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Where To Eat When You’re Sick Of Being Told To Order 2-3 Small Plates Each

The Austin restaurants where you can get your own damn plate of food.
Where To Eat When You’re Sick Of Being Told To Order 2-3 Small Plates Each image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

If you’ve eaten out at any point in the past decade, you’ve probably walked into a restaurant, only to be greeted by a server asking if you know “how the menu works.” It’s usually followed up by a short spiel about how dishes will come out whenever they feel like it, and that you should order at least one plate for every syllable in your name. 

Small plates have their perks. It can be fun to try a bunch of different things and pretend you’re a giant eating a bunch of tiny meals. But sometimes you just want to sit down, order a meal, and leave without needing to stop and get a burger on the way home. So the next time you want your own plate of food (or want to share some more substantial dishes), head to one of these spots.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Richard Casteel

Mexican

Allandale

$$$$Perfect For:Big GroupsClassic EstablishmentDate NightDinner with the ParentsPrivate DiningSpecial Occasions
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Stepping into Fonda San Miguel feels more like you’re walking into an epic scene from Pixar’s Coco than a Mexican restaurant just a stone’s throw away from a CVS in Allandale. It’s beautiful, and that alone makes it worth a visit. But it’s also one of the OGs of Mexican fine dining in Austin—back in a time when asking for small plates just meant you wanted some empty ones on the side to give your dining companion a few bites. Order Fonda’s signature Silver Coin margarita to discover the cooling powers of an ice-cold, watermelon-based cocktail, then grab giant plates of ancho chile relleno San Miguel, carne asada, and cochinita pibil. You won’t need to order more than one plate to get full, but don’t let that stop you from ordering a few different ones and sharing, just to sample more of the menu. 


Set in a picturesque, renovated bungalow from the 1930s that looks like it was plucked off the cover of Southern Living magazine, Olamaie is an upscale Southern restaurant with dishes that seamlessly toe the lines of comfort food and fine dining. Hush puppies are served with trout roe, Jefferson red rice is topped with some of the biggest Gulf shrimp you’ll ever see, and the not-to-be-missed biscuits are worth their weight in butter. But despite the fine dining approach to Southern staples, Olamaie never really breaks into tiny plate territory, sticking firmly in the large entree territory. Share if you want to, but we wouldn’t hold it against you if you wanted to finish your peach tea-glazed pork chop all by yourself. 


Ask anyone where they take visiting parents, or anyone who wants to enjoy local, seasonal dishes at prices that feel like they haven’t been raised since the local mini-chain’s inception almost 15 years ago, and Jack Allen’s Kitchen is usually one of the first answers. This is Texas-inspired food served at portion sizes that follow a few key tenets of Southern hospitality—especially generosity. Much like at the State Fair Of Texas, if you can think of it, you can probably get it fried here. That means chicken-fried strip steaks, pork chops, chicken breasts, and even beef ribs on occasion. And if you’d rather not take a few years off your lifespan, there’s a pretty big menu of non-fried foods, including healthy-ish salads and one of our favorite burgers in Austin. 


photo credit: Richard Casteel

$$$$Perfect For:Big Groups
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OK, you’ll probably end up sharing some plates at Gangnam Korean BBQ, but only because this AYCE Korean BBQ joint in South Austin brings out every order of raw meat on big plates for you to grill yourself. There’s only one price, so load up on premium meats—like marinated short rib, pork belly, and ribeyes—then get to grilling and enjoy the fact that you won’t need to do much math to split the bill at the end of the meal. There’s also a pretty big menu of banchan and apps that you can refill as often as you’d like. 


Somewhere along the intersection of old-school-cool and almost-fine dining, Bartlett’s on West Anderson Lane is a great spot for a classic steakhouse experience without an astronomical price tag (or the hassle of finding parking Downtown). Order a ribeye marinated in pineapple, sesame, and ginger for 100 hours, and relive whatever you were doing four days ago. Or get applewood-smoked pork chops, grilled salmon, or tempura-battered chicken tenders, and you’re practically guaranteed to take home leftovers. Almost everything here is made in-house, and we promise you will never see the word “microgreens” on the menu. 


When we’re entertaining guests from out of town, we take them to Matt’s El Rancho on South Lamar. This is Tex-Mex in its purest form, in a massive space that runs like a well-oiled machine. Expect a wait on most nights, but you can just grab a margarita at the bar to make the wait feel shorter. Like most Tex-Mex spots in town, the entrees are large and feature a lot of overlapping ingredients, which means nobody should get too jealous of anyone else’s plate, or feel the need to order a bunch of tiny ones to share. Get some Bob Armstrong queso for the table, then order enough enchiladas, chile rellenos, and fajitas to cover any remaining space.  


A South Congress landmark for over 25 years, Vespaio has developed a reputation as one of the best spots in the area for both a romantic dinner and a classic Italian meal. The dining room is romantic and dimly lit, but there’s also a cozy bar that we sometimes like to post up at for a glass or two of wine and some pasta. The portions here are pretty big, but if you decide you do want to share a few smaller plates—despite coming to this very specific guide—all the housemade pastas are available in half-sized portions. But at least you can order knowing that it was your decision to make. 


The menu at Colleen’s leans toward classic Southern comfort foods, which pretty much goes against everything the tiny-plates movement stands for. That means massive plates of buttermilk fried chicken, bone-in, sweet tea-brined pork chops, chicken pot pies, shrimp & grits, and more. It’s located on a very lively corner of Mueller—so after your meal, go for a walk, check out the lake, and maybe grab some ice cream (if you didn’t already fill up on brûléed banana pudding and piña colada pie).


If you’re familiar with Ethiopian food, you’ll probably already know that instead of a bunch of tiny plates, you’ll usually be receiving one giant plate, usually covered in spongy injera and a few scoops of stewed meats and veggies. And that’s exactly what you’ll be getting at Aster’s, a longstanding Ethiopian restaurant near the UT Campus. Food here is served family style but unlike all those new-age restaurants where “family-style” means you all get a quarter-sized bite from each plate, here it feels like a value. Or you can just show up for lunch, with the full menu plus a buffet, where you can load up your own plate over and over. 


Coming in at the opposite end of the plate size spectrum, Bamboo House in Crestview is a spot where most of the entrees are too big for a single meal, meaning you’ll typically order less than one entree per person. That includes Bamboo House’s signature peking duck that comes with limits on how many you’re allowed to order based on the size of your party. Grab a half or full order—depending on your party size—then fill up any remaining table space with fried lobster, mapo tofu, mala chicken, and other Sichuan classics. 

It might feel more like you’re dining on a movie set about an Italian-American family than in the dining room of one of Austin’s many Mandola locations, but that doesn’t stop the food here from being consistent and affordable. This is the type of place that feels like a “no-frills” Italian restaurant you’d find in the suburbs—complete with daily specials, pizzas, paninis, and large portions of pasta. Count on leftovers. It’s also a bit of a one-stop-shop for all things Italian, complete with a bar selling wines by the glass or bottle, a gelateria, a bakery, and a small marketplace in another corner where you can pick up some olive oil and dried pasta.

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