FIRST PLATES

South Congress and South First

The reinvention and redevelopment of South Congress that began in the late Nineties has spread like a wildfire over to South First and farther south, bringing a bevy of groundbreaking, modern restaurants to a region once rife with ramshackle tear-downs, abandoned thrift shops, and used tire stores. Exciting artisan food destinations flank the restaurants: delightful spots such as Once Over and Fair Bean coffee shops, Dolce Neve gelateria, La Patisserie bakery, and Sugar Mama's Bakeshop. Although some iconic Austin treasures have been lost, the resurgence of new businesses has been invigorating for the entire area, and tendrils are already extending south toward Ben White Boulevard with the recent opening of Porter Gastropub. – Kate Thornberry

El Chile Cafe y Cantina

El Chile takes a contemporary approach to Tex-Mex and Interior cuisine, and the emphasis on fresh, colorful ingredients and bold flavors has made it a longtime Austin favorite. The restaurant is rightfully renowned for an outstanding roasted jalapeño salsa, seafood dishes, micheladas, and margaritas. – Kate Thornberry

1816 S. First, 512/457-9900

El Primo

This sketchy-looking trailer has long been serving some of the yummiest and most authentic tacos in South Austin, accompanied by wonderful, hot-hot salsas. – Kate Thornberry

2101 S. First, 512/227-5060

Vespaio/Enoteca Vespaio

This exquisite Italian eatery has consistently delivered top-notch fare since its opening in 1998, challenging (and vanquishing) all comers with ambitions to supersede it. As in Italy itself, the freshest of ingredients prepared in the classic fashion make Vespaio a "special evening" destination, and the more casual Enoteca a bustling lunch and happy hour madhouse. – Kate Thornberry

1610 S. Congress, 512/441-7672
1610 S. Congress, 512/441-6100

The Flying Carpet

A trailer with its own indoor dining room, the Flying Carpet is hard to classify. The Moroccan Souk food they serve, while simple, is marvelously authentic. Spiced beef, eggplant, herbs, goat cheese, and fresh eggs are combined into a variety of sandwiches, served with crisp, French-style pommes frites. – Kate Thornberry

504 W. Oltorf, 512/744-5651

John Anderson

Home Slice Pizza

Genuine New York-style pizza: thin, crisp-on-the-bottom (yet foldable) crust, hand-tossed, topped with a lightly acidic tomato sauce and stretchy Italian cheeses. All the traditional toppings are available, including anchovies, fried eggplant, and clams. They literally cannot make their amazing pizzas fast enough to meet demand. – Kate Thornberry

1415 S. Congress, 512/444-7437

Lenoir

Well-known chefs Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher offer French cuisine tailored to the hot Texas climate. The flavors of the former French colonies of Vietnam and Morocco play a role, as do local favorites such as fresh chèvre and Gulf seafood. Outstanding multicourse dinners are made with locally sourced ingredients and served in elegance. – Kate Thornberry

1807 S. First, 512/215-9778

Perla's

Perla's continues to serve skillfully prepared, super-fresh seafood, complemented by seasonal side dishes and piping hot hush puppies. The sunny, coastal feel of the place enhances the thrill of finding freshly shucked oysters, soft-shell crabs, and deep-sea fish from around the world being served in landlocked Central Texas. – Kate Thornberry

1400 S. Congress, 512/291-7300

Snack Bar

This most Austin-y of Austin eateries serves dishes inspired by the cuisines of the entire world, made from locally sourced, ethically obtained ingredients. Cutting-edge in conception, the food itself is original and tasty. Craft beer and wine, gluten-free and vegan-friendly. – Kate Thornberry

1224 S. Congress, 512/445-2626

Sway

Years ago, Sway's upscale, innovative Thai cuisine struck a resounding chord with Austin palates, and that chord is still ringing. The spicy, fresh Southeast Asian flavors pair perfectly with the scorching Texas summers and our bitter blue northers, making Sway a universal favorite. – Kate Thornberry

1417 S. First, 512/326-1999

Thai Fresh

This modest cafe serves up an exciting menu of farmers' market-sourced Thai cuisine, made to order, at reasonable, everyday prices. Equipped with a full espresso bar, a gourmet gluten-free bakery, and an abundance of handmade ice creams, Thai Fresh is a neighborhood gem. – Kate Thornberry

909 W. Mary, 512/494-6436

Whip In

Whip In is one of a kind: an astounding wine and beer headquarters with eclectic, healthy New Indian/South Asian food, served casually at the bar and in the music garden, where some of Austin's most exciting new acts can be seen. The menu changes daily, but always includes samosas and curries made with locally grown ingredients. – Kate Thornberry

1950 S. I-35, 512/442-5337

John Anderson

Winebelly

This popular new tapas restaurant has taken the Oltorf area by storm, with affordable wines, craft beers, and small plates of superb Spanish fare. Erudite yet affordable, Winebelly has the added benefit of a quiet, open-air patio and excellent service. – Kate Thornberry

519 W. Oltorf St., 512/487-1569
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