Austin Recommendations: Anyone? Anyone?

I’ll be in Austin, Texas, soon on a business trip, with four days to eat wherever I want. I’ve been there twice before and have good memories of a Thai restaurant that my friend took me to, which was in a building that looked like it was a converted free-standing house. I don’t recall the name.

I also remember eating once (maybe in 2005) at The Roaring Fork, which was right downtown. Although I don’t remember exactly what I ate, I do remember it was the first time I encountered the Smoking Loon label of wine, which has been on my short list of easy-to-find bargain bottles ever since. I also remember my co-worker ordered a fondue plate, which came with bite-sized pieces of bread, vegetables, and steak (!) to dip in a vat of cheese sauce. She ate approximately three bites of it, not because it was bad, but because it was “very rich” (and she is way skinny and I would assume she works to keep it that way).

Two friends of mine who used to live there keep telling me to go to Freebirds for a burrito, and this year there is a branch that seems like it is close enough to the hotel where I’m staying, near the convention center, for me to actually give it a whirl.

People who have never traveled for business before don’t seem to understand that it’s really difficult to squeeze in time while on a trip to see anything in the city or eat where you really want to eat. I work very hard at doing both, though sometimes missing out can’t be helped. On more than one occasion, after returning from a business trip, I’ve gone to fill out an expense report only to notice that I didn’t have a single receipt for meals except for two sandwiches from the airports and four cups of Starbucks coffee. The rest of what I ate for three or four days straight was cocktail hour food at parties, complimentary convention center box lunches, and bagels and cookies from the press room.

And I think in all my business trips, I’ve ordered room service maybe three times, usually because I arrived at the hotel very late at night, starving, and there was nothing else nearby. This very thing happened when I went to Boston in 2006, and I got a shredded pork quesadilla with mango salsa that blew my mind. Room service food can actually be quite good, though you usually end up waiting 90 minutes to get it.

The purpose of this blog post is to make a desperate call for suggestions of where I can eat in Austin. I’m specifically looking for places that are within walking distance of the downtown convention center area, independent coffee shops, really good take-out places (take-out is the best alternative to pricey room services when traveling alone), and cafĂ©-style eateries. If you have any advice, let me know soon. I’m out of here on September 14.