The Austin Guide
Austin has long been famous for its amazing music scene and seriously good food (you’ll experience both the moment you land at the airport, which is well programmed with live performances and surprisingly good barbecue spots), and it’s this unique personality that’s attracted and enlivened cultural events like SXSW and ACL. And while Stubb’s and Rainey St. are as classic and fun as ever, like many mid-sized cities, Austin has benefited from a boost of creativity downtown, filling it up with inventive restaurant concepts from young chefs, and more than a few cool hotels, all without losing its quirky, Texas-bred soul. Meanwhile, any stereotypes about the hot, humid weather are quickly dispelled by the presence of the cooling Colorado River, which makes its way from Lake Austin—a widened river perpetually crowded with party boats and water-skiers—down and around the edge of downtown, where the mild current makes for excellent SUP and kayaking. At the same time, some gorgeous boutiques offer a nice balance to old-school vintage and music shops, making this a second-to-none shopping destination. Suffice to say, the first-ever goop guide to Austin was long overdue.
Central Standard1602 S. Congress Ave., South Congress | 512.942.0823
The brass accents, black and white tiles, and sleek furnishings at South Congress Hotel’s American grill feel both modern and classic. The best dishes are indulgent, like the Central Standard’s cheeseburger, which is served with cremini mushroom butter, aged cheddar, and smoked bacon. The pastry chef Amanda Rockman (who was previously at Nico Osteria in Chicago) makes a compelling argument in favor of saving room for dessert, though: her tarts, cakes, and corn fritters can make eyes water. The warm wraparound patio has an enticing weekday happy hour, too, with half-off drinks and select food dishes.
Clark’s Oyster Bar1200 W. 6th St., Clarksville | 512.297.2525
If they weren’t already, Clark’s cemented the place of restaurateurs Larry McGuire and Thomas Moorman (owner of the uber-popular Perla’s) as the utmost authorities of Austin’s seafood scene. The small space has a clean, nautical vibe that’s faintly reminiscent of the Hamptons, with a subtly East Coast menu to match; ideal for a more intimate dinner or brunch. Our suggestions? Cold water oysters (a must) and their famous fries, ceviche, the cooked kale salad, and the wood-grilled shrimp toast (a divine compilation of aioli, smoky shrimp, and crunchy sourdough). In our humble opinion, this is by far one of the best Bloody Marys in the city.
Contigo2027 Anchor Ln., East Austin | 512.614.2260
Contigo is a bit removed from the center of Austin, which adds to the ranch-like quality of the restaurant. A spacious outdoor patio with picnic benches and umbrellas makes it a fun place for Sunday brunch, and also a pretty space at night when the strings of outdoor lights are illuminated. The menu, which changes regularly, has a few game-inspired dishes and Texan twists on American classics, plus really good drinks.
Elizabeth Street Café1501 S. First St., South Congress | 512.291.2881
Austin's South First is a gem of a street and this is one of the top highlights. A Vietnamese café plus French bakery, Elizabeth Street Café combines the best of two worlds. The bakery makes two different kinds of baguettes daily (order the bánh mì to try), croissants, and a variety of pastries including macarons. Stumptown is the house coffee, and you can get traditional Vietnamese coffees with classic café du monde chicory. In addition to bánh mì, the restaurant also serves spring rolls, pho, and spicy curries. The interior is exquisitely pretty, clean, and bright, decorated with oversized framed mirrors and divided by an open arch. The chic neon touches on the side patio follow suit.
Fonda San Miguel2330 W. North Loop, Allandale | 512.459.4121
Fonda San Miguel underwent a renovation in the last decade, but the bright decor here still speaks to its impressive 1970's roots. Of course, though, the mouthwatering Mexican food is the reason this restaurant is still open forty-plus years later. In fact, they make the same tortilla soup recipe from 1975; locals love everything from the classic enchiladas to the chile rellenos and Gulf shrimp dishes.
Güero’s1412 S. Congress Ave., South Congress | 512.447.7688
Güero's is one of those places that's on every visitor's hit list. In a town where margaritas, tamales, and enchiladas are fuel, this South Congress taqueria doesn't disappoint. (It helps too, that they've been around since 1986.) Service is friendly and the vibe is lively and casual. On Sundays, it's practically a ritual to nurse a hangover in the restaurant’s Oak Garden with an order of migas—a plate of scrambled eggs, tostadas, and pico de gallo. There's a vegan menu, too.
Hillside Farmacy1209 E. 11th St., Central East Austin | 512.628.0168
Situated on top of a hill overlooking downtown, this former 1950s pharmacy has been turned into a farm-to-table hotspot with a line on the weekends that wraps out the door. Thankfully, the owners restored many of the old pharmacy’s charming details: there’s a pentagon-patterned floor, antique wooden display cases, and a photogenic tin roof. The breakfast menu is deceptively simple: the fried egg sandwich features avocado, aioli, fried green tomato, and eggs in a bowl, which includes mozzarella curd, sautéed kale, and zucchini. Local pride extends to its produce as well—many of the local veggies are picked from nearby Eastside Urban Farms so it’s all very fresh. During the day and into the evening, the raw bar, with its mix of East and West oysters, is a happy hour favorite, especially when paired with a grapefruit jalapeno margarita.
Hopfields3110 Guadalupe St., Central Austin | 512.537.0467
Husband-and-wife duo Bay and Lindsay Anthon melded their love of craft beer (him) and French background (her) into Hopfields, a sophisticated neighborhood gastropub, which opened in Austin in the fall of 2011. The rotating tap list is a big draw (but there's also a wine list), and regulars love the steak frites as well as the Pascal burger served with camembert, cornichon, whole grain mustard, and caramelized onions.
Irene’s506 West Ave., Downtown | 512.298.0853
Irene’s is the epitome of a neighborhood joint: housed in a former auto body repair shop and named for one of the proprietor’s beloved grandmother’s, it’s the kind of spot locals flock to thanks to its wraparound outdoor patio, and a walk-up window counter that serves breakfast pastries and coffee from 7am on. Inside, a neon sign, salvaged airplane panels, and, yes, an upright piano greet diners who appreciate a little kitsch, but you should really come here for the comfort food. Think: sea-salt popcorn and pimento cheese snacks, pulled chicken and avocado sandwiches, and farro and mushroom salad.
Josephine House1601 Waterston Ave., Clarksville | 512.477.5584
The team behind Josephine House is responsible for some of Austin's best eats, including Lamberts and Elizabeth Street Café. Situated in a bungalow cottage with a blue exterior, and bright, white interior paired with dark hardwood flooring and an intimate marble bar, Josephine House is designed to feel like a (gorgeous) home kitchen. The locally sourced menu features signature dishes like the Josephine Rice Bowl, along with seasonal salads, soups, and meat mains like braised short ribs with grits.
June’s All Day1722 S. Congress, South Congress | 512.416.1722
With the style of an old-timey diner—only much more polished—June’s (which owner and renowned restaurateur Larry McGuire named after June Rodil, their master sommelier) is a lighthearted spin on French bistro cuisine. From breakfast to dinner, their offerings are all fresh, delicious riffs on classic French comfort foods like bone marrow bolognese and steak-au-poivre, adding into the mix quintessentially Austin touches like chalupas for breakfast. And of course, their wine-and-beer list is on point—and abundant—with selections from all over the world, as well as local brews. (P.S. Their patio is dog-friendly.)
La Condesa400A W. 2nd St., Downtown | 512.499.0300
Downtown Austin fixture, La Condesa, has gone through a series of kitchen staff changes in the past few years, and is now helmed by Texas native, Chef Rick Lopez. The food—a combination of small plates and a tight edit of Mexican-focused entrees—remains excellent. Start with the guacamole tasting, a sample of all of La Condesa's seasonal salsas and guacamoles (there's one with chipotle purée and another with jumbo lump crab). The tacos (which come in two's) are nice for sharing, and add the elotes side (authentic Mexican corn) to whatever you decide to order for dinner. If tequila is your thing, they've got a solid selection, and their signature margarita with fresh pineapple and lime juice is very satisfying. The atmosphere is lively whether you're sitting on the outdoor patio or at a table inside the split-level restaurant; there's also a gorgeous private event space.
Launderette2115 Holly St., Holly | 512.382.1599
Like so many spots in Austin, this one-and-a-half-year-old restaurant takes its name from its former life—as a Kleen Wash laundry built in the late 60s. At the helm is chef Rene Ortiz, whose Mediterranean influenced-dishes take inspiration from North Africa and the Levant, too. The design? As coolly laid-back as its imaginative chef, with modern wire chairs at the bar, big picture windows, and lacquered turquoise floors. Don’t miss the Prince Edward Island mussels doused in green chile butter and Castelvetrano olive broth.
Perla’s1400 S. Congress Ave., South Congress | 512.291.7300
Go to Perla's on South Congress for seafood and top-notch oysters. (It's run by chefs/restauranteurs Larry McGuire and Thomas Moorman and their Austin power group that's responsible for Lamberts, Clark's, and Josephine House, to name a few.) The inside of the restaurant is beautiful, but if you want to people watch while you're in Austin, sit outside here.
Uchi801 S. Lamar, Bouldin | 512.916.4808
James Beard award-winning Chef Tyson Cole serves small and inventive Japanese dishes using a mix of local ingredients according to what's in season, and fresh fish flown in from everywhere. Order the Hot Rock (they bring wagyu beef and a hot rock—hence the dish name—to your table and cook the meat in front of you), and the madai from the sushi menu. If you're a peanut butter person, you have to get the peanut butter semifreddo with apple-miso sorbet for dessert—the combination of flavors sounds strange but taste amazing. If you don't have time for a full-on dinner, come between 5 and 6:30 for sake social, during which a limited, but noteworthy, selection of the menu is on offer (and for a fraction of the cost).
Wu Chow500 W. 5th Ste., Downtown | 512.476.2469
Austin has its fair share of high-end Chinese restaurants but Wu Chow has made a something of a name for itself thanks to the mix of solid regional dishes, tiki décor touches, and hip-hop soundtrack. Classic dishes are reinterpreted with local ingredients. For example: traditional Hong Kong honey prawns with pecans shows up on the Wu Chow menu as gulf shrimp with Texas pecans; there’s also Shanghai soup dumplings and Cantonese lobster with ginger and scallions. Don’t miss the dim sum, served on Sundays from 11am to 3pm.