Queso Queries: A Guide to the South Lamar Food Kingdom

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Gus Dexheimer, Editor In Chief

With great privilege comes great responsibility. And we are certainly privileged enough to go to a school just blocks away from some of the best food joints in the city. But sometimes this diversity of options, the extreme variety available, can be overwhelming and the great responsibility of choice weighs on our shoulders. Eating should never be stressful– eating should be one of greatest joys of our lives. So, to combat this pressing issue, I have compiled a guide to the food jungle that is South Lamar (from Ann Richards to Mary Street), highlighting my favorite eateries.  

For the healthy human

Wheatsville Co-op:

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The pastry shelf at Wheatsville, complete with donuts, muffins, and scones. Photo by Emma Foster

Ever since this grocery store opened in the fall of 2013, it has been swarmed by Ann Richards’ plaid skirts at all hours of the day. The prepared food section is rich with healthy (and less healthy) treats at relatively affordable prices. Some of the stand out products in this section are the Ginger-Berry Smoothie, the popcorn tofu, and the sesame noodles with broccoli. Some of the more dessert-oriented deliciousness can be acquired with the purchase of the Coconut Almond Muffin, the Carmelita bar, or the Coffee Glazed Donut.

Juicebox & Soup Peddler:

This eatery (which is actually shaped like a Juicebox–look closely to see a straw protruding from the top lefthand corner) makes delicious smoothies, soups, and sandwiches. While it is pretty pricey, their smoothies are packed with so many great ingredients that you can practically feel the nutrients being absorbed right into your skin. The carrot-apple-ginger juice is especially delicious (and may improve your vision tenfold) and the Riptorn smoothie is practically a full meal.

For the love of queso

Torchy’s Tacos:

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A group shares the Torchy’s queso. Photo by Gus Dexheimer

Aside from selling a delicious range of simple, yet delectable tacos, Torchy’s is one of the top queso locations in Austin. The breakfast tacos are pretty basic (I’m a big fan of potato, egg, and bacon), and the lunch and dinner menu is extensive and varied. My favorites are the Baja Shrimp, the Fried Avocado (vegetarian option) and the Democrat, a barbacoa dream-come-true. As for the queso, it’s one of the spicier queso options, and is drizzled with a red hot sauce and speckled with queso fresco. If you want to seem like a real Torchy’s insider, order off the secret menu!

Kerbey Lane:

There was a time when I practically lived at Kerbey Lane–it’s got all the neighborhood diner musthaves: it’s open twenty-four hours a day, the same, familiar, loved employees are often working, and has an all-day breakfast menu. Kerbey Lane also has a seasonal menu, complete with seasonal pancakes (my favorite of which is Lemon Poppyseed, served throughout the spring and summer). And Kerbey Queso is always a good idea. Made from white cheese, it’s ridiculously creamy, comes with a heap of guacamole in the center, and is perfect for sharing with big groups. Some other Kerbey favorites include the Migas (or the Paris Texas Platter, which comes with Migas and french toast), the Nabil’s Mid-East Feast, and the Eggs Fransisco.

Maria’s Taco Xpress:

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A statue of Maria of Maria’s Taco Xpress greets customers. Photo by Abby Dougherty
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Migas tacos and a Migas plate from Maria’s. Photo by Erin Lungwitz.

Host of the Hippie Church, Maria’s Taco Express is a quintessential Austin locale, complete with a cozy live music stage, a heavily decorated interior, and a salsa bar. Maria’s queso is more basic than those of Kerbey and Torchy’s, but its simplicity is what makes it so appealing. As for the rest of the menu, some highlights are the migas taco, the Chacha (a chalupa loaded down with beans, meat, cheese, avocado, and more), the Quesadilla de Nopal, and the perfectly sweet horchata. Also, a bonus to going to Maria’s is getting to use the spectacularly creepy bathroom separated from the restaurant by a beaded curtain.  

 

El Mezon:

This restaurant is more of a commitment than Maria’s, Torchy’s, or Kerbey. While it’s more expensive than other options, it includes a full dining experience, complete with chips, salsa, and pickled vegetables for appetizers, and legitimate meal NOT on-the-go. It’s also less of a TexMex hot spot and much more of an interior of Mexico goldmine. A thick slab of melted cheese oozing in and around chunks of chorizo, The Queso Fundito arrives on a piping hot iron pan, and will make you immediately forget your sorrows as you lose yourself in the smooth, cheesy wonderland. After getting this amazing appetizer, order the Enchiladas Mole for a perfect meal. Like Maria’s, El Meson’s bathrooms truly add to the appeal–the bright, colorful tile brightens the whole dining experience.

For ice cream ice screamers

Amy’s Ice Cream:

Sharing a space with Phil’s Icehouse, this Amy’s Ice Cream location is the definition of a family-friendly restaurant. Complete with dinner and dessert needs, it has a playground, a photobooth, and exclusively brightly colored furniture. The ice cream itself is known throughout Austin (as it’s a local chain) for it’s extra creamy, rich, and smooth texture. But simply ordering ice cream isn’t taking full advantage of the Amy’s experience. Order add-ons or crush-ins (including cookies, candy, and more) and watch as the Amy’s worker tosses your ice cream around, smashing it about on the table behind the counter. While many swear by the Mexican Vanilla, I think that the simplest flavors like Coffee, Belgian Chocolate, and Dark Chocolate are the best choices at Amy’s. Also, if you’re in need of a job, Amy’s is renowned for its unusual application process which requires applicants to decorate a blank paper bag.

Lick Honest Ice Creams:

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The front of Lick, featuring seasonal flavors. Photo by Eliza Martin

Lick is an Austin gem. Known for its insanely unusual flavors, it is almost always crowded–a testament to its excellence. Although it’s pretty pricey, to me Lick’s ice cream has always been worth the extra dollars. Not only does it always smell amazing in the shop, Lick uses exclusively local ingredients and serves their ice cream in compostable cups. My favorite flavors off the standard daily menu are Dark Chocolate, Sea Salt, and Olive Oil, the Roasted Beets and Fresh Mint, and Caramel Salt Lick. The best seasonal ice cream is easily the Orange Chocolate, which like all the others, is not too thick or rich, but still packed with intense flavor.

For burger lovers

Red’s Porch:

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The porch and restaurant of Red’s. Photo by Abby Dougherty

This wonderland of meat is nestled just across the street from Ann Richards and requires you to drive through a parking lot to access the restaurant. This has the effect of creating a very separate, atmospheric space that’s barely visible from Lamar. Although it now serves an extensive brunch menu, my favorite item on the menu is still the burger. More specifically, the Smokey Goat, a giant, juicy burger with smoked bacon, fried onion, and goat cheese. The sweet onions, creamy cheese, and crunchy bacon create a texture explosion for the ages. For an especially real experience, be sure to sit outside on the actual porch.  

Wholly Cow:

Housed in an unlikely convenient store, this sandwich-heavy menu is affordable, delicious, and easy, not to mention ecologically responsible (made with all local, grass-fed beef!). The burger is pretty good, but the vegetarian options are particularly wonderful. The Greener Pastures (roasted vegetables, provolone, and pesto mayo) and the Bella Bella Bella (grilled veggies and pesto tucked inside two portabello mushrooms) couldn’t be better for vegetarians in pursuit of healthy, incredibly flavorful sandwiches. Excellent omnivore options include the burger and the cheesesteak–a fail proof option. Although not optimal for in-house dining, Wholly Cow offers these sandwiches and sides to go.