SERVED ON THE patio at the sleek, sophisticated Comedor in Austin's warehouse district, the modern Mexican cuisine is executed so beautifully, it practically transports diners to Mexico. (Quite a feat mid-pandemic!) A tostada, topped with chunks of svelte snapper swathed in oyster emulsion and drizzled with shrimp oil, is simply dazzling. So, too, is the pork belly memela, wherein the crispy crunchy textures of pork belly chicharron are contrasted against the slow-roasted savoriness of Yucatán-style cochinita pibil; or the roasted bone-marrow tacos, served build-your-own style, with heirloom blue-corn tortillas, all plated to look like something that would grace the cover of Food & Wine.
A quick, two-and-a-half-hour drive from Houston, Austin just might be the best place for Houstonians to visit at the moment. No need for air travel, or to worry about providing proof of a negative Covid-19 test prior to departure or arrival. (Though by all means, please wear a mask and be considerate of others.)
The modern-Mex restaurant Comedor
For gastronomically minded travelers used to parachuting into a city like New York or Paris for an immersive eating fest à la the late, great Anthony Bourdain, Austin's food scene is as exciting, varied and sophisticated as ever. The options are so numerous that three days of nonstop eating barely scratches the surface.
Those still gun-shy about staying in a hotel might consider booking Casa Cartel, a private, five-bedroom villa in Austin's East Side, available via Airbnb. The former home of Austin Abraham Kennedy, whose restaurant El Gallo was a fixture on South Congress for 59 years, the house was entirely refurbished and decorated by famed designer and Flip That House star Jantzen Matzdorff in 2018. With an expansive patio, plunge pool, private entertainment room, gourmet kitchen, formal dining area, and vivid mystical 20-foot wall mural depicting Mayan mythology, the setup is ideal for families or groups who prefer the privacy of having their own space.
Smoked brisket at Loro
Meanwhile, those looking for a resort-style getaway will want to book a room at the Commodore Perry Estate (4100 Red River St., 512.817.5200), part of the Auberge Resorts Collection. Conveniently situated just 10 minutes from Downtown, the property debuted in summer 2020 and is all kinds of dreamy, with 42 rooms and 12 suites, and amenities that include an organic urban farm, English-style gardens, resort pool and private chapel.
Built in 1928 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the original Mansion, which sits apart from the newly constructed Inn, exudes European elegance and serves as the main hub for all on-property activities. On weekdays, plan for pre-dinner drinks during the complimentary evening Punchbowl service, then indulge in dinner on the loggia or in the main dining room, where exec chef Bradley Nicholson (an alum of Barley Swine) offers contemporary American fare ranging from a seafood tower to truffle-hush-puppies to classically prepared roast chicken.
Check the programming calendar for Live at the Mansion musical performances, offered several nights a week. If romance is on the agenda, book a private picnic for two, served on the property's expansive lawn, for a feast of cold fried chicken, berries and Champagne. And don't skip breakfast on the lovely terrace, if only to get a taste of pastry chef Susana Querejazu's phenomenal creations; the croissants and Kouign Amanns are to-die-for.
The modern-Mex restaurant Comedor
Sampling craft barbecue in Austin is a must, so when you're ready to venture off-property, head to Loro on South Lamar, a joint project between Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue and Tyson Cole of Uchi, two of the city's most prominent chefs. With casual, walk-up counter service and a sprawling, tree-shaded patio, the food at Loro brilliantly marries traditional craft barbecue with Asian themes and flavors — and with built-in social-distancing measures.
Here, Franklin's famous smoked beef brisket, available for dinner only, is dressed with Thai herbs and lip-tingling chili gastrique. Mains like the Malaysian chicken bo ssam or smoked prime bavette with shisito salsa verde are just as compelling, complemented by an assortment of fun, well priced small plates like the Japanese-style chicken karaage or corn fritters with sriracha aioli.
Speaking of meat, custom cuts for ribeye, New York Strip, and filet mignon are butchered right in front of you at new Carve American Grille. At this concept by Houston's own Chris Perry of Perry's Steakhouse, Perry's master chef Rick Moonen wows with new takes on American dishes. Early hits include the meatloaf cupcakes and the Carve meat board for four, which includes chateaubriand, a taste of the restaurant's caramelized prime rib and more.
Loro's mint julep
For lighter, farm-to-table fare — fresh salads, wood-fired flatbreads, grilled Columbia River arctic char served with jasmine rice — the new Verbena by chef Nic Yanes is a worthwhile stop. Located on West 6th on the ground level of the Canopy by Hilton hotel, the open-air courtyard makes for a lovely lunch spot surrounded by shady trees, climbing ivy and a water sculpture.
And when a celebratory, special occasion meal is in order, you can never go wrong with Uchiko. More than a decade after its initial debut, Tyson Cole's Japanese farmhouse-style menu of sushi and hot and cold tastings — the kinoko usuzukuri cold trumpet-mushroom dish just might blow your mind — still manages to feel timely and of-the-moment.
Another option for a resplendent evening? Dinner at Hestia, chef Kevin Fink's tasting-menu-only ode to live-fire cooking, where the menu is not a menu at all, but offered as a series of meditations, in post-card form, on a specific ingredient or dish, presented prior to the arrival of each exquisitely prepared course.
A two-minute walk from Hestia, the Austin Proper Hotel (600 W. 2nd St., 512.628.1500), newly debuted as of January 2020, boasts one of the most attractive lobby bars and restaurants in the city: The Peacock. Here, a QR code scan reveals the bar menu, comprised of wines, a selection of mezze, and cocktails such as the Moroccan Mojito, made with white rum, limoncello, mint lemonade and Topo Chico.
Stay for sips and snacks, or better yet, reserve the experience for your return visit to Austin. With the Austin Proper Hotel as your pied-à-terre, an entirely different itinerary awaits, starting with a walk across the Butterfly Bridge. May that future adventure be just as delicious.
The porch at Loro
The Mansion Loggia at the Commodore Perry Estate
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