As a student at the University of Texas at Austin, I am always grateful for the many options for food exploration available to us around the city. Austin's food scene has been noticed for its food trucks, wide array of vegetarian and vegan options, and their local foods you can't find anywhere else. Of all the good local dishes I've tried, a few stand above the rest, and fortunately, they also happen to be affordable and accessible (in no particular order).
1. Paco's Tacos — Barbacoa Tacos
This local taco joint really hits the spot for me because of its casual, family-owned restaurant vibe and its (obviously) amazing food. The barbacoa they make is basically the most tender beef you can imagine — it's served in flavorful sauce and melts in your mouth with every bite. Other great tacos include the "Cece's Pescado", a deliciously seasoned fish taco with house-made coleslaw, dressing, and rice (left).
2. Homeslice Pizza — Sausage, Ricotta, & Bell Pepper Pizza
A local favorite, Homeslice has been serving up delicious New-York style pizza at its famous South Congress location for many years. The sausage, ricotta, and bell pepper is my go-to variety because of its fluffy, aromatic ricotta that perfectly complements the seasoned Italian sausage and juicy peppers. Every time I order this, a different waiter has told me it's also his or her favorite, so that's got to count for something, too.
3. 24 Diner — Mac & Cheese
As a cheese lover and enthusiast, 24 Diner's mac & cheese stands out to me because of its unique blend of cheeses, namely, gruyere and cheddar, along with some possible mystery cheeses thrown in that add to the rich flavor. It's not too saucy or chunky and its flavors are just interesting enough to make it a modern-spin on the classic dish — this local dish is a must-try for any Austinite or cheese eater looking for local home-style cooking.
4. Chen's Noodle House — Beef Noodle Soup
For those who've never tried it before, beef noodle soup hails as a staple in Taiwan and China and, in the realm of Asian noodle soups, is second to none. While ramen and pho may be the ones getting more visibility these days, authentic beef noodle soup with handmade noodles, broth, and bok choy, is a delicious way to enjoy the soup and noodle combo. The fact that Chen's Noodle House is a cozy, family-owned restaurant located in Austin's Chinatown also adds to the appeal of slurping up a bowl of this on any day in the city.
5. Lick Honest Ice Creams — Horchata Ice Cream
Lick is one of those uniquely visionary, artisanal ice cream places that has Austinites going crazy during any season. They not only use locally sourced ingredients, they also combine flavors in refreshing blends such as Roasted Beets & Fresh Mint and Goat Cheese, Thyme, & Honey. Horchata is my favorite because of its mildly cinnamon-y, nutty flavor that does all the spices and seeds justice.
6. Chi'lantro — Kimchi Fries
The brainchild of Korean-American Jae Kim, Chi'lantro is an Asian fusion casual eatery that serves Korean BBQ with a twist that's recently signed on to a $600,000 deal on Shark Tank. Most popular are their Kimchi Fries, consisting of fries topped with a protein of your choice, house-made kimchi, cheese, onions, Sriracha, cilantro, and special sauce. Even if you decide it's not up your alley, it's still a great local dish to cross off your Austin bucket list.
7. Polkadots Cupcake Factory — Honey and Chai Cupcake
Polkadots Cupcake Factory was started by two UT Austin graduates, and really, this comes as no surprise, seeing as how successful our alumni have become in the world of inventive food. Not only is this cupcake shop homey and sweet, its hardwood floors and whimsical decor bring out the nostalgic architecture of the house the shop is built from. Stop by and try the honey and chai cupcake for a perfectly moist, fragrant cake with honey overtones in its buttercream frosting (which is cloudy and creamy, by the way).
8. Boteco — Coxinha (Chicken Croquette)
This list wouldn't be complete without a food from one of Austin's many fabulous food trucks, and Boteco definitely makes it at the top of the food truck list. Coming from humble beginnings, Boteco not only serves up Brazilian street food such as yucca and meat and rice plates, but also serves its famous coxinha, a crowd pleaser that contains chicken and cheese in fried dough.
9. General Tso Boy — Soft Serve with Matcha Powder and Chocolate Fudge
Another Asian fusion eatery on this list, General Tso Boy specializes in serving traditional Chinese style meats such as pepper steak, General Tso's chicken, and char siu pork in baguette sandwiches. While their sandwiches are delicious, the house-made soft serve really hits the spot with its smooth and creamy texture and delicious choice of toppings. The soft serve topped with matcha powder and chocolate fudge is a wonderful marriage of East and West, and makes for a great Insta pic, too.