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 in Austin: 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 both old and new spots. Check out our favorites in this guide, and whatever you do, don’t tell anyone about Austin’s secret beach.
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. And there’s a reason - the food is consistently great. Order the tacos, migas plate, and huevos rancheros.
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.
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.
Battling WuChow for status as the best new Chinese restaurant in town, 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 funky 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.
Hillside Farmacy has a historic building, 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. And if you’re in the mood for a sweeter breakfast, go with the blueberry pancakes and brown butter.
This place is one of Austin’s few Argentine restaurants, and it’s 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 speakeasy 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.
La Barbecue was originally a food truck, but has moved to an indoor space at the convenience store/restaurant Quickie Pickie. It now has 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’s still 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.
Bufalina, on the corner of a tiny building on Cesar Chavez, is easy to miss. But come here once and you’ll be talking about their Neapolitan-style pizza to anyone who will listen. It’s the best in the city, but it’s also very hard to get a table and eat it, so we’d recommend only coming here with one or two friends. Arrive early, or plan on drinking a glass or three of wine while you wait. When you’re lucky enough to get seats, order the Calabrese pizza with salami and serrano or the Fresca pizza with prosciutto and arugula. The location is prime for bar-hopping with your friends afterward, too.
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, why not 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.
More bar than restaurant, this charming house serves some of the best cocktails in Austin, and is perfect for a girls’ night or other group outing. You can hang out in the bar area inside, or head outside to the expansive backyard with twinkling lights. You may not recognize half the ingredients in your drink, but what matters more is that you can count on drinking something you’ll enjoy. The snacks aren’t mindblowing, but they’ll work to sustain you as you sample all the cocktails. Try the fingerling potatoes, the crab cakes, or the braised pork that comes with a fried avocado. And if you want to step it up, mix some of their homemade Fireball into your evening.
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 many 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’d lean more toward the ramen, smoked fish options, and chicken yakitori, though. This place is definitely a scene at night.
Many of the first food trailer parks on the East Side have now been converted into space for hotels or apartment complexes. Cue the sad trombone. But this Thai food truck is holding strong in a small park on Cesar Chavez. There’s plenty of seating available for both lunch and dinner, and it’s dog and kid-friendly. The menu is limited, but so many items are hits - like the Pad Kapow, with slightly spicy ground pork on a bed of rice, basil, and a fried egg. The pork skewers on special are another highlight, and the mango salads and tofu options are good to mix into your order. It’s BYOB, so plan accordingly.
Another great Thai food truck on the East Side, but this one is from Paul Qui. It’s located at Whisler’s bar, an all-purpose type of spot with a secret mezcal-only bar upstairs. You can’t go wrong with the Thai-Kun fried chicken or the black noodles with greens, and if you want something heavier, try the beef panang curry.
Counter Café serves classic diner food, and breakfast here is highly dependable. There’s an open kitchen, so you can watch (and hear) all the eggs get cooked over-medium and the hash browns get crispy. Weekend lines tend to be long, so opt for a weekday breakfast or lunch here if you can.
Meats on meats on meats on meats. Salt & Time is a butcher shop with a few tables, where they also happen 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.
It’s mostly about the local craft beers here. 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. The food options are limited to chips and guacamole, tacos, and a few sandwiches, and we’d focus on the tacos, which are good and pretty cheap.
This looks like a log cabin you’d see in Architectural Digest, and it’s great for either a romantic date night or a group brunch when you want to feel fancier than the stained T-shirt you woke up in. The brunch menu is more limited than we’d like, but the egg dishes and bagels are really all you’ll need. And you might never expect ordering a single rib for dinner to be satisfying - but the beef rib here certainly is. Take the bone home as your trophy.
The drive out here takes you past stretches of warehouses and undeveloped land, and Justine’s 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’ conversation anyway. The French food, like the steak frites, escargot, and the Roquefort salad, is pretty solid, but it’s more about the nighttime atmosphere here. And the kitchen stays open late.
This breakfast food truck 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. It’s not usually too busy, although seating is limited. Try the egg and sausage on brioche or the sweet toast with whipped ricotta.
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.