ATXGuide

Where To Eat When You’re Visiting Austin

A crash course to eating and drinking in Austin.
A spread of dishes from Micklethwait on a round picnic table.

photo credit: Richard Casteel

ATX. Bat City. The Live Music Capital of the World. You’ve heard the nicknames and the hype around Austin, and now you’re here to see what it’s all about. Maybe you’re in town for a bachelor/bachelorette party, or maybe you just want to conduct your own barbecue crawl across the city. Either way, you’re visiting Austin and you’re here to eat. 

A couple things to note: Austin is a city that’s at its best outdoors—nearly every spot on this list has a great patio that’s probably worth checking out. Also, this isn’t necessarily a list of the best restaurants (see our guide to Austin’s top 25 restaurants for that), but these are the spots we think you should check out to get familiar with the city. 

BREAKFAST

photo credit: Richard Casteel

Mexican

East Austin

$$$$Perfect For:BreakfastBrunchLunch
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Joe’s Bakery has been open for 60 years, and there’s still a wait almost every weekend morning. Everyone’s here for the same thing—carne guisada, huevos rancheros, barbacoa, and the world’s crispiest bacon (call our bluff, we dare you) served on the fluffiest flour tortillas in town. This is an old-school joint with a lively, bare-bones dining room set to a soundtrack of Tejano jukebox jams. It’s a perfect cross-section of Austin throughout the years. Show up during the week and you can probably walk right in. 

photo credit: Richard Casteel

New York has pizza and California can have burritos—Austin has breakfast tacos. And there’s no better place to get them than at Veracruz. This mini-empire has trailers and restaurants all across town, but we love the all-day location in Mueller, where in addition to breakfast tacos, you can order off a large menu of dishes inspired by the Mexican state it’s named after. Grab a couple of migas originales to start, paired with a Veracruz-style cafe lechero. Show up on a Sunday morning and you’ll be in the perfect position to head to the Mueller farmers market after. 

photo credit: Holly Dirks

$$$$Perfect For:BrunchBreakfastLunch
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This trailer-turned-restaurant is where you go to enjoy a great BEC on a rooftop patio overlooking East 12th Street. Expect to find lots of breakfast and brunch classics on the menu, including lox plates, cinnamon toast, and migas. It gets especially busy during the weekend from 11am-2pm when people like to pair food with mimosas. The solution is simple—show up early when you can enjoy the same menu (and drinks) and be out the door before the sun finishes pre-heating.

Some places make great breakfast tacos. Others, late-night tacos. It’s rare that a place does both so well, which is why we keep finding ourselves back at Vaquero Taquero. Kick off your morning tour of Downtown with a bacon, egg, and griddled cheese taco, then come back later and end your day right where you started, this time with some al pastor off the trompo. There’s also a second location near UT Austin where you can get the same great tacos in a slightly more chill environment away from Downtown traffic. 


LUNCH

A meal at Bird Bird Biscuit technically falls somewhere between the realms of brunch, lunch, and 3pm snack. But whenever you decide to show up, order the Queen Beak—a biscuit sandwich with spicy breaded chicken breast, cayenne black pepper honey, and bacon-infused chipotle mayo. They operate out of a takeout window attached to a patio that will inevitably have nearly 100 people on it every weekend around lunch. Come here early, or just order online before you head over. 

Walking into Texas Chili Parlor feels like stepping through a portal into Old Austin—there are usually a handful of people sitting at the bar that look like they haven’t moved since the restaurant first opened in the ’70s. If you’re planning on touring The Capitol across the street, this is the perfect place to fuel up beforehand. And while chili might be in the name (and on the menu), Tex-Mex is what you’re here for. Order the Freidas Enchiladas—a giant platter of cheese enchiladas topped with a scoop of Texas-style chili (no beans)—snack on some free chips and salsa, and maybe consider ordering a Mad Dog margarita if you don’t have anywhere to be later in the day. 

Cuantos Tacos makes some of the best tacos in the whole city, and if you don’t believe us then ask the dozens of people who will inevitably be in line for an order of Mexico City-style tacos. Ask five of those same people what their favorite is and you’ll end up with five different answers, but we like the suadero and cachete, along with the weekly lengua special. They’re also pretty tiny, so you can just order one of each and treat yourself to a taco flight. Grab some beers from the corner store on your way in—pretty much all the food trailer parks in Austin are BYOB, and this one is no exception. 

Habanero is home to some of the best fajitas in town, and that alone makes it worth a visit at any time of the day. Get them ranchera style and they’ll arrive extra spicy and tossed in with some charred jalapeños, onions, and tomatoes. It’s been around since the ’90s, in that time amassing a following of old-school Austinites, new transplants to the area, and soon, probably you. Show up during prime breakfast or lunch hours on the weekends, and you’ll inevitably find a wait. It’s worth it.


BBQ

You’ve heard about Franklin Barbecue. Your neighbor has heard about Franklin Barbecue. Your aunt’s cousin’s best friend who lives in Wisconsin has heard about Franklin Barbecue. This East Austin spot is making the best brisket in Texas (and possibly the world), which in turn has created something called “the Franklin Barbecue experience”—a term that refers to tailgating the four-hour (or longer) line with beers, breakfast tacos, and camp chairs. Is it worth the wait? That depends on your tolerance for lines and how many beers you end up drinking. You can get brisket that’s almost as good at a few other places in town—but nobody talks about their almost best friend or the almost best burger they ever ate.

When we’re playing tour guide, we bring our guests to Micklethwait, which strikes the perfect balance of excellent quality and reasonable wait times. The meats and seasonings generally lean classic, but the sides are where things really get fun. Coleslaw gets an upgrade in the form of lemon poppy slaw, and the citrus beet salad tastes like something you’d get at a restaurant with real chairs and tablecloths. Grab a couple pounds of brisket, a few slices of turkey, and some Tex-Czech sausages, then load up on sides and enjoy your meal before your friends in the Franklin line down the street have even made it to the front door. 

While most of the pitmasters in Texas argue over who makes the jiggliest brisket, LeRoy And Lewis is looking at the rest of the cow. This is where you go when you want to experience the same techniques that made Central Texas-style barbecue famous, but in the form of rich and tender beef cheeks, shredded barbacoa served in an avocado, and a smoked cheeseburger that’s one of the best in the whole city. It’s located at Cosmic Coffee in South Austin, so you can grab a coffee to keep you awake through the inevitable line that will form on the weekends. Come during the week or be ready to show up early. Afterwards, head a few blocks up the street to check out the shops on South Congress Avenue

In a city full of so much barbecue variety, KG BBQ brings something new to the brisket-filled table. This is Central Texas-style barbecue with an Egyptian twist, whether that’s in the form of more subtle influences like za’taar-dusted pork ribs, or the signature bowl that combines turmeric rice with smoked brisket, tahini, candied nuts, and pomegranate seeds. The classic meats are good here, but if you stick to them, you kind of missed the whole point. Order some lamb bacon ribs and sumac-rubbed lamb shoulder, grab a bit of smoked kofta, and finish off the meal with some cardamom and pistachio rice pudding. 


DINNER

If there are two things every Austinite can get behind, it’s tacos and natural wine. And Nixta is one of our favorite spots for both. This is an entirely patio situation—it’s covered and protected from the elements—with a small menu of tacos and tostadas that you’ll want to work your way through over a few visits. Get the beet “tartare” tostada and a duck carnitas taco if it’s your first time, or just pre-book the “taco omakase” experience for a five(ish)-course ride through the menu. 

This is the full monty of classic Tex-Mex experiences, set in an enormous restaurant with multiple dining rooms, a sprawling patio with a fountain, and seating for 500 people. And even then, there’s almost always a wait for a table. It’s a little bit kitschy, but in an endearing way that you’ll probably still be telling your friends about for a few weeks after your first visit. Head to Matt’s after an afternoon at Zilker Park up the road. Order a margarita and the Bob Armstrong dip—it’s a classic mix of queso, beef taco meat, and guacamole—then close your eyes and point anywhere on the menu and rest assured that you’ll end up with some glorious mess of tortillas, meat, and melted cheese. 

Odd Duck invented the phrase “farm to table.” We don’t know if that’s true, but they’re definitely one of the early pioneers of the trend here in Austin, and while a lot of spots came and went, Odd Duck never left. The menu changes regularly—based on seasonality, the chef’s whims, or how the wind’s blowing, probably—which just means you have plenty of reasons to keep coming back. Expect to find lots of riffs on classic Texas/Southern dishes like pecan mole pork shoulder, blackened redfish with sourdough sauce, and stuffed quail with dirty rice. If you’re looking for one really nice dinner while you’re in Austin, you should probably make a reservation at Odd Duck—it’s the highest rated restaurant on our site, after all. 

Standing somewhere at the crossroads of Japanese izakayas and Central Texas smokehouses, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya is a place where you can get chili cheese takoyaki, smoked eel bento boxes, and yakitori skewers under one roof. And it all happens in an eclectic dining room that feels like a Texas hunting lodge that picked up its decor from a vintage store in Tokyo (there are also lots of robots). It’s a fun and lively experience, with Japanese-inspired tiki drinks to keep the energy going when you start to slow down after a second serving of taiyaki cornbread with sesame butter. 

No place is more dedicated to the concept of “local” than Dai Due in East Austin. This place does things the hard, Oregon Trail way. That means pork chops and dry-aged ribeyes cooked over a wood-fired grill, wild Hill Country game, and a menu made from locally sourced everything, from fruit to wine to flour to Gulf Coast seafood. Take your out-of-town friends here for a true “taste of Texas.” And don’t worry—there’s no concern about dying of dysentery. 


DRINKS

Nickel City wants to believe it’s a dive bar, and at one point it almost was. But the servers at this East Side spot are too friendly, the cocktails are too fancy, and the whiskey selection is too extensive. It’s one of our favorite bars in Austin, toeing the line between just about every category a bar can fall into, which also makes it pretty easy to find an occasion to visit. Get fancy with a cocktail if you want, or order their excellent frozen Irish coffee if you need a little boost to get you through the rest of the evening of drinking on the East Side

The Driskill is a historic hotel at 6th and Congress that some people think is haunted (we think it’s the 6th Street shots talking). It’s also home to a pretty iconic bar that feels like it’s where old-school Texans went for a formal night out—kind of like a fancy saloon. The cocktails aren’t anything special, but you’re here for a chance to step back in time while sipping on a martini in one of the most historic bars in the state. Let us know if you see any ghosts. 

When people think about Texas, their minds go to honky tonks, cowboy hats, and shots of whiskey. And while that’s not the reality for most of Austin, you can keep that illusion alive for a little longer at The White Horse. This East Side bar has only been around since 2011, but you wouldn’t be able to guess it from the weathered-down look of the walls and the floor that’s clearly been danced on by a few thousand cowboy boots. The crowd leans a little younger than classic honky tonks in town, but when you want a bar that feels quintessentially Texan close to Downtown, this is where to head. 

Tiki Tatsu-Ya is the bar equivalent of a tropical resort—with a beach house upstairs, and a mysterious cave downstairs, both equipped with full bars shaking up drinks that arrive in clouds of smoke or in decorative mugs. You’ll want to make a reservation well in advance, ideally around dinnertime when you can pair those drinks with house-made spam musubi, tempura papaya, or smoked Kalua pork shoulder. They’ll also help balance out the effects of a few deceptively strong drinks. 

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