Food & Drink

An editor's guide to eating around town

Published On 04/18/2013 Published On 04/18/2013

It was recently reported that Austinites spend nearly twice the national average on dining out. While that's largely a consequence of a mass-addiction to breakfast tacos, it's also a testament to a culture of culinary entrepreneurism, adventurous eating, and disdain for any chain not circling the hub of a bicycle. Luckily, Thrillist editor Dan Gentile hopped off his own bike to tell you exactly where to enjoy all of the best food.

Favorite Restaurant: This is a tough call, but I've gotta give it up to La Condesa. As much as I love trailer tacos, Condesa just elevates Mexican food to an entirely new level. You won't find a better deal than their atun tostadas during happy hour, and the tobacco-infused El Cubico margarita is one of the most creative drinks in town.

Best Late-Night Eats: Lucky J's wins my nod as best late-night jam for their Ms. M Taco. At 2a, nothing's better than a waffle wrapped around fried chicken, bacon, and Swiss.

Best Cheap Eats: Back in college I would down samosas from Ken's Doughnuts by the half dozen. Although the price has raised $.50 since then, I still stop by for some of the best sleeper Indian food in town and wash it down with an eclair.

Best Food Truck: There's still no topping East Side King -- Top Chef contestant Paul Qui's star has risen since the original Liberty trailer opened, but the beet fries and pork buns still stand as some of his most delicious creations, and the quail at the Grackle trailer is next-level.

Best Sandwich: Home Slice's Italian Sub is so good it convinced me to move into a house with the manager of the restaurant.

Best Dish: Franklin Barbecue's brisket. There's nothing else in town I'd wait 2+ hours for. You won't find moister, more flavorful meat anywhere in the world.

Best Italian: Enoteca makes for a perfect lunch, and in true Italian fashion, you'll want to take a nap afterwards.

Best Breakfast Taco: Mi Madre's wins for their chorizo, Tamale House is unbeatable in terms of price, and I have a soft spot for Taco-Mex as the little taco window that could. Still, there's nothing that hits the spot quite like the buttery housemade tortillas from the newcomers at the Taco Joint.

Best Burger: If you're looking for a new-school, grass-fed patty, wait in line at Hopdoddy. But for a grill that's built up a few more years of grease, pull up a seat at the bar of Hut's, a true Austin institution that's been around since 1939.

Best Chinese: There's an awesome, super-authentic spot up North called A+A Sichuan Garden. They came up with the name because they claim it's the best plus the best, and I can't disagree.

Most Romantic: Chez Nous is classic: great French food, totally unpretentious atmosphere, and the type of old Austin charm you just don't find in newer spots.

Best Fine Dining: You won't find a better dining experience than a night at Uchi or Uchiko. Your waiter feels like an old best friend by mid-meal.

Most Gut-busting Dish: Without a doubt, it's The James Brown burger from Your Mom's. The half-pound cheddar-stuffed patty alone would be enough to slay most appetites, but the pulled pork on top takes it to a new level of gluttony.

Best for Partying: You can't beat the ambiance at Justine's. It's got this otherworldly vintage vibe, like the type of swinging French restaurant Keith Richards would've stumbled into during the Exile on Main St sessions.

Weirdest Food: Lard Have Mercy's carnivalesque creations are the stuff of dreams. Ever wondered what deep-fried mac 'n cheese tastes like? Wonder no more.

Best for Work: Although bonding over greasy butcher paper is the TX way, most down-and-dirty 'Q spots close after lunch, so opt for a work dinner at upscale smokehouse Lamberts.

Most Local Food: Trace at the W has an on-staff forager. Although that doesn't really mean they're digging through the greenbelt for berries, they're still able to tell you more about the sources of their ingredients than that waiter on Portlandia.

Best Lunch: The tonkotsu ramen at Kome. Slurp the broth for dessert.

Best Brunch: Contigo's a no-brainer for brunch. The all-outdoor concept is perfect for a Sunday afternoon. If you're sharing plates (which you should), be sure to ask for two orders of the beef tongue hash.

Best Donuts: Either savory or sweet, Gourdough's is unparalleled. If you're feeling bold, try the guac-/bacon-topped Ron Burgundy donut burger. Stay classy Austin.

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1. La Condesa 400 W 2nd St, Austin, TX 78701 (2nd St District)

La Condesa is the place to go if you're looking for traditional Mexican flavor with modern Austin flair. The menu, offering up handfuls of tortas, taquitos, combos, and a few other staples, is shorter than most, but there's an obvious preference for quality over quantity at this Downtown restaurant. Tacos strewn with red pickled onion, cilantro, and guacamole make the ideal warm-up round before hitting the bar, where tequila and mezcal reign supreme in customizable flights.

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2. Lucky J's Chicken And Waffles 5035 Burnet Rd, Austin, TX 78756 (Rosedale)

Lucky J's brings soul food to the table in big Texas style. Not only have they mastered the concept of chicken and waffles, but they've taken it a step farther to create the chicken and waffle taco, which is truly one of a kind.

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3. Ken's Doughnuts & Pastries 2820 Guadalupe St, Austin, TX 78705 (Utwest Campus)

In addition to sweet round rings of dough, Ken's also serves up delicious (and inexpensive) samosas.

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4. The Grackle 1700 East 6th St, Austin, TX 78702 (Central East)

With Regal Ravioli moving south and Monarch Food Mart seemingly content with its '22 territory, East Side King's making a play for total '02 sovereignty.

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5. Home Slice Pizza 1415 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704 (South Austin)

The Home Slice employee pilgrimages to New York's most iconic pizza shrines are the stuff of legend. The slices are large, homemade, and hand-tossed. All the classics are delicious, like the Margherita or pepperoni pizza with the perfect amount of grease, and the white pies are heaped with balloons of ricotta.

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6. Franklin Barbecue 900 E 11th St, Austin, TX 78702

This lunch-only spot often sees long lines of customers waiting to order pulled pork, brisket and other smoked meats. Chef Aaron Franklin brought quality barbecue to Austin that was excellent enough to earn him the 2015 James Beard Award for "Best Chef: Southwest." His BBQ is so lauded that meat lovers from around the world regulalry make a pit stop at this shack-like locale in East Austin.

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7. Enoteca Vespaio 1610 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704 (South Austin)

Enoteca Vespaio has been a quality spot for Sunday brunch, lunch, dinner and dessert since it opened in 2005. The folks there cultivate fine Italian cuisine in a pleasant setting and also have a terrific wine selection.

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8. Tamale House East 1707 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702 (Central East)

If you have less than 10 dollars in your pocket but still want to pig out on tacos, Tamale House East is the place to go. The original location shuttered when owner Moses Vasquez died in 2014, but his granddaughters brought it back to life at this counter-serve location on East Sixth Street. The massive dog-friendly patio provides ample room to enjoy a few breakfast tacos and an agua fresca.

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9. Taco-Mex 2613 Manor Rd, Austin, TX 78722 (Central East)

Taco-Mex isn't so much a restaurant as much as it's a walk-up take-out window in an Austin strip mall. It doles out quality egg-centric burritos and tacos for breakfast, and lunch/dinner plates like beef and chicken fajitas, crispy fish tacos, and quesadillas, all served with a necessary side of rice and beans. Nothing on the menu is more than $10, and to be honest, most are less than $5.

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10. Taco Joint 2807 San Jacinto Blvd, Austin, TX 78705 (Utwest Campus)

You’d think it would be hard for a taco joint in Texas to establish itself as a local favorite, but it proved fairly easy for Taco Joint… even with a name like Taco Joint. The beloved Mexican counter-serve's first location on San Jacinto Blvd. by UT Austin became a campus mainstay for coeds seeking quality breakfast tacos on hand-rolled tortillas, because there’s no better way to fuel your studies than with a reasonably priced, stuffed-to-the-brim El Benedicto (that’s right, it’s an eggs Benedict… taco).

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11. Hopdoddy Burger Bar 1400 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704 (Austin)

This Austin-based burger chain serves up hormone- and antibiotic-free beef ground in-house daily, hand-cut fries, and scratch-made buns. The varied burger options range from a classic lettuce, onion, tomato version to amped up ones, like the habanero-topped El Diablo. As for beverages, there are plenty of craft beers, unique cocktails, and solid milkshakes.

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12. Hut's Hamburgers 807 W 6th St, Austin, TX 78703 (Market District)

The fine people at Hut's Hamburgers try to keep a balance of old and new Austin in their style and menu, but the classic burgers are (and will always be) the main draw. Current owners added 20 burgers (all named after music legends) to Hut's original 1939 menu. Now, with more than 30 burger/sandwich options, enormous onion rings, and classic milkshakes, this old-school burger joint is serving great eats with a side of nostalgia.

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13. A + A Sichuan China 13376 N Highway 183, Ste 100, Austin, TX 78750 (North West)

Contrary to popular belief, there's more to Chinese food than egg rolls, sweet and sour chicken, and lo mein. A + A does a terrific job proving that by offering more than 150 distinct southern Chinese options.

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14. Chez Nous 510 Neches St, Austin, TX 78701 (Downtown)

Chez Nous, an authentic French bistro, has been delighting Austin's downtown community for well over 30yrs. Whether, brunch, lunch, or dinner, this restaurant, whose name means "our home" en français, serves up an atmosphere as rich in texture as its regional cuisine.

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15. Uchiko 4200 N Lamar, Austin, TX 78756 (North Central)

A contemporary Japanse restaurant in taste and decor, Uchiko is also stakes its reputation in using the freshest ingredients in its seafood and sushi dishes, including flying in fish from Tokyo, daily. With a massive drink menu, from sake to a selection of domestic and international beers, a return trip is imminent.

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16. Your Mom's 1701 E Cesar Chavez Blvd, Austin, TX 78702 (Central East)

The stalwart burger operation's set up in a baby-blue diner off Cesar Chavez, where they're peddling signature 1/2lb cheese-stuffed monsters.

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17. Justine's Brasserie 4710 E 5th St, Austin, TX 78702 (East Austin)

Situated in East Austin, Justine's Brasserie is a sexy French eatery and social club specializing in "very late night dining." Classic bistro fare (steak frites, ratatouille) and daily blackboard specials make up the bulk of the menu. Super boozy cocktails, lots of red wine, and the company of friends may make it hard to leave this lounge-y, chic bistro.

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18. Lard Have Mercy 603 W Live Oak St, Austin, TX 78704 (South Austin)

As the name might suggest, bacon's in nearly everything at Lard Have Mercy, from the cheese-stuffed Juicy Lucy burger (topped w/ hickory-smoked bacon, served alongside bac-flavored fries), to chicken strips wrapped in hog's gold before getting deep-fried and served as Foghorn Leghorns, to a strip-wrapped 1/4lb hot dog called the Pig Sty.

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19. Lambert's Downtown BBQ 401 West 2nd St, Austin, TX 78701 (Warehouse District)

Lambert's Downtown Barbecue, located in the Warehouse District, serves its version of finely crafted fancy barbecue ( brown sugar & coffee-rubbed angus steak, anyone?). Hosting nightly live music and serving over a dozen unique cocktails, a dinner can turn into a night to remember at this bar-of-all-trades. Located in a renovated old-style general store, Lambert's friendly, vintage vibes are sure to impress.

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20. Trace 200 Lavaca St, Austin, TX 78701 (Downtown)

Trace, located in downtown Austin, is an American resto serving up farm-to-table fare. Get creative and try out some antelope loin or venison sausage.

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21. Kome 4917 Airport Blvd, Austin, TX 78751 (Hyde Park)

Designed by Japanese craftsmen, Kome has a modern atmosphere that compliments its homestyle Japanese comfort food. An extensive menu of Izakaya style meals and sushi rolls have influences from the owners' travels to other parts of Asia, with an added Austin flare.

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22. Contigo Austin 2027 Anchor Ln, Austin, TX 78723 (Mueller)

Contigo Austin strives to bring the ranch to the people, having patrons sit down at large wooden tables on an equally expansive patio to chow down on flawless BBQ, other seasonally diverse menu items, and a long list of craft beer. Open for dinner and brunch, you can enjoy outdoor or indoor seating, as well as some great happy hour specials. Contigo is the perfect place to catch up with friends or bring a more casual date.

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23. Gourdough's Public House 2700 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704 (South Austin)

Gourdough's Public House, operating out of S Lamar Kerbey Lane in South Austin, has redefined the function of the donut, again. There is a "Donut Burgers" section in their menu, in real life. To bring you back down to earth, you can pair that with a specialty cocktail with bourbon-infused bacon, because that is also real.



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