For whatever reason, since we moved to Austin back in 1991, we’ve always been just a few blocks away from Shoal Creek, first when we lived in an apartment off Far West, then after we moved into an 1880s shotgun shack near 34th and Guadalupe, then downtown in a hi-rise, and now in Allandale. And for whatever reason, Eddie Bernal and his restaurants also tend to be a short distance from Shoal Creek.
We first stumbled upon Eddie when he opened up a sandwich shop on 34th Street—aptly named 34th Street Cafe—a few blocks from our shotgun shack. After extending his hours into the evenings, we became regulars, an easy stroll for a good meal down the hill. After Eddie opened up Santa Rita Cantina in 2004, he stole us away from Trudy’s Texas Star where the wait for a $6 plate of enchiladas was more than an hour and you left feeling like you had just gotten out of a bad marriage. Now that we’re Allandalers, we’ve also enjoyed Eddie’s two other eateries: Blue Star Kitchen + Bar and Gusto Italian Kitchen + Wine Bar.
Eddie is a long-time Allandaler and has been a great supporter of the neighborhood newsletter, the Forth of July Parade, and the ‘hood in general. And although Eddie’s restaurants don’t often top the list of best places to eat in Austin, sometimes all you need is solidly prepared food that doesn’t cost a car payment to enjoy (which is basically the definitition of a good neighborhood restaurant).
Santa Rita is our Post-Hyde-Park-Gym-Friday-night comfort food stop for chips and award-winning salsa (free!), margaritas (top shelf with Herradura Silver, Cointreau & House Rocks Mix, $7.5; House Mexican martini, $8.5), Santa Rita Shrimp ($10.5; tortilla-encrusted fried gulf shrimp, with pico de gallo, spicy avocado dipping sauce), and Santa Rita Nachos ($7 small, $9 large). And if we’re feeling devilish, we’ll come home with a tres leches cake ($6; Mexican vanilla cake soaked with a blend of heavy whipping cream, condensed, & evaporated milks served with whipped cream and strawberry puree). We visit Santa Rita so often on a Friday night after working out that the artificial intelligence in my car sends me an unsolicited phone notification on how long it will take to drive there.
Blue Star is a fun, hip spot for brunch with mimosas ($3; fresh squeezed), Fara coffee ($3 for a cup, $3.5 for a latte), and the usual brunchy suspects plus specials (such as a frittata full of salmon with mixed greens and breakfast bowls that are fast and furiously good). For dinner, there’s the Star’s comfort cuisine, including maple chicken-fried quail ($14), airline chicken ($15), and classic (gluten-free) meatloaf ($13). The Star also offers salads, dinner bowls, burgers, sandwiches, and pizzas.
Gusto, across the parking lot from Blue Star, also offers a hip and modern interior, in this case with Italian-themed stencil work by local luminary Federico Archuleta. Gusto is Italian, so it has antipasti, salads and soups, pasta, pizza, and mains. On a recent trip, I ordered the sea scallops ($24; seared u10 sea scallops, lemon and asparagus risotto, watercress) and she ordered the scampi ($7; linguini, shrimp, cherry tomatoes, garlic, white wine, butter), both delicious. For dessert, the zeppole ($7; warm ricotta fritters, balsamic macerated strawberries, orange liquor whipped cream) jumped off the menu and quickly into our stomachs.
At 34thStreet Café, our go-to dish is the chicken picatta ($19; saffron rice, spinach, mushroom, onion, capers, beurre blanc) which started with rustic bread and dipping oil (free!) and gulf oysters ($11; chicken fried, corn nacho, slaw, chipotle, avocado; see photo at top). We ended our most recent trip, for research purposes, with a bundino ($8; chilled lemon curd, crumble, whip crème, fresh fruit). The little café on 34thhas come a long way from its counter service roots catering to the needs of lunching hospital staff. The current scene is sit-down and sophisticated, a nice off-the-beaten-track place to take a new (or long time) friend to catch.
Four restaurants and, for us, four homes in the Shoal Creek watershed, but it all flows to one place of good living and good eating in this place we call home. My car knows what it’s texting about.
Santa Rita Cantina
Blue Star Kitchen + Bar [CLOSED]
overall: ** (food**; drink**; atmosphere**; service**; instagrammability**)
cost: $$ (brunch)
does it scramble? No doggie bag…
Gusto Italian Kitchen + Bar
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best]
I wrote this review for the Allandale Neighbor