it ain’t your ordinary convenience store: the live oak market

From the outside, the Live Oak Market looks like it could be just another generic convenience store branded with an Austin-y name. Even though I could walk to the Live Oak from my house, it took a recommendation from a friend to get me to go- but once I did, I kept coming.

Good businesses start with good people, and the people who run this place are awesome, which is more than one can usually say for any other convenience store. I knew this would be a great place when the employees recognized and chatted me up after I had only been in the store a few times, and even though I don’t get in there as often as I used to, I’m still welcomed every time. One of the guys that works at night even gave my then-roommate supplies for an art project she was working on! If you were to cut out the food, the Live Oak Market would still be a great place to have an engaging conversation with great people (or, if you’re there at night when they turn the music up, have a dance party through the aisles.)

But hey, this is a food blog, so let’s talk food. Excellent food, to be exact. Convenience store food often brings up images of hot dogs on a rotisserie, crusty pastries, and frozen blue drinks from a machine. This is not so at the Live Oak. In the morning, they offer a variety of breakfast tacos with two vegetarian options, egg/potato/cheese and egg/black bean/cheese. They offer a salsa that is unlike any I’ve ever tried on a breakfast taco before, fire-roasted with hints of citrus and just the right amount of spicy-ness for the morning. Breakfast tacos are meant to be portable, and these are well put-together and made with love. I often eat them in the car on the way to school in the morning and I’m not covered in pieces of taco by the time I’m done. For lunch, the Live Oak offers a variety of unique panini sandwiches, including a plain ‘ol grilled cheese. They have happily let me customize my meat-free sandwich to my heart’s content on many occasions. The paninis are large and fairly priced, grilled to perfection, and have fresh in-house ingredients.

Besides the great food, this place offers a smorgasbord of funky products. Their non-alcoholic beverage selection rivals the nearby Central Market. In addition to Mexican Coke and Jones sodas, you’ll find Dublin Dr. Pepper, sodas sweetened with Agave nectar, Kombucha, a variety of Yerba maté drinks, flavored iced teas, and natural energy drinks- all local whenever possible. You could probably try a different drink every day for a few months and still not have tried everything. For what it’s worth, their beer and wine section also runs outside of the regular convenience store scope. You’ll be sure to find some good IPA’s and lots of local brews here.

Don’t get me wrong, the convenience store basics are still there if you need them. But you’re going to have a hard time getting to them, as you’ll be wonderfully distracted by the dizzying array of funky local products. Even though you just went in there to grab a quick drink, you’re likely to walk out with a handmade bar of soap or some goat’s milk ice cream. They even have WiFi and outdoor seating! It’s almost redundant at this point to say that the Live Oak Market goes above and beyond what you’d expect from a normal convenience store, all while keepin’ Austin weird.

good coffee in the 78745

I’ve lived in South Austin on the other side of 290 for over a year, and one thing I’ve noticed is the lack of coffee houses in the 78745. If you want good coffee and a place to study, your closest zip code for that is likely the coveted region of 78704, which houses Austin greats Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse, Flipnotics, Jo’s and the newer (but tasty) Irie Bean. If you get the urge for some caffeinated studying at, say, 3 am, Epoch and Bennu are at least 15-20 minutes away (depending on how far south you live- I’m at s.1st and William Cannon, and it takes me 20 on a good day to get both places.)

For me, the whole appeal of a coffeehouse depends on three key things:

1) Proximity to home and hours open. If my home is feeling particularly distracting and I have a lot of homework to do, one thing I don’t want to do is spend 40-45 minutes of travel time round-trip to get somewhere to study, only to have to leave a few hours later because they close at 10.

2) Good coffee, of course. Secondary to good coffee comes a good selection of pastries for brain power. I’m a snob, what can I say?

3) Ambiance and seating arrangements. I need an outlet, a comfy chair, and some not-too-distracting but still upbeat tunes and I can churn out some papers no problem.

Unfortunately, no coffeehouse in my immediate vicinity supplied all three of these things- until Strange Brew and Red Table Coffee made their way onto the scene this summer.

Strange Brew is located in a… well, let’s say “quirky” shopping complex off Manchaca, and since they opened they just keep getting better and better. If I didn’t know already, I’d guess they’ve been open a few years rather than just a few months. They offer organic & fair-trade coffee from Third Coast Coffee, Zhi Tea, Torchy’s breakfast tacos, a variety of pastries from local businesses; and now panini sandwiches designed by Mike Rypka, the taco mastermind behind Torchy’s. Not only do they have excellent coffee and food options, the sense of community is strong with this one. Everyone seems to know everyone, and the owner is routinely seen doing his business about the shop. Even though the space is on the small side, it is utilized incredibly well with great attention paid to it. I’ve seen it re-arranged at least three times, with each setup better than the last. I never have to worry about getting a comfy spot or an outlet here. The best part: they recently extended their hours to 24 hours a day. Many a fancy IKEA-ed out coffee shop opens in Austin with great promise and promptly falls flat soon after, and I know Strange Brew won’t be one of them because they’re doing their coffee and community right.

Drink to try: The Strange Brew. Too predictable? Get over it and try it immediately.

Red Table Coffee has more of an upscale vibe than Strange Brew, but it’s the kind of hoity-toity where you can have your beautiful latte art and listen to No Doubt and Radiohead, too. Even though it’s located on the ground floor of a multi-use office building off South Congress and Stassney, the place doesn’t have the corporate feel I suspected it might before I visited. The space is beautifully well-lit in the daytime with lots of natural light, and at night time large lamps provide just the right amount of glowy light. Wraps and sandwiches are provided by The Green Cart, coffee is supplied by Katz, and tea by Mighty Leaf. Excellent food, coffee, and tea all at a good price + glowy light + good barista-DJ makes for one happy lady. I can’t wait to see what this place does as they get more traffic.

Drink to try: The Wilner. I have not tried this one for myself, but all reviews I’ve read suggest it is akin to liquid chocolate crack.

78745’ers, I know the greats are pretty, well, great. I’m a Bouldin Creek gal myself. But if you live in the neighborhood, save your gas and support these new businesses not because they’re simply there, but because they stack up against any 78704 coffee shop.