Everyone ought to have a Lower East Side in their life- Irving Berlin
The East Side has typically been synonymous with art, culture, history, and grit.
When we venture through LES in NYC or Wicker Park in Chicago or Silver Lake in Los Angeles, we feel like we’ve stepped back into time, that we’re not necessarily welcome, and that at any moment something wonderful or terrible might happen.
This also goes for Austin’s east side. A vibrant and fascinating part of the city, Eastside boasts eclectic eateries, trendy bars, and dozens of notable art galleries all maintaining the feel of a bygone era.
Chances are you’ll be spending some time over on the Eastside during SXSW and if so, you might want to know where to eat (if you aren’t stuffed full of free breakfast tacos supplied at the parties).
Here is a list of some of the best East Austin restaurants, cafes, and bars:
Best Pizza: East Side Pies 1401 Rosewood Ave.
Many will say that Homeslice on SoCo is the best pizza in Austin, but they’re embarrassingly wrong. East Side Pies is hands down the best and most imaginative pizza around. Try their Veggie Nacho pizza topped with spicy black bean sauce, onion, tomatoes, jalapenos, and avocados. Or their Blue Moon which is a tomato-less pizza topped with feta, mozzarella, ricotta, goat, romano, and blue cheeses. They also supply delicious salads, blondie brownies, and bottled sodas. The staff is awesomely sassy and the place is a little small and very busy, so make sure you don’t dilly-dally.
Price: Cheese slice $2.50/Meat or veggie slice $3.00
Best Vegan/Vegetarian: Mr. Natural 1901 E. Cesar Chavez
One of two Mr. Natural locations in Austin, this restaurant is conveniently located in the heart of the east side. Both a restaurant and a health food store, Mr. Natural supplies an assortment of food options ranging from a vegan/vegetarian lunch and dinner bar that changes daily to delicious baked goods to cakes to homemade juices. Absolutely worth trying is the Soya Guisada on Fridays and the vegan mint chocolate cupcake. You will never think of veganism the same way again.
Price: Lunch buffet $7.99, pastries range from .75-$3.50
Best Mexican: Juan in a Million 2300 E. Cesar Chavez
This was a hard category to decide in. I like a lot of Mexican food on the Eastside: Aranda’s simplicity, El Chile’s creativity, and all the taco trailers in between. I chose Juan in a Million because it’s the most famous Mexican food restaurant on the Eastside, having been featured on the Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food and Countdown Chowdown. Juan in a Million is most famous for their “Don Juan”, a potato, bacon, egg, and cheese scramble that, which I believe, has been cooked on the same griddle for over twenty years. It’s also $3.60 and could last you two days! The atmosphere is quaint, but make sure to go at off times. Especially on the weekend, lines can form down the sidewalk!
Price: The Don Juan $3.60
Best Sandwich: Bossa Nova 2121 E. 6th St.
Located across the street from the Lance Armstrong Foundation, this Brazilian eatery has some of the best food on the east side. Don’t let the fact that it’s Brazilian scare you away- their menu is plentiful and delicious while still being unique. My favorite sandwich (when I eat meat) is the Misto Tudo which has turkey, ham, sliced egg, green olives, palm, and mozzarella. Or the Salada de Maca with romaine, apples, cranberries, walnuts, blue cheese, and balsamic dressing.
Price: Lunch Special- any 1/2 sandwich or pizza slice with a side salad or soup $6.99
Best Coffee: Texas Coffee Traders 1400 E. 4th St.
Texas Coffee Traders is quite possible my favorite place to visit on the Eastside. Often overlooked due to the fact that it’s housed in a warehouse, this place is not to be missed. A Disneyland for the coffee connoisseur, Texas Coffee Traders has rows and rows of unique coffee to taste and buy. Typically a place to get your coffee in bulk, the friendly staff will fix you up a cup of cappuccino or tea while you wait. However, this year for SXSW, the store will be setting up a coffee stand on the corner of 4th and Navasota, so make sure to check them out! These guys will remind you of why you love Austin.
Most Romantic: Justine’s 4710 E. 5th St.
Justine’s is relatively new to the Eastside, but a wonderful addition. Situated in an old house, the ambiance of Justine’s is quaint and warm. One enters below a vintage neon sign onto a front yard draped with string lights and tables. Inside the dark wood and vaulted ceiling of the house make for a cozy atmosphere. Justine’s is a great place to grab a drink or dine in. Inspired by French cuisine, my favorites include the Endive Poire Rouqefort Salade (endives, rouqefort, walnuts, and pear) and the Steak Tartare.
Price: Endive Poire Rouqefort Salade $8.50, Steak Tartare $14
Most Metropolitan: East Side Show Room 1100 E. 6th St.
East Side Show Room is also a relatively new to the Eastside. Channeling a 1920’s feel, the bar/restaurant showcases vintage furniture and fixtures, local art, and some of the best lighting in town. East Side Show Room is also one of the best places to see and be seen these days. The menu is a little steep, but definitely creative and delicious. Their curried grits and greens is a must, as is their Barbequed Quail and Oranges.
Price: Curried Grits & Greens $9, Barbequed Quail & Oranges $18
Most Chill: Rio Rita 1308 E. 6th St.
Rio Rita has quickly become of of my favorite hangout spots on the Eastside. Cafe by day, lounge by night, this funky bar looks like an explosion went off in a vintage furniture store. Rio Rita serves a collection of local food, infused vodkas, and mystery beers. On Monday night you can listen to your own 45 for “Love and a 45” night or bring your crayons and glue for “Arts and Drafts” night on Thursdays. This is definitely a great place to kick back and mingle with the quirkiest of the bunch.
Price: Ham & Brie sandwich $6.50, Turkey & Cranberry on a Croissant $6.50
Photo source: Yelp.com