Great secrets are hard to keep, like your friend’s upcoming elopement, or your mom’s HBO Go password (mykidsarethegreatest100!). The same is true of neighborhoods like the East Side: they fly under the radar at first, but as soon as a few folks realize what a treasure they’ve “discovered,” everyone comes running.
At this point, the East Side secret is out. You can tell because there seems to be a huge construction project underway on every street corner. The neighborhood may be changing faster than we’d like, but that’s no reason not to enjoy all the excellent food from old and new spots. Check out our favorites in this guide, and whatever you do, don’t tell anyone about Austin’s secret beach.
The food at Suerte is definitely the best on the East Side and some of the best in Austin. Bring a friend for mezcal cocktails at the bar or come with someone you want to impress and share as much of the menu as you can. The suadero tacos and crab tostada are two of our favorites for dinner and if you come for brunch (weekends 10:30am-2pm), make sure you get the braised pork with a poached egg and some vanilla and blackberry donuts.
Mixing certain things can be a bad idea, like the time you decided to find out what every single fountain drink option tasted like together. Other times, it helps you find the perfect combination, like at Discada. This food truck mixes beef, pork, diced onion, and pineapple to form the ideal taco, so much so that it’s the only one they serve. The tacos are small, so get a few and a side of elotes if you’re hungry. There are also a few picnic tables nearby - be sure to snag a seat and then put the spicy salsa on top of everything.
Just down the street from Discada is Rosewood. This historic house-turned-restaurant is a quiet spot with limited seating that works great for impressing the person your overbearing friend set you up with who also has an overbearing friend. The menu is pretty short and full of things that are easily shared if the date is going well, and easy to hoard to yourself if not. Try the smoked mushrooms and grilled carrots, and if things work out, take your overbearing friend here next time as a thank you.
Happy Hour usually ends with coworkers discussing things they’ll regret the next day and a very empty stomach. We can’t help with the first part, but we can send you to Licha’s to fix the second. It’s within a short walk of most drinking spots on the East Side and offers plenty of seating on their front patio, inside, and in their backyard. The champiqueso is only made better with the addition of roasted mushrooms, and they have taco plates for everyone at the table - including a fish and shrimp option for the pescatarian, sweet potato and mushroom for the vegetarian, and al pastor for Jared who will eat anything with meat in it.
Cisco's Restaurant & Bakery
It’s not up for debate: Cisco’s is the original star of the East Side. Politicians, college students, and families of five have been coming here for big Tex-Mex breakfasts for more than 50 years for a reason - the food is consistently great. Order the tacos, migas plate, and huevos rancheros.
photo credit: Mackenzie Smith Kelley
Juniper, with its valet service and nicely-plated dishes, feels more grown up than a lot of other spots in the neighborhood - and the upscale Italian food is really good. Come for rich pastas, puffy potatoes, and vegetables grilled with just the slightest taste of char. And definitely keep this place in mind if you want a fancy-ish brunch spot where you probably won’t have to wait for a table.
photo credit: Raphael Brion
Veracruz All Natural
From the outside, Veracruz might look like just another East Side taco spot with picnic tables, tattooed patrons, and a mostly taco-based menu. But this place is special. The migas taco is a city-wide favorite, and the al pastor taco is full of flavor. These are the kind of Austin tacos tourists will spend their whole SXSW experience searching for, and hopefully never find because no one told them the East Side was a thing.
Old Thousand serves the spicy, kung pao-style classics, but also does modern takes like adding brisket to fried rice. We especially like the vegetable options here, like the kung pao cauliflower and dry fried green beans - but the noodle and rice dishes, like the OT Dan Dan (with a runny egg on top), are good too. The space is fun and lively, with hanging lanterns, gold sculptures, and loud music, and it’s pretty big, so it doesn’t feel overly crowded. It’s perfect for a group meal when you all want to share.
La Barbecue was originally a food truck, but moved around over the years before opening their own permanent structure. There’s indoor seating, air conditioning, and way more room, which are all incredible upgrades from the old days of waiting in a long, hot line for your chance at some of Austin’s best BBQ. The brisket and pork ribs here are particularly outstanding, and there will still be a line, but at least it’s more comfortable while you wait. And we saved the best for last: you can skip the line entirely if you pre-order.
Hillside Farmacy is in a historic building with vintage decor and menu options for just about everyone. It’s great for brunch, especially if you can score one of the outside tables. The fried egg sandwich has a nice trio of fried green tomato, avocado, and bacon, though, if you’re in the mood for something sweeter, go with the blueberry pancakes with brown butter.
This place is one of Austin’s few Argentine restaurants, and has held its own on the East Side for a while now. The empanadas are crusty (in the best way) - go for the chicken or vegetable options since you should get some red meat for your main course. And as if we needed another East Side secret to try to keep, there’s a bar underneath the restaurant called Milonga Room, with vintage ’20 decor and tango music. The restaurant and speakeasy are both great options for a casual date night.
Sometimes the main draw of a coffee shop isn’t actually the coffee itself, no matter how good that is. So much of what we love about Cenote - which happens to serve wonderful coffee - has to do with the homey environment and great food. There’s an outstanding breakfast burrito and a delicious Cubano for lunch (which you should eat outside). And while you’re there, stay later and drink some wine until you really need to leave and let your dog out. It’s a stay-all-day kind of place. Even your dog knows that.
Further on the outskirts of the East Side, in one of the more residential parts of town, Launderette is a great spot for a special occasion or a romantic date night. There are lots of strong, American-ish dishes to share, like the charred octopus, zucchini with carrot dressing, and brick chicken. And the birthday cake ice cream sandwich, with cake-like cookies, is not just pretty to look at - it really is great.
Kemuri Tatsu-ya brought with it a whole new food category: Japan-meets-Texas, involving things like “guaca-poke” and brisket ramen. The “BBQ Boat” allows you to test out a few different meats, including their brisket, which is pretty good considering you’re not at a pure BBQ spot. We usually tend more towards the ramen, smoked fish options, and chicken yakitori, though. Just know, this place is definitely a scene at night.
Counter Cafe serves classic diner food, and breakfast here is highly dependable. There’s an open kitchen, so you can watch (and hear) all the eggs getting cooked over-medium and the hash browns getting crispy. Weekend lines tend to be long, so opt for a weekday breakfast or lunch here if you can.
Salt & Time
Salt & Time is a butcher shop that also happens to serve great food. You’ll find steaks, sausages, and some pretty solid vegetables - the lunch grinder sandwich and brunch egg sandwich with fried bologna are two of our go-tos. Salt & Time is ideal for a casual dinner with friends or a better-than-average lunch during the workweek.
Come to Lazarus for a long lunch or afternoon hang on the patio with your dog, and don’t worry about showing up in your workout clothes - no one will judge. It’s mostly about the local craft beers here, though there is a limited menu of food that includes chips and guacamole and a few sandwiches, though we usually focus on the tacos, which are good and pretty cheap.
The drive out to Justine’s takes you past stretches of warehouses and undeveloped land, and this French spot is the oasis at the end of it all. Despite being so out of the way, it can get crowded, so try for a seat on the patio to avoid sitting inside where you won’t be able to hear your friends’ conversations. The food, like steak frites, escargot, and a Roquefort salad, is pretty solid, but it’s more about the nighttime atmosphere here, especially since the kitchen stays open late.
This breakfast spot is the place to go when you don’t want to make hard decisions - you just want to eat your eggs and get on with your busy day of avoiding everything you swore you’d get done. Try the egg and sausage on brioche or the sweet toast with whipped ricotta.
Jacoby's Restaurant & Mercantile
When Jacoby’s opened on the East Side, it was one of the first spots to serve an entree for more than $25. It felt different at the time, though it’s now slightly less impressive than some of its neighbors. What’s still worth coming back for is the backyard with a river view and lots of big tables for groups. It’s a rare, quiet spot in the area, and you can still get a pretty good steak.