Try explaining Rainey Street to someone who’s never been and they might have a hard time believing it’s real. An adorable, neighborhood-y street, with craftsman houses that are actually bars, string-light covered patios, food trucks, craft cocktails, and a constant stream of people looking to party - that can’t all be true, right? That’s like Disneyland for adults. Or a grown-up frat row, minus the a**holes.
It’s not a fairy tale. And while it’s true that Rainey has become a pretty big tourist destination, we’re here to remind you it’s still awesome for locals, too. Wherever you’re coming from, this is your guide to the best restaurants and bars around.
Editor’s note 5/21/20: We have a constantly-updated list of bars that have reopened.
Alibi is in the old Bar 96 space and it’s the first bar you see when you get to Rainey Street. This means there’s usually a good crowd of people who just happened upon it and are wondering whether to scope out the rest of the street first or just stay there for the next three hours. The backyard is great for playing giant Jenga or watching sports, and after a drink or two when your short attention span gets the best of you, keep bar-hopping down the street and remember you can always go back to Alibi.
Little Brother is an all-day cafe/bar from the same team as Better Half on West Fifth and serves coffee, sandwiches, and alcohol depending on what time you head over. It’s located at the bottom of the Millennium Apartment building and is somewhere you might miss if you weren’t actively looking for it. There are just four bar stools and standing room for a few others, which means you should either take your caffeine to go or get there early in the night to claim a seat at the bar.
Container Bar is exactly what you expect it to be - shipping containers stacked to create the best courtyard on Rainey. Day or night, this place is usually packed and while the drinks aren’t anything you won’t see at most other bars on the street, it’s one of the best spots to come with a bunch of people who are really into cargo scenery and drinking outside.
Serving craft beer isn’t a novelty anymore, but a bar that features the best of the best craft beers in Texas is worth the trek to the very end of Rainey. Craft Pride has options from some of our favorite breweries like Austin Beerworks and Real Ale, plus sour beers, or ciders if you’re looking for something different. Come here with a group of your friends for Happy Hour, or to day drink on a sunny day. Ask the bartender to pick you out something awesome.
Tiny bar, giant patio. Either use this place for a date or a small group hang inside, or checkout the outdoor bar and grab a picnic table instead. Unlike a lot of places on Rainey doing “specialty cocktails” that are actually just lots of sweet syrups and crushed fruits plus vodka (no judgment, we like those too), this place is really making some high-quality stuff. If you’re lucky, you’ll find your way to Half Step when they have live music inside that you can still hear from the front porch.
When you want a fancier place to start your night - or a quieter place to end it - head over to the Hotel Van Zandt and get a cocktail at their outdoor bar by the pool. You’ll get beautiful city views, drinks made from fresh juices and infused liquors, and a chance to actually sit down. If the crowd is too tame and you’re in the mood for more, just head back down to Rainey Street. Or cannonball into the pool.
Javelina is one of the rare full packages on Rainey where you can drink beer, wine, and liquor - and get a solid meal until 1:30am (later than any other spot on the street). The layout of the space is a bit broken up - there’s an indoor bar, then seating both inside and out - but you shouldn’t have trouble finding a table to hang at. Their miga burger with a fried egg on top and blackened fish tacos make for a perfect dinner before your night takes off, and their fried chicken tacos and pork chile cheese fries are a great late-night option if you’re still hungry. The last kitchen to close on Rainey Street holds a special place in our heart.
From the hot pink living room, to the black and white tile bar, to the giant sign out on the patio screaming DRINK UP at you, this bar appears to have been designed not only for drinking, but also for having its photo taken. It’s the kind of place where big groups like to come at the peak of their night - and the side deck is where you want to be.
Clive is where you go here to drink mezcal, in particular, at the semi-secret bar in a small shack out back. If you do want to be outside, the back patio is nice and spacious, too. Think of it as the cooler older brother of Rainey.
Lots of bars on Rainey are good for dates, but if you’re trying to seal the deal, we’d suggest you start with Lucille. The wood-framed house is a beautiful spot, complete with candlelight, fancy drinks (get the El Jefe), hammocks, tons of outdoor seating, and cozy indoor booths. And there are two bar options, which makes the push-and-shove-for-a-drink game much less intense.
The original Rainey Street Lustre Pearl may be gone, but its newer location is also great - it’s the kind of place where you could easily hang out for hours without noticing the time pass. You’ll find games, frozen drinks, and an upstairs deck ideal for checking out part of the skyline. Day or night, whenever you start drinking here, you probably won’t want to leave.
Icenhauer’s makes great cocktails, including their highly popular (and very sweet) sangria in a jar, and it’s the kind of bar where you can stay a while with just a few friends or gather a big crew. Bring your dog and stay a while - this is as close as you’ll get to a backyard BBQ feel, minus the meat sweats. Make it to one of their “Super Soul Sunday” dance parties with live music if you can.
Bungalow is probably best known for the “I hate you so much” wall it has conveniently placed between the bathroom, but that gimmick actually doesn’t do the rest of the place justice. Everyone loves this place. The drinks are great, there’s typically a DJ playing songs that make you want to dance, and the glass walls make people-watching easy. The inside bar gets pretty crowded, so if you’re in a rush to be not-sober, head out back to grab your first drink. There’s usually a taco truck in the back as well, so if you’re hungry, a stop there is ideal.
The very best food on Rainey Street. This smallish restaurant at the south end serves small plates made with local ingredients, which means the menu changes daily. Try some of the regularly appearing menu all-stars like the cacio e pepe or the short rib carnitas. And keep an eye out for the dim sum-style cart that rolls around with other dishes to try, like miso-roasted carrots or grilled avocado with radish and jalapeño. It’s a special occasion kind of place, not really an “I’ve been drinking all day on Rainey Street and now I’m hungry” spot, so plan accordingly.
L’estelle House manages to fit a cute cafe in the front and a small room in the back in a space about the size of three parking spots. But thankfully the outdoor area has plenty more tables, string lights, and greenery, making it feel like a bit of an escape from the craziness of the rest of the street. There’s a limited food menu, but our favorite time to come here is for brunch when you can get things like french toast, breakfast tacos, and brisket and eggs. It’s also a great option for a quiet date night since they usually have a live band playing outside.
Anthem’s Happy Hour (from 3-6:30pm Tuesday-Saturday) is one of our favorites on Rainey. The deals - like $5-7 cocktails, $4 glasses of wine, and discounted food - are good enough to get your friend who is “saving up for a boat in 2030” to join you, and there’s a big dog-friendly patio with casual seating and tables. Try the brisket rangoons, shishito queso, or miso mac and cheese balls, and if you need something more substantial to sustain you through the rest of your Happy Hour crawl, get the fish and fries from the regular menu.
Some people thought a hotel on Rainey Street meant that Rainey had officially sold out, but the team at Hotel Van Zandt did their best to honor the Rainey neighborhood. For example, they named their restaurant Geraldine’s, after the guineafowl who used to run around Rainey Street just a couple of years ago (RIP). The hotel fits right in on Rainey, with its not-cheesy music-themed decor and chill atmosphere. The food here is far fancier than what you’ll get at nearby food trucks, so come when you’re ready for a nice meal. The menu is Southern-ish, which means dishes like shrimp hushpuppies and barbecued short rib. There’s live music every night, too, so stick around a little later for what’s usually a pretty solid show.
If all of that craft beer is making you hungry, good news: you’ve got the best pizza in town right out back. The Via 313 food truck behind Craft Pride serves excellent Detroit-style pizza with a thick, crispy crust. We like getting a few pizzas to share among friends, although you might be able to finish one yourself if you put your mind to it. Try the Detroiter with a generous amount of pepperoni, or the Herbivore with onions, green peppers, mushrooms, and olives. Order before you’re actually hungry, because sometimes there’s a bit of wait.
G’raj Mahal is one of the Rainey Street originals. It started as a food truck, then grew into a bigger restaurant that still serves great, satisfying Indian food. There’s also a patio perfect for people - and dog - watching. Make sure to order extra naan.
Banger’s is never not busy. From the second it opens, it’s full of people who want beers and brunch, and at night it stays packed with even more people who want beers and not-brunch (but mostly beers). Grab a spot at one of the many communal picnic tables and pick from one of their 100+ beers on tap (no hard liquor here). The sausages, especially the bratwurst and spicy andouille, go great with the beers, and the vegetarian options are surprisingly tasty, too. If you’re the kind of person who brings your dog bar-hopping, you’ll also find a giant playpen here for Bentley.
Salvation Pizza is a safe bet: giant pizzas should please everyone in your crowd, and Salvation’s are pretty good. There are also plenty of TVs, so you can save your data and stop checking the score of the football game every four seconds. We like the white pies here best - go with the one that has clams and bacon, or the basil, garlic, and sliced tomato version. If you can’t bear life without marinara, just order a side of it for dipping.
The food trailer parks are constantly changing on Rainey Street, but we’re pretty excited about Happy Lobster holding down a spot there on the weekends. You can get a seriously great lobster roll with spicy mayo and giardiniera peppers, and while lobster rolls tend to be filling, you’ll also want to save room for the fried lobster mac and cheese bites that taste as good as they sound.