ATXGuide

The 25 Best Restaurants In Austin

Meet our 25 highest-rated restaurants.
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photo credit: Nicolai McCrary

Have you ever woken up and thought, “Gosh, I’d love to eat at a second-best restaurant today?” Of course you haven’t. Whether you’ve lived here your entire life or are visiting for the first time, it’s human nature to want to experience the best of the best. And that’s exactly why we wrote this guide.

These are the highest-rated restaurants in Austin—the ones we’d brace the summer heat or a winter freeze to get to. Food and experience are both taken into consideration, and any type of dining establishment is fair game. On this list you’ll find fancy spots, casual hangouts, walk-up windows, and gas station eateries. Every city has its classics and its hot new places, but these are restaurants where greatness is guaranteed.

THE SPOTS

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Texan

South Lamar

$$$$Perfect For:Impressing Out of TownersDate NightEating At The BarSmall PlatesBirthdaysBig Groups
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There’s a distinct Texas twang to Odd Duck on South Lamar. It’s wood smoke, fire, chiles, game, and Gulf Coast seafood, with a menu that riffs on classic Texan dishes like tamales, green chili pork shoulder, or icebox cake. What’s brilliant about this casual and upbeat restaurant is that the menu gets revamped at a rapid-fire pace. From day to day, week to week, every dish is subject to change, either because of seasonality (hell, they even have their own farm), the chefs’ whims, or how the wind’s blowing. It’s the kind of place you go back to over and over again, and it never gets old. 

photo credit: Nicolai McCrary

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With only one seating each night at the omakase restaurant Tsuke Edomae—and only eight seats at the counter—securing a reservation is not easy. Other spots in town might feel more celebratory, or provide more value for your dollar. But you’re here to try classic edomae-style sushi in its purest form—combining a blend of thick-grained rice, aged vinegars, and high-quality fish with nothing but wasabi and soy sauce. Each piece is served to one guest at a time, and when your turn comes, it’s just you, the nigiri, and seven curious diners, attentively waiting their turn. Just be warned—that first bite is like a Matrix red pill/blue pill moment, and it’s difficult to go back to sushi anywhere else. 

Austin doesn’t have a lot of places that fit the bill for white tablecloth fine dining, but we do have Jeffrey’s. It’s a little bit classic French, a little bit standard American steakhouse, and every bit a place where you come to celebrate big milestones in exchange for a bill you’ll try to avoid thinking about until the next day. It’s a classy restaurant with a martini cart, and where epic 30+ day dry-aged steaks occupy half of the tables, next to golden osetra caviar, seared foie gras, and deviled eggs topped with shaved Burgundy truffles.  

Nixta isn’t the place you come when you want to scarf down half-a-dozen small, street-style tacos. It’s where you go when you want to experience unique, rich Mexican flavors that just happen to arrive on a nixtamalized corn tortilla. It’s unstuffy and unpretentious, but seasonal ingredients and a great list of natural wines make it equally suited for special occasions and random Tuesday nights (but you can also just get a Modelo). In many ways, Nixta is pretty representative of Austin—it’s fancy food that you don’t have to dress fancy for.

You probably came to this list to see if Franklin Barbecue is on it, or if we were contrarians who refuse to praise it for what it is—the best smoked brisket in Texas. Maybe the world. This is the meat that started a new wave in modern barbecue. This is the Sistine Chapel of smoked meats, and it’s worth visiting even if just to pay your respects at one point in your life. Sure, you might be able to get better versions of ribs, pulled pork, and potato salad at other spots in town. But the brisket here is a religious experience that you can get every day at Franklin (after a short three- to four-hour wait in line). Or just do what anyone from Austin does, and order it ahead online. 

There's always a wait at the East Side staple Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop, and that’s because of the phenomenal breakfast tacos ensconced in fluffy housemade flour tortillas. Order the migas with chips that are still a little crispy, the tender carne guisada, and the glorious, crunchy bacon that somehow defies the very laws of pork belly physics. There’s no better cross-section of new and old Austin, when the Tex-Mex/Mexican diner is filled with East Side regulars, UT kids, construction workers, city officials, and families crammed into booths, all bobbing their heads to Tejano jukebox jams.

Set in an old, white house that was probably featured on Southern Living magazine at some point, Olamaie occupies the space in the middle of the Venn diagram between Southern comfort food and classic fine dining. Get there a little early so you can sit on the breezy back porch with a cocktail. But eventually the smell of fresh-baked biscuits—or the fear of Olamaie’s grilled pork chops selling out—lures you in. The service is warm and attentive, the portions are plentiful, and the experience is one you’ll immediately miss the second you walk out the door. 

Bufalina has been Austin’s original cool kid pizza-and-natural-wine spot since it opened in East Austin in 2013. With bare Edison bulbs and unfinished walls, it always felt kind of like an underground clubhouse, but with esoteric wines alongside classic and sometimes unconventional Neapolitan pies. The pizzas are great, but the devastatingly excellent pastas transform Bufalina from a simple pizza joint into an Italian restaurant worth waiting for a table in a parking lot in the blazing Texas summertime sun for an unreasonable amount of time.

There’s a lot more to Central Texas-style barbecue than brisket alone, and there’s no better place to experience this than at Leroy And Lewis, especially with its smoked beef cheeks, barbacoa, and cauliflower burnt ends. It’s a food truck where vegans can find a smoky, common ground with people who haven’t seen a vegetable in the better part of a week. Because this is Austin, and this city prides itself on creativity, innovation, and being vegan-friendly. But because this is still Texas, you can also get brisket here, too, but only on the weekends.

For tacos even remotely similar to the ones you can get at Cuantos Tacos, you’d have to get on a plane and fly to Mexico City. And while we still highly encourage you to do that at some point in your life, it can be a long commute for a quick Taco Tuesday dinner. The specialty here is Mexico City-style tacos—the tiny type packed full of finely minced and heavily seasoned meat—intended to be eaten in about two bites. And over the course of those two bites, we can’t promise you’ll experience side effects of elation, ecstasy, euphoria, and excitement, but we also can’t promise that you won’t. 

No place is more dedicated to the concept of “local” than Dai Due in East Austin. This place does things the hard, Oregon Trail way, whether it’s wood-fired grilling, tallow-frying, working with farmers, butchering wild game, and locally sourcing everything, from fruit to wine to flour to Gulf Coast seafood. The result? Impeccable steaks, outstanding wild boar confit, superb fried chicken, a towering dry-aged wagyu double cheeseburger, and one of the truly great brunches in town.

At times deeply traditional, and at other times wildly inventive, the food coming out of this tiny trailer is so ridiculously good that it wouldn't be out of place at some of the more modern Mexican restaurants in town. Starting with a hyper-regional focus on the cuisine of the Rio Grande Valley—the border food of Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico—Con Todo’s menu expands into a whole new territory, with modern, creative dishes like a mesquite-grilled cauliflower taco or a chori-papa tostada with housemade chorizo. 

photo credit: Raphael Brion

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If you’re going to blow well over $300 per person on dinner, the sushi restaurant Otoko is where to do it. The futuristic design of the dining room makes it feel like you’re in a fancy spaceship, along with a soundtrack of Bowie, Sun Ra, Fugazi, and a chef that looks like he could have just hopped off any of their stages. The omakase experience is a dizzying procession of small plates and nigiri that sometimes veers into the spectacular, with a menu that brings together fish, smoke, umami, and vinegar—playing with Japanese, Texan, and Mexican ingredients—for a truly unique meal. 

Standing somewhere at the crossroads of Japanese izakayas and Central Texas smokehouses, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya is a place where you can get chili cheese takoyaki, grilled skewers, and smoked brisket bento boxes that are kind of a DIY handroll situation made for the whole table to share. And it all happens in an eclectic dining room that feels like a Texas hunting lodge that picked up its decor from a vintage store in Tokyo (there are also lots of robots). A restaurant like this couldn’t exist anywhere else in the world, other than right here, in Austin. 

The first time we tried the papaya salad at Thai Kun, we cried. That’s not some sappy statement about the transformative power of food. It’s just that spicy. Despite our internal fight-or-flight response, we kept going back for more, because along with that heat was the tart shredded green papaya and the intense punch of lime and fish sauce. That same approach to flavors, boldness, and balance makes its way across the entire menu at Thai Kun, and it’s why we’re willing to battle for a parking spot at The Domain to get it. The dining room—with lots of comfy booths and quirky, hand-painted murals—also makes for a pretty nice escape from that busy shopping center outside, too.

Ask a random person on the street in Austin where to go for a special occasion, and there’s a 75% chance that Uchi would make any shortlist (based on our survey sample size of four, one mentioned sister restaurant, Uchiko). It’s a restaurant that’s earned its reputation by offering a mix of traditional sushi and inventive Japanese fusion dishes at a time when most places thought “Japanese fusion” just meant putting spicy mayo on a tuna roll and calling it a day. While Uchi may have since expanded to half a dozen states across the US, it all started right here in a tiny, renovated house on South Lamar. And there’s no better place to go to see what makes it so special than the source. 

Este is the type of place where you’ll want to show up dressed entirely in linen. Because despite the location on Manor Road, it feels like a breezy, coastal cafe in Baja, Mexico. Start with a dozen oysters with chiltepín mignonette, and enjoy a tropical passion fruit margarita on a patio overlooking Este’s large community garden. Then, once you’ve fully immersed yourself in the Baja experience, dive deep into the menu of ceviches, tostadas, and grilled seafood. Just try not to spill anything on your all-linen outfit. 

When you want to try familiar ingredients in entirely new ways, head to Emmer & Rye, Austin’s answer to fine dining. It’s a “New American” restaurant—but not the formulaic type that just serves some truffle fries in a dining room with nice light fixtures and calls it a day. This is a place where you might find a maize-based tasting menu right next to a la carte orders of compressed trumpet mushrooms and ramen shooters, all made with locally grown produce that went to a fancy culinary school and came back ready to ferment, pickle, or otherwise transform into something new, unexpected, and distinctly Austin. 

This is the best Chinese food in Austin. Not just the best value or the place with the best portion sizes—but it’s certainly strong in those fields, too. It’s at its best with Sichuan classics, but even if you’re not in the mood for chongqing chicken or mapo tofu, you can get good renditions of Chinese-American classics as well. Sometimes we’re here when the Tuesday night craving for spicy eggplant in garlic sauce hits, other times it’s for a last-minute date night—the type where the atmosphere takes a bit of a backseat to a meal you’ll be talking about on the drive home. Because you’re not here for the bare-bones dining room in a North Austin strip mall. You’re just here for great food. And maybe an extra order of spicy garlic eggplant. 

This family-run Mexican/Tex-Mex diner has been serving breakfast and lunch in South Austin for over 20 years, and like moontowers or grackles or burnt orange, it’s just part of the city’s landscape. It’s hard to imagine Austin without it. If you go during a prime breakfast hour, especially on the weekends, there will be a wait. It’s worth it, especially for the killer fajitas or the huevos gringos—the most perfect (and unique and absurd) breakfast combo plate in which over-easy eggs get covered in queso, and then served with carne guisada, refried beans, fries, and tortillas for good measure. 

photo credit: Richard Casteel

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$$$$Perfect For:LunchQuick Eats

Ramen Del Barrio is tacos and tostadas, but it’s also tonkotsu and yakitori. It’s mole and aguachiles mixed with tsukemen and mazemen. This is fusion food at its maximum potential, finding the lines between Mexican and Japanese cooking and covering them with a thin layer of slow-roasted pork and a squeeze of lime. It’s food that immediately takes you out of the grocery store food court you’re in, and straight into a tiny ramen stall in Tokyo, a taqueria in Mexico, or an incredible hybrid of the two that never existed before Ramen Del Barrio. 

Lutie’s feels like a fairytale. It’s a garden party all the time, with hanging vines, leaves, and plants obscuring whatever ceiling manages to keep all the magic inside. But this isn’t a guide to the prettiest restaurants in Austin, and Lutie’s is more than just a flashy coat. It’s a “garden restaurant” that feels like a tribute to vegetables, with a seasonal menu made up of whatever some farmer decided was looking pretty nice this time of year, all paired with Southern-ish preparations of confit pork, grilled Texas beef, barbecued shrimp, and more. 

You’re not driving to Ramen512 in Cedar Park for the atmosphere. You’re there to try housemade ramen noodles, paired with creamy bowls of tonkotsu, fiery brothless mazesoba, and light and delicate shoyu ramen. And you’re there to do it in a strip mall restaurant between a vet and a nail spa. This is a place where you can make references to Tampopo that your friends don’t understand, and where you can nerd out about the intricacies of different ramen styles. Or you can just pop in for an excellent bowl of ramen and be merrily on your way. This is ramen for ramen lovers. 

photo credit: Richard Casteel

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Fabrik lets a vegetable be a vegetable. It’s a vegan restaurant that doesn’t rely on Franken-pseudo meats to try and convince you that soy protein is just as good as meat. Instead, they know that a skewer of oyster mushroom grilled over hot charcoal can, in fact, trigger the same dopamine rush as any piece of poultry or beef. Just know that by signing up for dinner here, you’ll be buckling in for an inventive five- or seven-course tasting menu that feels a little bit like a plant-based roller coaster. And at $70 a person, it’s one of the more affordable tasting menus in town—and barely more than a ticket to Six Flags. 

In a city full of so much barbecue variety, KG BBQ brings something new to the brisket-filled table. This is Central Texas-style barbecue with an Egyptian twist, whether that’s in the form of more subtle influences like za’taar-dusted pork ribs, or the signature bowl that combines turmeric rice with smoked brisket, tahini, candied nuts, and pomegranate seeds. It’s a place where smoked brisket shawarmas feel less like fusion food, and more like a shawarma that happened to spend its formative years in Central Texas. It’s a little bit Austin, a little bit Egypt, and exactly the kind of mashup we can get behind.

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