South Lamar Boulevard is booming. Each big new residence block fills with Austinites who need their coffee breaks. As part of our ongoing series — see links below — we tested those shops located below Oltorf Street.
Caffe Medici. 1100 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-445-7212. caffemedici.com. 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.-Thurs., 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Lots of free parking in Lamar Union garages. Lively Wi-Fi, password: “coolbeans.” Decaf (French press and Americano), teas and chai. Mild music. Quiet inside and out.
No students. That’s a shocker for a Central Austin coffee shop. The crowd this day ranged from their late 20s to their mid 60s. Not to record that’s always the case, but it says something about the clientele of the megalithic Lamar Union development. One of several coffee shops by this name to focus on excellent coffee as well as handsome, grown-up design, this Caffe Medici — brown, white and black color scheme — feels best matched to the group’s luxe downtown location in the Austonian. A dozen outside tables invite guests on cooler days and will be even more tempting once the trees grown in. Another dozen tables, plus some laptop counter stools, wait inside. Besides the fine espresso drinks, coffee, cafe au lait, iced coffee and teas as part of a fairly simple menu, the place also offers a limited array of pastries and snacks. Single-origin coffee beans are on offer, too. And here’s unexpected news: Several good beers on tap. The staff is well-practiced and helpful. Although Lamar Union can seem a little intimidating at first, this place has already attracted regulars.
Austin Java. 1608 Barton Springs Road. 512-482-9450. austinjava.com. 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs. 1 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri., 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun. Parking in garage to the rear. Fast Wi-Fi. Decaf, teas, chai. Moderate music. Although busy, relaxed.
More of a full-service restaurant than a mere coffee shop, this local stand-by gives one the choice of sitting at a short bar near the entrance, or being escorted to ready seating in the front and the back. A full bar accompanies a paradise of coffee and other drinks, many of them made with locally roasted Arabica beans. Coffees can be straightforward — drip or espresso-based — or come with themed names such as Morning Glory or Fog Cutter. Signature drinks include Caramel Knowledge and Sugar Daddy. Need something a little headier? How about spiked coffees, beer, wine or cocktail? The breakfast side of the menu is dominated by egg dishes, while lunch and dinner on the flip side includes rib-stickers such as pasta, burgers, sandwiches, tacos and especially good soups. The staff stays pretty animated, or so one can hear from the large kitchen. Not many laptops here among an array of guests. This edition of the local group that started on North Lamar Boulevard thrives without much competition in its market niche on Barton Springs Road.
Picnik. 1700 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-293-6188. picnikaustin.com. 7 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Shared parking lot and street parking. Wi-Fi password: “bodybybutter.” Decaf, tea. No chai. Fairly loud music, but it’s outside. Set back from traffic, so peaceful.
This mod cafe/coffee shop, built inside a recycled cargo container, continues to shine on low, green rise along South Lamar Boulevard. It’s earned a trendy, imported neighbor in Snooze, which focuses on breakfast dishes. Picnik’s streamlined menu more than holds its own. They serve “famous coffee” drinks, such as Golden Milk Matcha and Mayan Mocha, but also very good “plain and simple” coffee. No espresso, which is rare these days. They’ll make you shakes or teas (although the latter offering is a bit confusing on the menu). Decaf in two forms: black coffee or butter coffee, which includes grass-fed butter and MCT oil. Soul-warming on cold days are three types of bone broth. Of the six food offerings, they were out of the breakfast tacos by noon, but a helpful barista recommended a filling chicken club wrap with bacon and a kale exterior. Just right. Because South Lamar isn’t (yet) pedestrian friendly, this is more of a destination spot than a impulse stop. Metal tables and chairs are scattered under a canopy or in the sun. A sign of the times: Three fat sriracha sauce dispensers next to the counter.
The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. 221 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-351-8680. coffeebeantexas. 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Sat., 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun. Limited onsite parking, but usually plenty of street parking on Lee Barton Drive. Wi-Fi name: Sputnik Managed, password posted on Ripple TV. Decaf (Americano), teas, chai. Light music. Quiet inside. Less so outside.
This chain outlet arrived early in the ongoing wave of development along South Lamar Boulevard between Riverside Drive and Barton Springs Road, with more changes to come. It feels like an addition to the mid-rise complex to the north, but that’s perhaps due to their closely proximate arrival on the scene. The chain’s resemblance to Starbucks is sometimes uncanny, but there’s something less regimented about it. We have witnessed plenty of meetings here, not just laptop activity on the numerous wooden chairs and tables. As expected by any customer, they offer a long list of coffees, expressos, iced and hot, but also hot chocolate and hot vanilla. Along with the usual pastries, juices, waters, snack and sandwiches, Coffee Bean also usually puts fruit front and center (yay!). It appears to stock even more boxed teas and coffees than its rivals. And hey, after meeting folks here across from Zach Theatre for years, we didn’t know anything about its Los Angeles birth in 1963, inspired by Scandinavian gourmet coffee spots, until we did a tiny bit of research for this entry.
Starbucks. 1509 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-912-7919. 5 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. Shared parking at Lamar Plaza, plus drive-through service. Wi-Fi before you even ask. Decaf, teas, chai. Soft music. Fairly quiet inside and out.
This Starbucks is almost too popular. Squeezed narrowly and deeply into the Lamar Plaza shopping center — which offers a mix of local and chain outlets — this coffee shop deals in familiarity and consistency for a crowd of mixed ages and backgrounds. The products don’t differ much — or at all — from store to store: Espresso-based drinks, coffees, teas, and a long list of trademarked “frappuccinos.” The drive-through remains busy all day. You are instantly recognized by its Wi-Fi signal when you engage your device. Like other chains, Strbucks fights absolute conformity by localizing the decor and supplying a neighborhood flyer board. A few outside tables under umbrellas attracted no one on this warm day, but customers flocked to the short counter space and no more than a dozen tables inside. Some people sometime complain when this ubiquitous chain duplicates shops in the same area, at times right across the street from the next. But as Austin grows more dense, there’s a ready argument for it. Not every Starbucks regular on South Lamar can fit in here.