SoCo Dining Spots

Just across the river from downtown, the broad expanse of South Congress Avenue is the main artery of a dynamic city neighborhood and a microcosm of what we like best about Austin

Just across the river from downtown, the broad expanse of South Congress Avenue is the main artery of a dynamic city neighborhood, carrying the lifeblood of the commerce and community that flourishes around it. SoCo reflects many of the tenets of our "Keep Austin Weird" aesthetic: an eclectic collection of locally owned, independent businesses; hip hostelries; everything from fast food to fine dining; plenty of the live music of which we're justifiably proud; and people busy enjoying it all.

The distinctive area apparent today began to evolve seriously about 10 years ago. The loving rehabilitation of the two motels breathed life into the process; restaurants, retail, and new housing developments soon followed. It's obvious that change along the avenue is ongoing: The former car dealership in the 1400 block is being transformed into restaurants, retail, and lofts with a scheduled summer debut, and there's plenty of speculation about what will become of the newly empty retail space just across the street from Güero's. Meanwhile, commercial real estate agents are busy showing the swanky restaurant and bar space at 1716; something interesting is happening to the old Don-Mar Courts; and Ron Flores assures us that his original Habana outlet at 2728 will triumphantly emerge from the post-fire reconstruction phase later this month.

We chose to kick off our annual three weeks of SXSW-related food coverage with a visit to SoCo because it's a microcosm of what we like best about Austin, and it boasts a vibrant dining scene. We're also taking this opportunity to tout our new and improved online South Congress guide, handy and available all the time at austinchronicle.com/soco.

There are nearly 30 eateries along the avenue between Barton Springs Road and Ben White, including five so new we were eager to explore and report on them. If hunger or thirst should strike while you're strolling South Congress, satisfaction is always at hand: paletas and ice cream, croissants and kolaches and coffee, ice-cold beer and single-malt Scotch, fine Italian varietals and frosty margaritas, sushi and breakfast tacos, burgers and tamales, authentic hand-tossed pizzas and handmade artisanal mozzarella. Slip into a booth, grab a patio table, relax under a tree, belly up to a bar, and take a bite out of local life.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Freebirds World Burrito, Doc's Motor Works, Opal Divine's Penn Field, Home Slice Pizza, Garden District Coffee House

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