Nerve Endings Firing Away

This is my third installment of the “Eating Out” annual series. Things between 2019 and 2020 were very different, considering that the onset of the pandemic in early 2020 upended the restaurant industry. Things improved slightly in 2021 but not that much in eating “out.”

In terms of the big-picture, we were back to our 2019 spending levels, i.e., nearly 50% up from 2020. But not quite yet in terms of the variety of places we eat. We have dined indoors very rarely, more like on a handful of occasions. So most of the spending tagged as “Eating Out” is delivered from outside and eaten at home. We hope to eat out more often, but you can never predict what will happen in the new year, as we have learned over the past two years.

We ate at 109 distinct places. We ate out 259 times on 178 different days (49% of the year). More than half of the places we ate could be classified as restaurants instead of fast food, food delivery-only places, food trucks, etc. We have explored a few “delivery only” options like Shef, a new startup that lets you order from home chefs. We have now put this option in our weekly rotation and can explore various home-cooked cuisines (regional Indian mostly). That said, fast food was our second-highest food category from 36 different places like pizzerias, burgers, and chicken wings. We balanced it out by the occasional smoothie (Thanks, Smoothie King).

Our high-spending days came invariably when we resumed our “hobby” of checking out fine dining places in Austin or on vacations where we ate out all day. We returned to our Austin favorites - Barley Swine, Lenoir, and Eurasia and checked out Carve, a new steakhouse near our place. We ordered from the three premier BBQ places in Austin - Franklin, Valentina’s, La Barbecue - and a new one - Distant Relatives. Unfortunately, the first two are now in-person or a minimum of 5 lbs. order.

We traveled out-of-state three times in 2021. First to Grand Canyon National Park, Petrified Forest National Park and Sedona, next to Seattle, Olympics National Park, Mt. Rainier National Park, and finally to Toronto, Canada. That involved lots of eating out. Nearly 28% of our “eating out” happened during our vacations. We enjoyed the food in Toronto, especially at Rasta Pasta, a delightful fusion of Jamaican and Italian food.

We also had our first ballpark food experience at Minute Maid Park for Game 6 of the World Series.

Overall, here are the places that we most frequented:

  1. Double Dave’s Pizza (15x)
  2. McDonald’s (12x)
  3. Smoothie King (11x)
  4. Wingstop (11x)
  5. Donut Taco Palace (10x)
  6. Madam Mam’s (10x)
  7. Yaghi’s Pizzeria (9x)
  8. Austin Airport Outlets (8x)
  9. Biryani-N-Grill (8x)
  10. Lil’ Doddy (7x)
  11. P Terrys Burger Stand (7x)
  12. Via 313 Pizza (6x)
  13. Poke Austin (5x)
  14. Chipotle (4x)
  15. Panera Bread (4x)

I will not make any predictions about 2022, but we plan on traveling more often. I already had my first visit to India in nearly ten years, but all the food I ate there was at home or with friends. We ordered a few times, but that’s not documented in Mint, so it doesn’t count.

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