I’ll never forget the day I moved back to Austin after 8 years in New York. WHERE am I supposed to eat, and what are all of these new neighborhoods? I knew where nothing was except the Tex-Mex spots I frequented in college and the mega Whole Foods. My first meal was at Whole Foods and so was my second. I remember thinking this place is magical. It’s gigantic, they improved the food bars and the mac ‘n cheese is a star, it’s not crowded, and they have everything. Now I rarely go…and now I’ve learned each restaurant that populates the big neighborhoods: South Austin, East Side, South Lamar, North Austin, Burnet Road, Domain, Campus, Dripping Springs, and Downtown. Here is a list of my all time favorite restaurants in Austin divided by cuisine. You will notice that there is no sushi on here, as I have yet to find a place that has fresh sashimi options I that I can just pick up anytime of day or order on site. If you want to see a list of the best cookies in Austin visit here.
- Thai Fresh (South First)- This no frills Thai spot won my heart with their bowl of Pad Prik King made with red curry paste cauliflower and broccoli and the heartiest brown rice. Their gluten-free bakery, fresh produce and hormone free meats, along with cooking ingredients for sale are an added perk.
- New Fortune (Chinatown) – Most people don’t know there is a Chinatown in Austin. When Dim Sum is not readily available, this place feels like a magic kingdom upon arrival. All of the dumplings, rice, and seafood are winners on Saturday morning.
- Wu Chow (Downtown) – Wu Chow is similar to Thai Fresh in that the vegetables are so fresh and nothing is completely drowning in oil. It’s a little nicer and good for a weekend night out. Soup dumplings here you come!
- Thai-Kun @ Whisler’s (East Side) – Food truck meets my favorite cocktail bar. Kill two birds with one stone with a casual dinner outside on picnic tables at a cool bar on the east side. If you have ever avoided vegetables, prove yourself wrong with their Cabbage Two Ways (Fried and Raw) and meet it with the Thai Steamed Chicken on Chicken Fat Rice.
- Elizabeth Street Cafe (South Lamar) – This is the restaurant food that I crave weekly. A Vietnamese Cafe with a French Bakery is full of pastel colors, fish sauce, hoisin, pho, and noodles. I go for the Crispy Gulf Snapper Bún with vermicelli noodles, peanuts, cucumbers, the Chicken and Rice Soup, and the Cha Cha Red Fish.
- Ah Sing Den (East Side) – Ah Sing Den is cool because it feels like a restaurant and a fancy bar at the same time, and you can come for dinner or just come to drink so no pressure. Love the vintage glasses and coconut broth mussels.
- Dee Dee Thai (East Side Trailer Park) – This Northern Thai food is spicy so make sure you venture over here when the weather isn’t blazing outside! Packed up in brown boxes with picnic tables all around, eat the Herb Chicken with Dill, Thai Basil, and Sticky Rice to dip in the broth. However, the real champion is the Mango Sticky Rice- WOW!
- Micklethwait (East Side) – At this BBQ truck right up the road from Franklin’s with an obviously way less intense line, go for the pork ribs, brisket frito pie, and lemon poppy seed slaw.
- Kemuri (East Side) – There’s a reason GQ and Bon Appetit put this restaurant on their Best 10 Restaurants of the Year in 2017. Where else can you find a BBQ style Japanese Izakaya with representation from both cultures in decor and the food? Don’t miss the fish collar, smoked eel, or hot pocket.
- Freedmen’s BBQ (West Campus) – There is so much talk about what is the best BBQ after Franklin’s. I’d take Freedmen’s any day and never look back. When rib meat falls off the bone and brisket is fatty and tender at the same time you have a win win. Not to mention they have the best desserts out of any BBQ truck with a Smoky Sea Salt Chocolate Mousse, and also Tequila!
- Valentina’s Tex-Mex (Manchaca) – BBQ and Tex-Mex all in one? Say it ain’t so! These are hands down the best flour tortillas in Austin. They are doughy, large, a little thicker and taste perfect with a BBQ smoked chicken taco. Love that green sauce, too.
NIGHT OUT ON THE TOWN
- Justine’s (East Side)- This is the kind of place people in Austin actually get dressed up to go to. The staff is quirky, the space is dark and sexy, and the steak tartare + fries is the best I’ve ever had.
- June’s All Day (South Congress) – Not only did Food & Wine Magazine name this Best Restaurant of the Year in 2017, but this restaurant is teaching Austinites all about Matzo Ball Caldo and wine from all over the world ( thanks to Master Sommelier June Rodil). I love their Indian Pub Night on Sunday evenings and the Monster Cookie stuffed with Chocolate Chunks, M&M’s, Pretzels, and Peanuts has my weight tipping the wrong way.
- Emmer & Rye (Rainey) – While Rainey Street is full of bars and Bachelorette parties, Emmer & Rye tucked at the very end is an award-winning spot recognized nationally. While they have dim sum carts that are not Asian focused, stick to the regular menu which changes quite often. Always order their Farmer’s Cheese and Bread and Carnitas and Roti.
- Eberly (South Lamar) – This is probably the sceneiest restaurant and bar in Austin. The Cedar Door Tavern wooden bar has been reimagined and transported from a bar in NYC from 1866 and the valet in front of the white restaurant feels like LA. It’s nice to see something like this stand out in Austin, and it’s extremely intricate inside.
- Lenoir (South Lamar) – This is a unique experience because you feel like you are at a friend’s dinner party. One long table in the center of the restaurant with mixed and matched china seats your group which can probably be 5 max. The menu of the night is split up into Field, Sea, Land and Dream and you pick a total of three dishes for $45.
- Odd Duck (South Lamar)- I love the menu at Odd Duck because I’m always exposed to ingredients or a dish combination that I’ve never had before which seems pretty crazy after all these years of dining out. Lunch or dinner is a win, and at the moment I love the Steamed Chicken Buns at Lunch at Chorizo Spiced Quesadillas and Tamarind Glazed Fish Head at dinner. (pasta below)
- El Alma (Barton Springs) – Outdoor seating and patios are a common thing here, but the rooftop at El Alma is something special because it’s not oversized and you can see everyone out there. I love their ceviche because of the extra thick tortilla chips and the mango margaritas.
- Polvos (South Lamar) – Old school Tex-Mex with homemade tortillas and a self serve salsa and vegetable escabeche bar. Go for the enchiladas over fajitas.
- Grizzelda’s (East Side) – Tex-Mex restaurants all have a similar vibe and menu with sombrero’s, colorful skirts on the ladies, large portions, and chips, salsas, and margaritas. Grizzelda’s is a trendier version of a traditional Tex-Mex spot with pink accents, glitzy bar wear and loud music. Get the guac, ceviche, tacos, and whole fish.
- Veracruz All Natural (East Side) – This was the first taco truck I hit up after moving to Austin. The migas breakfast taco is legendary, and I’m a big fan of the La Reyna with egg whites, spinach, avocado, carrots, shrooms, peppers, and cheese.
- Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon (South Lamar)- This is always an easy spot for big groups or a casual to-go order. Owned by the same chefs at Launderette, it’s no surprise that the ice cream pints are incredible. Don’t miss the Rice Krispy Treat or Devil’s Food Cake flavors. I also love the Yucatan Spice Chicken and Power Bol for lunch.
- Clark’s (Clarksville) – Seafood is my favorite food the oysters, red fish with paprika vinaigrette, lobster roll, and the cioppino do a body good.
- Casa De Luz (South Lamar/Town Lake) – This is one of the most eye opening restaurants I’ve ever set foot in. It’s not just a restaurant but a community and lifestyle. All macrobiotic and vegetarian, Casa de Luz offers one soup, salad, and large entree with some sort of rice, kale, and bean sides per meal period that is a flat fee of $12. No other place will you serve yourself, bus yourself, and feel so full and healthy. It’s almost like camp.
- Picnik (South Lamar and Burnet) – Think paleo, gluten-free, and butter coffee. I like the trailer on South Lamar to pick up their broccoli crunch salad and a decadent blondie, but for a sit down affair try the restaurant on Burnet.
- Bouldin Creek Cafe (Bouldin Creek) – Everything here is vegetarian but with all the fried eggs on everything you won’t even notice. Get the sweet potato tamales with a fried egg no question.
- Pieous (Dripping Springs) – 2o minutes is not a long drive for the best pizza in the Austin area. Doughy, cheesy, and the way Neapolitan pizza should be.
- Red Ash (Downtown) – As you can see, there isn’t much Italian food in Austin! While there is the occasional pasta dish on several restaurant menus, Red Ash brings a great selection of the red sauce values. Go for the tender wood grilled octopus appetizer, unreal garlic bread that is worth the $2.50 a piece, Black and White Spaghetti with Seafood, and Roasted Cauliflower.
- Central Standard (South Congress) – NYC meets LA meets Austin. This hotel offers several dining and beverage spaces. I like Central Standard the most and for brunch specifically.
- Pacha (Burnet Road) – A coffee shop happens to serve the best pancakes and cheesy eggs in this town. Be prepared to wait though, they only have one barista cooking.
- Cenote (East Side) – This order at the counter style service has my favorite egg scrambles.