Austin is a town full of pop-ups where chefs cook unique foods and craft experiences that make diners rethink what it means to eat. Many of these events test the boundaries of what an inviting, thrilling dining experience could be. See: the Alice in Wonderland-themed cocktail bar, the magical Disney adults brunch, the ninja espionage Asian-fusion dinner, or the build-your-own-burger out of Legos pop-up. There really are so many possibilities, and it’s time to go deeper into the delightfully mad world of pop-ups! This is Eater Austin’s list of extraordinary and definitely real pop-ups that we can only assume will be coming to a dive bar, vacant building, or basement near you very soon in the Texas city.
BBQ Sub Rosa
The ultimate Texas barbecue experience, BBQ Sub Rosa is a clandestine pop-up that happens at a secret time between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., in a location reachable only on foot, somewhere in the East Boggy Creek Greenbelt east of Ed Bluestein Boulevard. To find it, you first purchase special infrared binoculars from the dark web, then hike along the trail looking for signs of smoke from the concealed barbecue smoker. That will lead you to a fissure in the earth where you rappel to the bottom of the crevice for an unforgettable meal prepared by two elusive pitmasters and reputed ex-Navy SEALS known as One-Eyed Dave and Two-Eyed Chuck. The brisket? Melt-in-the-mouth tender with divine smokiness. The meat is definitely worth the two-to-three hour hike and the extra three-to-five hours of rappelling — not to mention time spent waiting in the traditional Texas barbecue line. Unfortunately, you can expect that the food will be sold out by the time you make it to the register. To quote the pitmasters: “We don’t believe in utensils, napkins, sauce, credit cards, chairs, compromises, disclosed locations, or your feelings. Don’t like it? Kiss our asses, and go to Rudy’s Bar-B-Q.”
Uncommon Ramen makes ramen for adventurous connoisseurs. According to star chef Z. Yoshibo who has worked (for a week as a stage) in several Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, “I’ve loved ramen since I was a kid, but I always felt something international was missing: fresh Sri Lankan ginger, lucuma fruit from the Peruvian rainforest, and the motley infusion of Swedish-Uruguayan-Cambodian flavors. I knew Austinites would appreciate this more than anyone.” Diners call the pop-up an exquisite $500 experience, though uncomfortable questions were raised when one patron noticed dozens of discarded plastic Maruchan packages and spice mix packets in the trash cans behind the bowling alley where Yoshibo serves his noodles.
Zero Gravity Dinner
Served in an empty Boeing 747 with absolutely no seats that takes off from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and soars for 40 minutes in continuous parabolic arcs, Zero Gravity Dinner is the first microgravity dining experience. Float, glide, flip, and freewheel your way through an unforgettable meal with nine other hungry thrill-seekers. Plates aren’t practical in the weightless environment, so remember to keep your mouth wide open to catch one of the boneless spicy chicken wings or shrimp spring rolls that drift through the cabin. Diners wear cool flight suits that don’t just make them feel like an astronaut, the ensembles are also highly vomit-resistant. All this for the low, low cost of your first born’s one-year tuition at a second-tier liberal arts college. Don’t worry, the price includes a $1,000 donation to a righteous, indie documentary project on the environmental hazards of space tourism.
You Call This a Taco?
This bold, experimental pop-up challenges Austinites to rethink our idea of the liminal space between taco and not-taco. Launched by an ex-philosophy professor, Robert Martinez, Ph.D., who loves Mexican fusion and the epistemology of vagueness, You Call This a Taco? blindfolds the diners at the start of the meal. Dinner begins with items that are obviously tacos, but, over time, become less and less taco-like. Dr. Martinez explains: “Suppose I feed you a fresh corn tortilla with barbacoa and onions. Taco? Only an idiot would say ‘no.’ But what if the meat is ostrich, with slices of cassava and daikon, and the ‘tortilla’ is a piece of spongy pumpkin bread?” Diners leave this pop-up very confused about the nature of tacos, which, according to Socrates, is the beginning of real wisdom.
All of Your Exes
Founded by couple Amber Miller (who is a life coach) and Nicodemus Miller (a keto chef), who specialize in “emotional gauntlet therapy,” every patron at this pop-up restaurant is one of your exes. Yes, they’re all there, even Milo, who you haven’t spoken with since he discovered polyamory and ayahuasca and fled to South America in 2019. For dinner, you eat leftovers from Buc-ee’s — the food isn’t the point — and everyone sits at one very small table, placed extremely close together, while your exes trade stories about everything that’s wrong with you. The meal lasts five luxurious hours minimum and there’s a strict no-refunds policy.
This radical pop-up has exploded in popularity because it combines everything Austinites love: fitness challenges, meat, role-playing, mixed martial arts, and BDSM. The number one rule is, “If you want to eat, you have to fight!” Second rule: “If you want to eat something edible, you have to win!” It all takes place after-hours in an empty North Austin CrossFit gym. Diners start with a light 90-minute workout with barbells, sled drags, and bare-knuckle sparring to whet their appetites. From there, everyone is given ill-fitting metal armor and assorted bladed weapons. Diners face off and fight “to first blood,” and winners are awarded delicious rare steak, hurled at their heads by “the cruel emperor” — a mysterious person in a toga and a crying golden mask. Losers eat a bucket of pig slop. This isn’t just a pop-up dinner, it’s a total-body experience.