Even if your layover is only an hour long, you can still enjoy a hearty sampling of central Texas food at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Several locally owned restaurants have small outposts in the airport.
If you have a craving for rich Southern food, look no further than Hoover’s. Whether you like your chicken fried, in a fresh biscuit or with a side of waffles, you’ll be ready for a good snooze on the flight after eating here.
For a non-greasy, quasi-healthy option, head to Thundercloud Subs. The California club is my go-to sandwich, with avocado, bacon and turkey. The Austin club with chicken is also an excellent grab-and-go sandwich. Vegetarian options abound on the menu. Try the Nada Chicken sub or the hummus sandwich. The prices are reasonable too, unlike many airport eateries.
Though you’d never guess it from the name, the Peached Tortilla serves Asian fusion cuisine. The tacos are handy grab-and-go foods. The Banh Mi taco is made with braised pork belly, pickled carrot and sriracha mayo. The BBQ brisket taco is an interesting mix of sweet and savory, with creamy apple slaw and a peach barbecue sauce. If you have time for a meal, the Pad Thai bowl is a mildly spicy masterpiece, with chicken, lime fried rice, scrambled eggs, mushrooms and crushed peanuts. The cauliflower bowl is a vegetarian favorite, with arugula, toasted coconut, lime rice and watermelon radish.
If you’re in need of a full-sized dinner, the Salt Lick Taco Bar is probably the best option at the Austin airport. The brisket, turkey and sausage are almost as good as the entrees at the actual restaurant. The potato salad and beans are also a cut above most airport food. The three-meat combo plate will send you waddling along to your final destination.
This is not the place to eat before boarding a plane if you have a delicate constitution. However, if you have no trouble at all digesting thick, gooey cheese, the enchiladas at Maudie’s restaurant are absolutely delicious. For a slightly less daunting digestive challenge, try the chicken tacos with a side of guacamole. The freshly made breakfast tacos here are also an excellent grab-and-go food when you're in a hurry. My go-to plate for beating the blues is Josie’s enchiladas. It’s a simple plate: two cheese enchiladas smothered in chile con carne, queso and chopped onions.
Beans and rice are optional. It was here that I first invented the enchilada taco: bits of enchilada wrapped -- for no good reason -- inside a soft flour tortilla. It could be the wrapping process itself that calms my nerves. This mildly spicy dish isn’t much to look at -- a gooey yellow mass bisected by corn tubes. It’s the queso that’s special. I suppose I should try to get to the bottom of why it’s so much more scrumptious than other forms of melted cheese, but for now, I’ll just embrace the mystery.
While the airport outpost is primarily a coffee shop, you can still get the one-of-a-kind sandwiches served on a big, buttery bun. The Schlotzsky’s Original is practically a work of art, a huge sandwich stuffed with onions, salami, cheese and ham. The restaurant has recently branched out and added a selection of brisket-stuffed sandwiches. The Rancher is stuffed with thinly sliced brisket, sweet peppers and spicy mayo. Though it's now a national chain, Schlotzsky's got its start in Austin at a small storefront on South Congress Avenue.
In addition to top-notch ice cream and shakes, Amy’s manages to find employees who can stay cheerful amid the throngs of grumpy travelers. Many of them are "theater kids" and they're more than happy to put on a show for you. They'll toss the ice cream in the air, behind their back and crack jokes while they're doing it. The locally made ice cream is the main draw, but the entertainment is certainly a part of Amy's long-lasting success. There’s an extensive menu of “crushables” that can be added to any ice cream; my favorite is the toffee crunch bar.
If you need to cheer up an exhausted kid, or give yourself a pick-me-up, this is the place to go at the Austin airport.