Where To Eat & Drink On South Congress  guide image

ATXGuide

Where To Eat & Drink On South Congress

South Congress Avenue is Austin’s hub for shopping, patio dining, and people watching. These are the best spots to eat and drink.

No neighborhood better captures everything “Austin-y” about Austin than South Congress Avenue. Where else can you enjoy a margarita on a patio, listen to live music, and shop for new cowboy boots without ever taking enough steps for your Apple Watch to ask “are you working out?”

But it’s more than just margaritas and music. It’s boutique hotels and vintage clothing shops that almost outnumber the iconic wall murals lining the streets. It’s street performers and artists and make sure you’re never more than a few steps away from an acoustic cover of the latest Ed Sheeran song. South Congress is just as much a street to walk around on as it is to shop. If people watching was a sport, its World Cup would be held right here on this street (probably on one of its many patios). 

There’s no shortage of food and drink on South Congress. Whether you’re looking for the Austin classics—tacos, barbecue, and margaritas—or you want to dive a little bit more into the cuisines that make Austin unique, here’s where to eat and drink on South Congress. 

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Holly Dirks

Jo's Coffee review image
7.7

Jo's Coffee

$$$$

1300 S Congress Ave, Austin
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Basically a walk-up coffee shop with a few outdoor tables, Jo’s Coffee is a great place to recharge for a bit with an espresso or an Iced Turbo (a creamy, chocolaty, hazelnut cold brew). The food’s about what you’d expect out of a street facing grab-and-go coffee window—pre-packaged sandwiches, tacos, and salads—but that’s not why you’re here. You’re here to relax on the small covered patio, take in some caffeine, and to watch the long line of people waiting to take a photo in front of the “I love you so much” wall. Then, maybe get in line yourself. 


Stop by Home Slice when you just need a few slices of New York-style pizza and a glass of wine after a long day out. The inside feels like a classic old-school pizzeria—colorful, lively, and packed full of tables. If you have friends from the tri-state area that never stop talking about “what a New York pizza is supposed to taste like,” this is probably one of the few places in town that’ll quiet them down for a few minutes. There’s also More Home Slice,  a takeout shop next door where you can grab a slice and continue window shopping down the street. 


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photo credit: Holly Dirks

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7.8

Habana Restaurant & Bar

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Hidden from South Congress by thatched roofs and palm leaves, Habana feels like a secret, tucked-away piece of the Caribbean. The restaurant makes some solid Cuban and Caribbean food—including one of our favorite Cuban sandwiches in town—as well as great tropic-inspired cocktails like mojitos and margaritas. The patio is full of cabanas that are perfect for feeling like you’re on vacation, and there’s even a cigar menu if you want to get fully immersed in the Cuban daydream.


The upscale seafood spot Perla’s has one of the most recognizable patios in Austin—in large part from being right in the heart of South Congress, where it practically bleeds onto the sidewalk. The dining room is big and airy, but when the weather is nice—or you have a date that you want to impress—this is the patio you’ll want to be on. Order a bottle of rose and some oysters to start, then grab New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp, pan roasted crab cakes, oak grilled Spanish octopus, and whatever else catches your eye. But also be ready to drop $39 on a lobster roll. 


Café No Sé is exactly the kind of trendy brunch place you might expect to find in any big city—complete with quinoa bowls, shredded kale salads, and the requisite avocado toast—with the occasional southern twist, like the cowboy breakfast (basically a Texas version of an Full English breakfast). The restaurant doesn’t take reservations for brunch—so show up early or expect to wait a bit on the weekends—but you can pass the time walking around the South Congress hotel shops or at the hotel bar. They’re also open in the evening, too, but something about dinner here doesn’t have the same buzzy energy about it. 


Located near the end of a busy stretch of South Congress, June’s is an effortlessly cool all-day bistro and wine bar. The dining room is bright and airy—accented with a long marble bar, checkered tile floors, and a vintage jukebox—while the outside feels like a Parisian sidewalk cafe, where you can enjoy a long, drawn-out conversation with your dog about what you’re going to order. The menu veers New American with European influences, so you’ll find dishes like bone marrow bolognese and steak au poivre, right alongside one of the best fried chicken sandwiches in town. But June’s is, first and foremost, a wine bar, so expect lots of excellent wine available by the bottle or by the glass. 


Equal parts cafe, wine bar, pizzeria, and bicycle shop, The Meteor is a great casual spot to pop in for a glass of wine and some light bites. It’s located just far enough away from the busy part of South Congress to make it a welcome escape from all the action, or as a bookend on either part of a long day trying on new sunglasses and boots. The specialty here is round, sourdough pizzas that are good for satisfying the inevitable post-shopping craving for carbs and cheese, but there are  also pastries, sandwiches, and salads. It’s one of our favorite places in town for drinking wine—and it only gets better during Happy Hour with half price glasses of wine (and cheeseburgers).


From the team behind Perla’s, Clark’s, Sammie’s, Jeffrey’s, and roughly 85% of the remaining restaurants in Austin, Neighborhood Sushi offers nigiri, rolls, and Japanese-inspired bites out of a semi-hidden dining room on South Congress. Despite the name, it’s not really priced like a casual neighborhood spot, and the interior is far too polished and dressed up to indicate otherwise. But you’re here for the melt-in-your-mouth fish and well-seasoned rice, not convenience. The generously sized nigiri leans pretty classic when it comes to garnishes—the rolls, on the other hand, veer a little farther from tradition.


photo credit: Nicolai McCrary

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Aba Austin

Reservations at Aba tend to book up pretty early, so it may not be the easiest place to pop in for a quick snack, but if you do manage to snag a table, the dreamy patio is where you want to be. It’s built around a 100+ year old oak tree—a beautiful centerpiece that provides shade, a point of conversation, and the occasional leaf in your fancy $25 paloma. The menu is a mix of classic and modern takes on Mediterranean food, and while the shawarma-spiced prime skirt steak might not have the same “punch” as the wraps you grew up eating after a night out downtown, a meal here is generally pretty solid. 

A 12-seat sushi omakase restaurant in a hidden nook at the South Congress Hotel, Otoko is a place to dress up a little and feel like a rock star, as you watch the chefs prepare your meal in a room that’s basically a tunnel of light, all to a soundtrack of Bowie, Sun Ra, and Fugazi. If you have the time, the money, and the foresight to grab a reservation, there’s hardly a better meal to be found on South Congress. You can also check out the attached cocktail bar Watertrade for an easier-to-score reservation (with limited walk-up availability) where you can order some izakaya-style bites from the same kitchen, plus marvel at one of the largest Japanese whiskey collections in the state. 


There are many reasons to visit Guero’s, but unfortunately the food isn’t one of them. You come here for the massive patio shaded by an enormous oak tree where you can sit and listen to live music with a cold beer. You come here for the front patio that spills onto the sidewalk, where street buskers are blasting loud trombone covers of Ed Sheeran. And you’re here for a midday margarita stop to help calm your nerves after touching a $1200 button down shirt at ByGeorge next door during a long afternoon of shopping. It won’t be the best margarita you’ve ever had, or the strongest, but it might be the one you need at the moment. 


The original gourmet ice cream experience, Amy’s has expanded all over Austin. Gone are the days when employees would be drunk on the job, pouring bourbon into the ice cream itself. Amy’s is all grown up now, but still manages to remain a quirky, family-friendly mainstay of the Austin experience. Between the “crush’ns,” the toppings, and the ice cream flavors, there are approximately 1,000,000 different combinations you can get here, or you can just go with one of their classic combinations if you find yourself overcome by choice. 


It might be called Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden, but there’s a lot more going on here than just what’s on the sign. Cosmic also has wine and cocktails (and even cocktail flights). And then there’s the extensive outdoor space, shaded by oak trees and filled with long rows of wooden tables that go on as far as the eye can see. You’ll usually see a good mix of families, small groups hanging out after work, and dogs happy because they’re dogs.. It’s also home to some of the city’s best food trucks, including Pueblo Viejo for tacos, Leroy & Lewis for  barbecue, and an outpost of Tommy Want Wingy serving lollipop-style chicken wings.


The frenched chicken wings at Tommy Want Wingy have developed an almost cult-like following in Austin. There’s no debate about flats vs drums here—all the wings start as a drumette before being cleaned into a lollipop-like shape with a tiny bone handle.  There are a few locations in town, but we like the one at Cosmic Coffee since it’s a bit removed from the busiest part of South Congress, and it also comes with a great patio to sit on.


Pueblo Viejo has a few outposts across Austin, but we’re especially partial to the one on South Congress, largely due to its location at Cosmic Coffee, one of our favorite patios in town. For a trailer of its size, the menu is pretty extensive —including tacos, burritos, gorditas, quesadillas, and enchiladas—but you’re here for some of the best breakfast tacos in Austin. They’re located about a mile away from all the South Congress action, but still close enough to be a solid source of egg-and-potato based morning fuel. 


The first thing you’ll notice about the Mexican spot El Borrego De Oro is the sign. It’s turquoise and pagoda-shaped, with a big sheep in the middle of it. It’s a remnant of the building’s former life as a Chinese restaurant, but you’d never know the space was anything else. The space feels lived in and cozy—the type of place that has its regulars who’ve been coming in every weekend for menudo for decades. Grab an order of the excellent birria tacos—made with slow-stewed lamb, and just the right around of gamey flavor—or lean fully into their Tex-Mex side with enchiladas, fajitas, and margaritas. 


Lucky Robot is one of the few places in Austin where you can get Nikkei cuisine, which means that for every piece of maguro nigiri you find on the menu, you’ll also see things like grilled chicken skewers with salsa macha ponzu. It’s equal parts sushi and hot bites, in a space tight dining room decorated with hanging flowers and swings you can dine on. There’s a lot of creativity going on here—and some of it works better than others—but when you’re in the mood for some solid sushi that you don’t have to book a month in advance, this is your spot. There’s also a great Happy Hour, where you can get half priced bottles of sake and select food items. 


While everyone in town is competing for the coveted Brisket Belt™, at LeRoy and Lewis they’re doing things a little differently. That means smoked beef cheeks, barbacoa, and pork sausage with citra hops, and sides like kimchi and pork hash. It’s different in all the right ways, and it’s the only way to enjoy some of the best barbecue in Austin without ever stepping off of South Congress. And if you really just want some brisket, you can get it on the weekends here. Just be prepared to wait in line, but  fortunately it’s located at Cosmic Coffee, so you can grab some caffeine or a beer to make the line go by quicker. 


About as Old Austin as it gets, Magnolia Cafe adopts the “breakfast anytime” motto with an enormous Tex-Mex/classic diner menu that spans from sandwiches to migas to burgers to enchiladas to omelets and everything in between. An Austin institution, Magnolia Cafe might not be open 24 hours like it used to—the restaurant closes at 10pm these days—and we miss the original location on Lake Austin Boulevard, but the remaining outpost on South Congress is just as dependable. 


Tucked away in the back of the South Congress Hotel, the coffee shop Mañana serves very good coffee drinks as well as grab-and-go breakfast tacos. The gleaming pastry case beckons, full of excellent house-made pastries including ham and cheese croissants, kouign amanns, and an everything bagel kolache that could very well be the highlight of your day. What’s great about Mañana is that it’s never all that busy, making for a pleasant escape from the mayhem of South Congress Avenue.


An Austin staple, Vespaio Ristorante has been around since 1998. People have been coming to this Italian spot for a long time, for everything from anniversaries and birthdays to work dinners. It’s especially nice when your boss is paying. The menu changes pretty frequently, but you’ll find a few pizzas and large format dishes like lasagna bolognese, cioppino, and a risotto of the day. The dining room is romantic and dimly lit, but our favorite spot remains the cozy bar, where we’ll happily order a few of the fresh pastas that come in half sizes.

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