1800 E. 6th St., East Austin
Chef Fermín Núñez did the rounds in Austin, cooking at La Condesa and Launderette before striking out alone. The menu champions traditional tacos, tamales, and tostadas, all made with what is the foundational ingredient of Mexican cuisine: masa. A soft flour of finely ground, presoaked corn kernels is prepared daily, using local white, green, and red heirloom corn. The nutty, slightly sour flavor of the doughy wrap is worlds away from the chewy, prepackaged tortillas we’ve become accustomed to. Be sure to order the suadera taco—fork-tender brisket, avocado salsa, and Suerte’s black magic oil (smoky Morita chili, a little sesame, and other secret, transporting flavors we can’t quite put our finger on). The drinks list is a thing of beauty. Mezcal and tequila are, of course, in abundance, but the Oaxacan whiskey was a first for us, and a good first at that.
2115 S. Lamar Blvd., Austin
Imagine a mashup of hot Malay, Thai, and Chinese smoked meats paired with Texan BBQ. That’s Loro. Run by Austinite food-scene veterans Tyson Cole (Uchi) and Aaron Franklin (Franklin Barbecue), standouts include the Thai green curry sausage and charred pork shoulder with a heaping portion of garlicky rice noodles to soak up the juices. While Loro isn’t necessarily the spot for the meat-averse, sides like Texas sweet corn, zesty papaya salad, and the grilled Asian pear with kale hit the spot for herbivores and carnivores alike. Stools and long wooden tables built for communal feasting set a picnic-for-the-adults vibe, and twinkling skylights and long hanging lamps strung from the barn-style roof add atmosphere in spades to this casual dining spot that is so thoroughly at home in Austin.
Veracruz All Natural
1704 E. Cesar Chavez St., East Austin
Born in Veracruz, Mexico, sisters Reyna and Maritza Vasquez grew up helping out in their family restaurant. Veracruz All Natural (and mostly organic) started as a food truck back in 2009 and was an immediate hit. Nowadays the sisters have five locations, including a brick-and-mortar spot in north Austin. We go weak for flautitas de papas (potatoes wrapped in a corn tortilla, deep fried, and served with beans and salsa)—the ultimate comfort food. Al pastor tacos are freshened-up with seared sweet grilled pineapple, while the vegan “furioso” (cauliflower, black beans, spinach, salsa) has as much flavor as any of the meat dishes. Fruity aguas frescas are the norm around Austin, but Veracruz has added to its arsenal a slew of healthy juices and smoothies (with the option to add hemp protein, and nut milks), which are ideal to go.
1401 E. 7th St., East Austin
For Armando Vazquez, tacos are a family affair. His two daughters run the outrageously popular Veracruz, while he and his wife, Maria Rios, turn out their own version of the food they grew up with. In this case: Granny’s chilaquiles taco is a breakfast special we—and pretty much the rest of Austin—happily stand in line for. Tender shredded chicken, cheese, spicy jalapeños, and a smattering of onions are liberally drizzled in Rios’s grandmother’s secret mole sauce.
2011 S. 1st St., Travis Heights
El Primo is a member of the old guard. Reliably good, affordable, and unchanging, the breakfast tortas and salsas served out the hatch of this teeny-tiny south Austin trailer are the stuff of local legend. Michoacán chef Humberto Reyes has been flipping tacos here for thirteen years, and unlike at many of the other city trucks, the meat to cheese ratio sandwiched into every tortilla is always just right. Stop by for breakfast, pick up a cold brew next door from Once Over coffee like the Austinites do, and take note: El Primo is cash only.
1201 S. Lamar Blvd., Zilker
Like many of Austin’s most beloved food spots, Odd Duck started out in a trailer—a Fleetwood Mallard camper, specifically. The menu is, at its base, Southern, but the flavor combinations and resolute use of local produce add an element of farm-to-table California. Lunch could be a chopped smoked chicken salad, while dinner might be delicate roasted quail with collard greens or meltingly tender bavette steak with charred-onion salsa. Plan for a long, lazy evening out on the patio and start with a cocktail. Drinks here are good—really good—and all the classics have an Odd Duck spin to them. The Paloma, made with a hint of tarragon and topped with a salty foam, is our standing order. Be smart and come for happy hour: Many of the entrées are half-price, so you can justify ordering double and leaving stuffed.
Emmer & Rye
SkyHouse, 51 Rainey St., Rainey
Emmer & Rye is an unusual, heavy-on-heritage-grains concept we cannot get enough of. New American cuisine is served dim sum–style, which translates to best-of-the-farmers’-market small bites that come around on a cart as you work through your mains. Chef Kevin Fink cut his teeth at Copenhagen’s Noma, which is reason enough to come here, and the resolutely seasonal, farmers’ haul influence is apparent on every plate. Menu standouts include a peppery-to-the-point-of-spicy (we’re not complaining) cacio e pepe with heritage Blue Beard durum wheat pasta, and a buttery Carolina Gold rice pudding.
Ah Sing Den
1100 E. 6th St., East Austin
Ah Sing Den is a newish discovery for us. The only appropriate descriptor for the Mickie Spencer–designed space is: beautiful. It is just beautiful. Nostalgic wooden shutters, round marble tables so small you can easily lean over to your date and whisper. Contrasting textures, like plush velvet, leather, and brass finishes, add to the elegant, romantic vibe. The kitchen serves up food—we’d like to suggest the dumplings—that you’ll want to pair with a cocktail and stay past…whenever o’clock.
2315 Lake Austin Boulevard, Clarksville
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.
4807 Airport Blvd., Hyde Park
Bullfight is a part of a string of spots that have popped up recently along Airport Boulevard making for an unlikely new restaurant row. Chef-owner Shawn Cirikel tackled Spanish cuisine with a pleasantly straightforward tapas menu, including tomato gazpacho, paella, and croquettes. The grilled branzino with cauliflower, eggplant, and pistachio is insanely good, too.
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