Between rotating Airbnb guests, friends popping into town, and unexpected friends of friends contacting me for recommendations while visiting, I've been meaning to put together a list like this for quite some time. So here it is, just in time for festival season!
Firstly, here are some links to some post I wrote for Forbes Travel Guide which have some basic helpful guidelines for visitors:
Best Bars in Austin (to this list, I'd also add Half Step, Mezcaleria Tobala, Wonderland, and Pleasant Storage Room, which all opened after I wrote this post… also worth checking out, if for no other reason than their unusual settings, are Garage and Container Bar.
And here is a list of Austin classics I compiled for Thrillist … if you're looking for a taste of old school Austin, these are the places to go!
Some of my overall faves:
Odd Duck one of the best brunches in town; awesome and creative farm-focused fare
Dai Due artisanal butcher shop and amazing restaurant where every last thing is local (and everything with more than one ingredient is made in house)
Jacoby's Restaurant and Mercantile this hip eastside restaurant has a patio overlooking the Colorado River and serves ranch to table cuisine, including some of the freshest beef in town, sourced from the family's ranch in Melvin
Ramen Tatsu-ya though ramen probably doesn't top your list of Things to Try in Texas, this is seriously better than most of the ramen I've had in New York
Hopfields super cute gastropub with great beer selection, an excellent burger, French-leaning fare, and daily specials
Salt & Time artisanal butcher shop with lunch, dinner, brunch, happy hour specials, and the best roast beef sandwich in town
Antonelli's Cheese Shop some amazing cheeses are made in Texas, and this is the place to sample and learn about them; best cheese selection in town and check their website for events and classes too
You'll return home wondering why breakfast tacos aren't available ALL over.. also, while some of these places serve more than just tacos, tacos are easily available for take out at all these places
Torchy's everyone must visit Torchy's while in town-- 1) get the Dirty Sanchez 2) Order queso 3) Look up the secret menu before you go; locations all over town
Taco Deli You're either on Team Torchy's or Team Taco Deli. I'm on the former, but the latter is extremely popular too. Both serve tasty (though very Caucasian) tacos
Veracruz All Natural awesome little taco trailer just east of downtown. Get the Reina taco for breakfast and a fresh squeezed juice
Arturo's charming little underground bakery and cafe serving Tex Mex breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch
Tyson's Tacos little taco pick up window with a large menu and a cool garden patio. They have some creative specials (like tacos topped with Takis- no joke)
Fruta Feliz fresh, delicious, cheap taco joint just east of Airport on Manor-- the real deal
Taco More the best cabrito taco in town is only sweetened by the super fresh salsa bar
Marcelino Pan y Vino best little secret on the eastside, in an former bodega… abuelitas spoon picadillo and carne guisada into tortillas from giant steaming pots
You haven't had real Tex Mex until you've been to Texas (I mean, obviously)..
La Cocina de Consuelo tiny mom and pop restaurant with all of 8 or so tables; Consuelo herself will cook and serve you and it's BYOB!
Joe's Bakery this historic bakery and diner is only open for breakfast and lunch; try the delicious migas or carne guisada
Mi Madre's another great place for tacos, though they have a variety of other standard Te Mex staples too (fajitas, quesadillas, nachos, burritos, enchiladas, etc); they have a takeout area but the wait can be long on weekends
Tamale House East great tacos, tamales, migas, chilaquiles and more with a cute garden patio complete with fountain! Right in the heart of the eastside, next to Yellow Jacket
Julio's Cafe this Hyde Park staple is known for their well-priced roast chicken plates and fresh soups, though they also have chalupas, enchiladas, and more. Cash only!
El Taquito this vivid and notably clean little taco place is tucked just beyond Riverside. Great tacos, breakfast plates, enchiladas, botanas, and 8 types of queso fundido! Also, a rainbow of ague fresco!
We do have some great options for interior Mexican too (and yes, there is a big difference between Tex Mex and interior Mex)...
Licha's Cantina I've been recommending this place to out of towners recently for several reasons: 1) it's one of the most central places (to downtown) for Mexican food, 2) it's right on East 6th Street so you can easily go bar-hopping afterward, 3) Nice atmosphere! it's in a renovated bungalow surrounded by light-strung trees. And duh, the food is great too. Lots of shareable items for groups!
La Condesa This trendy spot in the heart of downtown serves Mexican street food-inspired fare (with a modern twist). Fresh, delicious food-- but be aware that it's easy to run up quite a tab here! (even if you go into just get "a couple botanas" lol) Excellent cocktails as well. My advice would be to go for happy hour and stay for dinner.
La Fonda San Miguel Looking to throw down on some Mexican food in a gorgeous setting? This is the place to go! The food is excellent and the place is a site to be seen. You'll have an unforgettable, but very expensive, experience! :)
El Meson no frills spot on S Lamar (shares a lot with Barleyswine and Henri's) but everything is fresh and handmade, from the chips and tortillas to the mole and chochinita pibil. Great prices too! Save room for ice cream from Lick afterward!
El Borrego de Oro Another very unsuspecting little place on S Congress with great prices, known for their mole, enchiladas, tortilla soup, and birria.
It's a must while in town. And there are plenty of options, though some are more accessible than others...
Franklin Everything you've heard is true. Yes, it's delicious. Yes, the line is 5+ hours long. Unless you're here for an extended stay-- or some kind of barbecue aficionado who simply MUST try it-- I usually tell people to opt for elsewhere (seriously, don't spend 1 of your 4 days in Austin standing in line for anything!)
La Barbecue Some say La Barbecue is better than Franklin. It's a real close call if you ask me. Now La Barbecue (which is still just a trailer) has a pretty long line of its own, but it's not to Frankin proportions. Get there around 10 and you should be out of there (having eaten) around 1pm-ish. But don't quote me on any of that because it could change...
Micklethwait Craft Meats Want delicious barbecue that you don't need to stand in a long line for? Don't worry, we have that too! Try Micklethwait for something a little outside the box. You'll find brisket, smoked turkey, hot sausage, and beef ribs at most barbecue joints. But duck fig sausage? Pork spare ribs? Kielbasa? Shiner Bock beerwurst? These are the craft meats you will find at Micklethwait!
Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ It's amazing no one thought of this before: barbecue sold Tex (on bread) or Mex (on tortillas). There's variation in the seasonings as well-- for instance, the pulled chicken gets slaw and mesquite BBQ sauce, while the pulled pollo gets avocado and tomatillo habanero salsa. Pure genius.
Ruby's BBQ There's a reason Ruby's has been around as long as it has been-- consistently awesome barbecue. Also, unlike the hyped up newer places that sell out, or trailers that close by 2pm, you can actually get DINNER-- or even late night food-- at Ruby's, which is open until 11 or 12 each night. Also, their poster-plastered porch screams old school Austin and they have some awesome Cajun items on the menu too (their crawfish etouffe is hands down the best in town.)
Freedman's This place is so underrated, I feel like not enough people have been here yet. Kickass barbecue in an awesome historic building. Their sides are notable-- smoked beets, horseradish potato salad, grilled cabbage slaw-- and they have an impressive whiskey program. And Sunday brunch brings a drink called the Holy Mary which you'll just have to see to believe.
We have a TON of trailers here in Austin. This doesn't even begin to cover all the bases, but this is a good starting point.
Eastside King What started off as one little food trailer selling Asian street food behind Liberty Bar now has multiple locations and menus. The Liberty locations still sells their classics like fried beets, brussels sprouts salads, and buns (and now chicken wing specials). The Cheer Up Charlie's trailer sells Japanese-style hot dogs and "pho boys," while you can get their classics as well as ramen at the Hole in the Wall shop, and their South Lamar location also serves their classics in addition to a taco menu (try the scrumptious octopus taco!) And their latest location, Thai Kun- behind Wonderland bar-- just got named one of the top 10 new restaurants in the US by Bon Appetit!
Red Star Southern Red Star just opened this spring, when pastry chef Erica Waksmunkski decided to ditch fine dining to open up a fried chicken trailer. In addition to Nashville-style hot chicken, she makes awesome Carolina-style pulled pork, handcrafted veggie burgers and pimiento grilled cheese, hush puppies from heaven and more.
Lucky's Puccias- fire wired Italian sandwich truck located outside The Tiniest Bar in Texas (right across from Whole Foods Lamar)
Three Little Pigs- Despite the name, they serve much more than pork at this little trailer tucked behind East End Wines, where chef Raymond Tatum is constantly reinventing the creative global menu. Pro tip: every Friday, East End Wines has a free tasting!
Schmaaltz- Everything is homemade at this veggie trailer behind Welcome Books, from the try-it-to-believe-it vegan pastrami and seitan to the pickles, kombucha, and sauces. Some of the best felafel in town!
Llama's Peruvian Creole This downtown trailer serves fresh, flavorful and traditional Peruvian fare, such as lomo saltado, arroz con pollo and aji de gallina
Kebabalicious- outside of hot dog stands and the Best Wurst cart, Kebabalicious was one of the first food trucks in town-- and years later, so popular they recently expanded to a brick and mortar location. Choose to fill your pita with beef/lamb kebab, chicken kebab or felafel.
Luke's Inside Out- Luke's been featured on the Food Network for the bold, flavorful sandwiches he slings outside Gibson Bar on South Lamar. Specials change daily but you can always expect to see some old favorites like The Rabbit (Korean BBQ, tator tots, kimchee) or mapo fish fingers with sesame slaw.
Hey…You Gonna Eat or What? With a name like HYGEOW, they can't be making a name for themselves due to customer service.. so you know the sandwiches must be good! Be sure to try their Shiner Monte Cristo-- ham, turkey, cheddar, provolone beer battered, fried and served with a cherry-fig jelly.
Chilantro- If you find yourself stumbling through downtown at closing time, do yourself a favor and get the kimchi fries. You'll thank yourself tomorrow.
Brunch is big here in Austin. For a while, I avoided the scene because it meant standing in line for over an hour… but that was back in the day when we didn't have much to choose from. Now there are so many options around town, the waits have gotten much better! But word to the wise: the earlier you arrive the better.
Jack Allen's Kitchen- JAK's has got to have one of the consistently best brunches in town-- and for a steal of a price! For only $16.99, help yourself to the dreamy buffet which is filled with fresh farmer's market veggies, delicious housemade pastries, and specialties like their green chili pork and eggs or tomato pie. SUNDAY ONLY
Olivia- Another incredible brunch and this one worth its price tag. Don't come here looking for a buffet, but expect to leave as if you just experienced one after savoring dishes like the coppa omelette, Olivia benedict (with red wine braised beef), lengua hash and their picnic style fried chicken that became so popular it inspired owner James Holmes to open up a fried chicken joint (Lucy's). SATURDAY & SUNDAY
Odd Duck- My favorite brunch in town right now. The pastries are on POINT (look for their different variations of kolaches, bear claws, biscuits, beignets, knishes and more). The dishes are farm fresh and super creative-- think tator tot hash with duck confit (below) and a duck egg baked with goat feta, olives, tomatoes, and oyster mushrooms in a cast iron pan. SUNDAY ONLY
Elizabeth Street Cafe- When you want something different than your basic American brunch, Elizabeth Street is the place to go. Instead of mimosas, opt for one of their creative wine punches or champagne cocktails. Start with an exquisite classic French pastry before moving onto their Vietnamese inspired menu--like breakfast banh mi, pork belly steamed buns, or sticky rice with ginger sausage and poached eggs. SUNDAY ONLY
Fonda San Miguel- Definitely a special occasion brunch ($$$$). Fonda San Miguel is just gorgeous and they keep giant handmade bowls and plates overflowing with delicious interior Mexican brunch items for this winning Sunday buffet: exceptional enchiladas suizas, decadent corn pudding, rustic roasted chile pasilla, chicken mole. SUNDAY ONLY
The Bonneville- Wear your pajamas every third Saturday and the first mimosa is on the house! (What's not to love about that?) Another brunch with awesome housemade pastries like coffee cakes and sticky buns and a smallish selection of really well-done items, like their signature popovers filled with sautéed spinach, shaved ham, poached eggs and Hollandaise. SUNDAY ONLY
Hillside Farmacy- Their brunch menu is pretty limited but really hits the spot (and the interior design of Hillside Farmacy, done by Micki Spencer of Eastside Showroom and Sawyer & Co, is a site to be seen!) Choose from chicken fried steak and eggs, grapefruit brûlée, mac and cheese with the option of adding a poached egg/broccoli/pancetta/all of the above, and-- wait for it-- a fried egg sandwich with fried green tomato, sprouts, and avocado! Boom. SATURDAY & SUNDAY
La Condesa- Chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, chilangos y mas-- all in La Condesa's beautiful sunlit dining room! $2 mimosas and bloody marys! Try their signature Huevos Condesa (roasted chicken, fried eggs, poblanos rajas, duck fat braised potatoes, grilled onions, bacon, spinach, tortillas). SATURDAY & SUNDAY
Swift's Attic- Come here for the super creative, playful plates.. and stay for the awesome cocktails and desserts. Brunch ranges from forbidden rice bibimbap to chicken fried quail to foie gras PBJ pancakes.SUNDAY ONLY