Latina's Guide to Austin: Where to Eat, Drink, and Play

Everything is bigger (and better) in Texas.

RELATED: Latina's Guide to Barcelona, Spain

1. Latina's Picks

Where to Go for Authentic Mexican:

El Naranjo. When we heard there was a restaurant in Austin, Texas with a mole on the menu that takes at least three days to make and requires 32 ingredients, we knew El Naranjo had to be our first stop on the trip. Owner and Chef Iliana de la Vega hails from Mexico, but has lived in Austin for nine years and says “it’s an exciting time to be a part of what’s being recognized as a great food destination.” Considering de la Vega’s comida was once featured on the cover of Bon Appétit and she was the chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at its San Antonio campus, one would think her entry into the Austin Tex-Mex food scene would come with considerable weight. “Owning a Mexican restaurant in Austin is an interesting thing because most people here associate the idea of Mexican food with Tex-Mex, which is very different from what we offer at El Naranjo. The dishes I put out are based on tradition and are very much in line with what I was doing when in Oaxaca.” Gracias for bringing the different, Iliana.

2. Latina's Picks

Where to Stay:

Hotel San José. Set in a revamped 1930s' motor lodge, this boutique hotel features minimalist rooms and suites clad in ethnic fabrics and handmade furniture with outdoor porches and garden decks. When you’re not relaxing in your room, there’s also a courtyard bar that’s usually taken over by live jazz or the occasional local DJ. TIP: Jo’s Shack (AKA the hotel parking lot) offers up café and snacks to guests on the regular.     

3. Latina's Picks

Where to Go for Great BBQ:

Freedmen’s. This Saloon-like cocktail lounge and beer garden with a vintage vibe has to be one of the top places for authentic BBQ in the city. From the impressive smokers in the back and the extensive whiskey wall in the front, to the delicioso ribs, brisket, sides, and sauces — it’s unlike the usual tourist traps and you don’t have to wait hours on a line for your meal. Tip: Do not overlook the smoked banana pudding or the jalapeño cheese starter.

4. Latina's Picks

Where to Stay:

W Austin. When you want a high-rise luxury hotel with all of the amenities (incredible spa, brand name toiletries, welcoming lobby bar…), pus an awesome piscina to lounge by all day, look no further than the W Austin. Not only are the rates reasonable, but their Sunday pool parties are unbeatable. Tip: Brunch at Trace — the hotel’s casually cool restaurant that serves crazy good Migas (scrambled eggs, market vegetables, queso, tortilla strips, avocado, salsa).

5. Latina's Picks

Where to Eat:

Fixe. Dishes like fried chicken with buttermilk, kale, green apple, and spicy honey and crispy beef tendon (Chicharrónes-style with Fixe hot sauce) are reason enough to visit “Austin’s Southern House,” but #1 draw has to be their signature biscuits. Life-changing, we tell you. Tip: Ask to be seated at the communal dining table in the back — it has the ultimate view of the cocina and all the action.

6. Iliana’s Picks

Where to Escape:

“We have two dogs so we like to take them to the Red Bud Trail. Austin has an abundance of great trails in its greenbelt and we try to take advantage of it whenever we can get some time away from the restaurant.”

7. Iliana’s Picks

Where to Eat:

“Two of my go-to restaurants in town are Uchiko and Titaya. Uchiko is great for a quick bite during their daily social happy hour and Titaya is perfect for a delicious and simple (but well-prepared) Thai food.”

8. Iliana’s Picks

Where to Shop:

“We are blessed to have really great urban farms in the city and there’s always an abundance of options from our local farmers markets. For larger shopping trips, my go-to is Central Market and for Mexican items, Fiesta.”

9. Iliana’s Picks

Where to Explore:

“The Benson Collection Library at The University of Texas at Austin has the largest and most amazing collection of Latin American books!”