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Travel to Texas Without Ever Mentally Leaving San Francisco

East Austin is a little slice of home tucked into the Lone Star State.

The White Horse in East Austin 

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East Austin, Texas

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Friends & Neighbors

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East Side King

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Heywood Hotel

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Travaasa Austin

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Downtown Austin may be ground zero for live music, but these days the opposite side of 35 is the Texas capital’s seat of good eatin’. “East Austin’s culinary scene has doubled in the last year,” says Mariam Parker, executive director of the Austin Food and Wine Alliance, “and it hasn’t stopped yet.” It’s the kind of delightfully unpredictable place where a Jewish deli pops up in the back of a vintage bookstore, and honky-tonks and food trucks pack in among churches and piñata stores. Plus, many of the spaces have sprawling patios lit by lanterns, ideal for lingering over a meal on those hot summer nights.

Ranch-to-table is to Austin what farm-to-table is to San Francisco—just swap out the heirloom romanesco for family-raised beef. Give it a try at Jacoby’s Restaurant & Mercantile, opened last year by a young Texan whose roots trace back to his family’s feed-and-seed store in Melvin. Its lantern-lit patio overlooking the Colorado River is where you want to be on balmy Texas evenings, and its menu lives up to its locavore reputation, with housemade charcuterie and organic beef, goat, and lamb that come directly from the family ranch. For supper, as it’s called in these parts, expect high-minded southern comfort food like gooey marmalade-roasted quail over porridge and crispy chicken-fried steak. Just don’t bring your vegan friends.  

Paul Qui, Austin’s one-man food empire, hawks his dishes all over town. Of his three food trucks roaming the streets of Austin, East Side King has the biggest following. Parked outside the Liberty Bar, the mobile eatery serves up palm-size bites like Poor Qui’s Buns (get it?)—roasted pork belly with hoisin sauce and cucumber kimchee in a steamed bun. For more cerebral fare and a proper sit-down meal by the James Beard Award–winning chef, walk around the corner to his eponymous restaurant, Qui, which serves a bold prix fixe menu: Think maitake cooked with pork blood, sunchokes, and foraged nettles, or Texas wagyu short ribs with wasabi and coffee. 

On the eastern fringe of the neighborhood, Blue Starlite, a boutique urban drive-in beneath the big Texas sky, brings in the masses with a bit of old- school summertime nostalgia. The ticket booth operates out of a teardrop trailer, and old Cadillacs and pickup trucks park alongside Priuses and fixies to catch a mix of indie, cult, and classic films. There are 50 auto spots, each equipped with a vintage theater speaker, and the concession stand has the ingredients and a fire pit for s’mores—but don’t forget to BYOB. 

No matter what your vision of Texas’s dive bar dance scene, the White Horse will prove you wrong. This might be the only honky-tonk where you can watch skinny-jeaned hipsters two-step with rockabilly girls and Vietnam vets in 10-gallon hats. Saturday nights usually have a lineup of three live bands, along with two-step lessons for left-footed out- of-towners. Don’t worry if dancing’s not your thing—you can hit up Pac-Man, the pool tables, and the taco truck outside. 

Disguised as any other Craftsman house lining this derelict stretch of East Cesar Chavez, Friends & Neighbors can be tough to recognize—but it’s one of East Austin’s buzziest local shops. Step through the porch door, and you’ll find goods appropriately stocked in specific rooms: vintage clothes in the boudoir-style bedroom, handmade soaps and beauty products in the bathroom, and Stumptown Coffee brewing in the kitchen (where you’ll also find ingredients like chili-infused honey and Persian blue salt). True to its name, the shop draws folks from the neighborhood who linger in the bungalow-style backyard on Saturday afternoons without fear of overstaying their welcome. 

Given the plethora of artists who have studios in the neighborhood, there’s a surprising dearth of storefronts hawking their wares. So the owner of Heywood Hotel opened a pop-up shop selling local silk-screened textiles, quirky ceramics (think shotgun-legged planters), and hand-carved wood vases. The hotel itself is a 1920s bungalow that’s been converted into a bright seven-room inn with Scandinavian design and touches of Texas charm. Rooms have exposed brick walls and refinished thrift furniture, and there’s a courtyard for socializing. Heywood Hotel Make sure to ask the owner for the latest insider recommendations—like the fact that the breakfast taco at Veracruz, the mom-and-pop truck across the street, is the best hangover cure in town. From $199. 

Surrounded by the open land of the Balcones Canyonlands preserve, 20 minutes from town, Travaasa Austin is the kind of resort that lets you pretend you’re a Texan while being pampered like a vacationer. Choose from the long list of daily activities—from horseback trips through the hills to mechanical-bull riding, hatchet throwing, and hiking—and then restore your muscles in the infinity pool overlooking the preserve before the flight home. From $300. 


Originally published in the May issue of San Francisco

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