The Best Places to Eat in Austin Right Now
It’s that time again: The time when we give you a fresh roll call of Austin’s best and buzziest restaurants, and this season has bestowed some true gems upon us. Said gems include upscale Japanese shabu-shabu from the Tatsu-Ya team; an Eastside Korean spot with excellent cocktails; and brick-and-mortar evolutions for some of Austin's beloved, yet small scale, food entrepreneurs. And, as usual, we have your cheat sheet to the old and new-school BBQ spots, the fine dining establishments you can wear shorts to, and the funky food trucks who cut through the noise to be recognized as the Best Restaurants in Austin.
Raw ingredients are swished in simmering broth at this modern shabu-shabu joint
DipDipDip Tatsu-ya is the new-school shabu-shabu restaurant from chef/owner Tatsu Aikawa and the team behind acclaimed concepts Ramen Tatsu-Ya, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya, and Domo Alley-Gato. Don’t feel like a dummy if you don’t know what shabu-shabu is, you are not alone. The Japanese hot pot style starts with choosing a simmering broth kept hot via tabletop heat source. Uncooked meat, veggies, dumplings, and noodles are brought for you to swish and cook in your boiling broth along with dipping sauces and rice. At DipDipDip, the interactive dining experience is given the full Tatsu-ya treatment--expect local Angus beef, a spicy queso dip spiked with yuzu, and a “pot pocket”, tofu skin filled with cheese, grits, and sausage meant to be “swished” in your hot broth. While dining here comes with a bit of a learning curve, expect a unique DIY restaurant experience, very attentive service, Japanese-inspired cocktails, and a happy belly.
Modern Mexican in a sleek space, from an all-star team
Housed in an impossible-to-miss, glass-topped black box, Comedor has opened its doors to a very eager Austin, with the anticipation stemming from the names behind this project. Chef Philip Speer (formerly of Uchi and Bonhomie) has teamed up with chefs Gabe Erales (formerly of Dai Due Taqueria) and Daniela Vasquez (a veteran of Mexico City’s food scene), William Ball and Conor Oman (co-owners of cocktail bar Garage), and acclaimed architect Tom Kundig. The menu is packed with ingredients native to Mexico, treated respectfully according to tradition but given a Texas zhush. Favorites like the huauzontle fritters, bone marrow tacos, and Texas quail milanesa are perfect examples of this reimagined Tex-Mex influence. The bar program focuses on Mexican spirits and flavors, from margaritas to a mole Old Fashioned (our favorite!), as well as an impressive list of over 100 agave-based spirits, perfect for sipping on their breezy courtyard.
Casual hand rolls and omakase from Japanese culinary vets
Springdale General, the mixed-use complex built to provide affordable real estate to Austin’s creative business community, is now home to Uroko (which is Japanese for “fish scales”). Newly open, the shoebox-sized restaurant comes from Kayo Asazu and Takehiro Asazu (cousins and co-owners at Kome) alongside chef Masazumi Saio (formerly at Uchi). The casual eatery focuses on temaki (sushi hand rolled into a seaweed “cone”) as well as reservation-only, omakase sushi dinners on the weekends, which allow your chef to choose the menu. Go simple with a salmon, avocado, and cucumber hand roll, or creative with the beef tataki consisting of chopped raw beef tenderloin, pickled jalapeño, shiso, garlic chip, ginger, and umami jelly. Wash down your meal with drinks that highlight Japanese flavors, like the bright yuzu-sake slushy or non-alcoholic frozen soy matcha latte.
OseyoEast Cesar Chavez
A small menu of traditional Korean fare, in a contemporary rustic space
Oseyo’s modern Korean cuisine is inspired by the home cooking of owner Lynn Miller’s mother, and overseen by executive chef Mike Diaz. The pair bring loads of experience to the table (literally) -- Lynn Miller has cooked at the New York Palace Hotel and the Savoy in New York, while Diaz has loaned his talents to Olamaie, Dai Due Taqueria, Bufalina Due, and McGuire Moorman Hospitality group. The space is simultaneously rustic and modern: tasteful tchotchkes fill the shelves, a few dozen seagrass baskets dangle above a communal table, and wooden accents are kept streamlined and simple. Menu favorites so far include the wood-grilled kalbi (marinated short rib) and the bossam (made with slow-roasted pork belly), both meant to be wrapped in lettuce or perilla leaves and dipped into soybean paste. Diners are also digging the comforting japchae, a hot dish of warm sweet potato noodles stir-fried with veggies. The cocktails a highlight of the Oseyo experience as well; try the Doenjang Daiquiri, a blend of two rums, coconut liquor, lime, and pine nut-miso orgeat for a spin on the classic version.
Family-run taqueria serving traditional Mexican al pastor and fresh tortillas
The Vaquero Taquero brothers, Dani and Miguel Cobos, have finally opened their long-awaited brick and mortar in Hyde Park. (Don’t worry, the truck will remain open.) They’ve recently earned a lot attention for their tacos laboriously made with juicy al pastor sliced off the trompo (vertical rotisserie), as well as their freshly handmade corn and flour tortillas, but it’s the sincerity and passion of the duo that also sets them apart. “...we plan to be that classic taqueria who preserves the culture and shares it with everyone else,” says Miguel. Well, this community is happy to accept. Try the al pastor, obviously, but don’t snooze on lesser-known offerings like the quesadilla de nopales, pan-seared Oaxacan cheese, and chopped cactus garnished with queso fresco, cilantro, onion, roasted salsa roja or verde, and avocado cream.
Tex-Mex and cocktails made with locally sourced ingredients from restaurant vets
Housed in the former Bullfight space, Vamonos is the new concept from Chris Martinez, the restaurateur behind Mi Cocina, El Arroyo, and Taco Diner, and Shawn Cirkiel of Parkside and Parkside Projects. By “concept,” I really mean Tex-Mex food coma heaven -- imagine guacamole with no iceberg lettuce filler; Mexican street corn topped with a pile of chili powder, mayo, lime juice, queso fresco, and crema; and grilled carnes prime for tucking into thick flour tortillas. Here's a good game plan: start with a frozen Paloma rimmed with Tajin, and move onto the Ranch Style queso blanco (with roasted poblano, picadillo beef, guacamole) before diving into chicken enchiladas topped with Oaxaca and jack cheese, and poblano crema or salsa verde. Pro tip: Hangover miracle migas (and their relative chilaquiles) are on the all-day menu, so sleep in!
Brick and mortar deli for a lauded homegrown pastrami-focused eatery
Mum Foods -- aka Geoffrey “Geo” Ellis and Mattison “Matti” Bills -- has been cruising under the radar since 2014, eventually grabbing the attention of Texas Monthly and the Austin American-Statesman. This is because their outstanding pastrami was only available at Farmer’s Markets, and often sold out early. Luckily, the duo has set up shop in the former Elaine’s Porks and Pies -- next to the former Eastside Cafe on Manor. While they only plan to stay for a year-long stint, they will be serving their mouthwatering pastrami sandwiches alongside a small menu of classic deli lunch fare including an exceptional pimento cheese sandwich. We suggest keeping it OG with The Original: a full half pound of hot pastrami and house mustard on fresh sourdough bread from Swedish Hill bakery.
All-day diner housed in a laid-back boutique hotel
The new East Austin Hotel (located in the space formerly occupied by the original Cheer Up Charlies) popped up seemingly overnight, and sports three concepts including a rooftop bar, a pool bar, and Sixth & Waller. The hotel’s all-day diner sports a mid-century modern/eclectic vibe, and a menu featuring updated comfort classics like the queso Benedict; cheesy waffle tater tot cakes topped with poached eggs, roasted green chile queso, guacamole, and pico; and yummy cocktails like the pisco punch which incorporates citrus, pineapple, and bay leaf flavors.
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 an 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.
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.
Refined farm-to-table dining alongside an inventive brewing program
Situated in a cozy, renovated former military building from the 1950s, 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), smoked pork ribs (black beer vinegar, garden dry rub, yeast pickles), and warm-weather beer like the Made in the Nightshade, which incorporates flavors of green tomato, basil, and Citra dry hops.
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 tetela (a masa triangle stuffed with refried beans, beef tongue and triple cream cheese) 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 cocktails: we’re obsessed with the Don Dario, a tamarind-laced margarita, and there's also a well-curated mezcal list.
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 products. 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 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 Waterburger (melted cheese, thai basil ranch, waterfall slaw). While we miss the sambal wings (available at Spicy Boys now) we are intrigued by the sweet and tart pork riblets, sweet chili, honey, lime, toasted rice powder, and cilantro. Soursop is found on the outdoor patio next to St. Elmo Brewing, they brew light, bright beers which nicely complement Soursop’s flavors.
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-try dishes 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.
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 and the flower-shaped pasta with shishito pesto, eggplant and gouda. The cocktails alone are worth a visit, too -- try the refreshing Livin Easy (West 32 soju, rosé syrup, Lillet, orange blossom, soda). Also, every Monday night Pitchfork Pretty serves Banchan & Barbecue: a Korean’ish prix fixe, family-style dinner that is not to be missed.
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.
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 Wagyu beef brisket with peach BBQ sauce, golden beets, green plum, radish, and basil, as well as the light and summer-y red snapper, green coriander kosho, green tomato, lime leaf, cucumber, and shiso.
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.
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.
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.
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 longtime favorite, the fresh rocket-topped fresca (mozzarella, prosciutto, arugula, lemon, parmesan). Bufalina’s wine list is thoughtful and interesting, too, so you should definitely ask your server for a rec based on your pie.
New American dishes in an open kitchen, from the Barley Swine team
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 six-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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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 fresh Green Man, combining pumpkin seed-infused vodka, celery, mint, and lime.
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.
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).
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