One of the premier venues in Austin, the Palmer Events Center hosts perennial favorites such as the City-Wide Garage Sale, Bridal Extravaganza, Home & Garden Show and Texas Roller Derby. Located along the south shore of Lady Bird Lake, the center is also close to several popular restaurants. Some are even within walking distance.
Where else but in Austin would you find a restaurant inspired by a trailer park? Many moons ago, there were several trailer parks surrounding the restaurant, but sadly, most have been replaced by high-rise condos. The large, tree-shaded patio at Shady Grove is ideal for sipping a frozen margarita, chowing down on fried queso catfish and listening to live music. From April to September, the restaurant presents well-known musical acts on the patio as part of the Unplugged at the Grove series in conjunction with radio station KGSR. The menu is varied enough to appease almost anyone. It includes burgers, sandwiches, Tex-Mex, vegetarian options and the classic Frito pie.
If you’re looking for a substantial meal before or after your event, look no further than Threadgill’s. The massive dining room means that you rarely have to wait for a table. And even if there is a wait, the time will fly if you’re an Austin music fan. The restaurant is packed with memorabilia from the Austin music scene dating back to the 1970s. Owner Eddie Wilson also used to run the music venue known as the Armadillo World Headquarters, which was located nearby. The walls and ceiling are lined with old posters, guitars and other artifacts of the Cosmic Cowboy era. Southern comfort food is the specialty here. Standout items include the chicken-fried steak and the pecan-crusted chicken. If you have room for dessert, try the pecan or strawberry rhubarb pie. There’s also an outdoor music stage that hosts local and touring bands.
The Chuy’s location on Barton Springs also pays homage to musical history in the form of a kitschy shrine to Elvis. It’s near the front door, but it can be easy to miss amid all the other outrageous decor. With strings of lights, fish hanging from the ceiling and shiny objects everywhere, the design scheme here seems to be “more, more, more.” The food is cheesy Tex-Mex at its finest, and the margaritas are powerful. Spice lovers should make a point of visiting during the annual Green Chile Festival in mid-August. Many of the standard dishes get an extra kick with the addition of Hatch chiles.
For a more upscale option, head a few blocks down the road to Juliet Italian Kitchen. The restaurant’s pasta dishes feature Italian semolina pasta that’s made on site. Don’t miss the Fettuccine Funghi with spinach, roasted garlic, rosemary and parmesan mushroom cream sauce. The Sunday brunch menu features a decadent truffle polenta and egg dish. The risotto is another brunch favorite, served with bacon, green peas and two poached eggs. Ask to sit outside if the weather is nice. The simple white lights strung overhead create a relaxing ambiance.
While Austin has many vegetarian restaurants, few offer a strictly vegan menu like the one at Casa de Luz. There’s no ordering involved. You simply show up, pay a fixed price, and you get whatever the restaurant is serving that day. In addition to having no meat and no dairy, the recipes at Casa de Luz also don’t use vegetable oils. Despite these restrictions, the kitchen consistently produces tasty meals. Popular dishes include tacos stuffed with fresh mushrooms and guacamole, black beans with vegan cheese (made with sunflower seeds), and collard greens with pecan and walnut sauce.
If you’re just looking for a quick bite and a taste of Austin’s history, Sandy’s is right across Barton Springs Boulevard from the Palmer Events Center. You order burgers and ice cream from the front window and have a seat at the picnic benches around back. In continuous operation since 1946, it looks about the same as it did way back then—just a humble burger stand with a vintage neon sign.
For many years, this location seemed to be cursed. One restaurant after another popped up and went out of business within a year or two. But El Alma seems to have used its Tex-Mex mojo to finally defeat the curse. In addition to Mexican standbys like queso fundido, the restaurant serves a few unexpected items — think duck enmoladas and sweet potato rellenos. The chuleta de puerco is marinated in Mexican Coke and served with a cheesy poblano relleno. The rooftop seating area provides a great view of downtown. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Don Quixote martini, made with a pineapple puree and tequila infused with serrano peppers and cilantro.
The Black family has deep barbecue roots in nearby Lockhart, Texas, where slow-smoked meat is pretty much the town’s only major industry. The small town’s many barbecue joints created a competitive atmosphere that has led to generations of happy barbecue consumers. The outpost in Austin is maintaining many of the Lockhart restaurant’s traditions, such as keeping the menu simple and meat-focused. You can order meats by the pound, in sandwich form or in family packs with sides. Beef brisket is the star of the show, but pork ribs come in at a close second.
A low-key restaurant in the middle of a hectic part of town, Zax is a great little spot to slow down and enjoy a nice meal. There’s an impressive selection of craft beers to help you begin the winding-down process. Start with the lump crab cake appetizer or grilled polenta. The brick chicken is also a customer favorite, featuring chile-rubbed meat grilled under a brick press and served with polenta. Vegetarians appreciate Zax’s garden veggie burger and black bean burger. Finish off the meal with a delightful ginger crème brulee.
It’s fast food but with a little more attention to quality ingredients. With its relatively small burgers and low prices, P. Terry’s takes some of the guilt out of eating fast food. Unless, of course, you get the double with cheese to make it about the same size as a regular burger. The veggie burgers are made from a proprietary blend of brown rice, mushrooms, black beans, oats, onions and parsley—it seems like an odd combo, but it’s delicious. The fries are made with slightly healthier canola oil, but they still have that decadently unctuous taste. The milkshakes are also fantastic.
As the name implies, Austin Java is primarily a coffee shop, but it also serves fancy sandwiches, burgers, omelets and salads. If you’re looking for a hefty brunch before an event at Palmer, try the chicken and waffles or pancakes. The restaurant has a huge variety of coffee drinks, and you can also buy the beans to go. The outdoor patio, right next to Zilker Park, is a nice spot for sipping your coffee. If you happen to stop in on a Friday night, there’s a free comedy show in the Treehouse room.
Easily one of the most beautiful restaurants in Austin, Eberly is a bit pricey but worth every penny for a special occasion. The floor-to-ceiling windows lend an open, airy feel to the dining room. For starters, try the cornmeal hush puppies, made with jumbo lump crab, andouille and parmesan. The fresh oysters are also a popular choice. If you’re in the mood to splurge, opt for the ora king salmon with braised collard greens, potato gnocchi and pistachio pesto. Vegetarians will love the herb-roasted cauliflower with fermented peppers, apple curry butter, and king trumpet mushrooms. For dessert, try the warm dulce de leche or the Eberly banana pudding.