Austin's best restaurants, bars and food trailers as chosen by Real magazine
Austin's best restaurants, bars and food trailers as chosen by Real magazine
801 S. Lamar Blvd.
2024 S. Lamar Blvd.
200 Congress Ave.
4200 N. Lamar Blvd.
1807 S. First St.
306 E. 53rd St.
98 San Jacinto Blvd.
1900 University Ave.
900 E. 11th St.
400 W. Second St.
1014 N. Lamar Blvd.
301 E. Sixth St.
604 Brazos St.
8222 N. Lamar Blvd.
4119 Guadalupe St.
314 Congress Ave.
14005 U.S. 183
509 Hearn St.
2027 Anchor Lane
315 Congress Ave.
1610 S. Congress Ave.
4710 E. Fifth St.
200 Congress Ave.
85 Rainey St.
1400 S. Congress Ave.
3110 Guadalupe St.
11815 620 North, Suite 4
1401 Rosewood Ave. (multiple locations)
510 Neches St.
4917 Airport Blvd.
1209 E. 11th St.
2038 S. Lamar Blvd.
811 W. Live Oak St.
2330 N. Loop Blvd. West
5207 Brodie Lane #120
7101-A Woodrow Ave.
1415 S. Congress Ave.
5621 Airport Blvd.
2218 College Ave.
3411 Glenview Ave.
5501 N. Lamar Blvd.
626 N. Lamar Blvd.
1400 S. Congress Ave. (multiple locations)
8650 Spicewood Springs Road.
408 E. 43rd St.
1917 Manor Road.
9414 Parkfield Drive
2900 Rio Grande St.
3509 FM 620 North
801 E. William Cannon Drive #205
200 Congress Ave.
313 E. Sixth St.
1950 I-35 South
2027 Anchor Lane
1500 E. Sixth St.
79 Rainey St.
801 S. Lamar Blvd.
801 S. Lamar Blvd.
801 S. Lamar Blvd.
801 S. Lamar Blvd.
The unassuming bungalow on South Lamar Boulevard helped lead a renaissance in the Austin food world almost a decade ago. Tyson Cole's restaurant not only changed Austinites' expectations of fine dining, but the kitchen also cultivated a roster of talent that would go on to shape some of the city’s most exciting restaurants. Still one of the hardest-to-get seats in town, Uchi blends class with conviviality and flawless presentation without pretense.
Artfully composed perfect bites of sushi stretch across the menu. Hama chili brings whispered heat from Thai chili together with the citrus song of ponzu and orange supreme atop the buttery baby yellowtail. Little baubles of flame-colored golden roe dissolve in a tingle of ginger on the clean sake toro. Though the freshness and delicate flavor compositions with sushi always invigorate, the imagination displayed with larger dishes at Uchi truly sets the restaurant apart. A plate of uni butter — sea urchin and butter collapsing into one another — serves as the velvety bed for a tangle of sweet potato noodles and soy foam in a decadent dish that balances saltiness and umami.
It isn’t listed as a dessert, but I always like ending my meals at Uchi with a piece of foie nigiri – a seared chunk of foie gras drizzled with sweet fish caramel and speckled with candied quinoa for a slight crunch. It is the kind of bite that makes you close your eyes when you bite into it, the pleasure so indulgent and rewarding that I almost feel uncomfortable watching other people enjoy it.Video
A bustling bar with broad shoulders and delicate hands, Barley Swine feels like a pub with a genius tucked away in the kitchen. But nothing is sequestered at this small restaurant with 42 seats, where diners sit elbow-to-elbow at communal tables and the open kitchen gives guests the chance to watch chef-owner Bryce Gilmore and his team twirl and twist, shifting pans, spooning sauces and placing proteins with miniature tongs.
The meals often arrive with the stylized ingredients on the plate barely recognizable from their plain names on the menu, but the knowledgeable and exceedingly friendly service staff does quick, happy work of breaking down the components.
The menu usually features a couple of dessert options, and the German chocolate cake is a deconstructed revelation, coconut mousse winding its way around a plate dotted with coconut gel, chocolate ganache and a tongue-rattling salted white chocolate ice cream. The communal tables mean you might end up protecting your conversation from eavesdroppers, if you’re the shy type, but more often they let you celebrate the culinary creations with people who don’t remain strangers long.
The warmth and class of Congress embrace you the moment you enter and stay with you throughout a luxurious fixed-course meal. Servers, runners, chefs and management collaborate to deliver a comprehensive dining experience in one of the city's most elegant restaurants, attention paid to the minutest details.
The large urbane cousin to Uchi that opened in the summer of 2010 feels both inclusive and exclusive, like a hot party with enough room on the guest list for everybody. A velvety maguro sashimi with tart goat cheese, warmth of pumpkin seed oil and crisp Fuji apple makes the trip uptown from Uchi, as does a piece of yellowtail that sings with sliced Thai chiles and citrus. But Uchiko is not just playing Uchi's greatest hits.
Gold chandeliers and exposed single bulbs hang from the robin-egg blue ceiling over tables made of reclaimed whitewashed wood and large chairs at the charming Lenoir. The house on South First Street feels like a rustic French beach house in Vietnam to which Alice would escape when she tires of Wonderland.
Chef Ned Elliott and his crew at Foreign & Domestic deliver bold, comforting flavors in an energetic environment. A massive 12-oz. Wagyu burger with a slab of pork belly along for the ride might look like stunt food, but it's a dish with soul, Maytag blue cheese and a vibrant smoked tomato jam finding a perfect marriage of salty sweetness on a homemade English muffin.
The revamped restaurant at the Four Seasons, helmed by chef Grant Macdonald, exhibits a level of exceptional service one expects from the luxury hotel, from accommodating hostesses to wine wizard Mark Sayre's patient and informative description of wines.
Chef Josh Watkins and his team have destroyed the old notion of what it means to “eat on campus” at the University of Texas. Watkins has created a restaurant inside the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center that meets conventioneer needs with items like an outstanding olive oil-poached beef tenderloin while also delighting foodies with thoughtful flavors such as a hamachi sashimi served with the citrus pop of ponzu, sweet currants and the crunch of toasted hazelnuts. A fatty piece of pork belly, topped with pear and a crisp fried mint leaf undoubtedly finds favor in both camps.
Aaron Franklin opened a trailer off an Interstate 35 feeder road less than three years ago. He has since ascended to barbecue phenomenon status, earning praise from respected national magazines and traveling to places such as New York City to spread the gospel of smoked meat. People line up hours before the doors open. What's all the fuss? Tender brisket that cuts like red velvet cake, juicy sausages in a snap casing, ribs with caramelized edges and the best pulled pork sandwich in Austin.
La Condesa's wrap-around windows give passers-by a glimpse of the vibrant modern art mural in this culinary centerpiece of the 2nd Street District. The menu at the restaurant helmed by chef Rene Ortiz blends street-food classics such as a tostada with ruby red tuna that looks like it just came out of the ocean and citrusy conchinita pibil taquitos with larger plates like a sweet and spicy chili-marinated pork chop.
Chef-owners Stewart Scruggs and Mark Paul proudly waved the farm-to-table flag well before it became de rigueur for serious Austin restaurants. The kitchen works in a collaborative manner, each chef bringing their own ideas daily, leading to a rich, diverse menu that may feature plump scallops served with hearty lima beans and almond bell pepper butter one night and crispy nibs of fried veal sweetbreads with earth and tingle from okra, Marconi peppers and smoked tomato aioli the next. A recent mid-rare blackbuck antelope yielded to a gentle fork, the bold oyster mushrooms on the side sumptuous in a sherry reduction.
Bare brick walls and exposed duct work lend a hip urbanity to this Sixth Street gem. Parkside feels like a bar by a harbor and a restaurant that would be right at home in the downtown of a large metropolis. The raw menu features one of the top oyster programs in town, along with a refreshing trundle of fluke with lemon and shaved almonds, one of my favorite bites anywhere. Upscale pub fare like a smooth and decadent blond pate and a coarse-grind burger make for an excellent bar menu, and well-composed, comforting dishes such as duos of lamb and Hill Country rabbit prove chef-owner Shawn Cirkiel's skill with game.
The Driskill Grill sits politely on the other side of the frosted-glass door of the more energized Driskill Bar scene. The restaurant with the baroque Texas aesthetic and formal service recently prepared the best lamb dish I've had in Austin – Colorado chops seared with crusted herbs and cooked to a sunset red and served with an astounding creamy goat-cheese risotto. A charcuterie plate with uninspired “house-cured” meats feels a little forced, but a tender 12-ounce ribeye with jalapeño creamed leeks and the subtle nudge of horseradish proves the Driskill's potential as a steakhouse alternative.
Sisters Tam Bui and Tran Ngoc bring the flavors of their native Vietnam to this strip mall restaurant that has proved popular with some of the best chefs in the city. The affable sisters also serve as something of culinary tour guides for the uninitiated, walking you through the regions of origin of their many dishes. From the north, a restorative and beefy bowl of pho; from central Vietnam, a steaming bowl of bun boh hue (vermicelli noodle soup with lemongrass, minus the traditional pig's blood); and from the south, an array of spectacular banh mi sandwiches served on flaky homemade baguettes and stuffed with meat and the snap and crunch of carrots, cucumber, jalapeños and floral cilantro. Best sandwiches in Austin.
Managing partner Jeff Courington believes wine should be an everyday experience, and he and his staff help make it accessible with thoughtful recommendations and helpful index cards that offer clever and plain-spoken descriptions of the wine. The wines complement a roster of well-executed bistro fare, from tender mussels in a white wine and tarragon sauce you should mix with the accompanying rich aioli (an amazing deal at happy hour) to an amber and succulent airline-cut roasted chicken breast and a more delicate basil tagliatelle with the acid-and-cream balance of tomato conserva and ricotta.
Chef-owner Marion Gillcrist's charming and warm Congress Avenue restaurant has quietly turned out some of the best pasta locally for 12 years. Veal, pork and beef all find room to roam in the ragu of an excellent spaghetti Bolognese kissed with cream, but I prefer the spaghetti alla carbonara, tossed with porky bits of pancetta with a whisper of citrus and capped by egg yolk that you should whip into the tender pasta before cranking some black pepper on top.
East Side King co-founder Ek Timrerk and Uchiko veteran Thai Changthong have brought some of the city's best Thai to an unexpected place: the northern edge of the city. Start your meal with chicken wings glistening with oil and shimmering with a spicy sweetness from orange oil and a red wine chili vinaigrette. Kao soi comes alive when you wed the various flavors – salty (peanut), sweet (a full-bodied green coconut curry) and tart (pickled vegetables) – with tender braised chicken. Large chunks of pan-seared duck breast arrive in a cauldron of bubbling red pineapple curry. If service catches up with the food, expect Spin to become a popular destination.
The quaint and gently elegant bungalow off Lake Austin Boulevard serves a mix of European flavors, including butter-and-garlic drenched escargot from France and a Mediterranean seafood salad of squid and clams. But chef-owner Wolfgang Murber's German heritage shines with a crispy-yet-tender pork schnitzel with spaetzle emboldened by the musk of wild mushroom sauce. Closer to home, a Loncitos lamb, served with a firm smoked potato gratin, is cooked to a tender violet. A board of chicken liver pate, Wagyu tartare and duck terrine runs for $8 at happy hour at this restaurant, which offers some of the best value you'll find.
Though this East Austin restaurant serves as an extension of the Contigo Ranch in South Texas, where co-owner Ben Edgerton grew up working and hunting, it has a bit of an expansive Hill Country feel. Co-owner and chef Andrew Wiseheart creates upscale bar food like a beefy ox tongue slider with pickled green tomato and a fatty ciccioli composed of pork belly, pig heart and shoulder. The inviting open-air restaurant remains packed even during the hot summer months thanks to a relaxed atmosphere that feels like a picnic at a friend's ranch ... or, when you order the tender rabbit and dumplings, like Thanksgiving at Elmer Fudd's cabin.
The energy of Swift's Attic, which has a robust bar scene up front and a skylight-dappled dining room in the back, led me to coin the term 'gastroclub' when I reviewed the shabby-chic spot for the Statesman. Share items like Vietnamese-inspired banh minis of pork belly and foie gras or a charcuterie plate with dense chicken liver mousse, sweet duck-bourbon gelée and a heavenly whipped rabbit terrine. Or keep the fun to yourself with juicy braised pork cheeks that carry notes of Hoisin sauce and receive the collaborative efforts of a deep sweetness of fig preserve and tangy whole-grain mustard.
The name of this South Congress Avenue culinary stalwart means “wasps' nest,” and Scott Bolin, Claude Benayoun and Alan Lazarus' restaurant always seems to buzz with excitement. Massive layers of spinach lasagna sandwich an abundance of salty bolognese and oozing mozzarella and bechamel, but don't limit yourself to the heavy Americanized pasta dishes. Mussels and clams in the complex cioppino drink in a silky and spicy tomato broth that infuses red fish and shrimp. Pair with a glass of the fruity Loubié from Domaine de Mourchon. Craving pizza? A crisp Neopolitan crust holds up under the weight of a decadent pie of prosciutto, bitter arugula and fontina cheese with truffle oil.
A garden party with all the excitement of the Left Bank in Paris, Justine's proved itself prescient by opening in deep East Austin several years ago. Twinkling lights drape from the trees over an expanse of outdoor seating that hums with the same energy as the cozier inside, where you might hear Jimmy Smith or continental jazz coming from the turntable. The restaurant has moved to include more chalkboard specials in recent months – such as a meaty grilled redfish with big rounds of smoky grilled eggplant and a subtle garlic crème fraiche puree – but it still offers regular menu items that include one of the best burgers in town and an impressive steak tartare made of large rippling cuts of meat and expressive vinegary capers.
Metal light fixtures, art and furniture made with rebar and bleached wood ... the bright and airy 2nd Bar + Kitchen feels like the dining room of a modern art gallery. The clean, minimalist aesthetic is contrasted by a menu full of comforting, upscale bar food. Lunch items such as a rich burger made from brisket and chuck and a spicy and tangy lamb merguez hoagie give way to bistro fare at night — pan-roasted shrimp and clams, broad pappardelle with truffled ricotta — but don't worry, you can get the crispy Buffalo fried pickles with gorgonzola sauce and chef David Bull's highly acclaimed pepperoni soup anytime of day.
Mexican chef Iliana de la Vega and husband Ernesto Torrealba's handsome restaurant serves as the quiet in the madness that has become the Rainey Street bar scene. A rotating roster of moles de la semana recently featured a mole from Puebla with a depth of flavor and complexity unlike any I've tasted in Austin. Chocolate took a back seat to the robust flavors of toasted sesame seeds, raisins, cloves and a quartet of peppers (ancho, mulato, pasilla and chipotle). An equally brilliant, tangerine-colored sauce covers the chile poblano relleno de picadillo Oaxaqueño, with almonds lending milkiness to the velvety tomato sauce that bathes the dark olive-green chile poblano.
Beachside dining (with oak-tree shading) in the middle of the city at this spot with the large umbrella-dotted deck makes for excellent SoCo people watching. The well curated oyster program includes offerings like the recent dozen that featured Rocky Shores from Prince Edward Island, Onset and Pleasant Bay from off the Massachusetts coast and Ninigret Cup from Rhode Island. A thick slab of buttery and oily escolar with a smoky veil proved that the kitchen has a handle on the grill. Red chimichurri, one of the standout sauces in the city, provided an acidic sunset warmth, though that could have been the well-crafted rye Manhattan from the bar.
With a tap wall this quality-rich, Hopfields could offer bowls of Chex Party Mix and I'd be happy to just sit and drink selections such as Avery Mephistopheles, Brooklyn Monster Barleywine and Dogfish Head Palo Santo. But Bay and Lindsay Anthon's French-inspired gastropub near campus serves one of my favorite burgers, flaky savory tartes and a lush ham sandwich.
This sandwich shop has drawn the attention of a national television show and is the rare joint that can inspire me to make a one-hour roundtrip drive for lunch. Chefs John Bates and Brandon Martinez have worked at Wink and Whole Foods, respectively, and their pedigrees show with clean, simple flavors from homemade items such as duck pastrami and Italian sausage. These guys cut no corners, pickling their own vegetables, curing their meats and baking loaves of crusty and chewy bread.
Cracker crusts and loads of locally sourced ingredients — East Side Pies landed on the Growers Alliance of Central Texas' top 10 list of Austin restaurants buying from area farms and farmers markets — the pizza joint that started on Rosewood Avenue has expanded to include two more locations. Choose your own toppings from a roster of a half-dozen sauces, two dozen veggies and almost a dozen meats, or go with one of ESP's unique creations — I'm a sucker for the tangy and smoky Girther, with avocado, gorgonzola, roasted onions and added bacon.
Just steps from the madness of Sixth Street, entering Chez Nous feels like leaping into another dimension. Sure, that dimension might look like the 1980s, with drab maroons and paisley table tops, but it's all part of the charm of this French bistro, which features vintage prints and newspaper clippings of World Cup glory. A recent charcuterie plate delivered a tipsy duck liver mousse, a pork rillete as smooth as a Parisian chatting up an American tourist and a creamy pork mousseline. The chateau loin on the steak frites had a rosy mid-rare center and wore a pale yellow cape of tart, eye-opening béarnaise. Duck confit blends fat and crispiness on two legs that get a sour and boozy boost from cherry and red onion marmalade, served with two delicate puffs of potato dauphin to complete the traditional experience.
“Irasshaimase,” the friendly sushi chefs say as they greet you at this low-slung restaurant on Airport Boulevard that represents another successful transition from trailer (Sushi-a-Go-Go) to brick-and-mortar. Husband and wife Také and Kayo Asazu's restaurant serves affordable sushi, with some rolls – like the bright mango-and-salmon sunshine roll – carried over from their popular trailer, along with a variety of hot dishes. Highlights include tamago, a subtly sweet and smoky custard that looks like tofu and tastes like a creamy egg, a fantastic milky tonkatsu ramen, and knobby tulip karaage (think deep-fried chicken lollipops).
Sometimes a restaurant can have such a delightful design aesthetic I worry it could be a case of style-over-substance. The adorable restaurant built in the former home of Hillside Drugstore, one of the first African-American-owned pharmacies in Austin, relies on the culinary creations of Sonya Cote to avoid that trap. Hillside serves solid sandwiches at lunch – witness the salty tang of the Italian grinder and the pork pleasures of bacon and paté on the Cook's Sandwich – but the restaurant really sparkles at night with a changing assortment of raw oysters and nightly specials like the buttery and flaky red fish topped with a rich, syrupy tomato confit and pierced with vinegary slivers of sautéed shallots.
The popular taqueria on Burleson Road expanded to a full-service restaurant on South Lamar Boulevard last year, and though the service remains spotty at times, chef Marisela Godinez has no trouble delivering classic dishes like conchinita pibil, the tender blood-orange colored pork enlivened by pickled purple onions that pack a strong citrus flavor. The chile relleno en nogada strikes a splendid harmony of sweet and savory, with huge chunks of pork cooked in red chile sauce mingling with minced pieces of nuts in a walnut-almond-sherry sauce. Brunch here is an underappreciated bargain, with fluffy organic egg migas and toasty molletes available for less than $7.
Tucked away in South Austin, Green Pastures has the spooky grace of a haunted antebellum mansion, with Tony Bennett and Sade handling the soundtrack. Swirling mounds of dense chimichurri and mango chutney make for a delightful mash-up of South American and Indian flavors for lamb chops cooked to a glowing magenta. The gruyere-covered ribeye feels like a bit of a relic, though a more deft touch is exhibited with the sides of sweet vanilla carrots that balance well with the earthiness of mushrooms. Hit Sunday brunch and discover the wonders of Milk Punch. Drink enough of it and you might start to hear the ghosts talking to you.
Austin's original temple to interior Mexican cuisine, the colorful restaurant still packs them in, but service at times has a cruise-control ambivalence. The vinegar tingle of capers pierces through the light floral cilantro cream sauce of the chicken-filled ancho relleno San Miguel. A grilled strip of thin beef tenderloin on a recent visit felt tired and flavorless, despite the criss-crossed marks from the grill, but the plump camarones en crema de chipotle burst with liveliness. The enchiladas have been bringing people back for 37 years; try the enchiladas de pato, substantial shreds of gamey duck emboldened by the strength of poblano and spinach.
The owners of Capitol-area favorite Clay Pit have expanded their reach north and south with this fast-casual concept that feels ready-made for franchising. This is not meant as a pejorative. Yes, there are nontraditional items such as “naaninis,” pressed sandwiches made of naan stuffed with shredded lamb or curried chicken, but you'll also find dishes that have made Clay Pit a hit, like a nutty and creamy korma or the tomato-based, burnt orange tikka masala, which come with a choice of proteins, vegetables or soft cubes of paneer cheese.
Thin, crisp slices of New Jersey pizza – like New York pizza without the marketing budget – served out of a deli the size of a shoebox in a throwback Crestview shopping center anchored by the IGA made famous in “Friday Night Lights.” The Harry's Perfect – a half-pound of ruffled sheets of pastrami laced with Russian dressing and cole slaw on buttery griddle rye – is the king of the sandwich menu.
When this place hits it right – paper thin and rounded off by a crunchy crust with just the right amount of cheesy grease pooling on the surface – it's hard to find a better pie. Pungent and doughy garlic knots will fill you up if you're not careful at this spot that evokes nostalgia in the pizza-loving kid inside us all. Don't let the pie distract you from the Italian sub, loaded with ham, cured meats, provolone and fresh veggies (Note: add hot cherry peppers).
Pull up to the bar at this market/restaurant and transport yourself to the Gulf Coast, as you suck down oysters with an iodine kick that reminds you of your first sunburn and illegal sips of beer. The grilled or blackened catch of the fish of the day is always insanely fresh – it helps that the market is just feet from the kitchen – but the crunchy golden fried shrimp are the best in Austin and not to be missed.
Chef-owner James Holmes proved he could fry chicken at his upscale Olivia; Lucy's proves he can build a restaurant around the magnificent bird, fried to a crispy bronze. Grab a bucket and some cold beers and sit outside on the patio for a picnic-style taste of old Austin. And don't forget the pie, thick and sweet as a West Texas accent. Chalkboard specials, which you can see updated online, include a salad topped with smoked trout, a dish I'd love to see on the regular menu.
An exuberant scene fills chef Shawn Cirkiel's handsome multitiered restaurant that looks like a modern tree house in the Hollywood Hills. The menu has as many levels as the building, with a massive bistecca alla Fiorentina and vibrant salsa verde serving as the centerpiece of the entrée section. Get a taste for all the kitchen can do by hop-scotching about the antipasti and piccolo piati sections of the menu that feature delicate zucchini involtini, a humble farm egg with polenta and the beautiful simplicity of a bite of skewered grilled swordfish.
The nondescript spot with the line that stretches out the door even on hot summer days? That's Titaya's, a dark, noisy space that serves some of the city's best Thai food. Though the service can be a little uneven, the flavors are on point, especially with their various curries, which include a creamy and hearty gang musmun and the searing vegetal heat of the herbaceous red 'jungle curry.'
Sit at the bar and you not only feel the heat coming off the grill, but you can even steal a few pointers from the cooks. The key to those poached eggs? A little vinegar in the water. The marshmallowy eggs sit atop chunky red pepper-studded crab cakes that look like flattened golf balls on a “cakes-and-eggs” dish that comes with sides of lemon aioli and a curried peanut sauce for flavor options. The thick, coarse-ground burger rests on a sweet bun that almost feels like cheating, the color of the meat's inside matching the blood-red slices of tomato.
Thick patties of quality meat ground in-house, served on homemade buns and slathered with sauces made on site . . . Hopdoddy helped introduce Austinites to the idea of “gourmet” burgers. Locals have responded by crowding the North and South Austin locations to line up for flavorful combinations like El Diabolo – a spicy and sweet beef burger featuring Jack cheese, caramelized onions, habanero and serrano chiles, salsa roja and chipotle mayonnaise – and more exotic but equally satisfying burgers like the Greek, which brings together gyro flavors of lamb, feta and tzatsiki.
Asia Café finally moved out of the shadow of the Asian grocery next door and got its own stage on which to shine. You might need to constantly replenish your water, because these guys like their spice, as evidenced by a massive metal bowl of dry wok beef, the thin slices of meat swimming in a rust-colored broth full of chiles and Szechuan peppers that start off with a floral calm before sounding the alarms.
Married chefs Emmett and Lisa Fox have created a Hyde Park staple with the trattoria they opened 12 years ago. Fierce red chile flakes insinuate their heat into a carrot and celery-flecked sauce on a plate of rigatoni amatriciana. The dish comes with fatty cubes of pancetta, but add the homemade sausage for a few extra bucks. Eggy flattened orbs of gnocchi, almost the consistency of mashed potatoes, serve as a bed for short rib ragu, tender like pot roast and capped with a scoop of creamy homemade ricotta.
Z'Tejas and Hopdoddy founders Larry Foles and Guy Villavaso jump into the pig pen with their Manor Road restaurant that features multiple dining areas and offers great value. A charcuterie and cheese board impresses with a smooth chicken liver mousse and creamy Mt. Tam cheese, as does a rosy almost-rare duck breast with turnips in a tangy cardamom-orange sauce. The name expresses pride in the pig, but Salty Sow has a handle on veggies, as evidenced by vinegary collard greens and caramelized crispy Brussels sprouts.
Hard to find, but worth it. This place has an impressive salsa bar, with varying levels of spice and heat. But try one of the best cabrito tacos around (on homemade corn, of course) all on its own and savor the gaminess before you decide which way to go. Don't let the incredible prices scare you off of a fresh, citrusy ceviche.
Successful dinner parties at their restaurant encouraged brothers Murph and Ben Willcott to update their family's sandwich shop and bakery with a commitment to farm-to-table dinners. Long ribbons of handmade pappardelle serve as a bed for a variety of treatments, including a garden-fresh pesto one night and rustic flavors of cremini and porcini mushrooms another. The roasted poussin, rich with red wine and butter and a crackling skin, is one of the best chicken dishes in Austin.
A new bar and open-air seating area have given this restaurant a bit of an update on the outside, but most everything inside remains the same — but a bit tired now. The maroon-and-white layered tablecloths look like something from a hotel banquet hall, and the elk backstrap, though cooked to a tender violet, and its unnecessary crabmeat topping receive a dated dousing of unwanted beurre blanc. The restaurant, which boasts an abundant garden, still knows how to cook an exceptional tenderloin, and the Hill Country charm makes it a good “occasion restaurant,” but the fire needs fanning.
This Indian food restaurant in a strip mall near Interstate 35 won't win any beauty pageants, but it delivers solid executions of classics such as tandoori chicken, bright with the sunburned glow of the clay oven, and lamb rogan josh in a brick-red sauce full of onions and garlic and humming with cloves and cardamom.
When bartender extraordinaire Jason Stevens took control of Bar Congress in early 2012, he injected a renewed sense of playfulness and experimentation into the menu. Stevens conjures up ground-breaking and progressive original recipes and executes each order with confidence, precision and a staggering attention to detail. Departing sommelier June Rodil thoughtfully created a wine list that's contemporary and appealing, and a wealthy selection of beer is available as well. Although the space exudes sophisticated elegance and class, the Congress beverage team isn't afraid to get a little cheeky when appropriate; don't be surprised to discover garnishes designed in the shape of pirate ships floating in giant bowls of tiki cocktails, or elaborate historic punches presented in soda bottles or plastic cups.
A single red light marks the entrance to Midnight Cowboy, the former massage parlor turned craft cocktail lounge that lurks amid the shot bars lining historic Sixth Street downtown. Reservations are required for entry, unless the neon vacancy sign above the entrance is lighted, but the experience is worth the potential hassle. Inside, Bar Manager Brian Dressel and his staff test prevailing notions of what modern cocktails should taste like by incorporating uncommon ingredients such as mustard and paprika and presenting novelties at room temperature instead of chilled as current tastes often dictate. The lush, speakeasy-style interior hearkens back to the dangerous days of Prohibition, and though you can't sit at the bar to order a drink, the reserved seating arrangement is complemented by a handful of cocktails that are only prepared tableside. Many aspects of Midnight Cowboy make the bar somewhat controversial, but the staff's dedication to magnificent libations pushes the venue to the forefront of the local scene.
Austin is nothing if not eclectic, and the Whip In embraces diversity with a healthy dose of quirkiness. This Travis Heights family-run operation is home to many personalities (Indian food restaurant, convenience store and live music venue to name a few), but it's also long been respected as one of the best spots for exceptional craft beer on tap. This year, they expanded their domain by installing a wine bar and, after obtaining permits to brew their own beer, released a “post-colonial” IPA made with local honey, grapefruit peel and lemongrass. The Whip In might not be flashy or hip, but it remains relevant in the face of constant change and continues to foster a sense of strong community among beer drinkers and brewers, solidifying its spot as one of the most reliable, laid-back staples for tasty beverages.
Easygoing porch cocktails with regional flair are the focus behind the bar at ranch-style restaurant Contigo. Dispensing a distinct Texas sensibility, the bar manager orchestrates menus according to season, employing fresh ingredients that are both approachable and attuned to the Southern palate. Though the cocktails are a delight, the beer wall, adorned with unassuming antlers for taps, should not be overlooked as it showcases a thoughtful number of local beers. Soaking up the evening ambiance at one of the many community tables on the patio, relaxing under swaying strings of porch lights and open Texas sky with a cool refreshment in hand almost solidifies the illusion that you're on a ranch outside the city limits.
While many craft cocktail bars are busy taking themselves too seriously, there's an unkempt, dusty dive in East Austin ready to welcome you in with cheap drinks and a romping good time. Armed with an arsenal of talent behind the stick, Bar Manager Justin Elliott removes the stuffiness from the craft cocktail experience, opting instead to emphasize irreverent, boozy fun. Vintage and off-the-wall original concoctions devised with a balance of both respect and snark are sold for far less money than other bars of arguably the same caliber. If cocktails don't tickle your fancy, draft and packaged beer of all sorts and a wide variety of spirits beckon from the back-bar. Cozy up on one of the tattered thrift-store couches for $2 punch during happy hour, pop open a cold canned lager on the back patio or shoot a tiny dram of Underberg bitters and get your groove on for one of the rotating DJ sets. Above all, leave your preconceived notions at the door and remember: The Volstead staff wants you to enjoy yourself above all else.
Poised on the front lines of the growing local craft beer scene, Bangers Sausage House and Beer Garden is one of the most captivating new places to grab a pint. The recently opened Rainey Street restaurant boasts the most ambitious wall-to-wall tap selection in the city (second largest in the state), and more importantly, a strategic and well-organized collection. Under the eagle eye of Certified Cicerone Chris Booth (formerly of Black Star Co-op), the amiable staff smartly guides customers through styles and characteristics of specialty taps. Mickie Spencer of East Side Show Room and Hillside Farmacy fame designed the attractive interior space, which is detailed and off-beat enough to please the most fierce interior design nerds. Outside, the spacious beer garden satiates Austin's never-ending desire for both live music and open dog-friendly patio space. Did I mention the sausage is out of this world?
The name Drink.Well is fitting for this North Loop neighborhood pub, as the husband and wife team running the show offer a trifecta of high-quality beer, wine and cocktail options. Mike Sanders democratically selects an even mix of American and local brews to fill the rotating eight taps. The congenial staff whips up classic cocktails with grace and care, and Bar Manager Tacy Rowland shines when given the opportunity to invent recipes. Jessica Sanders (who is also an executive sommelier) manages the wine program, hand-selecting the best bottles to complete the beverage trifecta. Though the stools are comfortable enough to spend an extended evening tasting from all corners of the menu, start with the Dead Man's Party. Rowland's boozy zombie-inspired, whiskey-fueled monster easily lands on my list of the best cocktails in the city.
In a city where the margarita spurs almost as much debate as city politics, a place that pushes the boundaries of how tequila should be treated in cocktail form (while maintaining its inherent agave integrity) deserves high praise. The drink menu rarely rotates at La Condesa, but it has many miles to go before becoming tired. The Margarita La Condesa changed the way I view the margarita and helped usher in a renewed focus on real juice in an otherwise oversaturated sea of frozen disasters and sweet-and-sour embarrassments. The invigorating pineapple, tobacco and vanilla-infused El Cubico also sits at the top of my list of best cocktails in the city. A light and airy Latin climate combined with tempting snacks, skilled staff and noteworthy happy hour specials make the bar at La Condesa one of Austin's finest drinking destinations.
Lustre Pearl kick-started Rainey Street's evolution, but Bridget Dunlap's second endeavor, Clive, set the tone for the district's future with a more polished atmosphere and better assembly of libations. The clean, modern interior is decked out in dark wood with minimal decoration, setting an understated but warm and inviting tone. A modest crop of beer taps resides in the back bar, surrounded by a significant medley of specialty spirits and liqueurs, and a recent overhaul of the cocktail menu elevates the experience. Clive's expansive layers of patio space are the main attraction, providing ample room for social gatherings. The grounds also offer an extra perk: The stone shack-turned-mezcal-bar out back is the first of its kind in Austin, and remains quite an otherworldly experience worth checking out at least once.
Austin's first and only absinthe bar remains one of the best places to find a great drink downtown. Not only does Peché serve classic pre-Prohibition cocktails with artistry, but the fluctuating list of imaginative chalk-board specials captures the attention of even the most discerning drinker as well. Owner Rob Pate can often be found mingling with patrons, handing out warm welcomes and hearty handshakes; his expertise on absinthe and obscure European spirits is unrivaled in town. You can trust that his staff will always be equally as welcoming and eager to assist you in finding a drink you will love, and they also succeed at keeping your water glass replenished, a crucial element that is often overlooked. When the noisy next door neighbors at Cedar Street aren't shaking the walls with their ‘80s cover bands, the sounds of 1920s jazz croon through the speakers, inviting you to imagine you've traveled back to the golden age of cocktails.
'Top Chef' winner Paul Qui and his partner Motoyasu Utsunomiya have expanded their Asian trailer empire in step with the growing East Austin nightlife, with spots at the Grackle, Liberty and Shangri-La (and coming soon to the campus-area Hole in the Wall). The offerings differ at each trailer, but you can't go wrong with any of them. A 'pho bun' packs velvety beef inside spongy white buns, backed by jalapeño, cooling cilantro, crispy shallots, stinging Sriracha, the tang of lime and robust Hoisin sauce. But if I can only pick one: the knobby pieces of deep-fried chicken karaage bathed in a sweet and spicy sauce.
This bedraggled trailer looks like it was dredged up from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and dragged to downtown, surfboards and all. But looks can be deceiving. The trailer serves amazingly fresh seafood (red snapper, trout, amberjack) and sustainable chicken and beef that you can stuff inside a po-boy overflowing with crisp produce or add to a salad.
Just as the name implies, Raymond Tatum's trailer in the parking lot of East End Wines leans on the pig for much of the menu, such as excellent tender Korean-style barbecued pork topped with carrot, daikon and the funky flash of kimchi and the bacon-wrapped cracklin' meatloaf served with smooth cheese grits and the vinegar pop of collard greens.
The rotisserie pork at Rosita's spins on a 'trompo' and glows like a beacon from the new large trailer in the parking lot of the strip center that's home to Rosita's brick-and-mortar restaurant. A bit of crunch crowds around the edges of the citrus-marinated pork that comes in slightly charred homemade tortillas topped with the floral tang of cilantro and onions.