The Great Burger Quest

It’s about time I make my burger quest official. And by official, I suppose I mean write a blog post about it. The following list is in no particular order, other than alphabetical.

Enjoy…slash, provecho!

8 oz. Burger Bar – Seattle, WA

Upon exiting the jetway at Sea-Tac, I pulled out my laptop and Googled “best grass-fed burger Seattle.” 8 oz. Burger Bar received excellent reviews & was in the direction I was headed toward, so off I went.

I ordered regular cheeseburger and it did not disappoint. The beef, bun & toppings all tasted so fresh. The ketchup rocked my world like no other condiment has ever done; I’ve never tasted a ketchup so flavorful and pure. The ketchup is from Portlandia Foods and comprises all organic and all recognizable ingredients.

The only downside of the burger is its behemoth stature. This burger is HUGE and the bun:burger ratio is a little off. AKA, the bun & toppings without a doubt played second fiddle to the gargantuan bun. The burger itself was delicious, just really difficult to keep together after the first bite.

8_oz_burger

All Star Burger – Bee Cave, Texas

This particular burger is called “The West.”  Let this be known: the garlic cilantro cream cheese spread on this burger is a small slice of heaven. It really transforms the burger from great to 350% fantastic. The ratio of bun:burger is on par. The meat tastes fresh & comes from artificial growth hormone and antibiotic free 100% vegetarian-fed cows. All Star also uses local farms and vendors which is oh so lovely.

The only critique I have regards ambiance. For being located in a strip mall, the overall ambiance is not bad; however, the restaurant is consistently chock-full of  kids/families/teens. I imagine this is right on par for the Hill Country Galleria demographic, but for a 20 something duo, it’s not a perfect fit.

Ambiance aside, this burger is without a doubt in the running for the best burger. (: Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 11.29.47 PM

Annie’s Cafe & Bar – Austin, TX

Each year I pass through upward of 25 airports. And when you spend that much time in airports (slash, anywhere), you begin noticing trends & formulate observations.

Because I’m pretty anal about nutrition, food is one of the things I spend the most time observing. One of the main reasons that I love the Austin airport is because there are a number locally sourced and organic options – Annie’s being one.

My only “complaint” (if you could call it that) is the size of the burger. The burger is massive and my heart broke a little when I had to throw 1/2 of it away. The size would have been fine if I was heading home afterward, but attempting to cart a drippy 1/2 eaten burger on an airplane seems like a recipe for disaster.

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 7.35.13 PM

Black Star Co-op

The delicious taste of the beef is what immediately stood out. Black Star uses locally sourced no hormone no antibiotic beef. The burger includes house-made beer mustard, which was a little too salty for my taste, but otherwise, this burger was fantastic. Great burger:bun:ingredient ratio, the fries were fantastic and the ambiance had a very laid-back-Portlandia-crunchy-granola-let’s-grow-heirloom-tomatoes-in-our-backyard type vibe.

black_star_coop

Common Roots Cafe – Minneapolis, MN

In terms of presentation, I think this grass-fed burger takes the cake. Honestly, words can’t do the burger justice, so I’ll let the picture do the talking. (:

Like many of the other restaurants mentioned, I really liked that CRC uses local produce/ingredients from local farms whenever possible for a number of reasons, including nutritional and economical.

common roots cafe

Counter Cafe – Austin, TX

I like that Counter Cafe uses many local & organic ingredients, such as the beef and the lettuce on this burger. What I didn’t like about this burger was that they used the white part of the lettuce. No matter how local or how organic, no one likes the white part of lettuce.

Overall, the burger was satisfactory. To be completely honest, my overall Counter Cafe experience was scarred (figuratively and slightly literally) when the waitress spilled piping hot coffee on me and pretended like nothing happened, even after my “OMG, Ow! Ow! Ow!” reaction. It was a bizarre interaction that I have to image was isolated but…probably won’t be back soon.

counter_cafe

County Line – Austin, TX

This burger tasted ok, but the meat isn’t grass-fed, and consuming grass-fed, not grain-fed meat is really important to me.

That aside, I’ve always really enjoyed the County Line ambiance – a nice mix of charming, old-timey and Austin weird.

county_line

Drink.Well. – Austin, TX

This burger was by far the skinniest and tallest of them all. While I guess you could say it looked kind of cool, it was a logistical nightmare. As soon as the burger was brought out, I immediately thought of this commercial and wondered if there was any way I could adapt the “taco neck” into a “burger neck” strategy. (…the answer turned out to be no).

drink_well

Eastside Cafe – Austin, TX

A farm-to-table cafe located in a renovated east Austin house. Everything about the ambiance – the homey feel, the lighting and the chatter volume was just perfect.

The burger: The beef was all natural and tasted moist but not drippy. The balance between condiments, toppings and burger was good as well.

If I could change one thing, I’d make the patty and bun thinner because the burger was about 27 feet tall and, well, tall burgers can be a logistical nightmare.

Eastside_cafe

Homemade – Austin, TX

Well…seeing as we made it, I don’t have any major critique as, well, we chose all of the ingredients. Everything on the burger is grass-fed and organic. The icing on the cake is the absolute hands-down best cheddar cheese in the entire world: Tillamook.

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 11.28.48 PM

Hopdoddy – Austin, TX

On the note of Tillamook cheese, let’s talk about Hopdoddy! Hopdoddy is one of the few restaurants down here in Austin to use Tillamook and for this alone, 100 bonus points shall be granted. (:

A little drippy for my taste, but otherwise, Hopdoddy’s burgers (comprising all natural and fresh ingredients) never disappoint:

hopdoddy

Jack Allen’s Kitchen – Austin, TX

I think this burger can mostly speak for itself. Wowsa.

One thing I really like about Jack Allen’s is the tactful yet obvious stress on fresh, locally sourced food (i.e. not in an annoying foodie hipster way.)

jack_allens

Justine’s Brasserie – Austin, TX

Honestly…it was a “meh” burger. The burger was extremely drippy…as in, to the point of soaking through the bun. The meat tasted much more like ground beef for a meatball than meat for a hamburger.

Justine's

Root Down – Denver, CO

I simply love airports that offer restaurants with high quality organic, natural and local food. These types of airports are few and far between but DIA, shoutout goes to you for having options. Root Down is a “field to fork” restaurant with a mission too neat to not directly quote:

“Root Down aims to connect the neighborhood to a dining experience in the same way ingredients are connected to food. There should be a seamless bond between the elements and experience, which stimulates the senses and draws people in.”

For whatever reason, I opted to try the veggie burger. While it tasted great for a veggie burger, I think I’ve learned that between a veggie and regular burger, the regular burger without question always wins. The toppings tasted flavorful and fresh. Sweet potato fries were served with the burger. Like the veggie vs. meat situation – they were good, but if given the option, I prefer regular fries over sweet potato fries any day of the week.

root_down

Sandy’s Hamburgers – Austin, TX

You’re certainly not going to get a quality burger in terms of ingredients or taste, but what you will get is the experience of an old-timey, borderline janky hamburger stand.

sandys

Where have you found your favorite burger?

Chugga Chugga

This past weekend I rode the Austin steam trainWe rode the Hill Country Flier, which begins in Cedar Park and travels to Burnet. Here’s a picture of the train as we’re waiting to board!

As we were seated, one of the volunteers offered everyone snacks & drinks. The train is run by volunteers – they were all so kind and hospitable, I must add.

Somewhere between Cedar Park & Burnet:

We passed a handful of old Texas towns, such as this one. Only 30ish minutes north, but so very different from Austin.

And P.S. check out the sky. Fall is such a beautiful time of year in Texas. Yes, the summers are insanely hot here; however, when fall arrives and we have 70 degrees temps with sunny blue skies in November…

Al fin, we arrived in Burnet! We had a few hours here to eat, explore, etc.

We had lunch at Tea-licious. I ate a burger. Surprise, surprise. (:

After lunch, we walked around the downtown Burnet square. Again, enjoying the absolutely beautiful Texas fall weather. Each little store had so much character, such as exhibit A:

And, exhibit B:

And exhibit C:

About 30 minutes before we headed back to Cedar Park, they had a little performance/staged gun fight with the Burnet Gunfighters. It was a cute show that had me laughing fairly consistently throughout. (:

After the show, it was time to head home!

On the way home, we were entertained by one of the kindest, friendliest, good-spirited train volunteers. He began with making all of the kids (and many of the adults) various balloon animals, hats, flowers, and swords. He finished with performing a birthday rap for one of the passengers in our car. So cute. Check it out:

 

 

 

 

Summer Days

Un poquito mas of verano en Austin.

1 lb. of veggies topped with 1 lb. of potatoes, topped with 1 lb. of fried chicken, topped with 1 lb. of gravy. Dinner at ZTejas:

Jack Allen’s makes an insane burger:

Lunch at Frank:

Whip In:

Texas-sized frog.

At first glance, I thought this frog was a rock, so I figured I’d kick the “rock” out of the way of traffic/bikers… About 2 inches before my shoe made contact with the “rock”, I heard a loud “RIBBIT!!”. As if to say: “WTF are you doing?! I’m a frog! Don’t hurt me!!!” The frog jumped about 2 feet in the air, which caused me to jump about 27 feet in the air, screaming: “jesus christ! oh dear god. that is NOT a rock!!”.

Rudy’s:

Sno-beach:

Time with my piano:

Early AM walk/run. No other way to do it in this insane Texas heat:

A Day Of Mac & Cheese

Last Saturday was spent with Google & a group of mac & cheese loving Austinites, sampling the 3 top rated mac & cheese dishes found in Austin:

Hoover’s Cooking:

Hearty. Rich. Creamy. Would make an excellent side.

Cover 3:

Good for a meal. Breadcrumbs added a nice texture. Pancetta added a nice flavor but also made it taste a bit salty. This mac & cheese will make you thirsty! Overall, delicious.

Jack Allen’s:

We all loved this mac & cheese…which says a lot, as Jack Allen’s was our last stop and we were already full of mac & cheese. Great flavor. Great texture. Chicken was seasoned perfectly.

I had leftovers for about 4 days after our tour. All 3 restaurants provided incredibly different while incredibly delicious mac & cheese dishes. I’m getting hungry just thinking about the day. Thank you Google for a wonderful day of mac & cheese tasting!

 

And Then There Were 21,000

I really really really really really hate running. I’ve never liked running. I don’t get any pleasure out of running. It’s bad for knees. It’s bad for joints. It makes me get out of breath. I feel like I’m wasting time…I could be salsa dancing instead! Being sweaty grosses me out. It’s not something I can do past age 40, if I haven’t already blown out my knees before that point.

So, then why in god’s green earth did I run a 5 mile race a few weeks back?

Well, the idea popped into my head about a month before the race and went something like this: “Hmmm. I should do something that’s A. out of my comfort zone and B. something I don’t think I can do, just to prove myself wrong.”

As I was not able to go home for Thanksgiving ($600 plane ticket home? Sadly, not in the budget!), why not run 5 miles instead? And no, not a 5K. 5 miles. At this point, I don’t think I had run more than 5 miles combined in my 24 years of life. I knew this would be an interesting race.

So I trained almost every day for the next month. I did not enjoy the running but I did enjoy knowing I would be tackling a challenge. Meeting a goal.

Most runners set distance or time goals. My first goal was to finish. My second goal was to complete the race without getting a side stitch, “an intense, stabbing pain under the lower edge of the ribcage.” Side stitches are most likely caused by stretched ligaments between the diaphragm and liver. Makes sense, as the impact and jolting of internal organs from running is far more intense than from walking. One way to overcome side stitches is to establish a certain breathing pattern – there’s quite a strategy to it! (Strategy? One of my favorite things! Maybe running isn’t so bad…). To spare you the details, let’s just say I spent most of the race coordinating breathing with my strides. (This actually takes far more coordination that expected). The happy news is…I finished the 5 miles sans side stitch.

Playlists. Intended for runners to get pumped up, motivation, keep the adrenalin going, etc. I presume the type of music in runner playlists usually looks something like: Black Eyed Peas, OutKast, Queen, Rihanna.

My playlist? Not so traditional, but def. got me pumped up and adrenalin was flowing. I’d say my playlist theme was something along the lines of “Classical & 90’s pop”. A sampling:

Lalo, Symphony Espanole

Bach, Allegro Assai III

Ari Hest, Caught Up In Your Love

Warlock, Pavane Capriol Suite

Gavin DeGraw, Chariot

Bloch, Concert Grosso No. 1

Portugal The Man, The Dead Dog

Evita, High Flying Adored

Houston County, I Can’t Make It Rain

Skee-Low, I Wish

Shai 360, One Love

Salt N Pepa, Shoop

LFO, Summer Girls

Stuck In The Middle, Can’t Help Falling In Love With You

So there you go. And now some visuals from the event.

Pre-starting line. Took us more than 10 minutes to make it past the starting line once the race began!

Lots of people dress up for the TT:

I love this sea of people!

5 miles of barefoot running? Holy cow.

Wouldn’t be a true Austin event without a live band. 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps more recycling bins would be good next year!

Finishing! The clock says 1:22:55 but I finished more near the 1:10 mark. As there were 21,000 runners, I wasn’t able to pass the start line until a little more than 10 minutes into the race!

Rockport

IMG_1347

After the Turkey Trot, we headed down to Rockport, a small town on the coast of Texas. While many Texans claim that Texas beaches are unimpressive, I on the other hand, think Texas beaches are pretty great. (When you come from the Pacific NW and must bring a winter coat on every beach trip [including those in the summer], a beach where you can wear a t-shirt & possibly even get a sunburn in November seems pretty darn awesome.) Funny how pretty much everything in life is relative, yeah?

On a vaguely related topic, although I’ve been here a few years, our proximity to Mexico still blows my mind. The thing I find most interesting is that although we’re so close to Mexico, culture/society/life in Austin feels like we’re a world away. I guess you could also say the culture/society/life in Austin feels like we’re a world away from Texas!

With this all said…enjoy the following photos from my Rockport venture:

 

Once Upon An Adventure To Boerne, Texas

After just being in Reno for a week, anything involving fresh air and natural light sounded good in my book. Plus it was David’s birthday…what better way to celebrate but submerge ourselves into the earth?

There are a number of cavern tours around central Texas – I decided on Cascade Caverns. The other ones seemed a bit more commercialized, whereas this one seemed most down to earth (I am so punny).

On the way there, guess what we passed?

If you guessed “a Greek monastery!” welp, you are correct!  I have absolutely no idea how there is a Greek monastery in the middle of nowhere Texas, but there is. And here’s proof:

η αγάπη ζει Ελλάδα!

After our quick Greek monastery detour, we arrived:

Watch out, he’ll getcha:

The tour was great and we really lucked out – the tour before us had about 10 people and the tour after had about 246 boyscouts. Our tour had David and me. FTW!

See that cement looking hole in the middle of the picture below? That is a hole leading down to another cave. They offer a tour in which you must SWIM out to that hole, then lower yourself down the hole to cave. Did I mention the water is freezing? (Obviously I am not the target audience for this escapade).

Y ya! One our later and we surfaced from the cave (the tour was awesome!). This was the first thing we saw when exiting the cave. I wonder how old this sign is? If I owned that sign, I might consider taking it on Antiques Roadshow.

Part 2 of the day involved eating a burger. Something you might or might not know about me is that I love hamburgers. Luckily, David also loves hamburgers. After much Texas hamburger research, I found the perfect place to go. It’s a little cafe, literally in the middle of nowhere, called Alamo Springs Cafe:

Here’s what I ordered:

Ha. Totes kidding. As much as I love burgers and as much as I love challenges, I just can’t be ok with eating my weight in / vomiting my weight in hamburgers. Gross? Perhaps. True? Absolutely.

So we settled with this bad boy:

I would not consider myself a foodie/food snob, but I’ve got to say, this burger was pretty out of this world. Out of all the burgers I’ve consumed, this one makes the top 5 list. In fact, I am getting hungry, right now at 4:14 am, for one of these burgers. They are that good.

Back to Austin we went – time for the grand finale – birthday cake! And by birthday cake, I mean peanut butter mint paradise bakery cookie ice cream cake.

Interlude: David’s favorite cookies in the entire world are from Paradise Bakery. Unfortunately, there are no PB locations in Texas. Fortunately, I was in Phoenix the day before. There is a PB in the Phoenix airport. I had exactly one hour between flights to make it through the terminal, find PB, get the cookies, go back through security, back through the terminal and to my gate. Let’s just say I amazing raced my way through Sky Harbor. Success ensued. 

Back to the cake. Here is it! Sadly, I forgot to grab a picture before digging in. Thankfully, it was because the cake turned out so well, we couldn’t wait to dig in!

Value In Taking Time Off

Finding value in work/life balance is something I’ve blogged a time or two about. It doesn’t come easy for an overachieving work-a-holic, but little by little I’ve been working more balance into my life and it’s been fantastic.

On this note…we carved pumpkins this past weekend! Because of the crazy Texas drought, we unfortunately don’t have the luscious pumpkins patches that can be found in the Pacific NW. On the flip side – we still have pumpkins!

Set the pumpkin carving mood with some homemade potpourri: orange peels, cloves, cinnamon sticks

I used a knife:

David chose to use power tools:

Tada:

 

Thrillerfest

Thrillerfest happened and I loved it. I love that it happens throughout the entire world. Love that it happens here in Austin, another thing to make the city great. It brings out alllll sorts of people, zombies children, to zombie teens, to zombie moms to zombie older adults.

Here’s a portion of a video Alamo put together, I am in it, can you find me?

I took this video during the rehearsal prior to the actual dance!

Here are some *awesome photos of the event:

*Photo credit to Austin360 & NoNo Joe on Flickr. They take great pictures, check them out.

Riding Bikes To Shiner

The other weekend I volunteered at the Shiner G.A.S.P. – a 100 mile bike from Austin to Shiner.

We arrived around 4:45 AM to begin setting up – the parking lot had only a handful of people when we got there. Within a few hours, it looked like this:

There were about 1,600 riders coming from Austin (riders also started out in other cities – Houston, San Antonio, etc.)

I took video of the start of the race in an attempt to give perspective to the massive amount of cyclers. It took more than five minutes to get everyone through the start!

Once the bikers took off, we hopped in the car and began our journey to Shiner.

We drove along the same path the bikers, in case anyone needed help, a bike pump, etc. along the way. I’ve never driven through this part of Tejas, so it was quite fun to explore new Texas territories! (;

Here I am:

We drove a little farther…passed more cyclists…coming across this woman! Did she really cycle with a dog in tow for 100 miles?

Once we got to Shiner, it was BBQ time! The afternoon was full of good BBQ, music, people watching, brewery tour and another check on the Texas bucket list!

It was fun watching all the bikers ride in – I am blown away by how many hardcore cyclists there are out here. The truth is, I have minimal desire to become a cyclist; however, when thinking of the activities I am passionate about and dedicated to, I can appreciate the passion and dedication these guys have for their respective hobby.

Back to Austin! We look a different route, passing other neat “stereotypical Texas” places. It’s sometimes easy to forget that the rest of Texas is very different from Austin…I love getting out and galavanting through the small Texas towns – so many interesting things/places/people to see! Such as this place!

And this little downtown strip of buildings:

Before I knew it, we were already back in Austin (after a quick stop at Smitty’s in Lockhart for ice cream cones…they are only $1! How can you turn down that deal?? (:)

Pun-Offs & Burgers

This weekend, I attended my first pun-off.

This round’s topic was a category involving the solar system:

And this round’s topic was bedroom furniture:

This dog was wearing a candy necklace:

After leaving the pun-off, we stopped by Downtown Burgers, a burger-selling food trailer!

The burger was good… The bun wasn’t too thick. The tomatos were freshly cut. The burger wasn’t so packed, it fell apart 1/2 way through.

And the staff at Downtown Burger was awesome. In fact, the guy making the burger, slash the guy whom I believe owns DB, came out and chatted with us for about ten minutes. And by chatted w us, I mean, he was cracking us up for about 10 minutes straight.

Anyway, here’s a beautiful picture of the burger, followed by a beautiful picture of the french fries:

Matador Meetup

I’m a huge fan of Matador Network– not only as a travel blog, but as a social network, a magazine and really just as a solid brand. A few sentences from Matador that wonderfully define it’s mission:

We use media and technology to bring people together and inspire the next generation of world citizens. MATADOR-ians are explorers, linguists, entrepreneurs, writers, filmmakers, photographers, activists, and adventurers. Our company and our brand seek to serve this community of people and act as a catalyst for them to get out in the world and do great things.

Last night I had the pleasure of attending Matador’s Austin meetup. Hal Amen & Lindi Horton of Matador coordinated the event that look places at Contigo Austin.

It was a wonderful opportunity to meet fellow travel-writing enthusiasts in the Austin area. I always find it so intriguing to chat with travel writers, as many have had such interesting experiences and unique stories.

With this said, I must take a moment to reflect on the amazing drink/food Contigo Austin has to offer. I ordered the Maine Root Cactus Fruit Lemonade – it was PINK! The best way to describe the taste? Well, it taste exactly how it looks:

My co-worker, Chelsea, ordered the Crispy Green Beans. Yum:

Toward the end of the event, we partook in a travel-themed trivia activity. We were each given a 3×5 card, a Sharpie, and were instructed to write down our guesstimate of the distance between Austin, Texas and Adelaide, Australia (one of Austin’s sister cities) in miles as well as flight duration (direct flight, no layovers!).

Here’s Lindi looking at some of the guesses:

And speaking of guesses, guess who had the closest guess for flight duration? ME! I quite honestly wasn’t expecting to be anywhere close, but apparently I got within 7 minutes. Must have been my lucky night! (;

They had prizes for the two winners – here’s mine wrapped in (adorable) owl paper. What could it be??

A Moleskine!! I love love love Moleskins. This one is travel themed – location, Tokyo! I’ve not yet visited Toyko, though it is on my list of places to visit. Perhaps this is a sign that a Tokyo trip needs to happen sooner than later. (;

So there you have it. Travel, good people, delicious food/drink, great local venue, inspiration, travel trivia and moleskins. All in all, an awesome travel writing themed night. Thank you again to Matador Network, Hal & Lindi! (:

Eeyore’s Birthday 2011

I was so intrigued by last year’s people watching/ethnographic/wild/insane/mind blowing Eeyore’s birthday, I couldn’t help but go back this year for seconds.

Again, words can’t quite describe Eeyore’s Birthday festivities, so I’ll let the following photos & videos do the talking:

As we were heading out, we saw a giant rectangle squared off with a bunch of people on unicycles playing some sort of unicycle team sport:

Yup.

So, a few more images to finish out the post:

And ya! There you have it, Eeyore’s birthday 2011, done + done. What an experience.