Austin, TX

This is a special guest entry from Chef MC, who visited Austin, TX a couple weekends ago, before all the South by Southwest music festival mayhem starts tomorrow. Here she is, pictured, left. Just kidding! I don't know who that lady is. But whoever she is, according the SXSW website, she'll be rockin' it out in Austin all week.

Those of you heading down there will find some fabulous margaritas, hotels, restaurants, and shopping. Oh yes, and some more margaritas.

I am back from my weekend in Austin,TX! Here are some highlights:

* The hotel where I stayed, the Hotel San Jose, a former motel-turned brothel-turned hip happening hot spot. I was in a "Grand Standard" room, which I referred to as "The Cell". I would describe it as high design done on the cheap (and very well). Industrial, stark and modern, almost cold, Frette sheets and towels, very comfy bed, with a whiff of retro 1950s (which is the theme all over Austin, sometimes with Mexican mixed in). Very professional service. I would definitely stay here again.

Food-wise, the bill of fare is varying degrees of TexMex for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a couple of exceptions. Plus excellent coffee. My favorite spots were:

* Uchi's. We had a fabulous meal on Saturday night. Went on the suggestion of my friend, Chef Kevin Quinn and then heard it recommended by several others. It was basically a cool sushi place, but it had more of an Asian-fusion menu. We had the omakase tasting menu, which featured endless courses of deliciousness. It was as good as any place like it in NYC.

* Las Manitas. Best spot for breakfast in Austin. A fresh-fresh menu that seemed designed to provide a rescue from the margarita hangover. This was my 5th visit to the place and it always satisfies. This time around I had fresh squeezed watermelon juice and a plate of Migas Con Queso with a side of plantains. They make their own tortillas and you can watch the lady churn them out while waiting to get in to the ladies room. The menu is here.

* Guero's Taco Bar. The TexMex here is fine, not amazing. Great people watching and hopping scene. Loved the margaritas. We came here for a long lunch break from shopping the funky boutiques on South Congress. Needed to head back to my hotel after lunch to take a nap. Did I mention the great margaritas? We had tortilla chips with assorted hot sauces for dipping, Queso (basically a big bowl of molten cheese with hot sauce mixed in), and I had a quesadilla platter with chorizo. Oh yeah, and a margarita or three called "The Purest", which was a mix of Patron Silver, Cointreau and fresh squeezed lime juice. My friends enjoyed a local beverage specialty that was basically bloody mary mix with lime juice and Tecate beer. Very refreshing!

* Home Slice, "Queen of Pies". Another suggestion of Chef Kevin Quinn. He said it's almost as good as New York. Well I don't know about that, but it was pretty darn good. We had a pie with eggplant. Our waitress also made some good wine recommendations to go with it and was surprisingly knowledgeable on the subject.