clockwise from top: fonda san miguel, uchiko, taco deli, foodheads
Okay y’all: by popular request (and after many, many way-too-lengthy twitter conversations)… I decided it was finally time to share my top Austin restaurant recommendations so all you out-of-towners can access my faves in one place. Austin has become such a foodie town, and there are so many passionate foodie people here, it’s a little scary to try to narrow these down because I know I’ll be leaving out lots of people’s absolute favorites. So please don’t get offended and leave mean comments if I didn’t include your favorite place in the world… These are simply the spots that Adam and I find ourselves going back to again and again because the food is so incredibly good. There’s not a lot of experimental cuisine or (any) molecular gastronomy here, and probably not as much pork belly or foie gras as many of my foodie friends would prefer – because really, that’s just not the food that I find myself wanting to eat very often! So here’s my list, loosely broken down by areas…and I’d love to hear about your Austin favorites in the comments and discover a few new ones, so share away!
Fonda San Miguel. In a city that’s famous for great Mexican food (there’s some on every corner) Fonda is my very favorite. The design is a funky blend of interior Mexico-meets-Austin, and the food is classic regional cuisine always served to perfection. Adam and I are there most Tuesday nights for their super popular half-priced drinks and appetizers all night at the bar. Guacamole tostadas, tacos al pastor and mango margaritas are a must.
FoodHeads. I really love a great sandwich, and FoodHeads always delivers. It’s become my go-to spot for casual lunch meetings, and I almost always order the chicken & eggplant or the tuna niçoise sandwich (it’s off-menu, but incredible.) Housed in a funky old house near UT campus and surrounded by mismatched lawn furniture and umbrellas, it’s keeping Austin weird with consistently awesome food.
Uchiko. I almost feel the need to say that I was a huge Uchiko fan before executive chef Paul Qui won Top Chef. But then, who in Austin wasn’t? This sushi spot serves “Japanese farmhouse fare” in a setting that feels a little more NYC than Austin…which sometimes is exactly what I’m in the mood for on a Saturday night. I couldn’t begin to list all the “must-orders” here, but for me, no visit is complete without the hama chili (yellowtail, thai chiles, orange), maguro sashimi & goat cheese (with apple & pumpkin seed oil) and the now-famous brussels sprouts. You’ve got to taste to believe.
TacoDeli. Breakfast tacos are a big deal here, and everyone has their favorite spot. TacoDeli is my taco of choice – the ingredients are super fresh and they offer healthier filling options like scrambled egg whites and spinach. Of course, there are plenty of options if you’re feeling less than virtuous: the Jess Special, with avocado and migas is pretty awesome too.
clockwise from top: second, la condesa, backspace, lucky’s puccias
Lucky’s Puccia. I probably should have included more food trailers in this round-up because I think there are more of them in Austin than any city in America… but I’ll save most of them for a separate post. My roundup wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the absolute best sandwich in Austin: the Puccia Rustica at Lucky’s (with grilled veggies, fresh mozzarella and artichoke pesto.) They bake the bread fresh all day in their on-truck wood fired oven, resulting in sandwiches that rival the ones I picked up from little cafés when I was in Rome. Pop open a limonata and settle in at one of the nearby picnic tables for a perfect Saturday lunch.
Second Bar + Kitchen. This downtown eatery has been open just over a year, and has already become an Austin institution for upscale casual cuisine that’s perfect for lunch meetings or dinner dates. The menu changes seasonally, but right now I’m loving the chilled miso salmon salad. And the truffled french fries are always a must. Bar Congress, the little bar that separates it from it’s fine dining big sister restaurant, is one of my favorite places to meet for business drinks or pre-dinner cocktails.
La Condesa. While I totally love the food at La Condesa, I always have to start by waxing poetic about its stunning interiors inspired by the hip, bohemian Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City. And the upstairs bar, Malverde, is possibly even cooler. All the tacos are fab, and I always get the mango-jicama salad and the Mexican street corn. The margaritas are some of the best in the city.
Backspace. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know I’m a pizza connoisseur… and I can unequivocally say that Backspace serves my favorite in Austin. Sit at the long bar right in front of the brick oven and watch the pizza masters at work, turning out amazing antipasti like coal-roasted eggplant and squash with pumpkin seed pesto. My favorite pies are probably the fennel sausage + roasted peppers…the bianca with ricotta so creamy it’s sinful…oh, and then there’s the roasted mushroom with thyme. And they’re all baked on the most perfect, chewy-on-the-inside and blistered-on-the-outside crust that only a screaming hot brick oven can achieve.
Wink. Wink is more of a fine dining spot than the others on this list, but I love that it still manages to have a totally unpretentious vibe. Although the chefs turn out innovative dishes, the focus stays on the freshest, seasonal ingredients that are prepared in ways that always just taste so good. The wine bar is a really fun, cozy spot to start a night out, too.
Stubb’s. Let me just preface by saying that Stubb’s may not be the best barbecue in the city (most would argue Franklin, Salt Lick, Iron Works, etc.), but in terms of a classic Austin experience, it would be hard to beat. Go on a night when a great band is playing on one of the stages and definitely eat upstairs at the restaurant beforehand. And might I say – I think the barbecue is really, really good.
clockwise from top: justine’s, contigo, contigo, blue dahlia
East Side Showroom. In the heart of newly-hip East 6th, Eastside Showroom is a great place to start – or end – a night touring the east side’s hottest new spots. With a pre-war aesthetic and vintage cocktails to match, it’s brimming with eclecticism and character in a relaxing space that makes me completely lose track of time every time I’m there for cocktails.
Blue Dahlia. I love this place… a French bistro in a charming little east side house with garden seating in the back. I often meet girl friends here for a long lunch over tartines (the delish open-faced sandwiches) on their freshly-baked bread, and usually stop by the sweet shop next door, Take Heart, to stock up on washi tape and handmade greeting cards. Oh, and I’ve been a bit obsessed with the love story behind this place ever since reading it on my friend Tolly’s blog. So sweet.
Justine’s. Ever since this east side bistro opened up a couple years ago at the end of a long, warehouse-lined street, there’s consistently been a line out the door. We usually just cozy up at the bar or hang out on the lawn outside, because the French comfort food is always worth the wait. I love the vibe of the crowded-together marble café tables and eclectic music that the owner plays on the café’s turntable…feels totally vintage Parisian. Steak Frites are the thing to get.
Contigo. This casual spot opened up a year ago, and it’s been a foodie favorite ever since. On a pretty night, it’s the perfect place to go for gourmet, locally-sourced bar food, great beer and margaritas and hang out at the long communal tables with a group of friends.
clockwise from top: hopdoddy, homeslice, perla’s
Hopdoddy. Don’t worry: that looooong line out the door moves quickly. And you’re not going to want to miss these perfect burgers on house-made buns…or the crispy hand-cut fries…oh, or the perfectly blended shakes, either. Located in the heart of South Congress, it’s the perfect spot to fuel up mid-shopping day. I always order the Ahi Tuna Burger with wasabi, nori chips and pickled ginger. So crazy, and so addictive.
Home Slice Pizza. So, I know I already said that Backspace is my favorite pizza…but Home Slice is unbeatable for a late-night slice or a casual date night when you’re craving more of a hearty, New York-style experience.
Vespaio & Enoteca. Vespaio is probably Austin’s most legendary upscale Italian spot (for very good reason) and Enoteca is its more casual, little sister bistro next door. I love them both equally. Vespaio is perfect for a date night – we sit at the bar and order homemade pastas and veal scallopini – and Enoteca is one of my favorite lunch spots in town. I never divert from the tuna niçoise salad.
Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar. One of Austin’s best restaurants for great seafood, Perla’s turns out fine dining-level dishes in a super fun, beachy environment. The crab cakes, grilled fish entrées and beet salad are all perfection, but it’s really the huge wood patio with deck chairs and umbrellas overlooking South Congress, that makes me want to head there every sunny Saturday.
images: Fonda San Miguel, Foodheads, Uchiko, TacoDeli, Lucky’s Puccias, Second Bar + Kitchen, La Condesa, Backspace, Justine’s 1, Justine’s 2, Blue Dahlia, Contigo 1, Contigo 2, Hopdoddy, Home Slice, Perla’s 1, Perla’s 2