If you’re looking for an authentic slice of Austin, almost completely untouched by the new, surrounding mixed-use buildings and retail stores, look no further than the Broken Spoke.
An Austin institution since 1964, the current iteration of the honky tonk came together two years later, when, in 1966, owner James White expanded the space to include a now-famous dance floor. It turns out that when White opened the Broken Spoke (named so after the Jimmy Stewart movie Broken Arrow and his kinship with wagon wheels) as a café and pool hall, people kept two-stepping to the country music playing from the jukebox. There was barely any room, so patrons would, according to the stories, dance wherever they could: in-between tables and even out in the parking lot. Sensing he had something big on his hands, White made the Broken Spoke what it is today, what he calls, “the last of the true Texas dance halls.”
Since then, some of country music’s biggest stars have graced the stage at the Broken Spoke, including Ernest Tubb, Ray Price, George Jones, Bob Wills, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, the Dixie Chicks, and George Strait. Local legends Asleep at the Wheel are regulars at the Broken Spoke to this day. Films such as Wild Texas Nights and Honeysuckle Rose and the television show Friday Night Lights have filmed scenes at the honky tonk. In 2016, a documentary about the historic venue and restaurant, called Honky Tonk Heaven, premiered at SXSW.
Inside, the checkered tablecloths and neon lights are just as they were 50 years ago, and everyone from city slicker tourists to longtime locals spend their time and money at the Broken Spoke. Tuesday through Saturday, visitors to the 2010 inductee to the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame can dance to live music, gulp down a couple of cold Lone Stars, or sample the Broken Spoke’s famous chicken fried steak. Whatever you do, don’t just stand on the dancefloor.
Photo by Makenzie Harrison.
Once a novelty in Austin, food trailers have exploded onto the scene, cropping up in parking lots and behind bars all over town. With the plethora of new trailers opening every week, it’s often hard to keep up with it all. We’ve run down a list of our favorites to visit.
What was once a desert for really great brisket and sides—save for Franklin and a few scattered, older restaurants—Austin proper has now become a barbecue haven, largely in part of two food trailers known as Micklethwait Craft Meats and La barbecue.
1. Micklethwait Craft Meats
At 1309 Rosewood in the heart of East Austin, Micklethwait is notable for—beyond its juicy brisket—twists on classics (brisket frito pie with escabeche) and unusual smoked meats (pulled goat, available some Saturdays).
2. la Barbecue
Now settled in its fourth spot in town at Aztec Food Park on Cesar Chavez, la Barbecue is also serving some of the best barbecue in Central Texas. Meat plates are an obvious favorite, but I also recommend some of the sandwiches, including La Frito Loco, featuring a medley of pulled pork, chopped beef, jalapeños, cheese, chipotle slaw, and black beans.
All the meats from la Barbecue
3. Via 313
Austin isn’t known for its pizza, but some of the tastiest pies I’ve ever had are made at VIA 313, a growing, Detroit-style pizza parlor with multiple locations in the city. It got its start as a food trailer in front of The Violet Crown bar on East Sixth Street, and is still the primo place to grab a pie or a couple of slices. Try the Detroiter, featuring two different kinds of pepperoni, and wash it down with an ice-cold Vernor’s, a classic Detroit ginger ale.
Detroit Style Pizza from VIA 313
4. Veracruz All Natural
Whether you stop by the original location on Cesar Chavez, the one at Radio Coffee & Beer in South Austin, or the one in Round Rock, Veracruz All Natural is one of the best taco trucks in town. Opened by two sisters from Veracruz, Mexico, the food is some of the freshest you’ll find, and the tortillas and chips are handmade. The al pastor is my favorite offering, with just a touch of the fresh green salsa on top. It’s spicy, but delicious.
Breakfast Tacos from Veracruz
5. Violet Taco
More of a hybrid but still delicious taco experience is Violet Taco, a trailer at 600 West Sixth Street downtown. Featuring barbecue from its sister restaurant, the East Side’s Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ, huevos rancheros tacos and the like are the vibe here, with tons of ingredients for hungry eaters. The Ultimate Bean and Cheese Taco is a twist on the simple classic, except this one has bacon and a choice of smoked brisket or pulled pork—three items that make any food order markedly tastier.
A plethora of tacos from Violet Taco
6. Burro Cheese Kitchen
Grilled cheese is the ultimate comfort food: It’s hearty, easy, and reminds us of a time when we were younger. At Burro Cheese Kitchen at 1221 South Congress Avenue, it’s that formula except on steroids. First you pick your bread, and we’re not talking wimpy Wonderbread here. You can choose from sourdough made at Easy Tiger, a Hawaiian bun, or a gluten-free option. Next, of course, is the cheese, and while an aged cheddar is on the menu, more adventurous eaters will find Danish Havarti, manchego, and aged blue cheese from Oregon. Then you get a sauce, with offerings like spicy maple bacon and balsamic apricot fig, plus veggies, smoked meats, and even a fried egg.
The Mac n’ Cheese Grilled Cheese from Burro
7. Hey! You Gonna Eat or What?
Similarly, Hey!…You Gonna Eat or What? subverts the classic sandwich into something even better. The Lonestar BLT features thick-cut applewood bacon, fried green tomatoes, and homemade poblano aioli on a ciabatta baguette. And their version of the monte cristo is beer-battered in Shiner Bock and comes with homemade cherry and fig jelly.
The Monte Cristo from Hey You Gonna Eat Or What? Photo by Nick Bianco