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.
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.
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.
2027 Anchor Ln., East Austin
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.
1912 E. 7th St., East Austin
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.
Wright Bros. Brew & Brew
500 San Marcos St., East Austin
The guys at Brew & Brew are sort of the tech geeks of the coffee world—they'll make you your espresso on a super-sleek Modbar espresso machine, which gives the barista a lot of control to make the drink exactly to your specifications. The décor is hipster in the best possible way, with exposed brick walls that are decorated with painted stripes near the ceiling. Of course, as the name suggests, you can switch over from espresso to lager whenever you're so inclined.
Vintage Heart Coffee
1405 E. 7th St., East Austin
This homey, neighborhood spot offers simple, cozy décor and lots and lots of seating. They serve all of their cold drinks in a Mason jar (this is Texas, so all but the most hard-core coffee folks will be wanting their beverages iced); the go-to orders are definitely the vanilla and lavender lattes. Coffee is sourced from Third Coast Roasting company, a local outfit that uses fair-trade beans.