When most people visit Austin, they either end up downtown, or very close to it. In my personal opinion, that's not where you'll find the best food. However, if you don't have a car to bring you outside the city proper, there are still some hidden gems that are worth checking out.
The rule of thumb here is to try not to be too close to the touristy places--restaurants near the convention center or music halls aren't going to be great. After all, foot traffic alone means they don't have to be stellar to make a living.
Visiting Austin and staying downtown? Here are my suggestions for the best food you'll find within walking distance or a quick Uber/taxi!
- Cooper's Old Time Pit - the best BBQ in downtown proper. Meat by the pound, incredible sides (rare for a BBQ place!) and you can get it dipped in their BBQ sauce.
- Terry Black's - Not quite downtown, but worth a scooter ride or quick rideshare. Pick your meat by the pound in this counter-service restaurant. Grab a cold beer from the cooler and try their beef rib, what they're known for.
- Lambert's - Fancy BBQ. Full disclosure: I've never been, but it seems to be the go-to place to take visiting clients. I hear they also have a good happy hour!
Mexican & Tex-Mex
- Chispas - My favorite new place in town to get tacos. The queso, which is a barometer for a Tex-Mex's quality, is decent, but the taco menu is so unique and all are tasty. I love the butternut squash taco and the pork belly.
- Taco Deli - An Austin favorite, though it's only open until about lunch time. Skip the line by ordering ahead and sit on their patio to people watch.
- Chuy's - It's a chain now, but the original spot is on Barton Springs Road. The quirky decor, extensive menu, and friendly service make it the perfect first stop when you're looking to try Tex-Mex cuisine for the first time.
- Gabriela's Downtown - A hidden gem that really shouldn't be hidden considering it's right at the beginning of East 7th Street with full view from the highway. Incredible, homemade Mexican food by a brother and sister duo. Everything from the snacks to the dinners to the drinks is incredible
Burgers, Sandwiches, and More
- Easy Tiger - a Beer garden AND bakery with incredible snack boards, sandwiches, sausages, and more. Their $3 Old Fashioned is a happy hour staple.
- Fareground - Want a little taste of everything? This food court serves up food from some of my FAVORITE restaurants that you may not get to experience without a drive outside the city. Try Kome, Dai-Due, and Contigo.
- Casino El Camino - It's in the back of a bar (with the best bloody marys, btw) but if you love burgers it's the best in town. Open late, it's the perfect place to get your drunchies on as you make your way down Dirty 6.
- Banger's - Bangers is Austin in a nutshell: unique food concept (everything on the menu is a sausage), vegan/vegetarian options, the most craft beers you'll find on tap in one place, and a wide open space for both live music and mini dog park. It's probably one of my favorite places in the city!
- Stube - Another unique sausage place that is generous in their portions and incredibly tasty. They just expanded their food truck behind Star Bar, so you can grab a fancy drink to pair with your brats.
- Graj Ma'hal - Some of the best Indian food I've ever had, in a cool, quirky space. One of the few restaurants on Rainey Street that is worth your money.
- Clay Pit - Another great option for Indian food if you happen to be closer to campus. Their lunch options are awesome and word is that the building is haunted!
- Papadom - One of the best lunch deals in town! $13 for all-you-can-eat. I've never had a bad meal here, and it's my go-to when I want a filling, tasty lunch.
- Swift's Attic - Asian fusion with Southern comfort cooking. Really unique and tasty dishes and a great happy hour. I especially love the ice ball cocktails!
- House of the Rising Tanuki-San - I've only been here for lunch, but everything has been so flavorful! The dishes are unique, the atmosphere is fun, and everything is super tasty.
- She's Not Here - The only sushi worth trying in downtown Austin. We're not known for seafood in this city, but the hand-crafted rolls taste a lot fresher and are more unique than other options. Bonus: awesome happy hour!
- Koriente - Not quite sushi, but other great option for some fresh and tasty Japanese cuisine! The focus here is on healthy food, and during lunch salad and soup is never-ending.
- Moonshine Grill - Fancy Southern Comfort Food. Super tasty but a bit pricey. It's great for date night, as it's cozy and dark. I love their shrimp and grits!
- Cannon & Belle - if you want fancy Southern food, this is a great option. It’s my new favorite in town and worth the price. Their bone in ribeye and pork chop rival steak houses in the area, for a much better price.
- Fixe - This place is worth a stop for their biscuits alone. Holy wow these are little buttery bits of perfection. Pro tip: Get a side of biscuits with their excellent fried chicken and make a sandwich. you won't be sorry.
Sadly most of the best Mexican food in town has been priced out of the city. If you have a budget for an Uber, it might be worth it to check out Papalote, Veracruz All Natural, Matt's El Rancho, The original Polvo's, or one of the touristy favorites like Torchy's. If you really want a taste of something special, check out one of the independent food trucks you'll find scattered around the city.
Same with homestyle Southern food, as you'll notice most of my suggestions are of the "fancier" variety. Try Hoover's Home Cooking, Threadgills, Jack Allen's Kitchen.
Other restaurants worth the drive: Uchi, Odd Duck, Salty Sow, and La Barbecue. If you have a rental, definitely take a drive to The Salt Lick in Dripping Springs. It’s a Texas institution. Dripping Springs also has a bunch of breweries and distilleries, my favorites being Jester King and TreatyOak.
Where do you like to eat in Austin? Have you ever visited? Let me know!