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Tasty Tuesdays: Austin’s Best, Oldest, Restaurants

29 June 2010 3,095 views 32 Comments

This past weekend, Adam and I visited his grandmother Sylvia in Tulsa, Oklahoma. One of the things I loved most about the trip was hearing more about Adam’s family history — and eating at places that Sylvia had loved for years. This included Goldie’s Patio (1961) and Braum’s Ice Cream (1968). We also visited Hideaway (1957), a childhood favorite of Apron Adventures‘ Lindsay.

Goldies Burger and Fries (Tulsa, OK)

Goldies Burger and Fries (Tulsa, OK)

All of that vintage eating activity made me think about restaurants in Austin that have stood the test of time. The ones that popped into my head include Scholz Garden (1866), The Original Hoffbrau (1934), Nau’s (1934), Matt’s El Rancho (1952), The Frisco (1953), Top Notch (1961), Sandy’s Hamburgers (1978),

Virginia Wood published a great list in the Austin Chronicle a couple of years ago that included some of the older eateries around town.

In Tulsa, the hamburger at Goldie’s was outstanding and the fries were impressive as well. The burger was juicy and perfectly cooked to medium rare. The fries were coated and extra crispy. The pizza at Hideaway was delicious and the ice cream at Braum’s was just ok but I think it’s always fun to go out to ice cream almost no matter what.

Grandma and Adam at Braum's

Grandma and Adam at Braum's

In Austin, I visited Top Notch for the first time and was really disappointed. I wanted to love it — the signage is so cool and I had heard great things about their burgers and fried chicken. However, the food was greasy and flavorless. I’ve had slightly better experiences at Nau’s although I haven’t been recently. The one time I visited the Frisco (the original location), I loved the atmosphere, waitresses, and even the food but I hear I’m in the minority.

best branding

Top Notch Sign on Burnet in Austin

What are some of your favorite historic or old school restaurants in Austin or elsewhere?

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  • Afulcher

    El Patio on Guadalupe. Been there forever. very simple Bflat Mexican food by the Joseph family. Or Dirty Martin's – my mother ate there in high school when they had car hops on roller skates.

  • Carla

    Sandy's on Barton Springs. All of my Oklahoma relatives love Braums!

  • Afulcher

    El Patio on Guadalupe. Been there forever. very simple Bflat Mexican food by the Joseph family. Or Dirty Martin's – my mother ate there in high school when they had car hops on roller skates.

  • Carla

    Sandy's on Barton Springs. All of my Oklahoma relatives love Braums!

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  • Jaye Joseph

    Ah Goldie's. In college, I pawned my Nintendo for a hangover cheeseburger at Goldie's. Those things are true saltbombs and delicious in every way. Braum's Ice Cream kind of sucks, but their cherry limeades out lime Sonic any day. And the Hideaway has some pretty spectacular pizza…for Oklahoma at least :)

    We're driving north this weekend and I plan to introduce The Man to the Braum's Cherry Limeade when we hit Hillsboro!

  • http://www.bootsintheoven.com/ Rachel @ boots in the oven

    Neat idea! Logan and I had an awful experience at Matt's five or so years ago and haven't been back. We really liked Green Pastures a lot, though – aren't they getting up there in age?

    And I wonder if the quality slipped at Top Notch after the owner died last year. That's too bad. The place is right near our house, and we've never been (oops).

  • rachf

    fonda san miguel, hill’s cafe, jeffrey’s

  • Lsy524

    the photo of adam w/his grandmother is a great keepsake…
    i think back to my early married years – larry & i would go to swenson’s for ice cream…mocha chip was our favorite & we buy a large tub…swensons is no longer in our hood & now we only treat ourselves to the “real deal” on an occasion.

  • jodibart

    I LOVE Dirty Martins? Best shakes ever.

  • jodibart

    Jaye: You must have been SUPER hungover! Wish I knew about the cherry limeade. My mint chocolate chip ice cream cone did the job but it didn’t hold a candle to my childhood fave, Baskin Robbins.

  • jodibart

    Hi Rachel – Great to hear from you! I miss seeing you two. I wonder that about Top Notch as well. I can tell you that the place was really busy and we waited a long time for our food so I don’t think their clientele has left them.

  • jodibart

    Jeffrey’s has a new chef and I’ve been hearing great things. Maybe we can visit when you guys are next in town!

  • jodibart

    Aren’t they adorable? She had some great stories to tell. We used to go to Baskin Robbins as a family at least every week for ice cream. I’d get mint chocolate chip or pralines n cream. Nothing quite measures up now!

  • http://adamnorwood.com/ Adam Norwood

    Lists like this are tough, because it seems like a lot of the oldest restaurants here are under new or relatively recent ownership, like Hill's Country Cafe, the Tavern, Scholz Garten (the food + beer there are managed by the Green Mesquite BBQ folks now, right? Or no?), Top Notch, etc. Not that that makes them bad in any way, it's just hard for me to think of it as the same old restaurant that's stuck around for decades.

    I'll add Joe's Bakery, Arkie's Grill, the Omelettry, Milto's, and El Azteca to the short list of places I've enjoyed getting some old school eats.

    PS: It's a requirement that anytime I'm traveling anywhere near north Texas I have to stop at a Braum's. Their limeade is the best (or at least was: I suspect that in recent years they've switched to a HFCS-laden soda instead of the simple syrup they used to squeeze in). I grew up eating their burgers and buying groceries from them.

  • Laura

    My coworker found a washer in his food about a year ago. But their chips are the best in town!

  • http://adamnorwood.com/ Adam Norwood

    Lists like this are tough, because it seems like a lot of the oldest restaurants here are under new or relatively recent ownership, like Hill's Country Cafe, the Tavern, Scholz Garten (the food + beer there are managed by the Green Mesquite BBQ folks now, right? Or no?), Top Notch, etc. Not that that makes them bad in any way, it's just hard for me to think of it as the same old restaurant that's stuck around for decades.

    I'll add Joe's Bakery, Arkie's Grill, the Omelettry, Milto's, and El Azteca to the short list of places I've enjoyed getting some old school eats.

    PS: It's a requirement that anytime I'm traveling anywhere near north Texas I have to stop at a Braum's. Their limeade is the best (or at least was: I suspect that in recent years they've switched to a HFCS-laden soda instead of the simple syrup they used to squeeze in). I grew up eating their burgers and buying groceries from them.

  • Laura

    My coworker found a washer in his food about a year ago. But their chips are the best in town!

  • Laura

    The 1886 Cafe & Bakery at the Driskill! (Tuesday lunch specials for $10 can't be beat.)

  • FoodieIsTheNewForty

    Have you tried the chocolate sodas at Nau's? One of my favorite indulgences.

  • FoodieIsTheNewForty

    Have you tried the chocolate sodas at Nau's? One of my favorite indulgences.

  • Laura

    No, but they have the *BEST* grilled cheese in this city. And I wouldn't turn down one of their burgers!

  • jodibart

    Adam – You are truly a fountain of knowledge and I'm honored whenever you comment on my blog! You're right about the change in ownership making a big difference. I wonder if that's the case at Top Notch. I never had the chance to visit until after the original owner passed away.

    Good addition of Milto's. I love their bread!

    Wish I knew about Braum's limeade that you and Jaye have enjoyed so much. Next time!

  • jodibart

    I've seen those advertised but never actually been for a Tuesday lunch. You and I will have to go one of these days!

  • jodibart

    What is a chocolate soda? Is it just soda water with chocolate syrup added in?

  • FoodieIsTheNewForty

    Both of those plus ice cream and whipped cream! :)

  • http://www.tipsytexan.com TipsyTexan

    I'm sure I will be crucified for some of these opinions but as a multigenerational Austinite, I have a lot of thoughts on this subject:

    I agree with Adam above that many of the old places that have changed hands are sometimes lackluster, and I also find it bothersome when longtime Austinites revere a place just because it has been here for years. As much as I hate to see an old Austin institution disappear, some of our old “treasures” have nothing really going for them except that they are old. Many people will probably feel that way about some of my selections for the Oldie but Goodie category:

    The Hoffbrau (1936)–if you go in expecting a steak house of any archetype you are familiar with, you will be sorely disappointed. But if you go with an open mind it is a real treat. My family has been eating there for 50 years–my mom says I got the taste for it in utero. I love it. No menus, no frills. A presentation all their own–you get a basic slab of meat on a plate, swimming in a lemon/margarine “sauce” that is made for mashing the big-ass steak fries into. My parents say that in the 60's, the line stretched down the block on weekend nights. The newer generation of Austinites hasn't embraced it very enthusiastically, but as a “dive” steak house, it can't be beat. The guys behind the counter have been there for decades, as have many of the girls on the floor.

    Matt's El Rancho (1952)–still run by the Martinez family, if you have not been in recent years it is worth giving another shot. When the current GM took over a while back, he set the restaurant on a steady course and I have had consistently good food there for the last few years. Giving props to an old Austin Tex Mex joint invariably invites criticism from those who think this food is not “authentic”, but I think it's safe to say that Tex Mex is an established cuisine now, and Matt's, though not perfect, does a textbook job on many of the staples.

    Katz's (1979)–after suffering for years, in my opinion, since the father/son “divorce” of the early 2000s, the kitchen is once again cranking out good food. I had all but given up on the place(as dear as it may be to my heart), but after a spontaneous visit a few weeks ago, and a few more visits since, I can say that they are finally firing on all cylinders, at least until papa decides to run for public office again and gets distracted!

    Cisco's (1948)–I only eat the chorizo & eggs w/ grilled biscuits here, so can't speak for the rest of the menu. But this is one of those old Austin establishments from back when before Austin was on the map, and has been patronized by everyone from politicians (LBJ for one) to stars of sports and stage. Still in the Cisneros family as far as I am aware.

    And re: the Frisco, I love that place, and I think they have managed to pull off something that even I would have thought was impossible–moving an Austin landmark from a building they'd occupied for 50 years to a new spot up the road, without losing their charm or their clientele. The last time I went there it was packed, and not just with blue-hairs, which gives me hope that the Frisco will live on for another 50 years.

  • jodibart

    David: I really respect your opinion and thank you so much for taking the time to share it! I actually haven't yet been to the new Frisco and I definitely want to check it out and the Hoffbrau has been on my list for years.

  • http://www.tipsytexan.com TipsyTexan

    I'm sure I will be crucified for some of these opinions but as a multigenerational Austinite, I have a lot of thoughts on this subject:

    I agree with Adam above that many of the old places that have changed hands are sometimes lackluster, and I also find it bothersome when longtime Austinites revere a place just because it has been here for years. As much as I hate to see an old Austin institution disappear, some of our old “treasures” have nothing really going for them except that they are old. Many people will probably feel that way about some of my selections for the Oldie but Goodie category:

    The Hoffbrau (1936)–if you go in expecting a steak house of any archetype you are familiar with, you will be sorely disappointed. But if you go with an open mind it is a real treat. My family has been eating there for 50 years–my mom says I got the taste for it in utero. I love it. No menus, no frills. A presentation all their own–you get a basic slab of meat on a plate, swimming in a lemon/margarine “sauce” that is made for mashing the big-ass steak fries into. My parents say that in the 60's, the line stretched down the block on weekend nights. The newer generation of Austinites hasn't embraced it very enthusiastically, but as a “dive” steak house, it can't be beat. The guys behind the counter have been there for decades, as have many of the girls on the floor.

    Matt's El Rancho (1952)–still run by the Martinez family, if you have not been in recent years it is worth giving another shot. When the current GM took over a while back, he set the restaurant on a steady course and I have had consistently good food there for the last few years. Giving props to an old Austin Tex Mex joint invariably invites criticism from those who think this food is not “authentic”, but I think it's safe to say that Tex Mex is an established cuisine now, and Matt's, though not perfect, does a textbook job on many of the staples.

    Katz's (1979)–after suffering for years, in my opinion, since the father/son “divorce” of the early 2000s, the kitchen is once again cranking out good food. I had all but given up on the place(as dear as it may be to my heart), but after a spontaneous visit a few weeks ago, and a few more visits since, I can say that they are finally firing on all cylinders, at least until papa decides to run for public office again and gets distracted!

    Cisco's (1948)–I only eat the chorizo & eggs w/ grilled biscuits here, so can't speak for the rest of the menu. But this is one of those old Austin establishments from back when before Austin was on the map, and has been patronized by everyone from politicians (LBJ for one) to stars of sports and stage. Still in the Cisneros family as far as I am aware.

    And re: the Frisco, I love that place, and I think they have managed to pull off something that even I would have thought was impossible–moving an Austin landmark from a building they'd occupied for 50 years to a new spot up the road, without losing their charm or their clientele. The last time I went there it was packed, and not just with blue-hairs, which gives me hope that the Frisco will live on for another 50 years.

  • jodibart

    David: I really respect your opinion and thank you so much for taking the time to share it! I actually haven't yet been to the new Frisco and I definitely want to check it out and the Hoffbrau has been on my list for years.

  • http://www.tipsytexan.com TipsyTexan

    I'm sure I will be crucified for some of these opinions but as a multigenerational Austinite, I have a lot of thoughts on this subject:

    I agree with Adam above that many of the old places that have changed hands are sometimes lackluster, and I also find it bothersome when longtime Austinites revere a place just because it has been here for years. As much as I hate to see an old Austin institution disappear, some of our old “treasures” have nothing really going for them except that they are old. Many people will probably feel that way about some of my selections for the Oldie but Goodie category:

    The Hoffbrau (1936)–if you go in expecting a steak house of any archetype you are familiar with, you will be sorely disappointed. But if you go with an open mind it is a real treat. My family has been eating there for 50 years–my mom says I got the taste for it in utero. I love it. No menus, no frills. A presentation all their own–you get a basic slab of meat on a plate, swimming in a lemon/margarine “sauce” that is made for mashing the big-ass steak fries into. My parents say that in the 60's, the line stretched down the block on weekend nights. The newer generation of Austinites hasn't embraced it very enthusiastically, but as a “dive” steak house, it can't be beat. The guys behind the counter have been there for decades, as have many of the girls on the floor.

    Matt's El Rancho (1952)–still run by the Martinez family, if you have not been in recent years it is worth giving another shot. When the current GM took over a while back, he set the restaurant on a steady course and I have had consistently good food there for the last few years. Giving props to an old Austin Tex Mex joint invariably invites criticism from those who think this food is not “authentic”, but I think it's safe to say that Tex Mex is an established cuisine now, and Matt's, though not perfect, does a textbook job on many of the staples.

    Katz's (1979)–after suffering for years, in my opinion, since the father/son “divorce” of the early 2000s, the kitchen is once again cranking out good food. I had all but given up on the place(as dear as it may be to my heart), but after a spontaneous visit a few weeks ago, and a few more visits since, I can say that they are finally firing on all cylinders, at least until papa decides to run for public office again and gets distracted!

    Cisco's (1948)–I only eat the chorizo & eggs w/ grilled biscuits here, so can't speak for the rest of the menu. But this is one of those old Austin establishments from back when before Austin was on the map, and has been patronized by everyone from politicians (LBJ for one) to stars of sports and stage. Still in the Cisneros family as far as I am aware.

    And re: the Frisco, I love that place, and I think they have managed to pull off something that even I would have thought was impossible–moving an Austin landmark from a building they'd occupied for 50 years to a new spot up the road, without losing their charm or their clientele. The last time I went there it was packed, and not just with blue-hairs, which gives me hope that the Frisco will live on for another 50 years.

  • jodibart

    David: I really respect your opinion and thank you so much for taking the time to share it! I actually haven't yet been to the new Frisco and I definitely want to check it out and the Hoffbrau has been on my list for years.