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The new sidewalk patio at Bufalina
The new sidewalk patio at Bufalina
David Brendan Hall/EATX

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With Major Limitations on Indoor Seating, Austin Restaurants Ramp Up Their Patio Game

From Neapolitan pizzeria Bufalina’s parking-lot patio to coffee shop Barrett’s North Austin oasis

Austinites love their patios — they’re pretty much built into the DNA of the city’s restaurant scene. Now, with major limitations on indoor seating and general social-distancing requirements resulting from the novel coronavirus pandemic, patios have become essential to the survival of restaurants, since outdoor dining is considered less risky than indoor dining.

With that in mind, Eater took a closer look at how seven Austin restaurants have adapted to the health crisis by adding patio space and slightly altered services. For restaurants without patios, such as North Austin coffee shop Barrett’s and East Austin Mexican restaurant Nixta Taqueria, expanding outdoor seating was a natural transition. Others without already suitable alfresco areas — like Neapolitan pizzeria Bufalina and fine dining establishment Jeffrey’s — had to apply for temporary permits through the city of Austin. The new Shop the Block program allows businesses to convert adjacent sidewalks, parking spaces, streets, alleys, or travel lanes into temporary new patios, thereby expanding their dining capacities. Either way, new dining areas mean new service parameters, so things may feel a little different for returning patrons.

Bufalina

Six tables and chairs sit in front of a low, tan brick building with ivy growing over its left half. The tables are covered in red-and-white-checked tablecloths.
The new patio at Bufalina takes over the restaurant’s front parking lot.
Another shot of the outdoor dining area with red and white table clothes and a sandwich sign in the foreground.
Bufalina’s reservations-only patio tables are available in groups of two or four.

Back in September, after receiving a Shop the Block permit, Neapolitan pizzeria and wine restaurant Bufalina owner Steven Dilley pulled tables out of the dining room for outdoor service. The setup comprises six tables adorned with the familiar white-and-red-checkered tablecloths separated from the street by several planters. The full menu of pizzas, sides, desserts, and wine is accessible using QR codes at each table, and diners pay via check brought out by a server. The reservations-only seatings are limited to three two-hour blocks per night (5:30, 7:30, and 9:30 p.m.) through Tock. Masks are required until parties are seated. Takeout is still available throughout the day.

Nixta Taqueria

A grassy backyard with two rows of green picnic tables lines vertical with bright yellow umbrellas
The backyard patio at Nixta Taqueria
An outdoor patio with gravel flooring and wooden awning and wood picnic tables in front of a brightly colorful moural and an outdoor wooden bar
Nixta’s side patio is covered and includes its own dedicated bar

East Austin Mexican restaurant Nixta Taqueria has debuted not one, but two patios. First, there’s the new backyard space along East 12th Street, which appeared in August, and then its already-existing side gravel-lined covered patio and bar along Cedar Avenue, which finally opened for service in September. For the larger lawn space, co-owners chef Edgar Rico and Sara Mardanbigi aimed for a “no-fuss, no-frills old Austin” vibe, with six bright and shaded picnic tables, string lights, and a pair of lush planters (“It feels like you’re in a friend’s backyard,” says Mardanbigi). QR codes are available at each table for ordering the full array of tacos, tostadas, cocktails, and natural wines, or customers can pay over at the pre-existing outdoor bar (though no cash is being accepted). Seating is first come, first served all day on weekends and weekday evenings, with plans to extend to all-day hours throughout the week in the near future.

Jeffrey’s

An outdoor seating area on the street along the sidewalk curb with white tablecloth tables, red chairs, heating lamps, and a wooden fence
Jeffrey’s patio makes use of tree planters and red chairs for ambience
The outdoor street patio fenced in by a light wooden fence
A wooden fence separates Jeffrey’s patio from the street

For the first time since 1975, Clarksville fine dining classic Jeffrey’s is offering outdoor dining. Its new patio, permitted through Shop the Block, took over the restaurant’s valet area and was completed in October. Six white-tablecloth-covered tables and red chairs (for a nice pop of color) are bordered by a simple yet elegant wooden fence and a row of trees in planters. String lights adorn the restaurant itself. It’s meant to convey a sense of patio normalcy, as if it were always there. General manager Chase Layton says the aim was to give the seating area the casual feel of Jeffrey’s indoor lounge space.

Everything from the regular menu is available outside, which means, yes, people can pair that porterhouse steak with one of Austin’s stellar sunsets. To equalize the experience within and without, patrons may now order dishes previously only available at the lounge bar (including the dry-aged prime wagyu burger) and happy hour specials throughout the patio space. Menus are printed on recyclable paper, the 750-bottle-strong wine list is accessible via iPads sanitized after every use, and payment is completed through a QR code provided on each check. Three of the six tables are reservable for three two-hour blocks per night (5, 7, and 9 p.m.) by call-ahead reservation only, with the remaining three tables available to walk-ins.

Barrett’s Coffee

Four light-colored picnic tables outside, two placed horizontally, the others placed vertically along the right, on top of astroturf bordered by a low brick fence and covered with a hanging sheet in front of a dark building with a color tag mural to the left
The new back patio at Barrett’s Coffee
Two picnic tables with white umbrellas along the right on top of green astro turf in front of a blue building with an awning next to a paved parking lot
Barrett’s new front patio

North Austin micro-roastery Barrett’s Coffee managed to avoid the crush of citywide dine-in service closures back in March by immediately switching to walk-up window service. In the meantime, it completed its new back-patio buildout while putting two additional tables out front over the summer. Founder Travis Kizer says it was designed to feel like “an oasis” hidden from the nearby high traffic flow, a shaded chill zone of four brightly painted picnic tables atop AstroTurf, surrounded by plants and marked by the occasional pink flamingo reminiscent of Pee-Wee Herman’s iconic front lawn. After picking up some freshly pulled espresso, pour-over coffee, cold brew, or house-roasted beans, customers can settle on the patio, replete with extended Wi-Fi, power outlets, and USB charging stations.

Korea House

A pond lined by a stone fence in front of a restaurant patio with diners in front of a one-story building with trees
Korea House’s new patio faces a pond
People sitting at dining tables lined along the exterior of a building outside
Korea House set up tables right alongside the restaurant’s sidewalk
An outdoor restaurant patio with tables lined along the exterior of the building as well as a deck with two tables
Korea House expanded with a new patio deck for additional dining space

Usually, Korean food is meant to be enjoyed with a group around a table featuring a built-in grill, so when North Shoal Creek restaurant Korea House moved its tables outside in September, emulating that DIY experience was the biggest challenge. Co-owners EJ and CK Kim pulled it off by adding portable grills, brought out to diners at any of the six tables, which face a serene, oak-shaded garden and pond, conveniently already a fixture of the space. If operating a grill feels daunting, don’t worry — servers are trained to provide easy instructions and, according to the owners, customers have reported that cooking their own food makes it taste that much better. Patio dining is strictly walk-in, first come, first served.

Central District Brewing

A barrel keg with two bar seats are placed outside of a building and its greenery area on a sidewalk next to a Duck Tour bus
Central District Brewing turned a keg into a makeshift table for two within its sidewalk patio
Three people sit at a short picnic table outside in front of a building, two people on one site and one person is drinking, and a younger person on the other side, and there is a dog underneath the table.
The available tables on Central District Brewing’s patio are spaced out further than the six foot requirement

Nestled on the cozy downtown corner of East Fifth and Red River streets, Central District Brewing launched its sidewalk patio setup when it reopened for on-site business over Memorial Day weekend. Though beer must be ordered and paid for at the bar inside, new food items like soft baked pretzels and savory empanadas are delivered straight to one of the six outdoor tables (moved from the indoor taproom), which are spaced out in well-over-six-foot increments, according to the city’s Shop the Block permit, along the sidewalk facing the convention center. Those hot food items are optional, but every drink order includes a snack-sized bag of pretzels to meet new bar-to-restaurant permitting. Tables are available on a first come, first served basis.

Lenoir

A two-level gravel-lined restaurant garden with a long white picnic table and accompanying benches to the left, black chairs to the right
The patio dining area at Lenoir’s garden
An outdoor restaurant garden with several round tables with chairs, a large tree with hanging lanterns, and a wooden bar structure to the right with an illustration of a pick-up truck
Lenior’s patio features socially distanced tables and its already-existing outdoor bar

Bouldin Creek fine dining staple Lenoir’s dining room is very small — 400 square feet — and designed for communal eating, so the restaurant needed to shift to an entirely outdoor experience to maintain service. Thankfully, co-owners and chefs Jessica Maher and Todd Duplechan already had a great space available: the on-site, fenced-in, oak-shrouded backyard and bar. This revamped outdoor space, which originally served as the waiting area for the restaurant and the casual wine garden, reopened in July. To emulate the elegant environment of their original space, Maher and Duplechan deconstructed their impressive chandelier, painted portions to match the white fences, and hung individual lights artfully above the 11 socially distanced tables. Recently, they expanded the space with an additional landing that fits six more tables, which can be tented with heaters during colder weathers.

Instead of its usual prix fixe offering, the menu now comprises a variety of a la carte small plates, sandwiches, large plates, and desserts, all designed for the alfresco ambience and derived from the same standard of seasonal ingredients customers have come to expect. With a capacity of 65 people — double what the restaurant could accommodate indoors — walk-ins are readily available, pending fullness by reservation.

Nixta Taqueria

2512 East 12th Street, , TX 78702 (512) 551-3855 Visit Website

Barrett's Coffee

713 West Saint Johns Avenue, , TX 78752 (512) 677-7667 Visit Website

Bufalina

1519 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX 78702 (512) 524-2523 Visit Website

Korea House

2700 W Anderson Ln, Austin, TX 78757 (512) 458-2477

Central District Brewing

417 Red River Street, , TX 78701 (512) 993-4511 Visit Website

Jeffrey's

1204 West Lynn Street, , TX 78703 (512) 477-5584 Visit Website

LENOIR

1807 South 1st Street, , TX 78704 (512) 215-9778 Visit Website
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