Restaurants - Austin, Texas


If there is one rule of thumb on the Austin restaurant scene it likely is this: You got a shirt, you got shoes or sandals, you got service! There are only a few restaurants in town (maybe a private club or two) where a tie is required. This is a city where dining is supposed to be fun, not an exercise in tailored torture. But as Austin grows, the question being asked is will things stay this way?

For years, Austin restaurants were often described as “laid-back,” but as the number of “upscale” restaurants increases and more and more restaurants are demanding that diners make reservations, there is a fear that Austin’s dining scene will lose some of that wonderful casual flavor. But to counter that fear, Austin foodies look at the blossoming of the so-called “gypsy food trailers” in areas like SoCo as evidence of a dynamic culinary scene. One thing is constant—the Austin dining scene is an exciting one where changes can be swift.

Some of the new restaurants are franchises or outlets for a national chain, but many are homegrown. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of Asian restaurants in the city as immigrants from that continent have found a home here. Several long-established local restaurants have opened additional locations, often in the burgeoning northwest and southwest sections of the city. One of the coolest trends has been the emergence of young, dynamic chefs, eager to take advantage of the wide variety of fresh foods in the city and to open up their cafes in what, until now, have been neighborhoods that were not part of the Austin boom, areas like the revived East Eleventh Street in downtown Austin. Plus, there is a willingness of Austin diners to try new things. There is no such thing as “Austin cuisine.” But there are certain signature cuisines that do have a connection to Texas culture. Given the fact that Texas once was part of Mexico and Mexican-American life is vibrant and very much a part of the state’s cultural weave, it is only natural that Mexico’s culinary influence is felt in a number of ways. There’s Tex-Mex, Nuevo Tex-Mex, South Texas/Northern Mexico, New Mexican, Interior Mexican, Latin American, and South American. Even on the menus of so-called fine dining restaurants and in the city’s bistros you are likely to detect a hint of Mexican or Southwest influence.


Clichés abound when it comes to Texas, perhaps because the state has been celebrated and spoofed, caricatured and lauded in movies and books, magazine articles and newspaper stories around the world. So no wonder that when it comes to eating, most people think a typical Texas meal features a big slab of beef and not much else.

But Texas beef (and it is good) is just one tiny part of the true picture, and while this is a place where cattle do roam, the food picture is much more complex and growing more diverse every day. Agribusiness is 12 percent of Texas’s gross state product. Texas farmers and ranchers produce rice, citrus, nuts, pears, peaches, apricots, strawberries, blackberries, avocados, chile peppers, onions, spinach, and herbs; they raise pigs, cattle, goats, sheep, turkeys, and fish; and food processors are engaged in developing a multitude of products that tout their Texas origins—everything from axis deer venison to zucchini blossoms.

In addition to a variety of ingredients, the state also draws inspiration from several cultures and countries: Spain and Mexico, of course, and Germany, as evidenced in Hill Country towns like Fredericksburg and New Braunfels (see the Day Trips chapter). African-American cooks have left their mark, and in the east of the state, Cajuns and Creoles have tossed their contributions into the pot. The culture of the Mexican vaquero (cowboy) influenced Texas trail riders, and small towns settled by Czechs, Wends, and Alsatians brought new elements into the mix. Waves of immigrants from Italy and the Mediterranean countries have brought their flavors west. More recently, Asian immigrants have left their mark with Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indian cooking introducing new flavors.

With each wave of immigrants, Texas cuisine has grown, and adapted, and old favorites are constantly being re-created. How about shrimp fajitas, pizza topped with chorizo, sushi garnished with goat cheese, chocolate pie with a dash of chile powder?

That said, Tex-Mex is probably the most prevalent and recognizable cuisine. In our listings we have included a variety of Tex-Mex and other Mexican/Latino restaurants in an effort to give readers a good cross section of that multifaceted cuisine. Not all Mexican food is spicy hot. The chile pepper is a staple of the Mexican kitchen, but not all peppers are hot, and many are served in rich sauces, called moles, that blend the pepper with herbs, spices, even chocolate to create multi-nuanced tastes.

Most Austinites have their favorite Mexican restaurant, particularly when it comes to weekend brunch. A popular traditional dish is migas, eggs scrambled with tortilla chips, diced chiles, and tomatoes. Given the city’s late nightlife, weekend breakfast is often served into mid-afternoon. During the week, breakfast tacos are the early-morning order of the day, economical and easy to eat—simply flour tortillas stuffed with combinations of eggs, chorizo (sausage), potatoes, bacon, and salsa.

Another star in the Texas culinary pantheon is, of course, barbecue. It’s a subject, like religion and politics, that should be discussed carefully and with great consideration for individual beliefs—even the spelling of barbecue promotes debate. Generally speaking, Texas barbecue is slow-cooked with indirect heat over wood coals, often mesquite—a quite delicate-looking tree with a gnarled trunk that is the bane of ranchers since it spreads like a weed and sucks up water. Brisket is the most popular cut of meat to be slow-cooked, and most cooks “marinate” with a dry rub of spices and sometimes herbs. (This is treacherous ground, because already some aficionados are saying, “No! No!”)

Barbecue is usually served with pinto beans, potato salad, perhaps coleslaw, certainly sliced raw white onions (or sweet 1015 Texas Onions), pickles, plain old white bread, and barbecue sauce—often the ingredient by which a barbecue joint is judged.

Some of the best barbecue can be found in the small towns of Texas, among them five communities just a short drive from Austin. Most barbecue joints are open all day but close around 6 p.m.—earlier on Sun afternoon. We recommend calling ahead to check on hours of operation. Here are just a few of the most famous and popular joints in the area beyond Austin’s city limits; other barbecue cafes within the Austin city limits and environs are included in the restaurant listings in this chapter.

Lockhart, which touts itself as the barbecue capital of Texas, is home to several barbecue joints. In 2002, with the death of “Smitty” Schmidt, the fabled owner of Kreuz Market, a family feud erupted. Smitty had left the business to his sons and the building to his daughter. The battle even made national headlines and only quieted when the brothers moved Kreuz Market to a new building nearby at 619 Colorado St. (512-398-2361;, while the founder’s daughter started selling barbecue in the original building at 208 South Commerce St. (512-398-9344) under the new label, Smitty’s ( A third popular restaurant is Black’s Barbecue, 215 North Main St. (512-398-2712;

Luling, a small town southeast of Austin, is famous for its annual Watermelon Thump festival in June ( and the numerous natural gas rocker wells in town, many of them decorated in folk art style. But barbecue aficionados seek out Luling City Market at 633 East Davis St. (830-875-9019; for its famous barbecue.

Northeast of Austin, the town of Taylor is home to two Texas barbecue legends: Louie Mueller’s at 206 West Second St. (512-352-6206;, and Rudy Mikeska’s at 300 West Second St. (512-365-3722;

A fifth Central Texas town, Llano in the Hill Country west of Austin, is home to the “Big Chop,” a huge barbecued pork chop that is the highlight on the menu at Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, 505 West Dallas (325-247-5713; Cooper’s also barbecues beef and sausage on its old-fashioned pit and you can order from the website.

One of the most popular items to toss on the barbecue in Central Texas is Elgin sausage, and the original can be found in the small town of the same name just east of Austin. Visitors can watch the sausage being made just as it has been since 1882 and then sit down to a feast at Elgin Southside Market, 1212 US 290 (512-281-4650; The owners also have opened a second location, Meyers Elgin Smokehouse, at 188 US 290 East (512-281-3331).

A word or two about local customs. Smoking is a crime in Austin, as the late Timothy Leary, LSD guru, found out when he lit up in the Austin airport.

Many restaurants are open for major holidays, except Christmas. It is wise to call ahead. Most restaurants do not take reservations except for parties of 6 or more. We have noted where reservations are advised or required. All restaurants listed accept major credit cards, except where noted. More and more restaurants are staying open later to accommodate Austin’s penchant for late-night noshing after the movies or theater, but most close at 10 p.m. during the week and 11 p.m. on weekends. Some stay open throughout the afternoon to serve late lunch or afternoon snacks, since many Austin businesspeople, particularly the city’s large self-employed population, utilize favorite local restaurants as a conference room or an office away from their home office. We have noted restaurants that stay open beyond the usual hours.

Our restaurant listings are arranged by area of town, starting with central Austin, then South Central and moving south, west, and continuing clockwise around the area. But do not limit your choices to one geographic area, many homegrown favorites have expanded and operate at more than one location, noted in the listings, so browse the entire chapter and check restaurant web links for those additional locations.

1. Aquarelle Restaurant Français

City: Austin, TX
Category: Restaurants
Telephone: (512) 479-8117
Address: 606 Rio Grande St.

Description: Austin has seen the proliferation of small boutique restaurants that evoke their European cousins, intimate places where the food is a work of art. The inspiration at this topflight restaurant and wine bar is French with an emphasis on fresh American ingredients. Aquarelle consistently ranks among Austin’s best. Dinner only; closed Sun.

2. Asti Trattoria

City: Austin, TX
Category: Restaurants
Telephone: (512) 451-1218

Description: Anyone who is familiar with the Tuscan countryside can’t help but see echoes of the Italian landscape in the limestone hills and oak trees of Central Texas. The affinity for things Tuscan doesn’t stop there. Rural entrepreneurs producing wine, goat cheese, olive oil, and herbs proliferate in the Hill Country. Emmett and Lisa Fox are longtime fixtures on the Austin culinary scene and key contributors to the successful Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival. They celebrate those Italian inspirations at their neighborhood trattoria in Hyde Park, open Mon through Fri for lunch and dinner, Sat for dinner only. Closed Sun.

3. Austin Land and Cattle Company

City: Austin, TX
Category: Restaurants
Telephone: (512) 472-1813
Address: 1205 North Lamar Blvd.

Description: Steakhouse—the term usually brings to mind leather banquettes, red walls, and dark wood paneling—but this locally owned steakhouse in a small, quiet shopping center a few blocks from downtown has a lighter touch. The soft, cool palette acts as a foil to the hearty fare found here. Open daily for dinner.

4. The Belmont

City: Austin, TX
Category: Restaurants
Telephone: (512) 457-0300
Address: 305 West Sixth St.

Description: With its 60s–Las Vegas vibe and sink-into leather banquettes, patrons might expect to see the Rat Pack arrive at this downtown bar and restaurant. The menu echoes the surroundings with steaks and seafood, lighter fare at lunch. There is a late-night bar and patio menu featuring sandwiches and salads. The bar also features live music and movies on Mon. Open for lunch on weekdays, dinner and late-night dining 7 days a week.

5. Bess Bistro

City: Austin, TX
Category: Restaurants
Telephone: (512) 477-2377
Address: 500 West Sixth St.

Description: Some movie stars come to town and fall in love—with Austin that is. Sandra Bullock bought a historic old building, the Stratford Arms, just west of Congress Avenue, and opened a French bistro that gets rave reviews for its traditional fare and comfort food additions like mac and cheese. There is no dress policy, but the website urges patrons “just make an effort” and also asks that cameras be left at home, given the owner’s sensitivity to flashbulbs. These days, with camera phones, the original no-camera ban is hard to enforce so Bullock wants her customers to “please be considerate.” Open for lunch and dinner Mon through Sat with late night dining and Sun brunch.

6. Cafe Josie

City: Austin, TX
Category: Restaurants
Telephone: (512) 322-9226

Description: This is one of those Austin cafes that lie hidden behind unassuming storefronts and in back of other businesses where creative chefs are exploring the world of cuisine. The emphasis is on Caribbean flavors described as “cuisine of the American tropics” by chef-owner Charles Mayes. The restaurant is tucked behind Portabla, a gourmet food shop (see the Shopping chapter) in the West Sixth Street shopping district, and has a small indoor dining room plus a comfy outdoor patio. Open for lunch Tues through Fri and dinner Tues through Sat.

7. Carmelo’s

City: Austin, TX
Category: Restaurants
Telephone: (512) 477-7497
Address: 504 East Fifth St.

Description: Carmelo’s serves large portions of rich Italian-American food with flair and drama inspired by the owner’s Sicilian roots. Steak Diane is flambéed tableside, while lobster-stuffed veal is presented with a flourish. The restaurant is housed in an old limestone building that once served as the Depot Hotel. Lunch on weekdays and dinner daily.

8. corazon at Castle Hill Cafe

City: Austin, TX
Category: Restaurants
Address: 1101 West Fifth St.

9. Central Market

City: Austin, TX
Category: Restaurants
Telephone: (512) 206-1020
Address: 4001 North Lamar Blvd.

Description: Austin’s showcase grocery store and top tourist spot is a favorite lunch and early dinner spot, particularly among parents and grandparents. The cafe features a varied menu with homestyle food, bistro fare, sandwiches, pizza, and desserts. Dishes are reasonably priced, and customers can either graze or dig into a hearty meal. There is a large indoor dining room, flanked by a wide wooden deck looking out over the greenbelt. Kids can race around outside, dogs can sit in the shade while their owners nosh, and families can enjoy nightly live music concerts featuring a wide variety of musicians. The eateries are open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

10. Chez Nous

City: Austin, TX
Category: Restaurants
Telephone: (512) 473-2413
Address: 510 Neches St.
Insider Pick:

Description: Since 1982, Chez Nous has been serving authentic French bistro fare at this cozy restaurant half a block south of Sixth Street. Bistro is a word much bandied about these days, but Chez Nous is as close to the real thing as you can get in Austin, with traditional dishes like oven-roasted chicken and homemade pâtés. There is a menu du jour, daily chef’s specials, plus lighter fare including crepes. The bistro is open for lunch and dinner Tues through Fri; dinner only on the weekends.

11. Cipollina

City: Austin, TX
Category: Restaurants
Telephone: (512) 477-5211
Address: 1213 West Lynn St.

Description: It looks like a little European sidewalk cafe nestled in the heart of Clarksville, and it reflects the sensibilities of its owners who also created Jeffrey’s, the quintessential Austin fine dining experience across the way. The menu features simple fare, pizzas, salads, small plates, soups, and desserts that can be eaten in-house or taken home or to a picnic. There is an affordable wine menu, also. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

12. Clay Pit

City: Austin, TX
Category: Restaurants
Telephone: (512) 322-5131
Address: 1601 Guadalupe St.

Description: The Clay Pit occupies a historic stone building not far from the capitol and is a much-praised Indian dining spot, including plaudits from Bon Appetit magazine. The owners brought a highly rated chef who had worked at a leading Indian hotel, among other top spots on his résumé. Both vegetarian and meat dishes are on the menu. Open Mon through Fri for lunch and dinner.

13. Dirty Martin’s Place

City: Austin, TX
Category: Restaurants
Telephone: (512) 477-3173
Address: 2808 Guadalupe St.
Insider Pick:

Description: In this day of image-makers and spin doctors, who would ever name a restaurant “Dirty’s”? This is a restaurant that has roots back to the ’20s, but the story of the name has been lost in time. Some call this campus-area hamburger joint “Martin’s Kumback”—and that is what the sign says—but the majority refer to it as “Dirty’s.” The fare is fry-cook simple here: hamburgers off the grill with fries and onions, a cold beer or soda, but Dirty’s has entered the Internet age with a website and free Wi-Fi so you can Google away while watching the football game on the patio. Dirty’s is open daily for lunch and dinner.

14. Driskill Grill

City: Austin, TX
Category: Restaurants
Telephone: (512) 391-7162
Address: 604 Brazos St.

Description: The Grill, with its polished wooden walls and soft lighting, is one of the best places in Austin for a special dinner—a place where the setting and the food combine to create a wonderful experience. The Grill has been named one of the top 50 hotel restaurants in the country by Food & Wine and is noted for seeking out the highest quality ingredients, employing classic techniques, and adding a touch of Southwestern flavor in an homage to the Driskill Hotel’s Texas history. Open for dinner daily.

15. Eddie V’s Edgewater Grille

City: Austin, TX
Category: Restaurants
Telephone: (512) 472-1860
Address: 301 East Fifteenth St.

Description: As the Austin culinary scene has matured, seafood has finally taken pride of place at the table in a number of top dining spots. Eddie V’s two locations, one downtown and the other northwest, are the creation of two veterans of the local culinary scene, Larry Foles and Guy Villavaso (Z’Tejas creators), and they have chosen to focus on seafood prepared in classic, simple ways. In addition to an oyster bar, Eddie V’s also has a relaxing piano bar. Open daily for dinner.
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