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Better Half’s chicken fried steak
Better Half/Facebook

The 38 Essential Restaurants in Austin, Winter 2019

A guide to the city's defining restaurants spanning all cuisines, neighborhoods, and price ranges

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Better Half’s chicken fried steak
| Photo by Better Half/Facebook

Now it’s time for the quarterly update of the Eater 38, the answer to any question that begins, "Can you recommend a restaurant...?" This highly elite group covers the entire city, spans myriad cuisines and budgets, and collectively satisfies all of everyone’s restaurant needs, from taco trucks to fine dining spots.

Every quarter, Eater Austin will add pertinent restaurants that were omitted, have become newly eligible (open for at least six months), or have stepped up their game to keep the list fresh. The winter update adds Better Half, Hopfields, Swad Indian Vegetarian Restaurant, and Xian Sushi and Noodle to the lineup, and says farewell to 888 Pan Asian, Bouldin Creek Cafe, Jack Allen’s Kitchen, and Otoko. Pay respects to the running list of retirees over at the Eater 38 archive.

For other city essentials, check out the heatmap (a collection of Austin's hot new restaurants) as well as Eater’s official Austin guide. Then there’s the official Texas 38 over on Eater.

For all the latest Austin dining intel, subscribe to Eater Austin's newsletter.

Everything is listed geographically, north to south. Upset over a missing favorite? Want to share your own personal Eater 38? Drop it in the comments below or through the tipline.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Swad Indian Vegetarian Restaurant

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9515 N Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78753
(512) 997-7923
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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.

Puri at Swad
Pepperberry C./Yelp

2. Biderman's Deli

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3742 Far West Blvd #101
Austin, TX 78731
(512) 340-1404
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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.

Biderman’s Deli’s Reuben sandwich
Biderman’s Deli/Facebook

3. The Peached Tortilla

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5520 Burnet Rd #100
Austin, TX 78756
(512) 330-4439
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It’s a tried-and-true Austin story: the Southern-Asian food truck became so popular, owner Eric Silverstein was able to open a slightly more upscale brick-and-mortar version in Allandale, dishing out an expanded menu full of comfort food items pulling from his background. There’s the Mom’s toast slathered in chopped shrimp, ground pork and gochujang chili sauce; the comforting Hainan chicken; plus an array of tacos, salads, and bowls of curries and rice.

A cocktail and dish from Peached Tortilla
Peached Tortilla/Yelp

4. Fonda San Miguel

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2330 W N Loop Blvd
Austin, TX 78756
(512) 459-4121
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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.

The cochinita pibil at Fonda San Miguel
Fonda San Miguel/Facebook

5. Quality Seafood Market

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5621 Airport Blvd
Austin, TX 78751
(512) 452-3820
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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.

Oysters from Quality Seafood
Quality Seafood/Facebook

6. Foreign & Domestic

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306 E 53rd St
Austin, TX 78751
(512) 459-1010
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Co-owners Sarah Heard and Nathan Lemley revitalized the North Loop restaurant with their fresh energy and ideas. Foreign & Domestic’s New American menu remains familiar, but spruced up, with comforting dishes like beef cheeks and potato pappardelle and crispy beef tongue. Adventurous eaters should partake in the offal tasting menu. The neighborhood restaurant works well for casual meals as well as special occasions.

A dish from Foreign & Domestic
Foreign & Domestic/Facebook

7. Xian Sushi and Noodle

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C370, 1801 E 51st St
Austin, TX 78723
(512) 469-7878
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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, and various soups. The red-braised beef noodles with bok choy and potatoes are a big hit for a reason.

A dish from Xian Noodle
Aron Y./Yelp

8. Hopfields

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3110 Guadalupe St suite #400
Austin, TX 78705
(512) 537-0467
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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 yellowfin tuna and juicy burgers topped with creamy camembert cheese. The latter features a lengthy draft list, with local names and otherwise.

Hopfields’ nicoise salad
Hopfields [Official]

9. Musashino Sushi Dokoro

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2905 San Gabriel St #200
Austin, TX 78705
(512) 795-8593
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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.

Sushi from Musashino
Musashino Sushi Dokoro/Facebook

10. L'Oca d'Oro

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1900 Simond Ave
Austin, TX 78723
(737) 212-1876
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Mueller Italian restaurant L’Oca d’Oro champions the rights and well-being of restaurant workers within its own restaurant, as well as throughout the industry. The restaurant pays fair wages (hospitality fees are included in all bills to help make this easier) and dubbed itself a sanctuary restaurant as a safe space for everyone. The food reflects the same care, with excellent house-made pastas, hearty dry-aged meats, and sweet gelato.

A pasta dish from L’Oca d’Oro
L’Oca d’Oro/Facebook

11. Texas French Bread

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2900 Rio Grande St
Austin, TX 78705
(512) 499-0544
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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’s natural wines, crusty breads, and the excellent preserved sardines with toast, mustard, and cornichons, all from chef Max Mackinnon.

The sardines at Texas French Bread
Nadia Chaudhury/EATX

12. Contigo

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2027 Anchor Ln
Austin, TX 78723
(512) 614-2260
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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.

The rabbit and dumplings at Contigo
Contigo/Facebook

13. Dai Due

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2406 Manor Rd
Austin, TX 78722
(512) 524-0688
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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 brick-and-mortar 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.

Dai Due’s mixed grill
Dai Due/Facebook

14. Hoover's Cooking

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2002 Manor Rd
Austin, TX 78722
(512) 479-5006
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Hoover Alexander has been bringing a good ol’ mix of Southern soul fare to Cherrywood for the past 20 years with the casual table-service Hoover’s Cooking. Favorites include the chicken fried steak (a Southern classic) and the fried chicken.

Chicken fried steak at Hoover’s
Hoover’s/Facebook

15. Jeffrey's

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1204 W Lynn St
Austin, TX 78703
(512) 477-5584
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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?

A dish from Jeffrey’s
Jeffrey’s [Official]

16. Better Half Coffee & Cocktails

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406 Walsh St
Austin, TX 78703
(512) 645-0786
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Eater Austin’s restaurant of the year brings all-day, counter-service vibes to West 5th Street. Better Half’s casual menu is full of laidback dishes with refined but not pretentious takes, like, say the breakfast sandwiches with hash brown patties, cauliflower tater tots, or the steak and eggs with kimchi butter. It’s all found in a space that feels appropriately Austin (large patio, killer coffee and beer lineups). It makes sense, since it’s from the experts behind favorite East Austin beer and coffee spot Brew & Brew.

Food and coffee at Better Half
Courtney Pierce/EATX

17. Franklin Barbecue

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900 E 11th St
Austin, TX 78702
(512) 653-1187
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Aaron Franklin’s smokey meats have risen from humble trailer origins to become one of the country’s most talked-about barbecue destinations (so much so it’s on both the Eater National 38 and Texas 38). Yes, you will wait in line. Yes, it will be worth it. Weekend waits can stretch up to five to six hours these days, so consider ditching work for a weekday brisket fix instead. If brisket happens to run out, try the ribs and turkey.

Franklin Barbecue
Franklin Barbecue [Official]

18. Holy Roller

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509 Rio Grande St
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 502-5119
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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 very-rich migas kolache drenched in queso, French fries paired with soft serve, biscuit sandwiches loaded with Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew brisket, and choco tacos.

Holy Roller’s grilled cheese
Holy Roller [Official]

19. Buenos Aires Cafe, Este

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1201 E 6th St
Austin, TX 78702
(512) 382-1189
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It’s all about Argentina at the fun and casual east side restaurant, where meat is the centerpiece, from grilled steaks, short ribs, chicken, to other South American specialities, like its take on Shepherd's pie and empanadas.

Parrillada at Buenos Aires Café
Buenos Aires Café/Facebook

20. Tamale House East

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1707 E 6th St
Austin, TX 78702
(512) 495-9504
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The spirit of Austin institution Tamale House lives on with the colorful east side Texas 38 restaurant, which is run by the fourth generation of the Vasquez family. The migas are plentiful, tamales are abundant, the patio is lush, and yes, there are cocktails and beer.

Breakfast tacos from Tamale House East
Bryan M./Yelp

21. Saigon Le Vendeur

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2404 E 7th St
Austin, TX 78702
(512) 351-6916
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Banh mi is a simple sandwich, layered with with pickled vegetables and meats like grilled pork or pate, and Saigon Le Vendeur does the Vietnamese speciality right from its East Austin food truck.

Banh mi from Saigon Le Vendeur
Kelsey E./Yelp

22. El Naranjo

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85 Rainey St
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 474-2776
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El Naranjo delivers the best taste of Oaxaca in Austin, thanks to 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.

A dish from El Naranjo
El Naranjo/Facebook

23. Dee Dee

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2500 E 6th St
Austin, TX 78702

Chef Lakana Trubiana cooks up a small but mighty Thai menu at Dee Dee’s food truck outside of East 6th Street bar La Holly. The flavorful Isaan-style dishes (rooted in the northern region of Thailand) range from the comforting om gai to the very spicy laab moo. When in season, the mango sticky rice is worth it.

Dishes from Dee Dee
Grace C./Yelp

24. Bufalina

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1519 E Cesar Chavez St #200
Austin, TX 78702
(512) 524-2523
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Bufalina's skillfully executed Neapolitan pizzeria clearly impressed diners around town right on East Cesar Chavez, so much so that there are often waits at the casual, table-service restaurant for pies like the classic margherita and specials like the anchovy and harissa ones. Wine nerds will dig the special and affordable bottles on offer as well.

Bufalina’s pizza
Donna S./Yelp

25. Veracruz All Natural

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1704 E Cesar Chavez St
Austin, TX 78702
(512) 981-1760
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Texas 38 food truck Veracruz All Natural serves excellent tacos, helmed by sisters Reyna and Maritza Vazquez, served on handmade tortillas with fresh salsas. It’s not a real order without the migas and an agua fresca.

Breakfast taco from Veracruz All Natural
Veracruz All Natural [Official]

26. Via 313

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61 Rainey St
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 609-9405
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Detroit-style pizza in a Texas-only craft beer bar? Hell yes. The brothers Hunt make some of the best pies in town. Craft Pride's lovely patio is the right place to enjoy them because nothing is better than pizza and beer enjoyed outside, especially when it’s the Omnivore with both meat and vegetable toppings or the sweeter Cadillac made with fig preserves.

Via 313’s pizza
Via 313/Facebook

27. Kerlin BBQ

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1700 E Cesar Chavez St
Austin, TX 78702
(512) 412-5588
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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.

Kerlin BBQ’s barbecue
Christine Y./Yelp

28. Uchi

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801 South Lamar Boulevard
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 916-4808
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For those looking to spend half a paycheck, this new-school sushi institution on South Lamar is the restaurant. Trust the server. The sake social hour (read: happy hour) is one of Austin's fine dining's greatest deals too. The traditional sushi is worth exploring, as is the popular hama chili with yellowtail sashimi.

Sushi from Uchi
Logan Crable/Uchi

29. Emmer & Rye

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SkyHouse, 51 Rainey St #110
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 366-5530
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From the grain-obsessed mind of executive chef and owner Kevin Fink comes Texas 38 restaurant Emmer & Rye, serving all-things local with high-end dressings, right on the edge of Rainey Street’s bar-packed district. The restaurant offers its menu as well as roaming dim sum-style carts filled with special dishes. Of note are the pastas and knock-out desserts from pastry chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph.

Emmer & Rye’s cacio e pepe
Emmer & Rye/Facebook

30. Odd Duck

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1201 S Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 433-6521
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Bryce Gilmore delivers exactly what one expects from the Austin chef with Odd Duck: one of the most pleasurable dining experiences in the city. The casual-leaning essential Lone Star restaurant exudes a Texas-forever vibe with New American dishes (pretzels with mushrooms and cheese) , magnificent large-format dishes (chicken fried fish heads) and on-point brunch (ham hash), which all work very well for groups — but get those reservations — in the homey setting.

Dishes from Odd Duck
Odd Duck/Facebook

31. Kemuri Tatsu-Ya

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2713 E 2nd St
Austin, TX 78702
(512) 893-5561
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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, and hot pockets with brisket. 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.

Kemuri Tatsu-Ya
Kemuri/Facebook

32. Justine's Brasserie

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4710 E 5th St
Austin, TX 78702
(512) 385-2900
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Justine's menu of classic French food with an east side twists 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.

Justine’s
Justine’s/Facebook

33. Launderette

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2115 Holly St
Austin, TX 78702
(512) 382-1599
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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.

Launderette’s duck confit cassoulet
Launderette/Facebook

34. Enoteca Vespaio

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1610 S Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 441-7672
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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.

Pasta from Enoteca Vespaio
Enoteca Vespaio/Facebook

35. Lenoir

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1807 S 1st St
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 215-9778
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This tiny South Austin restaurant features dishes made with Texas-sourced ingredients, served on a three-course menu priced at $48 (think grilled quail, heirloom tomatoes, berry tarts). Reservations are recommended since there are only about thirty seats available at the prix fixe restaurant. The wine garden also features an a la carte trailer for a more casual evening along South First.

Roasted kingfish with summer squash and peanut tom kha
Lenoir/Facebook

36. Sichuan River

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4534 West Gate Blvd
Austin, TX 78745
(512) 892-6699
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Austin’s best bet for Sichuan food can be found in the no-frills South Austin restaurant off West Gate. Bypass the Chinese-American dishes for good, spicy dishes like the mapo tofu, spicy jumping fish, and excellent spicy stir-fried chicken.

Sichuan River’s dry pot lamb
Sandeep G./Yelp

37. Evangeline Cafe

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8106 Brodie Ln
Austin, TX 78745
(512) 282-2586
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Some of Austin’s best Cajun fare can be found at Evangeline Cafe. It’s a bonafide feast with chicken fried gator, hearty seafood gumbo, and plenty of catfish and crawfish dishes in the festive, laidback space.

Food from Evangeline Cafe
Evangeline Cafe/Facebook

38. Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ

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11500 Manchaca Rd
Austin, TX 78745
(512) 221-4248
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Pitmaster Miguel Vidal melds the best of what Austin has to offer — smoked meats and tacos — down in far South Austin. There is a new brick-and-mortar to look forward to, but until then, head to the trailer for barbecue, tacos, and sandwiches, along with changing specials like burgers, pastrami, and more. Mornings are dedicated to excellent breakfast tacos, especially the Real Deal Holyfield.

Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
Nick Solares/E

1. Swad Indian Vegetarian Restaurant

9515 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753
Puri at Swad
Pepperberry C./Yelp

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.

9515 N Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78753

2. Biderman's Deli

3742 Far West Blvd #101, Austin, TX 78731
Biderman’s Deli’s Reuben sandwich
Biderman’s Deli/Facebook

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.

3742 Far West Blvd #101
Austin, TX 78731

3. The Peached Tortilla

5520 Burnet Rd #100, Austin, TX 78756
A cocktail and dish from Peached Tortilla
Peached Tortilla/Yelp

It’s a tried-and-true Austin story: the Southern-Asian food truck became so popular, owner Eric Silverstein was able to open a slightly more upscale brick-and-mortar version in Allandale, dishing out an expanded menu full of comfort food items pulling from his background. There’s the Mom’s toast slathered in chopped shrimp, ground pork and gochujang chili sauce; the comforting Hainan chicken; plus an array of tacos, salads, and bowls of curries and rice.

5520 Burnet Rd #100
Austin, TX 78756

4. Fonda San Miguel

2330 W N Loop Blvd, Austin, TX 78756