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!

North Austin

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

Central

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

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

South

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 MiguelFoodheadsUchikoTacoDeliLucky’s PucciasSecond Bar + KitchenLa CondesaBackspaceJustine’s 1Justine’s 2Blue DahliaContigo 1Contigo 2HopdoddyHome SlicePerla’s 1Perla’s 2

31 comments
  1. 1
    Mariah | Oh, What Love | May 18, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Dying to visit Austin this year, I’ll have to use this when I do!

    Reply
  2. 2
    Bre | May 18, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Umm…you’ve pretty much named ALL of my favorites. The only one I’ve never been to is Fonda, which I recognize is a travesty, but soon to be remedied. So, I must say, excellent list! 🙂

    Reply
  3. 3
    Elizabeth | May 18, 2012 at 11:21 am

    I went to Contigo on my birthday, it was absolutely delicious! I’m from North Texas and don’t get down to Austin a whole lot, but when I do I make sure to do a little research to get some delicious food! Thanks for the referrals!

    Cheers, Elizabeth

    Reply
  4. 4
    Jessica Ellingsworth | May 18, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Just in time for the Ellingsworth move, baby!

    Reply
  5. 5
    Ashley @ Any Lovely Thing | May 18, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Oh, thanks for posting, Camille! I’ll be in Austin on business next month and will have to put your round-up to good use.

    xo,
    Ashley

    Reply
  6. 6
    Robin | May 18, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    Awesome round up! This makes me want to go back and visit RIGHT.NOW!

    Reply
  7. 7
    LuAnn | May 18, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Oh my! I was just looking through some of your older post this week looking for suggestions of placing to eat in your lovely city. My family and I live in The Woodlands, TX, and are wanting to take a quick trip to Austin. Perfect timing! Have a wonderful weekend.

    Reply
  8. 8
    Auburn Daily | May 18, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    What perfect timing! Am heading to Austin next weekend for Memorial Day. While I’ve been before, food (sadly) wasn’t a focus of those previous visits so I’m thrilled to have a tightly edited foodie-oriented guide to good eats! Can’t wait to check out some of these!

    Reply
  9. 9
    emily | May 18, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    just started planning a trip to ausin (everyone has told me that it is the BEST)- thanks for all the food suggestions! it all looks delicious and i can’t wait to experience it!

    Reply
  10. 10
    Phyllis | May 18, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    GREAT list! I am an Austinite and you nailed it. There are a few I haven’t tried, and thanks to you, they are now on my list. Thanks so much!

    Reply
  11. 11
    Shannon | May 18, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Love your guide! I feel lucky to have dined at several of these restaurants, but now I have more to add to my list for my next visit to Austin.

    Reply
  12. 12
    Rachel | May 18, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    This is an amazing guide, thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  13. 13
    Xoch | May 18, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    We were just in Austin last weekend, I wish I’ve seen this before we went! We did go to Homeslice anyway since a friend told us about it and we absolutely love it, we took some pizza for the road (we were visiting from houston!) We also had lunch at County Line, I enjoyed the food but the view you get from that place is AMAZING!

    Reply
  14. 14
    Celine [starbies and sangrias] | May 18, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Sweet round-up! I would have to concur with your excellent suggestions! Migas and Mexican Martini’s at Trudy’s are also not to be missed!!

    Reply
  15. 15
    kate @ travelmoon | May 19, 2012 at 2:48 am

    What a great list-definitely bookmarking for the next time I go to Austin! Love how you included your favorites at each place…went to uchiko last time(one of the best meals I’ve ever had!) And we were recommended Fonda but it was closed upon arriving there…so many mouth watering places to try -can’t wait!

    Reply
  16. 16
    Mónica Pinto | May 19, 2012 at 6:32 am

    Hi Camille,
    I just found your blog while googling picnics, and I´m really glad I did! Love your ideas and inspiration.
    Great work!

    Reply
  17. 17
    holly | May 19, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    i could hug you right now! thank you! we are going to austin next month and since im pregnant i will be sad i cant have a big margarita or a nice cold beer but i am so looking forward to all the good eats. this is so perfect.

    Reply
  18. 18
    Ali | May 19, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    Camille! I cannot wait to use your recommendations next time I am in Austin. Thanks for sharing!
    -Ali

    Reply
  19. 19
    Kirbi Knop | May 21, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    LOVE this post, Camille! Summer is our Austin-frequenting season. You listed 4 of my faves already…La Condesa (ate their Friday for the hub’s bday – to die for), Contigo, Perla’s, and Wink (new fave as of our anniversary dinner last year – especially just the wine bar and its vibe). I can’t wait to try out all of these other spots as well! Thank you so much for sharing all of these in detail! I love the local posts! 🙂

    Kirbi

    Reply
  20. 20
    ANH Style | May 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    This is a great list, though sadly I am finding it a few days too late, seeing I was in Austin this past weekend for a wedding! My parents are UT-alums and have always taken us to Matt’s El Rancho- I still love the chicken chile relleno with green sauce.

    Reply
    • Kari | May 22, 2012 at 6:09 pm

      Matt’s has been our go-to place for nearly 30 years, but I may have to try one of these next trip!

      Reply
      • Camille Styles | May 22, 2012 at 9:42 pm

        Love Matt’s – it was my parents fave spot when they lived here in the 70’s, and apparently it hasn’t changed a bit!

        Reply
  21. 21
    Deirdre | May 24, 2012 at 7:45 am

    My hubby and I went to Austin in late March and had an amazing time. We didn’t visit any of your picks, but I did a blog post of my favorites — check it out! XO Camille, I love your site. http://beautymustsformoms.blogspot.com/2012/04/eatn-in-austin.html

    Reply
  22. 22
    Sarah | October 23, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    Throw in Dos Batos tacos (wood fired, so delish), and I’m sold on this whole post. They’re on the north side of Austin, in a plaza on West Anderson.

    Reply
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