The Austin Food Bucket List: 50 Things You Need to Eat Before You Die
It’s no one’s favorite topic, but every once in a while death tweaks us by the ear and whispers, “Listen man, before you and I play chess, or battleships, or Mario Kart, or whatever for your soul, you have some serious living to do.” Well, to help you with that, we’ve put together a bucket list of the 50 greatest foods in Austin to eat before you die...
VOX Table is not only home to the best cocktail program in Austin, the menu is equally playful and the hamachi pipettes are no exception. Tiny plastic pipettes are filled with a coconut vinaigrette, then the smoked hamachi and tomato are skewered onto the stem. As you eat the bite, you simultaneously SQUEEEEEZE the liquid into your mouth, and it basically becomes a flavor party. Also entertaining: watching your date/parents/co-workers try to figure out how to eat it.
Smoked brisket tacos
It’s a known fact that James Beard Award winner, Aaron Franklin, loves Valentina’s moist brisket and homemade tortillas. And so will you. The smoky brisket is cooked over mesquite, and the tortillas are freshly-made, thick, soft, and buttery. The tacos are topped with sea salt, lime, guacamole, tomato, and serrano salsa.
Dewberry Hills Farm chicken
B&B potato salad, chips, Olamaie BBQ Olamaie serves a modern interpretation of traditional Southern classics. Our cuisine respects the ideas of seasonality and locality inherent in the vintage cookbooks used for inspiration. In honor of the past, we serve produce from growers no farther than 200 miles away. Texas beef and pork, sustainable seafood, as well as the finest artisan products grace these tables.
It’s known throughout the land that Komé has badass fresh sushi and authentic Japanese fare but what is not common knowledge is that they also have tempura-fried Camembert cheese! The French cheese is battered, fried, and served with a honey dipping sauce. Now, how does THAT sound?
Off menu apple pie
Odd Duck’s pastry chef, Susana Querejazu’s off-the-menu apple pie can be shared amongst three-four people. The apple pie is served in a small cast iron and topped with chamomile ice cream. The pie is made with Eagle Mountain Apache blue cheese -- a cheddar-style blue cheese -- crumbled on the bottom as well as in the pie dough, and some fresh blue cheese is sprinkled on top of the pie. The pies are baked to order with only ten pies made per night. Treat yo’ self!
Beef panang curry
Chef Thai Changthong refuses to Americanize his food. His beef panang curry is a homage to the cuisine he grew up eating. The beef is simmered for hours in super-spicy curry and served over jasmine rice and topped with kaffir lime leaf and holy basil. We’ll refrain from any “fire-in-the-hole” jokes here, but know that you will need lots and lots of water.
Do we really need to explain? Forget the hype, forget the line drama, Aaron Franklin is a BBQ genius. His brisket is juicy and tender and, well... kind of sexy to be honest. Need a plan? Wake up early, email your boss and tell him/her know that you have strep throat, get in your car, get in line, and then eat all the brisket. The next day show up bright and early to work, smile, and blame it on allergies.
It’s fun-sized. It doesn’t come with lettuce, or tomatoes, or fancy cheese. And, guess what? We could care less. It’s a perfect beef patty (with a bit of bacon mixed in) on a challah bun with American cheese, special sauce, and a side of pickles.
Chicken fried beef ribs
Nothing says “‘MURICA!” quite like a menu section dedicated to “Chicken Fried Anything.” Patrons of Jack Allen’s kitchen love the chicken fried beef ribs served with green chile gravy, chunky red smashers, and Chef’s veggies.
“The Perfect Ten” steak
This is not just any steak: this is a Texas-raised, Akaushi beef cooked to juicy perfection. It will be the best thing you have ever put in your mouth. It will bring you to tears. Nothing will be the same. Don’t even get us started on the bacon mac and cheese.
Triple fried duck fat fries
A huge portion of house-made fries triple fried in duck fat served with an egg that has been cooked for 110 minutes at a low temperature and cold béarnaise sauce for dipping. During happy hour (4:30pm-6:30pm everyday), the fries are only $5.50. Holla!
Escargot (my car go?) with a garlic herb butter -- so classic, so Freeeench! It goes great with literally any spirit, as Péché is known for their insane selection of pre-Prohibition cocktails. And speaking of spirits, there’s absinthe in the dish!
Korean flank steak
Sometimes, the obvious brunch options become a little dull -- thankfully, Swift’s Attic has this Korean-inspired savory dish. Tender, juicy Korean barbecue flank steak is served on top of crispy, fried rice balls, aka “jumeok bap cakes.”
Thundercloud is an Austin institution and nobody’s life would be complete without sampling their best sandwich. The California club is turkey, bacon, and a generous swipe of guac -- we like to request swiss, lots of lettuce, tomato, salt, pepper, and of course Thunder Sauce.
Your aunt Helen never made deviled eggs like these. Lenoir has elevated the Southern classic by topping them with bowfin caviar and a sprinkle of seaweed. Order them in Lenoir’s new wine garden for only $6!
Famous Southern fried chicken and waffles
Max’s is famous for their famous jalapeño-buttermilk fried chicken. Deep-fried, “slow and low,” in order to maintain its savory juiciness and rosy color, their famous Southern fried chicken comes with mashed potatoes, collard greens, and a slide of Texas toast -- and you can even request the gluten-free version!
From the James Beard Award-Winning Chef Tyson Cole, Uchi, and sister restaurant Uchiko are in a class all their own. Favorite dishes from Uchi include the machi cure, often called the Japanese nachos pairing smoked baby yellowtail, with yucca crisps, marcona almond, Asian pear, and garlic brittle.
Chicken fried steak biscuit and gravy
You know when a chicken fried steak is so large that it curls up? This dish, available on Salt & Time’s Sunday brunch menu, involves a huge, curly, crispy chicken fried steak on a thick biscuit, and topped with gravy, AND a fried egg. It’s life changing.
Fixe packs the house every night, and in addition to being known for delicious, modern takes on Southern classics and fantastic hospitality, they are also known for their biscuits! They sell more than 360 of the “three fat biscuits” every night. The Southern starter is served with house-made spicy 'nduja sausage spread and house-made seasonal preserves.
Pork belly yakitori
When visiting new spot, Fukumoto, be sure to order the pork belly yakitori -- it comes three pieces per skewer. The marinated pork belly is charred so that the fat becomes slightly crispy yet very juicy. Scratch that, order several.
Ng BMT is a total hidden gem, quietly tucked in the back of the Hong Kong Supermarket. They bake their own baguettes daily and make their own tofu. The bread is crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, the meat is flavorful, and the pickles veggies are crisp and fresh. And, they are only $5, including tax. You’re welcome.
El Sancho Loco
Everything they smoke is juicy and just as good as Franklin, but we’ve got a soft spot for the hilariously-named, “El Sancho Loco”. A sandwich piled high with sausage, pulled pork, chopped beef, and pickled red onions, because YOLO.
Via 313 makes pizza like pizza is probably made in heaven. The Detroiter is the be-all and end-all of pizzas; thick pan crust with crispy cheese edge, double layer of cheese, and double layer of pepperoni.
The “All The Way Burger”
The restaurant also offers an off-menu, mega burger called the "All The Way Burger. It is an 8oz Niman ranch burger, comes with Tillamook cheddar, butter lettuce, beefsteak tomatoes, and house pickles on a brioche roll. You also have the option to add house-cured maple pork belly, fried organic egg, lump crab cake, avocado, Gonzales mushrooms, and crisp bacon.
East Side King has managed to make beets more addictive as French fries. The beets are fire-roasted then fried, which gives them a thin crispy skin, and served with Kewpie mayo. They’ll make a believer out of anyone who has ever had an aversion to the red root.
Here’s drink that qualifies as an entire meal. The Holy Mary is a liter of Forty Creek Barrel Select whisky, smoked cherry tomato Bloody mix, house-made two-day BBQ sauce, lime juice, and Fire and Damnation bitters that's topped with, wait for it… a half pound of brisket, sausage, and spare ribs! It’s available during brunch on Sundays.
Black and Bleu pizza
Pizza isn’t necessarily what Second Bar + Kitchen is known for, but this pizza is a total hit. The flavor profile is complex and indulgent: black truffle, bleu cheese, pork belly, medjool dates, and red onion on a perfect crust.
The gang at Ramen Tatsu-ya have managed to create a cult classic with their ramen. 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!
Kaffir lime fried chicken bun bowl
This Vietnamese cafe and French bakery is not only visually stunning in all of it’s attention to details, but they have a killer bun bowl. It combines rice vermicelli with lettuces, herbs, cucumber, carrot, roasted peanuts, nuoc cham, and is topped with kaffir lime fried chicken. Definitely one of their most popular dishes.
Brisket frito pie
Sometimes you want a little something different in your BBQ repertoire, and this is the answer! Micklethwait’s briket frito pie combines Fritos topped with brisket, chili, cheddar, cilantro, escabecha, red onion, and crema.
Popcorn tofu po’boy
Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, Wheatsville has really got something special in their popcorn tofu po’boy. The French roll is filled with firm fried tofu, sprouts, veggies, and cashew-tamari dressing that makes this sandwich a perfect lunch option for only $7.
The French bistro meets craft beer bar makes one stand-out burger. The Pascal burger is a thick beef patty with Camembert cheese, cornichon aka tiny pickles, whole grain mustard, caramelized onions, and their ridiculously good pomme frites.
From their three options of mozzarella for the mozzarella bar, try the stracciatella with red peppers. It’s served with freshly-baked flatbread that is the same as their pizza dough. Cheese and bread FTW!
Son In Law
This Thai dish brings together all the elements you want in comfort food. Braised pork shoulder, thick soy, nahm prik pla (spicy Thai sauce), and a crispy farm egg on top of rice that soaks up all the sauces.
This little trailer in a South First food park is quietly selling out of dough everyday, and for good reason. Their wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas combine perfect, chewy-yet-crispy crust and unique toppings. Get any pie on the menu, just go now.
Brioche Doughnut Holes
Warm, pillow-y, and so good! Guests of laV love the brioche donut holes as either a dessert or a starter at brunch. Feeling brave? Try spreading laV’s creamy pate on them!
This sandwich is hailed as the best Pastrami in Austin. Joshua Kaner starts with whole, untrimmed briskets that are then cured in a wet brine with spices. The brisket is then dried and rubbed, smoked with live oak for about 14 hours, then steamed. The result: thick, juicy, flavorful pastrami that brings all the boys (and girls) to the yard.
Luke Bibby, the quirky owner of Luke’s Inside Out makes one of the best tasting burgers we've ever had. It’s an 8oz sirloin patty with bacon, cheddar, and according to his menu, “love”. Amen, Luke, amen.
Austin’s only dedicated Tiki bar also has a very island-y menu. We love their shrimp and scallop ceviche served with citrus, cucumber, and crispy corn tostadas. It doesn’t hurt that you can have a couple of classic Tiki cocktails with dinner, either!
Mac and cheese
So creamy, so cheesy, and baked to perfection. Clark’s Shells & Cheese is otherworldly AND topped with fresh lump crab. Sign us up!
Jacoby’s makes a Strawberry Cake you have to try. It’s a family recipe passed down from owner Adam Jacoby’s Grandmother. The flavors and simplicity of the cake evoke a warm sense of a nostalgia.
In their stylish storefront, the owners of Gelateria Gemelli are taking great care to create authentic Italian gelato and sorbet in uniquely classic flavors. Get a load of these: olive oil, Vietnamese coffee, sesame vanilla, lemon thyme sorbetto. Also, you can have a Negroni or an Italian amaro with your dessert!
This is a case of “sounds funky, tastes amazing” -- dinuguan is pork blood stew, Paul Qui makes a version of his grandmother’s recipe with crispy gnocchi and black trumpet mushrooms. The flavor is decidedly rich and authentic.
The elegant eatery that set the standard for fine dining in Austin is also home to the fanciest risotto. It’s creamy, perfectly executed, sprinkled with peas and topped with wood roasted lobster, king crab, bay scallop & gulf prawns with butternut squash, lemon & uni butter -- and the portion is perfect for sharing.
Tom kha shrimp and grits
This dish is an unexpected mash-up of cultures and flavors that just works together so magically. The classic coconut lime flavors of thai tom kha soup combine with Southern-style shrimp and grits.
Lemon ricotta pancakes
Josephine House whips up a perfect stack of fluffy lemon ricotta pancakes served with strawberries, blueberries, maple syrup, and house-made cultured butter. Who can say no to pancakes? Not us.
Verde chili fries
Although they are known for their burgers and Halloween-ish decor, Casino is also home to a fantastic basket of fries. The verde chili fries are fries topped with garlic-y tomatillo sauce and melted white cheese. And by “garlic-y” we mean, don’t even think about taking a first date -- better yet, go alone so you won’t have to share.
Do you have a hankerin’ for a gyro made with soft, warm pita, perfectly seasoned meat, veggies, giant dollop of tzatziki, and a side of fries? Yeah, us too. Head over to Santorini’s for just what we described. Their prices are super cheap, and the owners are great folks.
Joe’s has been around for a long time and has a distinct family feel to it. If you love legit Tex-Mex, you’ll love their breakfast tacos, specifically anything with bacon! They fry the bacon, dredge the bacon in flour, and fry it again, so it’s super crispy, and the flour tortillas are soft, powdery, and the perfect vessel for your b-fast taco creation.
This ooey-gooey, food-coma inducer has long been an Austin classic. So next time you’re in the mood for bowling, load up on this iconic meal.
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Anastacia Uriegas is an Austin writer who does NOT recommend eating all the things on this list in one sitting. Follow her at @AnaUrie.