You don’t need us (or anyone else) to tell you that Austin is constantly changing. New buildings are going up, traffic is getting worse, fewer and fewer people around town use the word “y’all,” and restaurants are opening up at a faster pace than most people can keep up with.
That’s where we come in. We’re here to help you decide which of those new restaurants are worth your time. The Infatuation Hit List is a regularly updated guide to Austin restaurants we actually think you should know about, and that we think you’ll actually like.
One key thing you can always rely on: we'll only put restaurants on this list that we have actually vetted. You know that new restaurant your friends have all mentioned because they saw it on Instagram? There's a good chance that place might suck, and we're not going to recommend that you check it out unless we're reasonably sure that it doesn't.
Now go forth and embrace the change. Here are the best new restaurants in Austin.
New to the Hit List as of 11/16: June's All Day, Loca D'Oro, Red Ash, Fresa's South First, The Beer Plant, Boiler Nine, Eberly
When you first hear the term “vegan gastropub,” it doesn’t exactly click. But when you get to The Beer Plant, it all makes sense, and you realize the people that opened this place might be geniuses. As mainstream as vegan food has become, you still typically don’t associate it with semi-upscale restaurants - especially ones with extensive craft beer/wine/cocktail selections. But that’s exactly what The Beer Plant is. Located (admittedly a bit strangely) over in Tarrytown, you’d never guess this place was vegan until you saw “beet bacon” on the menu. It’s an attractive space that would work well for an early-in-the-game date or a casual dinner with friends, and we’ve enjoyed everything we’ve eaten here. (P.S. The beet bacon is pretty damn tasty.)
From the same people behind Josephine House and Jeffrey’s and Perla’s and Clark’s Oyster Bar comes the next notch in their extremely-attractive restaurant belt, June’s All Day. As the name suggests, this South Congress spot is open daily from breakfast onward, offering somewhat fancy food and an extensive wine list in a laid-back, very pretty (think pink walls, black-and-white tiled floors, neon signage) environment. While the food isn’t the most approachable upon first glance - it’s definitely not cheap, and there aren’t many things on the menu that immediately jump out at you - once you settle in here it turns out to be a pretty great spot for a glass of wine and a snack. Hit it during happy hour to kick off your evening.
What was once a town with very few viable Italian options is now a city that’s home to an ever-growing number of them. But in our minds, Loca D’Oro is one of the true standouts. Located in one of those personality-less outdoor complexes over in Mueller, you might not expect this place to churn out food this impressive. But from the brisket meatballs to the super rich polenta to the pastas to the wine list, everything we’ve tried here has been great, and - surprise - it turns out that it’s pretty enjoyable to eat such upscale-feeling food in such a laid-back feeling environment. Hit this place for a date night at the big bar, or come with a group and sit in the dining room.
While Loca D’Oro falls on the modern end of the Italian spectrum, Red Ash is definitely a more classic experience. Right in the middle of downtown, the space might look industrial, but the food is traditional - and some of the best Italian stuff we’ve found in this town. Get the roasted vine tomatoes and burrata (with a side of hot & crispy country bread) and the osso buco Milanese and it’ll suddenly become clear what Austin's been missing out on.
It was only a matter of time before one of Austin’s most beloved takeout spots got itself a second location. But the new Fresa’s on South First isn’t just a carbon copy of the original - this one has much more room, a big patio, and an expanded menu (including more entrees and margaritas). In other words: you can now have that amazing chicken (and queso and tacos and churros), while also having a real restaurant experience. But don’t worry, if your favorite place to eat Fresa’s will always be your couch, there’s a dedicated takeout window and parking for that too.
Boiler Nine is a three-for-one deal. There’s the main dining room, there’s the downstairs cocktail bar (The Boiler Room), and there’s the rooftop deck serving drinks and snacks (Deck Nine). While the food isn’t going to blow your mind, this spot gets points for being useful in a variety of situations. Kick off date night on the roof, head to the basement for a nightcap, or take clients out for a not-stuffy meal in the restaurant.
The degree to which you will enjoy Eberly is directly correlated to how much you secretly (or not so secretly) love The Cheesecake Factory. This place would be much more at home in Las Vegas than Austin - everything about it feels larger-than-life. There are about seven different sections to it (including two different bar areas), the huge, gold-covered kitchen is exposed in the center of the restaurant, they’ve shipped in parts of its decor from NYC, and the food and drink menu is pretty over the top (high prices, high instant-gratification-factor). Instead of getting a full meal here - the food, at this time, isn’t much to get excited about - we’d suggest you hit the bar here for a drink just to take in the scene and wonder to yourself if this really is the end of Austin as we know it.
At this point, do you really need another food trailer in your life? If we’re talking about Paperboy, the answer is yes. Serving breakfast food (and only breakfast food) out of a trailer on East 11th, this spot has quickly earned a place in our rotation for affordable weekday morning meals and weekend brunches alike. Paperboy might only serve one category of food, but they do it extremely well - both the savory and sweet things we’ve tried here are great. If you’re only getting one thing (which we would advise against), make it the hash bowl.
Irene’s doesn’t fit into one category. It’s a place for brunch, for dinner, for something kind of healthy, for drinks, for mid-afternoon snacks - and everything in between. When most restaurants try to be everything to everyone, they end up feeling like a schizophrenic off their meds. But at Irene’s, it works. Between its awesome interior and outdoor design, its boozy biscuit brunch, and its impressive toast selection - there are a lot of reasons to get to Irene’s, and so far we haven’t encountered a way to do it wrong.
If you live or work downtown, Forthright is a great new cafe that should be added to your breakfast and lunch rotation. The light ad bright space is attractive enough for a client meeting, but casual enough for you to stop by solo for a (very good) avocado toast and coffee. While they serve cocktails until 7pm, the vibe here currently is much better suited for daytime eating experiences.
One of the many new spots in the Domain Northside development, General Tso Boy is a mash-up of American and Chinese food in a fast-casual concept that’s actually kind of great. So what does a mash-up of American and Chinese food mean? Think General Tso’s chicken, black pepper beef, and mapo tofu - but think about them squished in between French bread straight from Easy Tiger. The next time you’re shopping around the Domain - or the next time you’re planning to hit some bars there - consider hitting this place for a quick, affordable meal beforehand.
Vinaigrette actually makes you feel excited about eating a salad. A New Mexico import, this place is the best thing to happen to your lunch routine if you live or work anywhere nearby. Whether the word “raw” is a word you use to describe your diet, or you just like to do not-terrible things for your body once in a while, you’ll be able to find something you like amongst the giant salads, tasty snacks, and freshly-made fruit drinks. Unless it’s over 95 degrees, you have no excuse not to eat on the glorious back patio under a big oak tree.
We have no idea why it took until 2016 for soup dumplings to reach Austin. Or why they made their debut on the bottom floor of a slick downtown bank building. But here we are, eating mostly-authentic Chinese food in a floor-to-ceiling windowed room. In the mood to sample a lot of things? Come here on Sundays for dim sum service.
At the new location of Barley Swine on Burnet Road, you can expect the same kind of impressive (albeit pricey), seasonal small plates that were served at the original location. But there is one key difference: for the first time, there’s an a la carte menu. So if you’re feeling noncommittal and would rather sample a few things without signing up for the full prix fixe, now you can. We’d recommend your dip your toe in the Barley Swine water with the red snapper & koji butter, and with a bar seat overlooking the action in the kitchen.
Emmer & Rye is big on concept, and manages to pull it off well: not only do they serve daily-changing, super-seasonal/local small plates, but they also offer a second menu that comes in the form of a dim sum cart. This cart will stop by your table several times throughout the evening with more dishes to supplement your meal (so it's near impossible to walk out of this place unsatisfied). The space is big and airy, there’s a large outdoor area, and the service is great. Have a birthday coming up, or a meal with your adventurous parents? Do it here.