The hurricane that is South by Southwest will soon engulf the city. But just because there are thousands of bands, films, talks, brand activations and parties battling for gigs of your brain space doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still take some time out to enjoy the Austin restaurant scene.
This dining guide focuses on restaurants located within a mile or two of the hub of the action, broken down into some of Austin’s favorite food groups: tacos, barbecue, Mexican food, burgers and more.
This list is light on trailers, because their hours and locations can vary during SXSW, and I did my best to avoid restaurants that might be utilized as SXSW venues. And some restaurants just didn’t fit neatly into any category. Of course, if you’re not attending SXSW, you will still find this guide serves your needs when looking for just about any kind of restaurant in or around downtown Austin, including areas just east of Interstate 35 and just south of the river.
*Brown’s Bar-B-Que. 1901 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-517-8520, facebook.com/brownsbarbque. This South Lamar trailer smokes some of the best chicken and pork ribs in town.
Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que. 217 Congress Ave. 512-474-4227, coopersbbqaustin.com. Now you don’t have to drive to Llano to get this renowned barbecue. Available at lunch and dinner.
*Franklin Barbecue. 900 E. 11th St. 512-653-1187, franklinbarbecue.com. Maybe you’ve heard of this place. What makes it so popular? World-class brisket, awesome ribs, a ceaselessly joyful chef and a line culture unlike any place in Texas.
Iron Works BBQ. 100 Red River St. 512-478-4855, ironworksbbq.com. Queue up for some sausage, chicken and a view of Waller Creek.
*Kerlin BBQ. 1700 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-412-5588, kerlinbbq.com. The brisket at this East Austin trailer is so good it inspired the owners to open a trailer that serves kolaches filled with the tender beef.
*La Barbecue. 1906 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-605-9696, labarbecue.com. Some of the best barbecue in Central Texas. Start with the brisket and hot guts sausage and go from there.
*Lamberts Downtown Barbecue. 401 W. Second St. 512-494-1500, lambertsaustin.com. The fanciest barbecue spot in town, Lamberts smokes traditional meats such as pork shoulder and beef brisket and serves grilled dishes like scallops and cold-smoked quail.
*Micklethwait Craft Meats. 1309 Rosewood Ave. 512-791-5961, craftmeats.com. Tom Micklethwait’s East Austin trailer specializes in inventive and flavorful sausage and makes very good desserts like buttermilk pie. The chef got the Internet’s attention last year when he re-created the dining scene from ZZ Top’s “Tres Hombres” album art. And ate it.
Terry Black’s Barbecue. 1003 Barton Springs Road. 512-394-5899, terryblacksbbq.com. Grandsons of one of the scions of Lockhart barbecue are bringing an old-school approach at lunch and dinner just south of the river.
Annie’s Cafe & Bar. 319 Congress Ave. 512-472-1884, anniescafebar.com. Omelets and French toast in the morning at this cafe with sidewalk seating and a view of Congress Avenue.
*Counter Cafe. 626 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-708-8800, countercafe.com. You can almost reach over the counter and into the galley kitchen to flip your own crab cake that comes with poached eggs and curried peanut and lemon aioli dipping sauces.
*Cenote. 1010 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-524-1311, cenoteaustin.com. Stop in for coffee, breakfast sandwiches, scrambles, bagels and granola.
*Elizabeth Street Café. 1501 S. First St. 512-291-2881, elizabethstreetcafe.com. This posh little Vietnamese spot from the team behind Perla’s is a great little under-the-radar breakfast option for its coffee, pastries and dishes like a wood ear mushroom and roasted pork omelet. Grab a macron to go.
Forthright Cafe. 98 San Jacinto Blvd. 512-433-6155, forthright.cafe. Waffle breakfast sandwiches in the morning and American classics like a turkey BLT at lunch make for an approachable and familiar menu at this cafe with an outdoor patio near Lady Bird Lake.
Hillside Farmacy. 1209 E. 11th St. 512-628-0168, hillsidefarmacy.com. This pâtisserie and café serves an egg sandwich, bangers and eggs, and more until 1 p.m.
*Jo’s. 242 W. Second St. 512-469-9003; 1300 S. Congress Ave. 512-444-3800; joscoffee.com. Good coffee, breakfast sandwiches and pastries at locations downtown and south of the river.
*Josephine House. 1601 Waterston Ave. 512-477-5584, josephinehouseaustin.com. Fluffy lemon-ricotta pancakes and smooth avocado toast are two of the highlights on the breakfast menu at this dainty charmer.
Juan in a Million. 2300 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-472-3872, juaninamillion.com. Juan in a Million has been putting out Tex-Mex classics such as huevos rancheros and breakfast tacos for more than 30 years. Expect a line.
*Paperboy. 1203 E. 11th St. paperboyaustin.com. The breakfast sandwiches are beautiful representations of the form, with fluffy brioche buns and perfect sunny-side-up eggs
*Casino El Camino. 517 E. Sixth St. 512-469-9330, casinoelcamino.net. All red and black, this cavernous Sixth Street classic has a devilish attitude and serves up fat, aggressive burgers.
Hopdoddy. 1400 S. Congress Ave. 512-243-7505, hopdoddy.com. Quality ingredients and thoughtful flavor profiles make for long lines on South Congress.
Hut’s Hamburgers. 807 W. Sixth St. 512-472-0693, hutsfrankandangies.com. This nostalgia-packed restaurant not only serves up burgers made with Texas-raised beef but also make burgers with buffalo and longhorn meat.
Jackalope. 404 E. Sixth St. 512-472-3663, jackalopebar.com. The stars of the show here are the fat burgers. Try the honey jalapeno bacon burger or the Chupacabra (goat barbacoa).
*Luke’s Inside Out. 1109 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-589-8883, lukesinsideout.com. The juicy cheeseburger awash in special sauce and layered with crispy bacon is the kind you’d hope to find at a backyard party run by your groovy Old Austin friend.
*P. Terry’s. 515 Congress Ave. #130. 512-473-8722; 404 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-473-2217; pterrys.com. Patrick Terry’s patty empire runs on humanely raised and antibiotic-free Angus beef and chicken. For the record, my order is a double with bacon, cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, onions and jalapenos.
Sandy’s. 603 Barton Springs Road. 512-478-6322. Thin, classic burgers and small, crunchy fries at this drive-thru and walk-up spot with the frozen custard sign. Great deals on burger meals Thursday and Saturday.
Shady Grove. 1624 Barton Springs Road. 512-474-9991, theshadygrove.com. The restaurant located amid the grove of pecan trees keeps the crowds coming in with a menu that includes green chili hamburgers.
*The Townsend. 718 Congress Ave. 512-887-8778, thetownsendaustin.com. One of the best cocktail bars in town also does sophisticated takes on bar classics, like the red miso mayo on a burger dripping with American cheese.
Alcomar. 1816 S. First St. 512-401-3161, alcomaratx.com. Coastal Mexican flavors in South Austin, including dishes like ahi tuna ceviche with ají amarillo, ginger, corn nuts, spicy pickled onions and sweet potatoes.
*El Alma. 1025 Barton Springs Road. 512-609-8923, elalamacafe.com. Dishes like an ancho relleno stuffed with the earthy iron of mushrooms or spinach and duck enchiladas in a rich mole indicate that longtime Austin star chef Alma Alcocer isn’t playing to staid Tex-Mex palates.
*El Naranjo. 85 Rainey St. 512-474-2776, elnaranjorestaurant.com. Chef Iliana de le Vega explores the wonders of mole with the deep chocolate and toasted notes of mole negro, with its more than two dozen ingredients, and will likely introduce you to something new, maybe a light, herbal green mole.
*La Condesa. 400 W. Second St. 512-499-0300, lacondesa.com. This beautiful restaurant feels plucked from the leafy streets of cosmopolitan Mexico City and serves excellent tacos (try the alambres), vibrant tuna tostadas, the best margarita in town and more.
*Licha’s Cantina. 1306 E. Sixth St. 512-480-5960, lichascantina.com. Get a taste of Mexican street food like huaraches with huitlacoche at this rustic bungalow with expansive outdoor seating and great cocktails.
Manuel’s. 310 Congress Ave. 512-472-7555, manuels.com. This sophisticated Mexican restaurant in the heart of downtown has delivered bright, citrusy ceviche, chile rellenos and more since 1984.
Takoba. 1411 E. Seventh St. 512-628-4466, takobarestaurant.com. Great happy hour deals and well-executed favorites such as torta de carnitas and pozole rojo make this restaurant with multiple outdoor seating areas a popular East Austin destination.
NEW SINCE LAST YEAR’S SXSW
*Chicon. 1914 E. Sixth St. 512-354-1480, contigotexas.com/chicon. The owners closed their fine dining spot Gardner, mussed its hair and opened this brawnier restaurant serving striped bass, roasted chicken and other dishes that better vibe with the desires of Austin diners. Get a cocktail.
Grizzelda’s. 105 Tillery St. 512-366-5908, grizzeldas.com. The restaurant from the Jacoby’s owners serves a mix of interior and coastal Mexican food as well as Tex-Mex, with a menu that includes snapper ceviche, tuna tostadas with crispy shallots, puerco pibil tacos, and beef dishes sourced from the Jacoby family ranch.
*June’s. 1722 S. Congress Ave. 512-416-1722, junesallday.com. From the checkerboard floor to the jukebox, steak frites and fried chicken sandwich, the McGuire Moorman team has nailed this French-bistro-meets-American-diner concept. Also: great wine.
*Kemuri Tatsu-ya. 2713 E. Second St. 512-893-5561, kemuri-tatsuya.com. The owners of Austin’s best ramen shop blend Texas smokehouse and Japanese izakaya at this buzzy new spot.
*Kuneho. 1600 E. Sixth St. 512-436-9626, kunehoatx.com. Chef Paul Qui has opened the restaurant many probably expected him to open five years ago, with globally inspired small bites the stars of the free-wheeling menu.
*Old Thousand. 1000 E. 11th St. 737-222-6637, oldthousandatx.com. This East Austin restaurant takes a modern approach to traditional Chinese, with dishes like jellyfish salad, honey prawns with pecans, mapo dofu, dan dan noodles with mushroom puree, brisket fried rice, and a hot pot with pork belly and Chinese sausage.
*Red Ash. 303 Colorado St. 512-379-2906, redashgrill.com. The collection of pasta dishes puts an Italian spin on the urbane steakhouse concept.
*Backspace. 507 San Jacinto Blvd. 512-474-9899, thebackspace-austin.com. Neapolitan pies at Parkside’s sister restaurant that also delivers charcuterie and a nice roster of antipasti.
*Bufalina Pizza. 1519 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-524-2523, bufalinapizza.com. The best Neapolitan pizza in the city and a great Italian wine list at this little East Austin restaurant.
*East Side Pies. 1401 Rosewood Ave. 512-524-0933, eastsidepies.com. Cracker crust farm-to-pizza from a tiny walk-up with a little patio for dining. Get the Girther (avocado, blue cheese and roasted onions) and add bacon.
*Enoteca Vespaio. 1610 S. Congress Ave. 512-441-7672, austinvespaio.com/enoteca. Vespaio’s cute little sister, Enoteca makes very good pizza (try the prosciutto, fontina cheese and truffled egg pie) and offers patio seating just off South Congress Avenue.
Frank & Angie’s. 508 West Ave. 512-472-3534, hutsfrankandangies.com. Thin pies and Americanized pasta classics with a side of nostalgia.
*Hoboken Pie. 718 Red River St. 512-477-4256, hobokenpie.com. New Jersey-inspired pies with large, gooey slices at this small counter-service spot that also offers delivery.
Home Slice Pizza. 1415 S. Congress Ave. 512-444-7437, homeslicepizza.com. A commitment to unflappable service, quality execution and ebullient spirit have as much to do with the pizzeria’s success as the toasty crunch of a large New York-style pie with rosy pepperonis and snappy green peppers.
Il Forte. 800 Brazos St. 512-212-9797, ilforteaustin.com. Wood-fired panini and about a dozen pizzas share menu space with pasta dishes like spaghetti carbonara and both beef and vegetarian lasagna.
Italic. 123 W. Sixth St. 512-660-5390, italicaustin.com. With the backing of their sibling bakery Easy Tiger, you know to expect solid pizza crust and sandwich bread at this Italian restaurant.
Numero 28. 452 W. Second St. 512-494-5510, numero28austin.com. This Italian restaurant in the Second Street District serves about 20 different white and red-sauce pizzas, in addition to porchetta, pasta and more.
The Onion. 408 Brazos St. 512-476-6466, onionbaby.com. This longtime downtown favorite has made its name serving hot slices to late-night revelers, but as they say on their website, you don’t have to be drunk to enjoy their pizza.
*Second Bar + Kitchen. 200 Congress Ave. 512-827-2750, secondbarkitchen.com. Upmarket New American that serves great pizzas with puffed, trawny crusts. My order: kids’ cheese pizza, add veal meatballs.
Via 313. Multiple locations. via313.com. Get to either the trailer in East Austin or the one on Rainey Street for big, thick squares of Detroit-style pizza. Some of the best in town.
*1886 Cafe & Bakery. 604 Brazos St. 512-391-7066, 1886cafeandbakery.com. Classic breakfast dishes, sandwiches made on housebaked bread and Texas comfort food make up the menu for this charming cafe in the Driskill that serves all day.
Athenian Bar & Grill. 600 Congress Ave. 512-474-7775, athenianbargrill.com. OK, so the roasted chicken wrap and gyro aren’t officially sandwiches, but they still make the cut.
Blue Dahlia Bistro. 1115 E. 11th St. 512-542-9542, bluedahliabistro.com. The tartines give an open-face look to a variety of sandwiches at this French-inspired cafe.
Easy Tiger. 709 E. Sixth St. 512-614-4972, easytigeraustin.com. The bread baked in-house is the difference maker at this beer garden and bakehouse on the edge of the Sixth Street madness.
*Frank. 407 Colorado St. 512-494- 6916, hotdogscoldbeer.com. Fancy dogs like the Jackalope (made with smoked antelope, rabbit and pork sausage, and topped with cranberry compote) and an abiding love of whiskey make for indulgent fun at this spot in the Warehouse District.
Gourmands Neighborhood Pub. 2316 Webberville Road. 512-610-2031, lovethysandwich.com. The website says it all for these sandwich enthusiasts, who serve more than a dozen original sandwiches out of a cavernous pub that was once home to a Tejano club.
Irene’s. 506 West Ave. 512-298-0853, irenesaustin.com. Tamed classic sandwiches like roast turkey and jazzed up creations like buffalo pork at this restaurant-bar that serves plenty of booze and runs late.
*Kebabalicious. 1311 E. Seventh St. 512-394-6562, austinkebab.com. This small restaurant spawned from a group of successful trailers serving savory beef/lamb, falafel and chicken kebabs. Not exactly sandwiches, but you get the point.
Quickie Pickie. 1208 E. 11th St. 512-479-0136, quickiepickieaustin.com. Breakfast tacos in the morning and well-made sandwiches and salads all day at this upmarket bodega in East Austin.
Saigon le Vendeur. 2404 E. Seventh St. 512-351-6916, saigon7th.com. Some of the best banh mi in town come from this food truck in East Austin.
*Salt & Time. 1912 E. Seventh St. 512-524-1383, saltandtime.com. This butcher shop sells sandwiches with fresh, quality meat cured or carved in house and turns out magnificent charcuterie plates.
Slake Cafe. 120 E. Seventh St. 512-476-0060, slakecafe.com. This deli serves classic sandwiches made with house-roasted meats.
*Turf N Surf Po’Boy. 407 Lavaca St. 512-276-2763, lavacastreet.com. Walk up to the window or eat inside the Lavaca Street Bar via this kitchen that serves po-boys made with fresh grilled fish and monsters like a tangy fried buffalo chicken sandwich.
*Walton’s Fancy & Staple. 609 W. Sixth St. 512-542-3380, waltonsfancyandstaple.com. Some of the best sandwiches downtown — like my favorite, the turkey sweet, with white cheddar, bacon, onion-and-apple chutney and maple aioli.
*Capital Taco. 1901 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-457-9992, facebook.com/capitaltaco. When a trailer menu is this big, you wonder whether it can really deliver. Yep. Start with the brisket and avocado, turkey mole, and migas.
El Chilito. 1623 E. Seventh St. 512-334-9660, elchilito.com. Soups, salads and more than a dozen tacos (vegetarians: try the rajas con hongos) at this East Austin taco stand. Breakfast tacos served all day.
*Fresa’s. 915 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-428-5077, fresaschicken.com. Walk up or drive-thru for healthy salad bowls, some of the best queso in town and complex tacos like the El Sancho, with chicken pastor, pineapple pico, jicama and tomatillo salsa.
Joe’s Bakery. 2305 E. Seventh St. 512-472-0017, joesbakery.com. This family-owned restaurant has been drawing crowds for more than 50 years with their perfect crispy beef taco, enchiladas and menudo.
La Mexicana. 1924 S. First St. 512-443-6369, la-mexicana-bakery.com. Barbacoa tacos on fluffy homemade tortillas and Mexican pastries make for a great late-night one-two punch at this all-night spot.
*El Primo. 2100 S. First St. Tiny taco stand serves solid al pastor tacos, and the gentleman behind the grill couldn’t be sweeter.
*Mellizoz Tacos. 1503 S. First St. 512-916-4996, mellizoztacos.com. This taco trucks serves a great taco take on steak and eggs, an old-school crunchy beef taco and more.
*Pueblo Viejo. 910 E. Sixth St. and 1700 E. Sixth St. 512-373-6557, facebook.com/puebloviejoatx. The two locations of this truck have different hours, but both feature the best selection of salsas of any taco truck around. Get the Guaca Taco with steak, with a side of orange habanero salsa and black habanero salsa; vegetarians go for the Mi Madre.
*Taco More. 2015 E. Riverside Drive. 512-821-1561. Not much in terms of ambiance, but this place serves great tacos and a restorative cabrito consommé.
*Tamale House East. 1707 E. Sixth St. 512-495-9504, facebook.com/tamalehouse.east. The grandchildren of the original Tamale House founders carry on the family tradition with wet migas and famous breakfast tacos.
*Veracruz All-Natural. 1704 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-981-1760, veracruztacos.com. This growing empire serves the best migas taco in town (and more). Try the quesadillas. And the tortas. Try it all. You may want to call in advance. They make good food, not fast food, as their sign reads.
*Bouldin Creek Cafe. 1900 S. First St. 512-416-1601, bouldincreekcafe.com. Home to the best veggie burger in town (add the barbecue sauce), Austin’s temple to vegetarian and vegan fare impresses with dishes like portobello fajitas and zucchini migas.
Counter Culture. 2337 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-524-1540, countercultureaustin.com. Try the Philly cheesesteak with seitan or the jackfruit barbecue sandwich at this vegan restaurant in East Austin that also serves many gluten-free dishes.
*JuiceLand. 120 E. Fourth St. 737-300-2120; 1625 Barton Springs Road. 512-480-9501; juiceland.com. Find grab-and-go vegan dishes packed with impressive flavors, from Mexican and Thai-inspired wraps to falafel and an assortment of snack packs.
Koriente. 621 E. Seventh St. 512-275-0852, koriente.com. You’ll find clean, calorie-conscious pan-Asian dishes at this small space on the edge on the Red River District.
*Leaf. 115 W. Sixth St. 512-474-5323, leafsalad.com. Choose from one of a variety of Leaf’s salad options, or make your own with a variety of ingredients, many of which are locally sourced.
WHEN OTHER PEOPLE ARE PAYING
*Cafe No Se. 1603 S. Congress Ave. 512-942-2061, cafenoseaustin.com. Toast with soft-boiled egg, feathered avocado, bright greens and aleppo-spiced carrots tastes like something you’d find in a cafe in Santa Monica, while a burger layered with American cheese will hit you right in your nostalgia centers.
Central Standard. 1603 S. Congress Ave. 512-942-0823, centralstandardaustin.com. The excellent craft cocktails and stunning raw bar give a taste of Manhattan at the luxe South Congress Hotel’s fine dining restaurant.
*Chez Nous. 510 Neches St. 512-473-2413, cheznousaustin.com. Some French class and an Old World vibe amid the boozy grumble and stumble of Sixth Street. Try the duck confit if it’s on the menu, and the housemade charcuterie.
*Clark’s. 1200 W. Sixth St. 512-297-2525, clarksoysterbar.com. An exceptional oyster program, crispy seared fish, and silky clam chowder studded with bacon are some of the stars at this vibrant jewel box of a restaurant.
*Counter 357. 315 Congress Ave. 512-291-3327, counter3fivevii.com. Expect elegance, intimacy and a ringside seat for the open kitchen at one of Austin’s best restaurants. The three-, five- and seven-course prix fixe menus have featured dishes like a zucchini tartlet, smoked and seared duck, Asian-inspired crudos and a chocolate tart with roasted apples and coconut-herb sorbet.
*Driskill Grill. 604 Brazos St. 512-439-1234, driskillgrill.com. One of Austin’s grand dames of fine dining, Start with wild boar chops and an iceberg salad before digging into a rack of lamb or dry-aged steak.
*Emmer & Rye. 51 Rainey St. 512-366-5530, emmerandrye.com. Executive chef Kevin Fink and his team obsess over preservation technique and heritage grains at this innovative and welcome addition to Rainey Street. One of Austin’s 10 best.
Fixe. 500 W. Fifth St. 512-888-9133, austinfixe.com. It may look slick, but Fixe has a Southern comfort heart, from deviled eggs to lobster and crawfish pot pie. Try the spicy honey-glazed fried chicken.
*Hightower. 1209 E. Seventh St. 512-524-1448, thehightoweraustin.com. This friendly, low-key place comes at you with strong flavor profiles, like a rice bowl with roasted pork jowl, pickled onion, housemade sriracha and a sunny egg yolk, and crispy Brussels sprouts with peanut butter and golden raisins.
*Jeffrey’s. 1204 W. Lynn St. 512-477-5584, jeffreysofaustin.com. Sit in the hefty bar seats or in the soft Baltic blue lounge sofas and feel like a power player as you sip a martini and eat lobster and caviar blinis or seared foie gras at this posh steakhouse.
*Juniper. 2400 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-220-9421, juniperaustin.com. A restaurant of class and and sophistication not often seen in Austin, Juniper delivers North Italian dishes and small plates with precision and style.
*Justine’s. 4710 E. Fifth St. 512-385-2900, justines1937.com. Justine’s is where the beautiful and the brazen (and the rest of us) go to hide (and be seen) and play while drinking strong cocktails and dining on French bistro fare.
*La Traviata. 314 Congress Ave. 512-479-8131, latraviatatx.com. There’s a classic feel to this Italian restaurant that makes one of the best bolognese in town as well as homemade ravioli.
*Launderette. 2115 Holly St. 512-382-1599, launderetteaustin.com. Chef Rene Ortiz’s globe-trotting restaurant feels like a dinner party run by a whimsical chef who has a lot of ideas and no need for conformity or sitting still.
*Lenoir. 1807 S. First St. 512-215-9778, lenoirrestaurant.com. Chef Todd Duplechan’s bohemian chic bungalow serves “hot weather food,” meaning you can expect dishes sourced locally that have similar flavor profiles to the cuisine of Mexico, Northern Africa, India, Southeast Asia and more.
*Lonesome Dove. 419 Colorado St. 512-271-2474, lonesomedoveaustin.com. Chef Tim Love adds thoughtful flourishes to steakhouse fare, with options like fettines made with wild game or farro congee with kale pesto, pork cheek and cured egg, a modern cowboy dish with an Asian twist.
Odd Duck. 1201 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-433-6521, oddduckaustin.com. Chef Bryce Gilmore’s restaurant pulls from local farms and ranches to create a playful and well executed menu that dazzles with creations like fried quail with egg salad splashed with soy caramel, and pecan jerk-glazed pork belly with a cheddar rice cake. One of Austin’s top five restaurants.
*Otoko. 1603 S. Congress Ave. 512-920-6405, otoko.tocktix.com. Dining doesn’t get more exclusive or much more fun in Austin than this modern kaiseki and sushi bar from the minds of chefs Paul Qui and Yoshi Okai.
*Parkside. 301 E. Sixth St. 512-474-9898, parkside-austin.com. Texas bistro (charred pork chop and steak colored with salsa verde) meets East Coast raw bar (crudo and oysters) at this downtown spot with walls colored with the patina of time.
*Perla’s. 1400 S. Congress Ave. 512-291-7300, perlasaustin.com. Austin’s beachside seafood restaurant without the beach. Go for the oysters, the molten king crab and Parmesan grits, the meaty halibut with crispy skin and a seat on the deck.
*Sway. 1417 S. First St. 512-326-1999, swayaustin.com. This warm restaurant, all dark wood and nest-like light fixtures suspended over communal tables, helped introduce many Austinites to the idea of Southeast Asian food (Thai, specifically) served in modern and sophisticated settings.
Swift’s Attic. 315 Congress Ave. 512-482-8842, swiftsattic.com. Fusion cuisine features Asian influences for dishes like Brussels sprouts with nuoc cham and mushrooms with white pepper soy and bok choy. Also one of the best burgers downtown.
*Uchi. 801 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-916-4808, uchiaustin.com. You know you have created a modern-day institution when people can recite dishes from your menu by heart. Regulars will tell you without pause that the Macha Cure’s smoked yellowtail comes with a wave of yucca chips, that Thai chilies and orange supremes do a spicy and sweet dance across the Hama Chili; and that a Peanut Butter Semifreddo with Apple-Miso Sorbet is an upscale homage to an after-school snack.
*Vespaio. 1610 S. Congress Ave. 512-441-6100, austinvespaio.com. You can drink Barolo, dine on a towering plate of lasagna and feel like a Made Man in this upscale Italian restaurant.
Vox Table. 1100 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-375-4869, voxtableaustin.com. This contemporary restaurant in the Alamo Drafthouse complex on South Lamar Boulevard serves imaginative small plates with global influence.
*Wink. 1014 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-482-8868, winkrestaurant.com. A farm-to-table trailblazer, this restaurant has found a way to straddle the line between neighborhood favorite and special-occasion option based on the strength of friendly service and a menu that is sure to always feature scallops, foie gras and wild game.