So, if you live in Austin or have even heard of Austin, you probably know that SXSW is upon us. This will be my third SX here, and it’s one of the best times of the year here. There are so many opportunities for catching live shows, scoring free food and drinks, meeting cool people, and learning about new bands/films/apps.
In my opinion, you don’t need a wristband or badge to have a good time at SXSW – there are SO many free events open to the public. I make it a point to RSVP to anything that sounds remotely interesting, because my favorite way to do SX is to run around the city and check out which events have the shortest lines and the most intriguing swag. A lot of it is just word-of-mouth from other festival-going friends.
Of course, a person’s gotta eat to keep up party-hopping stamina, and sometimes the free event food just isn’t going to cut it. You can always throw a bunch of protein bars (and maybe the rogue breakfast taco, I’m not above it) into your bag, but part of the fun of SX is experiencing the awesome Austin food scene, especially if you’re an out-of-towner. BUT! If you stuff yourself with Tex-Mex for every single meal, you’re gonna start to feel gross and sluggish.
The good news is, there are plenty of healthy options around ground zero of SXSW, you just have to know where to look. Since I work in the heart of downtown Austin, I’ve sleuthed out all the best places to grab a quick and nutritious meal or snack. Here are my faves – each heading links to a Google Map showing the location (for multiple locations, I selected the most SX-friendly).
Royal Blue Grocery has multiple locations downtown, all of them convenient to the convention center and surrounding SX events. (There’s even one right across from W Austin – I spend way too much of my money there.) Royal Blue isn’t your average city convenience store/bodega – it’s a little more upscale and very much local, carrying Austin’s favorite brands of kombucha, coconut water, health bars, natural snacks, etc. They also have a fantastic in-house deli selection. Their quinoa salads are a particular favorite of mine. For a morning hangover, try a grab-n-go Royal Blue breakfast taco, all their variations are great and will cost you about $3 each. I like the one made with chicken breast and scrambled egg – protein power!
Juiceland is my favorite place for fresh juices and smoothies. I am obsessed with the Hyde Park store (closest to my house), but the locations closest to all the SX madness are their new E. Cesar Chavez location and their Deep Eddy location on Lake Austin Blvd. Neither are exactly RIGHT downtown, but Juiceland is so amazing that it’s worth the extra walk. Try the Vegetable Kingdom with added hemp protein, the Originator, or the Peachy Green.
Speaking of juice bars, you can also check out another Austin fave, Daily Juice. There’s one right downtown on 3rd Street (next to a Royal Blue location, actually)! I am just a little partial to Juiceland’s smoothies (once again, probably because I’m hangin’ out at the location in my hood all the time), but Daily Juice is also a great choice when you want a refreshing, all-natural juice or smoothie that will pack in the nutrients and antioxidants. Very important to balance out all the alcohol and fried food you’ll inevitably be sampling.
Let’s not forget the mecca of self-serve healthy/organic foods… the salad bar and hot bar at Whole Foods. If this is your first time in Austin, you’ll be dazzled by the flagship store on 6th and Lamar. It is HUGE and gorgeous and I’m overwhelmed by the myriad options every time I head to their salad bar for a quick lunch or dinner. I always end up spending like $20 on the most gourmet salad box ever made (damn you, pay-by-the-pound… all the good stuff weighs more!) but it’s totally worth it. This Whole Foods has plenty of indoor and outdoor seating and even a lovely rooftop (which will be hosting lots of events during SX). If you don’t want to stop drinking, don’t worry, they also have a wine bar.
An underrated on-the-go lunch option downtown is How Do You Roll, which is basically the Subway of sushi (but it’s way better than Subway!)… what I mean is, you go down the line and order which proteins, vegetables, and condiments you want on your very own maki roll, which is rolled right in front of you! It might not be the most authentic Japanese sushi experience ever, but it’s fresh, ultra-quick, and very healthy as long as you don’t add a bunch of spicy mayo to everything. I usually get spicy salmon, avocado, asparagus, and sprouts wrapped in seaweed + brown rice, topped with sweet chili sauce, and it runs me about 300 calories, $8, and keeps me full for hours. For all these reasons, I’m not too proud to profess my love for HDYR.
Across from How Do You Roll is Leaf, one of the most deluxe build-it-yourself salad places I’ve ever seen. Same idea, you go down the line and add every vegetable/nut/seed/cheese/protein you can imagine in a giant bowl. These salads aren’t exactly cheap (I’ve never gotten out under $10, bummer) but they’re huge and always satisfying. Plus they’re a local small business and source their produce from local farms whenever possible, so at least that $10+ is going to something good. My favorite is to ask to add avocado, it costs like $1.50 more but you seriously get a whole half an avo plopped on top of your salad creation.
Rewind to sushi for a sec – since I’m sushi-addicted, I always have to have a few places I can turn to in my time of need. Another option to check out is Maiko up on 6th Street across from the Belmont. I swear this place ALWAYS has happy hour. The rolls are solid, you can get some very reasonably priced sides of seaweed salad and edamame, score some cheap cocktails, and most importantly during SX, you can get in and out in under an hour. If you’re a little south of 6th and you need your raw fish fix, stop by Pirhana Killer Sushi on 2nd & San Jacinto. Similar reasons for this recommendation – fresh fish, quick service, reasonable prices. I love their Vietnamese Summer Roll, jam-packed with tons of sashimi and no rice!
Let’s talk Eastside. One of my most beloved food trucks in all of Austin is on East 6th in the middle of the party zone, and it’s 100% vegan and 100% amazing. It’s the Vegan Yacht and you can find it in the parking lot of the Grackle, one of my favorite East 6th bars. Check out their Facebook page for updates on the menu and hours (especially during SXSW, you just never know). All their stuff is great, but I’m partial to their “Freeto Pie” (okay, not the most healthy thing I could choose compared to lots of their fresh wraps, but it’s just so good). Also of note: they support the same peeps who supply my CSA box, Johnson’s Backyard Garden!
What once was a little trailer with a heart of gold is now a full brick-and-mortar! Kebabalicious still has a trailer on 7th & Trinity and 7th & Congress, but their main location is now on the Eastside, on 7th & Navasota. Man, Kebabalicious is clutch when you’ve been running around festing it up all day. They serve up delicious Turkish-style wraps stuffed to the gills with falafel and/or shawarma meat, plus vegetables and crazy-good sauces. If you’re feeling especially ravenous, order the spectacular Spoiled Brat: beef/lamb, chicken, falafel, humus, feisty feta, lettuce, local tomatoes, red onions, tzatziki and spicy red sauce. So big, so good, so Kebabalicious.
Hopefully these suggestions point you in the right direction when you need a to take a break from cheap beer and tacos during the fest! Happy SX, y’all.