Austin: Weekend Brunch

Raised waffles from Vegan Brunch. And something you can't get at a restaurant in Austin. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons

Brunch is a sacred tradition in my house. Every Sunday, as soon as we can pry ourselves out of the comfort of the sheets, my husband and I grab a stack of crossword puzzles and head out for brunch.

For me, the perfect brunch entails a lot of things. Something special to drink (whether that’s a mug of coffee, a pot of tea, or a Mexican Martini), the option of both breakfast and lunch foods, and a relaxing atmosphere. I don’t want restaurant staff eyeing my seat before I’ve finished my crossword, after all.

So here are my favorite places to grab a vegan brunch around Austin, and what I like about them. And one or two Austin favorites that don’t appeal to me but deserve a mention.

Bouldin Creek This coffee house-turned-restaurant is one of my favorites. Their noochy tofu scramble is legendary, and practically the whole menu can be vegan. The wait can be a bit long, but that’s just more crossword time. Get tofu scramble and tofu bacon tacos or the El Tipico if you’re feeling like breakfast food or the Wanna BLT or the Veggie Royale if you want lunch food. And wash it all back with a Tokyo Fog—green tea steeped in (soy) milk.

Cherrywood Coffeehouse This East-side coffeehouse matches Austin’s low-key style. This is the place to go if you’ve had a late night and are still wearing last night’s mascara. Get a breakfast taco with soyrizzo (two z’s!), potatoes, and avocado. The potatoes are crunchy shoe string potatoes sticks, like a from-scratch version of the stuff in the can. And if that doesn’t sound wonderful to you, you weren’t out late enough last night! Balance out the fried potatoes with a Blueberry Blast all-fruit smoothie. Or go the other direction and grab a piece of vegan carrot cake from the dessert display.

Curra’s I don’t go here often enough, and I don’t know why. There’s some confusion about what is and isn’t vegan here (flour tortillas and rice in particular), but there are a few things they offer you can’t get many places. Namely, vegan tamales and veggie chorizo and nopalito tacos. Stick to those, and only order rice if you feel like asking about chicken stock and butter.

Elsi’s Part of the charm of Elsi’s is there usually isn’t a wait. And there’s usually a smiling baby at every table. (True, that’s not a bonus for everyone, but I like me some smiling babies.) Admittedly, the menu here doesn’t look too exciting. But that’s OK, you’re not ordering from the menu. On the breakfast side, get a plate of black beans, veggie chorizo, and avocado slices and ask for some tortillas. Or if you’re too lazy to assemble your own breakfast tacos, you can just order a breakfast taco, I suppose. But be sure to get the veggie chorizo. The restaurant makes it with chunks of jalapeno, and it’s the best in town. For lunchy food, get a taco salad sub veggie chorizo for meat, black beans for refried, and leave off the cheese and sour cream. I know it’s a lot of subs, but believe me, it’s worth it. For a drink, try their Salvadoran coffee.

Guero’s If I didn’t sell you on the smiling babies and off-the-menu ordering at Elsi’s, try out Guero’s, where they have an all-vegan menu. Breakfast tacos are always a good choice (noticing a theme here?), but Chalupas a la Celeste are also popular. Or be a heathen and just fill up on chips and vegan queso. (It’s Food-for-Lovers, and for some reason, it didn’t make it onto their online menu, but it’s on the printed menu.)

Kerbey Lane Vegans in Austin are split on Kerbey Lane (which probably just shows we’re spoiled for choices). Their tofu scramble is spotty and the service is spottier (a waitress once plopped a plate in front of me, screamed “Bam!” like Emeril, and ran away before I could say, “hey, this isn’t my food!”). But, they have vegan pancakes. 24 hours a day. At five locations. They also have a vegan breakfast platter. And a vegan menu, which kind of sucks because it’s more like a cheat sheet to ordering off the regular menu than an actual menu and half the time you have to ask for a regular menu to look at because the staff haven’t ever glanced at the vegan menu. Did I mention the service? There’s also a seasonal menu which almost always has a good vegan option or two. It’s the pancakes and the dream of accidentally ordering something amazing off the seasonal menu that bring me back to Kerbey. For breakfast, get the vegan platter of course. I don’t mind the bad scramble so much, mostly because I cover mine in chipotle sauce. For lunch, the Green Green Enchiladas stuffed with spinach, mushrooms, and artichokes and covered in verde sauce. Or not. It looks like those aren’t on the menu anymore. I hope the new SoLa Enchiladas are good. Kerbey, this is why we have such a complicated relationship.

Mother’s Cafe & Garden If my relationship with Kerbey is problematic, my relationship with Mother’s is nonexistant. I just don’t like the food (except the chocolate peanut butter pie, I’ll eat chocolate peanut butter pie anytime). I’ve been five or six times, and suffered through bland marinara masquerading as salsa and pretty boring food. But they have vegan pancakes (that, in my opinion, taste like dust), so they deserve a mention. The cashew-tamari salad dressing and the Bueno burger are popular, though neither wowed me.

Snack Bar It’s getting to be a theme here, but I’m not really crazy about Snack Bar. My first visit was great. Until I went back and found out half the food we ordered wasn’t really vegan. And had to chase down my waiter to get things like silverware. And got a tablespoon of coffee grounds in my coffee. And couldn’t complain to the manager because there was a line of people trying to complain. They also change their menu constantly, and it seems like each time they drop vegan items and make the portions smaller. In fact, looking at Lazy Smurf’s post, the only thing we ordered that’s still on the menu is the potato leek hashcake (now called Tomago Yoko) and that had eggs in it (and now has shrimp, too). That said, there’s vegan French toast, and I’ve been told the Bloody Maru is great.

Tea pot at Steeping Room. Photo by bookgrl. Licensed under creative commons

Steeping Room Finally we’re back into the realm of restaurants I actually love. The Steeping Room is a teahouse. So, perfect for tea-lovers and people who like to eat with their pinkie crooked. Also perfect for vegans because they have a ton of options, and they’re well-marked on the menu. First of all, there are a million and one teas. And you can get rice, soy, or almond milk for your tea. I love their tofu scramble, which is diametrically opposite of Bouldin Creek’s. It’s made with pressed tofu, red peppers, onions, and mushrooms and tastes just a bit like toasted sesame oil. They also have great French toast, and you can even get a tea service with a little pot of tea, VEGAN SCONES, jam, soysage, potatoes, and vegan cookies. In fact, there are so many vegan options on the menu I haven’t tried half of them yet.

Trudy’s Let’s be honest here. Trudy’s has some decent vegan options, but the real reason people come here is for the Mexican Martinis. For those of you outside Austin, a Mexican Martini is more or less a double margarita on the rocks with a dash of olive brine served in a shaker and garnished with lots of olives. Trudy’s limits customers to only two. And I think that limitation is part of the drink’s mystique. The food is an afterthought. The beans (except the borroacho) and rice are vegan and are marked that way on the menu. The black beans are a bit spicy, which is nice. And the spinach and mushroom mix (ask for them to saute it in oil) for tacos or enchiladas is pretty good, too. Remember to ask for no cheese even if it’s not advertised since they sprinkle it liberally over everything.

Vegan biscuits and gravy, tofu scramble, and veggie sausage from the Wheatsville hotbar

Wheatsville The atmosphere isn’t quite as nice as the other places on this list since it’s a coop. You’ll likely eat your food on the patio at a picnic table. But that said, their brunch bar on the weekend usually has amazing vegan biscuits and decent vegan country gravy. You’ll also usually encounter tofu scramble and veggie sausage. Not in the mood for biscuits and gravy? Grab a vegan donut or a breakfast taco. And for your drink, the gingerade seems to be popular, though I always end up with a cup of coffee and a smile since they provide soy creamer at the coffee counter free of charge.

Sinfull kolache

Whole Foods Though Whole Foods is ubiquitous and the only chain on my list, it’s still a big part of the Austin vegan scene because they really do cater to us. For brunch, you have your choice of vegan donuts (they’ve recently reformulated them, and they’re great now), breakfast tacos, and a huge variety of food from their hot bar and deli counters. There’s also a raw/vegan food bar where the food tends to be a bit healthier. There are also lots of baked goods hanging around, including mini blueberry muffins. If you’re super lucky, you might find kolaches from Sinfull bakery, though they tend to be frozen. Not to worry, though, there’s a microwave at each seating area. For a drink, grab a hot chocolate from the coffee bar.

These are the places with the most options, but I do hit up a few other places for variety. Here’s a quick rundown.

Austin Java There’s really only one good vegan item on the menu, but it’s a hearty salad with noodles and peanut sauce, and sometimes I’m in the mood for a salad (ask for no bread). [Looks like they added veggie chorizo recently, so that may expand the options here a bit.]

Kickbutt Coffee In a hurry? Get a coffee to go and a bean and potato breakfast taco made by Elsi’s.

Magnolia Cafe This is a beloved Austin institution, but frankly their vegan options suck. But if you’re with people who insist on going here, get a giant baked potato loaded with every vegetable on the menu and cover it in chipotle sauce, and then glare at the waiter when he asks “how did you eat the whole thing?”

Thunderbird Coffee For something sweet, get a soy latte and a chocolate cupcake masquerading as a muffin. Or tone it down a bit with a grilled pbj.

And two places that I can’t do justice to but deserve a mention. Casa de Luz has a brunch, but I’ve never been and haven’t heard too much about it. I think there are pancakes? With a sign stating “these are not a healthy food”? [Casa stopped serving brunch recently.] Mr. Natural supposedly has great migas, but they’re closed on Sunday, so I’ve never tried it. Commenters, want to fill me in?

And finally a plea.

Won’t somebody please make vegan waffles in Austin? [Did I mention we’re spoiled here?]

UPDATE: Lazy Smurf has written a rebuttal to my brunch post. Check out quicker and more southerly options here.

24 thoughts on “Austin: Weekend Brunch

  1. I love Mr. Natural’s Breakfast. The migas, the Mexican pancake and the tacos sans lettuce are all great.

    How does Mother’s stay in business? The food is just terrible, especially that salsa. The food reminds me of when I was first learning to cook in school. I agree with you on almost every point about them and Kerbey WTF Austin Brunch! Also, the waffles at Snackbar aren’t vegan or they just don’t have them anymore? The arepas are supposed to be but I haven’t been back in a long while.

    El Sol y La Luna has some options but I haven’t been there since they moved. I go to Polvo’s a lot for tacos and micheladas. I like Blue Dahlia though it is more sandwich and salad, I still go for brunch sometimes cause they have great lattes and bread. And I would add Sunflower for Vietnamese brunch!

    And you must add the Fair Bean. And if you haven’t been there I demand that you go. So vegan friendly and they have a nice atmosphere, great drinks, and I love the vegan empanadas. Your post makes me want to do a south Austin rebuttal!

    • Snackbar got rid of the waffles (and the biscuits and gravy and the tofu migas…) The arepas are marked vegan, I just haven’t heard anything about them one way or another. And they totally added a “vegan vegetable plate”. Except they’re calling it quinoa with avocado. I’ve heard so many complaints about that dish. I just had such high hopes for that restaurant, and they were thoroughly dashed.

      The one time I tried to eat at El Sol y La Luna the waitress couldn’t understand me when I asked if there was lard in the beans. And I asked in two languages. So I haven’t been back.

      And I haven’t been to Fair Bean yet. Or Blue Dahlia. Somnios was on the first draft of this list, though… And I demand a south Austin rebuttal!

      • I mourn those delicious waffles. That was my favorite thing about the place. I went when they first opened and the menu was great.

        Then I came back several months later to find that the vegan options in the menu had been decimated… The vegan migas were still there, so I ordered them. They were absolutely swimming in oil (visibly!) and it made me feel sick to eat them, so I told the waitress and she apologized that they were short-staffed and the head chef was “off his game” or something. They re-made the migas for me, but that was the last time I went.

      • Molly, I know this is a little late… just thought you’d like to know that we’ve also been frustrated by mexican restaurants that don’t/can’t disclose when they use lard in beans or tortillas, chicken broth in rice, etc. So we conducted a survey two summers ago and put the results in the VNA newsletter. Unfortunately, only three places responded, but one of them was El Sol y La Luna. They don’t use lard at all (at least, as of summer 2010). I think the owner, Nilda de la Llata, is vegan or at least vegetarian. You can read the whole thing in the archive issue on our website: http://www.vegnetaustin.org/AustinVegetarianLiving/vnanewsJuneJuly10.pdf

  2. I’ve been to brunch at Casa de Luz many many times and loved it all. It is my favorite restaurant in Austin.

    Brunch is 11:30-2 on Sundays, and costs $14 for the buffet (as opposed to the $12 for all other meals). They usually have the same type of menu every week, with variations for seasonal foods and such. My favorite is usually the beans with suncheeze and hotsauce and migas and… Okay, I’ll stop.
    http://www.casadeluz.org/menu/2011/10/09/sunday-buffet-brunch/
    The pancakes are made with spelt and thus labeled as not gluten-free. I think they are the only non-gluten-free item in the brunch repertoire. They are super-yummy with the homemade fruit preserve sauce they make. :)

    • I second the Casa brunch. All you can eat greens, beans, suncheeze… and the hot sauce lately is insanely delicious. If you don’t like the Mother’s pancakes, you’ll HATE the Casa pancakes, but they’re on the buffet, so if you wanna try one, you don’t have to commit to a whole plate of them. I love the fruit compote that comes with them. The migas are great, too, and lately they’ve had sweet potatoes or sweet squashes. The soup is hit-or-miss, when it’s a hit, it’s a HIT.

      You’ll have to get coffee elsewhere, though. But you can bring in a to-go coffee from somewhere else! LOVE CASA.

      I also really love the Mother’s Santa Fe Breakfast Tacos, and whatever pancake of the day – I’m not a fan of the banana walnut as much.

      Bouldin Creek is all about the El Tipico with tofu substitution and a Mexican mocha with soy!

  3. Argh! Vegan Brunch is so easy, so why do our restaurants all seem to have such a hard time with it?

    I’ve been to Bouldin a handful of times, and I know it is much beloved, but I cannot stand their tofu scramble. It’s so dry and powdery. I don’t get it. Why do people love this? I do concede that I need to back since they’ve moved locations, and (it sounds like) they’ve expanded their menu.

    Kerbey used to be my favorite diner/late night/brunch/hangover place. I loved their sppinach, mushroom and artichoke tofu scramble. Since it’s gone, all I usually get is a plate of the vegan pancakes and maybe some homefries. I hate both the soysage and tofu scramble. The summer menu had vegan queso, which was actually pretty yummy, but maybe not very cheesy. The William Cannon location usually has better pancakes flavors and fluffier, tastier pancakes, and, in addition to the vegan mocha cheesecake, they have a vanilla vegan cupcake with strawberry icing, but it’s really, really weird. The cake is really firm and the icing is separated from the get-go and it melts and slides right off the cake if it’s not ice cold (it’s served extremely chilled).

    I was not impressed with Guero’s. the mojitos were really weak, after a knockout first sip. The vegan items I ordered off the vegan I specifically requested came out covered in cheese.

    • I really love Bouldin, but I get that their super noochy scramble isn’t for everyone. Try the wanna BLT if you go again. The tofu bacon is so smokey and flavorful.

      I didn’t notice that the spinach-artichoke scramble/omelet disappeared from Kerbey’s menu, too. I wonder if they stopped carrying artichoke hearts altogether. I do like the Kerbey Scramble, though I think I cover that in chipotle sauce as well. And I’ve ordered that cupcake, too. Cupcakes, especially vegan vanilla cupcakes, should not be refrigerated. It ruins them.

      Is there anywhere you think has good vegan brunch offerings?

      • Kerbey’s cupcake actually tasted fine, it was just really disconcerting to bite into this dense, ice cold cake, so I figured I’d let it warm to room temperature, and when I looked at it ten minutes later, it had become a gloopy mess. It hadn’t even gotten back up to room temp! And the frosting kinda freaked me out. It looked awful and unmixed when we got it. I don’t think I’d care co much except that this is what is representing vegans. When a random person orders it off the menu, they’re gonna think that’s what a vegan cupcake is.

        No, they don’t even have artichokes anymore. We went to the South Lamar location right after the remodel, saw the new menu, and asked if they could still make the other items. They said they don’t even carry artichokes now.

        My kitchen? We go out for breakfast tacos a lot, obviously, but seriously, I don’t know of anywhere that has the items we like for brunch, the way we like them, and is close to us in Austin, so I make it when we want it. This is perfect, because usually we don’t want it at brunchy times. I wish someone offered vegan waffles, tempeh bacon or tempeh sausage, grits, home fries and/or hash browns,russet and/ sweet potato hash, biscuits, gravy, greens, donuts and pastries/ muffins, plain, but solid tofu scramble, and fancy tofu scrambles.. I wish I had the money to open this place. I’m planning on doing posts on my favorite brunch items for the last week in October.

      • Oh, I forgot, Counter Culture has some things that amazing. Sue does a great job of posting and promoting her specials, the problems is, the location is so far away from us, whenever she has a special like Cashew Cream Stuffed French Toast with fresh fruit and Tempeh Bacon (which sounds like heaven on a plate, and I am dying to try), either we can’t make it, or we go and they’re sold out of everything brunchy. I know that’s nother fault, and I’m ecstatic that she’s doing so well, but I’ve still never eaten there despite going there three times. Also, we’re not really familiar with that area, so getting there and parking is always a nightmare for us.

        I did check out Biscuits and Groovy once, and liked the biscuits, but found the brown ale gravy too heavy on the beer. They were in the middle of changing their menu when we went. I’ve since heard that the gravy is maybe not just ale gravy, but am not sure. They have vegan sausage, vegan chorizo, vegan bacon, vegan cheese and vegan eggs. If we lived closer, I’d probably visit both Counter Culture and Biscuits and Groovy often.

  4. There is a new option for breakfast at Whole Foods, the bagel sandwich! They have tofu scramble, daiya, vegan cream cheese and lots of veggies to choose from! The last time we were there, the guy at the counter asked if we wanted to try this tofu cream cheese that he had just made from scratch, instead of tofutti… it wasn’t quite as good, but I give them tons of credit for trying :)

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  6. Why must you make me SO jealous that I don’t live in Austin? Dallas is missing some key vegan components, one being a place to get brunch during the week (and before 11am). It’s a tragedy. Thank goodness I make some damn fine brunch myself!

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