Paleo Eating in Austin
Welcome to my 100% biased, 0% scientific recommendations on my favorite places to get paleo-friendly eats in Austin. There are a few things you need to keep in mind while reading my suggestions:
1. I eat paleo by choice, not medical necessity. That means I’ve been fairly lazy about confirming exact ingredients in restaurant dishes. I assume when I eat out that I’m going to end up eating stuff that I would’t eat at home: canola oil; added sugar; maybe some sneaky soy; hidden grain or legume flours, especially in dishes labeled gluten free. I have the flexiblity to do that. If you follow a paleo diet because you have health issues that require it, please verify ingredients at the restaurants if you take any of my suggestions.
2. I don’t eat out very often… My “thing” is really making paleo food at home. But when I need a break from cooking, I either go to one of my local favorites where I know I can eat fairly healthily and without stress — or I throw caution to the wind and enjoy treats. This post focuses on the restaurants I rely on to feed me as well as possible when I can’t bear to rattle the pots and pans.
3. This list is not comprehensive. Also, I’m a Recommender, not a Reviewer. I haven’t exhausted all the possibilities for paleo in Austin, and I haven’t set out to review them critically the way a restaurant reviewer would. These are merely the places I feel confident recommending to you because they’re my personal choices when I eat out. Also, I live in South Austin, so most of my go-to places are near my neighborhood; sorry (but not really, ’cause I love South Austin).
4. When in doubt, order fajitas. There’s a tasty Tex-Mex joint everywhere you look in Austin, and most of them serve fajitas. When in doubt, order fajitas with extra guacamole. Say “no” to the tortillas, rice, beans, and sour cream — and do not allow the waitstaff put a basket of chips on your table.
600 N. Lamar | 512-472-5400
My current favorite! 24 Diner sources produce and meat locally and there’s an obvious focus on high-quality, seasonal ingredients. They also offer a gluten-free menu and don’t mind picky ordering. The chalkboard features daily specials, and most days it includes greens braised with bacon. Love! I’ve enjoyed a wonderful chicken and apricot salad, the lamb burger, and sweet potato home fries. The waitstaff is very tolerant and patient, and even when it’s busy, there’s a sense that you’re welcome to linger over conversation and coffee. (They have great decaf!) Bonus: open 24/7.
My go-to meal: lamb burger, minus goat cheese, no bun, with braised greens on the side… but all of the burgers are amazing, as are the salads.
Sap’s: 4514 Westgate Blvd | 512-899-8525
Madam Mam’s: 2700 Anderson Lane, Ste 419 | 512-371-9930
Note: In my opinion, the Guadalupe location is to be avoided. It smells like an indoor swimming pool, and I don’t think the food is as good as other locations. (See what I did there? I reviewed instead of recommending. Bad Mel!)
There’s probably some sugar and maybe a little soy sneaking into these dishes, but the food is super fresh, and I’ve never felt oogey after eating here, so if there is soy involved, it’s minimal. Both the Westgate and Anderson Lane locations are beautifully decorated with a casual atmosphere, so you can dress up or dress down. The coconut curries are rich and flavorful, and each has its own flavors rather than being a generic mix of protein and veg with some coconut milk thrown on top. The “Special” versions of traditional dishes feature succulent, tender beef that’s worth the extra couple of bucks.
My go-to meal: P44 Special Keow Wan Beef Curry with extra eggplant or P41 Speckal Panang Beef Curry. If we’re super hungry, we start with an order of A6 Tod Mun Chicken or S5 Yum Green Bean (eat around the peanuts).
401 West 2nd Street | 512-494-1500
When we want a dinner that feels special, Lambert’s is always our first choice. The meats are locally-sourced and cooked to perfection — and there are plenty of options for veggies sides. One caveat: there’s definitely sugar in the meat rubs and braised veggies; but quality wins out over strictness for me. The atmosphere is relaxed and cool, waitstaff is well-informed but not snooty.
My go-to meal: Spicy Deviled Eggs or (and!) Crispy Wild Boar Ribs… Bibb Lettuce & Avocado Salad… Country Style Pork Ribs… Mustard and Brown Sugar Crusted Niman Ranch Ribeye. The Japaleno & Garlic Roasted Broccoli will make you weep, it’s so good — but all of the green veg are worth eating. (Hello, Brussels Sprouts!)
534 East Oltorf Street | 512-326-2001
I’m always cautious when approaching Middle Eastern restaurants because I was born and raised on the stuff. Tarbouch was a lovely surprise: hole-in-the-wall atmosphere with drool-worthy food that tastes like my parents could have made it — and that is the highest compliment I can pay Middle Eastern food. There’s cute interior seating and a big patio with a new covering to help defray the blistering Texas sun. Great place for a lazy lunch that slides into a relaxed afternoon. The servings are generous and focus around big plates of meat with supporting players like salads and vegetables. I had no problem subbing their Baba Ghannouj for hummus.
My go-to-meal: Chicken or Beef Shawarma Plate, Kafta Kebab, or Lamb Kebab, sub Baba Ghannouj for hummus
501 West Oltorf | 512-416-0443
For two decades, Dave and I have always followed a Saturday morning workout with a relaxed breakfast in a restaurant. Our Austin pick for our ritual is Hanabero. It’s family-owned and located in a renovated house; best tables are on the porch. Habanero is only vaguely paleo friendly; I’m sure they use canola oil and the meat is definitely not of the local-and-grass-fed variety. But the food is very fresh and very, very good. The caldo de res, available only weekends, is a deep bowl of crazy-tender beef with big hunks of cabbage and zucchini (eat around the half ear of corn on the cob). Their guacamole is excellent, as is the just-hot-enough red salsa. Avert your eyes from the baskets of tortilla chips. Also excellent are carnitas and barbacoa plates: big piles of fall-apart tender meat with a mini side salad of iceberg, pica de gallo, and guacamole.
My go-to meal: When I want eggs, it’s Machacado and Eggs or Roberto’s Special (Huevos Rancheros with a side of Fajita Beef) with a side of guac. When I want meat, the carnitas or barbacoa does the trick.
2004 S 1st Street | 512-441-5446
Polvo’s is always hopping! If you’re looking for a loud, energetic atmosphere for your fajita consumption, Polvo’s is the place. The only thing I ever order there is the Fajita al Guajillo: sizzling chicken, beef, or pork sautéed with sun-dried peppers, grilled onions and poblanos, pecans, raisins, and peanuts. I’m not a fan of their guacamole and advise against ordering it. But the salsa bar with three varieties plus pickled vegetables makes up for it.
My go-to meal: Fajita al Guajillo — request no peanuts — with a side of sliced avocado instead of guac. I also eat plenty of the kickass black salsa from the salsa bar and the searingly-hot pickled veggies.
5 locations; all equally great; handy drive-thru location at 204 West Ben White (@ South Congress)
Burgers! Burgers! Burgers! Sometimes you just need a burger, and P. Terry’s is committed to high-quality ingredients, and their burgers taste damn good. It’s a no-frills experience, and that’s how I like it when I’m in that mood.
My go-to meal: hamburger or chicken burger, no bun (Sometimes I also order the french fries; don’t judge.)
5 locations; love them all
Kerby totally feels like a college hangout to me, even in the neighborhoods where there are plenty of grownups or young families. It’s open 24 hours and has a sprawling menu of diner food, breakfast anytime, and more sophisticated entrées like seared tuna steak and Greek chicken. There are lots of meat + veg options that can be customized to remove problematic ingredients like cheese. It’s a relatively stress-free experience to eat there because there are so many options.
My go-to meal: I either opt for eggs/omelet with fruit and salad instead of toast and potatoes, or Nabil’s Mid-East Feast salad (olives, egg, avocado, lettuce, tomato) with garlic-sesame dressing, minus the garbanzo beans and feta cheese, plus grilled chicken.
2304 Lake Austin Blvd | 512-478-8645
1920 S. Congress Ave | 512-445-0000
Mags is very similar to Kerby Lane in atmosphere and menu choices. When we moved to Austin in 2000, the Magnolia on South Congress was like our second kitchen, we ate there so often. It’s got a friendly, relaxed vibe that is so Austin, and the menu reflects its Austin roots with Tex-Mex specialties alongside diner classics and California-influenced “lighter” dishes like big salads; the California Salad is refreshing and satisfying (order with no cheese). They also have a pretty great selection of herbal teas which is really helpful for me because even decaf can sometimes be too much stimulant for me. Open 24 hours. Always, always bring a sweater or jacket because the A/C is generally cranked all the time.
My go-to meal: Burger, sans bun, plus a side salad… or breakfast food with fruit on the side. The Magnolia Stir Fry is also really great, if you make occasional exceptions for a little soy sauce.
multiple locations; similar menus
The Alamo Drafthouse is another Austin institution that won our hearts when we were new transplants, and the romance hasn’t faded. The Drafthouse has a handful of menu items that fit into the paleo template, and they taste really good, too. Big salads (easily paleo-ized and satisfying), quality burgers, and even a spaghetti squash entrée with marinara and chicken that seems to have been designed with paleo people in mind. One of my favorite things is feeling like a “normal” person when I eat out, and it’s enormously rewarding to sit back in a dark theater and dig into some tasty food, just like everyone else in the room.
My go-to meal: Spicy Bleu Burger (sometimes with the bleu cheese; so scandalous!), no bun; they wrap it in lettuce instead, and it’s juicy and awesome. Sub salad for fries or chips: I like the Lemon Vinaigrette. I also really like the Once Upon a Time in Mexico Salad with either chicken or steak; no cheese, no tortilla strips, sub Lemon Vinaigrette for the default dressing.
5 locations; same menu
This is our go-to takeout when I’m tired/have hormone poisoning/we’re watching “American Idol” (sorry!) and no one wants to deal with dishes. It’s a build-your-own stir-fry situation, and I love selecting my own veggies from the veggie bar (I pick lots of broccoli, mushrooms, white and green onions, pineapple chunks, and bamboo shoots). Fire Bowl recently added an option to get fresh field greens under a stir-fry instead of rice or noodles, which is totally awesome — and the menu includes indications for gluten-free items. I’ve also verified that the Lemongrass Basil, Ginger White Wine, and Coconut Curry are also soy free (but if you go, double check to make sure they haven’t changed their recipes).
My go-to meal: My fave veggies with beef and Coconut Curry sauce, no rice/noodles, sub field greens. I also just fell madly in love with the side salad with Creamy Garlic dressing (but it probably includes canola oil, so if you’re concerned about industrial oils, you might want to investigate).
4001 N. Lamar Blvd | 512-206-1020
4477 S. Lamar Blvd | 512-899-4300
In both locations, the Café offers indoor and outdoor seating that does a pretty good job of making me forget I’m eating in a grocery store. But it has all the advantages of a grocery store, so I can order my entrée from the Café and supplement with other foods from the store. Nifty! There are plenty of options on the menu that can be cleaned up: beautiful salads, meat-and-veg entrees, and juicy burgers. (By now you should be seeing the trend. This is why I rarely make burgers at home; the bunless burger is a go-to, out-of-the-house meal.) I should also mention that the salad bar and the counter of prepared food are also a good option, but you have to be super picky. (Don’t we always have to be super picky?) It’s got a really nice selection, but is less hectic than Whole Foods.
My go-to meal: A burger with no bun, double side salad with vinaigrette on the side, extra pickles, plus a grapefruit that I buy separately from the produce department. The steak salad (with a luscious shallot vinaigrette) is also very good; remember to request no cheese. I also like to go to the Café for brunch after yoga on Saturdays; omelets are good, but again, request NO CHEESE. I forget as often as I remember, and they automatically put it into omelets there.
What are your fave choices for Paleo in Austin?
This post is part of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance 2012 City Guide. Check out the full list of blog posts at the AFBA web site!