James Bickham

Cheap eats: Quality Seafood

quality seafood.jpg
photo / Bruce Turner Creative Commons licensed: Attribution Quality Seafood as darkness falls. Hurry up! The special only lasts until 9pm. 

There are a lot of Two-for-Tuesday deals around town. Radio stations even play two songs by the same artist back to back. Of all these promotions and such, none compare to Quality Seafood’s $2 seafood tacos and $2 draft beer between the hours of 6pm and 9pm. Besides the sweet-ass price, Quality offers some of the freshest seafood in town. In the same room they have an oyster bar, restaurant, and seafood market. And somehow they manage to avoid that fishy smell – working in various restaurants has taught me how hard it is to avoid that smell. They must thoroughly scrub every inch daily. But that alone won’t keep the fishy smell at bay. Your catch must be super fresh.

Cheap eats: Taqueria Chapala

photo / Kent Wang Creative Commons licensed: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Jalisco style barbacoa and tasty tacos 

Taqueria Chapala is cheap. In fact, the $7 plate is one of the priciest dishes on the menu. $5 can easily buy you enough to fill you up. A burrito costs $3.19 and a torta is only $2.99 – you can’t make this stuff yourself for less.

But price isn’t the only reason to go here. The food is delicious and hearty. My favorite item is the Jalisco style taco. Everybody at your table will be jealous. This place is great for hangover remedies and wallet woes. You’ll see all types of people here: people having Sunday lunch after church, kids trying to make the pain stop, regulars, and drifters. It’s a great little place for anyone. They’re located on the south side of Cesar Chavez a couple of blocks east of Chicon.

Cheap eats: Pars Deli

photo / Kristin Hillery Creative Commons licensed: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Chicken shawarma and soup at Pars Deli 

I’ve had many arguments over who has the best gyro or falafel in town. The conversation typically ends up with people constructing the perfect wrap with ingredients from all over town. Every time, the bread from Pars Deli makes the short list. The gyro meat, shawarma meat, and falafel patties are pretty darn good. Their status as the best is debatable. People come for the bread – 1/3 of an inch thick, fluffy, and with the perfect amount of oil in the dough. The texture yields to your tongue as it melts away. I’m sure the breadless items on the menu are great; it’s just impossible to abstain from that flatbread. A wrap is around $5 and you can get a combo for $7, which includes a wrap, choice of a side (such as lentil soup, cold yogurt soup, fava beans, or saffron and currant rice), and a drink – I suggest the iced tea; it’s served cold and needs neither ice nor sweetener. I think there’s rosewater in it.

Cheap eats: Phoenicia Bakery and Deli

photo / Sashertootie Creative Commons licensed: Attribution 2.0 This didn’t actually come from Phoenicia Bakery, but you can imagine it did. 

Phoenicia is the not-so-well-kept secret on South Lamar. Just south of the intersection of South Lamar and Barton Skyway, this Lebanese deli and specialty grocery has been serving up fairly priced, delicious sandwiches and pastries for years. It’s hard to figure out what in particular makes their food shockingly good. It’s a tie between the shaved, cured deli meats; slow-cooked Mediterranean specialties like their falafel, lamb, and beef; crisp vegetables; and their fresh-baked and aromatic breads.

Gastronaut in love

photo / Made Underground Creative Commons licensed: Attribution 2.0 

All You Can Eat has been slow-coming as of late in part due to over-eating-induced food comas during the holidays, but also for the simple fact that I met someone. Wining and dining take a lot of time and energy, especially when you are as neurotic as I am. And for this endeavor, I’m putting in more time, energy, and thought than ever before.

One of my favorite activities is picking a restaurant or recipe for someone. When people ask, I spend hours researching and talking with them to arrive at to best place for their needs. To understate, I relish this task. Maps, photos, and menu suggestions are usually included in a packet for the individual in need.

And my perfectionism certainly doesn’t ease up when I’m looking for the perfect place to take a date. I enlist friends’ opinions, drag them along for test runs (awkward!), and consider a whole slew of variables and concerns. There are always food allergies and dietary restrictions to take into account. Anorexic? Buffet Palace might be a waste of money. Vegan? Austin Land & Cattle is also a no. You get the idea.

SXSW: Street vendor smorgasbord

All You Can Eat

Going downtown for SXSW madness? It can be exhausting to stand in line for a day party, get trashed on free drinks, recover, then get trashed again at night on more free drinks. You need street and bar food. Pubs and countries other than the US (the city of New York excluded) know the value of hearty food: fish and chips, burgers, sausage, tacos, pizza, and Kebabs. All these will insulate and fortify your body in order to survive the abuse that is SXSW. Healthy options? Pish posh. Your body will be able to distinguish between that fresh spring roll and the Rock Star and cheap vodka you’ve been gulping. Guess which one it will reject? Slip the booze past your stomach in a gut-bomb Trojan horse.

Taste it virgin

It’s bacon… and it’s also salt. Columnist James Bickham explores a mysterious condiment and the dangers of seasoning before you taste in this week’s All You Can Eat.

Joe Shivers on holiday movies

Joe Shivers on holiday movies

Bored with watching Jingle All The Way over and over every Christmas, we asked Vulcan Video manager Joe Shivers to give us some recommendations on holiday movies.

The best thing ever

Everybody should have the best thing ever: Columnist James Bickham shares some of his favorite local places in the latest All You Can Eat.

The Thanksgiving List

All You Can Eat

Staying in Austin for Thanksgiving and planning on going out to dinner? James Bickham has some ideas.

Dirty food

All You Can Eat: Dirty food

What does food mean?

No elbows

All You Can Eat: No elbows

What good is etiquette if you are so wrapped up in where your elbows are that you miss the whole point of the meal?

Heart burnout

All You Can Eat: Heart burnout

My body must have learned something at Catholic school because guilt works.


All You Can Eat: Butter

Butter isn’t doing so well these days. Heart attacks and cellulite have scared people away. Death and fat are bad, right? This seems logical on the surface, but the issue is more complex than “butter is bad.”

An old favorite: Frito pie

An old favorite: Frito pie

It’s a classic at state fairs, high school sporting events… and that’s about it. This is sad for such a tasty, cheap, and easy dish.

First things first

First things first

The first installment of food critic James Bickham’s column.

Don’t pass on Torchy’s

Torchy's Tacos

Tacos featuring fried chicken, fried avocado, and steak and eggs are what distinguish Torchy’s from any other Austin taco stand.

Asia Cafe: Just plain good

That Other Paper | Asia Cafe review

Authentic and affordable Szechwan cuisine in a casual setting.

Top dogs, cheap eats

That Other Paper | Dog Almighty review

James Bickham reviews Dog Almighty, a relaxed hot dog shack that puts taste and price above all else.