FIRST PLATES 2013

South Lamar and
Barton Springs

As South Congress and South First have filled up with new, exciting restaurants, all eyes have turned to workaday South Lamar. Already the home of a few legendary stalwarts such as Matt's El Rancho and Maria's Taco Xpress, new ventures are opening continually on this major roadway. As of this writing, the revamping of South Lamar is in full swing. Generally speaking, the trend is north to south, beginning with close-in Uchi in the early Aughties, advancing up to Olivia and Barley Swine, with relative newcomers El Mesón and Henri's nudging the boundary ever farther south. With its ample parking and ripeness for redevelopment, South Lamar promises to be the next octopus arm of hip restaurant expansion.

The sleepy spur of Barton Springs Road that leads from South Lamar to Zilker Park has always been a restaurant row of sorts, dotted with eateries to tempt hungry swimmers. None have been as successful as Chuy's, however. As the real estate close to the Springs grows ever more valuable, condos are replacing the laid-back trailer parks of yesteryear, and several of the restaurant buildings have begun changing tenants regularly, trying to find that perfect concept to ensure the high traffic needed to pay steep rents. – Kate Thornberry

Barley Swine

Young chef Bryce Gilmore achieved national renown with his Odd Duck trailer, enabling him to open gastropub Barley Swine, where he showcases his flair for farm-fresh, local ingredients prepared with deft excellence. Small plates and a wide selection of microbrews, served in a convivial, communal atmosphere. – Kate Thornberry

6555 Burnet Rd. #400, 512/394-8150

Chuy's

For more than 30 years Chuy's has defined the term "Tex-Mex." Consistently good and slammingly popular, Chuy's serves big ol' plates of cheesy enchiladas, tacos, relleños, burritos, and house specialties. There's a full bar, three flavors of frozen margaritas, and a bright, party atmosphere. – Kate Thornberry

1728 Barton Springs Rd., 512/474-4452

El Mesón

With this second shop, nestled in good company on South Lamar, El Mesón takes it up a notch with a lavish tequila selection and extended hours to include dinner of authentic Mexican fare. We adore the amuse-bouches here, like the unexpected tiny bowls of fideo or a little street-style corn on the cob.– Gracie Salem

2038 S. Lamar, 512/442-4441

John Anderson

Henri's Cheese & Wine

Boy oh boy, did South Austin need a shop like Henri's. To-die-for sandwiches, package wine sales, charcuterie, and an inviting, inspiring cheese case for generous tasting and purchase by the ounce. The Beecher's cheddar with house-roasted turkey and avocado could change your life. Great for lunch, and lovely for an early dinner, too. – Gracie Salem

2026 S. Lamar, 512/442-3373

Maria's Taco Xpress

Little screams South Austin as loudly and proudly as a Sunday morning at Maria's Taco Xpress. Nothing short of an institution, Maria's offers simple, fast fare like the hangover-curing gorditas plate, plenty of seating, live music, a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar at brunch, and lots of folks keepin' it weird. – Gracie Salem

2529 S. Lamar, 512/444-0261

John Anderson

Matt's El Rancho

Continually successful for more than 50 years, Matt's El Rancho has never strayed far from its winning formula: authentic Mexican food made from scratch, on the premises, and according to revered family recipes. Handmade tortillas, freshly fried tostadas, classic salsas, and tart margaritas, all served in echoing, tiled rooms.– Kate Thornberry

2613 S. Lamar, 512/462-9333

John Anderson

Olivia

Chef James Holmes serves up eclectic, upscale fare made from local, organic, seasonal produce, Gulf seafood, and local pastured meats. Excellent wine list, private tables, exemplary service, plus candles and flowers flawlessly converge in a gorgeous, Michael Hsu-designed building. – Kate Thornberry

2043 S. Lamar, 512/804-2700

Sazón

Interior and traditional. The empanadas de huitlacoche of handmade corn masa are stuffed with corn truffle or "corn smut" to make a real delicacy. Look for salsa made with a molcajete, or mortar and pestle, and be sure to try the puerco pipian, which are pork carnitas smothered in a roasted pumpkin seed sauce. – Gracie Salem

1816 S. Lamar, 512/326-4395

John Anderson

Tacodeli

Tacodeli boasts easily the most talked-about breakfast taco in town, but the lunch menu will take you down at the knees, too. Don't overlook the handmade mole, and absolutely try the Tacoloco with adobo-braised brisket, caramelized onions and mushrooms, and topped with cilantro, avocado, and queso fresco. Best four bucks you ever spent. – Gracie Salem

1500 Spyglass, 512/732-0303

John Anderson

Uchi

This is famed chef Tyson Cole's flagship restaurant, where he brought his Japanese fusion fare to national prominence. Stellar sushi, sake, and sashimi, outstanding daily specials, hot and cold tasting menus, and topographical desserts, served in a relaxing, opulent atmosphere. – Kate Thornberry

801 S. Lamar, 512/916-4808

Trailers

Flip Happy Crepes

Nothing like a just-made crepe from a cute trailer to take you back to Paris. The traditional ham and Gruyère cheese with green onion is our favorite, but the Texas-style shredded pork with cheddar cheese, pickles, and Tabasco gets our attention, too. –Gracie Salem

400 Jessie, 512/552-9034

Luke's Inside Out

The inventive, and frankly brilliant, chef Luke Bibby helms this exemplary trailer, where he dishes up gourmet "griddled" sandwiches, fascinating appetizers, and culinary whims such as homemade peppermint ice cream sandwiches and kimchi empanadas. – Kate Thornberry

1109 S. Lamar, 512/589-8883
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