At times, I wonder whether doing weekly long runs is just an excuse to eat. Probably not, but inhaling a huge breakfast with my training partners after Saturday morning long runs is just about as important to me as the 20-milers are.
In this, I can assure you I am not alone. Massive post long run breakfasts are as much an Austin institution as running up Mt. Bonnell is.
Every Saturday and Sunday morning, all over downtown Austin, the breakfast places are teeming with runners as well as triathletes and bike geeks back from their long rides. Fortunately, in Austin, we are blessed with many options.
Before I get to my favorites, I should explain my criteria for picking the best.
- Lots of food. After two or three hours of running, I need to replenish with bulk. Finger food—other than breakfast tacos—just doesn’t make it. The more, the better.
- No waiting. Beat up and ravenous after a tough run, I just don’t have the patience or energy to handle waiting around when there are so many alternatives.
- Cheap. Even a huge breakfast, has to cost less than $10. Better yet, less than $5. That’s why even though Whole Foods is convenient and has a huge selection of tasty, nutritious stuff, I can’t get out of there for much less than $12-15.
- Runner-friendly. That is, a troop of sweaty, barely clothed runners can immediately get served without a condescending glance. Equally important, pitchers of water and bottomless coffee is quickly served without even asking.
- Outdoor seating. Not an absolute necessity, but after a long run, some restaurants are way too cold for my skinny ass. Sitting outside is sometimes nice. We’ll exclude this one in the case of a polar vortex descending upon the city.
- Nearby. After a long run, I’m not going to drive all over town. All my long runs start and finish near downtown and my best places for breakfast are all close by. Or if not immediately there, I can at least do a drive by on my way home. I live in SW Austin—off MoPac—so there’s my bias. I never venture more than a mile north of Lady Bird Lake.
Here’s my seven favorites in alphabetical order with a bonus addition:
- Austin Java (multiple locations, but home base is the original at 12th & Lamar): The widest selection, best coffee and greatest muffins, Austin Java also has—by far—the biggest pancakes in town that cover an entire plate. Its French toast is also excellent for carbohydrate-replenishment. Not the cheapest place, but Austin Java delivers the most food for my money.
- Counter Cafe (626 N. Lamar, next to Waterloo Records). You might have seen this little place while stuck in traffic, heading south, at the intersection of Lamar and 6th Street and wondered if it was any good. Actually, it’s great. But this place is so tiny—only a handful of tables and counter seating—that a large long-run group can overwhelm it. Terrific waffles. Even though it’s postage stamp size, this diner is friendly, has traditional breakfasts, huge portions and is reasonably priced.
- Magnolia Cafe (2304 Lake Austin Boulevard) is convenient and good, but to paraphrase Yogi Berra, it’s so crowded, nobody goes there anymore. Especially on Sunday, the wait can exceed 30-40 minutes. Magnolia’s omelettes and buttermilk pancakes are huge, but after a long run, I can’t wait around quite that long without nourishment. The one on South Congress has an even longer wait on the weekends.
- Maria’s Taco Express (2529 S. Lamar) is an Austin landmark and one of the funky, friendliest places in town. Maria’s doesn’t really have a breakfast menu so no pancakes here, but it has exceptional, inexpensive breakfast tacos, migas and my fave, huevos rancheros.
- Maudie’s Cafe (2608 W. 7th, right off Lake Austin Boulevard and Maudie’s Too at 1212 S. Lamar) are both so good and the menus are so chock full of my necessities, there’s never anything I don’t want. Its French toast and pancakes are beyond compare, but what really sets it apart from the other sit down places is the breakfast tacos. Maudie’s Pete’s Tantalizing Taco is too good for words. In addition, Maudie’s supports Austin running with its sponsorship of the Moonlight Margarita Run.
- Tacodeli (1500 Spyglass, right off MoPac with two other North Austin locations). I don’t know who invented the breakfast taco, but I do know Tacodeli perfected it. With about 10 different options to choose from, Tacodeli leads the way in neighborly charm, convenience and reasonable prices. Sitting outside at the picnic tables, basking in endorphins with friends is the perfect finale to a long run. Another supporter of Austin running with its sponsorship of the Zilker Relays. The least we can do is support Tacodeli which isn’t exactly an imposition.
- Torchy’s Tacos (multiple locations). Torchy’s used to be one of the little known gems when it was just in a trailer off S. 1st Street, but it has morphed into a powerhouse with eight locations scattered around town. More are on the way because Torchy’s has insanely creative tacos. Not just breakfast tacos, but every taco is out of this world. There’s a Torchy’s off William Cannon, near where I live, which is jammed with runners and cyclists on weekend who line up for the migas breakfast taco and The Wrangler. I’ve never had it, but hear from reliable sources it’s a killer.
- La Posada (6800 Westgate Blvd., corner of William Cannon and Westgate, across the street from Westgate Lanes in a nondescript mall). Yes, this isn’t downtown but we don’t all live in downtown. Going to La Posada is—for me—like walking into the mythical Cheers in Boston. Here, everyone really does know my name. Although I am a regular on Friday nights (Shrimp Mexicana, Pacifico por favor), La Posada’s breakfast’s are massive, cheap and in a word, awesome. Its breakfast tacos are legendary. The only downer is its several miles south of downtown and by the time I get there, I am famished. But it’s well worth it.
Have others in Austin or elsewhere? Let us know and we’ll add them to the list!