The Austin food scene is hot, with new, innovative restaurants opening seemingly on a weekly basis. Tex-Mex and barbecue still reign supreme, but there’s also great sushi, pizza, and farm-to-table fare. Oh, and doughnuts.
Here’s our favorites:
Uchi is one of the best sushi places in the country, if not the best. Chef Tyson Cole’s modern, classy, and creative takes on sushi, sashimi, and hot and cool tastings bring Japaneses cuisine to a new, more contemporary level. Chef Cole opened Uchi in 2003 after studying for 10 years under sushi masters in Japan and New York City and being declared an American sushi master. In 2011, he was named “Best Chef Southwest” by the James Beard Foundation.
• Wagyu Hot Rock “Sear It Yourself” with Wagyu Beef, Ponzu, Japanese River Rock.
• Walu Walu – Oak-grilled Escolar, Candied Citrus, Yuzupon, Myoga.
• Bacon Steakie – Pork Belly, Watermelon Radish, Citrus, Thai Basil.
2. Franklin Barbecue
Franklin Barbecue sells perfectly-cooked, oak-smoked brisket, pulled pork, ribs, turkey, and sausage from a turquoise and white cinder block building, and the long lines form early.
Aaron and Stacy Franklin opened for business in a trailer in East Austin in 2009. By 2010, they had been named the best barbecue in the country by Bon Appétit. The Barbecue Bible named Franklin the best brisket in Texas. As opposed to other Texas barbecue joints that cook brisket in high-temperature brick pits, Franklin’s secret may be that he slowly smokes the brisket for up to 15 hours, which leaves the meat very tender with a black crusty exterior. He also gets up in the middle of the night to tend the fire. They moved to a storefront location in 2011, and they have sold out of barbecue every day since the day they opened. The lines form as early as 8 AM, the restaurant opens at 11, and they typically sell out of barbecue by about 1 PM. Chairs are available for rent to wait in line, and BYOB is OK – read more here (Photo by T.Tseng)
3. Stubb’s Bar-B-Q
Stubb’s Bar-B-Q is a legendary barbecue and beer joint, and a 2,000 person live music venue. Go for the barbecue, stay for the music.
Christopher B. “Stubb” Stubblefield, Sr., was born in 1931 in Navasota, Texas, to a family of 12 children. His father was a minister and sharecropper, and Stubb worked as a sharecropper before joining the Army and fighting in the Korean War in the last all-black Army infantry. It was there where he learned to cook, often preparing meals for as many as 10,000 soldiers. After the war, he moved back to Texas and learned the art of smoking brisket from restaurateur Amos Gamel. In 1968, Stubbs opened his eponymous restaurant in Lubbock. The small place features a hickory pit out back and blues music in the front. The Sunday Night Jams at Stubb’s became famous and featured artists such as Willie Nelson, Joe Ely, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Muddy Waters.
The original Stubb’s location closed in the early 80’s, and Stubb’s died in 1995. The current Stubb’s restaurant opened in 1996 and features live music most nights, plus a gospel brunch on Sundays – read more here (Photo by Michael Morrow)
4. Barley Swine
Barley Swine start with the simplicity of beer and pork (thus, the name) and quickly ventures out a wonderful array of small shared plates using rustic, local ingredients. The place is casual in demeanor, but serious about food and drink. Barley Swine was named one of the Top 10 New Restaurants in America for 2012 by GQ magazine for their delicious, innovative creations. The menu is fixed price and changed with the seasons, and the ingredients are local when possible. Save room for dessert, too.
Chef and owner Bryce Gilmore made a name for himself in Austin by selling pork sliders from a trailer for graduating to a brick and mortar location in 2010. He was named “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine for 2011 – read more here (Photo by T.Tseng)
5. La Barbecue
La Barbecue is the place to go in Austin if you’re looking for really excellent brisket, but don’t want to put in the wait time at Franklin’s. In fact, John Lewis – the pitmaster at La Barbecue – came from Franklin.
La Barbecue got its start in 2011 and is from famous barbecue lineage. LeAnn Mueller opened the trailer, pit, and picnic tables set-up with her brother, John, and the original name was JMueller BBQ. Their grandfather was the founder of the legendary Louie Mueller Barbecue. John had previously run a barbecue joint on the East Side that had a good reputation, but it eventually went out of business. Soon after opening, LeAnn and John had a falling out, and LeAnn kept the place and changed the name to La Barbecue, with the “La” part being a reference to her first name. In a very good business move, she hired John Lewis, who had quit Franklin and was about to move to California, as pitmaster. He built his own smoker and started making his own sausages.
La Barbecue is known for wonderful slow-cooked smoked meats, chipotle slaw, John Lewis’ house-made and smoked sausages, and free beer on the weekend for those waiting in line – read more here (Photo by Lars Plougmann)
Gourdough’s makes doughnuts – big, fat doughnuts. Gourdough’s makes doughnuts in crazy flavors. The doughnuts are huge and fried to order. You can find them in an Airstream trailer on South 1st Street surrounded by picnic tables and festive overhead lighting. They’ve been featured in numerous magazine and TV shows during their relatively short existence – not only because the doughnuts are really good, but also because they are known for pushing the limit on what a doughnut can be.
In addition to the trailer, Gourdough’s also has a Public House at 2700 S. Lamar with a full restaurant and bar and both inside and outside seating. The Public House serves doughnuts, craft beer, and good pub food (burgers with doughnut buns, etc.) – read more here (Photo by Dennis Yang)
7. Odd Duck
Odd Duck is a former food trailer turned farm-to-table contemporary restaurant with a welcoming patio and expansive views of downtown Austin. James Beard Award-nominated Chef Bryce Gilmore is also the creative genius behind Barley Swine, and both restaurants go above and beyond in their efforts to support local farms and keep things as close to home as possible. The Odd Duck food trailer came first (it closed in 2011), then Barley Swine, then the Odd Duck restaurant. Odd Duck is the slightly more casual of the two restaurants, and at Barley Swine the focus is on the small-plates-tasting menu.
8. Home Slice Pizza
Home Slice Pizza makes the NY-style pizza that Austin craves most – pizzas with a thin, hand-tossed crust and artisan ingredients that are cooked in a wood-fired oven.
Home Slice opened in 2005 after Jen Strickland, a former NYU student, moved to Austin and couldn’t find good pizza. To insure the authenticity of the pizza, she went back to New York to learn the craft from a master pizza-maker. Pizzas are sold either by the pie or by the slice. On Mondays, Home Slice also offers thicker Sicilian pies with lots of sauce and cheese on crust with an oil-fried bottom. Home Slice Pizza has a good selection of Italian wines and craft beer that complement the pizza well – read more here (Photo by Eric Wittman)
Wink is an intimate and unpretentious Austin restaurant where the focus is on the food, as it should be. Chef Mark Paul came from Le Cirque, and Chef Stewart Scruggs from Four Seasons in NYC. In the 12 years they’ve been in business together at Wink, they’ve formed relationships with the farmers who supply their food that similar farm-to-table restaurants would love to have. Over 75% of the items on the menu come from within 100 miles of the restaurant.
Wink also takes their wines seriously – over 50 are offered by the glass. For the full Wink dining experience there is a daily 5 or 7 course Chef’s Tasting Menu – read more here (Photo by Dion Hinchcliffe)
10. Contigo Austin
Contigo Austin is a fun place to sit on a patio and enjoy fresh Mexican food washed down with a beer or margarita – if you happen to enjoy that type of thing. The East Austin hot spot is modeled after the Contigo Ranch 3 hours south of Austin. The ranch has been in Ben Edgerton’s family for years, and, in 2004, the property became a guest ranch. In 2011, Ben and chef/partner Andrew Wiseheart opened the Austin restaurant and strived to recreate the ranch feel in the city.
The patio at Contigo is dog-friendly and comes with picnic tables with lights strung overhead, making it perfect for relaxing outside while enjoying food, drink, and conversation. The vibe is friendly and relaxed, and the menu features lots of small plate items – read more here (Photo by Josh Lackey)
11. Kerbey Lane Cafe
Every city has that one restaurant that is a dependable choice any time of day or night. Kerbey Lane Cafe is a Austin’s 24/7 answer. Go there for giant, fluffy pancakes in the morning, an awesome burger for lunch, seasonally-inspired specials at dinner, or queso at 3 in the morning – it will be good. For the vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free crowd, Kerbey Lane will not leave you stuck with an afterthought of a salad.
Patricia Atkinson and David Ayer opened Kerbey Lane Cafe in 1980 – they lived in the back of the house and opened the restaurant in the front of the house. Their focus was using local ingredients to create home-cooked dishes, and, with a dash of creativity added, the food was delicious and the small cafe out-grew its space. Today, there are 7 locations of Kerbey Lane, with more likely on the way – read more here (Photo by Steve Santore)
12. Amy’s Ice Creams
Amy’s Ice Creams sells creamy, super-premium ice cream made with 17% butterfat ice cream in lots of fun flavors. Amy Simmons opened her first location in Austin in 1984 after learning the skills while working through college in Boston. The store was an immediate hit, and a second location opened one year later. Today, there are numerous Austin locations, plus stores in San Antonio and Houston.
A rotating selection of ice cream flavors are offered in each store on a daily basis, but the highly-acclaimed Mexican Vanilla can always be found. In addition to the ice cream, there’s also milkshakes and smoothies, fruit ices, chocolate-covered strawberries, ice cream cakes. Some of Amy’s Ice Cream flavors even have alcohol – read more here (Photo by Paul Joseph)
Tacodeli has been a winner of number of awards for best tacos, salsa, ceviche, and verde salsa in a town with serious competition for such things. The first store opened back in 1999, when founder Roberto Espinosa set out to recreate the Mexico City food of his childhood. Most everything at Tacodeli is made from scratch using local, organic and sustainable ingredients. The food is very good and a great bang for your buck. Recently, Travel and Leisure named Tacodeli one of the “Best Tacos in America.”
They are only open for breakfast and lunch. There are 10 breakfast tacos on the menu and over 20 lunch tacos, including a good number of vegetarian options (plus 1 vegan). They also offer soups and salad – read more here (Photo by Robb1e)
14. La Condesa
La Condesa offers upscale modern Mexican cuisine in a contemporary and bright downtown Austin space in the Warehouse District. The food is made with great care and is exquisite in both presentation and taste, and the dishes are more fresh and light than the typical Mexican fare. La Condesa also has a vast selection of tequilas and earns high marks for their hand-crafted drinks – read more here (Photo by shu)
Uchiko is a sister restaurant to Austin’s Uchi and makes “Japanese Farmhouse Cuisine” in a warm and welcoming setting. Some of the favorite dishes from Uchi are also at Uchiko, such as Hot Rock and Hama Chili, plus some more experimental offerings. Chef Paul Qui, a former winner of Top Chef Texas, also adds Thai and Vietnamese influences such as lemongrass, fish sauce, chiles, garlic, and Kaffir lime to dishes.
Chef/Owner Tyson Cole spent 10 tears training with 2 sushi masters before opening Uchi in 2003. He won the James Beard Award for “Best Chef Southwest” in 2011 – read more here (Photo by Emily Goodstein)
16. Easy Tiger
If Easy Tiger were a haircut, it would be a beautiful, flowing mullet. Entering the business from street level its a bakery and coffee shop brimming with just-made breads, pretzels, pastries, and croissants. Out back, it’s a different story all together – a creekside beer garden with 30 beers on tap and gourmet sandwiches made from house-cured meats on the aforementioned bread.
The concept – which works every bit as well as Billy Ray Cyrus’ mullet once did – is a product of the collaboration between Top Chef competitor (and meat-curer) Andrew Curren and baker David Norman. Upstairs, there’s a full selection of coffee and tea drinks to pair with the pastries. Out back, the beers are excellent and pair perfectly with the thick corned beef and pastrami sandwiches and chewy pretzels, and the picnic tables set along Waller Creek is a perfect place for a relaxing meal and conversation – read more here (Photo by Nan Palmero)
qui is the culmination of Paul Qui’s journey up the Austin food chain from starting as an intern at Uchi to owning the restaurant of his dreams. Highlights of the journey included winning Top Chef Season 9and a James Beard award for Best Chef: Southwest. Suffice it to say that when qui opened in 2013, it was highly anticipated and created quite a buzz around town.
The funky, contemporary space features bar seats that surround the open kitchen, a small dining room with close tables, an intimate tasting room, and an open-air patio. The food is a wild melding of small plates inspired by Qui’s native Philippines, his Texas surroundings, his classic French training, and his time spent under Tyson Cole at the famed Uchi and Uchiko. The menu changes frequently as new inspiration hits the chef and his capable staff. It is prix fixe with optional beverage pairings, and a vegetarian option is available. There is an a la carte Pulutan menu available for the patio that features Filipino pub food – read more here (Photo by Krista)
18. Justine’s Brasserie
Justine’s Brasserie is an intimate French bistro tucked away in East Austin with candlelight and romance, old jazz and soul. Above all else, though, Justine’s has wonderful French comfort food.
Pierre Pelegrin and his wife, Justine Gilcrease decided to open a restaurant after being inspired by the cafes they had frequented in France. After finding the 1937 bungalow and spending two years converting it into the brasserie of their dreams, they opened in 2009, and the place was a hit from the start.
19. Jack Allen’s Kitchen
Jack Allen’s Kitchen partners with many local farms for their ingredients, and the dishes they serve are reflective of the bounty available and the ground from which it came.
Located just west of Austin in the Oak Hill community, Jack Allen’s Kitchen rightly describes itself as “Local in source. Texan in spirit.” As a welcoming offering, every meal begins with of Jack Allens signature pimento cheese and flatbread crackers. The spirit of warmth continues through the meal and is evident in the warm and rich woods and earth tone of the restaurant, as well as the hospitality of chef and owner Jack Gilmore and the rest of the staff – read more here (Photo by Seth Anderson)
20. Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill
Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill serves New American comfort food, specialty cocktails, and an outstanding brunch in a historic 160 year old former dry goods store in downtown Austin. The building is part of the historical Waterloo Compound and has been used as a general store, saloon, and residence over the years. The dining rooms feature original limestone walls and cedar posts and are a wonderful place to sit down for a meal. Outside, there’s a patio and a separate bar overlooking Waller Creek.
The Moonshine is highly popular with both locals and visitors, so don’t be surprised if there is a wait – especially for the Sunday brunch. Spend the time wisely with a specialty cocktail and a seat on the porch – read more here (Photo by Charles Kim)
21. Foreign & Domestic
Foreign & Domestic is a small neighborhood place where the cooking is taken very seriously, and pork is a favorite. Co-owned by the husband and wife team of Chef Ned Elliott and Pastry Chef Jodi Elliott (both graduates of the Culinary Institute of America), the name Foreign and Domestic applies to both the food and the drink. The food is seasonal New American with European influences, and the drink is craft beers and wines from America and Europe.
The neighborhood place is located in a small cinder-block building with large storefront windows, and the vibe is hip and casual with lots of tattoos and ponytails – read more here (Photo by Matthew Rutledge)
22. Via 313 Pizza
Via 313 Pizza opened in 2011 as a food trailer outside of the Violet Crown Social Club in East Austin. It was opened by two brothers from Michigan, Brandon and Zane Hunt, who’s mission was to bring Detroit-style pizza to Austin. In 2013, Thrillist named Via 313 one of the 33 Best Pizzas in America.
Detroit-style pies are square and have the sauce on top of the cheese. (In authentic Detroit fashion, they are cooked in pans used for holding machine parts in the automotive factories.) The dough is made in-house and is chewy and slightly thicker than a New York-style pizza. Most importantly, they feature a much-sought-after carmelized cheese crust around the edges – read more here (Photo by Stephanie)
Lenoir opened in 2012 with the concept of serving “hot-weather food” to hungry Austinites. Noting that Austin had a hot climate, chef Todd Duplechan and his wife Jessica Maher, who is the pastry chef, envisioned using produce and meats from local producers to make flavorful dishes influenced by hot climates such as the Gulf Coast, Thailand, India, and the French colonies of northern Africa. Todd was trained in the French cooking technique, so the dishes combine and classic preparation with the exotic ingredients and a liberal use of spice and heat from the hot regions.
Their efforts have paid off. In 2014, the Austin Statesman named Lenoir the best restaurant in Austin. The food is delicious, with a wonderful presentation leading to excitement in every bite. The menu is three-course Prix Fixe organized by field, sea, and land, with a dessert course at the end. The space is intimate and homey, and, for those needing a little space, there’s an outdoor wine garden shaded by large, old trees – read more here (Photo by Stephanie)
24. Torchy’s Tacos
Torchy’s Tacos serves up cheap and awesome tacos in creative combinations. They were one of Austin’s food truck pioneers, and now they are an Austin institution. Recently, Travel and Leisure named Torchy’s one of the “Best Tacos in America.”
Michael Rypka was a Johnson & Wales culinary graduate and a frustrated executive chef who broke out on his own and started his taco empire with a small trailer, a red scooter, and a dream. He succeeded, and Austin has him to thank for such “damn good tacos.” There’s numerous locations in the Austin area – read more here (Photo by Seth Anderson)
25. South Congress Cafe
South Congress Cafe serves fresh and well-prepared continental cuisine with a Texas accent in a modern and chic old drug store building in Austin’s SoCo neighborhood. With a killer Bloody Mary and their famous carrot cake French toast, South Congress Cafe is one of the most beloved brunch spots in Austin. Come for breakfast brunch or dinner, but expect a wait (at least on the weekends) at this popular spot – read more here (Photo by Robert Banh)
26. Eastside Cafe
Eastside Cafe has very fresh and local food – you know the food is fresh and local when a restaurant has their own garden and chicken coop.
The restaurant opened in 1988 in a charming old bungalow on Manor Road. They were one of the first restaurants on the street that is now teeming with cafes, taco joints, coffee shops, and bars. They were also early adopters of the urban farming movement, and the creative menu reflects the freshness of the the ingredients with lots of healthy veggie options – read more here (Photo by Kari Sullivan)
27. Fricano’s Deli
Fricano’s Deli is possibly the best of the many great sandwich shops in Austin. The sandwiches are huge and made with fresh-baked bread and quality ingredients.
Fricano’s is located on the west side of the UT campus and is a favorite of both students and locals. The space is a small storefront with a few stools and tables and a large blackboard menu on the wall behind the counter. In addition to the awesome sandwiches, there are daily soups and fresh side salads. The staff is super-friendly and eager to give recommendations – read more here (Photo by Fricano’s Deli)
See our list of the 49 best things to do in Austin here.