‘rAs an native Austinite, I’ve watched as the city has expanded,  giving way to a host of unique restaurants. Some stick around for a while and others well, they come and go only to be replaced by a new culinary hot spot. As good food and drinks are one of the joys in life, I decided to create a guide for folks either visiting Austin or looking for a unique dining experience in the city. This guide features my favorite restaurants or some of the more buzz-worthy spots complete with my menu recommendations (I’m partial to tequila based drinks). Enjoy! *Updated Feb.2024

Fancy Pants

$$$ or more minus the white table cloth.

Odd Duck

1201 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

You may have heard that around 59% of hospitality ventures fail within the first 3 years of operation. Well, Odd Duck is not on that casualties list. This farm-to-table restaurant is still cooking. And it’s still good!

What to Expect: Don’t let the valet parking fool you, Odd Duck has a relaxed atmosphere where dates and friends can meet to drink, eat, and be merry. Small plates mean you’ll have more room to try more items from their ever-changing menu.

Must Order: Honestly, I have no idea. The menu changes regularly and has changed since I last dined there in April. But with fixings such as Pinto Falafel Fritters (cashew-carrot hummus, za’atar yogurt, feta ) and Goat Merguez ( eggplant, pickled peppers, cucumber, coffee, olive, toum) gracing the menu, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding a delicious plate to dig into.

Sway

3437 Bee Caves Rd, West Lake Hills, TX 78746

With a total of two locations in the Austin area, there’s no reason for you to not try the culinary experience that is Sway. I chose the West Lake location for my introduction to Sway’s modern Thai food house. It has a wonderful rooftop bar with incredible views of Austin’s endlessly growing skyline.

What to Expect: High-end and expect to spend more but definitely worth it. Sway is known for their unique dining style. The main dining room features communal dining tables where guests can sit with other parties, as opposed to separate tables. The food is phenomenal. It’s very rare that I have plates that I don’t want to stop eating. I literally caught the bartender watching me as I attempted to over-stuff myself. The worried look on her face snapped me out of my gorge fest and I surrendered reluctantly to the to-go box. Sidenote: The leftovers were just as good. Wow. So good!

Must Order: The Lotus Margarita was a pleasant surprise. Not too sweet and packed with flavor, this tamarind flavored margarita is a refreshing treat. Start your evening with the Calamari, its light and packed with flavor. They feature several fried rice options, and the Veggie Fried Rice is guilt free. Packed with Brussel sprouts, tofu, and lemongrass. Who knew fried rice could pack so much flavor? The lemongrass in this dish danced across my tongue and had me craving more. Beware of the those spicy red chiles. They’ll burn a hole right through your tongue.

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Upscale Hipster

Get lost in the vibes

ah sing den

Ah Sing Den

1100 E. 6th St. Austin, Texas 78702

This little East side hideaway has become one of my favorites if not only for the decor. Another bohemian styled restaurant with a lounge feel. This is great for date night.

What to Expect: During the week, business is pretty slow. Wednesday’s they have an all-day happy hour that I haven’t had the opportunity to try just yet. Towards the end of the week expect great people watching, good food, and strong cocktails (very strong).

Must Order: Order the Long Time Lychee cocktail. Say yes to the Goat Cheese Rangoons and the Chicken Potstickers. Yum! Though their brunch menu is pretty lacking, I really enjoy their version of the Chicken and Waffles and a cold Blood Orange Mimosa.

Justine’s

4710 East 5th Street, Austin TX

Just when you thought the East side couldn’t get any cooler, you drive a little further down 5th street and discover Justine’s. A quaint French inspired restaurant with plenty to talk about.

What to Expect: Justine’s is an entire vibe. When you walk through the entryway of fragrant jasmine flowers you will be in their outdoor seating area/bar. It’s a tented room with 8 – 10 tables for parties who prefer to dine en plein aire. There’s also a lovely courtyard with seating and an outdoor art house that changes periodically. The inside of the restaurant is quite cozy and is great for people watching. One cool thing to pay attention to is the music. The bartenders have a vinyl collection that they switch throughout the night. They’ll play anything from Serge Gainesbourg to Missy Elliot. You can’t go to Justine’s and not have a good time.

Must Order: When you find a seat (Justine’s can get crowded) try the Escargots a la Bourguignonne. Drowned in butter and served with bread to sop up the leftover garlicky buttery goodness. If you’re craving something a bit more hearty, the Steak Frites will do you in. Ugh, my mouth is watering as I type this. I think a trip to Justine’s is in order. For drinks try the French 75.

Peche

208 W. 4th St. Austin, Texas 78701

One of my favorite restaurants in Austin, this absinthe bar is perfect for date night or for a moody dinner. They have an amazing happy hour on Sunday’s as well. It has the sort of bar setting that makes you feel like the bartenders are well trained and knowledgeable in their craft. Not just slinging drinks on another Saturday night.

What to Expect: Great food and strong cocktails. Be sure to try the absinthe (I still haven’t) and tell me how it is.

Must Order: For starters go with the the Pommes Frites, Mushroom Fritters, and Escargot (I have a thing for snails). For something heartier go with the Duck Confit or the Pan Roasted Stuffed Quail. I made the mistake of trying to order a chocolate martini once (they don’t have the ingredients to make one) but their French 75 and Royal Bees Knees are strong and tasty.

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Eat & Stay

The best hotel restaurants and bars.

brussel sprouts and cocktail Photo: Brussel Sprouts and Sunset Cocktail + the thinnest chopsticks known to man.[/caption]

Must Order: The Brussels sprouts are the BOMB! They include a unique mix of coconut, ginger, and chile. This  interesting mix of flavors makes them one of the best Brussels recipes I’ve tasted in Austin. The Sunset City cocktail is the perfect tequila mixer. Have them craft you one on a hot summer day.

Corner Bar

110 E. 2nd Street, Austin, TX 78701

One of my favorite places to people watch. It has a great location, but good luck finding parking.

What to Expect: A buzzing bar/restaurant located on the corner of 2nd street. Corner Bar is attached to the Marriott Hotel.

Must Order: Honestly, I only go here to people watch. It’s such a great spot. Typically I’ll order their Old Fashioned Burger and a Mexican Martini.

Pleasant Surprises

Easy to overlook but worth the second glance.

NightCap

1401 West 6th St. Austin, Texas 78703

There are a handful of restaurants tucked away on West 6th that have slipped through my fingers. But luckily, NightCap has carved out a nice spot in my memory, in part because of the friendly and professional waitstaff.

What to Expect: Great service. Perfect for group dinners or date night. They even have outdoor seating which is nice. You’ll get a kick out of the names of their cocktails.

Must Order: I’ve been to NightCap several times and I always enjoy everything that I order. They have one of my favorite Brussels Sprouts recipes (quite memorable). Their Housemade Pretzel is tasty and the Grilled Whole Fish is amazing (watch out for those tiny bones though). For cocktails go for the Ghost ‘Em Gurl.

Loro

4710 East 5th Street, Austin TX

For you heavy meat eaters who are bit tired of the BBQ scene in Austin, Loro will be a nice change of pace. Loro is an Asian smokehouse. It has the vibes of a BBQ joint with the complex flavors typical of Asian cuisine.

What to Expect: A great place to go with large groups as there is ample seating indoor and out. You pick up your menu while outside the restaurant and head to the bar upon entry to order.

Must Order: Obviously you can order something hearty like the Smoked Beef Brisket or you can steer on the lighter side (my side) and get a Malaysian Curry Chicken Bowl or the Crunchy Cabbage Salad for vegetarians.

 

Southern Favorites

Nothin’ fancy except for the decor

table of food with salad in the foreground

Sawyer & Co.

4827 E Cesar Chavez St Austin, TX, 78702

How is it that I’ve lived in Austin, Texas my entire life and I’ve never heard of this place? Sawyer & Co. is a cute retro themed Louisiana style restaurant located on East Cesar Chavez. If you are driving East down Cesar Chavez, and you come to Pleasant Valley, keep on driving. Sawyer & Co. is one of several restaurants that you don’t want to miss. My favorite thing about this diner, is that they serve breakfast all-day. I’m a breakfast any time of the day type of gal. And Sawyer & Co. serves up delicious buttermilk biscuits that suit my fancy.

What to Expect: The staff is attentive and the service is fast, but not so fast that you feel like a burden (or another number). They have a wonderful outdoor patio perfect for small or large parties. And there’s corn hole if that’s your thing. It’s incredibly photogenic, so if snapping Instagram photos is your thing, this place is the perfect spot.

black woman holding a beverage in a restaruant

table of food

Photographed: Shrimp PoBoy, Strawberry and Feta Salad, and Crawfish Etouffe

crawfish etoufee

Must Order: The Lafeyette Fix is a wonderful cocktail made with bourbon and spiced pineapple. It’s delicious and sweet, perfect for summer. I’m all about the biscuits so grab a few of those, as they serve breakfast all day (insert blushing emoji). And the Crawfish Etoufee served with a cornbread muffin is great for dinner.

Fixe Southern House

500 W 5th St, Austin, TX 78701

Described as an upscale southern eatery, Fixe delivers the heavy down south fixins. You’ll get a kick out of the main dining area that resembles a chicken coop (not sure if that was intentional). The waitstaff is very friendly and it was one of the few restaurants where I felt like they genuinely cared about my experience. And they made me feel comfortable dining alone.

What to Expect: Wear your elastic waist bands because this food is heavy and rich (like southern food typically is). You’ll be unbuttoning and unzipping to make room for dessert. The decor is very Southern, think South Carolina or Louisiana.

Must Order: The Fixe Biscuits are so yummy get them with the N’duja, Preserves as opposed to the honey. and the shrimp and grits. I think I gained a stretch mark from Anson Mills Antebellum Grits  with Shrimp. Skip the Beets.   

Cheap Date

Trendy but not great. 

Il Brutto

1601 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Il Brutto means “the ugly” in Italian and I have to say that I had an ugly experience here. Maybe it was because it was a busy night (I dined at the bar on a Saturday), but I didn’t have the best service. I was a former cocktail waitress so I totally get it, some people have bad nights. But the service sucked. I decided to dine there anyways because my only other option within walking distance was Ramen Tatsuya across the street and I wasn’t craving ramen. I was hoping Il Brutto would have calamari of some form but to my disappointment they didn’t . I settled for the mussels and clam COZZE E VONGOLE. It was mainly mussels and tomatoes as I counted only two clams. I’m sorry to sound petty but this was my honest experience.

What To Expect: It’s on the hip east side so Il Brutto has the shiny and new modern + artsy feel of a hip Austin eatery. From the outside it looks like it would be a little more high-end than it actually is. It’s definitely a fast paced spot to grab drinks or dinner with friends after a long week at work. If you like pizza this might be a place you’d like to try. They have a good selection of pizza and pasta. I can also see this being a great brunch spot. Complete with bottomless mimosas and excellent people watching (I’m just hypothesizing).

Must Order:  I know this sounds more like a negative Yelp review than a dining recommendation but there was one redeemer.  My delicious cocktail! The Limoncello is made in house and they craft a delicious Limoncello 75.

 

via GIPHY

Barlata

1500 S Lamar Blvd #150, Austin, TX 78704

So funny story, I was supposed to meet a girlfriend here for happy hour she was an hour late (I still love you boo!). So I ordered all this food that was meant to be shared and had to eat it all myself. Luckily, the happy hour prices were a steal!

What To Expect: Modern Spanish tapas restaurant tucked under a mid-rise apartment complex. Perfect for those who like to eat little bit of everything and share with their friends. Go during happy hour for the best bang for your buck.

Must Order: I’m pretty much obsessed with Fried Calamari (on occasions, I have scoured downtown Austin for calamari) and their’s does not disappoint. I enjoyed their Fried Brussels Sprouts as well. *P.S. my friend paid the tab as a consolation. 

 

This list will continue to grow as I scour the city for my next best culinary experience. Have a recommendation? Drop it in the comments. And if you liked this article share it with a friend dying to visit Austin.