The 30 Most Essential Food Experiences in Austin

From barbecue to kolaches to queso dip.

Let’s face it—no matter what Hollywood movies or feel-good news pieces tell us, a bucket list can be a pretty morbid thing. Among the bullet points about “skydiving” and “seeing the Pacific ocean,” there’s always a layer of moral darkness lurking underneath. In light of this (get it?), we’ve got a new proposition for you: food-only bucket lists. Because how can life feel anything but full of promise when you have a mouthful of brisket? And, with all the wonderful dishes in Austin, the opportunities are endless. We’ve compiled our 30 must-tries throughout the city—so get out there and start living.

Batch - Craft Beer and Kolaches
Batch - Craft Beer and Kolaches

Mueller
Unless you’re a born-and-bred Texas native—an increasingly rare occurrence here in Austin—you probably have never heard of a kolache. This pastry, a combination of dough with either sweet (in the form of jam) or savory (in the form of meat) fillings was brought to the Lone Star state originally by immigrants from the Czech Republic. Since then, it's become the dominant roadside treat on every stop from East to West Texas and back. Every Texan will fight you over what spot is the best for kolaches, but, when it comes to Austin, there are no better masters of this comfort food than Batch Craft Beer & Kolaches. While many places will either have dry dough or a lack of filling, Batch achieves the perfect ratio each time. And this is most evident in their ever-popular sausage, jalapeño, and cheese kolache—which strikes the perfect flavor balance with its soft, sweet dough, savory sausage and cheese, and a hint of spice. Make like a local and ask for it warmed up for the most accurate kolache experience possible. 
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Saigon Le Vendeur
Saigon Le Vendeur | Photo courtesy of Saigon Le Vendeur

Holly
The mighty bánh mì is unfortunately ripe for missteps. Endless possibilities exist for sub-par attempts at this Vietnamese classic—whether it be an overly stale baguette, wilted cilantro, or an over (or under) abundance mayonnaise. That is why, when a bánh mì is on point, it’s that much more deserving of a special appreciation—and the ones at Saigon Le Vendeur undoubtedly hit that sweet spot. While you can’t go wrong with any of their takes, the grilled pork version is the most popular option for good reason. The meat is crispy and savory, the baguette thin and crisp, the mayonnaise expertly slathered, and the whole shebang is littered with exceptionally fresh herbs. 
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out online.

Nixta Taqueria
Nixta Taqueria | Photo by Mackenzie Smith Kelley

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 the creation of the cuisine it serves seriously, nothing will—here is a place willing to put in the extra time, effort, and care to develop dishes that will make you feel like you’ve ascended to a higher plane of flavor. 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 will literally make you smile.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out online.

L’Oca d’Oro
Photo courtesy of L’Oca d’Oro

Mueller
Ask the average person to picture Texas and they’re bound to conjure up images of deserts, cowboys, and horses. But, as anyone who lives in one of the state’s cities is bound to tell you, no matter how many horses you’ve seen walking down MLK (it happens, we promise), the stereotypes of Texas are greatly exaggerated. However, there is one area where you can confirm Austin is a desert—and by that, we mean a food desert for good Italian cuisine. The singular oasis in the midst of wimpy ravioli and watery marinara is Mueller’s L’Oca d’Oro. Their flavors are bold and innovative, and their unmatched pasta-making technique takes your nonna to task. The current stand-out has to be the Spaghetti alla Nerano, a traditional summer pasta from Campania, which is delicately laced with zucchini, spicy provolone, lemon basil, and edible Begonia flowers. You’ll be so involved in devouring it, a horse could wander by and you wouldn’t even notice. 
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable or order take-out via Upserve.

Bouldin Creek Cafe
Photo courtesy of Bouldin Creek Cafe

Bouldin Creek 
Bite into Bouldin Creek Cafe’s heavenly tofu scramble, and you might wonder if your friend who went vegan (and now only talks about going vegan) might be on to something after all. The plant-based mecca remains a tried-and-true Austin favorite even as fellow mainstays get swallowed up by the city's rapid growth. Some of this success, no doubt, has to do with Bouldin Creek Cafe’s ability to convince even the most committed steak-and-potato advocate to not just eat their greens, but love them. The tofu scramble makes you wonder why you even needed eggs in the first place, and with the option to incorporate it into everything from zucchini Migas to a vegan Benedict, your usual B-E-C is bound to feel dull in comparison.  
How to book: Order take-out and delivery via Toast.

Bob Armstrong Dip
Matts 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 eatery, Matt’s El Rancho. Open in Austin since 1952, this restaurant’s signature dish is named after former Texas land commissioner Bob Armstrong, known to still visit during dinner hours and ask customers how they’re enjoying his namesake. Armstrong has reason to be proud—the appetizer layers seasoned taco meat, queso, guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gallo into a dip to end all dips. Do as the locals do, and mix it all up into one gooey mess to ensure an even distribution of toppings in every bite.  
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out and delivery via ChowNow

Various 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, crisped at every corner 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 afterwards. It’s hard to go wrong with any of their menu combinations but, for a unique experience, opt for 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.

Red River
Considering how the sun is a constant, beating presence in Austin, a snack that physically cools you is not just a craving but, at times, a necessity for survival. And no treat is more likely to lower your internal temperature and satisfy your sweet tooth like 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 book: Stop by for counter service or order take-out online.

Kerbey Lane Cafe pacakes
Kerbey Lane Cafe

Various Locations
You know those thick, fluffy stacks of pancakes your favorite characters consumed by the forkful in those old 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 offer every version of their pancakes in vegan and gluten-free options, so dietary restrictions need never get in the way of gluttonous indulgence. 
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, order take-out via Olo, or get delivery via DoorDash

South Lamar
The word Uchi 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 a bevy of major awards along the way. While all their cuts of sashimi are done with the expertise of an artist, try the akami, or tuna loin, for a melt-in-your-mouth experience so spot-on you’ll swear you're back on the streets of Ginza.  
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable, order take-out online, or get delivery via Uber Eats

Juiceland drink
Juiceland

Various Locations
Although it has since opened locations in Dallas, Houston, and even Brooklyn, there is no place which better reflects the quirky and 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 to the walls of the franchise’s various outposts. For newbies who normally get their daily 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 a hearty dose of spinach snuck into the cup.
How to book: Stop by for counter service, order take-out via Toast, or get delivery via Favor.

The Peached Tortilla
The Peached Tortilla

Allandale
A popular piece of dating advice is “opposites attract” and, while that may not always prove true when it comes to Tinder, the seemingly bizarre combination of Asian and Southern flavors at The Peached Tortilla do, in fact, blend together in matrimonial 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 Thai takeout gem’s wide rice noodles and soy sauce composition with a Texas-inspired touch of braised brisket and kale for one flavorful cultural melding.
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable or order take-out via Toast.   

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 somewhat of 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 awake within you a Lone Star-sized appetite, we don’t know what will.
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable or order take-out online.

Salty Sow
Salty Sow

Cherrywood
While, as their name suggests, Salty Sow may specialize in dishes of the pork variety, their take on fried chicken is not to be missed. Served with mashed potatoes and neck bone gravy, it’s a hedonistic pleasure of crisp skin and moist, tender meat. Go during happy hour, which occurs daily from 4 to 6 pm, to pair the dish 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 book: Reserve via OpenTable or order take-out via Tock

South Congress
People-watching while enjoying some oysters is a pretty unbeatable pairing and, luckily for you, Perla’s South Congress location and their lineup of fresh oysters flown in daily from both coasts make it a reality. They have all kinds—from light, citrusy West Coast Hama Hamas, to the more briny Fire Lake oysters from New Brunswick, to sweet and buttery New England favorites, Aunt Dottys. Every bivalve is served in the traditional way, with crackers, fresh horseradish, mignonette, and cocktail sauce. We suggest ordering a half-dozen of each and slurping your way around the world.
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable.

East 11th Street 
For those who view smoked meat as a religion, Franklin Barbecue is akin to a holy temple. But even individuals with less fanatical devotions should know that the hype surrounding this Austin institution, which has been consistently declared one of the best barbecue joints in the world by everyone from Bon Appetit to Anthony Bourdain to us fine folks at Thrillist, is very, very real. Simply put, no one does brisket quite like them, from the expertly seasoned rub, which paints an extra burst of flavor on the ends of the dish, to meat smoked so tender that a toddler could rip it in two. A single morsel is enough to put you on a one-way journey to foodie nirvana.
How to book: Order take-out online

Sway
Sway

Westlake
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 pretty damn good. Prepare to put that assumption to bed however, after trying this exceptional take at Sway which elevates the standard from takeaway indulgence to high-class cuisine. The finely chopped blue crab blends in so well with the rice that the burst of salty flavor crashes in like an unexpected wave of delight. Add wok egg, lemon grass, green peas, scallion, thai basil, and coconut vinegar to the equation, and you’ll kiss those tired old food court scoops goodbye for good.
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable or order take-out via Toast.

Easy Tiger pretzels
Easy Tiger

Various Locations
Texas’ deeply rooted German heritage meets Austin’s modern, casual vibe at this breezy beer garden. And, like anyone who’s lost hours of their lives to a few glass boots 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 your dipping pleasure. It’s enough to make you stand up on a picnic bench and yell “Prost!” without an ounce of shame.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, order take-out via Toast, or get delivery via Favor

Various 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 pub grub classics, the ideal spot for those whose dietary concerns usually limit their late-night options to soggy fries. The Bac’n Cheezeburger, which layers housemade seitan bacon, vegan cheese, and all the usual fixings atop an original hand-formed patty (which is both soy- and gluten-free), tastes so much like the beefy version that it will leave even the biggest Whataburger addict questioning their preferences.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out via Toast

Central East Austin
Tucked into a corner off an East 6th sidestreet, Granny’s Tacos might not be immediately visible—but the enticing smell of homemade corn tortillas and grilled meat will lead right to the food truck’s window. Start with the Chilaquil Taco, and you'll quickly understand how the place became Austin’s best-kept 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 up the heat quotient by asking for a side of fiery red sauce to pour on top.
How to book: Stop by for counter service or order take-out and delivery via Grubhub.

Bird Bird Biscuit
Bird Bird Biscuit

Cherrywood
Austin may technically be located in the Southwest, but Bird Bird Biscuit’s flaky, warm, buttermilk biscuits will give you all the downhome 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 pillowy folds of egg, meat, and cheese so you can savor every layer. And the Lovely Day Egg Sandwich, which hugs house-made chicken sausage, a free-range over medium egg, cheddar, and basil pesto between two buttery slabs is case in point. Here, the early bird really does get the worm—be sure to get there at opening, as the Lovely Day often sells out.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out via Toast.  

Central East Austin
Tucked into a corner off an East 6th sidestreet, Granny’s Tacos might not be immediately visible—but the enticing smell of homemade corn tortillas and grilled meat will lead right to the food truck’s window. Start with the Chilaquil Taco, and you'll quickly understand how the place became Austin’s best-kept 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 up the heat quotient by asking for a side of fiery red sauce to pour on top.
How to book: Stop by for counter service or order take-out and delivery via Grubhub

Ramen Tatsuya
Ramen Tatsuya

Various Locations
There’s rarely a time—day or night, sweltering summer or slightly-less-sweltering winter—where you won’t find a line wrapped around the exterior of this cult favorite ramen shop. It’s a testament, in part, to the spot’s slow-simmered homemade pork bone broth which blows anything else in the area right out of the water. Try it in its purest form with the Tonkotsu Original, which loads the broth and ubiquitous noodles with chashu, agitate, wood ear mushroom, and scallions, for a guaranteed slurp-worthy dish.
How to book: Reserve via Resy or order take-out via Toast

Red 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 book: Order for take-out and delivery via Uber Eats

South Congress
Chicago-based Aba may be a fairly recent addition to Austin, but their bold, seasoned take on Mediterranean flavors has already made an impact. We mean this literally—their food creates such an intoxicating smell, it draws people off the sidewalks of South Congress for dishes like crispy short rib hummus, a Texas-ified take on the mezze go-to with sherry soaked, spoon-tender beef and a pile of grilled onions. Save yourself the trouble, and immediately ask for extra pita to scoop it all up with—you won’t want to leave any morsel behind.
How to book: Reserve via Tock, order take-out via Toast, or get delivery via DoorDash and Favor.

The Soup Peddler
The Soup Peddler

Various Locations
Cold days in Austin may be few and far between, but when they do happen, warm yourself up with a little something both comforting and healthy from long-time Austin mainstay, The Soup Peddler. At all of their many locations around town, 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 book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, order take-out online, or get delivery via Favor.

JewBoy Burgers
JewBoy Burgers

North Loop 
While the name may be a little unorthodox (get it?), the griddled, juicy patties here take all the long-established markers of a great burger straight to the next level. The staff 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 lot—spicy green chillies melt in the ooze of the burger’s pepper jack cheese, while a tangy blob of mustard and a dash of pepper cut through all the greasy goodness. 
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out via Toast.

Wow Chow soup dumplings
Wow Chow

Downtown
In the early days, Wu Chow’s menu came 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 freshly picked ingredients, certainly knew what a star the dish was bound to be. The paper-thin wrappers are plump with pork shoulder, ginger, garlic, scallions, red vinegar, and a broth that leaks out the sides with every nibble. Pro tip: Bite the top first and suck out the liquid before chowing down on the rest of the dumpling to prevent maximum spillage.
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable or order take-out via Toast

Govalle 
You should be able to identify an authentic French restaurant from the moment you enter—the garlicky, buttery scent of escargot should make your stomach growl, regardless of if you actually eat snails or not. Luckily, Justine’s Brasserie ticks off all the essentials, 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. Here the escargots get the Bourguignonne treatment, meaning lots of white wine and parsley butter sauce to complement the delicacy’s earthy flavor and tender texture.
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable or order take-out via Toast.

Chez Zee American Bistro pie
Chez Zee American Bistro

Ridge Oak Park
A serious sweet-tooth is basically a requirement for dining at West Austin’s Chez Zee. An old-school Austin hang, the family-family restaurant feels like the home of an auntie who just happens to make the best pies ever. Of their varied selection, the Coconut Creme stands out, if only for the sheer amount of whipped cream swirls crowning the velvety custard. Made from scratch with local ingredients, the creamy filling has flakes of toasted coconut both embedded within it and sprinkled across top and the whole shebang 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 book: Reserve via OpenTable or order take-out online.

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Molly Moltzen is a contributor for Thrillist.