Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ

Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ is hailed for serving some of the best breakfast tacos in Austin. (Courtesy of Texas Beef Council)

If you’re heading to Austin, Texas, there’s a strong chance you’re not just coming for the superb weather, exciting festivals and awesome live music – you’re looking for a taste of that famous Central Texas barbecue.

"It’s a must when you’re in Austin," says Katherine Wise, communications manager at Visit Austin, the city's tourism organization.

Whether you’re staying north, south, east or west of downtown, there’s a barbecue pit that’s definitely worth a visit. With so many moutwatering options, U.S. News asked local experts to recommend a few top places that will satisfy meat connoisseurs.

La Barbecue


La Barbecue

La Barbecue (Courtesy of LeAnn Mueller)


La Barbecue is one of the best barbecue places in town," Wise says. With local, hormone-free, grass-fed beef and an owner with an excellent barbecuing pedigree, La Barbecue has made its mark on smoked meats since opening in 2012. Formerly a food truck, this establishment moved to a brick-and-mortar location in East Austin where it now sells its excellent brisket ($20 per pound), sausage ($4.25 per link), beef ribs (market price) and pork ribs ($17.98 per pound).

[Read: The Best Hotels in Austin.]

Freedmen’s


Freedmen’s

Freedmen’s (Courtesy of Ashlyn Allison)


You don’t have to wait in line to enjoy barbecue at local favorite Freedmen’s, which is housed in a historic building in West Campus. Top dishes include the brisket ($10 per half-pound), pork spare ribs ($9.50 per half-pound) and the Holy Trinity Plate: a pork spare rib, brisket and house-made sausage ($25). Don’t forget the sides, like the house-made pickles ($4.50 per half-pint), and dessert, like the smoked chocolate mousse ($5.50 per quarter-pint). The bar side serves more than 160 whiskeys as well as vintage cocktails, beer and wine. And the large outdoor beer garden offers a relaxing area to chill and enjoy your ‘cue.

Lamberts Downtown Barbecue


Lamberts Downtown Barbecue

Lamberts Downtown Barbecue (Courtesy of Lamberts Downtown Barbecue)


“Lamberts is fantastic," says Angela Ashley, former assistant front office manager at the South Congress Hotel. It's a fancier barbecue option that has table service and takes reservations. Another barbecue restaurant occupying a historic building, Lamberts Downtown Barbecue in the Second Street District offers a full menu, including options for nonmeat eaters, plus wine, beer and cocktails. Try the natural Black Angus brisket ($19), natural pulled pork ($17) and house-made jalapeno hot links ($16). Lambert’s baked mac 'n' three cheeses ($8) and smoked bacon-braised collard greens ($8) are worth a bite as well.

Stiles Switch BBQ

A fun, old-school vibe flows through Stiles Switch BBQ, which sits in the Brentwood neighborhood. Focusing on Texas craft beers and smoked favorites like jalapeno cheddar sausage ($3.75 per link), brisket ($10 per half-pound), beef ribs ($22 per pound) and Texas Frito pie ($12.50), Stiles Switch BBQ is ideal for travelers looking for a down-to-earth Austin experience. Go for the meat plates, which offer a choice of one to three meats ($12.50 to $19.50) and two sides like corn casserole, spicy Cajun slaw and "hawg rub" fries.

[Read: 9 Must-Try Austin Steakhouses.]

Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ


Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ

Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ (Courtesy of Rose McIntyre)


Travelers on the hunt for tacos should look no further than Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ. Hailed for serving some of the best breakfast tacos in Austin, Valentina's sells meaty favorites like The Real Deal Holyfield ($7.50) and Ultimate Bean & Cheese ($5) that will fill you up and have you ready for a day of sightseeing. The smoked brisket taco ($5), sausage ($14 per pound), beef ribs ($20 per pound) and pulled pork ($18 per pound) shouldn’t be missed either at this outdoor-friendly southwest Austin spot.

Micklethwait Craft Meats


Micklethwait Craft Meats

Micklethwait Craft Meats (Courtesy of Giovani Ortiz)


An East Austin gem, Micklethwait Craft Meats sells its barbecue from the window of a vintage trailer. The establishment makes its meats and specials in-house, including its brisket Frito pie ($10), pork ribs ($18 per pound) and pulled pork ($14 per pound). Tasty sides include jalapeno cheese grits and lemon poppy slaw ($3.75 for 8 ounces). Cheesecake brownies, made by an Austin bakery, cost $4.

Terry Black’s Barbecue


Terry Black’s Barbecue

Terry Black’s Barbecue (Courtesy of Terry Black’s Barbecue)


Large indoor and outdoor dining areas covered in corrugated sheet metal give a comforting farmhouse feel to the Bouldin Creek neighborhood’s Terry Black’s Barbecue. Owners Mike and Mark Black also come from a line of well-regarded pitmasters and carry on their family’s smoking legacy with brisket ($18.98 per pound), sausage ($14 per pound), turkey ($16.98 per pound) and pork ribs ($16.98 per pound). Green beans and mac 'n' cheese (5 ounces for $2.25) should make their way onto your meat plate, along with the mini pecan pie and banana pudding ($2.25).

Franklin Barbecue


Franklin Barbecue

Franklin Barbecue (Courtesy of Franklin Barbecue)


The list wouldn’t be complete without perhaps the most acclaimed spot for smoked meat in Austin: Franklin Barbecue. Wise says be prepared for a long line when you visit, "but once you get in the door, it’s totally worth it.”

[Read: 5 Austin Breweries to Visit.]

Known around the country for its phenomenal brisket ($22 per pound), Franklin Barbecue also serves up favorites like ribs ($19 per pound), pulled pork ($19 per pound) and sausage ($14 for three links), plus the Tipsy Texan sandwich ($8). Classic sides like pinto beans and slaw ($3 for a single serving) are served along with pecan pie ($5) and lemon chess pie ($5).

Ashley says that while Franklin Barbecue has a lot of buzz, it's not the only great place in town. “A lot of people ask about Franklin Barbecue, but there are other fantastic barbecue options that don’t eat up your entire day,” Ashley says.

To experience more of what Austin has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.


15 Best Foodie Destinations in the USA


Photo Gallery
Friends eating pizza at a restaurant.
The Las Vegas strip at sunset.
Philly Steak Sandwich with Au Jus
Telescope overlooking the Seattle skyline.
USA, South Carolina, Charleston, Church Street, St. Philip's Church
Close-up of Burgers and Hot Dogs on the Barbecue, Houston, Texas, USA
Cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. during late March.
Foodie tour classic Chicago hot dog with french fries
San Francisco skyline and Bay Bridge at sunset.
New Orleans Beignet
Dramatic sky over Los Angeles.
|

What makes a great foodie destination?
More and more travelers are planning their vacations around the eateries they want to visit in any given destination. After all, a large part of a city's culture lies in its cuisine. But what makes a place worth visiting for the food alone? The answer depends on who you ask.

Some would say it's a distinct, authentic cuisine that the city does best, while others value a wealth of options that range from ethnic to innovative. Others say it's placing heightened importance on using only fresh, local ingredients. No matter the definition, the 15 cities that appear on U.S. News' first-ever Best Foodie Destinations in the USA ranking share one common factor: they offer unforgettable gastronomic experiences that travelers keep coming back for. 
(iStockPhoto)

15. Pittsburgh
Home to hearty Eastern European classics like Polish sausages and cabbage rolls, plus french fry-topped sandwiches and salads (which aren't going anywhere anytime soon), the Steel City is graduating to a more sophisticated culinary style. The gastronomic resurgence in recent years has caught the attention of publications like Zagat, Bon Appétit and Food & Wine Magazine. While critics are singing Pittsburgh's praises, locals are embracing the edible renaissance with open arms. 
(Getty Images)

14. Asheville, North Carolina
This small mountain town may be known for its laid-back, hippie vibe, but it still packs a palatable punch in its 45 square miles. While the Appalachian Trail may seem like a strange place for a culinary hot spot, chefs and curious eaters have started congregating in western North Carolina in pursuit of inventive, offbeat creations. Aside from its impressive restaurant lineup, Asheville boasts more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the country, meaning you'll have plenty of interesting suds to pair with your meal.  
(Getty Images)

13. Las Vegas
High rollers have to eat too, right? And in Vegas, they expect to eat well. Sin City has raised the stakes when it comes to dining, dazzling tourists with whimsical, over-the-top decor and celebrity chef-backed restaurants from the likes of Wolfgang Puck and Pierre Gagnaire, whose only U.S. restaurant is in the Mandarin Oriental. And if you lose in the casinos, don't worry: Sin City still boasts plenty of affordable options and cheap all-you-can-eat buffets to keep you going. 
(Getty Images)

12. Philadelphia
In 2015, Philadelphia was named the first World Heritage City in the United States. Though the City of Brotherly Love is certainly home to a fair amount of history, that doesn't mean its food scene is stuck in the past. While classics like cheesesteaks and soft pretzels still reign supreme, Philly balances those hallmark dishes with vegetarian and vegan eateries, as well as a wealth of genuine Italian and Jewish fare. Plus, the city originated the BYOB policy and now boasts more than 200 bring-your-own-bottle restaurants.
(Getty Images)

11. Seattle
No visitor to Seattle can pass up a trip to Pike Place Market, but there's more to the Emerald City than watching people throw and catch fish. The city's abundance of fresh seafood (namely salmon and oysters) along with its Asian culinary influences have shaped its gastronomy. Seattle's selection of sushi and rice bowls, along with its unique Seattle teriyaki, known for its thick, Korean-inspired sauce, have been recognized by critics and discerning food lovers as some of the best in the country. 
(Getty Images)

10. Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston put low country fare at the forefront of the foodie scene. The regional cuisine, known for relying heavily on seafood with a mix of Southern, Caribbean and African flavors, is what this quaint South Carolina city does better than anywhere else. Though the city is proud of its well-preserved history, its chefs have started reinventing staple dishes (like shrimp and grits and she-crab soup) to fit the needs of 21st-century palates.
(Getty Images)

9. Miami
Miami's vibrant nightlife and scantily clad beachgoers often overshadow the city's rich culinary scene. But its cuisine shouldn't be overlooked. The city whips up the best Cuban food outside of Havana, and the proximity to the Caribbean also brings a multitude of full-bodied island flavors. Plus, the restaurant scene is full of young chefs who continue to bring something new to the table.
(Getty Images)

8. Houston
Houston has the savory chops that only the largest city in the Lone Star State can claim. Business travelers from around the world are continually surprised by the culinary diversity here – from mom and pop takeout shops that locals line up for to fine dining pioneers that attract a more upscale clientele. The city is also home to a large Vietnamese and Chinese immigrant population, allowing Asian dishes like spring rolls and pho to intermingle with area classics like barbecue and Tex-Mex.
(Getty Images)

7. Washington, District of Columbia
A city that attracts everyone from small-town tourists to international diplomats has to provide ample options to satisfy them all – and the nation's capital measures up to the task. Boasting an all-encompassing restaurant scene that offers some of the best ethnic food (especially Indian and Ethiopian), as well as area staples like bottomless brunches and happy hour specials, D.C.'s food landscape is anything but boring. When you're touring the monuments, don't forget to stop and grab a half-smoke (the half-beef, half-pork cousin of the hot dog that's a D.C. specialty).
(iStockphoto)

6. Chicago
Deep-dish pizza. Distinctively dressed hot dogs. Italian beef. Cheese and caramel popcorn. Plantain encased sandwiches called jibaritos. Plus the Greek answer to grilled cheese, saganaki. The Windy City's calling card lies largely in its hearty, gooey and iconic dishes. But Chicago's culinary power extends from those staples into a toothsome and ever-evolving dining culture that's as big on innovation as it is on flavor. Plus, Chi-Town beckons talented chefs (40 James Beard Award winners call Chicago home) who ensure that this Midwestern authority presents a robust offerings, so no one goes hungry.
(Getty Images)

5. San Francisco
Regularly lauded by critics and visitors for its culinary chops, San Francisco is a hotbed for foodies of all kinds. The City by the Bay is also known for its knack of modernization and invention, meaning gourmands who flock here expect to be at the forefront of dining trends – and chefs here deliver. But with the influx of tech money and the constant rising of rental rates, the city isn't known for cheap eats.
(Getty Images)

4. Portland, Oregon
Portland might as well have invented the word "foodie." From its emphasis on ingredients (the fresher and more unusual the better) to its affinity for low-cost, high-quality food carts, Portland has emerged as the foodie capital of the Pacific Northwest. The city has become a favorite of industry experts for its eagerness to present unique yet affordable options, from doughnuts to craft beer.
(Getty Images)

3. New Orleans
The Big Easy has an identity all its own – a mix of Cajun, Creole and French – that has always made its food distinct. Now, 10 years after Hurricane Katrina, the city has retained its unmistakable character while pushing forward to become something entirely new. Aside from the mouthwatering dishes, the deeply rooted sense of community that's attached to the food here makes it a must for any self-declared epicurean.
(Getty Images)

2. Los Angeles
Los Angeles presents the ultimate in culinary mashups. The city that tailors to celebrities and wealthy patrons with fine dining establishments that boast big price tags also delivers some of the best street food in the country. And since the City of Angels is home to large immigrant populations – namely Hispanic and Asian communities – the opportunities to please your taste buds with globally inspired cuisine are endless. From food trucks to strip malls to trendy eateries, local establishments churn out creative dishes with high-quality ingredients, helping LA stay at the top of the gastronomic food chain.
(Getty Images)

1. New York City
A visit to New York City can include meals inspired by just about every continent, country and culture. Simply put, the Big Apple has it all. It's the premier stage for chefs looking to gain notoriety, and the restaurant scene progresses at breakneck speed, meaning the eateries that stick around have earned the stamp of approval from notoriously opinionated locals. Whether you're craving a pastrami sandwich from the corner deli or a meal on white tablecloths prepared by a celebrity chef, New York City has you covered.
Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Friends eating pizza at a restaurant.
The Las Vegas strip at sunset.
Philly Steak Sandwich with Au Jus
Telescope overlooking the Seattle skyline.
USA, South Carolina, Charleston, Church Street, St. Philip's Church
Close-up of Burgers and Hot Dogs on the Barbecue, Houston, Texas, USA
Cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. during late March.
Foodie tour classic Chicago hot dog with french fries
San Francisco skyline and Bay Bridge at sunset.
New Orleans Beignet
Dramatic sky over Los Angeles.
USA, New York State, New York City, Aerial view of city with Freedom tower at night

What makes a great foodie destination?
More and more travelers are planning their vacations around the eateries they want to visit in any given destination. After all, a large part of a city's culture lies in its cuisine. But what makes a place worth visiting for the food alone? The answer depends on who you ask.

Some would say it's a distinct, authentic cuisine that the city does best, while others value a wealth of options that range from ethnic to innovative. Others say it's placing heightened importance on using only fresh, local ingredients. No matter the definition, the 15 cities that appear on U.S. News' first-ever Best Foodie Destinations in the USA ranking share one common factor: they offer unforgettable gastronomic experiences that travelers keep coming back for. 
(iStockPhoto)

15. Pittsburgh
Home to hearty Eastern European classics like Polish sausages and cabbage rolls, plus french fry-topped sandwiches and salads (which aren't going anywhere anytime soon), the Steel City is graduating to a more sophisticated culinary style. The gastronomic resurgence in recent years has caught the attention of publications like Zagat, Bon Appétit and Food & Wine Magazine. While critics are singing Pittsburgh's praises, locals are embracing the edible renaissance with open arms. 
(Getty Images)

14. Asheville, North Carolina
This small mountain town may be known for its laid-back, hippie vibe, but it still packs a palatable punch in its 45 square miles. While the Appalachian Trail may seem like a strange place for a culinary hot spot, chefs and curious eaters have started congregating in western North Carolina in pursuit of inventive, offbeat creations. Aside from its impressive restaurant lineup, Asheville boasts more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the country, meaning you'll have plenty of interesting suds to pair with your meal.  
(Getty Images)

13. Las Vegas
High rollers have to eat too, right? And in Vegas, they expect to eat well. Sin City has raised the stakes when it comes to dining, dazzling tourists with whimsical, over-the-top decor and celebrity chef-backed restaurants from the likes of Wolfgang Puck and Pierre Gagnaire, whose only U.S. restaurant is in the Mandarin Oriental. And if you lose in the casinos, don't worry: Sin City still boasts plenty of affordable options and cheap all-you-can-eat buffets to keep you going. 
(Getty Images)

12. Philadelphia
In 2015, Philadelphia was named the first World Heritage City in the United States. Though the City of Brotherly Love is certainly home to a fair amount of history, that doesn't mean its food scene is stuck in the past. While classics like cheesesteaks and soft pretzels still reign supreme, Philly balances those hallmark dishes with vegetarian and vegan eateries, as well as a wealth of genuine Italian and Jewish fare. Plus, the city originated the BYOB policy and now boasts more than 200 bring-your-own-bottle restaurants.
(Getty Images)

11. Seattle
No visitor to Seattle can pass up a trip to Pike Place Market, but there's more to the Emerald City than watching people throw and catch fish. The city's abundance of fresh seafood (namely salmon and oysters) along with its Asian culinary influences have shaped its gastronomy. Seattle's selection of sushi and rice bowls, along with its unique Seattle teriyaki, known for its thick, Korean-inspired sauce, have been recognized by critics and discerning food lovers as some of the best in the country. 
(Getty Images)

10. Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston put low country fare at the forefront of the foodie scene. The regional cuisine, known for relying heavily on seafood with a mix of Southern, Caribbean and African flavors, is what this quaint South Carolina city does better than anywhere else. Though the city is proud of its well-preserved history, its chefs have started reinventing staple dishes (like shrimp and grits and she-crab soup) to fit the needs of 21st-century palates.
(Getty Images)

9. Miami
Miami's vibrant nightlife and scantily clad beachgoers often overshadow the city's rich culinary scene. But its cuisine shouldn't be overlooked. The city whips up the best Cuban food outside of Havana, and the proximity to the Caribbean also brings a multitude of full-bodied island flavors. Plus, the restaurant scene is full of young chefs who continue to bring something new to the table.
(Getty Images)

8. Houston
Houston has the savory chops that only the largest city in the Lone Star State can claim. Business travelers from around the world are continually surprised by the culinary diversity here – from mom and pop takeout shops that locals line up for to fine dining pioneers that attract a more upscale clientele. The city is also home to a large Vietnamese and Chinese immigrant population, allowing Asian dishes like spring rolls and pho to intermingle with area classics like barbecue and Tex-Mex.
(Getty Images)

7. Washington, District of Columbia
A city that attracts everyone from small-town tourists to international diplomats has to provide ample options to satisfy them all – and the nation's capital measures up to the task. Boasting an all-encompassing restaurant scene that offers some of the best ethnic food (especially Indian and Ethiopian), as well as area staples like bottomless brunches and happy hour specials, D.C.'s food landscape is anything but boring. When you're touring the monuments, don't forget to stop and grab a half-smoke (the half-beef, half-pork cousin of the hot dog that's a D.C. specialty).
(iStockphoto)

6. Chicago
Deep-dish pizza. Distinctively dressed hot dogs. Italian beef. Cheese and caramel popcorn. Plantain encased sandwiches called jibaritos. Plus the Greek answer to grilled cheese, saganaki. The Windy City's calling card lies largely in its hearty, gooey and iconic dishes. But Chicago's culinary power extends from those staples into a toothsome and ever-evolving dining culture that's as big on innovation as it is on flavor. Plus, Chi-Town beckons talented chefs (40 James Beard Award winners call Chicago home) who ensure that this Midwestern authority presents a robust offerings, so no one goes hungry.
(Getty Images)

5. San Francisco
Regularly lauded by critics and visitors for its culinary chops, San Francisco is a hotbed for foodies of all kinds. The City by the Bay is also known for its knack of modernization and invention, meaning gourmands who flock here expect to be at the forefront of dining trends – and chefs here deliver. But with the influx of tech money and the constant rising of rental rates, the city isn't known for cheap eats.
(Getty Images)

4. Portland, Oregon
Portland might as well have invented the word "foodie." From its emphasis on ingredients (the fresher and more unusual the better) to its affinity for low-cost, high-quality food carts, Portland has emerged as the foodie capital of the Pacific Northwest. The city has become a favorite of industry experts for its eagerness to present unique yet affordable options, from doughnuts to craft beer.
(Getty Images)

3. New Orleans
The Big Easy has an identity all its own – a mix of Cajun, Creole and French – that has always made its food distinct. Now, 10 years after Hurricane Katrina, the city has retained its unmistakable character while pushing forward to become something entirely new. Aside from the mouthwatering dishes, the deeply rooted sense of community that's attached to the food here makes it a must for any self-declared epicurean.
(Getty Images)

2. Los Angeles
Los Angeles presents the ultimate in culinary mashups. The city that tailors to celebrities and wealthy patrons with fine dining establishments that boast big price tags also delivers some of the best street food in the country. And since the City of Angels is home to large immigrant populations – namely Hispanic and Asian communities – the opportunities to please your taste buds with globally inspired cuisine are endless. From food trucks to strip malls to trendy eateries, local establishments churn out creative dishes with high-quality ingredients, helping LA stay at the top of the gastronomic food chain.
(Getty Images)

1. New York City
A visit to New York City can include meals inspired by just about every continent, country and culture. Simply put, the Big Apple has it all. It's the premier stage for chefs looking to gain notoriety, and the restaurant scene progresses at breakneck speed, meaning the eateries that stick around have earned the stamp of approval from notoriously opinionated locals. Whether you're craving a pastrami sandwich from the corner deli or a meal on white tablecloths prepared by a celebrity chef, New York City has you covered.
Getty Images/Tetra images RF

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Tags: Austin, food and drink, travel, vacations


Mandy Ellis is an Austin-based freelance writer who has contributed to the real estate, travel and loans sections of U.S. News since 2016. She has lent her expertise to publications including AFAR, The Costco Connection, Realtor Magazine Online, FSR, QSR, Restaurant Business, Restaurant Hospitality, Pizza Today, Tasting Table, Yahoo Finance and CultureMap Austin and for the brands eBay, LendingHome, Brit + Co, SolarStory and Hey Cupcake.

Ellis graduated cum laude with a bachelor's in English from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!) and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Texas Freelance Association, Freelance Austin, and Women Communicators of Austin. You can find her on LinkedIn and her website, or email her at mandy@mandyellis.com.

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