Austin's 10 Best Restaurants, including some newcomers
By Shelley Seale
Austin Local Expert
It’s no secret that Austin has become quite the culinary hotspot in recent years. In the last decade, the Austin restaurant scene has transformed from cooking up great Tex-Mex to major player in the international culinary scene, with talented chefs all over the Capital City of Texas. Austin was named the 6th best food city in the U.S. by Thrillist in December 2014, while Travel + Leisure singled it out as America's next great food town. Some big names have moved in and opened up successful restaurants, while still maintaining Austin’s unique flavor; as well as local star chefs who have expanded with new hotspots around town. The city has proved to be an excellent canvas for a young chef and some of the most creative culinary names in the country can be found working in unassuming converted bungalows, downtown warehouses and even food trucks. The city is also a haven of healthy living, and food is no exception. With the rise in popularity of urban farming, local foods and farm-to-table eating, many of Austin's restaurants focus on local ingredients and sustainable, organic deliciousness. There is much to be found for vegetarians, gluten-free eating and other dietary needs in these picks as well.
As the first gastropub in Austin, this sophisticated spot is devoted to sustainable cooking in a playful, ever-evolving manner. Vegetarians will be happy as well; Executive Chef Nathan Lemley loves his veggies and delights in creating scrumptious meatless dishes. Diners can also enjoy one of Austin's best happy hours, offering half-price on all cocktails, beer, and bar food until 6:30, Monday-Friday. Be warned, it gets crowded quickly so the best bet is to arrive early. Don't miss the oysters on the half shell, some of the freshest in town. You might also want to check out Cirkiel's newest restaurant, Bullfight, serving modern Spanish classics. (5124749898)
Goodall's Kitchen features classic American bistro fare and handcrafted cocktails that can be enjoyed in the restaurant's relaxed bistro-style atmosphere or on the idyllic veranda overlooking the Hotel Ella front lawn. The renovated dining room blends the timelessness of the historic Goodall Wooten House with a modern Austin sensibility. The upscale bistro food includes items such as deviled eggs with candied bacon, grilled oysters with bread crumbs and chimichurri, and a tavern steak featuring their signature fries made with aleppo butter and roasted bone marrow. This is one place not to skip dessert; the chocolate soufflé tart with sea salt, almonds and olive oil ice cream is a sure bet. A limited menu and weekday happy hour is also available in the vintage Parlor Bar. (512-628-4400)
Fonda San Miguel
Located in a quiet neighborhood in north-central Austin, Fonda San Miguel offers an interior and food that are nothing short of extraordinary. The decor transports you to an Old World Mexican hacienda, decorated with colonial Mexican antiques, Talavera tiles, and hand-thrown pottery. The beautiful courtyard is alive with flora and splashing water. Authentic interior Mexican cuisine is the draw, and traditional Yucatecan and Veracruzano dishes are deliciously savory but not unnecessarily hot. Happy hours are very popular here, in the large and separate bar space which spills out into the airy courtyard. On Monday, Wednesday and Thursday the happy hour offers $1 off Fonda San Miguel's famous margaritas and half off select appetizers. On Tuesday, the all-night happy hour features $4.95 house margaritas and select glasses of wine, and half off select appetizers. (512-459-4121)
The unveiling of Top Chef winner Paul Qui's flagship restaurant was the most highly anticipated opening of 2013. Having already garnered local accolades at Uchi and Uchiko sushi restaurants, and his beloved food truck East Side King (now with a storefront restaurant as well in South Austin), Qui is one of the chefs responsible for putting Austin on the foodie scene. His team's method for brainstorming each day's menu, via a hodgepodge of available local ingredients posted on their inspiration wall, results in amazingly inventive cuisine. The place revolves around a prix fixe tasting menu that is $55-70 per person (more with beverage pairings). (512-436-9626)
Stella San Jac
Stella San Jac, an Austin-American inspired restaurant located on the corner of San Jacinto Boulevard and Fifth Street, serves an eclectic Southern menu inspired by the local community. The 150-seat restaurant features an open kitchen and lounge where local musicians play on a weekly basis for restaurant guests to enjoy in a welcoming and lively atmosphere. Chef Michael Cerrie's Southern-style menu is inspired by his great-grandmother, Nonni, and her family recipes. Some of Cerrie's favorite menu items include Blueberry Sweet Bread French Toast and Gulf Shrimp and Lump Crab Roll. The restaurant's distinct Austin-American cuisine has a menu that features what are sure to be favorites including classics with a twist like Braised Short Ribs with Sweet Potato Mash and Green Apple Slaw. Of particular pride is the #16 Biscuits named after the number of batches tested to perfect its recipe. (512-391-2333)
Buenos Aires Cafe
The mother/daughter team of Chef Reina Morris and Paola Guerrero Smith opened Buenos Aires in 2005 with the goal of bringing a piece of their homeland, Argentina, to Austin. Fueled by popular demand, after moving the first Buenos Aires Café in South Austin to the east side in 2009, the city's first Argentine eatery has opened a second location in Bee Cave in 2010. Spacious and inviting (have original hardwood floors ever looked so good?), the haunt serves up popular Argentine fare, including authentic Buenos Aires empanadas. The flaky pastries come with various fillings, including a don't-miss carne picante, with scallions, raisins, and green olives, and a vegetarian's dream packed with spinach, ricotta, and Parmesan. Don't miss their De La Parilla (from the grill) dishes including organic ribeye, tenderloin, quail and short ribs. (5123821189)
Located on the very happening East Side, where new restaurants are constantly opening, Launderette was an instant favorite. Chefs Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki have perfected the modern cafe, with a menu of modern Southern comfort food with Mediterranean influences, with everything from burgers to charred octopus. It's located in a building that was an actual old laundromat and gas station; renovated in a playful, retro style. The long, polished bar is the focal point that grounds the airy space. The room is tied together with details like wooden slab tables on cast iron legs, plush leather wall benches, and cool gray chairs that offset aqua floors. There is a nice patio for lounging, waiting for a table with a drink, or outside eating when the weather is nice. (512-382-1599)
Arguably the most authentic Italian restaurant in town, Daniela Marcone's restaurant serves bistro comfort-food dishes inspired by her own family recipes growing up in Naples. The entire experience, from the décor and service to every bite of food, is presented as it would be in Italy. Andiamo is decorated simply with an eye towards quaint. It is located in a strip mall but do not let that deter you. Many diners refer to it as romantic but foodies in the know will tell you that the food here is the closest you'll get to 'real' Italian food. Bread is served before your meal and is delicious on its own. If you are a vegetarian or have gluten free dietary needs, Andiamo has a selection of menu items just for you. Andiamo changes up their menu according to the seasons so when you are there be sure to look for featured dishes. For example, in the fall they serve their homemade pumpkin ravioli in a homemade brown butter sage sauce. Seafood, beef, and chicken selections do not disappoint. Lady Bird Johnson was a regular, and daughter Luci Baines Johnson still frequents the restaurant as one of many long-time regulars. (512-719-3377)
Lead chef Bryce Gilmore is at the helm of this well known Austin eatery and has taken the Odd Duck to undreamt of heights. Gilmore is still responsible for creating the daily menu, and is dedicated to serving innovative dishes using 100% local ingredients and supporting local farmers. The Duck bills itself as having "intensely local, seasonal fare" and the menu certainly lives up to the hype. Many of the main courses have unique takes on classic veggies front and center. These dishes include charred broccoli with scrambled egg and sorrel and carrots roasted in hay, but if you're of the more carnivorous persuasion there's goat rolled in pasta with mole sauce, grilled quail, and a myriad of other meats to choose from. If you're in Texas and looking for something a little different, but prepared to an NYC professional standard, look no further than the Odd Duck. (512-433-6521)
VOX Table is a New-American style restaurant located in the Lamar Union community complex in South Austin serving chef-crafted small plates that highlight farm-to-table ingredients, and a lively craft cocktail bar. In addition to its excellent drink scene, VOX also offers one of the most decadent cheese plates in town, served with freshly baked bread of the day and housemade cultured butter. The stars of the menu are Executive Chef Joe Anguiano's beautifully prepared dishes that flourish with fresh, seasonal, locally sourced ingredients and small plates influenced by the best of American, French and Spanish/Basque cuisines, as well as Executive Pastry Chef Adam Vaca's whimsical and decadent dessert creations. Chef Joe Anguiano's dishes include such creations as Grilled Hanger Steak served with a roasted potato and goat cheese tian, and rich truffle butter; and an indulgent dessert titled Chocolate and Chili, which includes a chocolate semifreddo, delicate Pedro Ximénez pearls, chocolate soil, guajillo chili and an almond tuile. VOX features seasonal menus, including Prix Fixe dinners (around $35 pp) with a selection of half-price bottles of wine. (512-375-4869)
About Shelley Seale
Shelley Seale is a freelance journalist and author in Austin who has written for National Geographic, USA Today, The Guardian and Texas Monthly, among others. She loves yoga, indie movies, wine, and books, though not necessarily in that order. Shelley has performed a catch on the flying trapeze, boarded down a live volcano and was once robbed by a monkey in Nepal. But, she doesn’t know how to whistle.
Read more about Shelley Seale here.