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.
Amy’s Ice Creams3500 Guadalupe, Central Austin | 512.458.6895
Established in 1984, Amy’s is a bit of a hometown hero in Austin; everybody came here as a kid. The setup is Coldstone-style, so you pick your flavor and choose from plenty of toppings or “crush’ns,” which the employees will mix in for you on-site. If you only go once, the famous Mexican vanilla is the thing to order. There are now twelve locations in Austin, but this outpost on Guadalupe was the original.
Boteco1209 E. 6th St., Austin
The food trucks of Austin deserve their own guide. Boteco is just one (really noteworthy) highlight. The yucca fries here get a lot of well-deserved praise, along with the empanadas and feijoada (a hearty Brazilian stew). Boteco catered the birthday party of Austin local Camila Alves, whose insider tips have helped us find many of Austin's other gems (e.g., the margarita at Hotel Saint Cecilia, the peanut butter dessert at Uchi, and the Zilker Park train ride).
Bouldin Creek Cafe1900 South 1st St., Bouldin | 512.416.1601
Whether you never eat meat, or you're just looking for a break from brisket and BBQ, Bouldin Creek is an easy choice. The cafe serves appetizing all-vegetarian fare with vegan options and mostly organic, local ingredients. Come here for salads, sandwiches, breakfast all day—or just a coffee as you meander down South First. (If you are spending some time in the area, after Bouldin Creek, go to Sugar Mama's across the street for a cupcake.)
Caffé Medici200 Congress Ave., Downtown | 512.827.2770
This adorable shop, owned by couple Alison and Michael Vaclav, has a few locations in Austin (including one in Clarksville, Zilker, and West Campus). The coffee is all French pressed, with the rich, earthy taste that comes with it. The vibe here is decidedly unpretentious, making it a comfortable place to unwind and dig into some work. As a bonus, all but one of their locations is open until 10pm.
Chi’lantro BBQ823 Congress Ave., Downtown
Chi’lantro BBQ’s most famous dish is their kimchi fries—classic french fries topped with caramelized kimchi and melted cheese that taste as good as they sound. The rest of the menu offers comfort food inspired by Korean BBQ, including a rice bowl, an asian salad, an excellent burger, and more. Cubicle types, take note: Their online ordering system is really easy and streamlined. There are other locations in Zilker, Rosedale, and North Burnett.
Dolce Neve1713 S. 1st St., Bouldin | 512.804.5568
Francesca and Marco Silvestrini are Italian immigrants (Francesca’s fiancé Leo is also involved in the business; he’s another Italian native) who were dismayed that they couldn’t find great gelato in the states. One hot summer in Columbus, Ohio, Francesca quit her doctoral program and bee-lined it for Bologna to attend the Carpigiani Gelato University, which is, in fact, a real place and every bit as wonderful as it sounds. Francesca makes authentic, Italian-style gelato using the mantecazione vertical batch method, which contributes to its creamy texture. While she does the basics like chocolate and stracciatella really well, there are some great Texas-inspired flavors like peach and sweet potato on the menu too.
Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden709 E. 6th St., Downtown | 512.614.4972
This isn't exactly the classic working coffee shop, but the dual-experience concept behind Easy Tiger is pretty cool. Upstairs, there's a bakery with amazing Bavarian bread; downstairs, you'll find a beer garden with a mile-long beer list and rows of picnic tables; the outside, there's a patio with ping pong tables overlooking a quiet little creek. The downstairs is definitely a party in the evenings, but it's quiet upstairs, making it a good choice for an afternoon of work.
Figure 8 Coffee Purveyors1111 Chicon St., Central East Austin | 512.953.1061
Figure 8's serious business La Marzocco Italian espresso machine draws a loyal crowd that also appreciates the lack of pretension at this small neighborhood spot. Texas roasts (like Tweed Coffee and Wild Gift) are highlighted, along with West Coast offerings (like Four Barrel in California and Coava Coffee in Oregon).
Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon915 N. Lamar, Downtown | 512.428.5077
Austin is one of the few cities that can pull off a really well done drive-through. Fresa's is all about chicken—tacos, bowls, salads, wings—although there is usually a beef and shrimp plate, and you can order the salads sans meat. The have a handful of grilled sides, including, of course, Mexican street corn. The Downtown location is the original one and is to-go only; in addition to lunch and dinner, they do breakfast tacos until 11am on weekdays and until noon on weekends. The second location in Bouldin is larger; it has a dining room and outdoor patio (plus a full bar) in addition to a go-to window, so you have the option of eating there. They do lunch and dinner here only—the take-out window opens at 8am, though, with dine in starting at 11am.
Hay Elotes2214 E. 7th St., Holly | 512.551.2483
This hole in the wall specializes in Mexican street food like elotes (corn with cheese and spices) and sour hot Cheetos (a bag of Cheetos smothered in onions and other sauces—we dare you). In the summer, the lines build up for their mangonadas, which are frozen mango towers topped with strawberries, sour power belts, and a drizzle of Chamoy—a savory Mexican condiment that adds loads of complexity. None of it is like anything you’ve ever tried before.
Houndstooth Coffee401 Congress Ave., Downtown | 512.394.6051
It’s easy to fall for the décor in Houndstooth, which features a wooden herringbone bar, Scandinavian-style furniture, and clusters of Edison bulbs. The overall effect is really minimalist, which is great, because it lets their extremely well-researched and perfectly executed coffee shine. Nice touch: the coffee cups have adorable silhouettes of Texas that you’ll see when you make it to the bottom of the cup. There is another location in Rosedale.
Jo’s Coffee1300 S. Congress Ave., South Congress | 512.444.3800
Tucked into the parking lot of the Hotel San Jose, Jo’s is a South Austin go-to for your morning coffee and breakfast tacos (this is Texas, after all). They’ve become social media famous for their signature #IcedTurbo, which is a delicious milky coffee with crushed ice. Another thing they’ve become famous for: “I love you so much” graffitied on the side of the building—reportedly a love note from musician Amy Cook to her then-girlfriend and Hotel San Jose owner Liz Lambert. There's a second location Downtown.
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue401 W. 2nd St., Downtown | 512.494.1500
Everyone has different (and equally passionate) views on where to find the best barbecue in Austin, but no matter who you ask, Lambert's inevitably comes up. For starters, the convenient downtown location is really easy to find, and the enormous, two-story building frequently hosts live bands. For the barbecue, you'll line up cafeteria-style and select your meats from a wide, sizzling skillet. The brisket is the must-get item, but you can't go wrong with any of the meats: The chicken is ridiculously juicy, and the sausages, which are stuffed with cheese, are great. Do your best to save space for the cobbler, which is served with a peel-top ice cream in a styrofoam cup.
Lick6555 Burnet Rd., Allandale | 512.609.8029
Real-life couple Anthony and Chad met in New York in the early 2000s, bonding over the fact that they were both from small towns. As Chad waxed poetic about the ice cream he ate growing up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (a.k.a. hand-made with locally sourced ingredients), Anthony began imagining the types of flavors he could create with ingredients unique to his hometown in Texas. Today, their ice cream shop has stores in San Antonio and Austin, with inventive, Texas-specific flavors like cilantro lime, dewberry corn cobbler, and sweet persimmon.
Maggie Louise Confections1017 E. 6th St., East Caesar Chavez | 512.840.0233
While the bright colors of these candied confections immediately signal that the chocolates don't qualify as clean eating, there's a time and place for indulgent handmade chocolates like these: they're (almost) too pretty to eat and have cheeky a sense of humor, too.
Micklethwait Craft Meats1309 Rosewood Ave., Central East Austin
Austin is arguably home to the finest food trailers in the world, and Micklethwait Craft Meats (located less than a half-mile from famous Franklin BBQ) is among the very best. The menu has all the classics plus specials like Brisket Frito Pie and occasionally more rare cuts of meat. Everything is made on-site, mostly using Micklethwait's unassuming-looking pit, which sits next to the main yellow trailer where you place your order before taking a seat at one of the scattered picnic tables.
Mozart’s Coffee Roasters & Bakery3825 Lake Austin Blvd., The Doke | 512.477.2900
The enormous outdoor patio at Mozart's is on a dock that extends out onto Lake Austin, marked by a few big, mature oak trees that give lots of shade. Between that, and the fact that you can get a bottomless mug of coffee for just $3.50, there's almost no reason to leave. If you're not in the mood to work, stop by on the weekends for live music or during the holidays for an over-the-top Christmas light display.
Pool Burger2315 Lake Austin Boulevard, Clarksville | 512.334.9747
The latest eatery from local restauranteurs Larry McGuire and Tom Moorman (Josephine House, Elizabeth St. Cafe, and Clarks), Pool Burger combines beef and booze right by the historic Deep Eddy Pool. Peeler Farm's burgers and crispy crinkle fries are cooked up in a 1968 Airstream parked alongside the small, but very on-theme tiki bar (think: carved stools, Mai Tai's, and ample grasscloth). Aside from the classic beef, cheese, and bun combo, you'll find riffs like The Blue Hawaiian (griddled pineapple, bacon, blue cheese, guac) and the Deep End (Swiss, jalapenos, bacon) on the menu. Save the best for last and order their home-made soft serve with all the fixings.
Radio Coffee & Beer4204 Manchaca Rd., South Lamar | 512.394.7844
In what seems to be the Austin way, this coffee shop also has a craft beer list for the after work crowd. The rustic interior boasts reclaimed wood floors and walls, while the outdoor space is marked by a roofless tent-pole barn; sitting under the twinkle lights in the evening makes you feel as though you've landed in someone's backyard for the night.
Spun1912 E. 7th St., East Austin | 512.524.1768
Liquid nitrogen ice cream is taking off across the country, and two sisters have brought the trend to Austin: In addition to inventive flavors with the signature creamy liquid nitrogen texture, this shop is known for wacky toppings like earl grey confetti, brown butter powder, and chocolate shells.
Torchy’s Tacos1822 S. Congress Ave., South Congress | 512.916.9025
There is a lot of awesome Tex-Mex in Austin but most people would agree that you have to go to Torchy’s at least once every time you find yourself in Austin. (If you're only making one trip, make it in the morning for a breakfast burrito.) Torchy’s, which started as a taco trailer in 2006 in the Bouldin Creek food truck mecca, now has several regular locations in Austin (in addition to the still-operating trailer), plus dozens of others around Texas and in a couple of other states. Sure, this makes Torchy’s seem less special, and many of the locations look no more remarkable than your average fast food joint—but the food here says otherwise.
Whole Foods Market525 N. Lamar Blvd., Downtown Austin | 512.476.1206
Whole Foods is a lunchtime staple no matter where you live, but the flagship Austin location sort of takes everything to the next level. Inside, you’ll find 80,000 square feet of fresh, local, and organic goodness, and a prepared food section that matches. HQ is right upstairs (they look down on the ice skating rink that’s on top of the store).