In honor of our very own former Food editor and forever friend to the local food community, the late, great Virginia B. Wood, we celebrate the excellence these veterans of the scene bring to our fair city. The intention here is to make abundantly clear in the annals of history that this growing group is the crème de la crème of Austin restaurants. Some have been stalwart favorites for decades; some have seen stratospheric success in a remarkably short time, redefining preferences and even earning mononymic recognition. These restaurants have proven themselves influential beyond the scope of everyday dining, and they’re unwavering in their dedication to quality, flavor, creativity, and service. With a food scene as robust and dynamic as Austin’s, sheer numbers indicate we must make room for newcomers while honoring institutional standbys, regardless of their official time in the biz. It’s as much an ode to the food as it is to the herculean efforts behind the scenes. – Jessi Cape
If you ask an Austinite where to eat vegan food, 99.9% of the time, the immediate response is, “Arlo’s!” Plant-based but designed with carnivores in mind, the menu caters to late-night cravings, and they’ve absolutely mastered the art of meatless cheeseburgers with their famous Bac’n Cheezeburger. That Frito pie ain’t nothing to sneeze at either, friends. To really let you in on how special their trio of curbside eateries is, consider this: Arlo’s is the very first food trailer and only the second plant-based kitchen inducted into our First Plates Hall of Fame. Austin’s plant-based comfort food baby is all grown up now. Inducted in 2019.
900 Red River
In 2001, Chronicle readers voted this Hyde Park mainstay the Best New Restaurant in our annual Restaurant Poll. Customers haven’t stopped raving since. It’s rare for a restaurant to have longevity over a more than 15-year span; it’s rarer still when a restaurant still feels relevant. Inducted in 2016.
408-C E. 43rd
Pull up a chair and savor the moment with strangers. At Blue Dahlia, tables are arranged so that diners brush elbows while they enjoy a midmorning tartine or fill up on French classics like ratatouille. The idea is to create community around a baguette. After all, that’s what breaking bread is all about. Inducted in 2018.
1115 E. 11th
This may be one of Austin’s oldest and most reputable vegan and vegetarian restaurants, but even omnivores can’t get enough of the Renedict and sweet potato and pecan tamales at this longtime favorite. Between the ever-changing exhibits by local artists and the blueberry cornbread, brunch will be worth the wait! Inducted in 2018.
1900 S. First
Comfort, warmth, and a dash of romance makes this little bistro live up to its name. Started by three Parisian friends in 1982, it’s a classic take on traditional French fare, and an excellent spot for relishing in conversation over escargots de Bourgogne and bubbles while hidden away from the Downtown melee. Inducted in 2017.
In 2013, after a couple of years of health problems, owner Ronald Cheng had an opportunity to reopen in the building where Chinatown started in 1983. He kept some of the former menu items, added some delicious new ones, and gave the whole place a new look – simultaneously reinvigorating his brand and cementing his Austin culinary legacy. Austin is full of restaurateurs. Cheng is a giant. Inducted in 2016.
2712 Bee Caves Rd.
Vegetarians and spice lovers rejoice when they walk into the sumptuous, aromatic interior of the Clay Pit. Although sticklers for authenticity may disagree, this restaurant has elevated Indian cuisine for Austin. If you’re around for lunch, make sure to check out their buffet, where you can indulge for a very economical price. Inducted in 2018.
From the moment you spot the rows of roasting ducks hanging in the foyer, you know Din Ho is here to party. This northern mall Chinese favorite would earn their place in the hall of fame for their whole roasted pig alone, but, honestly, you can’t go wrong with the pea shoots either. Inducted in 2018.
8557 Research #116
There once was a little house on Manor Road that served the best artichoke manicotti in all the land, but carrot pasta and sun-dried tomato cream sauce were only the beginning of the story. It’s a tale with plenty of romance (those sparkling limosas) and some very deep drama (the chocolate almond torte), perfect for all our happily-ever-afters. Inducted in 2017.
This European gastronomic exploration exudes taste inside and out. The love story that started it all continues through the care and craftsmanship incorporated into everything from the homemade bread to the house-cured Metzger board. Perhaps the very best part, however, is that the price point of this luxe-sounding menu makes it accessible to most. Inducted in 2018.
Serving regional Mexican cuisine since 1975, Fonda San Miguel is as much of an Austin icon as it is a great happy hour spot. The walls of the expansive hacienda-style space showcase a fine gallery of Mexican art, and the dishes served are equally remarkable. Do not visit without ordering a ceviche and house margarita. Inducted in 2016.
2330 W. North Loop
We’ve been loving those brisket burnt ends since Aaron Franklin’s trailer was located not far from the Chron offices near I-35, way back in 2009. The smoke signals at the now Eastside restaurant are nationally recognized – an Obama fist bump, a James Beard award, and even bad boy Bourdain’s unabashed obsession. Even the notorious hours-long lines can’t deter the steady cult following. But when it comes down to it, Franklin Barbecue has earned its crown because the food comes first, and it’s always delicious. Inducted in 2018.
900 E. 11th
If, in the hallowed halls of your restaurant, Bill Clinton grabs a classic taco special and Quentin Tarantino shoots part of his Austin-based Death Proof (but not really), it’s fair to say you’re recognized as an Austin institution. But the venerable Güero’s Taco Bar needs not that shimmer of celebrity to shine. For over 30 years, the Lippincott family has been perfecting a menu rooted in Mexican street food with Texan flair – we see you, tacos al pastor – and the Austin party vibe could not be more apparent. Unless, of course, your afternoon involves downing one of Güero’s 20 specialty margaritas, witnessing the ghost of Stevie Ray Vaughan haunting Lucy in Disguise, whizzing over Congress bridge on an e-scooter, and searching for “vintage” pearl snap shirts (a screenplay that is being optioned, so hands off, QT). Inducted in 2019.
1412 S. Congress
Despite the many new pizza places that have popped up around town since it first made a splash, Home Slice still packs the house with both out-of-towners and locals. The reason? Hot, fresh, New York-style pies that haven’t lost their luster in more than a decade. Inducted in 2017.
1415 S. Congress
It’s the chicken-fried chicken, y’all. Many of the Southern comfort food pleasures on the menu at Hoover’s Cooking, a two-decades-and-counting Manor Road eatery, have made it an icon: their enormous and delicious pepper-fire soaked and smoked chicken wings, sweet potato coffee, banana pudding, and a side of broccoli that looks like one of the tree people from Lord of the Rings (yeah, we know, they’re called Ents). While the Smokehouse options (Jamaican jerk ribs!) compete with the best of ’em, it’s that chicken-fried chicken, paired with mashed potatoes and a side of jalapeño creamed spinach, that offers something equivalent to the culinary version of a long hug from an old friend. Inducted in 2019.
2002 Manor Rd.
The great philosopher Jimmy Buffett was likely prophesying Hopdoddy with “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” and fellow wordsmith Jean-Paul Sartre boldly proclaimed that “hamburgers are other people.” No, wait, that might have been Charlton Heston in that Soylent Green film. Regardless, no other local burger joint has struck such a chord as this purveyor of all things ensconced in a bun. Be it beef, lamb, chicken, or veggie, Hopdoddy has cast a spell on this town. The fries with green chile queso is a solid combo, particularly paired with the elegantly dangerous Doble Fina margaritas, but the real MVP is that Caesar salad. Two words: fried chickpeas. Add a turkey burger patty and you might just believe there is hope in this world. Now with more locations than we can count – and a sister restaurant, Lil’doddy – it’s safe to say this is officially an empire. Perhaps, at the end of the day, we are all cheeseburgers. Inducted in 2019.
1400 S. Congress Ste. A-190
Jeffrey’s is a rare classic establishment where heart-stopping prices actually equate to fine dining. The centerpiece of the menu revolves around perfectly seasoned and seared steaks, but even those who aren’t carnivores can make a meal of the sides and salads that are just as legendary as the delectable meat. Inducted in 2018.
1204 W. Lynn
Since 1961, the Avila family has been providing Austinites with some of the best greasy spoon Tex-Mex in the 512, with homey takes on classics like huevos rancheros, breakfast tacos, and, of course, their infamous hangover-busting menudo. Make sure to stop by the bakery out front for a concha after breakfast. Inducted in 2018.
2305 E. Seventh
We suppose there’s a sentiment around 24-hour diners like Kerbey Lane that inevitably boils down to “it’s open,” but there are spoons that rise above the greasiness. Most of the locations maintain those endless hours (keep them in your thoughts), and Kerbey Lane has been doing this town a public service for going on 40 years, feeding their wonderfully absorbent and delicious array of pancakes to patrons needing a particular brand of restorative. We recommend starting with the Cowboy Queso before moving on to the California Omelet. In a town that constantly reckons with its identity, Kerbey’s recent expansion into the Mueller community solidifies and expands on its role as a particular and much-needed cultural and culinary mainstay. Inducted in 2019.
Did you know that this Austin institution supplies many of your favorite restaurants with fresh Gulf seafood? Even better, their own menu will satisfy just about any seafood craving you’ve got: peel-n-eat shrimp, grilled Texas black drum, and buttery lobster. Plus, they’ve got that family reunion-style mac & cheese you not-so-secretly love. Inducted in 2017.
Many of us became obsessed with noodles thanks to an affection for Eighties and Nineties Asian crime dramas: In almost every film, there is a scene of a meal shared between cohorts, cops, or often just regular people. And they slurp those noodles, and they spoon that broth, and we’re like, “That looks like the most amazing combination of ingredients in the universe!” Restaurants like Ramen Tatsu-ya effortlessly expand all of our palates, and we are lucky they chose Austin to become a ramen mecca, now with a family of offshoots like Domo Alley-Gato Tatsu-ya, Kemuri Tatsu-ya, DipDipDip Tatsu-ya, and Tiki Tatsu-ya. Despite (and because of) the pedigree of minds – like chef Tatsu Aikawa – behind these delightful bowls of wonder, it all comes down to the noodles. Slurping them here is a singular experience. Inducted in 2019.
1234 S. Lamar
Calling Eddie Wilson’s down-home restaurant an institution is an understatement. Generations of Austinites have downed a beer (or two) at Threadgill’s while feasting on chicken-fried steaks that are as legendary as the musicians who performed there. The massive selection of sides still makes us hoot and holler. Inducted in 2016.
6416 N. Lamar
We’ve sampled so many delicious selections from this incredibly popular Thai restaurant, from yum nuer (a wonderfully spicy variant on steak salad) to endless combinations of fried rice and a selection of curry that has no equal. But there are two dishes (both staff favorites) that we return to time and time again: the pork garlic mixed peppercorn, with its wonderfully seasoned meat and vibrant spinach salad, and the Ta-lay Dancing, a three-chile-hot seafood, mushroom, tomato, and onion medley in tom yum sauce. Add to that the skillful and eternally effusive waitstaff who cover the comfortably cozy space with an ease that mimics a flawless dance routine, and you have all the makings of a perfect dining experience. Inducted in 2019.
5501 N. Lamar Ste. C-101
South Lamar’s Uchi has been setting the gold standard for Austin cuisine for years, and shows no signs of slowing down. James Beard Award winner chef Tyson Cole continues to serve intricate and exquisite renderings of Japanese cuisine that will be the most worthwhile, treat-yourself splurge you make all month … maybe even all year. Inducted in 2017.
801 S. Lamar
A SoCo staple from before it was called SoCo, the elegant eatery takes its name from the buzzing dining room. It’s classic Italian, with walls of wine, in-house butchery, a long list of house-made delights, and thoughtfully sourced ingredients. We love the calamari fritti arrabbiata, Scampi con Salsa all’Aglio, and the Sicilian cheesecake, so very much. Inducted in 2016.
1610 S. Congress
The Detroit Tigers may be in a rebuilding phase this season (fingers crossed!), but this Detroit-style pizza has enraptured Austin since the Hunt brothers’ first trailer opened in 2011. The cheesy, crunchy, thick signature squares topped with just the right amount of marinara are to credit for their now legendary winning streak, but the thinner bar-style pies will also have you happy-heckling the kitchen. Don’t skip their bonkers pizza collaborations featuring special toppings like Garbo’s lobster, la Barbecue’s cold-smoked ham, and Michi’s ramen. And if you don’t end up with meatballs on your pizza (do it), grab the appetizer version before you succumb to all the cheese. Bonus points for a seriously solid gluten-free crust. Inducted in 2019.
3016 Guadalupe #100
In an Austin that often mistakes fine surfaces for fine dining, chefs Stewart Scruggs and Mark Paul’s strip mall eatery is the real deal. Maybe there’s no miles of carrara marble and the fixtures may not require weekly wipe downs with Brasso, but wink has it where it counts – beautiful food made with the best ingredients, immaculate service, and a wine program that’s worth raising a glass to. Inducted in 2017.
1014 N. Lamar
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