Weekday lunches are your one-hour respite from “I have a hard stop at 11am” and “Looping in Jeff.” It’s a chance to break free from your stand-up desk and give yourself and the one coworker you actually like an excuse for an adventure at noon. The tricky part is finding a place that’s far enough from your office that you won’t see everyone from work, but not so far that you’re eating lunch with the people who work at Dell. Here are some of our favorite places to grab lunch while you silently laugh at all the people who are eating out of tupperware right now.
Fighting the campus crowd is usually not our first choice for lunch hour. Maybe it’s because the responsibility-less students remind us that we have to go back to our desk prison, or maybe it’s because there’s always a bus in your way. But the sandwiches at Fricano’s are worth your trouble. Pick from one of their five kinds of Reubens or go with the always-dependable Italian club. The portions are so big, you’ll probably only get through half. But when you get back to your desk you’ll still be thinking about your lunch and inevitably eat the other half.
Grab a seat at the bar of this tiny joint and watch the cooks grilling right in front of you and the diner-style coffee being brewed. The place is consistently full, though you rarely have to wait for a table during the week. The Lamar Street location is preferred for it’s “we’ve been here a while” feel, but if you find yourself on the East Side, the newer, shinier location works just as well. Breakfast is served all day, there are plenty of healthy options, and the prices are reasonable. The Counterburger is a solid choice, and if you want to eat less/spend less, try the breakfast tacos.
Go just a few streets off the downtown grid and you’ll get a little escape at Zocalo Café in Clarksville. It’s bright, cheerful, and genuinely feels like you’re taking a break from your boss who really doesn’t understand the concept of personal space. If it’s not too sweaty outside, you can hang on the plant-covered patio, which is exactly what you need after being trapped under fluorescent lights for too long. The Mexican menu has a lot of options (including some healthier things), but plan for queso. It’s the best thing here - and that’s saying a lot considering “Plan for Queso” should probably replace “Keep Austin Weird” as our city motto.
In addition to the bright and cheerful, the world also needs lunch joints that are dark and divey - the kind of place that where you probably won’t find tourists from NYC/LA who just discovered that Austin is amazing. No flowers on the table, no daily juice, and definitely no one who’s talking about the LVP of their book club. Gourmand’s is in an old nightclub space, and is now just a glorified pub - but one that makes very solid pub food. The service isn’t fast, but you’re not here for perfect service. You’re here for quality sandwiches and soups and to not run into any of your coworkers.
Don’t just glance over this one. Come back. There’s some real deep insight here about Whole Foods. Ready? The fish bar. That’s right, head to the seafood counter for fresh fish tacos (they grill them to order). If you’re not feeling tacos, the sushi selection is always there for you and their barbeque is surprisingly good. Just avoid the constant madness that is the salad bar. Whole Foods is easy and predictable, and we sometimes like that in our lunch spots.
Tacodeli feels like home, if you grew up in the kind of home with consistently excellent tacos. We like it because it’s not trying to out-Tex Mex the other taco places - they’re just trying to make great food. And while you may pay a dollar or so more than the average taco, you get higher-quality everything. Warning: their doña salsa will light your mouth on fire, but we promise you want that. The staff will ask how your meal was and - the kicker - wait to hear the answer. There’s a reason the line is always out the door.
If you’re recovering from the weekend or just need to eat something that’s green-ish, Jugo is one of the newer healthy spots in town that we actually endorse. With plenty of smoothie and juice options, plus salads and snacks, you’ll feel like all those people who outrun you on the Town Lake trail. You can go back to things in taco form soon, but in the meantime this is a good place to get some nutrients on your lunch break.
This location of Jo’s is way more restaurant than coffee shop. The original location on South Congress only has a few food options, but here you can get everything from salads to melts to pretty good burgers. Try to snag a table inside because the Grackles outside are next-level aggressive.
So, you want a salad. Not a sad, half-wilted, pre-made salad that was probably made two days ago. You want an actually-excellent salad. Your best (and only) option downtown is Leaf. The line is consistently long, the price adds up quickly, and the staff will probably rush you, but stay focused - the salads are worth the stress. You just need to decide how badly you want one.
Royal Blue Grocerys are popping up all over town these days, and we can pretend to be upset about how much Austin is changing or we can just agree to order a slice of pizza or the Reuben and be very satisfied. Speaking of the Reuben, get yours with extra dipping sauce. Most locations offer a range of other grab-and-go food options, plus outdoor seating for when it’s not 100 degrees out. There’s a solid selection of bubbly waters, kombuchas, and beers if it’s that kind of day.
If it’s the first nice day of spring or you have no afternoon meetings (or you just decided none of said meetings mattered and you walked out of your office with purpose), Elizabeth Street Café is the right pick for your long weekday lunch. Sit outside and order spring rolls. It’s a much-needed change of pace from the salads and sandwiches you ate over your keyboard all week. Allow some time at the end of the meal for an iced Vietnamese coffee before you head back to work (if you’re heading back at all).
You can’t miss Fresa’s - just look for the giant rotating neon chicken out front. Once you’re actually inside, order stuff like the Power Bol with wood-grilled chicken and enough vegetables to feel better about those two donuts you housed at the office breakfast this morning. And on the days when Austin feels like you’re walking around inside a blow dryer, you don’t even need to get out of your car. The drive-through here will make you excited to be alive. Or at least to be getting your lunch here.
Most of the time, Austin wears its Austin t-shirt proudly, but Walton’s has a different kind of Southern charm. Maybe it’s the glass case full of pastel pastries or the succulents for sale in the back. It’s just so…cute. More importantly: the food here is actually good - we typically go for a hot sandwich like the Pastrami (or really any sandwich involving the pretzel roll).
If you’re having the type of day (good or bad) that calls for a lunch steak, Salt & Time is here for you. This butcher shop has an excellent selection of high-quality meats, sandwiches, and salads, and lunch is particularly good. Get the Roast Beast or house-made bologna, sit at the long bar for a quick meal, or grab a table if you have some time to kill. Don’t worry if you’re bringing a vegetarian - they’ll get their vegetables (with a daily non-meat special), and also start to question their reasons for being a vegetarian.