italic

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If you want to hear a little about Italic itself, go ahead and skip down a few paragraphs, because this is going to take a while. For about a month now I’ve been dreaming about these itty bitty baby sandwiches. I’m drooling just a little as we speak. Ever since chef Andrew Curren teased us with a taste in February at One by One TX, where I subsequently had – well let’s say 8 is a modest estimate – these little sandwiches were all I could talk about among the glut of restaurant openings in early 2015. There was prosciutto – the culprit that thwarted my foolish attempt to be vegan however many years ago – there was biscotti, there was cheese and drink galore. But I couldn’t get these beautifully simple sandwiches out of my head. Because as I gushed to the Italic reps present at the preview about just how right they’d gotten these sandwiches, how I couldn’t wait for Italic to open, they hit me with the big one: they’re free at happy hour.

In case you missed it, let me say it again: they’re free at happy hour.

I’ve only dreamed about this adjective/noun combination appearing in the same sentence. Free. At. Happy Hour. It’s the simple things that make me happy. Like the no-frills combination of ham, arugula, spread, and focaccia. And the fact that this little sandwich bite is free.


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Hopefully I’ve made my point, because there’s a lot more than just the sandwich that happy hour at Italic does right.

Plenty of quality restaurants have happy hours, and while their food, drinks, and service are great, their discounted items are pitiful and you might as well just stay for dinner and get the dish you really want. Sorry, you’re not going to get me in early with a “$1 off a $30 bottle of wine” special. But Italic avoids this trap while maintaining the superior quality of their items. The real winner in this category is the prosciutto board, which comes with a sliced loaf from Easy Tiger, which is almost half off during happy hour. The baked ricotta is half off, and they have two small plates for $3 each, of which the marinated olives have a clever citrus twist.

The beer list is already more than reasonably priced for a quality establishment, and add to that $1 off draughts you’ve got a happy hour for anyone. But personally I’d go to share a carafe of the house wine for $4 a glass. (Note: the carafe, priced at $16, serves about 4 glasses. No ‘bulk’ discount, but hey, a carafe feels kind of European, n’est-ce pas?). If you’re feeling super fancy, I’ve heard amazing things about Craig Collins, Italic’s sommelier, and just look at that badass lofted wine cooler!


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I’ll admit, ricotta isn’t really my thing, so I wasn’t exactly blown away by the baked ricotta dish. But the price and the presentation in a bed of arugula and a mix of pink and golden beets made it irresistible to try.

Italic brands its signature cocktail, the negroni, as a ticket to traditional Italian luxury. Unfortunately, I think the negroni is going to have to join oysters and whiskey in the group of “things I desperately want to like, but absolutely can’t stand.” It just looks so damn classy, but the bitterness is wholly overpowering to a palate unaccustomed to a truly stiff drink.

That’s not to say Italic makes a bad negroni! It’s one of those situations where you can tell that it’s made with quality ingredients, and should the consumer like negronis, Italic’s would surely be a favorite. But, like ricotta, it’s just not my thing.


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Tucked on a quiet stretch of downtown, Italic is a welcome addition to ELM’s 6th St. empire. If you couldn’t tell already, Italic has made the best of list for its amazing happy hour, and the dinner menu looks stellar as well. Of all the restaurants opening in 2015, Italic is not to be missed.

Italic Happy Hour: Monday – Friday 4:30-6:30

123 W. Sixth Street, Austin, TX 78701

$1 off draught beers, $4 glass of house wine, $16 carafe, $8 negroni

$3 rosemary nuts, $3 marinated olives, $5 baked ricotta, $10 prosciutto di san daniele

free focaccia sandwich bites


Unrelated: check out my caption contest on instagram,  find my latest fish picture and win free sushi!

district

Known more for strip malls and soccer moms, it’s safe to say the Circle C Ranch development is not known for their culinary prowess. But times are a’changin’ and as Austin grows, traditional Austin staples grow and expand with it. Hey, they’ve even got a Whole Foods, Kerbey Lane, and a Chuy’s down by the CostCo now!

Still, I was more than skeptical the first time padre suggested we try District. I just didn’t understand how something so close to the soccer fields I spent way too much time on could hold up to some other dinner favorites closer in town. As you’ve probably guessed by now, I was so, so wrong. You only have to walk in the door and see the industrial-meets-clean interior to realize any preconceived notions of a cookie-cutter suburban eatery are completely false. Better yet, the food and drinks hold up to the high standards set by the decor.


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It was only fitting that so close to the soccer fields, I meet up with an old soccer friend. District stepped up to the plate with some delicious, and rather potent, cocktails to help us digest the time we’ve been apart. Started off with the soft glow, a cocktail that mirrored the ambiance of the lounge area. Fruity and tart, it tasted as good as it looks.


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Because a side project of mine has been to find the best margarita in Austin, I had to get this frozen beauty, especially when happy hour has it at only $4.50. This one doesn’t make it to the best of list, but it’s still pretty dang good.


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The cocktails are good, but I think the food steals the show. On my first visit I got a fish. Like, a whole fish. And it was awesome. Marinated in chimichurri, it met my whole fish craving that lasted the whole summer. These moroccan lamb kabobs (on special during happy hour) are something you’d never find this far south about 5 years ago. At least not in Circle C. But I’m so excited for this transformation, sharing the beauty of what food can really be with those who don’t have the good fortune of living smack in the center of foodie-ville.


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Like the fish, the ratatouille killed it. A variation on the traditional dish, it looks like the veggies were all roasted rather than stewed, with smokey tomatoes and crunchy chickpeas to boot! But what’s even better is the ratatouille hash I made with the leftovers the day after. How to magically transform something into brunch: put an egg on it!

There’s been a terrible trend recently of establishments ending their happy hours at 6 o’clock, or even 5 (shocking!) which needs to stop immediately. Come on, I mean who can even get there by that time? People who don’t have jobs, that’s who. Luckily, happy hour at District lasts until 7, giving you ample time to brave the rush hour traffic and still make it in time for a cocktail and a snack.

District Kitchen+Cocktails Happy Hour: Monday-Saturday 3:30-7

5900 W Slaughter Ln, Austin, TX 78749

food and drink specials, see menu

new la V happy hour

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This week, the wine connoisseurs at La V announced new happy hour specials just in time for Valentine’s day. The romantic restaurant will now offer half off bottles of wine from 5-7 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, a perfect way to take the edge off right when you need it. In addition to these boisson specials, they have a selection of discounted snacks and bites. Surprise your date this Valentines day by taking them to La V the Wednesday before!

I’ve been wanting to give La V a shot for so long, just my wallet holding me back at this point. But now there is no excuse! Expect a personal account very soon.

piranha killer sushi

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With zero resolutions made, 2015 is shaping up to be quite a transformative year. January alone has seen some major changes, serious steps towards real people life. I started a new job with some amazing people, I cut off almost half my hair, began one of the last semesters of school (fingers crossed) with a reasonable course load for the first time ever, I postponed my thesis (ok, maybe not the most mature thing to do, but the right decision for right now), and I joined the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance family! This last decision was in no small part influenced by the wonderful people I met at the Piranha Killer Sushi media dinner I was lucky to be invited to, and I’m so excited for what this year will be!

Sometimes, there’s no way to just ease into a thing. You don’t even get to jump in. It just falls on you like a cartoon piano from the sky and then there’s a person-shaped hole left in the concrete. But, like the cartoon, defying any notion of physics, you crawl out of that hole relatively unharmed and you keep going. At times that’s how I’ve felt at this new job. There’s a job to be done, you’ve never done it before, but it’s got to be done and no one else is going to do it but you. While at times I’d have rather crawled back into that person-shaped hole, the support of my colleagues and their incessant belief in my abilities has pushed me to rise to the occasion to do things I’d never do on my own.


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Like go to a private tasting where I know no one. I’ve always considered myself an extrovert, invigorated by the energy of strangers, but I’d correct you quite quickly if you thought I actively seek out this madness. But again: job to be done, you gotta do it. After finally silencing that inner voice reminding me the car’s not that far away and walking into the 2nd street restaurant, I was greeted by a dozen unfamiliar, but exceedingly friendly faces.

I have to say, the planning for this event was spectacular. Because a room full of strangers begs for a social lubricant, we started the evening with a personalized cocktail menu in the chic bar area. Above left is the lychee martini, above right, the spicy pear martini. These two were definitely the star cocktails of the night. I don’t think anyone ordered anything else, because why would you when you’ve found such perfect concoctions? I’ve been on a spicy cocktail fix lately, so the spicy pear was a natural favorite. But spicy cocktails are not so easy. In many attempts, the flavors don’t mix. They hit you in two different waves: first the cocktail, then the jalapeño that sends you to the bathroom in a coughing fit. But when done right, it’s a subtle blend of a sweetness that bites. Like a piranha. Sorry, had to.



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Official disclaimer: I am in no way a sushi expert. I never crave sushi, or at least I never had before. I’ll eat it when it’s in front of me, but like great wines, I only wish had the discerning palate to truly appreciate and dissect the intricacies of the plates. I may not be able to detail the finer aspects of each piece, but I can sure tell you if it tasted good (spoiler: they all were!).

In no particular order, above is the crudo of hamachi, the salmon tar tar on cucumber chips, and the tako supreme. I was initially intimidated by the hamachi which was first out, but again, no jumping in, job to be done, it turned out to be so much more than a couple chunks of fish. The plate was delicately dressed with a cilantro purée and a light mix of lime and spice. And it was off to a great start! The salmon tar tar proved a little difficult to maneuver with chop-sticks, but hey, we at the self proclaimed ‘kids table’ managed fairly well. While the tako supreme might sound like something off a Taco Bell menu, I assure you, it’s quite a bit more daring: thinly sliced octopus with a habañero tobiko. This might’ve been what I was most worried about on first look at the menu. I’m not even a huge kalamari fan. But by thinly slicing the octopus, the talented Piranha chefs avoided what could’ve been a rubbery disaster and created a uniquely presented, very flavorful dish.


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Ok, so a bit of reordering. This was actually the second dish to come out, but it was hands down my favorite and deserves a spot on its own. This Vietnamese beef salad was essentially Piranha’s take on beef carpaccio with a southeast asian twist. It’s no secrete I’m a Sriracha fan (side note: there have been a few variations on Sriracha making their way into local grocery stores, but nothing compares to the rooster, green capped original. Try only if you want to be seriously disappointed.) and I think it was the Sriracha lime sauce that really made this dish for me. Of course my favorite thing at a sushi tasting would not be sushi, further evidence I’m a sushi novice.


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While the beef was unquestionably my favorite, these two came in a close second. The Picasso roll on the left paired the best combinations of flavor and texture, with a little bit of spice and a little bit of crunch. In case there was any confusion on my affinity for spice, let those little jalepeños on top be the flagship for my taste profile. While some sushi can end up a little squishy or soft, this roll was accented by tempura flakes for a perfect little crunch. Now the two pieces of chef dressed sushi were another somewhat intimidating menu item for a sushi novice, but after this plate I think I’m a convert.


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Now dessert is always a little hard for a western audience at any asian restaurant. Meal concepts are just so different across the world, and the post-meal course in the east is quite far from our own. Some restaurants attempt to reconcile the delicate asian palate with the decadence and boldness that is western desserts, but I think this one is best left un-fusioned. The banana spring rolls with green tea and red bean ice cream were an interesting twist on a banana split, but they paled in comparison to what Piranha does best: sushi.

After the last plates were cleared, there was no sign of the evening winding down. There’s nothing better than good people and good food. Thanks particularly to my friends at Oh Spooning, Keep Austin Eatin’, AustinFoodstagram, and sushigirl_atx for introducing me to the Austin blogging scene! I hope to see y’all around soon!

Did I mention they have happy hour too???


Piranha Killer Sushi Happy Hour

Monday-Thursday 4-7, Friday and Saturday last hour of business, Sunday noon-5

207 San Jacinto Boulevard, Austin, TX 78701

food and drink specials, see menu


Mandatory additional note to Budweiser, on their hilarious Superbowl jab at craft beers:

Dear Budweiser,

So sorry my preference for flavor and alcohol content in my beer is hurting your sales. You can’t shame me with patriotism because buying local is the ultimate form of consumer pride.

Sincerely,

The new generation of beer drinkers

winflo osteria

The best kind of happy hour is the unintentional kind. The kind where you’re going to dinner with family and the waiter sets down a happy hour menu, and there’s a mojito listed!IMG_3446.JPG

One might think the inspiration for Winflo‘s name stems from their overflowing wine list, or the spectacular collection displayed in the dining room, but in fact, one need only look at the adjacent street sign for Winflo Drive to realize the fortuitous circumstances.

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With padre, appetizers are always a given. Et voilà, polenta fries, polpette, and bruschetta.

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italian mojito

Though drink offerings may be on the pricier side at $6 a pop, Winflo wins with variety. With reds, whites, and cocktails, you really can’t go wrong. Mojitos can be a dangerous choice at happy hour. They’re a drink that takes a lot of love, and a lot of time, to get it right. A rushed or careless bartender, pushed by the discounted price, can often serve a watery, too-sweet concoction with a sprig of mint on top and call it a mojito. But not here, not at Winflo. Undoubtably it’s the Branca Menta that makes this version Italian. Whatever they’ve done, it works. Another best of.

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polenta fries

One of the coolest food trends out there has got to be “fill in the blank fries” fever. From East Side King’s beet fries to Salty Sow‘s eggplant fries, these polenta fries were a no-brainer. Disclaimer: give them about 8-10 minutes after arriving at the table if you want to keep the skin on the roof of your mouth and be able to taste the rest of your meal.

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bruschetta

Winflo was just on a roll I guess. This bruschetta also makes it on the best of list. Too often the bread to a bruschetta just can’t hold up the tomato topping. I’d even wager that it’s the quality of the bread that makes up 50 percent of the take-away from this particular dish. With this consideration, Winflo takes the cake.

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polpette

It looks like just meatballs – but it is so much more than just meatballs. They’re beef and salami meatballs. Let’s just say there’s a reason they hosted Austin’s 2nd Annual Meatball festival.IMG_3440.JPGWhen considering happy hour’s gradual shift from post-work drink to the value driven mini-meal that it is becoming, Winflo makes it to best of overall happy hour status. If it’s not too cold, and it never really is in central Texas, check out their patio or make a reservation (I know right? Reservations in Austin? What is the world coming to?) for a cozy oasis just off of bustling West 6th.

Winflo Osteria Happy Hour: 3-6:30

1315 West 6th Street, Austin, TX 78703

$6 select wine and cocktails, $6 select appetizers, $10 select pizzas; 2 for 1 pizzas Sun&M after 5

fabi+rosi

Everyone and their dog was looking for the Ark last Friday as the rain kept coming down. But padre, la mère, and myself, we were resigned to our watery fate and went looking for happy hour. We sought refuge at Fabi+Rosi, where our story begins…

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Like something out of Hansel and Gretel, only with more chandeliers, white plush seating and more bubbles, we hurried into the foyer of the dimly lit dining room. Having arrived just at 5, we were the only ones aside from the hostess in the room, which is a first for us. With our pick of tables, we took a seat by the window, when I noticed this guy staring at us. But it’s ok, he’s kinda cute right?

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goat cheese and grilled vegetable terrine

There are two kinds of happy hours: food heavy and drink heavy. In true German fashion, Fabi+Rosi is a food heavy happy hour. You’ll get some serious discounts on the starters – which we definitely took advantage of – but not so much on the drinks. But go on Thursday and they have half off all bubbles! That’s my kind of place right there.

While not exactly what I was expecting (apparently the duo have a somewhat loose interpretation of terrine) the goat cheese and grilled vegetable terrine was great. While our other dishes overshadowed this one in particular. There’s nothing I would change about it per se, but aside from the presentation it was rather unimpressive.


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brotzeit board
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crispy oysters

A new addition to the Fabi+Rosi menu, the Brotzeit board was as German as German gets. But unlike most German food found in the states, it was delicious. The pretzel, though a bit smaller, was reminiscent of the bigger-than-your-face bretzel I found in the Munich English Gardens. And of course, bratwurst. But what deserves a special shout out is the beer cheese. Now normally, even in my experience in Deutschland proper, beer cheese is just pimento cheese without the pimentos, a gooey mass that resembles a blog of American cheese mixed with mayonnaise. But not this beer cheese! This version had more of a goat cheese flavoring, chalkier than other iterations, that defied the definition of the normal bland spread that seems like a mixture of leftover curd. Props guys.

I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve tried to eat oysters on the shell. But I just can’t. It seems just so classy, a glass of champagne and a platter of oysters, the iridescent shell shimmering in the light of the golden hour. But I’ve learned that it’s just not worth it to choke it down, or in this case have the slimy mollusk slide down your throat. Blech. But these crispy oysters on the other hand are a true testament that everything is better when fried. Using the schnitzel technique, these buggers have a light, crispy breaded coating on a subtle aioli smear. They’re perfect.

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semmelknödel

And then there’s this. The KnödelI unfortunately didn’t get to snag a picture of my massive knödel in a Munich brauhaus, but let me tell you it’s something spectacular. Though these were listed as a side dish to a main course, I had to try them. The picture may be misleading, but they were somewhat smaller than what I’d tried previously. But what they lacked in size they made up for in flavor. Tailoring the herbs and spices to an American palate (well, in the original version I don’t think there are any herbs or spices) these knödeln were the best potato-crouton-ball you ever did see. Additionally, I don’t have a picture of the schnitzel, because it’s not on happy hour. But schnitzel y’all – do it.

Now it was a bit offsetting to be the only folks in the restaurant for a time. I guess not everyone likes to start their night so early. But if you’re down for some one-on-one attention, a sultry ambiance, and some stiff German cuisine, Fabi+Rosi’s happy hour can deliver.

Fabi + Rosi Happy Hour: Monday-Friday 5-6:30

509 Hearn St, Austin, TX 78703

$5 starters, $8 boards, $2 off wine and beer; Champagne Thursday, half off all bubbles

winebelly

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What’s a girl to do on a Friday night but have dinner with her parents? Tucked unassumingly between a gas station and a cash advance store is Winebelly. Just over a year old, this wine and tapas bar boasts an innovative menu, a surprising wine selection, and intimate ambiance that makes you forget there’s a Church’s Chicken across the street. Keep Austin Weird, amirite?

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Alas, padre and I missed happy hour as we navigated the land barge, the dogmobile’s replacement, through the South Austin neighborhood. But their five dollar happy hour menu does include several selections from their appetizers, as well house wine by the glass.

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neyers mourdevre

I was initially confused when the hostess asked if we’d like to sit inside or the back patio. Judging from the surroundings, I assumed the back patio would simply be chairs and tables in an industrial alley. Taking the risk and choosing the patio (how can you not on a gorgeous night?) I was pleasantly surprised to find a charming arrangement of lounge style seating as well as dining tables, accented by a soft light and the humble buzz of conversation fueled by good food and wine. It’s safe to say that Winebelly has a best of patio.

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It’s impossible. I just can’t pass up anything truffle. Though I believe Hopdoddy still holds the spot for first place in the parmesan truffle fry arena, Winebelly comes a close second. With a thicker, crisper fry, Winebelly’s fries hold up against the aioli.

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truffle parmesan fries
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crispy sunchokes

Though I question their definition of tapas (don’t think I’ll be eating these with my finger) these sunchokes stole the show, and they’re not giving it back. What is a sunchoke you ask? Well it looks like ginger, has the texture of a potato, and tastes like an artichoke. Otherwise stated, the king of root vegetables. Crisped then tossed in a tangy, spicy, earthy, Mediterranean-y, buffalo wing-y sauce, these super tubers are topped with an herb labne, a yogurt-like cheese whose cool complements the warmth of the sauce.  It was brussels sprouts, butternut squash, now its cauliflower, but these earthy veggies need to be the next food fad to sweep Austin.

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arctic char

There is a middle-eastern theme that permeates Winebelly’s menu, a welcome reprieve from the western cuisine that often dominates wine based eateries. One of several fish selections, our waitress described this arctic char as a salmon look-alike topped with crème fraiche and a buttery lentil base. A sort of comfort food. I’m not a salmon zealot, but the char had a subtler taste more friendly to my preferences and to it’s accompaniments.

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Though we had eaten quite enough by this point, la mère had arrived, so of course we had to order more. In addition to the sunchokes, because we could not leave before she tried them, we ordered these decadent sliders. I now know just why everyone raves about wagyu beef. Topped with a dry cheese, bacon jam, and a touch of aioli, these sliders are on par with the Hopdoddy standard.

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pork chop

And another special. To me, a pork chop is a pork chop, nothing special — usually. And I think it will stay that way, because Winebelly just raised the bar so high for future other-white-meat consumption that I don’t know if anyone will ever match it.

Again with another amazing suggestion from our waitress: the chocolate tart. I’m not usually a huge chocolate lover, I’m not even a huge dessert lover. So I never jump to chocolate options in the odd chance I do ask for a dessert menu. But a good rule of thumb for any curious eater: always listen to your server. They’ve been there longer than you and know what is good and what is great at their establishment. Another rule: when there is crème brulée, you eat the crème brulée. Especially if it is cinnamon toasted.

So this particular evening was a splurge, but Winebelly killed it in every category: ambiance, drinks (did I mention the selection of wine cocktails??), foods from all courses, and best of all: an amiable and amicable staff.

Winebelly Happy Hour: Tuesday-Thursday 4-6

519 W. Oltorf Street, Austin, TX 78704

$5 select appetizers, $5 house red, white, rosé wine by the glass

vivo!

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So it’s almost impossible to describe just how ecstatic I’ve been about the revival of Vivo. Imagine if Austin had an efficient, cost effective public transportation system providing affordable access to all areas and citizens of the city equally. My excitement was about on par with this fantastical dream.

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It’s new home at Lincoln Center (still can’t bring myself to genuinely refer to it as The Linc) unfortunately has a strip mall vibe. Scratch that. It is a strip mall. Part of the heart of Vivo was tied to the repurposed house on Manor. A piece so cemented in the infrastructure that it unfortunately could not be transferred to the new location. Nonetheless, the management has made a valiant effort to retain the intimate ambiance, evidenced by the elaborate candle collection at the entrance, in the new, more open space. Hopefully with time the Vivo team will settle into their new space. We cannot expect it to be exactly the same, down to the last cozy nook, because that’s impossible. Rather we hope it will become something different and better.

That said, I was disappointed to see a few of my favorite paintings missing from the walls. Vivo was most memorable, to me at least, for its tastefully seductive large format portraits. A few remain in the new space, and here the wall space is a bit more scarce. Predictably, choices had to be made. I do hope in the future that expansion might allow for the resurgence of these paintings, which I’m assuming (hoping, very hard) are somewhere in air-conditioned storage, being well taken care of because art, like its makers, is often a fickle friend in need of constant care.

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california nachos

Our food did take a bit to emerge from the kitchen, which I am unwaveringly attributing to opening day jitters. Like the ambiance, I’m sure timeliness will settle into a comfortable routine with a few more nights of operation. And the wait only made the moment more sweet when our happy hour choices did arrive. Diverging from the traditional Tex-Mex choices, I ordered the California Nachos. The sprouts were a bit overwhelming but didn’t inherently detract from the experience. I boil it down to a testament to of Tex-Mex’s superiority to Cali-Mex (Mexi-Cali? Mexi-Cal? Who cares.).

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Despite all the changes, the best part did follow the team up the highway. Each margarita still comes with a beautiful lily, making each sip that much more special. Unfortunately, the kitchen had run out of their characteristic margarita glasses. Maybe not so unfortunately as that must mean a successful night. To make up, margaritas were subsequently served in pint glasses, so I’m not complaining. And they were as good as ever. I didn’t get a chance to see if the cucumber margarita maintained its eminence in the move, which was a best of at the old location, so a separate drink profile will assuredly be coming soon.

Did I mention they’ve added brunch??

Vivo Happy Hour: Monday-Friday 4-7

6406 North Interstate Highway 35 Suite 2343 Austin, TX 78752

$5 house margarita, vivo ria, top shelf IXA margarita; $4 for two tacos; $5 appetizers