One of the biggest perks of living in Austin is that we have so many restaurants per capita. You can find everything from BBQ to dim sum, upscale fine dining to dives. While I'm not one to pass up a gourmet meal served on fine china, I have to admit that I love dives. Not only are they usually cheap eats, but they're normally quick to serve you a delicious meal. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Chooby Doo International Cafe located in a strip center on W. William Cannon at Brodie Lane. Chooby Doo serves up bubble teas with tapioca pearls made fresh on site daily. They offer various sandwiches, gyros and soups, including Tom Yum, the spicy hot and sour Thai soup. I recommend the Buddha Tofu sandwich. While I don't always go for vegetarian fare, this grilled tofu sandwich is tasty enough for me to ignore the Chicago Style hot dogs and Chinese BBQ sandwiches on the menu. You[ll be happy with the prices, too. I don't think I found anything over $5 on their menu.
2. Flip Happy Crepes was one of South Austin's best kept secrets until a great review in the Statesmen trumpeted the news that fabulous crepes are easy to find. Flip Happy is an Airstream trailer restaurant at 400 Jessie Street, off Barton Springs and close enough to S. Lamar that you can see the "silver bullet" and awnings from your stuck-in-rush-hour-traffic vantage point. Hands down, my choice of crepes will almost always be a roast chicken, carmelized onion, goat cheese one and a shredded pork, cheddar cheese, Tabasco, pickles and mustard one. Not as inexpensive as Chooby Doo, the crepes range between $6 and $6.50 each. For made from scratch savory crepes, I'm not complaining about cost. Dessert crepes and a kids menu are also available. Cash only, unless they've added a telephone line for a credit card machine when I wasn't paying attention.
3. La Reyna is the closest to a non-dive restaurant on my list. I've heard it described as looking like a "Mexican diner". La Reyna is pure, no frills Tex Mex food, the kind you can find in any home kitchen but that you don't have to trouble yourself to cook. While I do enjoy their enchilada plates ($6.45-$7.25), I am there most often for breakfast. Their priciest breakfast plates top out at under $4 and are always enjoyable. If you're a fan of huevos rancheros or migas, this is the place to satisfy your cravings. Their homemade corn and flour tortillas go perfectly with some of the best refried beans in town. Here's a hint from a regular: ask to try the "morning salsa". The table salsa is fresh, spicy enough and good but the morning salsa, served warm, has more of a kick. Service is fast and friendly although you may find that your waitress only speaks Spanish. Even so, I've never had an order come to the table wrong.
4. Hoek's Pizza is known among my social group as "Death Metal Pizza". This joint is tops among the 6th Street pizza places and blares out hard/metal rock all night long. The pizza is unpretentious New York style thin crust fare, perfect for a midnight snack. Sold by the gigantic slice for just a few bucks, it's well worth it. I'm sure I'll have comments extolling the virtues of Roppolo's, but after eating pizza for 5 meals out of 6 during SXSW it's my pic as the best on 6th.
5. Mike's Pub is where my work friends and I head to when we need a good burger without the lengthy wait at Hut's. Mike's is, I kid you not, in a parking garage. Okay, more like on the side edge of a parking garage. Their website says the are on "north side of E. 7th St. between Congress Ave. and Brazos St. Next door to the Stephen F. Austin Hotel, and directly across the street from the Driskill Hotel Bar." Take the short flight of stairs up to the pub and you'll enter a world of scrumptious greasy burgers and beer. The "salad bar" next to the cash register is your toppings headquarters. In other words, they cook 'em but you build 'em. Any given lunch hour you'll see blue collar workers, business men in suits and all kinds of downtown office staff like me wolfing down a cheeseburger and fries. Some days you may even run into local celebrities like Earl Campbell. When the Lege is in session, you may sit next to a well known politician or two, and the inevitable lobbyist. Check them out for breakfast or lunch, where a double meat/double cheeseburger is under 6 bucks.
There's so many more inexpensive but great eats in Austin that I could blog about, but hey, who has the time? If you think I've missed a fabulous dive, leave a comment and tell me where I need to eat next.