The 17 Most Essential Austin Food Experiences

Take your taste buds to the Caribbean, Japan, and Mexico by way of the Lone Star state.

Austin is a city so packed with dining out options, it can bring even a self-described gourmand to their knees. Just quickly Google all the choices in any given area, and the amount 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 as opposed to shredding guitar solos. Check out the options below, and never be burdened by the malaise of “where should we eat” again.

Information listed here may be subject to change depending on the developing situation with COVID-19's Omicron variant. Please check for the latest updates available or contact each establishment directly for more info.

Holly
Lately, it seems as though East Austin spot, Canje, has been on a non-stop run of collecting accolades. From being named one of Bon Appétit’s 50 Best New Restaurants of 2022, to one of America’s Best Restaurants by the New York Times, the modern Caribbean restaurant has become a must-try for those who take flavor seriously. While you can’t go wrong by diving mouth-first into anything from chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph’s fantastic, Guyanese-influenced menu, the Bacalaíto appetizer is the perfect entryway to your experience. This take on the traditional Puerto Rican salt fish fritter is composed of escovitch, a staple Jamaican protein, which is fried to a crunchy perfection and then covered in preserved lemon and a sauce so good you’ll be forgiven for licking the plate. Pro-tip: preserve your dignity a little bit by ordering a side of their flaky, doughy Guyanese-style Roti to sop it up instead.
How to book: Reserve a table via the website.

Sazan Ramen
Sazan Ramen

Highland
With its smoky black broth, the Ma-Yu Ramen at noodle heaven, Sazan Ramen, currently looks a lot more metal than anything you’ve ever made from a packet. The amount of deliciousness packed into this unique riff on the Japanese comfort staple is as booming as the sound system at a Metallica concert. The headlining star of the dish would have to be the ma-yu itself, a black garlic oil that delivers a powerful chorus of umami to every bite. The smoky, earthy paitan broth is then generously topped with red cabbage, bamboo shoots, green scallions, ajitama (the standard ramen egg), and a choice of either chicken or pork chashu. It all adds up to a supergroup of flavor you’ll slurp away at without any inhibitions about the noise you’re making while doing so.
How to book: Walk in for first come, first served seating, or order online for pick-up or delivery.

Clarksville
Mention the words, “chili crunch,” to your most food-obsessed friend, and they might roll their eyes at you in annoyance. There’s no doubt that the condiment, usually made with the spicy crunch of Sichuan peppercorns, has become somewhat of a buzzword on restaurant menus in the past year or so. However, fill their hate-spouting mouth with a bite of Pecan Square Café’s Hand Cut Tagliatelle and it will stop any amateur Yelper from leveling critiques against the crunch ever again. This West Austin restaurant, a fairly recent addition to the city’s food scene, pairs its delicate, chewy strands of freshly made tagliatelle with a bright summer pesto and the textural contrast of the aforementioned chili crunch for a dish that will challenge even a native Italian’s perception of what pasta can be.
How to book: Reserve a table via the website, or order for take-out via toast.

Veracruz All Natural
Veracruz All Natural

Various 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, as well as simultaneously blend together—a harmonious concert with just the right amount of spice to give it a bit of a kick. Be sure to order it on the homemade corn tortillas which are soft and, unlike many other places, lack an unpleasant grainy texture.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served counter-ordering, or order pick-up online.

InterStellar BBQ
InterStellar BBQ

Village at Anderson Mill
Any Texan worth their Stetson knows that there is a holy trinity of meats which dominates all Lone Star state barbecue: pork ribs, sausage, and brisket. Which is why, it's so surprising that one of the best bites on the heavily-loaded cafeteria-style trays of food being ordered from Interstellar BBQ’s kitchen is actually their pulled pork. Having been recently ranked as the number two spot in all of Texas to grab barbecue on the prestigious list of Texas Monthly’s “50 Best BBQ Joints,” you already know they are slinging some serious smoked goodies from the counter of this North Austin operation. The moist, succulent pulled pork is a must-get—its flavors will break apart your taste buds with the same ease as your fork will break apart the meat itself. If nothing else, it is certainly a dish that proves the place worthy of the neon pig-shaped sign which decorates their building.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served counter-ordering.

Birdie’s
Birdie’s | Photo b Mackenzie Smith Kelley

MLK
Driving by restaurant and wine bar, Birdie’s, for the first time, you may not even notice that it's open. That is, if not for the ever-present line that often wraps around the nondescript building. Birdie’s casual outdoor patio, and it's impressive selection of whites and reds, already set it up to be an ideal place to dig into some Italian cuisine. The orecchiette and cavatelli are fantastic; however, it is their panisse that really takes the plate for us. A unique dish on any restaurant menu, this form of fried polenta is accented simply with black pepper and pecorino. The perfect combination of this dish, an ice-cold glass of grüner, and a 70-degree day will make you understand why Birdie’s line is worth the wait.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Nixta Taqueria
Nixta Taqueria

Duck carnitas taco at Nixta Taqueria

Chestnut
Nixta Taqueria got its name from the process of nixtamalization, the traditional Aztec method of making corn tortillas that involved a labor-intensive process of partially cooking the corn and soaking it in lime powder. If this doesn’t tell you that Nixta takes its dishes seriously, nothing will. For a meal so delicious that it will become a regular occurrence in your dreams, you have to go with the duck carnitas taco. Duck confit, salsa cruda, radish, shaved white onions, and cilantro meet the previously mentioned meticulously-crafted tortillas for a bite that just might take your breath away.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served counter-ordering, or order pick-up via the square site.

Bob Armstrong Dip
Matt's El Rancho

Bob Armstrong Dip at Matt’s El Rancho

South Lamar
In a city full of quesos, there is one which rules them all—the Bob Armstrong Dip at legendary Tex-Mex joint, 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 that will make anything else you ever put on a chip feel inadequate.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, or order take-out via toast.

Via 313 Pizza - North Campus
Via 313 Pizza - North Campus

The Cadillac at Via 313

Various Locations
For the greasy, cheesy, gut-busting pizza of your dreams, the only place to go is Via 313. The thick crust of its 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 filling enough to put you in a sleepy food-stupor after your fourth piece. It is 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 book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order takeout via toast.

Kerbey Lane Cafe pacakes
Kerbey Lane Cafe

Buttermilk pancakes at Kerbey Lane Cafe

Various 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 book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, order take-out through Olo, or delivery via DoorDash.

Akami sashimi at Uchi

South 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 and the James Beard Foundation to Trip Advisor. While all the cuts of sashimi are done with the expertise of an artist, try their akami, or tuna loin, for a luscious bite that is so spot-on that you’ll swear you're in Tokyo.
How to book: Reservations via the website are required for dine-in, order take-out on Uchi’s website, or delivery via Uber Eats.

Jeffrey's steak
Jeffrey's

The bone-in ribeye steak at Jeffery’s

West End
Perhaps it's the ubiquitous image of the UT Longhorns symbol that appears all around the city or the classic cowboy associations of Texas itself, but hitting a great steakhouse in Austin seems like no-brainer for every meat-eater. Jeffrey’s is an old-school, French-influenced Austin institution that delivers on the red-meat excellence expected in its home state. While the sides are delicious, be sure to save plenty of room for the decadent, dry-aged Wagyu beef bone-in ribeye from the Beeman Family Ranch in Yoakum, Texas. If that sentence didn’t awake within you a Lone Star-sized appetite, we don’t know what will.
How to book: Reserve via the website.

Franklin Barbecue
Franklin Barbecue

East 11th Street
For those who view smoked meat as a religion, Franklin Barbecue is akin to Temple Mount in Jerusalem. 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 by the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Bon Appetit, is very real. No one does brisket quite like Franklin—from the expertly seasoned rub, which darkens the ends of the dish with a burst of flavor, to meat smoked so tender that a toddler could rip it in two.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served counter-ordering.

Granny's Tacos of Austin Texas
Granny's Tacos of Austin Texas

Chilaquil taco at Granny’s Tacos

Central 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 great breakfast tacos, Granny’s is a gem that usually goes undiscovered by your average weekend tourist. Try the 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 red sauce to pour on top.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served counter-ordering, or order pick-up and delivery via Grubhub.

Bird Bird Biscuit
Bird Bird Biscuit

Lovely Day Egg Sandwich at Bird Bird Biscuit

Various locations
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. The biscuits boast the ideal crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside texture, while still being thick enough to hold together a sandwich. Enjoy every layer in each bite of 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—so, be sure to arrive when the doors open, as the place often sells out.
How to book: Stop by the two brick-and-mortar locations for first come, first served counter-ordering, or order pick-up online.

JewBoy Burgers
JewBoy Burgers

Oy Vay Guey (Way) burger at JewBoy Burgers

North Loop
While the name may be a little unorthodox (get it?), the juicy patties that JewBoy serves up take all the long-established markers of a great burger and enhances 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 with spicy green chillies that melt into the pepper jack cheese, while a tangy blob of mustard and some pepper cut through all the greasy goodness.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served counter-ordering, or order online for pick-up via toast.

Wow Chow soup dumplings
Wow Chow

Shanghai Soup Dumplings at Wu Chow

Downtown
In the early days of Wu Chow, the menu used to come with a particular caveat—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 for its plates, certainly knew what the star of their menu was bound to be. The paper-thin wrappers are stuffed plump with pork shoulder, ginger, garlic, scallions, red vinegar, and broth that leaks out the sides with every bite. Be sure to bite the top, and fully suck out all the liquid, before chowing down on the rest of the dumpling to reduce spillage.
How to book: Reserve a table via the website, or order for pick-up via toast.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Molly Moltzen is a contributor for Thrillist.