The ever-growing city of Austin is the epicenter of oak-smoked barbecue and the greasy foothold of Tex-Mex fare. There are just so many restaurants and food trucks taking advantage of the surprisingly abundant bounty the hot climate provides. This guide cuts through all the noise out there, delivering you straight to the heart of an incredibly exciting dining and drinking scene in the heart of Texas.
Welcome to the Land of Tacos and Meat
It's no secret that Austin strives to keep things weird, and this sentiment extends to its culinary scene. The ample selection of excellent Tex-Mex and barbecue is given at this point. But not everyone knows that this is the city where everyone tests out ideas with food trucks, which pop up every which way to see what dishes really stick enough to expand with their own physical restaurants. The city also takes pride in sourcing locally, despite the heat and levels of drought Central Texas often faces. It all fuses together to create that specific oh-so-very Austin brand of eating and drinking.
For a quick Austin food snapshot, don't miss Franklin Barbecue's perfectly tender brisket, the mighty migas taco from Veracruz All Natural’s food trucks and restaurants, cauliflower tater tots and the ideal queso from Better Half, the craveable gelato from Dolce Neve, and brisket kobasniky from Kerlaches.
Where to Start on Eater Austin’s Best Maps
Eater puts out a lot of maps, updating them regularly to guide the hungry and curious. There are the basics, like brunch, cocktails, and coffee, alongside other necessities, like pizza, burgers, patios, and much more. Looking for faster answers? We’ve highlighted several top points from the most popular and crucial maps to save time.
Hot Restaurants: Hot Restaurants: Hands down, one of the best new restaurants right now in Austin is Ramen Del Barrio, the little food court stall within the Hana World Market up in North Austin, slinging the most perfect Japanese-Mexican ramen bowls. The mole tsukemen is an instant favorite.
Essential Restaurants: Eater award-winning truck Con Todo has quickly become one of those defining restaurants of Austin. Chef Joseph Gomez serves up a very thoughtful menu stemming from his Rio Grande Valley roots, topping tostadas with chorizo, potatoes, and melty white cheese to cauliflower tacos. Host site Celis Brewery rounds out the experience with Austin-brewed beers.
Bars: Cocktail bar the Roosevelt Room is the place to go for every single type of cocktail imaginable, expertly made.
Barbecue: Along with Franklin Barbecue (obviously), check out Eater Austin award-winning food truck Distant Relatives, where pitmaster Damien Brockway and his team explore the African roots of smoked meats and other related dishes.
Breakfast Tacos: For the ultimate egg-filled tortillas, you can’t go wrong with Veracruz All Natural’s options. Otherwise, head to the no-frills truck El Primo on South First (bonus: you can place online orders for both).
Tacos: Everybody loves tacos and Austin is inundated with such excellent choices. The Mexico City-style offerings of Central East Austin truck Cuantos Tacos are a must.
Birria Tacos: The red taco craze is still strong in the city, and your best bet for quesabirria tacos is South Congress truck Sabor Tapatio.
Food Trucks: In a city brimming with food trucks and trailers, look out for the spicy fare from Thai truck Dee Dee and exquisite pasta from Italian truck Patrizi’s.
Margaritas: The tequila cocktail is so very prevalent, and downtown Mexican restaurant La Condesa’s margaritas aren’t to be missed, mixed with fresh pineapple juice.
Beer: Beer lovers should head to the longtime brewery Live Oak’s sprawling home in Del Valle. For those in the South Austin area, Meanwhile Brewing has become a perfect beer destination.
If you only have one day in Austin: here is your perfect eating and drinking itinerary.
If you only have one day in Austin and you just want to eat tacos: yes, there’s a specific guide for that.
If you’re an out-of-towner visiting Austin: scope out these maps and guides, curated just for you.
Austin Food Neighborhoods to Know
It's easy to split Austin into three regional parts: North Austin, Central Austin, and South Austin. But those sections comprise separate neighborhoods — each with its own identity. The following are the areas of the city food lovers should get to know very well, complete with plenty of recommendations.
On the other side of Highway 35, East Austin has changed over the years as the center of rapid gentrification. Developments led to a slew of newer restaurants right next door to older establishments. Go back in time with a simple plate of migas and biscuits from Cisco’s, a Tex-Mex greasy spoon full of political history. For caffeine, dip down to East Fifth for stellar cafe Wright Bros. Brew & Brew. From the multitude of food trucks in the area, the not-that-far trek to East Cesar Chavez for one of the city’s best and most affordable taco trucks Las Trancas (opt for one of the offal ones). Or if you want drinks, head to Whisler’s for nice cocktails or natural wine bar LoLo’s for its well-curated list. End the evening at dive bar White Horse, full of two-steppin' and cheap beer.
The laid-back vibe of Austin lives on across the Colorado River within the South Austin area. Go straight for the area’s main artery South Lamar Boulevard. Here, you can wake up in the morning with well-made lattes and pastries from Patika. Book dinner at Odd Duck, brimming with local ingredients and bread. New-school sushi might seem surprising for such a landlocked city, but you’d be wrong to write Uchi off. Take advantage of the great deals found during the sushi restaurant’s sake social hour. Line up at Ramen Tatsu-ya for restorative noodle soup in a fun space or luck into a reservation at its next-door tiki wonderland Tiki Tatsu-ya. Those seeking thoughtful wines paired with excellent dishes should seek out Aviary. Under-the-radar barbecue truck Brown’s Bar-B-Que is worth a stop for stellar smoked meats. Night owls can take a spin through P. Terry’s drive-thru for solid burgers.
As hotels, high-rises, and office buildings go up, restaurants and bars continue to open in the center of the city, feeding the growing crowds of locals and tourists gaping at the Texas State Capitol or waiting for the bats to emerge. Coffee fans should hit up Houndstooth, where the baristas care deeply about every cup poured. A Top Chef fan? Check out the Line Austin Hotel’s flagship restaurant Arlo Grey, from Season 10 winner Kristen Kish. Brave the Dirty Sixth hoards to find your way into hidden-within-a-parking-garage bar Small Victory. Dance the rest of the night away at LGBTQ patio bar Cheer Up Charlie’s.
For a break from the tourist-heavy neighborhoods in Austin, check out Cherrywood, northeast of downtown. It’s home to some excellent casual restaurants like Hoover’s — the place to go for down-home Southern fare like chicken fried steak and pie — and Patrizi’s, a trailer with fresh pasta in an open-air bar (look out for the residential cats). Fans of farm-to-table dining must check out Dai Due — chef Jesse Griffiths runs his own hunting and butchering classes. And for a complete night out in one building, head to Mi Madre’s for excellent tacos and Mexican fare before going upstairs to Techo Mezcaleria & Agave Bar for an agave flight.
Austin Glossary of Terms
Bowl of Texas red:
Real Texas chili, no beans at all.
The crispy bark from the often-fattiest portions of brisket.
Beef steak that is pan-fried like fried chicken. Usually doused in white-pepper gravy.
Kolache and klobasniky:
The first is pastry filled with sweet cheese and fruit, and the latter is a savory pastry filled with meat.
A mix of eggs, fried tortillas, and cheese, with optional vegetables, served on a plate, with tortillas or in taco form.
A margarita served in a martini glass, with olive brine.
Heavy, creamy cheese dip that is often made with low-grade cheese and served with chips. A Tex-Mex restaurant is often measured by the quality of its queso.
A highly popular sparkling water brand. It works well on its own, mixed in cocktails, or paired with coffee. It’s what many bars and restaurants turn to as their non-alcoholic beverage of choice since Topo Chico was purchased by Coca-Cola thereby making what had been Texas’s go-to sparkling mineral water far too expensive. See also: Richard’s Rainwater and Waterloo.
Reservations to Make in Advance
Barley Swine, Dai Due, DipDipDip Tatsu-ya, El Naranjo, Emmer & Rye, Foreign & Domestic, Hestia, Jeffrey’s, Kemuri Tatsu-ya, L’Oca d’Oro, Lenoir, Odd Duck, Otoko, Small Victory (drinks), Suerte, Tiki Tatsu-ya, Toshokan, Lutie’s, Midnight Cowboy (drinks), Uchi, Uchiko
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