Anthony Bourdain in Austin: 15 Spots Where Tony Ate

When you ask anyone who’s ever been – or who calls anywhere in the Lone Star State home – it’s pretty much universally agreed upon: Austin may be in Texas, but it isn’t quite Texas like other cities. Sure, you can find conventional cowboy culture and incredible Southern food… but you can also discover hipster hot spots, tech companies, and artists of every kind. Austin is definitely special, and it’s no surprise that Tony Bourdain visited.

In fact, Anthony Bourdain visited Austin to film both season 6 (episode 15, “Heartland”) and season 9 (episode 1) of No Reservations; these were his only two visits to Austin during his travels, but he certainly sampled a lot of what makes the city unique – or should I say – as Austinites do – what makes Austin “weird.” He also visited many other parts of Texas, giving a good contrast to Austin’s unique culture.

Anthony Bourdain in Austin Hero

Whether you call Austin home or are planning a trip there (for SxSW, as Tony did, or any other reason), you’ve got plenty of great places to choose from; this list of places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Austin is a great start.

Ready to try some of the world’s best barbecue, and a ton of other Texas flavors too? Let’s dig in!

Want to watch the episodes where Anthony Bourdain visits Austin?
The “Heartland” episode is available on Amazon, and the other No Reservations episode is available on Amazon and Hulu.

In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Jumanos, Coahuiltecan, Nʉmʉnʉʉ Sookobitʉ (Comanche), Ndé Kónitsąąíí Gokíyaa (Lipan Apache), and Tonkawa peoples, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

No Reservations (2009)

As part of his book tour across America’s “Heartland” (the episode’s name), Tony visits Austin, along with other cities like Denver, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Columbus. Here’s where he ate in Texas during that trip.

Perla’s

Anthony Bourdain in Austin - Texas Oysters

For his first stop, Tony sits down with several local chefs for “screamingly fresh” seafood at Perla’s. While you might not think of land-locked Austin as a seafood destination, there are definitely great options to choose from if you know where to go.

The dishes they try include a variety of oysters and oak-grilled red snapper, followed by triggerfish “on the half shell” (cooked open-faced on the skin, but only on one side) and braised octopus on fried potatoes with aioli.

Gordough’s Donuts

Next, Bourdain swings wildly in another culinary direction, opting for wildly indulgent and savory doughnuts at Gordough’s. Much like those he discovered in Portland, Oregon, he loves the unique toppings – those he tried include a fried chicken strip and honey butter, and Canadian bacon, cream cheese, and jalapeno jelly.

Odd Duck

In an attempt to show off how (and why) Austin was a foodie destination in the early 2000s, Tony then heads to Odd Duck, which is described as “farm to table in a movable feast kind of way.”

This contemporary American restaurant offers a number of delicious dishes that he tries, including slow-roasted pork belly slider with pickled red onions, grilled quail with goat cheese and pickled beets, and roasted Brussel sprouts with butter, capers, and rabbit belly. These dishes all honor the flavors of Texas while still being elevated for discerning foodie palates.

East Side King & Liberty Bar

Anthony Bourdain in Austin - Lengua Bao

Bourdain’s last stop on this first Austin trip is at East Side King, which is located at Liberty Bar. This spot is known for fantastic Japanese-Austin fusion food – think beef tongue sticky bun tacos, deep-fried panko hot dogs, and fried beets and kimchi… All of which Tony tries and enjoys during his visit!

No Reservations (2012)

Bourdain returns for a dedicated visit to Austin in March 2012, when the SxSW (“South by Southwest”) festival was ongoing. He used this as a chance to showcase and support musicians, leaning into his rock n’ roll chef personality.

Barley Swine

Bourdain’s first stop is at Barley Swine, where chef Bryce Gilmore was – at the time – offering something special with small, sharable plates of familiar flavors at an elevated level. There, he’s joined by members of the band UME to talk about “South-by” and what it’s like to be a musician in Austin.

The group chows down on incredible dishes, which I wanted to list in their entirety just to show what this restaurant has to offer:

  • Roasted beet salad with herbed goat cheese
  • Chilled asparagus and spinach soup with parmesan beer fritters
  • Soft scrambled eggs and broccoli with goat feta and pine nuts
  • Shrimp with fried heads with Greek garlic rice and aioli froth
  • Grilled foie gras with cauliflower and macerated strawberries
  • Goat neck and shoulder with carrots and artichoke
  • Chicken fried egg with sweetbreads
  • Coffee-rubbed brisket with pureed barbeque beets, potatoes, pickles, and more.
  • Grilled chicken breast with egg yolk puree, chicken testicles, and hush puppies

Delicious, right?!

Franklin Barbecue

Anthony Bourdain in Austin - Texas Barbecue

Next, Tony makes a pilgrimage by Austin standards: he heads to Franklin Barbecue to wait in line with all of the other fans of Aaron Franklin’s insanely good, meticulously made “holy trinity of Texas barbecue:” Brisket, ribs, and sausage.

While waiting, Bourdain jokes “I used to score dope in a line just like this,” but the jokes quickly dry up when he tastes the meats and recognizes a true master at work.

El Taco Rico (CLOSED)

After crowds and lines and all that, Tony looks for something quieter; he finds it in a laundromat parking lot where El Taco Rico food truck sets up and it’s far from the maddening crowd. There, he tucks into enchiladas con guilota (deep-fried morning dove) and barbacoa tacos, noting how you don’t always have to line up with a bunch of hipsters to find incredible food in Austin.

Unfortunately, this restaurant closed at some point between Bourdain’s visit and today – I can’t quite tell when.

The Draught House

After that quiet moment, Bourdain sets out again, this time to enjoy a few spots with the Austin-based band, The Sword. They start at The Draught House, a local watering hole with 50 beers, a huge patio, and a crowd of locals. A few beers make the group hungry, so they then set out for food.

Quality Seafood Market

Anthony Bourdain in Austin - Crack Pie

To that end, they head to Quality Seafood Market, to eat some surprisingly great fish and shellfish given Austin’s landlocked location.

After starting with gulf oysters on the half shell – topped by the band’s own hot sauce –, they then have fried catfish, fish tacos with mango salsa, and an Austin favorite: “crack pie” (pecan-ish pie with powdered sugar and whipped cream).

El Azteca (CLOSED)

Bourdain continues his musician-inspired tour of Austin by sitting down with Alejandro Escovedo, a musician with a prodigious catalog of both collaborative and independent work.

The pair head to El Azteca, which Escovedo says is the first place he ever ate in Austin before settling here for his career. There, they dig into Tejano – Texan-Mexican – cuisine: Tony has the cabrica (young goat) with rice and salsa fresca, while his dining companion chooses the chicken mole enchiladas.

Unfortunately, despite the popularity Tony brought to the place, this restaurant closed in 2016.

JMueller BBQ (CLOSED)

Anthony Bourdain in Austin - Texas Barbecue 2

While Bourdain is fairly certain he’s had (some of) the best barbecue in Texas already (at Franklin’s), he heads to the other pinnacle of the craft in Austin: JMueller BBQ, run by John Mueller.

While being serenaded in a spirited mood by the band Whiskey Shivers, Tony tucks into beef short ribs, pork shoulder, and sausage with slaw and other sides – he ends up settling that JMueller tops Franklin’s, but you can’t go wrong with either if you only have time for one.

Shortly after Tony’s visit, Mueller was removed from running his eponymous barbecue spot, and the place was renamed/reopened by its owner (Mueller’s sister) as La Barbecue according to Daniel Vaughn, with whom Bourdain visited in 2012… who knew BBQ had such drama!

Lala’s

Next, Tony makes another two-stop scene with another musician; he’s joined by Alan Palomo from Neon Indian, who’s not an Austinite, but from Denton near Dallas-Fort Worth. They meet up at Lala’s – known for its year-round Christmas celebrations – to start with Bloody Maria’s (with tequila as opposed to the Bloody Mary) before grabbing a bite to eat.

La Mexicana Bakery (CLOSED)

Anthony Bourdain in Austin - Pastries

That bite to eat is a late-night meal at La Mexicana Bakery. At Palomo’s suggestion, they start with pastries: piñas, conchas, and churros, with sickly sweet Jarritos to wash it down. Then they have a little substance, Adam chooses bistek a la Mexicana (flank steak with pico and jalapenos), while Tony chooses the chuletas (pork chops) tacos instead.

Yet another casualty of the past decade, this bakery closed in early 2022.

Texas Chili Parlor

Anthony Bourdain in Austin - Chili

Last but not least, Bourdain seeks out one final Texan dish before leaving the Lone Star State: chili. Texas is known for its chili, and there are few places more aptly named to offer a great bowl of it than Texas Chili Parlor.

Accompanied by yet another band – The Golden Boys – Tony and the musicians chat about life as a working artist in Austin over bowls of loaded chili with chees, onions, and jalapeños.

Austin Food Tours to Try

While there are certainly plenty of great options to choose from on this list, I thought I’d add a few suggestions for food tours you could also try; these are a great way to enjoy even more flavors during your time in Austin. Here are three that caught my eye:

Have any other questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Austin? Let me know in the comments!

Skyline Chili Review - 3-Way

Valerie is a travel writer currently based in Cleveland, but her favorite destinations are Alaska, London, and Jordan – only one of which Bourdain ever visited! You can find her writing on Lonely Planet, Forbes, and her travel blog, Valerie & Valise.

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