As with the monthly heatmap, Eater has changed the way it updates the quarterly Eater 38 map, a compilation of Austin’s most essential restaurants. Rather than creating a brand new map every season, we’re just updating the previous one. In that vein, here is an ongoing list of the restaurants that have come off the 38 essentials map.
Retired in January 2024
Seoulju Korean Kitchen and Bar: For doubtlessly wonderful Korean food in Austin, look no further than this fun North Lamar restaurant from owner John Lee and his mother, chef Sang Mi Kang. The menu showcases staples such as crispy marinated Korean fried chicken, beef bulgogi rice plates, and kimchi pancakes. Don’t miss the hot pots, especially the loaded spicy rice cake hot pot — and, yes, go ahead and add that slice of cheese. Pickup orders can be placed online. Email reservations are required for groups of seven or more people. There are indoor dine-in services.
Kemuri Tatsu-ya: Texas meets Japan at this Lone Star-influenced izakaya in Holly from the team behind the city’s best noodle shop Ramen Tatsu-Ya. Eater Austin’s lively restaurant of 2017 is full of fun dishes, like tofu hot pocket skins stuffed with brisket and smoked gouda cheese. Elsewhere, the menu spans yakitori and smoked meats (the sharable smoked tuna collar is a must-order). There are indoor and outdoor dine-in areas.
Retired in October 2023
Patrizi’s: At this bustling Cherrywood Italian food truck, owners Nic and Matt Patrizi whip up some of the freshest pasta in Austin. The menu leans on the classics, like cacio e pepe, pomodoro, and the Leopold (made with basil and arugula pesto, served with pumpkin seeds and crushed red chiles). No order is complete without a side of meatballs. There’s a freestanding location out in Austin Lake Hills. Pickup orders can be placed online. Food truck host site Butterfly Bar offers indoor and outdoor dine-in areas.
Koriente: The pan-Asian restaurant is an underrated casual destination in downtown Austin, where owner Jay Lee and his mother serve up balanced and flavorful dishes, including many vegan and gluten-free items, like curries with rice medallions, japchae, and miso honey-glazed mahi mahi. Takeout orders can be placed over the phone, and third-party delivery is available. There is an outdoor dine-in area.
Tamale House East: The spirit of the long-gone Austin institution Tamale House lives on with this colorful east side restaurant, which is run by Diane Valera, the fourth generation of the Vasquez family, to oversee the institution. The migas are plentiful and tamales are abundant (the chicken one is a good bet). The patio is lush, and yes, there are cocktails and beer. Pickup orders can be placed online and keep in mind the restaurant is only open Friday through Sunday.
Retired in July 2023
Quality Seafood: The longstanding North Loop marketplace, run by Carol Huntsberger, takes advantage of its fresh seafood supply through its counter-service restaurant. The menu includes fresh oysters, shrimp cocktails, grilled/blackened fish, and po’ boys stuffed with fried seafood. The blackboard highlights the catches of the day for one-off specials. Pickup orders are placed online or over the phone. There are indoor dine-in services.
Epicerie: Sarah McIntosh’s charming and well-executed Rosedale cafe and grocery showcases what neighborhood dining should look and taste like, with a New Orleans/French touch. Epicerie’s attention to detail elevates every item on its menu from the pastas to the pastries. The table service spot works for a leisurely brunch or casual date night. To-go orders can be placed online. There are indoor dine-in services.
Retired in June 2023
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ: Pitmaster Miguel Vidal melds the best of what Austin has to offer — smoked meats and tacos — down in the far south region. The trailer has it all, from barbecue and tacos to sandwiches. Mornings are dedicated to exquisite breakfast tacos, especially the Real Deal Holyfield, with a fried egg, refried beans, and the giant sliced brisket add-on. Pickup orders can be made in person. There are outdoor dine-in areas.
Retired in April 2023
Julie’s Noodles: The Chinese food truck-turned-North Austin restaurant from Julie Hong boasts wonderful, thick, chewy noodles. The noodle soups are salves during colder days or when you need a warming pick-me-up (the stewed options — especially the lamb — are particularly great). Round off the order with some of the best soup dumplings in town. Pickup orders can be placed online. There are indoor dine-in services.
Otherside Deli: Some of the city’s best sandwiches can be found at the casual Old West Austin deli from co-owners Derrick Smith and Conor Mack. The pastrami is amazing, so you can’t go wrong with the classic sandwich, which pairs the meat with mustard on rye bread. To-go orders can be placed online, and there are indoor dine-in services.
Asiana: For outstanding South Asian food, head down to the far south Austin Indian restaurant from co-owners Pandiyan Kaliyamoorthy and Loganathan Appavu, found near William Cannon Drive and I-35. Dive right into the plethora of spicy curries (the lamb korma is nice) and naan. Pickup orders can be placed over the phone or in person. There are indoor dine-in services.
Retired in January 2023
The Peached Tortilla: It’s a tried-and-true Austin story: this Southern meets Asian food truck became so popular that owner Eric Silverstein was able to open a slightly more upscale restaurant space in Allandale. That’s where he and the team dish out an expanded comfort food menu that pulls from his upbringing in Tokyo and Atlanta raised by his Chinese-American mother and Jewish-American father. There are the kimchi arancini balls; a satisfying Hainan chicken; plus an array of tacos, salads, and bowls of noodles and rice. Pickup orders are placed online. There are indoor and outdoor dine-in services.
Evangeline Cafe: Choice Cajun fare can be found at this jovial far southwest restaurant from owner and chef Curtis Clarke. It’s a bonafide feast with chicken fried gator, hearty seafood gumbo, and plenty of catfish and crawfish dishes. There are indoor dine-in services.
Sichuan River: Austin’s best bet for Sichuan food is found in the no-frills South Austin restaurant off West Gate from owner Cindy Zhao. Bypass the Chinese-American selection for fiery dishes like the mapo tofu, spicy jumping fish, and exemplary spicy stir-fried chicken. Takeout orders can be placed online or over the phone. There are indoor dine-in services.
Retired in October 2022
Tamale House East: The spirit of the long-gone Austin institution Tamale House lives on with this colorful east side restaurant, which is run by Diane Valera, the fourth generation of the Vasquez family, to oversee the institution. The migas are plentiful and tamales are abundant (the chicken one is a good bet). The patio is lush, and yes, there are cocktails and beer. Pickup orders can be placed online.
Otoko: For a really special evening out, opt for the high-end omakase at the South Congress Hotel’s hidden Japanese restaurant. It’s where chef Yoshi Okai puts on a delicious magic show in his 12-seat restaurant, slicing and dicing and presenting 20 or so courses full of Tokyo-style sushi and Kyoto-style kaiseki right in front of everyone’s eyes. Reservations are required for the $275 indoor seatings.
Retired in July 2022
La Tunita 512: The ideal beef birria can be found at the Parker Lane truck, run by Gerardo Guerrero. The move is to order the stewed beef tacos (topped with onions and cilantro) and the consomé, and then dip said taco into the beefy broth for the ideal bite. If you’re ready for something more, opt for the quesotaco, where the tortilla is griddled with Monterey Jack cheese for an oozier experience. Pickup orders can be placed online or in person, and there are two outdoor tables for on-site service.
Buenos Aires Cafe: It’s all about Argentina at the fun and low-key east side restaurant from owner and chef Paola Guerrero-Smith. Meat is the centerpiece — grilled steaks, short ribs, and chicken — along with other South American specialties, such as empanadas and the beefy lomito sandwich. Make liberal use of the chimichurri sauce. Pickup orders are placed online, and the restaurant is open for indoor and outdoor dine-in services.
Emmer & Rye: From the grain-obsessed mind of James Beard Award finalist, executive chef, and co-owner Kevin Fink comes the finer-dining New American restaurant in downtown Austin, right on the edge of Rainey Street’s bar-packed district. The menu focuses on all things local with high-end dressings, from roasted beets to wagyu steak. Of special note are the pastas (cacio e pepe) and knockout desserts from executive pastry chef and co-owner Tavel Bristol-Joseph, such as the sweet potato cake. The restaurant is open for indoor and patio services.
Retired in April 2022
Kome: Co-owners Take and Kayo Asazu turned their popular but now-defunct sushi trailer Sushi A-Go-Go into a full-blown restaurant, offering their take on homestyle Japanese fare in the laid-back North Loop spot. Along with impeccable sushi and affordable rolls, there are bentos for those seeking a little bit of everything, loaded donburi bowls (the hokkaidon is a richly indulgent one with salmon sashimi, ikura, scallops; add the uni if available). Curbside pickup orders are placed online. The dining room remains closed.
Via 313: Detroit-style pizza in Austin? Hell yes. Brothers Brandon and Zane Hunt make some of the best pies in town, found at their restaurants and trucks. The hefty crusts serve as the foundation for melty cheese, then sauce, and then a variety of toppings. Choice selections include the Omnivore with both meat and vegetables; or the sweeter Cadillac made with fig preserves. Pickup orders are placed online; the three physical restaurants — Oak Hill, North Campus, and East Sixth — have opened for indoor and outdoor dine-in services, and the trucks’ host bars — Alibi on Rainey and Star Bar on West Sixth — are open for indoor and outdoor on-site services.
Suerte: The East Austin upscale Mexican restaurant’s executive chef Fermín Núñez is very into with masa, and it results in a fantastic menu. On deck daily are freshly made tortillas used in all sorts of ways, from luscious quesadillas and crispy tostadas to the mega-popular suadero tacos with juicy confit brisket. The restaurant is open for indoor and patio dine-in services.
Retired in January 2022
Crema Bakery and Cafe: The southwest Austin restaurant, from co-owners and spouses Jessica Forkner Tomberlin and Janessa Tomberlin, is the place for well-constructed cafe fare. Think baked goods and desserts (the cakes are heavenly) and solid sandwiches (can’t go wrong with the chicken salad on a croissant). Pickup and curbside orders can be placed online or in person, there are Favor deliveries, and the restaurant is open for indoor and outdoor dine-in services.
Slab BBQ: Robust barbecue sandwiches can be found at this casual restaurant from owner Raf Robinson. The substantial offerings range from the Notorious P.I.G., with pulled pork and mustard slaw, to the over-the-top B.C.B.C., packed with brisket and chicken breast. It’s a place where the bright smoky barbecue sauces are crucial ingredients of the smoked meats sandwiches. Outside the sandwich realm, there are pork ribs, barbecue rice bowls, nachos, and all sorts of sides (like brisket-studded mac and cheese). Pickup orders for both locations (the other in Oak Hill) can be placed online, there are third-party deliveries available (Uber Eats, Grubhub, and Favor), and the restaurants have indoor and outdoor dine-in services.
Retired in October 2021
Salt & Time: From co-owners Ben Runkle and Bryan Butler, the East Austin butcher shop with a focus on responsibly-raised meats also contains a great New American restaurant. Dinner is one of Austin’s terrific deals for high-quality charcuterie and steak, the lunchtime offerings include lots of meaty sandwiches, and the wine list is top-notch. Pickup orders are placed online, and there are deliveries through third-party company Caviar. The restaurant has reopened its patio for dine-in service.
Jack Allen’s Kitchen: Great, reliable, locally sourced food from a mid-century building, chef and owner Jack Gilmore’s Oak Hill restaurant is the suburban restaurant of your dreams. Hunker down with chicken-fried anything and good ol’ pimento cheese, plus decadent desserts from pastry chef Diana Sanchez (think blondie pies and chocolate tortes). Curbside pickups for all four locations (the others in 360, Round Rock, and West Anderson Lane) can be placed online, and the restaurants have reopened for dine-in services.
Retired in July 2021
Ramen Tatsu-ya: In pre-pandemic times, patrons would line up for all three locations of the ramen shop — the far north’s tiny strip mall spot, the larger South Lamar restaurant, and the cool East Sixth site — before opening hours, on hot or cold days, for good reason. The ramen, from co-owners and chefs Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto, is phenomenal. And now, the restaurant is offering takeout orders for the first time ever, making it that much easier for people to partake in thoughtful Japanese noodle soups. Along with the great broths, don’t forgo the katsu sliders, croquettes, and satisfying desserts. Pickup orders can be placed online, and all three locations are offering reservations only dine-in services.
Uchi: For those looking to spend half a paycheck, this new-school sushi institution on South Lamar is the restaurant, from James Beard Award winner chef and owner Tyson Cole. The traditional sushi is worth exploring, as is the popular hama chili with yellowtail sashimi, along with impeccable desserts from executive pastry chef Ariana Quant. For those who prefer to let the knowledgeable staffers steer their selections, you can call ahead for a customized order or opt for the omakase package. Curbside pickup orders can be placed online, and the restaurant has reopened for reservations-only dine-in service.
Tso Chinese Delivery: The fast-casual American-Chinese restaurant was ahead of the curve with its pickup and takeout-only service models. And on top of that, in response to the pandemic, the company, overseen by chief executive officer Min Choe, launched the #TsoGiving campaign as a way to give back to the community as much as possible. While the specific focus changes monthly, the intention remains the same: giving away free meals to those who need it, from families to laid-off service workers. The fact that the food is great is just an added bonus. The namesake General Tso Chicken is stellar and the drunken beef noodles are exceptional. Pickup and deliveries from the Cherrywood and Arboretum locations can be placed online.
Banger’s: The casual beer garden and sausage restaurant offers a welcomed, easy, and fun dining experience in the middle of the downtown entertainment district. Owner Ben Siegel and chefs Ted Prater and Thomas Malz easily translated the wide-ranging array of sausages (currywurst to duck/bacon/fig to a spicy Italian) and beer growlers into a well-rounded takeout menu. Pickup orders and DoorDash deliveries can be placed online, and the restaurant has reopened for patio dine-in service.
Retired in April 2021
Olamaie/Little Ola’s Biscuits: James Beard Award finalist Michael Fojtasek turned his elegant downtown restaurant into the decidedly more casual takeout shop Little Ola’s Biscuits in light of the pandemic. The menu is still Southern, from biscuits and biscuit sandwiches (the meaty ones are great) to dinner entrees like chicken fried steak to delectable pastries and desserts from chef Jules Stoddart. Don’t skip the well-crafted takeout cocktail menu from Erin Ashford. Pickup orders can be placed online.
L’Oca d’Oro: As the Mueller Italian restaurant continues to keep its dining room closed, L’Oca d’Oro shifted its model to a regular pickup subscription service for the time being. Co-owner and chef Fiore Tedesco’s weekly and monthly meals come with a variety of dishes, including plentiful house-made pastas, hearty dry-aged meats, and thoughtfully prepared vegetables. Likewise, co-owner and general manager Adam Orman has been championing the rights and well-being of restaurant workers for some time, and especially now during the pandemic, advocating for safe reopenings and financial relief from the city government. Pickup subscriptions can be placed online.
Retired in January 2021
Wink: The Clarksville New American restaurant pioneered high-end local sourcing in Austin, and the hidden-away strip mall restaurant from co-owners Mark Paul and Stewart Scruggs remains important. The knowledgeable and loyal staff provides some of Austin’s best service and suggestions. The takeout menu is a strong one, offering everything from burgers, crispy quail with babaganoush, to a chevre cheesecake. Pickup and curbside orders can be placed online or over the phone, and the restaurant has reopened for dine-in service. Order a la carte from the bar menu or opt for either of the two tasting courses, where the chefs will offer up their very best dishes in a dark, cozy setting.
Sassy’s Vegetarian Soul Food: Despite the name, owner and chef Andrea Dawson’s North Loop truck is dedicated to truly homey vegan soul food. The Chicon N Waffles are made with a crispy-fried chicken seitan and an eggless waffle; the Cajun mac and cheese is made with a vegan cashew nutri-cheese; and cabbage is fried in a butter substitute. Takeout orders can be placed in person or over the phone.
Retired in November 2020
Sugar Pine: The counter-service menu over at the casual and cute Japanese cafe in Wooten is divvied up into three sections. First, there’s the sturdy and perfectly seasoned onigiri with fillings like spicy tuna, ume shiso, or avocado. For something more filling, the second section features an array of bento boxes served helpfully in a cafeteria-style tray. Those mains range from katsu pork to chicken karaage to grilled salmon. Finally, there are the sweets, like the house-made ice creams with Japanese ingredients such as black sesame, taro root, or miso caramel (go all out with the matcha cone) and baked goods.
Fonda San Miguel: The high-end restaurant in Allandale is a classic for a reason: Fonda San Miguel is credited with really focusing on interior Mexican food into Austin, like cochinita pibil and rellenos. It’s an added bonus that the beautiful space is decked out by Mexican artwork. Plus there’s a stellar Sunday buffet brunch.
Xian Sushi: It’s all about hand-pulled noodles at the casual, table-service Chinese restaurant in Mueller. Chef and owner Ting Li and his team make the noodles right on the spot, with variations like vermicelli, pappardelle, and triangle-shaped, and various soups. The red-braised beef noodles with bok choy and potatoes are a big hit for a reason.
Hopfields: The French-leaning casual gastropub pays equal attention to its food as it does its beers in the Heritage neighborhood. Of the former, there are nicoise salads with plump pieces of yellowfin tuna and juicy burgers topped with creamy camembert cheese. The latter features a lengthy draft list, with local breweries and otherwise.
Dai Due: So regionally minded that even the beer and wine are exclusively from Texas, Cherrywood’s Dai Due is equally satisfying for a light breakfast or a major blow-out meat fest at dinner. The restaurant incarnation is everything Austin hoped for from the former farmers market stand/supper club from chef Jesse Griffiths. The Texas-forever menu includes everything from heavier dishes like giant rib-eyes, fried chicken, and wild boar confit, to lighter fare, like empanadas.
Jeffrey’s: Restaurateur Larry McGuire and chef/partner Tom Moorman brought new life into the refined dining room of classic restaurant Jeffrey’s in 2011. Diners can expect to either spend half a paycheck or opt for an affordable meal of pork chops and souffles at the elegant bar (Monday brings an all-night happy hour). The valets will park a ‘99 Corolla with as much panache as a Mercedes, so why not risk getting a little fancy?
Suerte: The East Austin upscale Mexican restaurant under chef Fermín Núñez is obsessed with masa. On deck daily are freshly made tortillas used in all sorts of ways, from luscious tlacoyos, crispy tostadas, to the mega-popular suadero tacos with just-rightly juicy confit brisket.
Saigon Le Vendeur: Banh mi is a simple sandwich, layered with pickled vegetables and meats like grilled pork or pate, and Saigon Le Vendeur does the Vietnamese specialty right from its East Austin food truck.
El Alma: The Bouldin Creek restaurant focuses on stellar interior Mexican cuisine from executive chef Alma Alcocer and the El Chile Group. The easygoing atmosphere and the beautiful rooftop deck (luckily hidden from the street) makes it just the place to relax with fine margaritas, melty queso, wholly satisfying rellenos, and meaty entrees.
Kemuri Tatsu-ya: Texas meets Japan with the Lone Star-influenced izakaya from the Ramen Tatsu-ya team in Holly. The Texas 38 restaurant’s focus is on small plates. The lively restaurant is full of fun dishes, like a take on Frito pie made with octopus, hot pockets with brisket, and brisket paired with uni. Then there is the expected like yakitori and smoked meats such as barbecue eel and fish collars, and, of course, ramen. The exotic and rarities menu features, well, just that, with items like marinated jellyfish and monkfish liver.
Intero: The refined Holly restaurant focuses on well-crafted Italian fare with a whole animal approach. This ethos lends itself to excellent house-made pastas paired with meats and vegetables (gnocchi with pork ragu and kimchi, agnolotti with wagyu beef confit and cauliflower), hearty entrees (smoked pork shoulder, stuffed quail), as well as really amazing vegetable plates (roasted butternut squash, charred cabbage). Even better: co-owner Krystal Craig runs Crave Artisan Chocolate, which means flavors like cinnamon peanut butter and honey, coconut, or salted caramel are available for post-dinner treats.
Justine’s: Justine’s menu of classic French food with an east side twist makes for a neighborhood classic. Late night parties, secret musical performances, and art shows lend to the buzzy, magical atmosphere of the convivial space. Plus, the reasonably priced wine list means this tucked-away gem is right for a long, lingering meal, which’ll have to include the steak frites.
Bombay Dhaba: Some of Austin’s best curries can be found at the Bouldin Indian food truck, where options include spiceful kormas, spinach, and vindaloo, served alongside rice. Portions are plentiful, as are the rotis (the jalapeno cheese one isn’t to be missed).
Launderette: From the superstar chefs Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki is Launderette, the stylish all-day neighborhood cafe in Holly. The Mediterranean-influenced menu means more upscale takes on on the usuals, like toasts topped with crab, grilled prawns, and burgers served on challah. Since pastry wizard Sawicki is involved, the birthday cake ice cream sandwich and other desserts are worth ordering.
Cafe Nena’i: The tiny homey bakery and cafe in Montopolis shelters excellent Latin American baked goods and bites from mother-and-daughter team Elena Sanguinetti and Gladys Benitez. Stock up on empanadas and sweets like alfajores and guava- or dulce de leche-filled doughnuts, while partaking in meaty sandwiches and caffeinating with espresso shots.
Retired in January 2020
Quality Seafood: The longtime Hyde Park marketplace up in Hyde Park makes use of its fresh seafood supply for its counter-service restaurant. The menu boasts fresh oysters (both raw and grilled), grilled or blackened fish, and po’ boys. The blackboard highlight catches of the day for one-off specials.
Lenoir: This tiny South Austin restaurant features dishes made with Texas-sourced ingredients (think grilled quail, heirloom tomatoes, berry tarts). Lenoir has majorly changed the way it works: the prix fixe menu is gone and in its place is a new a la carte menu, as well as a $60/person four-course tasting menu. Reservations are recommended since there are only about thirty seats available. The wine garden also features serves most of the restaurant dishes for a more casual evening along South First.
Contigo: Contigo is on the Texas 38 for good reason: the minimalist beer garden is the perfect setting for its menu, heavily featuring charcuterie and other meaty dishes. It’s the perfect example of Austin in restaurant form found right in the MLK neighborhood.
Retired in October 2019
Texas French Bread: The casual bistro and bakery focuses on a classic menu that seems simple, but goes above and beyond what neighborhood restaurants tend to serve. There are natural wines, crusty breads, and the excellent preserved sardines with toast, mustard, and cornichons.
El Naranjo: El Naranjo delivers the best taste of Oaxaca in Austin, thanks to James Beard Awards semifinalist chef Iliana de la Vega, who helms from the region of Mexico. The upscale Rainey Street restaurant focuses on interior Mexican food, like moles and chile rellenos.
Holy Roller: Really, Holy Roller is the restaurant manifestation of chef/owner Callie Speer. The funky, fun casual downtown Austin space is the backdrop for inventive, comforting foods that hit the spot consistently, like the migas kolache drenched in queso, French fries paired with soft serve, biscuit sandwiches loaded with Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew brisket, and daily pastries.
Retired in July 2019
Picnik: The casual Brentwood trailer-turned-restaurant is all about healthy food, where everything is sans gluten, corn, peanuts, and soy, which means it works for most food allergies. The day-long menu features butter coffees with optional Moon Dust powders, tacos with cassava flour tortillas, and ice cream sandwiches made with blondies. While there is table service for dine-in meals, the restaurant works for quick takeout bites too.
Musashino Sushi Dokoro: Most of the chefs behind Austin’s well known Japanese restaurants (Uchi, Ramen Tatsu-ya, Kome, Fukumoto) all worked and refined their sushi and restaurant skills at the longtime Japanese spot Musashino. While, yes, the Central Austin restaurant’s menu is a bit pricey, the atmosphere is casual, perfect for enjoying nigiri and hand rolls.
Kerlin BBQ: Pitmaster Bill Kerlin operates this under-the-radar barbecue trailer on East Cesar Chavez, smoking up fall-off-the-bone ribs and tender brisket. Even better: there are barbecue klobasnek served at the mini-trailer next door, stuffed with brisket, sausages, cheese, and more.
Retired in April 2019
Biderman’s Deli: Biderman’s Deli brings much-needed sandwiches and bagels to the Northwest Hill. The counter-service Jewish delicatessen serves up classic bagels loaded with cream cheese, lox, whitefish, and more. Then there are the classic sandwiches, from the standout Reuben to the pastrami/corned beef/chopped liver combination during daytime and early evening hours.
Enoteca Vespaio: Classic, casual Italian can be found at the Bouldin bistro, with an all-day menu full of pastas, charcuterie, and desserts like the very well-made tiramisu.
Retired in January 2019
Jack Allen’s Kitchen: Great, reliable, locally sourced food in a mid-century building, Jack Allen’s Kitchen is the casual suburban restaurant of your dreams out in Oak Hill. Hunker down with chicken-fried anything, from steak to beef ribs, and good ol’ pimento cheese. There are three other locations out on 360, West Anderson Lane, and Round Rock.
Otoko: For a really special evening night, opt for the high-end omakase at the South Congress Hotel’s hidden Japanese restaurant. Otoko chef Yoshi Okai puts on a magical show in the 12-seat restaurant, where he slices, dices, and packs together 20 or so courses full of with Tokyo-style sushi and Kyoto-style kaiseki right in front of everyone’s eyes. Reservations are $150.
888 Pan Asian: The general Asian restaurant is a lifeline for many Austinites in the East Riverside neighborhood. The menu spans Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese dishes, like warming bowls of curries, noodle soups like pho and egg noodles, and more, all at very affordable prices in a very casual setting.
Bouldin Creek: Beloved by denizens of the 78704 and beyond, Bouldin Creek Cafe offers a diverse menu of vegetarian fare, locally roasted coffee, and a taste of old-school Austin during the daytime and evenings. The vegetable sandwiches are legitimately delicious.
Swad: Indian restaurant Swad is one of those reliable vegetarian restaurants that doesn’t sacrifice flavor at all. It’s worth exploring the South Indian section of the casual restaurant’s menu, spanning all sorts of dosas, pani puris, and the thali, where you get a little bit of everything.
Retired in October 2018
Eastside Cafe: Chef/owner Elaine Martin’s longtime classic restaurant, which opened in 1988, was one of the first in Austin to take advantage of local farms (co-founder Dorsey Barger now runs Hausbar Urban Farm). This means Texas dishes made with fresh ingredients like smoked salmon ravioli, enchiladas, and panko-pecan chicken. The pies, especially the buttermilk one, aren’t to be missed, especially considering there’s an on-site pie shop, Elaine’s, too.
Din Ho Chinese BBQ: For the finest Beijing duck, roast pork, and marinated meats, Din Ho’s Chinese barbecue is the answer in far north Austin in an easy-going setting with reasonable prices. Elsewhere on the menu, dive into other dishes like sea cucumbers with duck web and deep-fried intestines.
Sway: The modern Australian Thai restaurant doesn’t shy away from flavorful, actually spicy food in Bouldin, all in more upscale space that emphasizes communal dining. The son-in-law dish (crispy egg and braised pork shoulder) and jungle curry are surefire hits. There’s a second location up in Rock Rose.
Retired in July 2018
Ramen Tatsu-ya: Patrons line up for both locations of the ramen shop — the far north’s tiny strip mall spot and the larger South Lamar restaurant — before opening hours, on hot or cold days, for good reason. The staff is friendly, the space is buzzing, and the ramen is phenomenal. Along with the killer broths, don’t forgo the katsu sliders, hush piggies, and satisfying desserts.
Barley Swine: Bryce Gilmore delivers exactly what one expects from the Texas-focused chef: some of the most pleasurable dining experiences in Austin. While his original restaurant relocated from its old home to Brentwood, Barley Swine still maintains its Texas-forever vibe with more elaborate New American experimental dishes with Texas cores, such as shiitake pasta and barbecue butternut squash. The larger space affords two different types of service, with both tasting and a la carte menus.
Epicerie: Sarah McIntosh’s charming and well-executed cafe and grocery showcases what neighborhood dining should look like, with a New Orleans/French touch, in Rosedale. From the in-house cured meats to the grits reminiscent of risotto, Epicerie’s attention to detail elevates every item on its menu. The table service spot is great for a leisurely brunch or casual date night.
Kome: Take and Kayo Asazu turned their popular but now-defunct sushi trailer Sushi A-Go-Go into a full-blown restaurant, offering their take on home-style Japanese fare in the Hyde Park spot. It relocated just down the street into a larger space. Lunch is served teishoku-style (fixed menu with a dish, rice, and sides), and later on, there are shared plates for dinner. Most rolls run under $10.
Mi Madre: Cherrywood’s Manor Road has become a culinary destination, and the classics found in the area are definitely worth exploring. Few restaurants do neighborhood Tex-Mex with more warmth than Mi Madre’s. Indulge in the massive spread of migas or some killer enchiladas (which’ll also cure that hangover).
Olamaie: Refined, welcoming, and inventive, Olamaie is back to form. Chef Michael Fojtasek may draw influences from across the American south, but he’s also remarkably committed to local sourcing, especially from Austin’s urban farms. Remember to order the off-menu biscuits, which pair well with Hoppin’ John. Don’t overlook the refreshing cocktail program from Erin Ashford. The finer dining setting works well for group dinners, dates, and special occasions.
Micklethwait Craft Meats: Pitmaster Tom Micklethwait is diligent about making everything himself, which means his Central East Austin trailer rounds out the holy trinity of Austin’s smoked meats spots. Besides brisket, there are creative sausages. And, hey, it’s Michelle Obama-approved.
Easy Tiger: This bake shop and beer garden nails the winning Austin formula: in-house bread and pastries, craft beer, outdoor games (hello, ping pong), and a friendly neighborhood atmosphere in the most improbable of places: Dirty Sixth. Make use of the massive outdoor area with giant pretzels and sausages in hand. It’s so popular that it is quickly expanding throughout Austin. There is an outpost within Whole Foods’ 365 Market in Cedar Park, plus new locations forthcoming in the Linc and the city’s first food hall, Fareground.
Salt & Time: The butcher shop with a focus on responsibly-raised meats also offers a mean brunch and lots of meaty sandwiches. The dinner service is one of Austin’s terrific deals for high-quality charcuterie and steak on the outskirts of Holly.
La Barbecue: The city boasts an embarrassment of world-class smokey meats, and La Barbecue gives Franklin a run for its money from its new brick and mortar home on East Cesar Chavez, within the Quickie Pickie. Predictably, the lines are running longer and longer — up to two hours on the weekends — but on weekdays, it’s still possible to have a casual lunch of world-class barbecue. Go for the brisket and sausages.
Pitchfork Pretty: To chef Max Snyder, Hill Country cuisine means Texas ingredients with original takes, like fried chicken with gluten-free-friendly chickpea flour, pickled quail eggs, and cornbread served with honey-miso butter. The simple yet stunning space on East Cesar Chavez works well for groups as well as dates.
Taste of Ethiopia: Pflugerville restaurant Taste of Ethiopia brought its array of African dishes to South Congress. Stews, spiced meats, and simmered vegetables are served on sharable injera, a round spongy bread. Go for the vegetarian sampler and wash it down with some honey wine.
Retired in April 2018
Apis: Chef Taylor Hall turned Spicewood into a fine dining destination with casual leanings with their New American restaurant, where the thoughtful dishes incorporate seasonal ingredients, including, of course, honey from the on-site hives. Take advantage of prix fixe or happy hour menus and pop into the casual next-door pizzeria, Pizzeria Sorellina, too.
El Primo: The tiny taco cart on South First gets crowded quickly for good reason: the tacos are just that good. Fillings are simple, from breakfast tacos with eggs, cheese, sausages to barbacoa and carne asada during lunch. Remember, it’s cash-only.
Retired in January 2018
Wink: Wink pioneered high-end local sourcing in Austin, and the hidden-away strip mall restaurant in Clarksville remains essential. The knowledgeable and loyal staff provides some of Austin’s best service. Order a la carte from the bar menu or opt for either of the two tasting courses, where the chefs will offer up their very best dishes in a dark, cozy setting.
East Side King Thai Kun: East Side King’s Thai Kun trailer, from Paul Qui, Thai Changthong, and Motoyasu Utsunomiya, dishes out Thai-inspired dishes ranging from mild (still hot) to spicy (way hotter) from both its trailer and brick and mortar. Order the beef panang curry with a paired cocktail from the trailer’s home at Whisler’s. Then head up to the Domain Northside for a wider array of offerings, including family-style dishes.
Papalote: A South Austin favorite, Papalote can cure anyone’s pastor cravings or lighten up lunch with its lauded cauliflower taco. The breakfast tacos are no joke either, and true masa fans should check out the tlacoyos and huaraches. There’s a second Papalote in North Austin, too.
Retired in October 2017
Noble Sandwich Co.: Obsession with meat and bread wins Noble Sandwich Co. a spot on the list; the fact that it has stellar sandwiches in northwest Austin doesn’t hurt, either. Order the smoked duck pastrami and the namesake Noble Pig, full of spicy ham, pulled pork, and bacon. Check out the more central location at 4805 Burnet, too.
Szechuan House: Skip the American-style Chinese menu offerings and go straight for the Sichuan specialties in the North Burnet restaurant. Red oil wontons, mapo tofu, and sliced fish with fiery sauce are all standouts. Offal lovers, there’s a great deal of pork intestine on this menu.
Second Bar and Kitchen: The more casual sibling to David Bull’s now-departed fine dining restaurant Congress, Second makes an art out of bar food right in downtown Austin. See: the spicy fried pickles and the Bar Congress burger, which transforms into a fully-loaded one with additions like foie gras, an egg, avocado, smoked pork belly, double meat, and double cheese, too.
Retired in July 2017
Nubian Queen Lola’s Cajun Soul Food: Austin’s first-rate Cajun soul food also has a conscience: owner Lola Stephens volunteers her time and cooking abilities to the homeless on a regular basis. Diners feel like they’re inside Lola’s home in Central East Austin, while she’s whipping up po-boys, etoufee, red beans, rice, and cornbread. Keep in mind it’s cash-only and hours can be spotty. [Lola’s is now closed.]
Pho Saigon: This outpost of the Houston mini-chain is Austin’s best bet for pho, along with rice plates and bun bowls, if the noodle soup isn’t your thing. Making the trek up to far north Austin is also a great excuse to stop by MT Supermarket, and explore the other wonders of what is essentially the city’s Chinatown area.
Retired in April 2017
Asiana: For outstanding Indian food, head down south to Asiana, near William Cannon Drive and 35. Dive right into the plethora of perfectly spicy curries and giant dosas.
Retired in January 2017
Foreign & Domestic: Chef Ned Elliott’s inventive New American cuisine makes this North Loop neighborhood restaurant a winner. F&D is uniquely engaged with, and inspired by, the larger culinary community (it hosts pop-up dinner series De La Terre). Enjoy the wine, shareable entrees, and don’t overlook the oysters on Tuesdays.
Curra’s Grill: Out in Travis Heights, go for the extremely delicious Tex-Mex, stay for the creamy boozy avocado margaritas. It goes with everything, including brunch.
Retired in October 2016
Olamaie: Refined, welcoming, and inventive, Olamaie is racking up well-deserved national acclaim. Chef Michael Fojtasek may draw influences from across the American South, but he’s also remarkably committed to local sourcing, especially from Austin urban farms. Remember to order the off-menu biscuits, which pair well with Hoppin’ John, chicken with black pepper gravy, and more.
Tacodeli: High-quality ingredients and innovative combinations make for some great new-school tacos in town. The dona sauce inspires cultish fervor for a reason. Go for the beef and seafood-filled tacos. The original is found in Barton Hills, but there are four other locations for everyone’s taco needs.
Counter 3.Five.VII: The innovative high concept restaurant revolves around New American tasting menus, from three-, five-, to seven seasonally-inspired courses. The counter-only space means there are no servers and no tipping involved, so the dishes become the stars. Opt for the reasonable three-course meal, coming in at $45.
Retired in July 2016
Tam Deli: Cheap and tasty Vietnamese food can be found at Tam Deli, where banh mi, pho, and cream puffs are really not to be missed.
Retired in April 2016
Qui: Paul Qui and his team are on a mission of exploration at his flagship restaurant. Diners can choose from 3 Qui’s: the affordable and delicious Filipino pub food on the patio, a perfectly paced tasting menu in the main dining room, or the blow-out and mind-blowing ticketed tasting room.
Wink: Wink pioneered high-end local sourcing in Austin, and the hidden-away strip mall restaurant remains essential. The knowledgeable and loyal staff provides some of Austin’s best service. (Brought back to the map in October 2016.)
Retired in January 2016
Barley Swine: One of Austin’s best and most unique restaurants, Bryce Gilmore’s higher-end restaurant lives up to the hype. The Texas-sourced tasting menu means you never have to decide what not to order, and its stellar beer list is a standout.
Kyoten: While eating outside in the private garden at Kyoten trailer on East Sixth might seem strange, it’s perfectly suitable for its high-quality, sustainable fish. Plus, it’s BYOB.
Retired in October 2015
Swift’s Attic: The inventive and playful Swift’s Attic is all about the dining mash-up. From the Monday night Big Ass Burgers to the remixed childhood classic desserts, it’s a restaurant unafraid to have fun.
Amaya’s Taco Village: Hidden away next to I-35, Amaya’s is one of North Austin’s best bets for tacos and Tex Mex. There’s a second location that’s open in Southpark Meadows as well. Whatever you do, don’t skip the margarita.
Fricano’s Deli: Hands down the best place for sandwiches in town. With a huge menu full of difficult decisions, order the Ainsworth and let the cooks make the hard choices for you.
Retired in July 2015
LaV: Chef Allison Jenkins’ modern-yet-classic Provencal menu paired with pastry superstar Janina O’Leary’s desserts makes LaV sing. Yes, you can easily drop half a paycheck on wine alone, but their extensive list also features great deals at a much more reasonable price point. Don’t skip the chicken liver pate.
La Condesa: La Condesa’s high-end take on Mexico City dining makes for a great sophisticated dinner out. The fact that the same restaurant can also host one of Austin’s most inviting brunches is a neat trick. The margaritas are some of Austin’s best, but don’t skip exploring their extensive selection of tequila.
Counter Cafe: Though it occasionally has long waits, this tiny restaurant serves some of the best locally-sourced food we’ve had in a town wild for locally-sourced food. And, yes, its famous burgers are amazing.
Retired in October 2013
SPIN Modern Thai
Mother’s Cafe and Garden
Retired in April 2013
Retired in January 2013
South Congress Cafe
Retired in October 2012
Retired in July 2012
Buenos Aires Cafe
Casino El Camino
Retired in April 2012
Habanero Mexican Cafe
Retired in January 2012
Blue Dahlia Bistro
East Side Showroom
Home Slice Pizza
Retired in October 2011
East Side Pies