Welcome to The Infatuation’s Austin Greatest Hits List.
Obviously you’re familiar with the concept of a “greatest hits” album, but let’s be clear that what you see before you is not meant to be the Now 24 of restaurants. This list is a carefully selected collection of the restaurants most essential to the Austin experience - the spots you should hit first if you’re new to town. Our Austin Greatest Hits includes establishments that have been around since before Austin was cool, alongside newer spots that have proven themselves worthy - from late-night diners to Tex-Mex classics to upscale Southern food spots.
Just like you wouldn’t introduce someone to Tom Petty without starting with “Free Fallin’,” we wouldn’t send someone unfamiliar with Austin to a new Italian small plates hot spot without sending them to one of these restaurants first. And you shouldn’t either.
Austin is known for a lot of things, but perhaps nothing more so than tacos. And no taco establishment is more essential to this town than Torchy’s, an empire born and bred out of the Austin food truck movement. Which is why, if you really want to experience this place properly, you should head to their South 1st trailer. Hit it for lunchtime tacos for best success.
Franklin Barbecue has earned a reputation as the best place for smoked meats in the entire country. The brisket here is excellent, yes, but whether it’s worth the five-hour wait is up to you. Do not expect to eat here unless you arrive by 7am. Line up and bring a book (or mimosas).
Austin’s best 24-hour establishment. Whether it’s 3pm or 3am, Magnolia is our all-time favorite place to sit down to a table full of pancakes, breakfast tacos, migas, and Mag Mud (their take on queso). With two equally-great locations that are perfectly positioned for your post-drinking needs (on either side of downtown), Magnolia is an establishment we truly can’t imagine Austin without.
Uchi is arguably the first spot in Austin that proved restaurants here could compete with the best in the country - while simultaneously serving without a doubt the best sushi in the city. The fish is ridiculously fresh, the menu is adventurous, and everything about the place is creative. No matter how many times we visit, Uchi always impresses, and is easily among the very best meals you can have in Austin. Bring a date, bring an out of towner, bring your mom - it doesn’t matter the situation, Uchi is always the right answer.
A neighborhood Tex-Mex classic with multiple locations around town, and one of the better happy hours in Austin. Try their Chicken Fajita Nachos paired with a Joe’s Margarita. Maudie’s tends to get a little crowded around 5pm so be prepared to do your queso eating and margarita drinking at the bar.
If you’ve spent any real amount of time in Austin, you’ve eaten great Southern food (if not - you’re doing it wrong). But unless you’ve been to Olamaie, you’ve never had Southern food on this level. This is the kind of meal that haunts you - starting with the most incredible biscuits you’ll ever eat (they’re not on the menu, but do not let that stop you from ordering them). You don’t need any excuse to come to Olamaie, but it also makes for an excellent place to celebrate about anything.
The idea of healthy(ish) sub sandwiches might not seem all that special, but try finding another place like Thundercloud Subs anywhere else and we guarantee you’ll fail. Locals love this place for its super fresh ingredients and vegetable-friendly options - and with locations all over town, it’s always a good bet for a fast, affordable meal. The magic’s in the Thunder Sauce.
Austin has always had great tacos. And queso. And pancakes. And burgers. But pizza? Up until a few years ago, Mr. Gatti’s was as close as we got to good pizza. (Translation, for those who did not grow up eating Mr. Gatti’s at elementary school sleepovers: Austin previously had zero good pizza.) But that pizza drought is now a thing of the past, thanks in large part to Via 313, who managed to make Detroit-style (aka thick, square cut) pizza seem completely at home in Austin, and have grown from a single trailer to a full-on empire. Whether you’re grabbing a slice from the truck after a few beers at the Violet Crown or sitting down at one of their brick and mortar locations, this thick-crust pizza never disappoints.
The seminal food, alcohol, and cinema combo experience. What once began as a little art house theater is now a national franchise. Always check their schedule, because when they’re not showing whatever big movies are out right now, there might be a Big Lebowski quote-a-long, or similar caliber of cult movie experience happening. Their kitchen has expanded far beyond popcorn (which is excellent, by the way), offering everything from vegan cauliflower buffalo wings to beer milkshakes.
This is the kind of place that could make anyone grateful to be living (and eating) in the South: buckets of fried chicken, lots of picnic tables, fried deviled eggs, and a judgement-free zone for stuffing your face. On any given night, we’d be just as happy to get wrist-deep in some greasy fried poultry at Lucy’s than to eat at any other fancier spot in town.
The OG gourmet ice cream experience of Austin. Gone are the days when employees would be drunk on the job, pouring bourbon into the ice cream itself. Amy’s has grown up into a well-oiled ice cream machine, but still remains a quirky, family-friendly mainstay of the Austin experience. Even if you’re not hungry, go watch their servers perform daring, impromptu acrobatic ice cream scooping performances.
An old-school burger dive behind Whole Foods with a 1960’s vintage feel. The surrounding neighborhood has become the epicenter for new Austin opulence, so go before this place is turned into another skyscraper of lofts to house more of their kind.
One of Austin’s great paradoxes: our vegetarian food is just as good as our BBQ. And Bouldin Creek Cafe is certainly the most popular - if not the best - place to get it. It’s a spot that brings the classic Keep Austin Weird vibes, while appealing to pretty much everyone - meat eaters and meat avoiders alike.
Austin is packed with excellent neighborhood restaurants - but Foreign & Domestic might be our favorite. Located in the heart of North Austin, this place has the laid-back feel of a casual spot, while turning out some intensely creative (and delicious) food. It’s the type of place where it’s easy to become a regular - don’t worry, worse things can happen.
An old Tex-Mex favorite at 6th and Chicon that proudly serves biscuits and clarified butter (AKA ghee) with your migas and fajitas. It’s the original Eastside breakfast experience, with a loyal fan base. We fear it’s at risk for being bulldozed soon, so go now before a Dallas-based real estate developer beats you to it.
An activity that Austin does better than just about anyone else: the outdoor drink-and-hang. When it comes to spending time outside with alcohol and food, our city excels. And no spot is better evidence of that than Contigo, with its sprawling, awesome back patio (modeled after the owner’s South Texas hunting ranch), great cocktails, and the kind of shareable plates that can keep your crew going for hours. If you’re new to the city, or a visitor, hit Contigo at happy hour for a real sense of how this town likes to live.
The best traditional Mexican street tacos in Austin. It’s a small trailer parked in the lot of a bingo hall on Riverside Drive in East Austin, and worth the trip every time. This is as authentic as a taco experience gets in this country - their Al Pastor tacos are out of this world and are priced like you’re actually in Mexico.
Yet another entry on this list that started as a food truck, Odd Duck combines the kind of food you wouldn’t be surprised to eat at a fine dining establishment (snapper ceviche, duck breast) with the kind of environment you wouldn’t be surprised to find on the outskirts of some quaint little Southern town. It’s a place to eat very well, and feel great while you’re at it. (That feeling is even better during happy hour, when select dishes are half off.)
Made famous on Man vs Food, this East Cesar Chavez Tex-Mex breakfast joint has maintained a straight-up, no-nonsense vibe since opening over thirty years ago. Juan, their lovable jefe, used to greet every single customer with a smile, a handshake, and a big bear hug. He’s not around as much these days, but his son fills his shoes well, spreading his dad’s positivity via breakfast taco. Their gut-busting speciality “The Don Juan” - a heap of eggs, tortillas, potatoes, bacon, and cheese - is the most economical food coma you’ll have in your life.
Interior Mexican cuisine served in a stunning space. In particular, anything doused in their mole sauce (a Mexican delicacy consisting of savory unsweetened chocolate and spices) is exceptional. If you’re going on a weekend, make sure to get a reservation, as this is an old Austin favorite for date night and special occasions.