadictexan.com, who has come to talk to us about Austin, Texas. Mike, welcome to the show.
Mike: Thank you very much for having me, Chris.
Chris: And you lived in Austin at least until recently. How many years did you live in Austin?
Mike: I actually was one of the few people in Austin that was born there, a long long time ago. I lived there for about two years and then I got married, went away, and came back, and have lived there for about 20 years before I moved.
Chris: Oh, wow. You must have seen quite a few changes in the Austin area.
Mike: My grandmother, before she passed, lived there, and I think that it was probably 50,000 people at that point in time. And there is now 700,000 plus in the city proper, and probably almost two million with the suburbs and surrounding areas.
Chris: Excellent. And why should somebody go to Austin, Texas?
Mike: It is a fun place. It has wonderful food. Of course, this is all my biased opinion, But it has wonderful food, it has great music. It’s the music capital of the world, is one of the phrases they say about Austin. There’s a lot of outdoor activities, lots of historical buildings and venues and museums. But I guess from my standpoint the music, when I was younger, was probably the biggest attraction, and now it’s more food, because there is some wonderful food that I don’t think people know about.
Chris: Excellent. Well, what order should we tackle that in? What would you recommend someone do, see and eat when they come to Austin?
Mike: See and eat? If you wanna start with see I got plenty of things. Most lists will tell you about the bats that fly out from South Congress Bridge on the river. That really is a phenomenal thing to just see and witness. But one thing people don’t know half the time is that you don’t stand under the bats when they take off.
Chris: I would have thought that would be self-evident, actually.
Mike: Well, you would think that, but it’s amazing how many people who visit for the first time actually stand right under it.
Mike: And in my opinion is the best way to do it is to rent a boat, if you have a party or a group of people, and go down about a quarter to half a mile and watch them as they exit the bridge from that standpoint. But it is kind of a unique thing to see and I don’t think too many cities, at least in the state, have that attribute and it’s, really, kinda neat. Everybody that comes to Austin, I used to take, and and they were all goggle-eyed about it so, that was one thing. I would encourage people to take a dip in Barton Springs Pool, which is a little fresh springs off the river that maintains a 70° temperature year-round. It doesn’t matter if it’s the middle of winter or the middle of summer or whatever, it’s a fun place to go.
Chris: Now you say the middle of summer, the middle of winter. You have more summer than you do winter, as I recall.
Mike: Well, yes. I think we really have two seasons, nine months of summer, three months of fall. I don’t even know if it ever gets to be winter there, so.
Chris: What is the best time of the year, in your opinion, to come to Austin?
Mike: I would go in the spring because of the wildflowers blooming, the fall is, temperature-wise is okay, also, but the spring, to me, is the best. And it also has a lot of things like South by Southwest going on in the spring. So, there’s several reasons to come in the spring.
Chris: Well, let’s talk a little bit about South by there. Do you recommend people come at the time of South by or avoid Austin at the time of South by. And I think there are arguments for both.
Mike: Yes, there are and that is what I was gonna say. Kinda depends on what your preferences are. If you like music by all means come. There are bands, probably 3,000 plus every year that come in for that. It’s growing and Austin has gotten to the point where it’s very difficult to get a hotel room unless you book it way out ahead of time so of you’re a fan of music and wanna come please make sure you go out about six months minimum and book yourself a hotel room.
Chris: Well and they get the pop-up hotels and the other things where things turn into hotels during that time of the year that are not normally hotels, which I thought was interesting.
Mike: That and couch-surfing really goes through the roof. They ask people who live in Austin and the surrounding areas to invite the musicians and other people into their homes and put ’em up because there are just literally not enough hotel rooms.
Chris: And while the hotel room get a little pricey around that time of the year, too.
Mike: I didn’t wanna go there but it’s supply and demand, so that’s kinda the way it is then. You’re right, they do go up a little bit and it’s a shame but, that’s business.
Chris: I wanna say, up a little bit? I wanna say they are about triple. Depending on probably where you are and how close you are to Downtown.
Mike: That may be being kind.
Mike: South by Southwest is more than just music, it’s also. . . there’s a film portion now that has become pretty huge and it’s like that, you know, festival.
Mike: Yeah, where they bring all the new, the independent films up. So yeah, that’s happening in Austin for about a week, also in addition to the music. And there are just different things that are starting to evolve out of it. It’s become almost a month-long process now, South by Southwest.
Chris: And, if we’re not coming during South by, let’s go back to . . . you had a recommendation of places that we should be seeing.
Mike: Oh yeah, I mean, I’ve got a good laundry-list, for sure. One of the things that I think may not be really highlighted on a lot of “things to do” or guidebooks and stuff is Mount Bonell. I think it’s got 100 steps or something like that, it’s an about 800 foot climb and it’s on the river and you take your time getting up if you’re as old as I am because it is a little bit of a hike but when you get up and you see the view over the Colorado river it’s breathtaking. I mean, it’s just, it’s amazing to sit there and look out over the landscape. So I would recommend that if you’re in good enough shape to climb 100 steps or 800 feet.
Sixth Street is probably, on everybody’s list, every guidebook, etc. And it’s, it kinda resembles Bourbon Street I would think. It’s got a seedy side and it’s got a good side and there’s just, it is what it is but there’s a lot of wonderful attractions and things to see on Sixth Street.
Chris: And some particular attractions or places that you would recommend?
Mike: Yeah. If you like comedy, they have Esther’s Follies which is, really, a good comedy show. When I was managing a group of retail outlets in Austin, I was based in Austin. They’d always pick somebody out of the audience to make an example out of, and somehow the people that worked for me volunteered me to go down and do that and it was pretty embarrassing, but it was all in good fun. But it’s a funny show and they are pretty well up to date on current events and they make fun of what’s happening out in the world, especially when it comes to the government. But I would definitely go to Esther’s Follies if I was down there.
There’s lot’s of good music and some of it is in good venues and some of it is a little down the totem pole. But you can find just about every kind of music that you wanna listen to down there.
There’s also a couple of great hotels if you want to stay in historical places. The Intercontinental, which is, I think, about a block off of Sixth Street if I’m not mistaken. It’s wonderful decor on the inside. And the Driskill Hotel which has been around, it was bought by an old cattle guy about in the 1,800s and rebuilt and has been rebuilt several times since then. It’s fantastic when you go inside. You look at the lobby, it’s filled with antiques, it’s got all kinds of stained-glass chandeliers, etc. and you go to the bar and there’s a lot of etched glass and on the way you have all these old 45s that are encased in glass and protected, and these different firearms that are back from those days, especially like . . . I don’t know if they go back as far as the Alamo, but there are some very old, old firearms and different things. I mean, they have a saddle, if I’m not mistaken, that’s back from those times, and just, mostly the firearms, but it’s really a wonderful place to go and look if you like old architecture, so.
Chris: And you mentioned “by one of the cattle guys” my . . . I don’t know it to be true but I sorta have this picture that that part of Texas does really go back to the big cattle ranches as being the first big revenue source before, for instance, the university now which has a lot of impact on Austin culture.
Mike: Right, correct, and oil came in, I think in between the cattle and the university.
Mike: And cattle really still, I mean, one of the things that kinda. I have to laugh on every guidebook list and stuff is “get a good steak”. Well, I think there’s probably a lot of places in Texas that you can get a good steak and you definitely can in Austin. There are probably five or six 5-star steak restaurants.
Chris: Is there one you recommend? Do you have a favorite?
Mike: Sullivan’s, down on Fourth Street, has probably, my favorite is a rib-eye, and they have a wonderful rib-eye that’s bone-in, so that would be my first recommendation. Ruth’s Chris is pretty good. There’s just lots of different chains that are there.
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That’s one of the things I love about the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides that don’t just tell me things, but show me as well. And this being the guidebook on Cuba, they even have a break-away diagram on the Cuban cigar. The historic portion of the book covers everything from pirates and buccaneers to sugar, slaves, plantation and then, of course, information about the communist revolution and the structure of the government today. You can get your own copy of the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides, including the guidebook on Cuba at dk.com.
Chris: Where do we go after Sixth Street?
Mike: Well, after Sixth Street there is Zilker Park, specially if you’re there during South by Southwest because they have about six stages, I think it is, out there, that various bands perform on. If you come at Christmas time, for about three or four weeks, they have a wonderful, walk-through Christmas deal where they set up all kinds of lights and the centerpiece is this gargantuan Christmas tree that you can walk around in circles underneath and it gets a little busy. But it’s gorgeous, and they have little booth type deals set up where everybody does this thing for Christmas and it’s wonderful.
Besides that, in the Zilker Park area is the botanical gardens, and probably the best portion of that, in my mind, is the Japanese gardens. They’re really detailed and they’re really authentic Japanese plants and if you’re a plant person I highly recommend you got to the botanical garden section of Zilker Park.
Chris: [Audio skips] Park where they recorded the Austin City Limits TV show with the live music from Austin?
Mike: No. Now they have an indoor facility on Austin City Limits which is . . . It used to be in the university building up in the top and it held about 500 people and because of the popularity of it and because it was just getting too tight, I mean, so many people were getting angry because they couldn’t get tickets and stuff like that. So they expanded and built another one about three blocks away, it’s own facility. It’s got, I don’t know, around 25,000 seating, something like that, and it’s usually filled, no matter who’s playing.
They’ve got a statue of Willie Nelson out front which is kinda a apropos since he was very instrumental in helping the Texas “cowboy music” or however you wanna call it. Rock’n Roll cowboy get started back in the ’70s and he plays with them pretty often. Now, Zilker Park does hold the Austin City Limits Festival which is, I think, in September usually. So there is a portion of Zilker Park that has the ACL deal but it’s a festival. They do an outdoor festival and it’s usually three days, if I’m not mistaken, in the fall. It has five or six stages and it brings in all kinds of bands and they’re from all over the world just like South by Southwest. So it does have a music tie. For the kids they’ve got a little railroad train that the kids can ride. I remember when I was a child doing that.
Chris: Excellent, what else should we see in Austin?
Mike: Well, there’s, Lady Bird Wildflower Center is yes or no, it depends if you’re into that kinda thing. A little bit further away from downtown but Lady Bird Johnson was very instrumental in doing the wildflowers in Texas. I mean, she herself actually went out and dropped seeds in a lot of different highways, especially on the way to their ranch out in Johnson City, and different highways, and got a lot of people to do it, too. And we probably, in my mind, have one of the best wildflower venues along interstates and along county roads and farm market roads and all that that I’ve ever seen, and this is the center of where they kinda explain the history of her passion for wildflowers and stuff and it’s on the south side of town and it’s worth a visit.
Chris: Now, out here in California the most popular wildflower is the California poppy. What’s the big one in Texas?
Mike: You’ve gotta know the answer to that, I would hope.
Chris: I’m was either gonna go with the yellow rose of Texas or the lupin, but I don’t actually know the answer to that.
Mike: The blue bonnet is our state flower. It’s grown . . . it’s probably 75% of the wildflowers along the roads around Austin and in Texas, all over because it’s become such a . . . We associate Texas with that specific flower a lot, so, it’s definitely the blue bonnet.
Chris: Okay, excellent.
Mike: Another thing is, if you’re downtown, I’m gonna go back down there, is the Paramount Theater which was built in 1915. It’s doing its 100th year celebration this year so, if you’re in town this year it’s well worth going and seeing it. They have concerts, they have shows. If you’re in town around Christmas they always have two or three regular acts on an annual basis around Christmas and do a one league theme show for each of the different acts and stuff and it’s well worth it. It’s funny, it’s entertaining. My wife and I, when I was married, saw Phantom of the Opera down there. So it’s got a pretty wide and varied ability. It has a lot of Rock and Roll music and concerts ‘cuz it’s a small atmosphere but it’s, the architecture is phenomenal, like I said, built in 1915, so you can imagine how detailed and how ornamental it is.
Mike: Hamilton Pool is outside of town. I think it’s about 25 minutes or something like that. It’s preserved. It’s a natural spring-fed pool. It’s got a 50-foot waterfall on it. It doesn’t have lifeguards and you swim at your own risk. Back in the 19th century, the Tonkawa and the Lipan Apaches, I don’t know if I’m saying that right, were known to reside around that area so sometimes some people are digging in the dirt and stuff out there in the sand and they find arrowheads and all kinds of different things that dates back to the Indian culture.
If you’re here in the fall, I would definitely try to go see a University of Texas football game. It is one of the, one of the premier universities in the country. Obviously, football, if you live in Texas, is almost like a religion. I think on Friday nights you’re gonna find, I wanna say 85% of the population at a high school football game and on Saturday they’re either watching it at home or they are at a particular college or university game in their local area.
It’s like, as a young man I know, it’s a rite that we all go through. I played football in junior high and high school until I blew out a knee. My three sons all, even though their dad told them, “Don’t do that, you’re not gonna like it, you’re gonna get hurt possibly, blah, blah, blah.” Well, they also had to do it because of the peer pressure. It’s amazing. But, thank god all of them . . . well, one of them played into his junior year, the other two got after their freshman year so, none of them is inclined to keep playing the football game. But the University of Texas has a tailgating program and it cover blocks and blocks and blocks and, I mean, it’s just, it’s a riot.
Some of the people go there strictly for the tailgating parties, they don’t even have tickets to the game. They just sit out there [inaudible 00:18:16]. I’m serious! It’s amazing, it’s like an outing type of deal.
The LBJ Library, if you’re a historian is here in Austin, Texas on the University.
Chris: The presidential library.
Mike: Yes, the presidential library, excuse me.
Chris: Those are fascinating, I find. I haven’t been to that one, but I highly recommend, if you’re near a presidential library, to check it out. Whether or not you’re an American or somebody traveling overseas. They’re wonderfully interesting.
Mike: It’s interesting, because we had a couch surfer that was from Australia trying to prove some point on some law that we had in place or something like that, and he stayed with us for a week while he did his research at the LBJ library. And then he went to another presidential library in Georgia or Kansas, I don’t know. He was doing all of the most recent presidents and I thought it was interesting that somebody from Australia would come up and spend that much time trying to research a point or a legal point in our government.
There’s a hike and bike trail that goes around the river downtown that is really. I don’t think, I have lived all over the south, I haven’t lived up north but I’ve lived all over the South and I really haven’t seen a trail like that. It handles bikes and it handles people running and walking and it’s got trees and it’s pretty well, I think it’s about six to eight feet wide probably so it will handle everybody. And there’s usually not even conflicts between, because somebody is in somebody’s way or whatever.
It’s gotta be five miles round trip, I guarantee you, and people use it. People, when they come in from out of town and visit, they always talk about going down there and doing their exercise, whatever that may be. Whether it’s a runner or riding a bike, or just walking. It’s a wonderful place to go and exercise.
Mike: Bob Bullock museum is downtown, it’s got an IMAX 3D Theater which is currently showing Humpback Whales.
Chris: And is that a science museum there or . . . ?
Mike: It’s actually, Bob Bullock was a Lieutenant Governor for the state of Texas for quite a while and it’s basically a history museum and talks about history and everything that has to do . . . Although the IMAX it kinda branches out and does its own thing. But it’s well worth a visit if you’re interested in Texas history.
Chris: And you bring up Texas history. I’m just curious, ‘cuz I have heard, I have been to Austin a few times but I hear people talk about Austin and Texas as two different things. That some parts of Austin are very Texan and some parts are very different. Now, you’re living somewhere else in Texas right now. What’s your impression of, what about Austin is like being in Texas, like high school football, and what’s different?
Mike: What’s different is politics.
Chris: Okay, that’s what, I got that impression.
Mike: Austin is very liberal and very democratic, I guess, and everything else in the state of Texas is red and conservative so, I think that’s the basic difference. Things that happen in Austin wouldn’t happen in most of the other parts of Texas because they’re so conservative.
Chris: Like what?
Mike: And I’m not saying, I mean, the ones . . . A lot of the people in Austin have facial jewelry and piercings and stuff like that, and if you try to do that out in San Angelo or someplace in East Texas they’ll throw your head down. I mean you just, you can’t do that. It’s that redneck when you get out of the Austin area.
Now you could, probably, in Dallas to a certain extent, but you’re not gonna get away with it as much in Dallas as much as you do in Austin. Austin doesn’t care, it’s very liberal, very laid back community and I think Willie probably helped convince everybody to be that way when he first hit town in the ’70s.
That’s the big difference, it’s just politics, and it’s almost like, if the red says the sky is blue then the blue in Austin is gonna say, “No, it’s not, it’s grey.” I mean just sometimes just out of spite in my mind. It’s kinda crazy but that’s the way it is, really.
Chris: What’s gonna surprise me when I come to Austin? If I spend a week in Austin.
Mike: Well, there’s different things that you could do, I’ll guarantee you that. They just started finally recognizing SoCo, S-O-C-O, which is South Congress. And it’s becoming a shopping venue, it’s becoming an entertainment venue. It used to have, I think 28 food trailers, and that’s another thing that may surprise you, is that Austin has, it’s probably one of the leading or top-5 cities in the United States for food trailers, I’ll guarantee you. And the majority of them have good food.
I mean, I’ll never forget when I was down at the university doing something, I don’t know what I was doing, and this food trailer was outside the building I had to go in, and I hadn’t eaten lunch so I went up and I ate this Korean taco with cabbage instead of lettuce and stuff as the filler and I think it was some kind of kimchi meat, if I’m not mistaken. And I was just like, “Oh, my God, this is delicious.” And I mean, it’s something you would think you would find in like a three or four star restaurant, not a food trailer. Now a lot of the food trailers like, the best one is Franklin’s BBQ.
Chris: Oh, okay.
Mike: If you go, I mean, Texas, in my mind’s got two foods, Mexican food and barbecue and that’s, if you come to Texas you gotta try various restaurants in both those styles of food.
Chris: And what do you say, Mexican? That’s Tex-Mex more than . . .
Mike: Well some of it is, some of it isn’t. Yeah, it’s just, it depends on the particular restaurant you go to. Yes, a great deal of it is Tex-Mex and there are many, many authentic Mexican food restaurants and one of them is one of my favorites. So, I mean, I’ve gotta whole page of restaurants on barbecue and on Mexican food both, because there are so many to chose from, and there are so many that are different price levels, blah, blah, blah, so.
Chris: And you mentioned Franklin BBQ, we can’t let that go without a mention. My understanding is that, and I’ve eaten at Franklin BBQ, I was actually flown down by the National Pork Board, to have a dinner at the Franklin BBQ, and they bought out the whole restaurant. But I understand that normally I would have to wait in line for three hours.
Mike: Yeah. That’s pretty close, I mean, if you get there early enough it can be two. If you get there at 6 A.M. I think it . . . well, no, he doesn’t open ’till 11 so it won’t be two. Yeah, you’re gonna wait three hours pretty well, and then, hopefully, when you get there they aren’t gonna say, “Sorry, we just ran out.” Because they open at 11 and they keep serving until they literally run out and when they run out, they’re out. You have to go back the next day, so, there’s always that person in line who sees the person in front of them get their BBQ and then gets told, “Sorry, we’re out.” But that’s the way it is sometimes.
Chris: And I’m told you should be very suspicious of a barbecue place that doesn’t run out because barbecue takes a while, so.
Mike: Barbecue . . . good, if you’re talking brisket, yes. A brisket takes probably a good 12 to 15 hours, if you get it right. You never wanna put it directly on the fire, you gotta have the fire off to the side and let the smoke and the heat come up through and that’ll give you the ring around the brisket that you see, the red around the side of the brisket. If you put it directly on you’re gonna overcook it or undercook it, one of the two, because it’s just not meant to be cooked that way.
Of course you need hickory or mesquite wood, you don’t wanna put it over oak, but a good barbecue guy, like Franklin, actually. He kinda, tells you that you don’t really need sauce on it. You see all these people wanting sauce and putting it all over the meat and he says that that kills the taste of it, which I think is probably right. But he does brisket ribs. He does a pulled pork, which most places down here don’t do because it’s mostly just beef. He does turkey. He does sausage. He makes a potato salad. His purple coleslaw is vinegar-based and many people use mayonnaise-based, but his is vinegar-based, which, personally, I like better. He does real good pinto beans. He’s got a bourbon-banana pie and a pecan pie and a key lime pie, so he’s got you set and I guarantee you when you walk away from there you’re gonna be filled with great food and you’re not gonna wanna eat for another 24 hours, probably.
Chris: Now, is there a place you recommend that doesn’t have a three-hour wait?
Man: Oh, of course, barbecue, okay.
Mike: Yeah, there’s a place outside of town called “Salt Lick”. L-I-C-K, like you put out for cattle. It’s in Driftwood, Texas. And it’s a pretty good barbecue, just to be honest with you. You don’t really have to wait that long when you go out there.
There’s another place in a little town called Lockheart that has probably three well-known. . . If you wanna talk about a little town, I think it’s got probably 18,000 to 20,000 people in it at most, and it’s got Smitty’s, which has been there since the turn of the century, and used to be one of my favorite places ‘cuz you walk in through the kitchen so you walk right by where all the smoke is coming out and you smell it and it’s a wonderful atmosphere. You walk around and they take your order and you get served on butcher paper. There’s no cutlery at all, you’re not getting a fork or a knife. And you get, I think it’s white bread and pickles and onions on the table.
It’s a fascinating place to go eat barbecue, and you eat off of picnic tables on butcher paper and, like I said. you don’t get these forks or knives. They had a little family feud when the father died and the daughter kept that place and the name Smitty’s and the son opened up a place on the edge of town called K-R-E-U-Z, don’t ask me why, I think it’s Kreuz, but it’s K-R-E-U-Z. And he basically cooks the same barbecue, but it’s a huge complex. You don’t walk through the kitchen, it’s just a normal type of venue.
There’s another place called Black’s. So, there’s three different barbecue places in Lockheart that are well worth visiting. If you’re in Austin and you need barbecue quickly and you’re on the run or whatever you wanna call it, I’d go to Rudy’s, R-U-D-Y-‘-S. They are a chain that, actually, is kinda quasi-convenience store. You can buy gas out front and you can go inside and buy a breakfast taco. But they have a phenomenal amount of business. I mean, it’s amazing and I like their barbecue. My son lives near one on 183 and every time I go down there we go over to Rudy’s and have barbecue. Whether it’s brisket and sausage or brisket and ribs or whatever we have it and it’s good barbecue.
My favorite though, is Cooper’s in Llano, Texas. That’s about an hour, 15 minutes from Austin. They have, this is interesting, because they have all these outdoor pits and the fire’s in the end, where the smoke comes up through and you go in and they have an item called “big chop” and it’s basically a pork chop and it is probably cut up but it’s close to three inches thick.
Chris: Oh, wow.
Mike: Oh, it’s unbelievable! And they make a vinegar-based sauce, they don’t make a ketchup-based sauce. I’ll tell you what, when you eat that thing you’re in heaven. I mean, it’s just. Every time I used to go to West Texas in my retail business I would have to stop in Llano and get me a big chop and go to town.
Chris: Now, are there other things that, if we’re gonna make a day out of it and go out in that direction that far, are there other things we should do on the way to, from or after?
Mike: Well, hopefully, you’ll go in the springtime when the bluebonnets are blooming and they will be all the way beside the road on highway 71 or 29, depending on what route you take to get out there. They’ll be on the side of the road between Austin and there, and if you don’t get tempted to stop and take a few photographs then something’s wrong with you, in my opinion.
Llano also has some little different shops and venues and antiques and stuff like that that a person can probably spend a couple of hours walking around the little town and. I know the mayor, he’s a pretty good guy, too. Terry Tex, T-E-X, Toler. He’ll kill me for putting his name in here. Anyways he’s a good guy and it’s a typical west Texas town. Barbecue, a few shops and a bunch of deer out on the prairie around town.
If you go out there and you’re there after dark. In September through November, I would caution you not to go more than 10 miles per hour because the deer are in what they call the rutting season and they are crazy after dark. You don’t wanna be driving around west Texas or the Hill Country, it’s called, after dark.
County Line is another one here in town but I think they’ve gotten a little bit, I don’t know how to say this but, they’re, they’re kinda have tried to go too far in my opinion. They’re making this stick homemade bread and they’ve just kind of gone away from their primary purpose in my mind. They do have decent barbecue, I don’t think it’s as good as the other places I listed but it’s decent. If you can’t find any other place then County Line is the place to go.
Chris: Anything else we should know before we get to our last three questions here about Austin?
Mike: Quick things to do that are usually not on the list. They’ve got a project called “First Thursday”, SoCo, which is South Congress again. All the shops stay open ’till about 10 the first Thursday of each month. In addition to that There is a place on Castle Hill where all the graffiti people go out and add to the walls and the murals that are out there, or change it or redefine it or whatever you wanna call it, which is kinda cool to see all that going on. We have Circuit of the Americas if you’re into Grand Prix racing that happens once a year.
Texas State Cemetery that has all of the people . . . I don’t know if . . . I think it has Stephen F Austin and all of the Texas historical people buried there. Enchanted Rock if you wanna get into rock climbing is kind of a beginner’s rock. It’s out in the Hills Country which is a beautiful place to go to. Oh, there’s a little downtown. If you are inclined to imbibe in beer. There’s a deal called the Pub Crawler where I think it holds 12 people and you basically pump and it moves this little vehicle. You pump like a bicycle and it moves this little crawler around town and you hit a couple of bars and as you’re going you get beers pulled because you’re pumping the vehicle to move and it also lets the beer flow through. It’s a different, unique way to do it. Although, if you like Roller Derby, the old airport here has Roller Derby.
Chris: And I’m not sure all our non-American listeners know Roller Derby.
Mike: To the best of my ability, what we’re talking about is men and women’s teams. They’re separated by gender. Where they go around a rink that I’m gonna guess is about 100 feet long and probably 250 to 300 feet in circular motion. They wear elbow pads and helmets and stuff and their basic objective if for a member of their team to get past everybody on the other team. Now, it’s the objective of the other team, on defense or whatever you wanna call it to knock these people down with their elbows and with everything else that they got. They can bump them over the rail if they run into them from the side. And it’s pretty heavy action-oriented sport.
Chris: It always felt like pro-wrestling meets roller-skating.
Mike: Yeah! exactly! I think that’s a great description, you’re right. And they do it with a male and women both and some of the women are pretty darn tough. They get out there, so.
Chris: Yeah, you mentioned Mexican food, too.
Mike: Yes, Mexican food is equal to barbecue in Texas. It’s got all kinds of wonderful restaurants in town. My favorite is Güero’s, it’s down on South Congress. And I think every president in the last 20 years has eaten there. Some of them have dishes named after them. It’s amazing, but it’s probably more Tex-Mex like you were talking about earlier, than true Mexican food. Because it does have a lot of spicy salsas and spicy flavorings on enchiladas and different entrees.
Chris: Hey, don’t get me wrong when I say Tex-Mex versus Mexican. I like TexMex. I like a good fajita. But it’s not really Mexican, so.
Mike: Yeah. Mexican food is really a little, to be honest with you more bland than Tex-Mex. Tex-Mex is a lot more spicy, in my opinion. That’s just my opinion. We have a place called “Juan in a Million” if you like breakfast tacos. They open at 7:00, they shut down at 3:00. It was featured on Man vs. Food. Every taco that they put out weighs three-fourths of a pound
Chris: Oh, good grief.
Mike: And there’s couples that can’t finish one. Well, he ate four and one-forth tacos, actually, which . . .
Chris: Good Grief
Mike: . . . was trying to break the record which was eight but he can’t do it, he couldn’t do it. And that’s called the “Don Juan” taco. The record is eight and Juan Mesa who was an ex-school teacher opened it, God, I think back in 1980, and it’s funny because he greets every person that comes through the door. I mean gives them a handshake and he does not ever miss anybody. So if you go down there and don’t get your handshake them I’m gonna be very surprised. Chuy’s is another place that’s based here in Austin and it is kind of a . . . Austin has this phrase called “keep Austin weird”.
Mike: Which the rest of the state agrees on 100% and some of the locals like it, that live in Austin, and they have little statues of Elvis Presley and all kinds of just different things that you don’t think you’d find in a Mexican restaurant. But they do a pretty good job with Mexican food. High-end, you’ve got Fonda San Miguel downtown with rellenos, which is basically a pepper, chili.
Chris: Chilli rellenos, yeah.
Mike: They stuff them with different meats and things. There’s a taco chain called Torchy’s Taco, which really, gets out and they do wonderful tacos basically. My son turned me all about ’em. A lot of the places my middle son turns me onto, because he’s kind of a foodie like I am. They put everything together that you can think of. I mean, chipotle sauce, carnitas, pico de gallo, cotija cheese, which is a fresh Mexican cheese.
Chris: That’s the white cheese.
Mike: Yeah, exactly. And they put all kinds of combinations together that you will not find in most restaurants, and it’s very neat to go in there and experiment and try different tacos.
My Mexican food place is called Taqueria Guadalajara and is located on Ranch Road 620 on the northwest side of Austin and barely in Travis County still. And it’s a little chain of about 4 or 5, that I think may have 15 tables if that. And they turn the people pretty rapidly, but when you go in they have all kinds of different sauces, and their plates are really not as spicy as a Tex-Mex place so if you like authentic Mexican food at a very low price, Taqueria Guadalajara is what I’d recommend.
We used to have one called Dario’s that was down on Sixth Street on the east side of 35 but it closed about a year and a half ago. But it’s still on the list of places to go and eat Mexican food. I was looking through the list yesterday and I just went, “Oh, my God”. I couldn’t believe it. It was fantastic so, anyways.
If you like French or kinda continental food I’d hit Justine’s, Olive and June and Fabi and Rosi. F-A-B-I and R-O-S-I. And those are my middle son, Shaun’s, recommendations and everyone that has been there or gone with him, has been phenomenal food.
Mike: The other thing is seafood. They have a chain called Truluck’s, and I don’t think that’s country-wide, I think it may be just based in Texas but it might be spreading. But they have stone crab claws and oh, my God. You want to talk about a dish that gets to me, it’s stone crab claws and they do a wonderful job so, Truluck’s. And I’ll stop there on the food.
Chris: You’re standing in the prettiest spot in all of Austin. Where are you standing and what are you looking at?
Mike: I’m probably gonna be sitting at a restaurant.
Chris: You are consistent, sir.
Mike: I’s called The Oasis, and it overlooks Lake Travis, and it’s up on the side of the hill, and you’re gonna be watching the sunset out over Lake Travis. When it’s full, it had a problem the last two years of not enough rain, but I think, probably the rain that they’ve been getting, it’s gone back to it’s natural setting. And it is one of the most gorgeous things to see when the sun gets over the back of the lake and you see that light coming across the lake while you’re eating or having a margarita or a cold beer or something to go with your meal. It’s just, it’s fantastic. So that would be my recommendation.
Chris: Excellent. And we’ve managed to get through the whole episode without mentioning that Austin is also the capital of Texas.
Mike: It definitely is and that would be one of the historical buildings that I’d recommend you go see. I’m kind of a history nut and I like going to see all those types of buildings like the Driskill Hotel. It was made a long time ago by the ranch guy, or the cattle guy and you go into that place and it’s phenomenal. But the Capitol has got the star of Texas and stuff on their door handles, on their hinges on the doors. I mean, Its amazing how deep they go in with the Texas, detail.
Chris: Well, and I’m curious to hear your answer for this one given that we talked about keeping Austin weird. One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in Austin.”
Mike: Probably the street musicians. I don’t think you’re gonna find street musicians just performing on the curb, or in front of a shop, or in front of a venue, a bar or something like they do on Sixth Street. You’re not gonna find that in Dallas or Fort Worth or Houston because they wouldn’t allow it. In Austin, since their tag kinda is the music capital of the world they allow it and it doesn’t where you are or what you’re doing, you’re gonna run across people playing music right there on the sidewalk and you know you’re in Austin because nobody else in the state allows that.
Chris: Last question then. If you had to summarize Austin in only three words. Which three words would you use?
Mike: Let’s see, that would be “keep it weird”.
Chris: Excellent! Excellent! What other three words could you possibly have chosen, sir?
Our guest again has been Mike Hinshaw from nomadictexan.com. Mike, what can people read about on your site? What’s the most interesting post you’ve written recently? Most interesting, and probably surprising to a lot of the people who follow me and stuff. Is the Just One Rhino post I wrote. I’m part of the 120 bloggers or travel writers or whatever we’re gonna be called today. Because that’s a big topic these days, that I wrote to help save the one rhino, and it was written back on my birthday! February the 24th. I chose that date when Brett Love put the calendar up because I knew it was my birthday and I wouldn’t forget it since it was my birthday.
But if you think about the rhinoceros, it’s a dinosaur and it’s been around for thousands of years possibly, maybe only hundreds, but it’s been around for a long time and we’re almost out of them. I mean, we’ve just about eliminated the species and it’s really critical that people stop the plundering of the rhinoceros because of their horns. I mean, it’s just crazy that people want to get that. So, anyway, that would be my most recent one. If you want to go back a little further, I was on a trip in Thailand, Malaysia for about two weeks, if you go into that. I was in Japan last December, so. And I haven’t written yet but I just got out of Spain for a couple, three weeks and there will be a post to come, from Spain.
Chris: Excellent. Our guest again has been Mike Hinshaw. Thanks so much, Mike for coming on the Amateur Traveler and sharing with us your love of Austin.
Mike: Well I appreciate it Chris and I hope you have a fantastic week.
Chris: In the community section of our news. Remember that it is two weeks until the 10 year anniversary of Amateur Traveler. You’re gonna want to listen to that episode. I think I’m gonna have an announcement for you in that episode.
A shout-out in this episode to Bronagh McNamara who I met last month, or the month before, at a conference in Spain. She came up to me and told me that she had actually gotten into travel because of the Amateur Traveler and that is one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard.
I got an email from Mark who said, “I just want to shoot you a quick email to thank you for the awesome Amateur Traveler podcast. I only recently got into podcasts during my daily exercise routine and as I’m a very avid traveler, I travel about 200,000 miles a year, found your podcast after doing a search on my iPhone. Your podcasts are professional, insightful and encapsulate the essence of the destination being discussed, and I find it truly fascinating to hear your podcasts both about places that I’ve already been to, as well as my appetite for places that I long to go in the future. I literally downloaded every podcast in the iTunes collection, which starts with number 30, and I’m currently up to 111, Mongolia. As well as up to date on your current weekly podcast produced over the last few weeks.”
Well, that is impressive and I can only hope, Mark, will find that they get better as you go along. Certainly, the production value of the podcast has improved a bit over the last 10 years and you’re only up to year two and a half there at 111, ‘cuz we’ve done up almost exactly 48 episodes a year for the last 10 years.
With that, we’re gonna end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have any questions send an email to host at amateurtraveler.com, or, better yet, leave a comment on this episode at amateurtraveler.com. You can follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest all at @chris2x. And, as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.