So you're coming to Austin for PaleoFX (get your tickets now!) I'm sure you've heard it before, and it's true — Austin is a foodie's heaven on earth. Our friends who come to visit find themselves spending most of their trip hopping from food truck to restaurant to bar. What's also pretty great is that a lot of our food here in Austin can be paleofied easily (hold the tortilla), if it's not already paleo-perfect (grass-fed BBQ!)
There are so many incredible food options here, but finding the best of the best and navigating them with a paleo/primal palate isn't always easy. We've compiled this guide to help you find your way. A few places on the list may not have perfect paleo options, but their food is so amazing that we had to share anyhow — consider 'em a one-time deal, and enjoy if your diet allows for it. We like to think of this guide as a foodie look at the Austin food scene through a paleo/primal lens. And if you need some on-the-go convenience snacks for your weekend at Paleo FX, be sure to pre-order our provisions. Perfect for busy days at the conference center.
*Note: You'll find that many restaurants here are loud and proud about the sourcing of their ingredients — either on their menu, website, or blasted across the walls of their actual shop. Many source locally, from farms like Vital Farms (eggs!), JBG (Johnson's Backyard Garden) for produce, and try to keep their sourcing clean and sustainable. I won't go into the details for each, but most will be happy to tell you or guide you if you ask. Some are not as clean, but luckily, conscious sourcing is an important aspect of the growing food culture in Austin. *NOTE: As with anywhere, do not assume something is prepared a certain way, and ALWAYS ask the server or someone working about ingredients in a dish, especially if allergic or sensitive.
Start with a cup of (buttered) Joe, or Golden Mylk
Picnik, 1700 S Lamar Blvd.: the crown jewel eatery of the paleo world. The — dare we say? — BEST coffee shop in Austin. This paleocentric truck perched upon a sunny, grassy hill on the popular S. Lamar serves up butter coffee and much much more. MCT oil? Check. Collagen? Check. Protein? Yup. Anything your heart (or bod) desires can be fulfilled in a delicious drink here. Besides their selection of delicious coffee drinks, they also offer teas, bone broth, baked goods, and meals to go. This place is crazy about their sourcing (in the best of ways) and almost all of their menu items are even Whole30 friendly. What sets this place apart is the friendly, knowledgable, staff, the cozy, welcoming atmosphere, and the events they hold on their lawn — yoga, group workouts, festivals, farmers markets (including a Barefoot Provisions pickup day each month!) and much more.
In the fall of 2016, Picnik opened their one of a kind, no holds barred, paleo friendly restaurant, in North Central Austin, at 4801 Burnet Rd, Austin, TX 78756.
Here you'll find a full bar, a full menu (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and meals to accommodate everyone, from AIP to Whole30, and beyond.
The space is beautiful, and the quality of sourcing is the best in town. This place is great for a nice sit down meal, but if you just want some buttered coffee, or a blondie, the front half of the building serves as a cafe for those on the go.
Don't miss: their blondie ice cream sandwich, where they sandwich their famous paleo blondie around a chunk of vanilla gelato.
Also, the new Curcuma, 2207 E Cesar Chavez. which is ayurveda inspired, 100% plant based, gluten-free, vegan, and paleo friendly. Grab a Golden Milk latte, add some reishi mushroom, and a plate of sweet potato toast for a light and nutrient dense lunch at this cute truck. Their menu is growing, and they're getting lots of great press so I'll be looking forward to seeing more from this crew.
And then? First things first...BBQ
Franklin Barbecue, 900 E 11th St. For BBQ that will blow your mind, look no further. Franklin's opened as a truck, and can now say that its owner and head chef, Aaron Franklin is a full-fledged food celebrity, with cookbooks, tv shows, movie appearances (CHEF! the best!) and more. Also the winner of a James Beard award for Best Chef in the Southwest, Aaron Franklin keeps his meat smoking for close to a day before opening his doors at this shop at 11 AM each day to a line of a couple hundred eager carnivores.
After living here a year, we have chowed down and loved barbecue from several places, but only recently took the dive and got in the line to try the most highly sought after, and highly ranked barbecue in the world. We got in line at 7:30 AM on a Saturday and were about 100 people back. We finally got through the door at 12:30 PM, and left with a 6.5 hour event under our belts (along with a hefty food baby.) We ordered about 4 pounds of meat and spent close to $100 (#worthit.) They offer minimal sides (coleslaw, potato salad, beans) because the main event here is the meat. Unfortunately, they can't make enough to feed every day's line, so get there early so you are not cut out of the line (they walk through at around 11 and make a cut off point for who will not get served- it's usually the brisket that runs out.) The thing that really sets this place apart is the bark, aka, the "crust" of the brisket. I tasted so much depth, layers of flavor unlike any I had tried at other barbecue joints. However, la Barbecue is a close second in the brisket department and you can check it out, line-free, most days. Skip the sausage if you like any heat at all in yours, this one was so mild, I wasn't sure if it was seasoned at all.
Bring some blankets, breakfast, music, and friends, and this doesn't feel like a chore at all. If you have a day to kill, do it this way. You can also test your luck by dropping by at around noon. Some days, they don't sell out of everything so you may chance get to grab what still remains, without the wait. Weekdays are not close to as busy, but there's still a mega-line. I loved this place overall, down to the kitchsy old school decor, honkey-tonk country playing over antique speakers placed around the building and all the ambiance you could want from a BBQ joint.
Don't Miss: As a rule, brisket is our GO-TO at a barbecue joint, but the turkey at Franklin's is an underdog surprise. If you take the time to wait in line, be sure to get a little of everything and a LOT of what you really came for — after all, you will wait for it.
Lockhart, TX, about 30 minutes from Austin: Lockhart is a small town on the outskirts of Austin, a quick trip down the road to barbecue heaven. It's officially the BBQ capital of Texas, and the local joints really know how to lay it down. Black's, Kruez, and Smitty's, are the three big dogs, and everyone will have a different argument about which is best (sausage from Smitty's, brisket from Kruez, ribs from Black's.) Unlike Franklin's and many of the joints in Austin, these places show (literally) their age by the smoke and soot on the walls of their smoke rooms, and the smooth curves carved slowly over time into the cutting tables by slabs of meat being slung onto them for hours and hours a day. Taking a step into these places is a little like stepping back in time, in the best of ways.
Words from the wise: Many barbecue joints are closed on Mondays so always check before going to any place listed here.
East Side King, Multiple locations; AKA Thai Kun in some locations: Top Chef season 9 winner Paul Qui's chain of Asian-inspired food trucks can be found all around Austin. With locations currently at the Liberty Bar, Whisler's (Thai Kun), Four Horsemen, SteamPunk Saloon (Thai Kun), and a standalone on S. Lamar. We love the funkiness of the Liberty Bar location, but all are awesome in their own way.
This place has gluten-free options, which is great because the food is just incredible, and shouldn't be missed by any foodie. It's bold, explosive, innovative, super-umami — AND it's made with pretty awesome ingredients. It's a great place to grab a plate of everything (about $7-9 each) and share with some friends. It's not a "perfect paleo" experience, but we think it's pretty perfect for the occasional splurge.
Don't Miss: One of the gluten-free options, the Chicken Kara-age, is a deep fried chicken bowl with mint, basil cilantro, jalepeno, a sweet and spicy sauce, and everything that is amazing in the world. I'm going to need their secret for this, because it's not your average gluten-free restaurant chicken, that's for certain. Also, the beet fries will make a beet hater change their tune in seconds flat. Of course, brussels are on the menu as they are in most places around here, and are not to be missed.
Words from the wise: Most of these dishes contain soy, so if you have specific allergies, it's best to ask the chef when ordering. Also, the food at the Thai Kun locations is different than you'll find at the regular ESK locations. I find it to be much spicier overall, with fewer gluten-free options, so keep that in mind when deciding which to visit.
Chi'lantro, Multiple Locations, N. Lamar, and S. Lamar brick and mortars: this food truck-turned-brick-and-mortar joint has several locations in Austin that serve up their Korean BBQ-meets-Mexican grub, most at under $10. Not the most paleo-friendly, but awesome for primal flavor-seekers. Their Kimchi Fries with Bulgogi (not gluten free) are out of this world, and I could enjoy a jar of the housemade pickles as a meal alone. I enjoy the bowls with the gluten free (not soy free though) chicken, with an egg, kimchi, and lots of veggies (bottom right.)
Words from the wise: While they are not known for being a gluten-free friendly restaurant, they do have some gluten-free protein options which you can have on a salad or rice bowl, just ask about specific items when ordering.
Koriente, 621 E 7th St.: Koriente's motto and mantra is awesome. "My mom started this restaurant b/c she hates to cook. She loved going out to eat (make someone else do all the work) but found it tough to find healthy, MSG free, low cal, balanced meals with prices within daily reach. She felt guilty for feeding us crap and felt sick of being a housewife, so she said, Why not open a restaurant for people like me?" This place serves up some pretty healthy and fresh Asian-inspired food, at a decent price. I enjoyed a rice and veggie bowl, but they have a little bit of everything here. The location is right off the famous 6th St. strip, with a few dedicated parking spots, my only grumble with this joint is the parking situation as I typically have to search a bit to find a place. This place is a good option if you're staying downtown, and most meals are less than $10.
And a new favorite, since this original blog was published, is the Northern Thai food truck on Cesar Chavez, Dee Dee. This truck is run by an amazing couple with a passion for serving up authentic Thai dishes. These dishes pack some heat, but will keep you coming back time after time. They make each dish fresh, so you can ask about specific ingredients based on food allergies, etc. Our favorites are the Pad Kapow, which is stir fried pork with Thai basil, fish sauce, cucumber, a fried egg, and rice and the Papaya Salad (hold the peanuts for a more paleo friendly dish.)
They also have a SLAMMIN' traditional papaya salad made up of green papaya, tomato, green beans, peanuts, with a spicy sweet fish sauce, depending on the season.
The most popular food in Austin besides BBQ? TACOS!
Torchy's Tacos, multiple Locations: ANOTHER food truck-turned-B&M location, and soon-to-be-national chain with a focus on what Austin does best: tacos. Breakfast tacos are an unofficial love language here in Austin, and every local will for sure have their favorite spot. This place has a wide variety of both breakfast tacos and lunch/dinner options as well as delicious guacamole. The thing I love about Torchy's is that they'll happily put any of their tacos in a bowl for you, and even offer a gluten-free menu. See top of the photo below for "taco in a bowl" inspiration, and don't forget to grab a Topo Chico sparkling mineral water from Mexico, (our lifeblood) for quenching your thirst from the variety of delicious salsas
El Chilito, Multiple locations: This has a roadside taco stand feel, because that's what it is. It's a walk up window joint with lots of sunshine and picnic tables around it, offering up lots of tacos, and a few great salad options. We got here last week at around 9:50 AM and had our food at about 10 AM as a line began to form, Austinites waking and dragging themselves to the window for their breakfast tacos. Again, a great option for doing this place paleo is asking for your tacos in a bowl. If you feel like going ALL out, try a puffy taco. It's a thicker corn tortilla that's been deep fried, yet still served soft. (One of those "once in a while" things you need to try if possible.) Great place to hit up if the weather is good.
TacoDeli, Multiple locations: This joint opens at 7 AM daily and closes at 3 PM, so it's perfect for breakfast and lunch. The entire menu can be gluten-free, if you choose corn tortillas, and they have some amazing combinations here. This place will also do your tacos in a bowl if you'd like to skip the tortilla overall — that's usually what I do so I can order more tacos! Head over and check out their menu and you'll see why this place is a local favorite. Many of their breakfast tacos are delivered daily to coffee shops and gas stations around town for folks who need their tacos, but can't make it to their shop. Tacos around $3-4 each.
Words from the wise: Wednesday and Saturday's special is the pork belly taco. Get. That.
- Fresa's - Chicken al Carbon, tacos, salads, and veggie heavy sides makes this place easily adaptable for the paleos.
-Licha's Cantina - a cozy little home turned restaurant on the East Side, where you can find over 50% of menu items gluten free. I especially love the Sopecitos (if you can handle corn.)
Dessert, and lots of ice cream.
Dolce Neve, 1713 S 1st St.: a local gelato shop offering 18 flavors daily, that are crafted with care, and amazing ingredients. Featuring seasonal flavors, for example, in fall they boasted butternut, buttermilk and sage; kabocha squash and walnut crumble; and mascarpone, polenta cake and orange liquor. They also offer one or two dairy-free options which are more like a sorbet, pictured below. It's a small joint, but if you can grab a table outside, it's a great place for relaxing after a walk around nearby South Congress or Barton Springs Rd.
Lick, 2032 South Lamar Boulevard AND 6555 Burnet Road: Another frozen treat joint, this local ice cream shop uses awesome local ingredients and makes their own seasonal flavors with milk that is primarily grass-fed and only when necessary, supplemented with grain that is non-GMO, corn and soy free. Some of their regular flavors include Dark Chocolate with Olive Oil and Sea Salt, Goat Cheese, Thyme, and Honey, and Roasted Beets and Fresh Mint, while their seasonal offerings vary, including flavors like Cilantro Lime, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie. Like almost every other (awesome) place in Austin, you can get dairy-free scoops here if you desire, and they're equally as awesome: Coconut, PB & Chocolate, Tart Toasted Coconut and Vanilla Strawberry, to name a few. Be prepared to wait a bit, as this place stays pretty busy in the evenings and weekends, especially during heavy tourist weekends. You can grab a pint of their ice cream at most local grocery stores including Wheatsville and Whole Foods, if you'd rather skip the line.
- Voodoo Donuts - along 6th St., that is the famous (or infamous) drag of bars downtown, sits Portland's newest transplant and one of the places that foodies across the country might be wishing to check off their culinary bucket list. NOT a paleo option in sight here, folks.
- Sweet Ritual Ice Cream - vegan, nut milk based ice creams in fun flavors.
- SPUN - nitrogen frozen ice cream made with great ingredients and delectable toppings like brown butter powder.
Salty Sow, 1917 Manor Rd.: A joint that is always packed around happy hour, and especially around the weekend of PaleoFX, this wine and swine bar/restaurant is New American, done perfectly. There is a perfect balance of edginess to it that makes it feel cool, an air of sophistication that makes it feel special, and a menu with prices and portions that will actually leave you satisfied for your buck, compared to other restaurants on its same level around town.
Words from the wise: RESERVATIONS are your friend here. Make them. If not, chances are you'll get to play the waiting game.
Don't Miss: Duck fat fries, brussels, chicken liver mousse, the Curly Tail, and rosemary honey fried chicken. Not strictly paleo, not especially terrible for you.
In-N-Out Burger, S. Lamar, Guadalupe (near Campus) and Airport Blvd: Southern California's finest export is here and well alive. Rivaled by Austin's own P. Terry's burger chain, this favorite is great if you're really strapped for time, need a taste of southern California, or have never tried it. Of course we'll encourage you to try some Animal Style Fries (cheese, fried onions, special sauce) if you have no intolerances, 'cause everyone should taste them once, but for a quick and somewhat paleo meal to go, grab a burger, protein style. They'll swap the bun for a lettuce wrap and get you out the door and back to your sightseeing in a flash.
Patrizi's, 2307 Manor Rd. (inside the Vortex Theater Yard). Italian food is hard to come by in Austin. Sure there are lots of joints with small plates, fancier eats, that MIGHT give you a little taste of Italia, but sometimes I crave real hearty, family-style Italian. I found it when my husband started his stint working at my favorite food truck in Austin, Patrizi's. The first thing I fell in love with was the setting of this great truck. It's permanently parked in the yard of the Vortex Theater with TONS of seating, and even the Butterfly Bar where you can grab a cocktail or bottle of wine to bring out to your table. This place has an ambiance unlike any other place in Austin and I love it. It's only open for dinner, but you'll want to come hungry. Obviously pasta isn't something we'd consider paleo-friendly, but this place offers ZUCCHINI NOODLES in place of pasta for any of their dishes! If you decide to opt for pasta, it's all handmade daily, in the truck, by hand. How cool is that? They have a great spicy sausage and pesto (I get the half size Leopold, add sausage) that I love to enjoy on the zucchini noodles, or you can opt for the tomato sauce. The knowledgable staff will guide you through the menu and can help you with ingredients so just ask!
Flower Child: Domain Northside, 11721 Rock Rose Blvd. This spot is a little further north in the areas newest and ever expanding outdoor shopping, entertainment, and dining complex. They cover everything from salads, to soups, to bowls and breakfast here and there's something for every diet.
VertsKebap, Multiple Locations: This doner kebap style chain is hitting it big locally. Mediterranean inspired fast food, Chipotle style. In a nutshell, their "elevator pitch," says it all "Born in Bursa. Perfected in Berlin. Jalepeno'ed in Austin. VertsKebap serves healthy kebabs, wraps & salads using fresh ingredients and local meats." The only doner kebap I'd had prior to this was in Sweden, as street food after a bunch of locals had taken me to their favorite clubs, and let's just say, it wasn't quite the healthy meal this place offers (see french fries IN the sandwich, and killer sodium levels.) But here at Verts (we can call if that for short) you can get a salad with falafel, or beef and lamb, sprinkled with your favorite veggies for under $10 in about 10 minutes. Their site has gluten free listings, too.
SNAP Kitchen, Multiple Locations: This local go-to is great for takeaway. They offer meals in BPA free tupperware that are labeled with nutrition facts and an ingredients list. They have microwaves there if you're okay with using one and want to heat up your meal right then to enjoy at one of their tables. They offer multiple sizes of all their prepared meals, S, M, and L, and even use icons to designate the diet that they are compatible for. This is a great option and pretty reasonable in price (typically under $10 per entree.) Their North Lamar Triangle location also has a great salad bar where you can order a custom salad as well. Their menu changes slightly, seasonally, so stop in to see what soups are on that day and what their current dishes are. In the last few months, they've become Whole30 Approved and offer Whole 30 options which makes this place even better!
Sala and Betty, 5201 Airport Blvd. - a cozy cafe with a nice patio — this new(ish) local joint serves up comfort food but has an amazing option of a CAULIFLOWER TORTILLA in place of a bun with your sandwich. This place also has a drive thru, so if you don't feel like dining in, you can grab your goods to go. Expect to spend around $10-$15 per person here.
Whole Foods Market, 525 North Lamar Blvd. - the Whole Foods Flagship Store! The big daddy. There's an amazing salad bar, hot foods bar (that sometimes has a few paleo options) a bbq bar, a sushi bar, a curry bar, a taco bar, and an Italian bar inside — you're bound to find something to eat here, no matter what your diet. Most of the food you'll grab here is based on weight, like the hot bar and salad bar, which are priced per pound.
Words from the wise: Three levels of parking available in their underground lot. Yoga on the roof available regularly, check their site for details.
Don't Miss: the kombucha wall near the taco bar in the north/east side front of the store. You'll find regional favorites like Live Soda, Kosmic Kombucha, Buddha's Brew, as well as national brands like GT's.
More places to check out:
-Modern Market - this fast casual spot has many gluten free and paleo friendly options for a quick meal. You can choose from over 7 salads, homestyle plates, veggie sides, or soups. Read my review of a visit to this spot, here.
- Banger's Sausage House - sausages galore, outdoor seating, great beer selection.
- Salt & Time Butcher Shop - charcuterie, broth, and great cuts.
- Aster's Ethiopian Restaurant - best way to try something exotic — the $10 lunch buffet is tops.
- Kerby Lane Cafe - an Austin classic. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
- Wholly Cow (Get the paleo burger, with portobello caps as the bun!)
- Dai Due - a meat-centric supper club and butcher shop where you'll find amazing eats like elk ceviche and grilled chicken hearts, which helped them earn a spot on Bon Appetite's Best New Restaurant list.
- Hopdoddy- delicious burgers, awesome toppings, bustling atmosphere; downside: long lines.
- Abo Youssef - Mediterranean food done right in an adorable little Airstream parked in a lot off Manor Rd. Not strict paleo, but if you do rice and meat, this is a sure treat.
Eat well and enjoy, friends.
Come gather around the warm glow of the fire and listen, watch, share, discover, and be inspired by the conversation. It is here where we explore stories, and new ideas. Pull up a rock.