Austin Marathon Pre-Race Carb Loading

EasyTigerPretzels

[This post is part two of a series on marathon eats in Austin. Part II is all about post-race re-fueling.]

Every runner I know has a different pre-race carb loading scheme that’s almost a personal science in its specificity. If you happen to be traveling for a race finding good options to fit your approach can be tricky. Restaurant reviews don’t typically take the unique needs of a pre-race carb load into account and the last thing you want the night before a race is a sub-par dinner. When I travel for a race I spent an in-ordianant amount of time scoping local restaurants to avoid just that. So as a runner and food lover in Austin I’ve put together these ideas for pre-race noshing. No matter what kind of carbs you like or at what rate you like to consume them, there are plenty of options for you in and around the downtown Austin area.

Note: Kudos to Liberty Tavern, conveniently located at 500 E. 4th Street in downtown, for putting together a carb-load special. They’re offering pasta with meat sauce or fettuccini alfredo along with a salad and and caramel apple pie for dessert for $12.95. They take reservations which is a bonus for runners who don’t want to leave anything to chance. And if a beer is part of your pre-run ritual (you know who you are) they have a nice selection, including local favorites like Thirsty Planet and Real Ale.

Bakeries

  • Easy Tiger is like a little piece of Europe nestled just on the edge of 6th Street near the freeway. Their array of house-made baguettes, pretzels, batards and more will fill your fluffy white carb desires for an entire day. I know we all try to go easy on the spicy foods before the race, but if you tolerate mustards well I highly recommend the pretzels with housmade mustard (pictured at the top of this post). Get them to go for your second – or third or forth – afternoon snack.
  • If sweet carbs are more your style then you’ll want to head to the other side of 6th Street, a few block south of the Whole Foods Market flagship store, to Walton’s Fancy and Staple. Their bakery cases are graced by a variety of confection creations that range from lightly sweetened golden eggs (butter and cake perfection) to sweet-tart lemon bars, macaroons, cream puffs, and berry tarts.
  • If you have the desire to head just a little outside of downtown visit local gem Foreign & Domestic to try some of their bake sale goodies while supporting a local charity. Owner and pastry chef Jodi Elliot hand crafts croissants, popovers, cinnamon rolls, and brownies, just to name a few. Her inventory is so tasty it often sells out so you should get there right at 10am when the gettin’ is good.

Italian

  • For traditional Italian in the heart of downtown La Traviata is your absolute best choice. Their intimate space is reminiscent of an Italian cafe and their food is authentic. Whether your pasta preference is spaghetti, rigatoni, fettuccini, or penne, you’ll find a dish prepared with high quality ingredients and attention to details. La Traviata is my hands-down favorite Italian food in Austin and if you like to treat yourself to a special evening the night before a race you can’t go wrong there.
  • Just a bit south of downtown in the oh-so-trendy South Congress area you’ll find sister restaurants Vespaio and Enoteca Vespaio. Inspired by traditional Italian dining, Vespaio offers wood fired pizzas as well as a substantial menu of pasta dishes. While you’ll find traditional carbonara and lasagna on the list, you can also choose Texas lamb ragu over hand cut pappardelle pasta or spaghetti with caramelized eggplant. Enoteca channels the spirit old world bistros, complete with a cheese and salumi case. In addition to pasta and pizza you’ll find an entire collection of panini on their menu. Their pasta list include rigatoni with pork meatballs, ravioli with confit of chicken and broccoli, and handmade spaghetti with olive oil, parsley, and red chili flakes. The restaurant you choose from this pair will most likely be based on which menu appeals to you more. Both are equally good. Unfortunately neither restaurant takes reservations on Saturday nights so head there early to avoid the wait.
  • A short drive out of downtown is Olive and June. Their pasta list is impressive and inventive, featuring dishes like rigatoni with ragu, cherries, ricotta salata, and pine nuts, or whole wheat ravioli with goat cheese, roasted pears, spinach, pistachio, and garlic. If you like to mix foodie finds with your pre-race dinner then Olive and June is a solid choice.

Pizza

  • If you find yourself on South Congress and pizza is more your style, then Home Slice is your destination. Featuring New York style thin crust pizza by the slice or by the pie, you can choose from traditional favorites like margherita, pepperoni and mushroom, or eggplant pie. You can also craft your own from a slew of toppings and go with red sauce or try a white pie with olive oil, and three cheeses as your base. Home Slice fills up quickly on the weekends so if you want to eat at a specific time plan to go early, grab a slice from the window and eat it while you browse the SoCo shops, or order a pizza to go.
  • If you want to stay in downtown for pizza, The Backspace is your best destination. Just away from the hustle and bustle of 6th street, this intimate restaurant wood-fires their pizza (and olives – you must try the olives) in an oven imported from Italy. Classic pizza combinations like margherita, fennel sausage, and bianca are just a bit upscale from your typical pies. Because the restaurant are so small seating is limited but they do take reservations. If you walk in try a seat at the bar so you can watch the pizza prep action up close.

Asian

  • I know a whole contingent of runners who eschew traditional pasta for sushi. In addition to typically finding a nice variety of gluten-free menu options they appreciate the easy to digest carbs and protein that sushi offers. For a fun and trustworthy sushi experience in downtown, try Piranha Killer Sushi. In addition to sashimi and traditional rolls, they offer their own specialty rolls like The Bullet (spicy salmon mix, cucumber, shiso leaf, avocado, escolar, cilantro chili purée) and Tri-Color Sashimi (tuna, salmon, white tuna, chives, crab, with hand peeled cucumber). Their entree menu includes a collection of sushi and sashimi dinners as well as udon noodles and stir fry. They take reservations which is a plus and they are large enough to accommodate a crowd.
  • The ramen scene is exploding in Austin and if noodles in broth are your craving then it’s worth the drive north of downtown to Ramen Tatsu-ya. This food trailer turned brick and mortar has turned everyone’s head. My friend Foodie is the New Forty says “The dipping ramen comes with a giant bowl of wonderful noodles (and there are noodles aplenty in the regular ramen, too).” Not sure about what to expect? Read her review for a full take on this new local hot spot. Ramen Tatsu-ya absolutely doesn’t take reservations and you may have to stand in line, but everyone I’ve talked to says they move people in and out quickly.
  • If you’re more in the mood for pho, head just south of downtown on 1st street to Elizabeth Street Cafe for French-inpsired Vietnamese cuisine. Their pho menu is extensive, offering every type of broth from pork to vegetable, and featuring high quality ingredients like Niman Ranch pork. They have 10 different versions of bun including keffir lime fried chicken and grilled gulf shrimp if you’re looking for a little bun fun. And because their cuisine is French Vietnamese they have a full bakery on site so you can grab fine French pastry for dessert to top off your carb loading.

If you’re looking for a type of meal or cuisine not listed here please let me know in the comments and I’ll find options for you.

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