We were stuffed and ready to walk off a few calories with some Texas-style sightseeing following our early-day stops at Stiles Switch BBQ and Nau’s Enfield Drug. If you’ve read my previous trip reports, you know that my wife and I seek out state capitol buildings while traveling. As Austin is the capital of Texas, their state house was our first stop. I won’t go so far as to say, “If you’ve seen one state house, you’ve seen them all,” but this one was fairly similar to a number of the others we’ve seen in terms of the architecture.
Another similarity with other state capitals we’ve visited was the close proximity of the capitol building and a state history museum.
The Bullock Texas State History Museum was extremely worthwhile. They had a special exhibit on how the Nazi leadership used propaganda during World War II, as well as an array of permanent exhibits that showed off the wide swath of history that is unique to the Lone Star State.
Our planned dinner that night was at Lucy’s Fried Chicken, which I had read very good things about online. But I decided to lay off the fried chicken due to the acid reflux issue I mentioned in yesterday’s post. Lucy’s other specialty is oysters, served in a variety of ways, including casino-style the night we were there. I love Clams Casino and decided to give the oyster version a shot. While I enjoyed the dish, it didn’t make up for missing out on Lucy’s fried chicken. If I ever get back to Austin, I intend to make amends for that.
For dessert, Lucy’s offered a slightly unorthodox version of banana pudding, which they served in a jar. As was the case with the banana pudding I had the previous night at Hoover’s, Lucy’s did not rate among the best I’ve tried. With the exception of my banana shake at Enfield Drug, our sightseeing outshined our food stops on this day.
We had better luck the following day, which started with a visit to one of Austin’s top purveyors of barbecue. I gave serious consideration to Franklin Barbecue, but decided I was not up for spending several hours in line to eat brisket. The highly rated Micklethwait Craft Meats was also an option. But I decided to go with la Barbecue, another elite establishment that was operating out of several food-truck-like trailers at that point. While they’ve since moved indoors, the weather was perfect that day in 2016, so we welcomed the opportunity to eat outside.
I mentioned the long lines at Franklin Barbecue. The potential for a long wait is also present at la Barbecue, but I got there early and was one of the first people in line. I probably had my food within an hour of arriving, which wasn’t much of a sacrifice considering how good it was.
I sampled brisket at each barbecue stop on this trip. Louie Mueller’s was so great that I was somewhat surprised to find that I enjoyed the brisket from la Barbecue just about as much. It was also perfectly done; soft and tender, but not to the point of breaking into shreds while being eaten, and had a bit more of a smoky accent to the flavor than I experienced at Mueller’s. As good as it was, the brisket may not even have been the best thing I ate at la Barbecue. I also ordered a single pork rib that was good enough to rival those I had at Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City a couple years later for the title of best pork rib I’ve ever eaten. It had a wonderful glaze that gave it just a touch of sweetness.
From la Barbecue, we headed south to San Antonio, with another barbecue pit stop in Lockhart, Texas. The town of Lockhart is arguably the capital of Texas barbecue. They have three legendary restaurants; Kreuz Market, Black’s Barbecue and Smitty’s Market.
Kreuz and Smitty’s are run by people from the same family, although the two branches had a falling out at some point. Smitty’s current location used to be Kreuz Market, which moved to a more modern facility up the road. We only had time and appetite for one stop in Lockhart and decided on Smitty’s because of its unbeatable atmosphere. I mentioned on my list of Top 10 roadfood restaurants that Smitty’s has more classic roadfood charm than any other restaurant I’ve ever visited. When you park in the rear, you enter through the smoker room and immediately see a pile of burning wood on the floor, next to the large brick smoker. After ordering and receiving your meat, you walk through a set of doors into an equally old-fashioned combination dining room and general store and grab seats at a long communal table. In the very old days, those tables had knives attached to them with chains that customers would use to cut their meat. Forks were not part of the process. Nowadays, you get your own fork and knife, but they still smoke the meat the same way.
My appetite was somewhat limited by this point, so I only ordered brisket. I would rate Smitty’s brisket as better than what I had at Stiles Switch, but not as good as the versions at Louie Mueller or la Barbecue, not to mention what my wife’s cousin made for us that first night.
Still, the experience of eating at Smitty’s is so wonderful, that I had not the slightest regret over choosing them instead of Kreuz’ and Black’s.
The barbecue portion of our vacation was over at this point. We were headed to San Antonio, where Mexican food is king.
Mexican is not one of my favorite cuisines, but again, “when in Rome.” For dinner that first night in San Antonio, we ate at Acenar, a contemporary Mexican restaurant and bar. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed my shrimp and crab filled enchiladas. We also sampled chips with an extremely spicy type of salsa that didn’t look like any salsa I had ever eaten.
After dinner, we enjoyed a stroll along the famous River Walk, which was right by our hotel.
We began the following day with a visit to San Antonio’s leading tourist attraction; the Alamo, which again, was just around the corner from where we stayed.
The first thing that struck me about the Alamo was how small it is. The imagination conjures up a large fortress when reading about the famous last stand of 1836. But the real thing is not big at all. Nonetheless, we learned a lot and enjoyed our time there.
From the Alamo, we move on to another Mexican restaurant, the Mi Tierra Cafe at the historic Market Square. This place has one of the more festive atmospheres I’ve experienced at a restaurant. Unfortunately, I didn’t label the photos of what we ate and can’t identify our food. Regardless, I think I walked out of Mi Tierra feeling like the fancy decor was the highlight of our meal. That’s not to say there was anything wrong with the food. It’s just a matter of personal taste when it comes to my lack of interest in Mexican cuisine.
Our final activity of note on this vacation was a visit to the historic Spanish Governor’s Palace. It’s among the last traces of 18th century Spanish rule still standing in San Antonio and was extremely appealing to the eye.
While we engaged in more activities during the second half of this trip, especially in San Antonio, it was the barbecue I ate in and around Austin that will always mark this vacation as a memorable one for me. Having said that, I still hope we’ll return to that region one day to sample brisket and other smoked meats at some of the legendary barbecue joints we didn’t get to in 2016.. One can never have too much of such a good thing.