Israeli street food at hip downtown food hall
OK, so not everyone is familiar with Israeli cuisine, but don’t you dare sleep on TLV (named after the airport code for the city of Tel Aviv). Recently opened at Fareground Food Hall downtown, TLV is a new concept from Berty Richter, chef/owner of food truck and critic’s darling Hummus Among Us, in partnership with the lauded Chef Kevin Fink (of Emmer & Rye and Henbit). The menu may be succinct, but it's huge on flavor. Start with the crave-inducing hummus sabich, creamy hummus topped with boiled egg, fried eggplant and drizzled with schug (a Yemeni hot chili sauce), amba (a Middle Eastern condiment made of fermented mangos) and fresh aromatic herbs, meant to be scooped up with TLV’s delicious chewy, powdery pita. Also on the menu are falafel sandwiches, flavorful sides like cumin beets, Israeli donuts, and cardamom Turkish coffee.
East Sixth Street
Fried chicken and wing joint showcasing Asian flavors
Teddy Bricker of Soursop has done it again: he’s opened a food trailer serving incredible bar-adjacent food with lots of playful, tongue-in-cheek ‘tude, this time with chef Dillon Misonznick. Located at Zilker Brewing, Spicy Boys’ focus is on chicken -- specifically spicy, Asian-inspired fried chicken sandwiches and wings in seven flavors including hot Korean BBQ, fiery “Spicy Boy,” and the numbing sensation of our favorite, lemon-Sichuan. Don’t miss the flaky, buttery roti with either yellow chicken curry or vegetarian panang. In the words of America’s foremost flame-obsessed epicurean: “Welcome to Flavortown!”
Casual and modern deli-style cafe with a focus on sandwiches and cocktails
Uncle Nicky’s is the new casual Northern Italian cafe from Chef Nicholas Yanes of Juniper; Brandon Hunt and Zane Hunt of Via 313 and Nickel City; and Travis Tober, who’s also a partner of Nickel City. The space, formerly home to gelateria Dolce Vita, is bright and minimalist; order an Aperol spritz or cold draft Peroni lager at the counter to get started, followed by antipasti like imported sardines, stuffed peppers, meatballs. The stars of the show at Uncle Nicky’s are the sandwiches; try the “What’s ‘Ndjua”, smoked spicy Calabrian sausage and gorgonzola on toasty bread, and the off-menu Taylor ham, egg, and cheese sandwich (which is a steal at $4).
Latin-inspired restaurant with outdoor dining in luxury hotel
The Four Seasons Hotel downtown recently introduced Ciclo, a Latin-inspired restaurant concept in the former TRIO space. It's a collaboration between Four Seasons chef de cuisine James Flowers and chef and restaurateur Richard Sandoval, featuring locally and seasonally inspired flavors and ingredients. For dinner, try the scallop and shrimp ceviche in yellow aguachile; and the lomo saltado, seared beef tenderloin with creamy jasmine rice, tomato, onion, cilantro, crispy potato, and soy sauce jus. Live Oak (the hotel’s bar) has a great cocktail menu as well, and we love the tamarind margarita. Check out the generous happy hour every day from 5-7 pm for a $5 house cocktail and half-off of snacks like smoked brisket tots.
Asian/Tex-Mex mashup serving cocktails and bar food
Bar Peached is the latest addition to The Peached Tortilla family tree of concepts. This bar-focused restaurant features a clever fusion of Asian street food and Tex-Mex, an extensive cocktail program, and some tasty bingsu (Korean shaved ice). Cocktails like the Kyoto Kiss (gin, raspberry, yuzu, shishito, egg white) compliment dishes like the banh mi tacos, mapo bolognese noodles, and the very popular crab toast and shrimp flautas.
Modern taqueria and margaritas from a celebrated SA chef
When Irish pub Fado’s shuttered, it was hard to imagine the space as anything but a dank wooden maze. Enter chef Jason Dady of San Antonio: the bright, lush interior of Chispas (Spanish for “sparks”) is unrecognizable from its former incarnation. Start with green chile queso and a chispa prima, the restaurant's “fancy” margarita, before moving onto the main attraction: the tacos. Keep it simple with the “SATX”, a tortilla filled with sirloin, a cheese enchilada, gravy, and onion; or indulge in a duck confit carnitas taco filled with lime crema, bacon, jalapeño, and pineapple.
Conceptual farm-to-table eatery from an enigmatic chef in a small town setting
Technically Ramble isn't in Austin: it's in a two-stop-sign town about an hour north, housed in a old-school feed store. However, the Thrillist Salado edition doesn't exist, and it would be a damn crime to not sing the praises of this farm-to-table concept from chef Jacob Hilbert (formerly of The Hollow in Georgetown) and business partner Elizabeth Wells Karleskind. Hilbert, a self-proclaimed “Appalachian Jewish boy,” takes a narrative approach in presenting his food. Each dish comes with a backstory in the form of lovely, lengthy prose that only the uninspired would describe as a “ramble.” Beautiful vegetables and cuts of tuna, mackerel, and Akaushi beef are adorned with tiny blossoms and herbs that are either grown onsite or foraged from the area. These beautifully-plated dishes are tied together with sauces made with seasonal ingredients; think wild onion emulsion and fragrant cream infused with mesquite smoke. The craft cocktails, also teeming with tiny flowers and fresh flavors, shouldn’t be missed either. Make the trip north, shamelessly photograph your meal, and know that you're experiencing truly unique dining.
Paleo-friendly eatery known for fresh flavors and best-selling butter coffee
Turns out, healthy gluten-free food doesn’t have to be boring. Picnik, founded by Naomi Seifter, offers a menu with the best ingredients (conscious meats, wild-caught fish, pasture-raised eggs) that are all safe for those intolerant of gluten, peanuts, corn, or soy. There are two trailers on South Lamar and Cesar Chavez open until 3pm each day for grab-and-go & butter coffee, as well as a brick-and mortar on Burnet Road open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and great craft/classic cocktails. We’re into the (gluten-free!) breakfast tacos, salted caramel banana pancakes made with cassava batter, chicken tenders made with rice flour, cashew queso, Thai red curry with grass-fed steak, and the new turmeric-crusted cauliflower steak.
Flavorful South Texas-style tacos made with fresh tortillas
Dani and Miguel Cobos -- originally from the Rio Grande Valley and Monterrey, Mexico -- take tacos very seriously. The brothers zig-zagged the border doing taco research, and raised money to fund their venture by trimming weed in California. Vaquero Taquero has evolved from a single modified paleta cart to the current trailer, and their brick-and-mortar is set to open any day now. Vaquero's known for handmade corn and flour tortillas, juicy al pastor sliced from the trompo (aka vertical rotisserie), fresh salsas, and killer breakfast tacos. Try the quesadilla al pastor: a handmade tortilla with pan-seared Oaxacan cheese and caramelized marinated pork garnished with cilantro, onion, roasted salsa roja or verde, fresh avocado cream, and topped off with a pineapple slice.
Brick-and-mortar location for newly crowned princes of pastrami
Otherside Deli is making folks’ pastrami dreams come true, especially East coast transplants missing a legit deli experience in this taco and BBQ obsessed city. Derrick Smith and Conor Mack brine their beef, coat it with a thick rub of black pepper and coriander seeds, and then smoke it until it’s perfectly pink with a juicy fat cap. The sliced pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and buttered rye slices from Texas French Bread are then grilled until the bread is crisp and the cheese is gooey. Don’t snooze on the corned beef, potato latkes, subs… or anything really.
Situated in a cozy, renovated former military building from the 1950’s, this long-anticipated restaurant/brewery has not only created a menu using local ingredients, but also a relationship between the beers and food. For example, spent grains from the brewery make their way into bread, and leftover fruit peels add unique flavors to the beers. Menu highlights include the Hearth Bread (served with mesquite butter and roasted garlic), Aged Pork Ribs (black beer vinegar, garden dry rub, spring onion), and warm-weather beer like the Idée Fixe, which is described as having flavors of “summer, English breakfast, lemon zest, black tea leaves.”
East Austin eatery making modern Mexican cuisine with local ingredients
Suerte is really, really into masa (aka corn-based dough), and while many associate the ingredient solely with tamales, masa serves as the foundation of Mexican cuisine. Suerte’s owner Sam Hellman-Mass (founding partner of Barley Swine and Odd Duck) and executive chef Fermín Núñez (formerly at Launderette and Uchiko) traveled to Central Mexico, including Núñez’s hometown of Torreón, to gather inspiration from the region’s vibrant culture; the resulting menu highlights Texas ingredients, including masa made with local heirloom grains, while also using Mexican techniques. Molotes (fresh masa dough stuffed with rotating fillings) are a fun intro, along with the flavor-packed green chorizo tlayuda (imagine a giant chalupa), while we can confidently say the suadero tacos (confit brisket, black magic oil, avocado salsa) are among the best tacos we’ve ever tasted. Also, don’t miss the creative cocktails: we’re obsessed with the Don Dario, a tamarind-laced margarita, and there's also a well-curated mezcal list.
New American spot with an emphasis on local ingredients
Emmer & Rye brings a unique dining experience to Austin, as the city’s first restaurant to offer contemporary American seasonal small plates passed on circulating carts as part of their meal. Guests are able to order these items in addition to a weekly rotating menu using local farm-to-table ingredients. Emmer & Rye opened in late 2015, and chef Fink immediately began racking up the accolades, including being named one of Food & Wine's best new chefs and one of the best new restaurants of 2017 by Bon Appétit. While the menu does rotate based on season, current favorites include the White Sonora tajarin (thin pasta) with radish top pesto, confit fennel, Meyer lemon, and pecans, as well as the paneer (fresh cheese) with butternut squash, miso, beer vinegar, and young Brassicas.
Truck serving non-typical BBQ and sides from an acclaimed pitmaster
LeRoy and Lewis is the new-school barbecue truck offering a rotating selection of alternative cuts and creative sides made with locally sourced product. Known for his innovative takes on Texas barbecue, pitmaster/chef Evan LeRoy incorporates elements of fine dining and from-scratch cooking into the menu, shining a new light on the traditional cuisine. Guests can expect old-school, market-style service of meats sliced to order and served by the pound; accompanying the meats are seasonally inspired, picnic-style sides beyond the basics, home-style desserts, and even barbecue bagels for breakfast. You can find LeRoy and Lewis adjacent to the new Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden.
Offbeat Asian street food influenced by the cuisine of Southeast Asia
Known for their flavor-packed “Asian drinking food” -- and a strange obsession with Guy Fieri -- the gang at Soursop are having a lot of fun, and it shows. Finding inspiration in Southeast Asian fare from Thailand and Vietnam to Malaysia and Indonesia, Soursop’s menu features a handful of permanent fixtures and a revolving cast of bar food hits like the SopBurger (two fresh ground patties, adobo glaze, Achara special sauce, swiss cheese, bacon fat roasted onions, shoestring potatoes). Do not skip the jumbo sambal chicken wings; they attack every taste bud in the best possible way with Thai chili, palm sugar, fish sauce, coconut vinegar, peanut, and mint. Soursop is found on the outdoor patio next to St. Elmo Brewing, who conveniently brews light, bright beers, which complement Soursop’s flavors perfectly.
East Cesar Chavez
Rustic Texan cuisine meets refinement by a chef with a notable resume
It’s difficult to describe Pitchfork Pretty; chef Max Snyder considers his cuisine “straight up Hill Country” -- a mix of German, Mexican, and Texan influence, with a lighter, fresher take. Yet, their most popular entree, the fried chicken, is treated like a Korean-style fried chicken -- spiced with red chile and served with pickled daikon. Point being, Pitchfork Pretty is as playful and refined as it is impossible to categorize and Snyder has continued to elevate the experience and surprise diners with unexpected and amazing flavors. Current must-trys include the bursting-with-flavor red snapper crudo; roasted maitake mushroom with spaghetti squash and coconut; and the red shrimp with crisp edges served over creamy potatoes. The cocktails alone are worth a visit, too -- try the herbal Tall Tale (Desert Door sotol, yellow Chartreuse, Aperol and lime). Also, every Monday night Pitchfork Pretty serves Banchan & Barbecue: a Korean’ish prix fixe, family-style dinner that is not to be missed.
Sunny, nautical space with raw bar, grill, and cocktails
Clark’s is a cozy neighborhood spot with a fantastic raw bar, fresh fish, one of Austin’s top burgers, and cocktails that run the gamut from tiki to modern classics. The white-washed walls, aqua and yellow color scheme, and fish tank all contribute to Clark’s chic, beachy vibe. Try their very popular pan-roasted black angus hamburger (sauce gribiche, Gruyere with Clark’s fries or slaw), or a dozen oysters on the half shell -- both are a great deal during Clark’s happy hour (Monday-Friday, 3pm-6pm), where guests receive 50 cents off oysters, half-off burgers, and $5 martinis, oyster shooters, and draft beer.
Twelve-seat Japanese omakase with an esteemed and eccentric chef
Quite possibly one of the priciest and most exclusive dining experiences in town, Japanese restaurant Otoko could easily slip into bougie hell left in the wrong hands. However, Japan native executive chef Yoshi Okai’s energy, punk rock attitude, and childlike enthusiasm makes Otoko’s omakase offerings the hottest -- and most fun -- ticket in town. While we’d love to share menu highlights and recommendations, we don’t know what chef Yoshi has up his sleeve from one day to the next, other than a perfect balance of reverence and rule-breaking and the ability to surprise and delight all who sit at his counter.
Relaxed Japanese izakaya with a focus on seasonality
This airy, wood-dominated Japanese izakaya puts the focus on sushi and yakitori, accentuated flavor-wise by locally sourced produce. Chef/owner Kazu Fukumoto, who opened the eponymous spot after spending a decade perfecting his sushi skills as the head chef at Musashino, is humble and gentle in demeanor -- he grills meat and slices sashimi behind the bar and greets everyone who enters. While the menu is chock-full of appetizers and seafood, Fukumoto is best explored by the specials board. And sake! Always sake.
Award-winning, iconic pitmaster’s restaurant famous for melt-in-your-mouth brisket
James Beard Award-winning chef Aaron Franklin and his meat wizardry have become famous all over the country, attracting tourists and locals alike to happily wait in line for a taste of the magic. Franklin’s smoked meats are the most tender, juicy, and flavorful around, and taste especially great after four hours of beer drinking and chatting in line! Try the brisket (duh), pulled pork, and ribs for the holy trinity of Franklin’s smoked meats.
East Cesar Chavez
Flavorful, perfectly smoked meats from a member of a revered BBQ family
The boys have got nothing on barbecue royalty LeAnn Mueller and wife Ali Clem; the granddaughter of legendary pitmaster Louis Mueller and the popular ‘cue truck have garnered more attention than ever this year, and for good reason: Their meat is incredible and rivals you-know-who. The operation has moved from the sweltering food truck park into the air conditioned Quickie Pickie (thank you, Jesus) on East Cesar Chavez, and the lines and buzz don’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Try the fatty brisket, pork ribs, or a sandwich with a hilarious name like El Sancho (sausage and pulled pork or chopped beef topped with pickled red onion on a Martin’s potato bun).
Southern dishes executed with classic technique from a celebrated chef
Olamaie has been consistently pleasing discerning palates since opening in 2014, with chef Michael Fojtasek and his culinary team serving fine dining renditions of Southern classics. For example, “Hoppin’ John,” a dish traditionally consisting of black-eyed peas and rice, is elevated and given complexity in flavor and texture with the addition of smoky likker (liquid left after boiling collard greens), creamy rice, a soft-boiled egg, and heirloom Sea Island red peas. Don’t skip Olamaie’s famous and perfectly flaky biscuits served with cultured butter or the restaurant’s cocktails, some of the best in Austin.
Though not a brand-new restaurant on the block, Odd Duck wins points for its consistently good cuisine which accounts for its popularity. Approaching its one-year anniversary, the South Lamar restaurant is the reincarnation of Bryce and Dylan Gilmore’s original food trailer -- opened post-Bryce’s Barley Swine success -- and operates with the same focus on supporting local farmers, featuring local ingredients, and working from scratch. The result? Food and drinks that are always, always evolving.
Square, Detroit-style deep dish pizza
There have been some changes for Via 313 (arguably Austin’s favorite pizza joint) with the long-awaited East Sixth brick and mortar now open to the public, and the OG trailer having moved to West Sixth -- what has not changed, though, is the almost-too-cheesy square pizza of our (dirty?) dreams. Detroit natives and brothers, Brandon and Zane Hunt introduced Austin to the deep dish square pizza with crispy cheese edges, and it became the ultimate post-drinking food. Every pizza on the menu is outstanding, but we’re loyal to the Detroiter: natural-casing pepperoni on top, lots of cheese underneath, smoked pepperoni underneath that, and perfect dollops of marinara.
Funky, casual ramen shop where toothsome broths reign
Fellow chefs and DJs Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto wanted to create a ramen shop that rivaled those found in Japan and LA; this is how Ramen Tatsu-ya came to exist. The restaurant specializes in slow-cooked pork tonkotsu broth that serves as the base for a thin noodle and assortment of additions like moist chashu (pork), ajitama (marinated soft-boiled eggs), and wood ear mushrooms. The rich ramen is nicely accompanied by bright appetizers like the Sweet and Sour Yodas: deep-fried Brussel sprouts tossed in apricot vinegar and curry. And remember: Slurping is encouraged!
Real Neapolitan pies and a well-curated wine list in an intimate space
Bufalina’s authentic Neapolitan pizzas are the real deal, following strict guidelines set by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (try saying that three times). After adding toppings, the pies are baked in a 900-degree Stefano Ferrara wood-burning oven for about 90 seconds; pizzas emerge properly charred and slightly wet in the middle, a Neapolitan hallmark. While all are good choices, we’re slightly obsessed with two of them: the simple and slightly spicy Calabrese (tomato, mozzarella, salami, serrano, garlic, basil) and the simultaneously earthy, herbal, and mildly sweet roasted mushroom (caramelized onion, comté, mozzarella, herbs). Bufalina’s wine list is thoughtful and interesting, too, so you should definitely ask your server for a rec based on your pie.
Funky Texas smokehouse/Japanese izakaya mash-up
Kemuri Tatsu-ya is the Austin restaurant that swept 2017, collecting national accolades from top critics and publications. If the name of East Austin’s new izakaya sounds familiar and/or induces salivation, it’s because Tatsu Aikawa -- the “Tatsu” half of Ramen Tatsu-ya -- is the chef/owner. Like Aikawa, who is Japanese-born and Texas-raised, the new concept is an atypical mash-up of these two cultures; this cultural rendezvous is most evident in dishes like the Texas ramen (a bowl of traditional ramen save the tenacious beef broth and house-smoked brisket) and the smoked fish collar (a seldom-utilized but succulent cut teeming with brightness from a lemon and yuzu salt rub). Other must-trys include the “Hot Pocketz” (crispy tofu filled with brisket and gooey Gouda) and one of the playful cocktails, like the Matcha Painkiller: a Tiki-inspired blend of buckwheat shochu, tequila, pineapple, coconut, and matcha tea served in a ceramic maneki-neko or “lucky cat” vessel.
Modern Japanese from Austin’s original celebrity chef
Translated from the Japanese word “house,” the award-winning Uchi is located in a refurbished South Austin bungalow. Award-winning chef Tyson Cole’s signature, non-traditional take on Japanese food has delighted Austin’s diverse dining crowd as well as visitors from all over since 2003. Uchi is also THE restaurant that put Austin on the culinary map and produced a pool of extremely talented alumni who have gone on to also contribute to Austin’s food culture. Here’s what to expect at Uchi (and sister restaurant Uchiko): fresh fish accented by bright fruit, vegetables, herbs, grains and other flavors inspired by both Japan and Texas, with favorites from the cool tastings menu include the hama chili (yellowtail, ponzu, Thai chili, orange) and sake kosho (salmon, clementine, kiwi, puffed rice).
Experimental-yet-unassuming small plates served with a side of hospitality
Now settled into its spacious new home on Burnet Road, Barley Swine not only remains one of Austin’s top restaurants, but also makes dining fun. In true New American fashion, the menu is a list of ingredients, so you often don’t expect the flavors or techniques presented in front of you. Each small plate is a gem; our favorite is the Shiitake Dumplings -- tiny wonton packages filled with flavorful broth and served over creamy scrambled eggs, meant to be eaten in one bite. The cocktail menu also sings: try the bright and tart Parrot Season, combining blanco tequila, Thai chile vinegar, grapefruit, and agave.