Being an Austin native is a special kind of birthright.
You’re still paying the same rent as everyone else, but you’re allowed to complain about it with a certain sense of entitlement, and people expect you to know all the secret “Old Austin” spots — you know, restaurants and bars that opened before, say, 2010. Sadly, this effortless cool is generally considered out of reach for those of us who grew up north of 183, a region still struggling to rise above its classification as “suburban wasteland.”
Tell someone from Cool Austin that you’re from North Austin and their reaction will be about the same as if you told them you were from Austin, then immediately corrected yourself to say “Pflugerville,” or “Round Rock,” or “The Killeen – Temple – Fort Hood Metropolitan Area.” You’re not really from here, though you have perhaps a 25% greater claim to the region than some Californian transplant jamoke.
I don’t think Austinite nativism is a natural condition, but rather an adaptation to the city’s overall population boom, which unfortunately brings with it insane rush hours and steampunk-themed bars, for whatever reason. Keeping that in mind, here’s my modest proposal: North Austin is cool now.
There’s plenty to do, with fewer people, more parking and less traffic. Here are some spots to get you started on this magical exodus into the suburbs.
The Greater North Austin Brewery Corridor
Cheap real estate in the sprawl of industrial and business parks around Metric Boulevard means that, oddly enough, the most interesting things happening right now in the Austin beer scene are located up north. Adelbert’s Brewery, Austin Beerworks, Circle Brewing Company and an outpost of Colorado’s famed Oskar Blues Brewery all occupy the same district, but my personal favorite is 4th Tap Brewing Co-Op, an employee-owned brewery known for off-the-wall experimental beers and hosting the underground theatrical wrestling troupe Party World Rasslin’, which might honestly be the weirdest thing going on in Austin right now.
Another advantage of all these breweries in one place? The Kramer MetroRail station is just up the street, meaning you can safely return to your precious downtown condo in one piece.
These Neighborhoods: Basically Giant Food Courts
You’re not going to find the Uchi-on-company-dime experience out here, but the diversity of dining options up north is big and getting huger. We’ve got knife-cut noodles and tearjerking scallion pancakes at Chen’s, authentic Sichuan at Asia Cafe next door, cheap sangria and gyro pizza served by the nicest humans in town at Santorini Cafe, genuinely artistic shaved ice at Snow Monster, and, no big deal, the original outpost of the best bowl of ramen in America at Ramen Tatsu-ya. I don’t even need to list all the banh mi shops and taco trucks along North Lamar, perhaps the most underrated street of cheap eats in the city.
Domain and Domain Accessories
You knew it was coming. The pearl of suburban mixed-use development in Austin may feel a bit sterile (it does), but you won’t find a more comfortable, upscale shopping experience in town. Even if you’re not stocking your kitchen from Sur La Table, almost everyone can agree on H&M, and this is the only one around unless you feel like driving to Lakeway. The Domain’s Whole Foods might be the most enjoyable to visit in the city, featuring all the dining and shopping options of the spacious downtown location without the constant crowds and occasional parking difficulties — plus, there’s an oyster bar in there.
Pinballz Lake Creek and the original Pinballz Arcade are where to have the most fun for $20 on a Tuesday night, period — they’ve got the RoboCop machine! Zaytouna Lounge is the best place for hookah in town, with Moroccan hospitality in the form of mint tea and complimentary pétanque lessons in the backyard sand pit. Kiddie Acres is the creepy amusement park from a Stephen King novel, except nobody dies and the kids enjoy it. The Water Tank has karaoke every night, as far as I can tell, and the drink prices are stuck in 1999. Tell them Old Austin sent you and no one will suspect a thing.