Austin Travel Tips From a Food Writer Turned Restaurant Boss
From Bon Appetit to a Netflix series to the restaurant world, Andrew Knowlton knows food. Here, he shares his favorite eats and more in Austin
After 18 years of covering restaurants at Bon Appétit magazine, Andrew Knowlton (partner in Mighty Union Hospitality) now helps run them. The host of the Netflix series The Final Table, he recently moved from New York City to Austin, Texas, where his most recent project, Carpenters Hall at Austin’s Carpenter Hotel, is already one of the toughest reservations in town.
“It gets hot in Austin,” says Knowlton. “Really hot. The best defense is a good offense, but margaritas will only get you so far. Do as the locals do and take daily dips in one of the several pools and swimming holes.” Barton Springs Pool (pictured above) in the 358-acre Zilker Park is a social and cultural hub. “You’ll see everything here—bats, boobs, and belly flops,” he says. For a more mellow vibe, Knowlton prefers the oldest swimming pool in Texas, spring-fed Deep Eddy just across Town Lake (aka Ladybird Lake, aka the Colorado River). “There’s lap swimming, a beachlike entrance on one end, and plenty of grass to throw a blanket on. After cooling off, walk up the hill to Pool Burger for some crinkle-cut fries, soft serve, and a few rounds of body-numbing Pinche Coladas.”
For music, Knowlton says, “Try the Cactus Cafe. Or Hotel Vegas. Or Scoot-Inn. Or ACL Live at the Moody Theater. Or the Mohawk. Or Stubb’s. Or Cheer Up Charlies (pictured at top). I could go on.” For a side of true Austin musical history with your country or rock ’n’ roll, he suggests a show at The Continental Club on South Congress. “I’m particular to Monday nights, when the Peterson Brothers play their funk-inflected blues,” he says.
Knowlton’s favorite taco truck has changed every month since he moved to town. “I’ve got through an El Primo bean-and-cheese phase, a Rosita’s Al Pastor phase, and a Discada discada phase,” he says. His current obsession: the green chilaquiles tacos on housemade corn tortillas from Granny’s Tacos on the East Side. Tex-Mex is king in Austin. “If I didn’t mention my daughters’ favorite spot, Matt’s El Rancho, they would run away from home,” he jokes. “Those girls—and the entire city—are addicted to the queso, the cheese dip of highly questionable origins.” At Fonda San Miguel, “regulars swear by the ancho chiles rellenos, but for me there’s only one dish—rich and satisfying braised-duck enchiladas,” Knowlton says. Texas is the land of barbecue, and the line at Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ deserves to be as long as the one at legendary ’cue spot, Franklin’s, across town, says Knowlton. What propels owner Miguel Vida to the upper echelon of pit masters is the smoky queso, charro beans, smoked corn, inventive rubs, and one of the best tacos on the planet called the Real Deal Holyfield. “One can’t survive on Tex-Mex and BBQ alone,” he says. “Bufalina (pictured above) is a rambunctious family favorite. My kids love the nicely charred Neapolitan pies with toppings ranging from radish to pecan-pesto to harissa. My wife and I love the funky, fresh wines from the city’s most dynamic bottle list.” From 4 to 5:30 pizzas and bottles of wine are half price.