Austin, TX – Habana Restaurant…

I apologize for backtracking slightly in the process of catching up on these posts.  Some places or activities…either planned, suggested by locals I happened to meet on the road, or purely by accident…in hindsight, became things I thought some folks might be interested in knowing about.  Habana Restaurant on South Congress Avenue (aka SoCo) in Austin was one of these.

I stumbled onto Habana Restaurant by accident, as GPS was taking me to an ATM in Austin, just before I was about to head to San Antonio for three days.  I literally just caught a glimpse of Habana’s unlit neon sign on a rustic building tucked down a little embankment, peeking out from behind some tree branches on the opposite side of SoCo as I was driving by.  I was a little hungry.  And that’s all it took.

I found my ATM…googled “Habana restaurant Austin”…was informed that it is primarily a Cuban restaurant, turned my car around and headed straight for this unassuming little hideaway.

I am always attracted to buildings that transport you somewhere else as soon as you walk in.  Habana is this kind of place.

I arrived a little after the Wednesday lunch rush, to find I nearly had the restaurant to myself.  A friendly woman, wearing what I assumed was a server’s uniform, greeted me and escorted me to a table.  In my now-familiar habit, I jokingly explained that I was a tourist, on this road-trip…had never had Cuban cuisine before and could really use some help ordering lunch.

She said I should start with a Mojito, so I went with that.  I have had a Mojito maybe once, and I only remember it tasting like it came from a mix.  But, this was the real deal, including bitters, a little granulated sugar at the bottom and fresh mint leaves.  I could have sipped these all day, if I wasn’t going anywhere.

After describing a couple of options to me, she suggested the Masitas de Puerco (chunks of pork, marinated in Cuban seasonings and lightly fried), which came with a rice and bean dish.  She also mentioned the Chulitas Fritas (fried pork chops), but still recommended the Masitas.  So, I went with the Masitas.

When a different young woman came over with my lunch, this second woman quietly said, “You’re very lucky.  You just got waited on by one of the owners.”  There was also more to my lunch than I had ordered.  It included a pork chop and a second side dish of boiled, seasoned Yucca with onions.  The Yucca is similar to a potato dish.  The owner had added these without my knowledge.

The first woman, who then introduced herself as Yasbel Flores, owns Habana with her husband, Ron.  Yasbel continued to check in on me, and we ended up chatting for quite a while.  She was so down-to-earth and I felt honored that she would spend time just chatting.

Here’s a quick cellphone snapshot of Yasbel.  I love her smile:

I told Yasbel more about where I’m from, this road-trip, the blog (yes, I gave her my greeting card).  She told me about her high school aged daughter(s)…which related to my blog…more about sightseeing and vacationing in Texas, what Cuba is like (Yasbel is Cuban), and suggested that I take a trip to Cuba, especially because of my love of photography.  Cuba was already pretty much on my list, and now I really hope to go…and before too long.

Needless to say, lunch itself, was amazing.  So, if you ever find yourself in Austin, I would definitely treat yourself to Habana…and definitely go when you have time to linger over some Mojitos.

Is anyone beginning to see a pattern emerging?  I was gradually evolving into an accidental foodie over the course of this road-trip.  And the “worst” is yet to come…or at least more of the same.

Actually, I blame my friend, Joni, who suggested that I post some images of interesting meals I encounter on the road.

Texas Hill Country – Day-4 (Sunday) – Part-2…Luckenbach, TX and Chicken Shit Bingo at Little Longhorn Saloon, Austin…

Originally, I had more sightseeing planned for my last day in the Hill Country, but after the trail ride, I was ready to head to my next hotel, in Austin, where I could begin to recover from getting lost in the Hill Country. I hadn’t realized how hard I had been pushing myself to cram as much fun as possible into my few days in the Hill Country, but now I was beginning to feel it.

That said, Luckenbach was right on my way to the next hotel, and I had heard that it was a big music weekend there (when is it not?), so I decided to stop there for lunch. Here are just a few photos I captured while I was relaxing:

Then, I headed to my hotel…but, I wasn’t done, yet. There were still two things I wanted to get to in Austin, that only happen on Sundays…one for “y’all”…and one for me!

The one for y’all is…Chicken Shit Bingo at the Little Longhorn Saloon on Burnet Road. I first heard about this a few years ago on an episode of Globe Trekker on PBS. Three years ago, I had the opportunity to go, myself. So, this is something you can do, if you find yourself as a visitor to Austin…you know no one…and you’re looking for somewhere to go on a Sunday afternoon. The Little Longhorn Saloon is where the party is always happening on Sundays.

So, what is Chicken Shit Bingo? It’s actually quite wholesome, and kids are welcomed. There are four rounds per afternoon, where folks line up to wager $2 on one bingo square marked out on the bottom of a chicken cage. After all of the wagers have been taken, a live chicken is brought out to the cage, and folks “flock” around the cage, eagerly waiting to see which square the chicken does its business on. Winner takes all.

This is an extremely fun, friendly affair. When I arrived, a winner was just being announced, and the pot was $300. Cool?

On my last visit, the chicken cage was inside the saloon…and the saloon was jam-packed with people. This time, the cage was out back in the parking lot, where the outdoor portion of this very large Sunday afternoon party was taking place. But, the saloon was still jam-packed. Here are a few pics from outside and inside:

Sadly, I did not get any pics of the chicken in the cage on this visit, but here is one from my last visit:

So, now you have at least one place to go, if you find yourself in Austin on your own on a Sunday!

The last thing I did on Sunday was to head to Go Dance – North, a cool dance studio, located in a mall, only about 5 minutes from the Little Longhorn Saloon. Go Dance hosts their Sunday Funday social dances on Sunday evenings. These are similar to dances I go to back home. The DJ plays a mix of ballroom, latin, club and country-western tunes.

Three women asked me up for dances, and I asked one up. I have no pics, but I had a nice relaxing time, getting some dancing in.

And that was the end of my Hill Country adventure.

As I am writing this, I am in San Antonio. Since the Hill Country, I have been taking things very easy, which unfortunately, means that I really don’t have anything to write about.

During the day, I’ve been catching up on these posts, and doing just a little random local exploring. At night, I’m trying to go out dancing, but mid-week dancing, I’m finding, is hit or miss. I went to a big, beautiful, modern dance hall here in San Antonio last night…the Midnight Rodeo…but the place was empty, except for maybe three couples who were only dancing with each other.

I am very good at entertaining myself, so that even when things might not work out as I hoped, I am still having a great time. I am very relaxed and happy.

Please forgive any lapses in postings for the remainder of my trip. I will post if/when something post-worthy comes up. But, just know that I’m having a great time, just relaxing and doing little things.

I’m in San Antonio for two more nights. Then, one day/night in Corpus Christi…a day/night on South Padre Island, which is the southernmost Gulf barrier island in Texas. From South Padre, I’ll be heading back to Houston for three nights, before beginning to gradually work my way back home, which will include another visit to Nashville.

In the meantime, I hope I’ve made these posts somewhat interesting and fun, and that they give you some travel ideas of your own.

Thank you all for your support on the road! It means the world!

Austin, Texas…a little diversion…

Before I get back into the Hill Country, I’d like to share one of many little “happy accidents” that are common when anyone travels.  I’m still in Austin…mostly recovering from fun demands that I put on myself in the Hill Country, and working on catching up on blog posts.  But, I still need to eat, don’t I?  And my friend, Joni, had asked me before this trip, if I could include some photos of good meals/restaurants that I find along the way, so this is partly for Joni’s benefit.

So, yesterday afternoon I Googled “Mexican Restaurants”.  A list of restaurants came up.  One near the top of the list had good ratings and was less than a half-mile from my hotel.  My hotel is right on US-290, a main artery, rush hour traffic was already pretty bad and it was only 3:00pm, so I headed to this nearby restaurant for simplicity.

If you ever find yourself in Austin, go to this restaurant…Hecho en Mexico…which means (I had to look this up.)…Made in Mexico.  Very cool.  Address: 6001 West William Cannon, Suite 100.  This is South Austin.

I am not a foodie.  But, I do like Mexican dishes made with mole (moe-lay) sauce.  I’m lucky to find a Mexican restaurant in CT that offers any dishes made with mole.  Hecho en Mexico offers three different moles and offers a brief history and description of each one in their menu.

I leaned heavily on my waitress’ expertise, who was very sweet, extremely attentive and very informative, for everything I ordered.  Sadly, I didn’t ask her name, but she allowed me to take her picture, shown here, shaking the particular margarita that she suggested I try (best margarita ever).

I asked her which mole she would suggest, and which meat to have with it, as well as which beans.  On her suggestion, I went with the Mancha-Manteles with pork and charro beans, pictured here…amazing.

And for dessert, I went with the flan, which I love…but, I’m used to unadorned home-style.  This flan, which is made at the restaurant, was from another planet.  As my son, Nat, would say…it was flan-tastic!

Again, I don’t normally eat like this.  At home, I don’t go out to eat very often, and when I do, it’s nothing fancy.  So, this was a real treat.  And if you’re ever in Austin, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to Hecho en Mexico (did I just sound like a TV commercial???).

Okay…now, back to the Hill Country…