506 West Ave., Downtown
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.
400A W. 2nd St., Downtown
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.
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue
401 W. 2nd St., Downtown
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.
500 W. 5th Ste., Downtown
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.
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