The Most Exciting Dinner Spots In Austin Right Now guide image


The Most Exciting Dinner Spots In Austin Right Now

A night out at one of these places‚ whether it’s for a catch-up with a friend or an impressive date night—feels overwhelmingly of the moment.

For anyone wondering which sit-down restaurants are currently hot in Austin right this second, you have arrived at the right figurative Internet place. What does “hot” mean, you ask? Well, it’s safe to say that we put on relatively cute outfits to dine at each restaurant below (possibly even eye makeup and our “good deodorant”). A night out at one of these places—whether it’s for a casual catch-up with a friend or an impressive date night—feels overwhelmingly of the current moment. A few of them are brand spanking new, but there are also old favorites who’ve been exciting from day one.

And, as always, we wouldn’t be recommending any of these restaurants simply for having a memorable scene. We’ve been to each and every spot and loved the food they serve—so you can plan your dinner confidently.


photo credit: Jane Yun

Ember Kitchen imageoverride image

Ember Kitchen


800 W Cesar Chavez St, Austin
View WebsiteEarn 3X Points

When we hear the words “live fire kitchen” our eyes immediately light up. That’s because we, too, have watched the Francis Malmann episode of Chef’s Table and know just how much the added elements of fire, smoke, and char can contribute to a dish. Throw in a beautiful multi-story dining room and bold Latin flavors, and you get Ember Kitchen in the Seaholm District downtown. Almost all of the menu touches fire at some point, from crudos with charcoal oil to a “seafood tower” that is not, in fact, a tower, but rather a giant paella pan the size of a small table and filled with an unreasonable amount of seafood and Veracruz sauce. Start the night with an excellent cocktail at Subterra—an underground agave bar from the same team—then see if you can get a table on the second story loft where you can look out over the buzzy dining room in a slightly more intimate space. 

Bufalina, Austin's cool kid pizza-and-natural-wine spot in East Austin, is back and better than ever. Back in 2021 it closed to make way for a condo development, but now Bufalina has reopened not far from the original on Cesar Chavez with the same homey lo-fi bootstrapped vibes. The pizzas are classically Neapolitan (with the slightly yeasty dough), the wine list is as phenomenal as always, and there’s an expanded pasta menu (from the chef behind the recently closed Italian pop-up Le Cowboy). The biggest challenge is figuring out how many different kinds of pasta and pizza you’re going to order, and how many leftovers you’re going to take home.

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Rosie’s Wine Bar in Clarksville is the latest project from the restaurant group behind spots like Clark’s, Pecan Square Cafe, Swedish Hill, Sammie’s, and Perla’s. Intimate, with only a dozen seats indoors and a handful of tables outside, there really aren’t that many spaces like this in Austin. Which makes it perfect for a date night or a random Thursday hang. There’s a fun wine list that leans natural with a big skin contact section, and the menu veers Portuguese and Spanish, with snackable and simple small plates like saffron rice croquetas, stuffed piquillo peppers, and an ode to Zuni Cafe’s classic anchovy dish with black olives, ricotta salata, and celery.

The Mexican coastal-inspired seafood restaurant Este is from the team behind Suerte, one of our favorite spots on the East Side. Much like its sister restaurant, Este is a well-oiled machine, balancing friendly service and a lively atmosphere with one of the prettiest spaces on Manor Road. Este is especially great when fish meets the charcoal-fired grill, including the smoky and spicy large format pescado zarandeado, marinated in annatto red chile. And make sure to get an order of clam preparados topped with a fiery habanero pico and the bright snapper ceviche. There’s also a pretty extensive mezcal selection and some fantastic (and sometimes spicy) cocktails. If you thought reservations at Suerte were difficult to get, wait until you check out Este’s availability. Unless you want to dine at 9:30pm (which is probably still worth it), you’ll want to set a reminder for 20 days out when reservations open. Then your date can thank you three weeks from now.

The large back patio at Bulevar has a pretty epic view, overlooking the hills of northwest Austin. You want to be here for the sunset, with a frozen hielo mezcal margarita in hand. Bulevar is from the folks responsible for the always busy downtown spots ATX Cocina and Red Ash, and it’s a blend of both concepts, combining bold Mexican flavors with wood-fired steaks. There’s a ton of smoke and fire and spice on the menu—from trompo-cooked pork belly sopes, to coal-blistered shishitos with a tangy charred serrano aioli. Dry-aged steaks get priced by the ounce—if, like us, you’re not a cattle mathematician, just tell the staff what you like and how much of it you want. It won’t be long before you’re staring at a perfectly cooked, two-pound bone-in filet that you’ll want to polish clean at the end.

Toshokan is a small, eight-seat omakase spot behind a bookshelf in the back of a hostel in East Austin. First, take a second to unpack that sentence. Second, set your timer for the first of the month, because that’s when tickets to these dinners go live, and to say they go fast is an understatement. Dinner is about 14 courses, varying from nigiri topped with bruleed brown sugar tangerine, to a toasted marshmallow ice cream served with chocolate melted tableside—a s’mores version of raclette that instantly locks the eyes of all eight guests in the room. It’s an intimate atmosphere that feels a bit like you’re eating in Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs, if it had been decorated with a live edge sushi bar and cute Japanese toys on the wall, and set to a soundtrack of old school hip hop.

photo credit: Jane Yun

Dean's Italian Steakhouse review image

Dean’s Italian Steakhouse

Earn 3X Points


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In the movies, downtown steakhouses are a classy affair, with white tablecloths, flickering candles, shrimp cocktails, and thin-stemmed wine glasses. Where the sound of clinking martini glasses and plates hitting the table lay the soundtrack for an evening of good conversation and bad jokes (maybe that’s just us). In some ways, Dean’s is formulaic, because it’s all of those things. But most importantly, it’s a place with very good food—where you can escape the downtown heat for a few hours, thumb through a massive textbook of wines, and order as much Japanese A5 wagyu steak as your wallet will allow. Then, finish the night off with a round of espresso martinis made with house-made Kahlua and salted caramel. It’s a decadent experience, from start to finish, but it’s one you won’t stop talking about anytime soon. 

Just down the road from Nixta Taqueria, Birdie’s is a newish natural wine bar and restaurant on East 12th Street. There are a few tables inside the bright and colorful space, or you can sit at the bar overlooking the bustling kitchen, but where the restaurant truly shines is their backyard. Birdie’s is 90% patio, and most of it is covered, and lit by string lights. The menu is simple and perfectly executed, especially the excellent housemade pastas. They don’t take reservations. which means there are sometimes long lines, but they’ll bring you out a glass of wine (or two) to keep you company while you wait. But every once in a while, the stars align, there’s no line, and you can stroll right in.

Pecan Square Cafe feels like a dreamy wood-clad California lake house that we could probably never afford. Attention to detail and design is high, which is to be expected of the  latest spot from the restaurant group behind spots like Sammie’s, Perla’s, Lamberts, Pool Burger, and Clark’s Oyster Bar (it’s actually right behind Clark’s in Clarksville, up the hill). Try to get a reservation right before the sun sets, so you’ll experience the airy and light-filled dining room transform into a warm and glowing space at night. The food is all very California-inspired—it’s simple and casual and seasonally driven—but what keeps us coming back are the terrific handmade pastas and the rustic, charred wood-fired pizzas.

A dinner at Midnight In The Garden is one of the closest things Austin has to a true speakeasy dinner. There’s no set menu—it’s more like a pop-up—chefs are brought in from all around Austin (and occasionally, out of state) to cook a special multi-course dinner for a few select seatings on the weekends. The location is kept secret until you’ve secured your seats, but what we can tell you is that the setting feels more like a dream than some of our actual dreams. Expect lots of twinkling lights, plants, art displays, and vintage tableware as backdrops to an exciting meal—all of it thoughtfully paired with a series of cocktails and natural wines. Bookings, upcoming dinners, and details all take place through their Instagram.

Taking inspiration from old-school red sauce Italian-American restaurants like Dan Tana’s in Los Angeles, Sammie’s Italian is a deluxe and totally immersive experience—the dimly-lit space is a nostalgic fever dream with waiters wearing red suits and ties—and it almost feels like you’re in the movies. The execution here is nearly flawless: the cocktail menu has an entire section dedicated to martinis, the chicken parmigiana is bigger than your head (and comes with spaghetti), and the lasagna is possibly the best rendition you’ll ever have. Getting a reservation can be a challenge, but you can always try walking in and getting a seat at the very classy bar where they serve the full menu.

Tiki Tatsu-Ya is Disney World for adults (and speaking as adults, we really like Disney World). Basically a tropical resort—with a beach house upstairs, and a mysterious cave downstairs—waterfalls, totems, and giant pu pu platters will make you forget you’re at a tiki bar next to a gas station on South Lamar. When you order a large format drink, lights will flicker and thunder will rumble as your server brings your beverage, a cloud of smoke trailing behind them. And if the name wasn’t an indicator, this is from the folks that brought you Ramen Tatsu-Ya, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya, and DipDipDip Tatsu-Ya, so you know there’s going to be strong attention to the food that combines Japanese, Hawaiian, and Polynesian influences.

Maie Day is a nostalgic and unstuffy take on a steakhouse from the people behind Olamaie and Little Ola’s Biscuits. On the ground floor at the South Congress Hotel, it’s a boisterous space, anchored by enormous colorful murals. The curved marble bar by the two story tall windows, with Louis Poulsen flowerpot pendants overhead, is just an excellent place for cocktails or even dinner. The big menu’s got classic steakhouse dishes like a shrimp cocktail, grilled thick cut bacon, and a variety of very good wood-grilled steaks. But where the restaurant really shines is in the reinvented and reimagined retro dishes like the bloomin onion, chopped salad, and the absurdly delicious funeral potatoes.

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Suggested Reading

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The Most Romantic Restaurants In Austin

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The new spots we checked out—and loved.

The Best Patios & Backyards In Austin guide image

Where to eat and drink outside.

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