Cafe Josie is a small, intimate restaurant situated in a house in the Clarksville neighborhood just west of downtown. Since opening in 1997, it has become a local favorite for casual fine dining. For the past 15+ years, owner Cody Taylor and Executive Chef Todd Havers have been greeting guests at Cafe Josie, where they strive to provide a remarkably genuine and memorable dining experience with great service and an imaginative and informative wine program. Cafe Josie recently unveiled a new offering they call "The Experience." It's an unlimited prix fixe experience, allowing guests to eat as many small plates as they wish for $40 ($45 with dessert). This is available at dinner every night they are open, with the menu changing based on season and local ingredients available. The regular menu will still be offered a la carte as well. This is Austin's first casual fine dining, unlimited prix fixe offering.
Recommended for Romantic Dining because: Cafe Josie offers delicious food and an intimate experience, which explains its standing as a longtime neighborhood favorite.
Shelley's expert tip: Cafe Josie shares parking lots with neighboring businesses, so you can park anywhere it is designated "Pecan Square." More specifically, you can park in front of Clarks Oyster Bar, behind Cafe Josie, and also along the neighborhood streets.
For over a decade, La Traviata has been serving the Austin area with genuine Italian comfort food. For those with lighter appetites they serve a wonderful selection of salads. Fancy a great pasta? Ask what the homemade ravioli of the day is. Many satisfied diners recommend the Spaghetti alla Carbonara as 'to die for.' Among many mouthwatering pasta entrees, you'll also find seafood, chicken and beef dishes. La Traviata is set up like a busy, bustling cafe with the tables placed closely to each other. Reservations are a must on the weekends as it gets crowded. Service is excellent and gets top marks.
Recommended for Romantic Dining because: An established, upscale Italian trattoria on the downtown scene, this is a golden go-to place.
Shelley's expert tip: Great for a date night or fun evening with friends but due to its busy ambiance and the proximity of fellow diners, not for that night where you want to have quiet, intimate conversation.
Jeffrey's is a neighborhood fine dining restaurant featuring dry-aged prime beef and French American classics, first established in 1975. After closing for remodeling, the beloved Austin restaurant reopened in 2013 and is better than ever, with a completely reimagined menu and beautifully remodeled space.The restaurant's legacy is that of simply prepared seasonal cooking, delicious wines, and friendly, professional service. You might also want to check out their sister restaurant, Josephine House. The Clarksville cottage features a small marble bar for coffee or cocktails, intimate tables in the dining room, shady nooks on our patio and a grassy front lawn for lounging. Serving an eclectic daily menu featuring the best locally sourced products.
Recommended for Romantic Dining because: Jeffrey's offers outstanding food in an upscale atmosphere. It's an ideal spot for cozying up.
Shelley's expert tip: Jeffrey's has an excellent happy hour that is very popular with locals, and a good way to start date night if your later evening takes you elsewhere.
Vespaio opened its doors in 1998, long before South Congress was the bustling destination it is today. The building had history as a Western wear shop and a grocery at the turn of the century, and the owners had a vision. The space was recreated with a gorgeous curved bar, open kitchen, original tin-tiled ceilings, wood fired oven and walls of wine bottles – all of which make for a very romantic setting. The kitchen is driven wholly by handmade and locally-sourced ingredients, with the chefs doing all their own butchering, using every part of the animal. Fresh pasta, breads, stocks, charcuterie, desserts and cheese are all made in house. The wines are specifically chosen to complement the food, and are primarily Italian and French wines from boutique, family owned and small production producers.
Recommended for Romantic Dining because: Authentic Italian food and a crazy-extensive wine list make Vespaio a top dining destination in Austin.
Shelley's expert tip: The name came because during early demolition, a walled-in working beehive was revealed, and thus the name was discovered: Vespaio, which means "wasps' nest" in Italian.
Lenoir came on the scene in 2012, when husband and wife team Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher opened their restaurant with two big ideas: to help build a strong culinary community in Austin and to create a new style of dining in Austin. Lenoir sources almost exclusively from Texas' community of farmers and food artisans, with a menu that changes seasonally. Lenoir also offers a three-course prix fixe menu for $45, with wine pairings available. The options are divided up into dishes that are in categories of Field, Sea, Land and Dream (the desserts). It is romantic due to both the atmosphere inside the restaurant and the dishes served; and also because of the lovely backyard Wine Garden, where guests can choose from the curated wine and beer list, and also order small shareable plates and boards with items such as hummus, cheeses, sausage and pickles. It's also a community gathering place, with frequent live music and a Sunday Dinner series.
Recommended for Romantic Dining because: The husband-and-wife team that run Lenoir make it a really special place; the atmosphere is very romantic, and the food doesn't disappoint.
Shelley's expert tip: Lenoir serves what they call "hot weather food" - that which is right for the warm climate usually found in Texas. Historically, when you look at cultures that live in hot parts of the world, food is acidic, citrusy, brothy and spicy because that's what works with the climate. So Lenoir emulates that and keeps it light: very little butter, cream and gluten.
Since opening in June of 2001, Wink has consistently been ranked as one of the best fine dining venues in town. The restaurant space is an intimate, unpretentious "white-tablecloth" parlor, with staff that is attentive and extremely knowledgeable; yet not stuffy or uptight. They delight in introducing guests to new things and being creative in their approach. As far as romantic dining or special occasions, the personal attention that Wink strives to provide each guest is what cinches their place on this list. If you let them know ahead of time about your occasion, they will go out of their way to make it special, even personalizing the day's menu for you at times. One thing to be aware of is that the space is small and intimate; meaning that it can at times be noisy. If this infringes on your idea of a romantic evening you might want to go at an earlier time or a weekday night. The Wink menu is updated daily based on what is fresh and beautiful from local and national farms and purveyors. Arranged according to size, from smaller plates to larger entree portions, the menu is designed to encourage multiple courses and a dining tour of many different flavors. There is also a daily Chef's Tasting Menu (5 or 7 courses) designed to tour the best of the best from each day's creations; along with a daily Vegetarian Tasting Menu. The staff is always happy to assist in pairing wines from their extensive By-The Glass list for the ultimate palate-pleasing adventure.
Recommended for Romantic Dining because: Continued popularity, delicious food and an intimate atmosphere make this a perennial favorite for romantic dining.
Shelley's expert tip: Don't miss the Wink Wine Bar, a separate and sophisticated space to begin or end your evening. The full menu along with a special bar menu are also available.
This European kitchen has strong German influences on the menu; but done with a deft, light hand. The bold, distinct flavors bring classics into the modern century, some with new preparations not seen before. The refined, elegant atmosphere, attentive service and Chef/Owner Wolfgang Murber's strong point of view on food, all add up to a delicious dinner experience that can also be quite romantic, if that's what you are looking for. Murber is also committed to sourcing humanely raised products and sourcing ingredients locally. Everything is made in house, from butchering to baking, and seafood is flown in fresh daily. Every dish is prepared at the time the order is placed, not before – so expect to have a fully European experience, with dining as a relaxed, social event and not so much the "dine and dash" American habit.
What more romantic place could there be than a cozy Paris bistro, with lace curtains and fresh flowers in wine bottle vases? At Chez Nous, you can be transported to the City of Light for the evening, with old-world charm along with authentic French food from the Parisian owners. After you are shown to your table and enjoying some wine with a basket of freshly baked baguettes, share classic bistro fare such as housemade paté, escargot and poisson meuniere (fish of the day in butter, parsley, and lemon juice). Chez Nous doesn't have to cost a fortune either, with their daily three-course prix fixe menu du jour, which is considered one of the best fine-dining bargains in town.
Recommended for Romantic Dining because: Paris is the city of romance, and at Chez Nous you can be transplanted there for the evening.
Shelley's expert tip: Go for the daily prix fixe menu for a good deal on a fine French meal.