Answers from Our Experts (3)
Austin takes pride in its food — you can see it in the eyes of the city’s many attentive servers, who present dishes with extra special care. There are a gazillion great spots to chow down on something delicious, but here’s a small sampling of a few greats:
Uchi. Chef Tyson Cole is a James Beard Awards winner, so it’s clear the sushi at his Austin spot is top notch. The seafood is flown in from a market in Tokyo, but the rest of the ingredients are seasonal and local, which results in interesting ingredients combinations you probably won’t find on any other sushi restaurant’s menu.
TRIO. Found at the bottom of a grand carpeted staircase that leads to the ground level of Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Four Seasons Hotel Austin, this fine-dining establishment overlooks a lovely manicured lawn and Lady Bird Lake. Be sure to snag a seat on the patio to dine outdoors on filet mignon, rack of lamb or Texas shrimp. This restaurant serves all the dishes you’d expect from a traditional steak and seafood fine-dining spot, and its cocktails are Four Seasons worthy with fresh ingredients and quality liquor. (This is Texas, so try the margarita.)
Green Pastures Restaurant. This historic restaurant occupies a Southern Victorian home, complete with a wraparound porch, live oak trees and a manicured lawn populated with peacocks. The wood floors are creaky, the décor is appropriately antique, and the French-influenced cuisine is truly delicious. For lunch, I recommend the surprisingly flavorful Chicken Romaine Salad, with avocado, macadamia nuts, cranberries, Manchego cheese and roasted garlic dressing. We also sprung for the Bananas Foster for dessert, which was prepared right by our table by our jovial server and tasted delicious.
24 Diner. The restaurant’s website describes itself as a “finer diner” — a spot that serves up comfort food made with all-natural ingredients. The eggs? Vital Farms free-range and grass-fed. The pork? Beeler’s all-natural and nitrate free. The bread? Made fresh daily. There’s even a gluten free menu. But while the cuisine is grease free, it’s still diner true. There are 11 types of burgers to choose from (bacon gorgonzola with caramelized onions; spicy pepper with Monterey Jack, pepper relish and avocado); a long list of milkshakes made to order with local strawberries and single-origin chocolate; and of course breakfast faves like chicken and waffles, and corned beef hash.
Food trucks. It’d be a shame to visit Austin without trying out its many food trailers. There are tons to sample, but whatever you do, be sure to finish off your meal at Holy Cacao, which serves a frozen drinking chocolate (hot chocolate combined with ice and Blue Bell ice cream) that will top any milkshake or glass of chocolate milk you’ve ever drunk. Truly to die for.
In the past five years, it is safe to say Austin has risen to culinary mecca status. While we unfortunately don’t have all the thriving ethnic neighborhoods of some larger cities (think Thai Town, Little India, Japantown, Little Korea, etc), our cuisine is diversifying with each new establishment that opens its doors. These days, dining experiences are more fun, educational, and interactive than ever, and we’re seeing a lot of international inspiration brought to the table by young, creative chefs.
Here, I’ve rounded up twenty wonderful places around town for fine dining. There are certainly many more where these came from, and many more on the way. One thing’s for sure: it’s a great time to be hungry in Austin, Texas.
Uchi put Austin on the culinary map when it opened in 2003, thanks to the imaginative Japanese culinary stylings of Chef Tyson Cole. To say they make “sushi” is an understatement-- Uchi and its sister restaurant Uchiko (below) are pretty much in a category of their own.
Uchiko opened in the summer of 2010 and Cole won a James Beard for Best Chef in the Southwest later that year. This location has more of a focus on small cold and warm tasting plates, each one just as artfully brilliant as the next.
Choose from a three-course prix fixe or seven-course tasting menu in the elegant-yet-inviting dining room of Congress, where Chef David Bull elevates local ingredients by using global influence, culinary intuition, and unpretentious precision. There is no doubt he deserves every accolade he has earned.
Experience Chef Rene Ortiz’s take on Mexican street food in the equally vivid, playful dining room of La Condesa. Save room for dessert, because pastry chef Laura Sawicki conjures up some of the most imaginative sweets in town.
Sway is Ortiz's sophomore venture: boldly flavored modern Thai served at mostly communal tables in a hip, rustic-industrial setting. Don’t miss the housemade kombucha and drinking vinegars, sorbets, ice creams and Sawick's other inventive dessert creations.
Barleyswine, Chef Bryce Gilmore’s first brick-and-mortar restaurant, opened in 2010 with a focus on small plates, craft beer, and farm-to-table ethos. Seating is communal inside this cozy gastropub, which exudes farmhouse chic (and will provide a tiny spatula, if requested, to scrap your plate bone dry).
Jeffrey’s is an Austin institution that was recently taken over by restauranteur Larry McGuire, who renovated both the timeless menu and the interior. Guests can sip classic cocktails on blue velvet cushions, dine on dry-aged steaks, and make selections from a pastry cart at brunch and decadent cheese and martini carts for dinner.
qui, the latest and most highly anticipated culinary venture from Top Chef Texas winner Paul Qui, recently opened on Austin’s eastside. The sun-soaked wooden interior features a spacious open kitchen, tasting room, and subtle splashes of brightness from colored glass and customized aprons. Qui’s cuisine, served on handmade pottery and reclaimed wood platters, is every bit as inspired, thoughtful, and beautiful as expected.
Olivia’s chef-owner James Holmes takes pride in sourcing from local farmers, foragers and ranchers, hosting nose-to-tail dinners, and keeping chickens in the backyard of his modern-rustic establishment. On Sundays, they serve a brunch fit for (farm-to-table) kings.
Perla’s nautical interior and spacious patio overlook a bustling section of South Congress, yet it feels like the classiest of oceanside boardwalks when you’re ordering off their extensive menu of sea treasures, both local and sourced from afar.
Trace is the only W Hotel restaurant with a forager on staff to ensure the best local, seasonal ingredients are sourced. Their patio is the ideal setting for their decadent brunch, while the candlelit ambiance of the sleek dining room fits their dinner menu, which is heavy on housemade charcuterie, steaks, and wild game.
Lenoir’s chef Todd Duplechan uses French technique to prepare fresh and flavorful cuisine, drawing on inspiration from “warm weather” areas of the world, and using mostly locally sourced ingredients. The interior’s intimate, artful atmosphere comes from heirloom lace drapes and reclaimed wood accents.
Hidden within UT’s AT&T Conference Center is The Carillon, a white tableclothed gem serving reimagined American classics in a refined setting. Service is impeccably attentive, the wine program is strong, and dishes are available a la cart, prixe fixe, or as a part of a chef’s tasting menu.
True to its name, a set of stairs leads to the ethereal interior of Swift’s Attic, where Chef Mat Clouser and his team clearly know how to have a good time. The dinner menu is split into “snack-ums,” “vegemables,” “snort, soar, and scratch,” and “sweet toofs,” and includes surprises like charred edameme with chili oil and pop rocks, and “popcorn and a movie” interpreted as dessert.
Chef Shawn Cirkiel serves upscale regional Italian cuisine on the rustic farmhouse tables inside and under the shade of a majestic live oak outside Olive and June. Highlights include handrolled pasta, entrees grilled on Texas oak, and an extensive list of aperitifs and digestifs, such as housemade limoncello.
Run by veterans from Uchi and Uchiko, SPIN Thai delivers a fresh take on Thai-inspired dishes in quite an unexpected environment. A bit off the beaten downtown path, SPIN’s creations are modern, piquant, and beautifully plated.
Recently opened Mettle is the “Rainey Street Queen” Bridget Dunlap’s first eastside restaurant venture. Chef Andrew Francisco's very original dishes take inspiration from around the globe, while glass and metal sculptures give the dining room a haute industrial feel that is at once spacious and inviting.
For 64 years, Green Pastures has been serving elegant regional cuisine on a Victorian estate, surrounded by live oaks and strolling peacocks. Though the menu is largely elevated surf and turf, they have several vegetarian options as well- -and one of the most lavish brunches in town.
Fino consistently delivers upscale, modern Mediterranean cuisine in the form of tapas, larger entrees, shareable pans of paella, and inspired desserts and cocktails. The service is just as notable as the food and, if the weather is right, the covered patio and lounge is the place to be.
Chef Ned Elliot takes farmhouse fare to a new level with nose-to-tail, garden-fresh creations at Foreign & Domestic. While all the seats in the small, bustling dining room are coveted, the best in the house are at the bar facing the open kitchen. Pastry chef Jody Elliot sells some of the best baked goods in town at her Saturday Bake Sale pop-ups.
My best advice for eating in Austin is to bring your stretchy pants. With so many great restaurants, you're guaranteed to stuff yourself!
For futuristic Japanese food, visit Uchi. You'll find innovative, delicate, and complex dishes on the menu in a modern yet rustic atmosphere.
Check out the snout to tail movement at Barley Swine, where no part of the pig goes to waste. This tiny restaurant serves small shareable plates, so don't feel bad when you end up ordering the whole menu.
For upscale Thai, visit Sway. Large communal dining tables make meals a group experience. If you're looking for a Sway menu suggestion, you can go wrong with the Son in Law.
For outdoor dining, check out the French restaurant Justine's or Contigo, both located on Austin's east side.
You can also stick to the downtown scene and visit Austin gems The Bonneville, Parkside, Second Bar, and Swift's Attic.