Dinner Diaries: Cheap but good
Plausible dining options when dining in Austin, Texas. The Barton Springs Road tourist traps near Zilker Park are cute, but not really good. If you’re downtown, you’re on your own. Everybody seems to just grab a sandwich at the Whole Foods cafe.
Jim’s Restaurant, three locations pretty much way out in the ‘burbs.
Imagine Denny’s or IHOP except somebody actually cares about the food. Home cooking, not a facsimile, without the additional adjectives, or heaping helpings of Austin’s own brand of pretension. San Antonio based Jim’s offers gracious and friendly service twenty-four hours every single day.
Quality Seafood, 5621 Airport Blvd. near Koenig aka US 290/TX 2222
For seafood that isn’t LJS, Quality is the only game in town and has been for a phenominal-for-this-area 75 years. Other seafood restaurants have more adjectives, are more expensive and have dramatically pricier decor, but if you are going to actually eat what is served to you Quality is the place. Remember, Quality is a delicatessen so order at the counter then make yourself at home. Pretty good modestly priced wine list, order wine and beer at the bar.
Madam Mam’s, Westgate, The Drag and Anderson Ln.
Don’t let the “noodles and more” on the signs dissuade you. Savory Thai treats and big, beautiful bowls of noodles. Just go, unless you are one of those guys with a thing about Asian girls in which instance the lovely, energetic staff will distract you.
Pho Thai Phun, 3601 W. William Cannon Dr. in the mini mall
Entirely authentic, down to the “special menu”. It doesn’t look like much, but you quite literally cannot go wrong with the menu. PTP is in a neighborhood more interesting than may be immediately evident. Don’t bother with what the place looks like and eat everything served to you. No disappointments.
Pho Thai Phun is along the Hamburger Corridor. You will find Mighty Fine, Whataburger, Culver’s, P.Terry’s, Five Guys and Freddy’s within a half-mile. If you aren’t from the south, get yourself some Whataburger.
Buffet Palace, Westgate Blvd. and in Round Rock
Do not sit there thinking about why on earth your humble narrator is recommending an Asian buffet. This is not your run-of-the-mill Asian buffet. We have a few of those. This is something different. Little pans of everything coming out constantly. Edible sushi. The dessert bar may be passed. Everything else is quite good and just try to get at their amazing lo mein. It goes quickly. What people think of as the original Buffet Palace burned down in 2007 and Austin took that worse than they did September 11.
Cannoli Joe’s, 4715 US 290 South
It looks like a buffet restaurant at an amusement park, inside and out. Cannoli Joe’s is kind of silly, but the food is pretty good. It just makes me giggle being in there. Unlike most buffets, leave room for dessert. I am told, by authentic Italian-Americans, that it qualifies as authentic Italian.
Thundercloud Subs, all over the damn place
Remember when Subway was straightforward and kinda cool? Yeah. Good times. Thundercloud is the local variation on the idea, but in contrast with most of Austin they appear to care about the food. You will get hit over the head with their local charitable tie-ins by just walking in the door, but the sandwiches are clever and quite good. If you’re broke get the special. Again, you can’t go wrong.