My heart may be in Southern California but, I left my stomach in Austin!

K, so…..QUESO!!! A Texas staple yet good luck finding it on a menu in Southern California. I’m sure it’s out there but completely incomparable to what you’ll find in the Lone Star state! Why doesn’t it have a larger presence in California? Let’s make this happen in California, people. Ok now that I got that off my chest, let me continue. I recently went to Austin, Texas to visit a few friends. I always tell my out-of-state friends, “Yeah, I’ll totally come visit” and never do, so it was time to make good on my word to visit these two special friends. Little did I know that I would go on a culinary adventure that would leave me needing “a minute” after my first bite more than once. Now if you were to ask a resident of Austin to name their top 5 places someone has to eat at, you will start a fight between their brain and stomach that could go on for hours over which hot spots make the list. However, if you’re like me and don’t live there but do find yourself visiting the wonderful capital of Austin, I will tell you this…I’m not going to say “eat here or you’re wrong” but trust me when I say that the following list won’t leave you wanting more. Consider them a “you’ll be disappointed you didn’t try these places sooner” list. In no particular order, here are my top 5 places to eat at if your find yourself in Austin, Texas…

1. Torchy’s Taco! If anyone from Torchy’s corporate office is reading this right now, please contact me about franchising a location in Southern California. Thank you. Ok, Torchy’s Taco, where do I even begin to describe how amazing this place is? I’ll start by telling you to eat the QUESO! (Yes I’m going to yell it every time I mention it because QUESO is that good!) You should also try their Trailer Park taco which has fried chicken, green chile, lettuce, Pico de Gallo and cheese on a flour tortilla with pablano sauce. I strongly suggest getting it “trashy” which means removing the lettuce and adding…you guessed it…QUESO! They also offer a Taco of the Month which on my recent visit happened to be The Roscoe. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, “that” Roscoe of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffle. This taco is a flower tortilla layered with a crisp waffle, fried egg, fried chicken, and a slice of bacon served with a side of maple syrup. Life changing! Have I mentioned how much I wish Torchy’s Tacos were in Southern California? Shhhhhh! *in a whispering voice* There’s also a secret menu, I won’t tell you how to find it, you’ll be responsible for that much but you’ll be glad you did! *done whispering*

2. Hopdoddy Burger Bar! On one hand I feel like I have reached the mountaintop of burgers, and on the other hand I feel that is dramatic to say …so I challenge you to find a better burger than HopDoddy. I’m a loyalist to my favorite restaurants and after needing more than “a minute” after my first bite, I spent the rest of the meal mostly in silence as I dove into the depths of my memory trying to recall any burger that could compete with what currently was in my mouth…and came up with nothing. None of that part of my experience at HopDoddy even includes the fact that I was dipping my french fries in QUESO!!! The place is super trendy and has a really awesome vibe to it, not to mention they grind their own meat, bake their own bread, hand cut their own fries, churn their own ice-cream and support local farms and ranchers, so you know everything is a fresh as it gets.

3.Taco Deli! Confession! I always make people gasp with shock when I tell them my very controversial opinion that potatoes should not be part of the breakfast meal at all. I have yet to eat a breakfast that included potatoes that I was glad they were a part of it…until I ate at Taco Deli. They have a menu section that allows you to customize your own breakfast tacos. At the suggestion of my friend Amanda, I tried my breakfast tacos with mashed potatoes on it, I paired the potatoes with sirloin steak, scrambled eggs topped with their signature salsa and a cup of “just the right amount of muddy black coffee”. My belly was satisfied by 10:00am…anything else that went into it the rest of the day was a bonus! I didn’t even look at the rest of the menu and probably never will with breakfast being my favorite meal of the day and thousands of combinations of breakfast tacos alone to try. I’ll probably never get through them all!

4. Hula Hut! Located on the banks of the Colorado River, for a brief second I questioned whether I was in Texas or Huntington Beach with the 82 degree temperature at 7:00pm, having happy hour on the patio, which is out over the water while the sun set and the fish and turtles swam underneath our dock. You’ve heard of “Tex-Mex”? Well at the Hula Hut you will be introduced to “Tiki-Mex” food with menu items like the “Kawaikini Stuffed Avocado” and “Roasted Chicken Pipeline Enchilada”. All you’ll need to get home is an inner tube and a flash light so you can just float down the river home.

5. Gourdough’s The tag line explains all you need to know and Gourdough’s lives up to it… Big.Fat.Doughnuts. As you read the menu for the first time you will literally look over your shoulder as if to say “is anyone else seeing this…these doughnuts are outrageous” and they are, but they for sure are real and amazing. With doughnuts like “The Fat Elvis” which comes with grilled bananas & bacon with peanut butter icing & honey on top and the “The Carney” topped with apple topping, dry roasted peanuts & caramel. You will definitely need to plan accordingly and leave some room in your belly to finish your day off with dessert here.

As a bonus I’ll throw in an honorable mention to Whataburger and you can thank me later. First off, let’s be real, Texas…this burger is not better than In & Out but that debate is for a different place and time. Four letters from Whataburger will make you turn into Oliver Twist and have you asking “Please sir, I want some more”. H.B.C.B, those four glorious letters stand for Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit! Simple but so delicious! It’s literally a chicken strip inside a biscuit oozing with a sweet and savory honey butter that will make your eyes roll into the back of your head the minute it touches your tongue. Heads up though, let me let you in on a little local knowledge; the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit is only served between the hours of 11:00pm and 11:00am, so plan accordingly. Other really tasty things to try on the menu that I’m a fan of are the Honey BBQ Chicken Strip Sandwich which is served on the ever popular Texas toast. Chicken strips with white gravy will also make you question why you don’t put white gravy on everything. Don’t worry; if you find yourself wanting to drink the extra gravy after the chicken strips are gone, I won’t judge you…I did it!

It’s been less than 72 hours since I’ve been home and it’s hard to tell if the rumblings in my stomach are saying “take me back to Austin, I want more QUESO and good food” or if they’re rumblings of relief that I won’t be testing my stomach’s limits of capacity for a while. All I know, with good food and good friends in Austin. I’ll be back!

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