Austin's food game has always been pretty strong, but we’ve only recently been widely acknowledged as a full-blown culinary tour de force -- and it's mainly in part to trailblazers like the ones on his list. They may not be the oldest, or the biggest, or even necessarily the best spots in town, but they changed the game, and made the biggest impact. These are the restaurants that make Austin, Austin.
Austin's 14 Most Important Restaurants
Scholz Garten is not only a kitschy pregame location for BBQ and beer -- it’s the oldest operating business in Texas. It was founded in 1866 by Civil War veteran and German immigrant, August Scholz, and originally catered only to thirsty Bavarians and Prussians looking for a taste of home. Today, however, you’ll find UT fans and politicos alike enjoying a taste of Austin’s German culture.
Dining at Nubian Queen Lola’s is not different from dining at the home of a family member -- if your family offers all-you-can-eat Gumbo Fridays. Lola Stephens-Bell is the owner and beating heart of the tiny East Austin restaurant. Not only did she bring real Louisiana cooking to Austin, but she gives back to her community by closing on Sundays in order to feed the homeless. She once faced hard times in her life and is a testament to giving back to your community, regardless of your means. You can help as well, just have lunch at Nubian Queen Lola’s and fill out a meal donation slip.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Tacodeli is one of Austin's favorite locally owned fast-casual taco joints -- and a favorite of Austin musicians. However, Tacodeli boasts more than just tasty tacos (and killer salsa). It adheres to a strong commitment to sustainable and local ingredients. Anyone there is happy to tell you where every single one of their products comes from. Can folks at your taco joint say the same?
In 1953, The Frisco opened for business as part of Harry Akin’s Night Hawk chain; the first location was on South Congress. The Frisco stands out for a few reasons, as owner Harry Akin was a maverick in restaurant innovation and politics. He raised his own beef and provided late-night service, but most importantly, he was the first Austinite to ever integrate his business. Kudos to progress!
While you may know Fonda San Miguel for its large wooden doors and sprawling brunch buffet, it is also recognized for breaking ground in Austin’s food scene. When Fonda San Miguel opened in 1975, it was only one of a handful of restaurants throughout the country that exclusively served Mexican cuisine (not Tex-Mex). Today, it remains an Austin institution that has continued to thrive.
Before Threadgill’s was an Austin institution for comfort food, it helped actualize Austin’s propensity for live music and “weirdness.” In 1933, Kenneth Threadgill bought and operated a Gulf filling station. Kenneth, a moonshine bootlegger and country music fanatic, had a change of heart when the repeal of Prohibition was passed. He made sure he was the first person in Travis County to acquire a beer license -- and soon the filling station became Threadgill’s. The music venue was home to an eclectic mix of musicians and counter-culture enthusiasts. Although many famous and beloved acts came through Threadgill’s, most notably is Janis Joplin, who was a regular performer and was treated as a daughter by Kenneth Threadgill.
Jeffery’s set the standard for high-end dining 40 years ago. In 1975, business partners Nancy Sewald, Jeffrey Weinberger, and Ron and Peggy Weiss opened Jeffrey's at the corner of West Lynn and 12th with Chef Emil Vogely in the kitchen. The elegant service and cuisine attracted famous and neighborhood people alike. In 2013, Jeffrey’s was purchased by Larry McGuire, who revamped both the space and menu. Today, Jeffrey’s continues to thrive in the historic Clarksville neighborhood.
In 1982, three Parisians immigrated to Austin, opened a restaurant just off of Sixth St and started serving classic French bistro food. Pate, escargot… these were not menu options an Austinite would normally see, much less in a restaurant where everyone had a French accent. More than 30 years later, Chez Nous continues to please diners with its cuisine and dining experience that feels like a sweet step back in time.
When we hear about talented chefs in austin, it’s generally accompanied with the words “Uchi alum.” Uchi’s owner, James Beard winner Tyson Cole, not only led Austin’s food renaissance into the upper echelon, but Uchi also spawned an impressive lineup of talent. The most famous of the alumnus is our own Paul Qui, who served as executive chef of sister restaurant, Uchiko. Oh, and Uchi’s food isn’t bad either.
Before Aaron Franklin flipped the script, Austinites used to actually get in their car and drive to [insert minuscule town] for juicy, lovingly smoked BBQ. These days, the brisket, the demand, the line, the James Beard award -- it probably all feels like a fever dream to the down-to-earth Aaron Franklin. His food’s popularity not only led to a handful of other enthusiasts bringing serious game, but it also put Austin on the map as a THE national barbecue destination while earning Franklin the 2015 James Beard award for "Best Chef: Southwest.”
From beginnings as a farmers market butcher, supper club, and now a brick-and-mortar restaurant (and butcher shop), Dai Due stands out from the other guys. Chef and proprietor Jesse Griffiths not only utilizes every part of the animals that Dai Due butchers, but just about every ingredient comes from within a 200-mile radius.
In 1988, when Eastside Cafe opened its doors, Manor Road was a far cry from the dining and drinking hotspot it is now. Eastside Cafe not only opened for business in an area that had yet to realize its potential, but grew its own herbs and vegetables on-site.
Before 2013, only a handful of restaurants were serving ramen, and the dish certainly wasn’t on anyone’s radar as anything more than a college student’s sustenance. Until Ramen Tatsu-Ya came along, that is. With their deft hands, Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto created a full-fledged ramen frenzy in Austin. We waited, we slurped, and along came even more ramen shops. But nothing compares to the lovingly simmered broth made here.
Paul Qui can do no wrong, and although we know him from Top Chef Texas, his time at Uchiko, and his East Side King empire, when Qui opened, Austin went from dark horse to undisputed. Combining his Filipino roots and the techniques and influences gathered from global travels, he created something that is uniquely Austin, which will continue to serve as a standard for all who follow.
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1. Scholz Garten1607 San Jacinto Blvd, Austin
2. Nubian Queen Lola's Cajun Soul Food1815 Rosewood Ave, Austin
3. Tacodeli1500B Spyglass Dr, Austin
4. The Frisco6801 Burnet Rd, Austin
5. Fonda San Miguel2330 W North Loop Blvd, Austin
6. Jeffrey's1204 West Lynn St, Austin
7. Chez Nous510 Neches St, Austin
8. Uchi801 S Lamar Blvd, Austin
9. Franklin Barbecue900 E 11th St, Austin
10. Dai Due Butcher Shop & Supper Club2406 Manor Rd, Austin
11. Eastside Cafe2113 Manor Rd, Austin
12. Ramen Tatsu-Ya8557 Research Blvd, Austin
13. Qui1600 E 6th St, Austin
Scholz Garten is not only a kitschy pregame location for BBQ and beer -- it’s the oldest operating business in Texas. It was founded in 1866 by Civil War veteran and German immigrant, August Scholz, and originally catered only to thirsty Bavarians and Prussians looking for a taste of home and served traditional German food and beer, both of which can still be found here today. Order the giant Bavarian pretzel, the bratwurst, and potato salad, and wash it down with an ice-cold draft “bier” (our favorite is the Spaten Optimator).
This cafe is quirky, cash-only and serves up authentically made cajun classics. Owner Lola Stephens-Bell is committed to giving back to the community by closing her restaurant on Sundays to feed the homeless. You can fill out a meal donation slip when you dine there on any other day to keep the good deeds flowing. We suggest you go on Friday, when Lola dishes out all-you-can-eat gumbo.
Many Mexican joints have tackled the breakfast burrito, but few have committed themselves wholeheartedly to the endeavor, so much so that they close at 3p. Tacodeli makes that commitment. And the results are glorious.
Located on Burnet Rd, The Frisco is the greasy spoon you've dreamed of -- blue plate specials like smothered steak or corned beef and cabbage find themselves alongside some of the best pies in the business. Homestyle goodness aside, this Austin landmark revolutionized the restaurant business in 1953 when Harry Akin (owner of the Night Hawk chain) refused to discriminate against race and gender when hiring employees.
An Austin institution since 1975, Fonda San Miguel has some of the best Mexican food in Austin. Get the ceviche las brisas and the relleno de picadillo (roasted poblano lightly battered and pan fried, filled with shredded pork, almonds & raisins, and served with jitomate sauce), or come by for their famous brunch spread.
Jeffrey's offers a fine dining experience unrivaled by any other restaurant in Austin. The French-American menu centers around prime beef dishes grilled and roasted over local live oak. Consider going big and fancy with the Texas Wagyu bone-in ribeye, and make sure you top it off with a healthy dose of foie gras butter. Jeffrey's interior is as elegant as the ambience, filled with plush chairs, white tablecloths, and a fireplace.
Chez Nous, an authentic French bistro, has been delighting Austin's downtown community for well over 30yrs. Whether, brunch, lunch, or dinner, this restaurant, whose name means "our home" en français, serves up an atmosphere as rich in texture as its regional cuisine.
Serving up sushi and Japanese cuisine in South Austin, Uchi does have a larger price tag and you may encounter a wait -- but there's good reason for that in the deliciously fresh ingredients and bold flavors that you'll find inside. Grab a seat and order away, or put your trust in your servers and chefs and let them pick for you.
This lunch-only spot often sees long lines of customers waiting to order pulled pork, brisket and other smoked meats. Chef Aaron Franklin brought quality barbecue to Austin that was excellent enough to earn him the 2015 James Beard Award for "Best Chef: Southwest." His BBQ is so lauded that meat lovers from around the world regulalry make a pit stop at this shack-like locale in East Austin.
A former farmer's market mainstay and supper club with a serious locavore following, Dai Due is now a brick-and-mortar butcher shop and restaurant (via prix fixe menu or a la carte). The menu changes almost every night, according to season and availability.
Eastside's known for their brunch, which features everything from classic migas, to baked Brie with apple chutney, to blueberry blintzes, but their dinner's standout-ish too: crabmeat-stuffed shrimp, and sesame catfish with garlic aioli.
Nothing compares to the lovingly simmered broth made at Ramen Tatsu-ya. The gang here has managed to create a cult classic with their menu. Try their signature bowl of ramen is a rich, complex, pork bone broth filled with thin noodles, tender chashu pork (soy braised pork belly), a marinated soft boiled egg, wood ear mushrooms, scallions, and your choice of add-ins. There is often a line but service moves lightning fast.
The first solo venture of James Beard award-winning Paul Qui, the appropriately named Qui is a minimalist's dream, from the rigid lines of its wood furnishing and rectangular layout, to the bright pops of color provided by the garnishes atop the Japanese fusion fare. The trendy image is only enhanced by the fruity gin-based cocktails and the meals that come to the table in small portions, like crispy pig's head, squid, and seared scallops.