Things to do in Austin: Whole Foods

While researching things to do in Austin before our trip, Whole Foods came up a lot on other people’s lists.  At first, I laughed at that. We already have plenty of Whole Foods in LA, why specifically visit a Whole Foods when traveling? Then I thought more about it.  I love going to super markets in different countries just to see what weird stuff is on the shelves.  Whole Foods started in Austin.  Someone on the food forums claimed that the barbecue at Whole Foods wasn’t half bad.  Sold!

The Whole Foods in Austin is huge. Not only is it almost Costco-sized, but there’s just so much stuff in it! Honey dispensers? Check! Lots of different types of made-to-order food and prepared foods? Check! Barbecue counter? Check! Wine and beer? Check! Walk-in beer closet? Check! Vegan donuts? Check! Luckily, our hotel was about a half mile walk from the market, so we visited it a couple times during our trip.

I was really curious to try the barbecue, but having just had dinner, didn’t want to order a whole sandwich. I asked the man behind the counter to cut me just a slice of moist brisket and he gave me a generous piece on a sheet of tin foil and said, “Here you go, on me!”  How nice!  I brought my slice of brisket to the eat-in counter, drizzled it with a little sauce and dug in with my bare hands.  It was moist, it was tender, it smoky, it was everything I wanted barbecue to be.  And if I had any doubts about the barbecue being made on location, a whiff of the barbecue smoke drifting in the downstairs parking lot cleared those doubts away.

This brisket at Whole Foods was surprisingly good! Best brisket I've ever had. Texas!

One thing I particularly liked about this Whole Foods is that there’s a basket of free fruit in the entrance for kids 12 and under to munch on!

So yes, when in Austin, make sure to visit the Whole Foods on Lamar.  Come with an appetite and you can get a pretty decent meal of barbecue and fixin’s.  Then, when you’re bored of that, you can walk across the street to Book People and browse the shelves and shelves of books.

Whole Foods Market
525 N Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78703
(512) 542-2200

Book People
603 N Lamar Blvd Austin, TX 78703
(512) 472-5050

The Salt Lick BBQ (Austin)

The Salt Lick BBQ

One important thing on my Todo List when visiting Texas for the first time is to eat barbecue.  It would be a shame for me to visit barbecue country without trying it at least once.  When I stepped out of the Jet Blue terminal and right into the smokey aroma of the Salt Lick outpost in the airport terminal, I knew that I couldn’t leave without going there.

While there are other places in the city limits, most of the locals and Texans I spoke to said the definitive place to go for barbecue brisket is The Salt Lick.  Considering I never really liked brisket, I wondered if I just never had the right brisket.  I always associated brisket as dry and stringy meat that takes forever to chew.  If The Salt Lick can’t make me like brisket, maybe that cut of meat is just not for me.

The Driftwood location of The Salt Lick is a short twenty-five to thirty-minute drive outside of Austin. For those of us in LA who’s used to driving thirty minutes just to travel ten miles in the city, this drive will be easy.  Leaving the actual city of Austin takes only a few minutes on the freeways and then the rest of the way is boring suburbs, big box stores, followed by rolling hills and even a Hindu temple in the middle of nowhere.

At first, I was worried by how touristy The Salt Lick seemed to be. It boasted a winery and a separate wine tasting building. There’s an outdoor patio full of large wooden tables and benches and even a separate area for kids.  The merchandise for sale on the walls made it a little too Disneyland for me, but one look at the barbecue pit and a whiff of the smell and I knew I had to stay.

For about $15, I got to pick two meats (I got brisket and sausage) which came on a large plate along with potato salad, coleslaw, beans, bread, pickles, and a part of an onion.  I opted for a combo of moist brisket and burnt ends when the waitress asked what my preference was for the brisket.  The service is fast and in no time, this plate was plopped down in front of me as well as two types of sauces.  Since the meat seemed already sauced, I didn’t add too much extra sauce on top. Just enough to realize the habenero sauce is not spicy enough.

The Salt Lick BBQ

Did The Salt Lick change my opinion of brisket? It sure did!  The moist slices were tender and fell apart in my mouth. The burnt ends were crispy and had a decent bite, but was nowhere near as chewy as I was fearing. The sausage wasn’t half-bad either, with a great snap.  The flavor of the barbecue and the smokiness of the meat was everything I hoped for.

The sides were surprisingly good.  The cole slaw was light on the dressing and not that mayonaise nightmare that I associate with some coleslaw.  It’s good that it’s delicious because one needs some roughage to help in digesting all this meat.  The potato salad was not what I expected either, but still delicious.  It was slightly tangy from mustard or relish, and had chopped cooked onions inside. It was one of the better restaurant potato salads I’d had.  The beans were alright, but I ate only a couple bites of it because I wanted to save my protein compartment for the meat.

The pickles and bread I mostly left alone because I couldn’t figure out what their purpose was.  Was I supposed to make a sandwich with the bread rolls? They were fluffy and white, reminding me of the rolls I used to eat in the cafeteria in elementary school.  I guess if I had more stomach space, I could use it to soak up the barbecue sauce later. And what about that quarter of a raw onion?  I mostly left that alone because I didn’t want to ruin the smokey barbecue aftertaste with the pungent aroma of an onion.

Although I shouldn’t have ordered it, I was curious, so I also ordered the blackberry cobbler. This was unlike any cobbler I’d ever had.  The breaded part was soft and spongey, more like a thick pancake than a biscuit.  The blackberry filling was way too sweet for my taste and I was regretting not ordering it with some ice-cream to tone it down.  The serving size of the cobbler was also very Texan. I think one order would be enough to satisfy four people.

Was the Salt Lick worth the 30 minute drive? Yes! I have a new found respect for brisket and am wishing I had finished my plate of barbecue because I’m now craving it.

Protip: It’s BYOB, so get a 6-pack from the Texaco station off the freeway and bring it with you. If not, you can always try your luck at the winery next to the restaurant, which also sells beer.

The Salt Lick
18300 FM 1826
Driftwood, TX 78619
(512) 858-4959

Pok Pok (Portland)

What visit to Portland is complete without a meal at Pok Pok?  Although Los Angeles has more than a handful of well-known, authentic Thai restaurants, I had to try this one in Portland. At first, I was a bit skeptical about a non-Thai cooking Thai, but after tasting his food, Andy Ricker is legit.

Tamarind whisky sour and a limeaid.

We started off with some liquid refreshments to help us through the hot and humid weather.  Will got a lime-aid while I opted for a tamarind whisky sour.  The whisky sour hit the spot with a slight sweetness from the tamarind and a whole lot of tang.

Pok pok papaya salad

Next, we shared a vegetarian papaya salad.  While the papaya was crisp and fresh, there was a slight bitterness from the lime. It was also missing that characteristic funk I like with my papaya salad which usually comes in the form of fermented fish or small crab and fish sauce.  I would recommend getting this in its fishy glory instead of going for the vegetarian version.

Pok pok grilled eggplant.

I then had the grilled eggplant salad, which the waiter warned was quite spicy. This was perfect because I love a spicy but cold salad on a hot day.  The eggplant was charred perfectly and kept its smokey aroma.  The pungent and spicy dressing cut down on the rich, yellow, egg yolk from the hard boiled egg. The flesh of the eggplant was a wonderful softness that paired well with the crisp slices of raw onion.

Pok pok curry noodles

Will had the vegetarian curry noodle soup, which had a great flavor.  Slightly spiced from the curry paste, and a mellow sweetness from the coconut milk made up for the lack of meat taste in the broth.  He was tempted to come back another day and order this again. It’s such a simple and wholesome dish, I’m sad that no where in LA has it.

Pok Pok
3226 Southeast Division Street
Portland, OR 97202
(503) 232-1387