Food & Drink

The Best Hidden-Gem Restaurants in Austin

Published On 07/05/2016 Published On 07/05/2016
College RoadHouse

College Roadhouse

North Lamar

You can’t help but say “roadhouuuuuuse!” in your head every time this place comes to mind. Soju bar? Korean restaurant? Sports pub? Karaoke lounge? It’s all of those things, plus a basket of KFC (Korean fried chicken). Find it in the corner of a strip mall on north Lamar by a wig shop and a Tejano bar for basically a perfect night... and get a vodka slush, only $3 on Tuesdays.

Troy

Northwest

Blink and you’ll miss it! Tiny but mighty, Troy is one of the few Turkish places in town. Those who are “in the know” know that it’s worth the wait. The most talked-about dish is the Beef Iskender -- yogurt, doner, and toasted bread, with browned butter poured on top. For those folks wanting to save a couple of bills, it’s BYOB. There's also live music on Thursdays for a side of tunes with your Turkish coffee.

Marakesh Cafe and Grill

Marakesh Cafe & Grill

North Austin

Marakesh used to be one of the only decent places to eat on Congress. My my, how times have changed. The new incarnation lives in a small space off of Steck. The interior is unassuming, with inlaid tile tables, hanging lamp, and bright silk throw pillows. It serves classic Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes and often has world music bands to accompany your dinner.

Southern Hospitality

Middle Fiskville

Pastor Fred and crew are serving up self-proclaimed food for the soul, meaning a Southern-style buffet that is slap-yo’-momma good. The buffet is $9.99, drink included, and waffles available at all meals (obviously). Fried chicken, fried fish, mac & cheese, chicken fried steak, cornbread, sweet corn, collard greens… the list is endless. Make sure you check the schedule before heading over, as it's closed for Bible study on Wednesdays.

Royal Jelly

Royal Jelly

St. Johns

No, this is not a jam shop... but it is the jam. Take a right onto St. Johns from Lamar, and you’ve arrived; this little gastropub is the first to pop up on this road, though it’s assuredly not the last. Happy hour runs all day on Sunday, and 4-7pm Tuesday through Saturday. Small plates change all the time, but the goat meatballs and merguez sliders are consistently available. Wash it down with a Mol'e Fashioned, or some house-made sangria.

Vazquez Restaurant

East Braker

This mom-and-pop Mexican dive might be surrounded by industrial buildings, but the Vazquez family has been serving it up hot and fresh for over 20 years. The parking is tricky for sure, but once you get in, you’re greeted with hot salsa, chilaquiles, enchiladas divorciadas, inexpensive breakfast tacos, and carne guisada big enough for two meals. Fair warning: the chips & salsa are seemingly endless.

Saffron Indian Fusion

Saffron

Far West

Nepalese and Indian food come together here in a glorious profusion of flavors. As you probably gleaned from its name, Saffron has a heavy hand when it comes to the bright and lovely flavors of both cultures. It’s an Instagrammer's dream. Vegetarians and meat eaters alike will find something on its extensive menu. Try a little bit of all things at the lunch buffet. BYOB just sweetens the pot.

G’s Dynamite Deli

South Austin

It feels like old Austin in here -- walls covered in posters and stickers, a small walk-up counter, tiny kitchen, and bangin’ sandwiches. It uses only the freshest ingredients, and you’ll be hard-pressed to choose between killer menu options. Topping the list are the Texas Dip (with Shiner Bock au jus) and the spinach artichoke grilled cheese, mushroom brie soup, and the buffalo chicken salad sandwich.

Alta's Cafe

Alta's Cafe

Downtown/Town Lake

What if we told you there was a spot right on Town Lake with a perfect patio, fresh smoothies, cold brew coffee, local beer, excellent wine, free yoga on Tuesday mornings, and bottomless mimosas on every first Saturday? It’s not too good to be true. Head over to Alta’s, a classy cafe right next to Rō Fitness, and you too can bear witness to the ultimate secret spot for taking a break from the trail.

Cafe Bistro

Barton Creek

This restaurant isn’t just hidden... it’s completely obscured by Nordstrom. Did you know Nordstrom had a restaurant? Now you do. Give those credit cards and your butt a rest and enjoy a bowl of crab bisque, fresh berry & fig salad… or an entire brick-oven pizza. The bistro is dedicated to local, sustainable, natural, and organic foods. It also fully composts and recycles. Even the menus are made of post-consumer waste.

Gammad Oriental Store & Restaurant

North Austin

In the way of many Asian markets in Austin, this is both a grocery store and a small restaurant. The market offers groceries that run the gamut, but the prepared food is primarily Filipino. For the uninitiated, pork adobo or caldereta (beef stew) are probably the items most familiar to the American palate. The place isn’t long on atmosphere, but the authenticity factor is pretty damn high.

JR's Tacos

Walnut Creek

In this era of food-as-religion, even gas stations are stepping up their food game. Place your order at JR’s window and watch those guys get to work on making something fresh and fast. The crack of an egg, the sizzle of the grill, the on-point green salsa... pick up a 44oz Slurpee to pair with your breakfast tacos. We recommend taking it to go (or don’t, if the neon beer signs strike you as romantic).

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1. College Roadhouse 9515 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753

This strip mall dive bar is a little slice of Seoul in Austin. A messy but lovable combination of Soju bar, Korean restaurant, Sports pub, and Karaoke lounge, College Roadhouse is the perfect place to get a little wild on the weekend. House specialties include KFC (that's Korean Fried Chicken) and alcoholic grape slush, which you can order in a flight that also includes Coors Light and Dos XX. It's a big, open space dominated by three giant screens that switch between sports games and karaoke, with plenty of seating and couches for lounging. It's a little hard to find, set back in the corner of a strip mall and with minimal signage, but totally worth the journey.

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2. Troy 8105 Mesa Dr, Austin, TX 78759

This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tiny eatery is one of the very few Turkish places in town, and certainly one of the best. Tucked back behind a gas station, Troy definitely doesn't look like much from the outside, but it's warm and inviting inside, with long wooden tables and dark red walls. The restaurant's signature dish is the Beef Iskender, a simple combination with yogurt and doner on toasted bread, with browned butter poured on top. And for those folks wanting to save a couple of bills, it’s BYOB.

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3. Marakesh Cafe & Grill 3301 Steck Ave #106, Austin, TX 78757

This laid back, unassuming Mediterranean restaurant lives in a small space off Steck, and it's one of the best venues of its kind in Austin. Nothing comes pre-made here—they butcher all their own meats, make their own sauces, and source their vegetables from local farmers. The interior is on the small side, but beautifully decorated with inlaid tile tables and bright silk throw pillows, and there's a breezy outdoor patio and plenty of free parking. With live Middle Eastern music on weeknights, Marakesh is your go-to for a casual, elegant, decently priced dinner service.

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4. Southern Hospitality Catering & Dining 6700 Middle Fiskville Rd, Ste 405, Austin, TX 78752

Pastor Fred and his crew are serving up a southern-style buffet for the soul that is slap yo’ momma good. A man of the cloth who aims to feed his flock both spiritually and physically, Pastor Fred operates a fantastically cheap buffet and catering operation that regularly hosts special occasions at its massive Middle Fiskville road location. The buffet has been $9.99, drink included, since the beginning and waffles are available at all meals (duh.) Southern Hospitality has all the classics: Fried chicken, fried fish, mac and cheese, chicken fried steak, cornbread, sweet corn, collard greens… the list is endless and the food never runs out.

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5. Royal Jelly 704 W St Johns Ave, Austin, TX 78752

Royal Jelly is a gastropub in St. Johns is a gem in the Austin restaurant scene with great happy hour specials that include killer cocktails and rotating small plates. The patio with brightly painted furniture is perfect for lounging in the summer, and the laid-back vibe is perfect for catching up with friends. Bonus: many of their beers come from Texas, so you can ride that local vibe. No, this is not a jam shop but it is the jam. Take a right onto St. Johns from Lamar and you’ve arrived as this little gastropub is the first to pop up on this road but it’s assuredly not the last. Happy hour all day on Sunday and 4-7pm Tuesday through Saturday. Small plates change all the time but the goat meatballs and merguez sliders are consistently available. Wash it down with a Mole Old Fashioned or some house-made sangria.

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6. Vazquez Restaurant 915 E Braker Ln, Austin, TX 78753

Vazquez Restaurant in East Braker is a mom-and-pop Mexican dive that is a bit hard to find in the middle of industrial buildings, but once you do find it, you'll have one of the most authetenic Mexican food experiences in Austin. The hot salsa, chilaquiles, and enchiladas are delectable, and some dishes are large enough to be two meals. For a great start to your day, head here for great omelets and breakfast tacos.

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7. Saffron 3616 Far West Blvd, Austin, TX 78731

Saffron in Far West Austin is a fusion of Nepalese and Indian food, which makes for a beautiful marriage of flavors. As guessed by the name, colorful and powerful flavors from both cultures are used, and you're left with a beautiful plate to eat (or photograph for your Instagram followers). Vegetarians are welcome as well with many meatless options. Finally, the lunch buffet and BYOB policy make this place a hidden gem in Austin.

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8. G's Dynamite Deli 2312 S 1st St, Austin, TX 78704

G's Dynamite Deli in South Austin is perfectly quirky with walls covered in posters and stickers. A small walk-up counter and a tiny kitchen doesn't keep them from producing amazing sandwiches with fresh ingredients. The Texas dip with Shiner Bock au jus is especially savory and extremely unique to the menu. For something extra crazy, go for the Spinach Artichoke grilled cheese.

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9. Alta's Cafe 74 Trinity St, Austin, TX 78701 (Downtown)

Alta's Cafe is a beer garden with views of Lady Bird Lake that's only open on weekends, and on which you'll be able to get sweet brews and great sandwiches. In addition to that perfect patio view, there's fresh smoothies, cold brew coffee, local beer, free yoga on Tuesday mornings and bottomless mimosas on every first Saturday. The open-air feel of the entire establishment will have you relaxed and recharged for the next week.

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10. Cafe Bistro 2901 S Capital of Texas Hwy, Austin, TX 78746

Hidden inside of the Nordstrom in Barton Creek, Cafe Bistro is an unexpected oasis with fresh, upscale bistro fare. Perfect for a mid day shopping break with classic light dishes like crab bisque and fresh berry and fig salad… or an entire brick oven pizza. The bistro is dedicated to local, sustainable, natural and organic foods. They're so dedicated to environmentalism, even their menus are made of post-consumer waste. So you can eat here guilt-free (as much as that's possible within a mall).

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11. Gammad Oriental Store & Restaurant 2309 W Parmer Ln, Austin, TX 78727

Gammad is a grocery store and a small restaurant rolled into one, like many of the Austin's Asian markets. You'll find groceries in the market that run the gamut, but the prepared food is primarily Filipino. If your palate is unfamiliar, we recommend ordering the Pork Adobo or Caldareta (Beef Stew). It's about as authentic as you can get.

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12. JR's Tacos 1921 Cedar Bend Dr, Austin, TX 78757

If you're hesitant about eating tacos from a gas station, well, we don't blame you. But trust us when we say that JR's is in a league of its own. Order at the window and watch the staff dish out something fresh and fast. The breakfast tacos are sure to satisfy -- especially if you top them with their on-point green salsa.