Dear Glutton: Date-Night Dilemmas

Find a few neighborhood spots that won't break the bank

Matt's El Rancho

2613 S. Lamar, 512/462-9333, www.mattselrancho.com
Sun.-Mon., 11am-10pm; Wed.-Thu., 11am-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 11am-11pm
Fabi + Rosi
Fabi + Rosi

Dear Glutton,

My boyfriend and I have been together for a few months, and have found ourselves in a food rut. We have our go-to places to order Thai and pizza, but we don't really have a go-to date night spot, the kind of cozy, nice, but not too expensive neighborhood spot we can rely on. Help us find one!

– Table for Two


Ah, monogamy, my favorite social construct. I'm speaking, of course, of the undying love between you and your presumably adorable boyfriend, but also of the idea of a couple having a go-to date night spot they patronize each week. There's something so charming, in this age of endless Seamless options, about the idea of a neighborhood restaurant. The kind of place where everybody knows your name, as the saying goes.

Our city is big on culinary institutions. There are so many barbecue joints where you can listen to your sauce-covered neighbor tell you about eating brisket with their grandfather, and Tex-Mex cantinas where people's parents went on their first dates. These are the kind of places that opened up long before you were a twinkle in your mama's eye, and will be there long after you are gone. If you're planning on picking your spot so you can point your great-grandchildren toward the booth you sat in during your early days of playing footsie with grandpappy, Matt's El Rancho seems like the obvious choice with its iconic neon sign, atmospherically high ceilings, and mariachi band ready to serenade you over that famous dip. It's a classic for a reason.

But it's also true that there's something impersonal about an institution. Maybe you're looking for the kind of place that's new enough that you won't just be the latest in a long line of lovers, a place you can claim as your own. You'll probably have to sacrifice the promise of intergenerational permanence (few cuisines, it seems, have as long a shelf life in Austin as Tex-Mex), but you'll make up for that in personalization, a place that vibes with your aesthetic and serves the kind of food you want to eat. If I were you, young and in love and flush with eating-out money (if only!), I'd go to Fabi + Rosi.

To be honest, my recommendation is partially based on the fact that this elegant little gem is run by a couple of cuties who met on a literal yacht. He runs the kitchen, she fixed up the bungalow, and if that's not the most Austinite rom-com ready relationship you've ever heard of, I don't know what is. Surely a little aspirational relationship energy never goes amiss in these situations. The whole place is just dripping quirky good vibes; there are chickens, for Pete's sake, and a little garden with fairy lights where you can hang out with your dog (in the fan-fiction version of your relationship I've developed over the course of responding to this letter, you guys own a golden retriever named Waffles. Just go with me on this one). Everyone who works there is nice and cute and will probably give Waffles some kind of homemade biscuit. It also doesn't hurt that the food is killer, with a menu heavy on bistro classics like escargot, moules frites, and frisée aux lardons. Sit in the garden with your sweetie and ol' Waffles, and share a charcuterie plate. By the end of the month, I bet they'll be greeting you by name.

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