The kitchen at ATX Cocina has an inventive approach to Mexican classics, paying off in impressive dishes like lamb adobo braised with guajillo chiles and blue corn dumplings, or butter-poached corn topped with queso fresco and smoked aïoli. No wonder Westlake High graduate and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles – aka the 2018 Super Bowl champion – is on board as co-owner.
110 San Antonio St. #170
There are three levels to this enclave wrought within the old Seaholm Power Plant: Jason Stevens’ inviting cocktail cave all flooded with classic libations, the main floor’s wood-fired glory via the menus of chef Jason Stude, and then that Observatory Bar letting you play tipsy lord-of-all-you-survey amid the glittering skyline.
If heritage grains, fermentation, and seasonal ingredients are your jam, you’ve probably already discovered the wonder that is Emmer & Rye. Chef Kevin Fink weds a love of forgotten flavors with a Scandinavian ethos, culminating in American-style dim sum on Rainey Street.
51 Rainey #110
All six concepts at this upscale food court add twists to their flagship spots’ menus to create an assemblage of new, excellent iterations. Antonelli’s Cheese Shop carries their signature hand-picked cheeses plus meal options like their ultra top-notch creamy mac & cheese. Emmer & Rye’s fast-casual sibling Henbit has you covered for three seasonal squares: ham & cheese kolache, a pork loin sandwich on sourdough rye, and the killer lemongrass shrimp bowl. Bonus beverages: lavender matcha latte and golden milk latte. Contigo has a hearty menu of rotisserie chicken, wings, crispy green beans, and their beloved burger; try the egg sandwich on challah for breakfast. Ni-Komé, influenced by cousins Komé and Daruma Ramen, crafts ramen, sushi rolls, nigiri, and starters like edamame and karaage. (You might even snag a seat at the little sushi counter if you’re lucky.) Dai Due Taquería features sustainable dishes you’d expect from a Jesse Griffiths-owned establishment: wild boar al pastor, bison picadillo, and venison barbacoa. Handmade heirloom corn tortillas and fresh fruit & veggie salsas and aguas frescas round it out. Easy Tiger’s outpost has fresh baked bread and pastries, brats and a muffaletta, and house-made Chex Mix. And yes, they’ve also got that delectable pretzel with beer cheese.
This funky punk rock diner has quickly become one of Austin’s favorite spots for an irreverent dose of hair of the dog, with a menu of hot takes on nostalgia-inducing classics. It’s sort of like brunch at your grandma’s house, if your grandma used to hang out with Millions of Dead Cops.
509 Rio Grande
Master sommelier meets blue plate special: That’s Irene’s. They'll hook you up with boozy punch while chef Andrew Curren whips up classic Southern sandwiches. Grab coffee, loaded toast, and, you know, cigarettes from the window in the morning, and chill on the swanky patio any time of day.
506 West Ave.
On the scene since 2006, this favorite with a cult following cooks up Turkish-style wraps. You choose the heat level, and they’ll take care of the rest. It’s the fresh-made falafel, though, that gets noncarnivores nomming just as happily. Extra: The zucchini fries, available only on Tuesdays, are alone worth a trip.
Third & Congress
When La Condesa burst onto Second Street back in 2009, most Austinites understood “interior Mexican food” to mean eating inside at Chuy’s. They changed the landscape, not only by elevating Mexican cuisine past cheese enchiladas, but with a design-minded space that foreshadowed the look of countless new Austin restaurants.
400-A W. Second
Aside from Chez Nous, French food never really had a moment in Downtown Austin, which makes Le Politique stand out even more. Copious al fresco dining space nods to Parisian cafes, their croque madame drowned in Mornay screams French indulgence, and their fruits de mer adds a much-needed new seafood option.
110 San Antonio St.
Oaxaca is often called the gastronomic heart of Mexico, and Iliana de la Vega and Ernesto Torrealba take their mission of bringing those traditions to Austin seriously. They put their own unique spin on dishes like mole nero, which is used here to top enchiladas filled with roasted duck meat and topped with panela cheese.
“The best of Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, and Vietnamese flavors, all in one place, every day.” Whoa, right? It’s like some Optimus Prime of Asian cuisine, expertly transforming any meal into a globally satisfying array of options, in an elegant and comfortable Downtown setting.
You’d think, being the only Russian restaurant in town, this place could slack off and phone it in. But, nyet, Vladimir Gribkov and Varda Salkey create such a tasty, authentic menu that not even overindulging with their bar’s 100-plus vodkas could make you forget that they’re dedicated to doing it up – borscht and all – just right.
307 E. Fifth
The kitchen at Wu Chow serves up some of the city’s most consistently inventive dim sum. You might miss the chaotic jostle of carts, but inventive takes on dishes like hot & sour soup with wood ear mushrooms, or crispy soft turnip cakes studded with sausage, bring the excitement straight to your plate.
500 W. Fifth #168
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
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.
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