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An Eater’s Guide to Austin

Unofficial, highly opinionated information about the Texas capital

A river flanked by land full of buildings, roads, and green areas during sunset
Austin is an amazing dining city
Roschetzky Photography/Shutterstock

This 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 a 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.

Currently, as COVID-19 cases increase in Travis County, Austin Public Health urges unvaccinated and vaccinated people to wear masks while indoors, which includes restaurants and bars (people are allowed to take their masks off while seated for eating and drinking purposes). The local health department also urges all eligible people to get vaccinated as soon as possible. As with all businesses, be sure to call ahead to make sure each place is still open or if there are updates on current offerings and service models, as things do change.

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, cauliflower tater tots and the ideal queso from Better Half, the craveable gelato from Dolce Neve, and surprisingly amazing ramen from Ramen Tatsu-ya.

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.

An outlined-multi-colored art sculpture that reads “atx” on a pedestal outside
The ATX artwork by Chase Meyers in downtown Austin
Shutterstock

Hot Restaurants: The city’s hottest new dining destination is New American restaurant 1417, from members of the Hopfield’s team. Sit out on the patio and enjoy hearty plated dishes, paired with a nice wine list and cocktails.

Essential Restaurants: Spectacular sushi available for contactless pickups can be found from North Loop Japanese restaurant Kome.

Bars: The best bar for everyday drinking for any taste is Central East Austin bar Nickel City, where one can find everything from excellent cocktails to fun tiki drinks to beer and shots. Natural wine seekers should head to East Austin bar and retail shop LoLo.

Barbecue: Along with Franklin Barbecue (obviously), partake in the city’s other two best offerings: LeAnn Mueller-owned La Barbecue and Kerlin BBQ, the latter of which boasts both barbecue and klobasniky (savory kolaches).

A hand dipping a quesataco with griddled cheese into a styrofoam cup of consomme on top of a teal wooden table
A quesabirria taco at La Tunita 512
Nadia Chaudhury/EATX

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).

Birria Tacos: The red taco craze is still strong in the city, and your best bet for quesabirria tacos is Southeast Austin truck La Tunita 512.

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’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.

A restaurant with varying tables and seats with two people seated at a table against the left wall and one person seated at the counter on the right
Cisco’s
Robert J. Lerma/EATX

East Side

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 affordable taco trucks Las Trancas (opt for one of the offal ones). Or if you want drinks, head to Whisler’s for thoughtful 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.

South Lamar

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 breads. 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. 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.

Downtown

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. For a casual bite, duck into Venezuelan-ish cafe Arepa Dealers at Cuatro Gato. 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.

A black cat sitting on a wooden table outside with a food truck with a sign noting “Patrizi’s” in the background
Patrizi’s and Smokey the cat
Patrizi’s/Facebook

Cherrywood

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.

Burnt ends:

The crispy bark from the often-fattiest portions of brisket.

Chicken-fried steak:

Beef steak that is pan-fried like fried chicken. Usually doused in white-pepper gravy.

Kolache and klobasniky:

The first are pastries filled with sweet cheese and fruit, and the latter is a savory pastry filled with meat.

Migas:

A mix of eggs, fried tortillas, and cheese, with optional vegetables, served on a plate, with tortillas or in taco form.

Mexican martini:

A margarita served in a martini glass, with olives.

A pair of hands holding onto a bowl of yellow cheese dip with dollops of ground meat and guacamole on top of a placemat that notes information about Matt’s El Rancho
The Bob Armstrong dip at Matt’s El Rancho
Robert J. Lerma/EATX

Queso:

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.

Rambler:

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.

An inside and above shot of a rotunda with levels of circles
Inside the Texas State Capitol building
Getty Images

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, Tsuke Edomae, Lutie’s, Midnight Cowboy (drinks), Uchi, Uchiko


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