1000 East 11th Street
Two veteran chefs from Austin’s popular Uchi restaurant empire draw from various traditions for this modern take on Chinese cuisine. You will find inspiration from the Philippines in a chicken and rice congee dish fragrant with cilantro, jasmine, and ginger, while Texas grapefruit puts a local citrus spin on crunchy chicken. The lively atmosphere pulses with a hip-hop beat and features an oversize portrait of a panda bear draped in a gold rope necklace like an ursine version of rap legend the Notorious B.I.G. The vibe is the first clue about the irreverent attitude of a kitchen that drops classics like cumin beef and new-school favorites such as sunchoke fried rice.
2713 E 2nd St, Austin, TX 78702, USA
Great DJs can take two disparate musical tracks from different genres and find a way to combine them into one seamless groove. Great chefs can do the same thing with cuisine. So it makes perfect sense that DJs and chefs Tatsu Aikawa (Tokyo born, Austin raised) and native Austinite Takuya “Tako” Matsumoto would find harmony blending Japanese food and Central Texas barbecue. Following the success of their two Ramen Tatsu-Ya restaurants, the chefs created an izakaya smokehouse that serves hybrid dishes like ramen with brisket, crunchy octopus balls with beef chili, and fried tofu “hot pocketz” that squeeze together brisket and cheese. You can tell the chefs are having as much fun as the diners at this eclectic and playful spot.
1722 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704, USA
The McGuire Moorman Hospitality group has proven time and again that it knows how to develop a concept and deliver it in a stunning thematic package—from the coastal seafood vibes of Perla’s to the handsome brawn of Lamberts Downtown Barbecue. For June’s All Day, the team has blended elements of a French bistro, a New York City wine bar, and a quintessential American diner. The menu, which ranges from chilled artichoke and croque madame to a fried chicken sandwich and cheeseburger, straddles the Atlantic. The restaurant’s namesake, June Rodil, is one of the country’s few female Master Sommeliers, and the smart and engaging wine list, highlighted by more than 30 white and sparkling options, invites guests to stay and sip.
1900 Simond Ave, Austin, TX 78723, USA
One might not think of a sprawling mixed-use development as a neighborhood, but L’Oca d’Oro helps prove that creating a strong neighborhood comes down to being a good neighbor. Not only does the restaurant take a stand for fair wages and equal rights, it serves the kind of dishes that provide comfort and warmth. The pastas—all handmade from locally milled grains—have great texture, strength, and a depth of flavor that sets the restaurant apart from stereotypical red-sauce joints. It may be a sleek, modern space, but the chipped vintage Italian sinks and classic movie posters near the restrooms show that L’Oca d’Oro is a place to feel both transported and at home.
1603 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704, USA
Peruse the wooden shelves stacked with coffee table books about art and architecture, take in the sandy beiges of the wicker chairs and the sky-blue pillows and tiled walls, and you may think you’ve fallen into a coastal California dreamscape. The menu at this restaurant inside the über-chic South Congress Hotel also evokes California, with grain bowls, salads topped with lean protein, and fashionable avocado toast. The kitchen, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, doesn’t appeal only to the calorie- or trend-conscious, as evidenced by a great throwback cheeseburger draped with American cheese. Executive pastry chef Amanda Rockman is also one of the main attractions here, with her stunning creations, such as an airy kouign-amann.
1603 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704, USA
You might expect austerity and modesty at a kaiseki restaurant in Kyoto, but that’s not what you’ll find at this remarkable jewel box of a place secreted away inside the South Congress Hotel. Brightly illuminated white panels with black stripes surrounding the 12-seat dining room echo Japanese shoji screens. The room looks like something out of a Stanley Kubrick film, and knife-wielding chef Yoshi Okai plays to the design with mischief and edginess. His menu of more than 20 dishes balances artistic presentation and bold flavor, from raw Japanese sea bream to jiggly mounds of Hokkaido uni. The dishes may look like something you’d get in Japan, but the colorful service from the tattooed chef (who moonlights as a rock-and-roll singer) feels uniquely Austin.
23526 TX-71, Spicewood, TX 78669, USA
Some of the most thoughtful and refined cooking in Austin doesn’t actually take place in the city but out in the small town of Spicewood. Head out to the almost–Hill Country town for cured fish, a charcuterie menu sourced from a ranch that supplies the restaurant with wild boar, and a dessert and cocktail program that utilizes the bees from Apis’s namesake apiary. That honey is also used in making the savory portion of the menu, its golden glaze lacquering aged Rohan duck. (Apis is located beside its sibling, Pizzeria Sorellina, which specializes in puffed and charred pizzas made with locally milled grains.)
SkyHouse, 51 Rainey St #110, Austin, TX 78701, USA
The sheaves of wheat that decorate the interior of Emmer & Rye signal one of the staples of chef Kevin Fink’s kitchen: heritage grains. The restaurant mills its own flour to make ribbons of pappardelle and robust spaghetti into a creamy nest of cacio e pepe. Episodes of The Splendid Table radio show play over the restroom speakers—a charming and idiosyncratic touch that attests to the kitchen’s commitment to its work. A dedication to fermentation and scratch cooking makes this fine-dining restaurant an elevated retreat amid the boozy lineup along popular Rainey Street.
3016 Guadalupe St #100, Austin, TX 78705, USA
Austinites had seen pizzas come in square or rectangular shapes before brothers Brandon and Zane Hunt arrived from Michigan, but they may not have associated the style with Detroit. Cooked in replicas of metal pans used on automotive assembly lines, these thick pies have a cheesy layer that extends to the edge of each slice. The Detroiter features two types of pepperoni, one smoked and one natural casing, mixed with a layer of cheese, atop tomato sauce, with some of the curled cups of pork riding to the surface of the slice. The brothers started with one pizza trailer and have since expanded to two brick-and-mortar locations and added a second trailer.
811 W Live Oak St, Austin, TX 78704, USA
Few Austin businesses, much less restaurants, have a history that stretches back as far as that of Mattie’s at Green Pastures. Before it opened as a restaurant in 1946, the elegant Victorian was a private home. A successful Austin hospitality veteran and his partners purchased the property in 2016 and have transformed it from a sleepy establishment kindly referred to as a grande dame of Austin dining into an exquisite showpiece. Plush couches offer seating areas, two handsome bar areas both upstairs and down make for ideal spots to sip cocktails, and the sweeping patio and veranda are well-suited for alfresco dining and peacock-watching. The menu is a pan-Southern celebration, with fried chicken and eggs Benedict starring at brunch and pimento cheese grabbing the spotlight of the evening appetizers.
1519 E Cesar Chavez St #200, Austin, TX 78702, USA
Bufalina owner Steven Dilley once lived in New York City, where he taught himself how to cook pizza in his subsequently overheated apartment. He was a good teacher and a good student. The University of Texas alumnus became one of the early movers in the Neapolitan pizza game in Austin and now operates two Bufalina locations. The igloo-shaped stoves that turn out charred and supple pizzas never would have fit in that old apartment, but they have become the centerpieces of his Austin restaurants. The menus celebrate local bounty with a couple of fresh salad options, and the daily pasta is always a must. Dilley has also put together one of the city’s most intriguing wine lists, an unexpected page-turner for restaurants the size of Bufalina.
85 Rainey St, Austin, TX 78701, USA
Yes, Austin is home to some serious stick-to-your-ribs Tex-Mex food, but as the city has grown, so have its pure-Mexican culinary offerings. Chef Iliana de la Vega operated a restaurant in El Naranjo for about a decade before moving to Austin, where the clean flavors of her traditional Mexican cooking immediately came to the dining world’s attention. The Oaxacan influence is never hard to find, and de la Vega serves an assortment of the region’s beloved moles, from amarillo to negro and all shades in between.
1704 East Cesar Chavez Street
The Vazquez sisters moved from Veracruz to Austin in 1989 and started their empire with a modest fruit and sno-cone stand. When they expanded to a food truck, it gave them a bigger stage from which to showcase their skills. In a town full of taco trucks, the sisters differentiated themselves with their exceptional fresh migas tacos. The plump, flour-dusted tortillas wrap a jumble of soft-scrambled eggs, seasoned perfectly with salt and pepper and topped with melted cheese and a feather of avocado. With the addition of some green salsa, it is the perfect breakfast taco.
2404 E 7th St, Austin, TX 78702, USA
The Vietnamese banh mi offers everything you’d ever want in a sandwich. It is an explosion of flavors and textures: tangy, crunchy, spicy, and savory. Chef Tebi Nguyen creates this culinary alchemy in an East Austin trailer: He takes pork that’s been marinated in fish sauce, garlic, red shallots, and a touch of honey and pan-sears it, then applies a final char with a blast of a torch. The meat is tucked into a baguette that’s been swiped with mayonnaise, and then showered with a crunchy tangle of cucumbers, jalapeños, and daikon.
2406 Manor Rd, Austin, TX 78722, USA
You want locally sourced? The sourdough starter at this East Austin restaurant was made using wild grapes foraged from a nearby alley and a recipe from the Chez Panisse cookbook. That should tell you almost all you need to know about Dai Due. A butcher shop and restaurant (may as well throw bakery in there as well), Dai Due was started by Jesse Griffiths, a chef who had previously run a supper club and a stand at a farmers’ market. The restaurant offers quintessential Texas food. All the ingredients are local, or only from about as far away as the Gulf of Mexico, and Griffiths has the sense to do just enough to let the ingredients shine while staying out of their way. Beet-cured onions add zing and earthiness to a killer pastrami sandwich, honey shines up a pork chop, and pickled cabbage enlivens the huge beef rib.
2115 Holly Street
Part of keeping Austin weird means you might end up eating a five-star meal in an old gas station and laundromat. The 10-foot paintings of speakers aren’t the only things that blow your mind. The food is delicious—especially the fried olives and pimento cheese to start. Brick chicken is a crispy and juicy specialty of the house, and anytime you throw a burger on challah we’re in. Don’t forget to pick up a six-pack of beer from the bodega that shares a parking lot: It offers a great selection and is open late!
915 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78703, USA
Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon is an Austin-owned restaurant serving charcoal-grilled, locally raised chickens, freshly prepared tortas, salads, sides, homemade ice creams, aguas frescas, and a selection of beer and wine. The family-style meals feature the highest quality pasture-raised birds from Vital Farms. Either marinated in achiote and freshly squeezed citrus or rubbed with fresh oregano and cracked pepper, the chicken is grilled slowly over hardwood charcoal and served with house-made tortillas, rice, beans, and fresh salsas. Don’t leave without ordering the cajeta churros for dessert!
7020 Easy Wind Dr, Austin, TX 78752, USA
Owned and managed by a cooperative made up of its workers and the community, Black Star Co-op supports fair wages, sources its ingredients from local farms, and elects its governing board democratically. Sound strident? It isn’t: It manages to have a fun, laid-back atmosphere, and offers a range of house-brewed beers (and a few worthy brews brought in from outside the co-op) as well as a food menu that encompasses both healthy and wicked, both bar snacks and full meals.
1309 Rosewood Avenue
Find smoked meat worth waiting for at this Austin trailer and picnic table setup. While standing in line, keep your fingers crossed that there will be brisket left when you reach the counter, as each party in front seems to order pounds and pounds of barbecue. The pink smoke line runs deep in the brisket, and you can taste it in every bite. The pulled pork is also delicious. It’s hard to squeeze side dishes in, but the cheese grits are worth that extra effort, and if you have room for pie, order it.
11500 Manchaca Road
When you take the time to smoke a brisket for 14 hours you usually don’t do much else to it, but the folks at Valentina’s have figured out the perfect fusion of Tex-Mex and barbecue. Located in a gas station parking lot, this family-run smoker and taco trailer is slinging some of the best bites in Texas. Add a little guac, a little lime, and some homemade barbecue sauce to that brisket, wrap it all up in a soft taco shell, and eat as many as you can! It’s BYOB, so feel free to buy beer at that gas station to accompany your meal.
1610 San Antonio St, Austin, TX 78701, USA
You’d never know that the little house near the Texas State Capitol building was a restaurant, and its inside resembles a tony private residence. Chef-owner Michael Fojtasek—named one of Food & Wine‘s 2015 Best New Chefs in the restaurant’s first year of operation—has created a menu based on refined Southern dishes. Chilled melon gazpacho with crab salad, elevated ambrosia with granita, hoppin’ John, and grapefruit icebox pie are just a few of the dishes that blend Texas and the South to stunning results.