The Best Restaurants In Downtown Austin guide image


The Best Restaurants In Downtown Austin

Where to grab a bite to eat the next time you’re in downtown Austin.

When most people hear the words “downtown Austin,” their minds go to the Texas Capitol, traffic jams, and that weird Jenga building. When we hear those same words, we think of soup dumplings, al pastor tacos, and grilled shrimp po'boys. Whether you’re in town for a festival or convention, you work in one of Austin’s increasing number of high rises, or you’re just looking for a good place to grab a bite before or after a show, these are the best places to eat in downtown Austin. 


Qi Austin

When we’re Downtown and craving dim sum, we head to Qi. It’s from the same people behind Lin Asian Bar and a few other spots in town, and much like all of their concepts, the dumplings here are some of the best in town. During lunch and dinner hours you’ll have access to a handful of options—from scallop caviar sui mai to crab meat fish maw soup dumplings—but show up for brunch on the weekends and you’ll unlock the full dim sum menu, with about three times as many choices. Of course, this isn’t just a dumpling restaurant—there’s a full menu of excellent dinner entrees as well, many of which are made with premium things like lobster, caviar, and Akaushi beef. Grab a few entrees to anchor the meal, but if in doubt, order more dumplings. 

Red Ash isn’t the type of place you just casually visit. Maybe that’s because the steak menu is made up of 50-day dry aged porterhouses and massive NY strip steaks. Or maybe it’s because the wait to get in has been over a month-long since it opened in 2016. But plan far enough in advance, and you, too, can find yourself eye to eye with a slab of meat that started aging almost two months ago. Of course, it’s more than just steaks—it has “Italia” right there in the name. Expect to find lots of rustic Italian dishes and rich pastas, reimagined through a fine dining lens. It’s usually not too difficult to snag a seat at the bar if you show up right when it opens. 

Hestia is one of the few spots in town where a suit doesn’t feel out of place. Pair that with local ingredients cooked on a live fire hearth, an excellent wine list, and a dining room that feels like it was plucked out of a much bigger city, and you get Hestia, one of our favorite spots downtown for a fancy night out. It’s not cheap, so expect to drop a few bills on the experience. But when you want to celebrate a special occasion—or if work’s paying—it’s a tough spot to beat. 

Sammie’s feels like it was plucked out of a movie set for a film about the Italian mafia set in some city with long alleys. Where comforting bowls of handmade pasta and warm, dimly-lit interiors are more features of necessity than design. Come to Sammie’s when you want some of the best lasagna you’ve probably ever had, and an order of chicken parmigiana bigger than your head. And if you didn’t make a reservation weeks ago, stop in and try to grab a seat at the bar, where you’ll be able to chew your pasta in sync to a cocktail shaker soundtrack and a display of red suit jackets.

Some places make great breakfast tacos. Others, late-night tacos. It’s rare that a place does both so well, which is why we keep finding ourselves back at Vaquero Taquero. Kick off your morning with a bacon, egg, and griddled cheese taco, or end your night right where you started. Unlike their original location near campus, this one is open late and has a full bar, so you can get some margaritas to go with your late-night al pastor off the trompo. 

Taquero Mucho describes itself as “a cute pink taqueria in the heart of Austin Texas,” and as much as we tried, we couldn’t come up with a better description. You’ll probably notice the pink neon sign beckoning you in from West 6th Street before you even see the building, but despite looking like a Glossier flagship store, Taquero Mucho doesn’t rely on novelty alone—it’s a real taqueria that just doesn’t take itself too seriously. Order some queso flameado to find out just how stretchy cheese can be, get some enchiladas covered in griddled cheese, and pair it all with some Anti Bitch Juice—a frozen strawberry rosé that comes served in a pouch. 

The po’boy menu at Turf N’ Surf is extensive. And by that we mean there are about 22 options—from oyster and jumbo shrimp, to chicken parm and pork chops—many of which can be fried, grilled, or blackened. The end result is an almost infinite number of sandwich combinations (but really, more like 51). Many of the fish options come at “market price,” which if you’ve ever ordered at a restaurant before, you’ll know translates to “whoa, that was a little more than I was expecting.” But the emphasis here is on fresh, wild-caught, Gulf seafood, and the fact that you’re getting all of it at Lavaca Street Bar in downtown Austin helps justify it a bit. 

Enough is enough. Sometimes, you don’t want to make a reservation months in advance, and you really don’t want your table covered in multiple, forgettable small plates. You just want a giant steak and a martini for dinner. ALC is unstuffy and unpretentious—it feels like a classic steakhouse you’d expect to find in a film about a bunch of bankers on Wall Street. But perhaps most importantly, you can get a killer ribeye here that serves as the perfect entree after a round of escargot and grilled buffalo lamb chops.

As long as you’re okay with running into the occasional bachelor/bachelorette party kicking off their night—and maybe even joining in for a round of Ranch 616’s signature fire-in-the-hole shots—this is one of the best spots in the area for a very “Texas” meal. Grab a Patron Platter for the table, and try a sampling of half a dozen varieties of fried appetizers and semi-boneless quail bites, then order chicken fried steaks, ribeyes, Texas red snapper, and other Texas-y dishes from the entree menu. The portions are huge, so prepare to share. Then, sit back and listen to live music performances in the dining room most nights, or relax on the spacious patio overlooking a busy stretch of Downtown.  

Casino El Camino is essentially a dive bar that slings out excellent burgers, hot dogs, and wings. It’s dark in here—don’t be surprised if it takes your eyes a few minutes to adjust. You’ll probably spend that time waiting in line to order anyway because the “secret” that is Casino El Camino’s thick, char-grilled burgers is out. Whether you want to try one of the best burgers in Austin, or just hide out and sip on cold beer in the dark, there are plenty of reasons to visit Casino, including the small patio out that kind of feels like a tiny tropical resort, complete with saltillo tiled floors, fountains, and a vibrant Aztec mural on the wall. It’s a pretty sharp contrast from the space inside, but a great escape from Sixth Street. 

Texas Chili Parlor is probably one of the only spots in town where you can sit back with a Mad Dog margarita (that’s as potent as it sounds) and order a plate of enchiladas covered with a giant scoop of Texas-style chili. This place has been simultaneously functioning as a dive bar and Tex-Mex eatery since the 1970s. Walking into Texas Chili Parlor feels almost like entering a cave—it’s chilly and dimly lit—and there are usually a handful of people sitting at the bar that look like they haven’t moved since the restaurant’s inception. 

In a city full of great Mexican food, La Condesa’s modern takes on classic dishes—combined with some of the best tortillas in Austin—make it one of our favorite spots to grab a meal downtown. Snag a table on the cozy sidewalk patio when the weather is nice, and enjoy some half-priced drinks before a movie at Violet Crown Cinema next door. Or just stop in for some excellent tortas, tamales, tlacoyos, and huaraches.

People often ask us where to get a good breakfast taco downtown, and it takes about a split second to answer: “Veracruz.” The migas taco here set the bar for all other migas tacos. Like Super Mario Bros. 3 or the brisket at Franklin Barbecue, they’re best-in-class—a legend. What makes these migas tacos so much better than all the other ones out there? The ingredients (the tortilla chips are homemade), the execution, and the attention to detail, with chips that manage to stay crunchy while soaking up the flavors of the egg and pico.

Head to Péché in the Warehouse District when you need somewhere cold and dark to escape, but you still want access to a bar. Grab a cocktail or some absinthe—Péché has one of the biggest selections in town—then saunter over to a corner of the always-full dining room and order some escargot and french onion soup. This is also one of our favorite spots in town for Happy Hour, with plenty of cocktails and menu items discounted heavily for a few hours every night, and all day Sunday and Monday.

Barbecue in Austin is very much a daytime meal, with some of the best spots in the city hanging up their “sold out” signs after lunch. So what do you do when the barbecue craving strikes after the sun goes down? You head to Lamberts. This is “fancy barbecue,” which means that in addition to the Central Texas classics—like brisket, pork ribs, and sausage—Lamberts also does things like wild boar ribs with honey and sambal, or juniper and black pepper lamb ribs. Expect to pay considerably more than at that trailer down the street from your house, but at least here you can enjoy a meal with cocktails, beer, wine, and an extensive whiskey list. 

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photo credit: Nicolai McCrary

The Best Restaurants In Downtown Austin guide image