The 15 Most Essential Food Experiences in Austin
These are dishes you have to try before you can officially call yourself an Austinite.
Austin’s a mecca for food fanatics—empty stomachs are lined hard and fast with cuisines that span almost every continent in the world. It hasn’t always been this way, mind you. Just a decade ago, the city was straight up Texan through and through (i.e. good at tacos and barbecue, not so great with everything else). But things have changed, and the influx of new residents, paired with the creative generation, has cooked up a platter of delights that make ATX one of the tastiest destinations statewide—maybe even the US. Whether you’re a local or in town for an extended period, here are the 15 greatest hits to initiate every food lover in Bat City.
East Austin and Burnet
There aren’t many Chinese restaurants in Austin that can do authentic, casual, and date-worthy simultaneously but that’s the MO of Old Thousand. That’s largely thanks to its inventive menu that takes those age-old Chinese recipes and switches them up for the adventurous (oh, and cocktails that really pack a punch!). Our fave is the Brisket Fried Rice, a classic wok stir fry with your typical fixin’s like eggs and veggies, but with a Texan staple—brisket. Old Thousand’s house smoked beef brisket is quite possibly the best you could hope for at a barbecue joint, let alone a Chinese restaurant, and the addition of Chinese sausage only elevates this meat and rice extravaganza.
How to book: Reserve a table on Resy or get takeout on Toast.
Remember when the only decent Sushi restaurant in Austin was Uchi? Thankfully that’s no longer the case, and now Sushi Bar ATX reigns supreme (it’s also helmed by top female chef, Ambrely Ouimette, whose talents are unparalleled). It’s the talk of town, and due to limited space (there are just 10 spots per sitting) you’ll need to be quick to snag a reservation to sample its brilliant omakase menu. The nigiri selection is rotating, so you’ll count yourselves lucky to get a taste of the bone marrow nigiri, which is so smooth its like eating decadent, meat-infused butter. Good thing that at the end of each meal, patrons are offered the chance to either try an additional new nigiri or select from one of the previous offerings. You’ll need a double hit.
How to book: Reserve seats on Tock.
It might seem odd to spotlight a side dish when the entrees at Garrison are so spectacular, but even the restaurant itself knows that its Tater Tots have the capability to steal just about any show—they haven’t left the menu in ages. The fried potato chunks are doused with aerated gruyere and black truffle, and are generously portioned in case you want to enjoy it as a main (if you do, we don’t blame you!). Whatever you order from Chef Jakub Czyszczon’s post oak-fired menu—whether it’s the tomahawk, duck breast, or grouper—adding tater tots to the mix is going to be an eyes-roll-back kind of evening in the most unforgettable of ways. They’re that good.
How to book: Reserve via Opentable.
With its smoky black broth, the Ma-Yu Black 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 (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.
Pecan Square Café’s Handcut Pappardelle takes over from its summer chili crunch tagliatelle predecessor to give patrons to the West Austin joint a winter warmer, dripping with mushroom and lamb sugo. The brothier dish strikes a perfect balance between tangy vegetable and slow cooked meat. What we love about the Pecan Square’s handcut pasta is the chewiness that allows the stew-like sauce to adhere to each strand perfectly, with the added crunch of gremolata (chopped parsley, lemon zest, and garlic) to round it out. It’s a dish that will challenge even a native Italian’s perception of what pasta can be, and leave the rest of us dreaming about coming back for more.
How to book: Reserve a table via Opentable or order for take-out via toast.
Those new to Texas may be unfamiliar with Migas, the Tex-Mex breakfast staple consisting of scrambled eggs, tortilla chips, onions, cilantro, tomatoes, and cheese. For both the inexperienced and experienced alike, however, Migas doesn’t get any better than the breakfast taco version served at Veracruz All Natural. Each of the key ingredients stand out individually while 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.
Village at Anderson Mill
Any Texan worth their Stetson knows that there is a holy trinity of meats that 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 the pulled pork. Having been 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 it’s 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 that decorates their building.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served counter-ordering.
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 (it doesn’t take reservations) that often wraps around the nondescript building. Birdie’s casual outdoor patio, and its 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 the seasonal 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.
Duck carnitas taco at Nixta Taqueria
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 at Matt’s El Rancho
In a city full of quesos, there is one that 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. Mexican Restaurants everywhere have tried to duplicate this original—and they’ve failed miserably.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, or order take-out via toast.
The Cadillac at Via 313
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.
Buttermilk pancakes at Kerbey Lane Cafe
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 wild blueberries, or the refined flavors of lemon poppy seed, but its menu updates sporadically with a limited-edition pancake flavor to dig into. Past favorites include birthday cake, chocolate covered strawberry, and Red Velvet. Better yet, the place 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.
The bone-in ribeye steak at Jeffery’s
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.
Chilaquil taco at Granny’s Tacos
Neither of Granny’s Tacos two locations (East 7th and E Cesar Chavez) 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.
Oy Vay Guey (Way) burger at JewBoy Burgers
While the name may be a little unorthodox (get it?), the juicy patties that JewBoy serves 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 Hatch 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.