Acquired Taste: Blood Rice Cakes With Timothy DeLaGhetto and Justina Valentine
Sophisticated, from-scratch Italian with a buzzy patio
One of the original Domain restaurants, this light & airy spot takes a modern approach to Italian classics, with plenty of wine, beer, and cocktails to boot. The big windows and large outdoor patio make equally suitable for date night or a friendly neighborhood hang, and the food is all scratch-made daily, from the fresh pastas to the crispy pizzas. This stuff’s good enough to make you forget you’re eating in a mall.
Affordable, elevated American fare
After the demonstrable success of its second street location, David Bull and team opened a larger, more modern Second Bar + Kitchen in the Archer Hotel. This classy spot with a casual feel serves food all day -- our favorite dishes are veal meatballs, braised beef short rib with grits, seared Faroe Island salmon, and the black (truffle) and bleu (cheese) pizza. Craft cocktails, beer, and an extensive wine list make this a no-brainer happy-hour destination as well.
Homestyle Thai in flamboyant surroundings
Part of the East Side King dynasty, this food-trailer-turned-brick-and-mortar offers some of the most authentic Thai in the city. Moo satay, larb, crab rice, and fish fritters are popular sellers while more adventurous eaters may opt for the Issan sausage or the chicken skins. Funky art designed by Peelander Yellow graces the walls and the open kitchen is outlined in colorful dangling lamps. Though you won’t find hard liquor here, they have creative sake and beer-based cocktails.
Italian small plates in a contemporary, comfortable setting
Though North holds down the fort on classic Italian, Mia is like its fun younger sister. The format is Italian tapas, but the portion sizes are generous enough that you might not actually notice. The flat-iron steak and en papillote get a lot of love (for good reason), as do the calamari and mussels. For smaller bites, try the patatas bravas and the bacon-wrapped dates. Mia also draws the deal-seeker crowd with its regular food and drink specials, including $1 oysters on Mondays, half-priced bottles of wine on Wednesdays, and happy hour every day (except Saturday).
Traditional steakhouse fare, thoughtfully done
Deep leather booths and community tables dominate the space in this upscale “chain with a conscience,” which focuses on using free-range, line-caught, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats and seasonal produce in its hearty American dishes. The menu is littered with standards -- think St. Louis-style ribs, cedar plank salmon, and New York strip -- with some legit tacos thrown in for good measure. Couple that with the daily happy hour specials on small plates, selected entrees, and specialty cocktails, and you’ve basically got no excuse not to stop by.
Solid seafood in a lively sports bar environment
Don’t be surprised when you walk into a sports bar and find some of the best casual seafood in the area. Blackened mahi-mahi, crawfish tacos, and fried oyster po-boys should satisfy the seafood lovers, while more carnivorous folks may want to double down on the Kick Yo Daddy (ribeye with buffalo sauce) or the pulled pork with mango. Some of the prices can be variable, since the wild-caught Gulf seafood on the menu is subject to the whims of the market. Order at the counter, and then grab a craft brew while you wait.
French cuisine with bistro ambiance
This French spot is all warm wood, low lighting, and hand-written menu boards, and while the price tag reflects its lofty leanings, given the dearth of French cuisine in Austin, it’s to be forgiven. The menu is balanced -- lighter fare like Nicoise and Dover Sole Meuniere is offset by escargots, foie gras, duck confit, and boeuf bourguignon -- and the wine list, as you’d expect, is extensive and French-heavy (with half-off French bottles on Wednesday). Desserts like beignets and creme brulee are worth undoing a pants button for.
Fusion tacos in a relaxed environment
Just when you thought you’d seen every kind of taco out there, along comes Velvet Taco. Originating in Dallas, this fast-casual spot claims to serve “tacos without borders,” and its fusion-style chops can’t be denied: Nashville hot tofu, fried paneer with tomato chutney, the Cuban Pig (pulled pork, ham, pickle), and the Ahi Poke are only a handful of the specialty tacos on offer here. You won’t find the ubiquitous Austin breakfast taco here, but the frittatas are a treat for brunch.
Eco-conscious fare with a farmers market feel
This is exactly what you’d expect from a place claiming to make “healthy food for a happy world,” although we might also add tasty to that descriptor. Vegetable-forward selections include generous salads, mix ‘n match bowls, and whole grain wraps filled with spicy Japanese eggplant with thai basil and cashew, but folks in search of protein can feel good about what they’re eating, too -- grass-fed beef, all-natural chicken, sustainable salmon and non-GMO tofu are all equally viable options here.
Latin fusion, margaritas, and Saturday salsa nights
This is the only eatery in the Domain where you can find those Latin flavors you’ve been looking for. The owners are Salvadoran, and their menu reflects that influence along with Texas’ Mexican: Salvadoran plantains, ceviche, and tamales wrapped in banana leaves sit side-by-side with Tex-Mex fajitas, enchiladas, and burritos. There’s also a SalvaTex section that takes the best from both cultures and smashes them together on one plate. The happy hour here is bangin’ and Saturday Salsa nights are surprisingly slammed as well.