The 30 Most Essential Austin Food Experiences
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Austin is a city absolutely packed with dining out options. Just Google all the choices in a given area, and the number of results is bound to lead you into a hunger-based anxiety spiral. Don’t worry though—we wouldn’t be the live music city without being able to put together a killer list of greatest hits, just, in this case, it involves soup dumplings and pizza instead of guitar solos. Check out the options below, and never be burdened by the malaise of “where should we eat” again.
Bob Armstrong Dip at Matt’s El RanchoSouth Lamar
In a city full of quesos, there is one which rules them all—the Bob Armstrong Dip at legendary Tex-Mex eatery, Matt’s El Rancho. Open in Austin since 1952, this restaurant’s signature dish is named after former Texas land commissioner Bob Armstrong, who is known to still visit during dinner hours and ask customers how they are enjoying his namesake. Armstrong has reason to be proud—the appetizer layers seasoned taco meat, queso, guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gallo for a dip which will make anything else you ever put on a chip feel inadequate. Do as the locals do, and mix it all up into one gooey mess to insure an even toppings distribution in every bite.
How to order: The restaurant is open for dine-in, as well as pick-up and, even, delivery to certain areas of Austin. Order online here.
The Cadillac at Via 313Various locations
For the greasy, cheesy, gut-busting pizza of your dreams, the only place to go is Via 313. The thick crust of their Detroit-style pies, which crisps at every end with caramelized cheese, is drool-worthy enough to drive you from your bed for a slice and fulling enough to put you in a sleepy food-stupor after your fourth piece. It's hard to go wrong with any of their menu combinations but, for a unique toppings experience, go with The Cadillac. This selection builds on the standard combination of dough and marinara by adding gorgonzola, fig preserves, prosciutto di parma, parmesan, and balsamic glaze. Just be sure to pencil in enough time for a post-pizza nap.
How to order: While they are currently closed for dine-in, you can still order online from one of their many locations for curbside pick-up.
Ricette tortelli alle noci at Le CowboyManor
It’s a sad fact that good Italian food is hard to come by as far south as Texas. Luckily, newcomer Le Cowboy has arrived to fill the carb-sized hole in your heart. Chef Grae Nonas, formerly of Olamaie (where he was a co-recipient of Food and Wine’s best new chef title in 2015), has created a menu so full of comforting, home-made pastas that you will swear your nonna is about to pop out from behind the counter. The Ricette Tortilla alle Noci, where pillowy pieces of ricotta-filled tortellini swim in an herby walnut-pesto, will have you mopping the plate with a piece of bread to pick up every last bit.
How to order: Order online through their website for pick-up.
Mango water ice at Jim-Jim’s Water IceRed River
Considering how the sun is a constant, beating presence in Austin, a snack that allows you to cool down while you consume is not just a craving but, at times, a necessity for survival. No treat is more likely to lower your internal temperature and satisfy your sugar craving like the Mango Water Ice from Jim-Jim’s Water-Ice. As they proclaim, and we can confirm, this is “not your ordinary Snowcone”—it is, instead, a velvety smooth consistency of ice mixed with fresh pureed fruit. The Mango option is bright with flavor, but light enough to not weigh you down like dairy would in the heat of an August day.
How to order: You can order in-person at their walk-up window, or schedule your order online for pick-up.
Buttermilk pancakes at Kerbey Lane CafeVarious locations
You know those thick, fluffy stacks of pancakes you would watch your favorite characters consume by the fork-fill in the days of Saturday morning cartoons? They actually exist IRL at Austin’s favorite diner, Kerbey Lane Cafe. Not only can you spruce up your order with bursts of juicy blueberries, or the refined flavors of lemon poppy seed, but their menu updates weekly with a limited-edition pancake flavor to dig into—past favorites include birthday cake, chocolate covered strawberry, and red velvet. Better yet, they always offer every version of their pancakes in vegan and gluten-free options, so dietary needs never get in the way of gluttonous indulgence.
How to order: Both indoor and outdoor dining is available at all their locations. You can also order online for pick-up and, in some locations, delivery.
Akami sashimi at UchiSouth Lamar
The word Uchi itself may translate to “home” in Japanese yet, when it comes to the quality of food served at this restaurant, it might as well mean “home-run.” Uchi has been a cornerstone of the Austin high-end culinary scene since 2003, being declared one of the best restaurants in the country by everyone from GQ to Trip Advisor and capturing awards from organizations that really know their stuff, such as the James Beard Foundation. While all their cuts of sashimi are done with the expertise of an artist, try their akami, or tuna loin, for a melt-in-your-mouth experience so spot-on that you’ll swear you're in Tokyo.
How to order: You can make a reservation for dine-in or patio seating online on their website. If you prefer curbside pick-up, that is also available.
The Wundershowzen at JuicelandVarious Locations
Although it has since opened locations in Dallas, Houston, and even Brooklyn, there is no place that better reflects the off-beat style of Austin than Juiceland. Serving delicious juices, smoothies, and vegan food to-go, your body will feel as nourished by its offerings as your soul will feel reading the Carl Sagan quotes laminated around the walls of the franchise’s various stores. For those newbies who normally eat their greens in the form of colored M&Ms, local menu favorite the Wundershowzen will wow you with the always-killer flavor combination of banana and peanut butter. You won’t even realize there was spinach snuck into the cup as well.
How to order: You can order online for pick-up through their website. Most of their locations offer some indoor and/or outdoor area in which to enjoy your food, but occupancy varies from space to space.
Southern Fun at The Peached TortillaAllandale
The seemingly bizarre combination of Asian and Southern flavors at The Peached Tortilla blend together into culinary bliss. Its brilliance may lie in the indulgent and delicious comfort food combinations that took this brand from a small food truck to a brick-and-mortar hotspot—of which the pad see ew-inspired Southern Fun is a prime example. It mixes the trademarks of the Thai takeout dish, such as wide rice noodles and soy sauce, with Texas-inspired touches of braised brisket and kale, for one flavorful cultural melding.
How to order: Reservations are suggested for dining-in, with both indoor and outdoor seating available. You can also order online for pick-up and, in some locations, delivery.
The bone-in ribeye steak at Jeffrey’sWest End
Hitting a great steakhouse in Austin is a no-brainer. Jeffrey’s is an old-school, French-influenced Austin institution that delivers on all the red-meat excellence that has defined their home state for countless food fanatics. While the sides themselves are delicious, be sure to save room for the main event—the decadent, dry-aged Wagyu beef bone-in ribeye from the Beeman Family Ranch in Yoakum, Texas. If that sentence didn’t awaken within you a Lone Star-sized appetite, we don’t know what will.
How to order: Make a reservation online for dine-in, or, order online for curbside pick-up.
Crisp chicken thighs at Salty SowCherrywood
While, as their name suggests, Salty Sow may specialize in dishes of the pork variety, their take on fried chicken is not to be slept on. Served with mashed potatoes and neck bone gravy, it is a hedonistic pleasure of crisp skin and moist, tender chicken meat. Go during their happy hour, which occurs daily from 4-6 pm, to pair the chicken with one of their draft beers or craft cocktails, like the Maple Glazed Old Fashioned, for two dollars off. Sit outside on their porch while you sip and eat, and feel like you're in the best version of a lazy Southern Sunday afternoon.
How to order: You can make reservations for indoor and outdoor dining through their website. You can also order online for pick-up.
Oysters on the half shell at Perla’sSouth Congress
People-watching while enjoying some oysters is an unbeatable pairing and, luckily for you, Perla’s South Congress location and fresh oysters flown in daily from both coasts make it a reality. They have all kinds—from the light, citrusy flavor of West Coast Hama Hamas, to the more briny Fire Lake oysters from New Brunswick, to the sweet and buttery New England favorites, the Aunt Dottys. Every kind is served in the traditional way, with crackers, fresh horseradish, mignonette, and cocktail sauce. If you have a few hours to spare, why not try six of each kind from every region?
How to order: They are open for dine-in, but reservations are suggested. You can also order for pick-up online.
Brisket at Franklin BarbecueEast 11th Street
For those who view smoked meat as a religion, Franklin Barbecue is akin to a holy site. But, even individuals with less fanatical devotion should know that the hype surrounding this Austin institution, which has been consistently declared one of the best BBQ places in the world, is very real. Simply put, no one does brisket quite like them—from the expertly seasoned rub, which darkens the ends of the dish with a burst of flavor, to meat smoked so tender a toddler could rip it in two.
How to order: Currently, you can only order online for curbside pick-up. However, since their immense popularity causes them to sell-out of their selection almost everyday, we recommend you place your order a week in advance to ensure you have the full selection of their menu.
Blue crab fried rice at SwayWestwood
It could be argued that, like pizza or ice cream, fried rice is one of those foods that, even when it’s not great, it’s still good. Prepare to put that assumption to bed however, after trying the exceptional take at Sway which elevates the standard from junk food indulgence to high-class cuisine. The finely chopped blue crab blends in so well with the rice that the burst of salty flavor comes in an unexpected wave of delight. Add wok egg, lemon grass, green peas, scallion, Thai basil, and coconut vinegar to the equation, and you’ll never be able to go back to the mall food court version ever again.
How to order: Their Bee Cave location is open for both indoor and outdoor dine-in, reservations are suggested. You can also order online for pick-up.
Deviled eggs at FixeDowntown
The idea of deviled eggs might conjure images of picnics or barbecues past, where grandmothers pinched your cheeks and you tried to sneak off with your cousins to get away from the adults. But, you're grown now and you need—no, deserve—a grown-up version of the classic dish, which you can find in all its glory at upscale Southern eatery Fixe. Also a notable destination for grits, biscuits, and deep south seafood flavors, this appetizer is still a must try. Their deviled eggs are topped with smoked trout roe, grated ham, and cabbage—and, best of all, no pinched cheeks are required for a bite.
How to order: Reservations are available online for dine-in, but you can also order online for pick-up or delivery.
Bavarian-style soft pretzel at Easy TigerVarious locations
Texas’ rich German heritage meets the modern, casual vibe of Austin at beer garden Easy Tiger. And, like anyone who has lost hours of their lives in a tent at Oktoberfest will tell you, nothing goes better with a pint of craft brew than a fresh-baked pretzel. With an award-winning bakery onsite, Easy Tiger has you covered—their chewy, salted pretzel is the circumference of a lunch tray, and served alongside house-made beer cheese, mustard, and salted whipped butter for dipping. It’s enough to make you stand up on a picnic bench and yell “prost!” without an ounce of shame.
How to order: Patio-seating only with table-side service. Food and drinks also available to order online for curbside pickup and, in some locations, delivery.
Bac’n Cheezeburger at Arlo’sVarious locations
When it comes to dining out, vegans often have the short end of the stick—especially in a place like Texas, where all forms of meat reign supreme. That makes Arlo’s, which serves plant-based versions of bar-favorite grub, the ideal spot for those whose dietary concerns usually limit their late-night options to soggy fries. Their Bac’n Cheezeburger, which combines house-made seitan bacon, vegan cheese, and all the usual burger toppings, on a house-made patty (which is both soy and gluten free), tastes so much like the cow-based version that it will leave even the biggest Whataburger addict questioning their taste-buds.
How to order: You can order from their food trucks, located at popular bars, Cheer Up Charlie’s and Spider House, online on their website.
Chilaquil taco at Granny’s TacosCentral East Austin
Tucked off in a corner on an East 6th side-street, Granny’s Tacos might not be immediately visible—but the inciting smell of homemade corn tortillas and grilled meat will lead you on a trail right to the food truck’s door. Though you can’t go a block in Austin without finding a place that serves breakfast tacos, Granny’s is a gem that usually goes undiscovered by your average weekend tourist. Try their chilaquil taco though, and you'll understand why the place is a local secret—the deep flavor of mole-covered tortilla strips is balanced by soft, generous chunks of queso blanco and the spicy acidity of pickled jalapeño. Adventurous eaters can add even more heat by asking for a side of their red sauce to pour on top.
How to order: Order online, or in-person, to pick-up or eat at the picnic tables at the front of the truck.
Lovely Day Egg Sandwich at Bird Bird BiscuitCherrywood
Austin may technically be in the Southwest, but, at Bird Bird Biscuit, the flaky, warm, buttermilk biscuits they’ve perfected will give you all the down-home flavors of the proper South. Their biscuits are able to achieve the ideal crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside texture, while still being thick enough to hold in all the ingredients of their sandwiches, so you can get a bite of every layer they have going on. The aforementioned layers achieve supreme alignment on the Lovely Day Egg Sandwich, which hugs house-made chicken sausage, a free-range egg over medium, cheddar, and basil pesto between two ends of biscuit. Here, the early bird really does get the worm though—be sure to get there at opening, as the Lovely Day often sells out.
How to order: They are currently only taking orders online for pick-up.
Deconstructed Old Fashioned sundae at Prohibition CreameryCentral East Austin
Indulge your childhood sweet tooth, along with your more adult desire for a libation, all at once at Prohibition Creamery. The dual ice cream parlor and cocktail bar celebrates both their specialties in boozy floats, milkshakes, and sundaes that will for sure lead to a buzz and a sugar high. Their Deconstructed Old Fashioned is like sipping on the bourbon classic, albeit a bit colder than you're used to—served in a traditional highball glass, bourbon ice cream is piled high with angostura bitter marshmallows, luxardo cherry, bourbon whipped cream, and a citrus accent of candied orange. The combination of alcohol and ice cream makes a treat that is the perfect amount of sweet, and goes down smooth—just like a good drink should.
How to order: They are open for dine-in, as well as have a more limited to-go menu which you can order online.
The Migas taco at Veracruz All NaturalVarious locations
Those new to Texas may be unfamiliar with Migas — the Tex-Mex breakfast staple consisting of scrambled eggs, tortilla chips, onions, tomatoes, and cheese. For both the inexperienced and experienced alike however, Migas doesn’t get any better than the breakfast taco version they serve at Veracruz All Natural. Each of the key ingredients in the dish stand out when you taste them individually and as they blend together—with just the right amount of spice. Be sure to order it on their homemade corn tortillas which are soft and, unlike many other places, lack an unpleasant grainy texture.
How to order: All locations are currently take-out or delivery only, you can order online on their website.
Tonkotsu Original at Ramen TatsuyaVarious locations
There’s rarely a time—day or night, sweltering summer or less-sweltering winter—where you won’t find a line at Ramen Tatsuya that reaches out the door. It is a testament to their signature dish that the craving for it never subsides among the Austin population—although, perhaps the unquenchable desire is due in part to their homemade pork bone broth which blows anything else in the area right out of the water. You can try it in its purest form in the Tonkotsu Original Ramen, which pairs the broth and the ubiquitous noodles, with chashu, ajitama, woodear mushroom, and scallion, for a guaranteed slurp-worthy dish.
How to order: Online, to-go orders are available at all of their locations. Their East Austin location has patio tables available for dine-in by reservation.
Rice Medallion Saute at KorienteRed River District
How often have you tried to convince yourself to get “healthy” take-out only to be discouraged by a menu that seems to only offer a variety of unappetizing, leafy greens? Next time, before you order that burger out of disappointment, head to Koriente instead, where the food is fresh and healthy, but also comes at you full-force in the taste category. Their Rice Medallion Saute features soft, chewy rice medallions paired with sautéed green cabbage, mushrooms, spring greens, and sweet potato noodles. Ask for a bowl of their complementary miso soup to wash it all down with. It’s a meal both your conscious, and your stomach, can feel good about.
How to order: While dine-in is currently unavailable, you can place a to-go order by calling them.
Crispy short rib hummus at AbaSouth Congress
Chicago-based restaurant Aba may have only recently opened their spot in Austin, but their bold, seasoned take on Mediterranean flavors has already delivered. We mean this literally—their food creates such an intoxicating smell, it draws people off the sidewalks of South Congress, and into their doors. Their Crispy Short Rib Hummus combines the ingredients of everyone’s go-to mezze with a Texas twist—the meat, soaked in sherry and beef jus and topped with grilled onions, stays distinctive in texture, while also melding with the creamy chickpeas. Save yourself the trouble, and ask immediately for extra pita to scoop it all up with. You won’t want to leave any morsel behind.
How to order: Both indoor and outdoor seating is open for dine-in, and reservations are suggested. To-go food not currently available, but they plan to implement this in the first week of November.
Peking duck platter at New Fortune Chinese SeafoodNorth Lamar
New Fortune has all the signs of a hidden gem from the moment you pull into the parking lot of the strip-mall it is located in. The site itself speaks volumes about what kind of place it is—one which eschews the frills found in many of the city’s newest restaurants, and instead focuses on serving classic Chinese comfort food in an equally unpretentious atmosphere. As their name suggests, they do specialize in seafood dishes, which is immediately apparent by the sheer number of perfectly-fried Hong Kong style soft-shell crabs emerging from the kitchen. However, their peking duck platter, a whole bird served crispy with sweet sauce and ten steamed buns, is enough to turn the head of any shellfish devotee.
How to order: They are open for dine-in, as well as take-out—which can be ordered online.
Mulligatawny at The Soup PeddlerVarious locations
Cold days in Austin may be few and far between, however, when they do happen, warm yourself up with the comforting, yet healthy, selections at long-time Austin mainstay, The Soup Peddler. At all of their many locations around Austin, you can order an upgraded version of Campbell’s canned standards, like chicken or tomato basil soup, as well as choose from a variety of grilled cheeses to submerge into your liquid gold. The Mulligatawny, a classic South Indian soup, which blends coconut milk, mild curry spices, potatoes, carrots, and celery into a hearty vegetarian broth, will give you all the wrapped-in-a-blanket feels with enough sophisticated flavoring to make your tastebuds just as cozy.
How to order: Order online for pick-up. Some outdoor seating may be available, depending on location.
Oy Vay Guey (Way) Burger at JewBoy BurgersNorth Loop
While the name may be a little unorthodox (get it?), the griddled, juicy patties that JewBoy serves up take all the long-established markers of a great burger and enhance them even further. The staff here is super friendly—and more than willing to help you navigate your way through their cheese-filled, latke-topped menu of indulgent burgers, burritos, and Hebrew National hot dogs. The Oy Vay Guey (Way) Burger is the true mensch among the whole section though—spicy green chillies melt in the ooze of the burger’s pepper jack cheese, while a tangy blob of mustard and some pepper cut through all the greasy goodness.
How to order: Both indoor and outdoor seating is available at their location for dine-in. As well, you can order online for pick-up.
Mean Eyed Mac at Metcalf BBQVarious locations
Mac and cheese might be more well-known as a side staple when it comes to the barbecue dining scene, however, at Metcalf BBQ, they give the gooey shells the spotlight they deserve. With locations on Rainey Street and Downtown (among others), Metcalf BBQ has been soaking up the stomachs of Austin day-drinkers for years with their smoked meats, plentiful sides, and hometown staples, like the popular Frito Pie. The Mean Eyed Mac though is on a whole other level—pasta and cheddar meet a quarter-pound of meat in this caloric bonanza, worth every squat at the gym you'll have to do to burn it off.
How to order: All locations are open for dine-in
Shanghai Soup Dumplings at Wu ChowDowntown
In the early days of Wu Chow, their menu used to come with a particular caveat—that is, only two orders of Shanghai Soup Dumplings were allowed per table. It goes to show that the restaurant, which serves modern Chinese cuisine made with ingredients freshly picked and plucked for the plate, certainly knew what the star of their menu was bound to be. The paper-thin wrappers are plump with pork shoulder, ginger, garlic, scallions, red vinegar, and broth which leaks out the sides with every nibble. Bite the top and suck out the liquid before chowing down on the rest of the dumpling to prevent maximum spillage.
How to order: Make reservations online for dine-in, especially for their popular Dim Sum brunch on Sundays. You can also order for takeout online.
Escargots à la Bourguignonne at Justine’s BrasserieGovalle
You should be able to pick out a true French restaurant from the moment you enter one—the garlic, buttery scent of escargot should make your stomach growl, regardless of if you actually eat snails or not. Luckily, Justine’s Brasserie ticks off this essential box, along with the kind of decor and wine list that will make you feel like the Eiffel Tower is right around the corner—and we don’t mean the one in Paris, Texas. Justine’s makes theirs in the Bourguignonne style, which means lots of white wine and parsley butter sauce to complement the earthy flavor and tender texture of the escargot themselves.
How to order: Indoor and outdoor dining is available with a reservation. Also, online ordering is available for pick-up.
Coconut Creme Pie at Chez Zee American BistroRidge Oak Park
A serious sweet-tooth is almost a requirement for dining at West Austin’s Chez Zee. An old-school Austin hang, the family-family restaurant feels like the home of your aunt who just happens to make the best pies ever. Of their varied selection though, the Coconut Creme Pie stands out if only for the sheer amount of whipped creme swirls standing on top of the dessert itself. Made from scratch with local ingredients, the creamy custard filling has flakes of coconut both embedded within it and sprinkles toasted on the top. All of it is baked in Chez Zee’s signature flaky pie crust, which probably contains enough butter to drown all your less-than-sweet worries into.
How to order: If you would like to dine-in, give them a call to make a reservation. You can also order online for pick-up.
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