Sate your cravings for sweet or spice at these eclectic restaurants and venues, from Tex-Mex and BBQ to sustainable restaurants, as well as Austin’s competitive Airstream trailer treats and cupcake joints.
Looking for where to eat in Austin, Texas? When it comes to restaurants, Austin has much, much more to offer than Tex-Mex. If Tex-Mex is what you crave, of course, the city offers it in abundance, and the ubiquitous breakfast taco ensures that you can have every meal wrapped in a tortilla if you wish. But Austin caters to those with adventuresome palates, in settings ranging from architectural marvels to Airstream trailers. Check out these cool and funky Austin restaurants on your next Austin vacation.
Though Tex-Mex and Mexican restaurants abound in Austin, there are several tourist favorites that still maintain appeal to faithful locals.
Guero’s Taco Bar, in the heart of the South Congress district, is famously known for appealing to President Bill Clinton—there’s even an “El Presidente” dish named in his honor. Its diverse menu nods to Tex-Mex, Mexico City, Guanajuato and Oaxaca, and self-serve salsa bars are available. 1412 S. Congress Ave. Tel. 512-447-7688. Hours: Mon. to Fri. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., weekends 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. www.guerostacobar.com
Chuy’s, now blossoming into full chain status with locations throughout Texas, is best experienced in its original Barton Springs location near the Zilker Park entrance. Despite an Elvis obsession bordering on kitschy, the restaurant delivers a healthy variety of Tex-Mex choices and a sinful array of margarita flavors in a slightly chaotic but fun environment. 1728 Barton Springs Road. Tel. 512-474-4452. Hours: Sun. to Thu. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. www.chuys.co
Fonda San Miguel offers exquisite, upscale interior Mexican selections—queso flameados with rajas, rellenos flavored with goat cheese and pine nuts, and to-die-for mole and pibil dishes—in a space full of artistic flourishes and abundant flora. 2330 W. North Loop. Tel. 512-459-4121. Hours: Mon. to Thu. 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., Sun. brunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m (closed for brunch in August). www.fondasanmiguel.com
Juan in a Million, one of the best Mexican places that East Austin has to offer, is notorious for two features: owner Juan Meza’s firm, sincere handshake, which you’ll likely receive at some point during your time there; and the Don Juan Taco, a massive breakfast proposition of eggs, bacon, potato and cheese that has filled many an Austinite with “I ate it all” pride. 2300 E. Cesar Chavez St. Tel. 512- 472-3872. Hours: Daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. www.juaninamillion.com
Next: Austin Barbecue
Austin’s also known for its barbecue, and rightfully so. For first-timers, know that pickles, onions and white bread are typically served gratis with your meats, while most joints offer an assortment of sides such as pinto beans, either a vinegar or mayonnaise-based cole slaw, and potato salad.
The Salt Lick’s original Driftwood location offers barbecue fans a true experience, starting with a drive through the Texas Hill Country west of Austin, giant pits over which the meats are slow-smoked and giant picnic tables in two rustic dining halls. There’s also a quirkiness about the original location that borders on covertness—only cash is accepted; and while no alcohol is served, customers are welcome to bring their own (which is why you’ll see some customers toting coolers from the parking lot).
Note: There’s also a Round Rock location near Dell Diamond, (3350 E. Palm Valley Blvd. Tel. 512-386-1044), which misses some of the original’s wayback charm but has the convenience of credit card machines and the appeal of a full bar. 18001 FM 1826, Driftwood. Tel. 512-858-4959. Hours: Daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. www.saltlickbbq.com
Stubb’s, to a number of Austinites, is first and foremost a live music venue, but it’s also one of the best places to eat barbecue in downtown Austin. In addition to standard meats like brisket, chicken and sausage, as well as less common barbecue options like pork loin, pork ribs and turkey. Stubb’s offers an amazing selection of sides, including the otherworldly serrano cheese spinach, and exotic choices like fried okra and mashed yams. 801 Red River. Tel. 512-480-8341. Hours: Mon. 5 to 10 p.m., Tue. to Thu. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. www.stubbsaustin.com
Here are some options if you want to go lavish with your meal and help local Austin farmers.
Aquarelle, one of Austin’s best French restaurants, is nested within a cozy house just a half-block off the West Sixth Street corridor. In addition to a menu featuring entrées like sautéed skate wing, Madeira-braised beef short ribs and caramelized day boat scallops, the restaurant recently released a new three-course prix fixe option for a very reasonable $35. Chef Teresa Wilson makes it a point to shop local farms for vegetables and local meat markets for chicken, duck and even rabbit. 606 Rio Grande. Tel. 512-479-8117. Hours: Tue. to Thu. 6 to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 6 to 10 p.m. www.aquarellerestaurant.com
Olivia marries high-minded contemporary fine dining concepts with the trend toward sustainability subscribed to by a growing number of Austin foodies. Drawing from a number of local farms for its fare, Olivia’s selections include some daring choices—such as the lamb’s tongue fricassee, one of its more heralded appetizers, and a revolving menu of choices where a pan-seared duck breast might be paired with gouda grits, candied pecans and spinach freshly picked just several miles away. 2043 S. Lamar Blvd. Tel. 512-804-2700. Hours: Mon. to Thu. 5:30 to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 5:30 to 11 p.m., Sun. brunch 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 9 p.m. for dinner. olivia-austin.com
Wink, tucked away in a blink-and-you-miss-it section of North Lamar at the west end of downtown, is consistently one of the most raved-about restaurants in Austin. Its wine bar attracts a number of good-life seekers, and Wink has built its reputation on pairings of food and wine, offering a five-course chef’s tasting menu matching delectable appetizers and entrées—emphasizing what’s local and fresh—with specially selected wines and champagnes. 1014 N. Lamar Blvd., Suite E. Tel. 512-482-8868. Opens for dinner at 6 p.m., Mon. to Sat. winkrestaurant.com
Some of Austin’s best restaurants aren’t brick and mortar affairs—rather, they’re metal capsules with wheels and hitches. That’s right: Airstream trailers, in all their retro-future glory, serve as home base for some of Austin’s most talked-about dining options.
The Lulu B’s motto, as proclaimed on its MySpace page, is “looking Caucasian, but keeping it Asian.” The South Austin lunch spot (across from Birds Barbershop, Austin’s hippest salon) specializes in Vietnamese sandwiches, noodle dishes and summer rolls, and offers bubble teas, smoothies and Vietnamese coffee to accompany it. The procedure’s a little different than your standard restaurant: The menu is nailed to a tree near the trailer’s order window, and guests who dine “in” sit at picnic tables adjacent to the trailer’s pick-up window. 2113 S. Lamar Blvd. Tel. 512-921-4828. Hours: Tue. to Fri. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sat. 12 to 6 p.m., Sun. 12 to 3 p.m. www.myspace.com/lulubssandwiches
Flip Happy Crepes, a block west of South Lamar in a tree-shaded dirt parking lot, serves a variety of what they term “savory crepes” and “sweet crepes.” The savory selections include a smoked salmon with herbed cream cheese, spinach and tomato crepe, as well as a tarragon mushroom, goat cheese, caramelized onion, spinach, tomato and chives crepe, sure to delight the vegetarians in your party. Calling ahead is recommended—Flip Happy is only open limited hours on select days, but sometimes adds Sunday hours to its calendar. 400 Jessie St. Tel. 512-552-9034. Hours: Wed. to Fri. 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. www.fliphappycrepes.com
The Mighty Cone, though a brand new addition to the Austin trailer scene, features one of Austin’s recently legendary outdoor food offerings—the hot chicken cone, made by Hudson’s on the Bend for the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL). Though 75,000 fans a day converge on the festival to see a staggering collection of bands, the cones have received a special place in ACL lore, to where some festival-goers slot in “Hot Chicken Cone” in between bands they want to see. (Come to think of it, “Hot Chicken Cone” would be a plausible name for an ACL band.) They’re quite simply one of the most sumptuous creations ever wrapped in a tortilla. 1603 S. Congress Ave. (next to Hey Cupcake!). Tel. 512-383-9609. Hours: Tue. to Thu. and Sun. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. www.mightycone.com
Hey Cupcake! is not just a friendly salutation—it’s the Airstream home of one of Austin’s favorite dessert options. In addition to various chocolate, vanilla and carrot cake varieties, the dessert place also offers a red velvet cupcake option topped with cream cheese. You can also make your cupcake a “whipper snapper,” which allows you to get a free shot of fresh whipped cream injected directly into the cupcake. 1600 Block of S. Congress. Tel. 512-476-2253. Hours: Tue. to Sat. 12 to 9 p.m., Sun. 1 to 8 p.m. heycupcake.com
Hey Cupcake! might be the most unusually headquartered of Austin’s cupcake emporiums, but it’s not the only one. Here are where to find the city’s best handheld delights.
Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop takes cupcakes to new, elegant, gourmet heights and adorns them with playfully kitschy names like the Marilyn Monroe (buttery vanilla with vanilla buttercream topping), Jack’s Lemon (lemon with tangy lemon buttercream topping), the Hula (coconut with coconut cream cheese frosting, sprinkled with coconut for good measure) and the James Brown (chocolate with chocolate buttercream and chocolate sprinkles). In addition to six flavors offered daily—plus a “pupcake” for dogs—Sugar Mama’s also offers a rotating group of 20 flavors, ranging from French Toast to Peanut Butter Cup(cake) to the Hemingway (a key lime pie-inspired cupcake). 1905 S. First St. Tel. 512-448-3727. Hours: Tue. to Sat. 12 to 8 p.m., Sun. 12 to 4 p.m. www.sugarmamasbakeshop.com
Polkadots, located near the University of Texas campus several miles north of downtown, features some playful choices among its many flavors, including “The Dirt,” which includes Oreo crumbs and sour gummi worms, S’mores, which combines chocolate cake with marshmallow and graham cracker topping (in a more artful way than what you might have melted over a fire during a Scout campout) and Irish Cream, that combines devil’s food chocolate cake, chocolate ganache, Irish cream buttercream and chocolate-covered coffee beans. 2826 Rio Grande St., Suite B. Tel. 512-476-3697. Hours: Mon. to Sat. 12 to 8 p.m. www.polkadotscupcakefactory.com
Salt Lick BarBQue is the best, but there are tons of other BarBQue restaurants too. Great theme, along with all of the outdoor trailers. Have you checked out the trailers offering sno cones or crepes. These trailers are unique and one of the best parts of Austin.