Smashburger adds a juicy twist to Austin casual dining

Smashburger signWho would have thought it…a near-lifetime vegetarian raving about a restaurant based on meat?  But it’s true. No, I did not cross over to the dark side. Let me explain.

Yesterday I had the privilege to attend a press preview for the newest location for Smashburger, a Colorado-based chain that’s opening its 202nd location at 9900 S. IH 35 in Austin today. Company founder and head cheerleader Tom Ryan was on hand to treat us to samples the restaurant’s signature burgers, chicken sandwiches, and (dear to my vegetarian heart!), in–house made black bean veggie burgers (yeah now you see where my enthusiasm comes from!)

veggie burger at Smashburger in Austin

Well, that and the piles of fragrant rosemary and olive oil fries, the crispy fried jalapeno pepper slices and the super-thin crispy onion rings with a truly addictive dipping sauce.

fries onion rings jalpenos at smashburger

In a world (and city) filled with fast-food burger joints, what makes Smashburger different? We found out as sample after sample came out from the kitchen.

Great big burgers topped with bar-b-que sauce, bacon and cheddar. Chicken sandwiches crispy in a chicken-friend-steak style coating. A cilantro-and-blue-corn-tortilla infused black bean burger (mine was topped with fresh slices of jalapeno and a spicy chipotle mayo on a spicy chipotle bun — I love my spice!)  A grilled chicken sandwich topped with slices of locally-sourced goat cheese and crisp cucumber. Salads and hot dogs, too. The food kept coming, and the reviewers kept eating.

burgers and other sandwichs smashburger

“It’s too good to stop”, one food blogger said. Another added that Smashburger’s chicken sandwiches were the first chicken sandwiches he’d had that actually had flavor. And when we headed into the kitchen to watch the unique “smashing” process in action, another reviewer said the burger tasted more like steak than ordinary hamburger.  And (and this is a shocker!) in a city so well-known for its bar-b-que, several reviewers rated the Smashburger BBQ, Bacon and Cheddar Burger the best they’d ever had.

For those who can’t image a burger without a tall frosty beer, they have you covered.

beer in mug

And for those who crave an ice-cold sweet old-fashioned shake or malt with their meal, yup, they’ve got you covered, too.

Milk shake at smashburger

As a vegetarian, I’ll admit there was a lot I didn’t taste. But as a foodie, I appreciated the incredible attention to detail in everything they do. The buns are toasted on the inside to prevent the juices from making them soggy. The menu in each of their 200+ locations is adjusted to match the tastes and food sources in the local market. The burgers are made from prime Angus beef, and the veggie burger is crafted in-house. Nothing is frozen and thawed.

Tom Ryan of Smashburger

Tom Ryan, who’s prior food masterpieces include the Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust Pizza and the McDonald’s Fruit and Yogurt Parfait seems to have done it again.

Smashburger is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. They have a kids menu and a pet-friendly patio at their I-35 location. More Austin locations are planned, but for now only the Slaughter Lane and New Braunfels locations are open.

(My personal meat-eating partner couldn’t join me yesterday, so thank you to all my fellow reviewers for sharing your experiences with the meat!)

Baskets waiting for burgers

Advertisements

BurgerTex find proves a tasty (accidental!) discovery

Buger TexWe were heading to Buffalo Exchange for some vintage shopping when it happened.  We realized that we’d forgotten to eat lunch!  Oh, no!  That would NOT do!  But we didn’t want to spend a lot for lunch — the budget is tight and we wanted to save as much as possible for sweaters and boots.

And then we made a wrong turn, and ended up in a parking lot that said “BurgerTex Parking Only”.  Should we move?  Or might this little burger place have something cheap enough for two vegetarians on a budget?  We headed inside, and found a wonderful mix of Korean food and burgers, all at prices perfectly in keeping with thrift shopping.

Veggie burgers, fries and tea ordered, we wandered around, and looked at the place and talked to the manager. (Sadly, we were the only customers inside…but it was almost 3 pm on a weekday, so we probably missed the lunch crowd…I hope!)  The rolls, we learned, were not from a restaurant supply package…they are baked fresh daily right there.  And we had no worries about toppings…there was a topping bar filled with ripe red tomatoes, crisp lettuce, fresh onions and lots of sauces.

Our food was served quickly, accompanied with a pile of crispy, hot fries.  We filled our tea,  topped our burgers and sat down to enjoy our late lunch — and one of the best veggie burgers I’ve had so far in Austin. I do love these kinds of accidents!

I would love to tell you more about the food beyond the veggie burger…especially their Korean speacialties. But the menu at Burger Tex is almost all meat items.  But without the meat-eating member of our family along to test those, we have no way to evaluate the rest!  I guess we’ll just have to go back! (And yes, I will update this review when we do!)

PS…Lunch was great…but no so much the racks at Buffalo Exchange.  Today, we left empty-handed. Oh well! Another excuse to return for shopping…and burgers!

Veggie Heaven is indeed all it claims!

Veggie Heaven Austin TexasFor several months, my daughter has been pushing me to try a place called Veggie Heaven she had seen on one of our downtown forays.  But the time was never right when we were nearby — so we kept putting it off.

That had to be one of my sillier moves since moving to Austin!  It’s not fancy.  It’s not spacious.  But oh is it delicious!!!

First of all, as a vegetarian, I loved that absolutely everything on the menu was open to us.  But even more importantly, I loved that everything the four of us chose was delicious! I had the mock shrimp dish, extra hot (and yes, they believed me when I ordered extra hot!  Thank goodness!)  My daughter chose a kung pao and my husband (usually a meat eater) pronounced his eggplant garden amazing, and we all shared delicious steamed buns, spring rolls and Bubble teas.

And there’s more! The food is made-to-order, so small changes in a dish were no problem. The prices were amazingly low. The service was fast and friendly. And the owner made time to come to our table to chat after I asked about some art work on the wall.

I loved the fact that the customers weren’t all the same, too. When we walked in, there was a large tattooed man in bike leathers, several couples ranging in age from college to retirement, and a number of families of all shapes and sizes.  The diversity made it feel even more welcoming…everyone fits, everyone belongs.

The restaurant is tiny, so I imagine there are times when you have to wait for a table.  Do it. The plate set in front of you will be well worth the time.

I did not see a kids’ menu, but with prices this low, your kids can feast on almost anything on the menu for the average price of a fast food meal! Now that’s a great family deal!

Breakfast Tacos, Hippie Church meet at Maria’s Taco Express

Maria Taco Express June 2012

I kept hearing people talking about Austin’s “Hippie Church” and imagined some sort of New Age gathering. I had no idea breakfast tacos were involved, and I couldn’t have been more wrong about the vibe.  Ten minutes on a Sunday morning at Maria’s Taco Express and I discovered exactly what they meant.

The music? A mixture of amazing blues and gospel, with a classic rock edge.  The people? Lots of people who were probably around when “hippies” were something new and controversial.  The food?  Big servings of classic homemade Tex-Mex served on a mixture of plastic and wood picnic tables.

And the setting?  Pure Austin unique.  Part dive bar feel, part old west/old Mexico theme (don’t miss the old “village” down the outside wall!), part someone’s backyard patio.

There’s no table service at Maria’s and the line to order is long, but please don’t let that keep you away.  You’d miss the chance to dance to blues with some of Austin’s most unique residents. You’d miss some truly amazing tacos, chicken stew and other Maria’s favorites. And you’d miss sitting in a plastic patio chair and listening to some of the very best gospel and blues for no cost beyond your breakfast.  (Of course, the tip jar beckons, so do contribute generously!)

Space downstairs near the live music is limited, so get there early (the music starts at noon) or be prepared to share a table with some of the other friendly diners (we have, and it’s fun!). There’s more seating upstairs (super hot in summer!) and indoors.

Maria’s is open all week, but so far it’s the Sunday Hippie Church that’s drawn us in again and again.  Once we finally do check it out on another day, I’ll update this review.

Pets are welcome on the patio, although it’s crowded so make sure they’re very well-behaved! Prices are low, so this a great place to go with little kids — there’s lots to choose from without breaking mom and dad’s budget.

Easy date night at the Domain

The Domain in Austin Texas

There aren’t a lot of places that offer a date night option from pricey to darn near free all in one location, but we discovered that the Domain is pretty much on target for both.

For those of you who don’t know, the Domain is a large outdoor shopping area in North Austin.  It’s part of a multi-use community that includes the shops, several residence options, a couple of hotels and even a boutique-sized Fiat dealer.

We wandered around the shop area, stopping at the Apple Store to play with their newest toys, checking out shops for clothes we liked (and clothes that made us both laugh!)  A quick stop at Starbucks or the Steeping Room for a snack, and then some time spent sitting in the rocking chairs outside talking and enjoying the evening breeze. (When the weather is cooler, there’s even an outdoor fireplace to add another bit of romance to the evening. )

Of course, we had to take our turn climbing on the giant armadillo — hey, the kids were all gone, so we had it to ourselves!  Then some more window shopping, this time looking at things for our house (or a house of dreams.) There’s also a Dick’s Sporting Goods, so you can wander in there and plan your next outdoor adventure together.

If dinner is part of the plan, the evening at the Domain could get expensive.  There are so many yummy restaurants there, all a short stroll away, including California Pizza Kitchen, Kona Grill, Maggiano and Cru. The hard part isn’t finding a place to eat here….it’s choosing just one!

If the budget is even more generous, there is a iPic movie theatre there too. But this isn’t just any old movie theatre — the tickets range from $19 to $29 per person.  The theatre pampers movie-goers with blankets and pillows, personal wait staff, a cocktail lounge and access to a gourmet menu if you want to dine while you watch.  Yes, this is where the Domain date night can add up!

Most stores are open until about 8 or 9 pm every night except Sunday, but the restaurants stay open later and the area is very well lit, so it’s fun to wander around even after the shops close.

There was only one thing missing from the Domain — music.  In the city that bills itself as the “Music Capitol”, it was strange that not a guitar or violin or anything was heard.  This would be a perfect place for some live music! Add that into the mix, and this would be an even better date night choice.

The Domain, like so much of Austin is pet-friendly. And they mean it here. Water bowls were in front of most shops, and some welcomed well-behaved pets inside to shop. Looking back, I think more people had dogs with them than did not!  (It’s also kid-friendly, but hey, this is about date night!) Parking is free and is easy to find in and around the shopping area.