7 Central Texas Destination Restaurants Worth the Trip
Travel guide-worthy dining and tucked-away spots near Austin
Summer fun is synonymous with food and travel, and Central Texas is #blessed to have more options than even the most ambitious destination diner could tackle. With a long list of travel guide-worthy restaurants and tucked-away road trip spots located only an hour or so's drive from the city, it's prime time for a detour away from the usual neighborhood happy hour debauchery. From tiny secret locales to huge luxury compounds, here are seven recommendations to satiate that tastebud-led wanderlust.
Horseshoe Bay Resort – Horseshoe Baywww.hsbresort.com
Horseshoe Bay Resort finalized their huge renovation in spring 2019, resulting in a multicourse, multi-restaurant, multi-lodging golf destination worthy of Austin-tied PGA members Jordan Spieth and Ben Crenshaw. With four championship courses designed by World Golf Hall of Fame members Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jack Nicklaus, a new 18-hole day/night putting course, and gorgeous Hill Country and Lake LBJ views, it's a solid one-stop weekend getaway.
"People know desert golf, mountain golf, links golf, and parkland golf, but if you've never experienced golf in the rocky, panoramic Texas Hill Country, your bucket list has another line to check," says managing director of Horseshoe Bay Resort Bryan Woodward. Slick Rock features a classic parkland setting and their famous "Million Dollar Hole" at 14, with a winding path through a 35-yard rock-walled waterfall, and the on-site cafe has some pretty legendary burgers.
After a round, head over to poolside bar Café del Sol, fancy new Cap Rock Cabana, or TV-centric 360 Sports Club. For a more elegant experience, try the Lantana with favorites like sweet tea brined chicken and smoked brisket pizza. The fine-dining Yacht Club has specialties like chicken-fried lobster, misoyaki sea bass and beet risotto, Oscar-style cowboy rib eye, and an extensive wine list. Or just cozy up and order room service from Market Fresh. You'll burn those indulgences on the links either way.
Josie's Kitchen / Real Ale Brewery Tour – Blancowww.fb.com/josieskitchenblanco; www.realalebrewing.com
For this excursion, it's best to first carbo-load before diving into the brew tour. Chef Joe Hanus, former executive chef of SoCo's Woodland restaurant, returned to his hometown and has really boosted the culinary scene in beautiful Blanco. Josie's Kitchen uses local produce, makes fresh baked breads, and features fine-dining-level daily specials like smoked salmon with trottole pasta, lemon dill cream, and fried capers; or a grilled, honey-rosemary pork chop with orzo florentine, tomato confit, and a balsamic reduction. Many Woodland fans will be thrilled to know that skilled baker and Joe's wife, Jessie Hanus, still crafts those fresh-baked cream pies, cookies, cakes, and more. Regular menu items at this lovely, casual country spot include po'boys, paninis, burgers, and salads.
After really coating the belly, head down the road to the Real Ale Brewery, rated sixth in Eric Puga's "Top 15 Austin Breweries" (Nov., 16, 2018) and located near the town square, minutes from the Blanco River. Their tasting taproom is open Wednesday through Sunday, with free tours on Friday and Saturday afternoons, 1-3pm. Bonus: Dogs are welcome to hang outside on the patio. About their Swifty American Pale Ale, Chron's Puga wrote, "This is 100% pure-grade American pale ale, right here. Someone might call it the best beer in the city. That person is me."
Truth BBQ / Lavender Farm – Brenhamwww.truthbbq.com; www.chappellhilllavender.com
As the story goes, owner/pitmaster Leonard Botello IV opened Truth BBQ as a Highway 290 roadside outpost in July 2015. Now an award-winning hot spot with several patio expansions and a second store in Houston, this restaurant features barbecue's usual assortment of smoked meats served by the pound (brisket, beef and pork ribs, turkey, etc.), sandwiches, and sides like corn pudding, greens, and their famous tater tot casserole. What really sets Truth apart from competitors is their dessert specialty: They make enormous cakes with daily selections like Italian creme, triple chocolate, red velvet, and banana caramel. Cake and brisket, y'all.
Walk off those meat sweats before heading home by picking your own bouquet of fresh lavender at nearby Chappell Hill Lavender Farm. The rolling fields of sweet flowers (one of two varieties) are now officially in blooming/cutting season, and while there is no admission fee to the farm, the season only lasts 6-8 weeks thanks to the brutal Texas sun. Bonus: They've got a gift shop with lavender lemonade and rocking chairs on the porch, a picnic-worthy pond, and three miniature goats. On May 25, they'll host a plant sale and art walk.
Tree House Utopia / The Laurel Tree – Utopiawww.treehouseutopia.com; www.utopiagourmet.com
This spot is a little farther away at just over three hours driving time, but it's so delightful you might not want to return anyway. Laurel Waters opened the Laurel Tree restaurant in October 2004 after years of culinary education, including a grand diplôme from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. The menu, which changes every week, is a five-course prix fixe. "If I don't grow it, I hand select it myself," she says. "But the honest truth is, my real training came from my mom. She'd always let me cook by her side and she'd serve at the table, and it was always met with constructive criticism: 'It's interesting, Laurel, but perhaps a little more sugar next time.'"
Her 10-acre upscale restaurant is built around the Grand Dame, a 450-year-old oak that now boasts a private dining treehouse created by Pete Nelson of Treehouse Masters after he visited on a whim. About six months ago, Nelson partnered with Waters to create four luxury treehouses about a half mile away on the Sabinal River. Designed for only two adults, each private getaway is nestled in ancient cypress trees with a bedroom, sitting area, and bathroom with walk-in shower or clawfoot tub. All uniquely majestic, the tree that houses the Biblioteque is believed to be over 800 years old. The property also has easy access to a river swimming hole, and two state parks are within a 20-minute drive. Every weekend reservation (now open for booking) includes a table at the sold-out restaurant.
Son's Island / The Power Plant Grill – Seguinwww.lakeplacidisland.com; www.seguinpowerplant.com
Even most of us born-and-raised Texans are unaware that there is a legit island in Seguin, Texas. Son's Island, located 11 miles southeast of New Braunfels, is a privately- owned hideaway only accessible by a 100-foot wooden bridge. Thatched-roof cabanas straight out of a tropical travel magazine line the 4,000-foot perimeter of the lakefront island, and it's all secluded by an oasis of greenery. Daytime rentals make it possible for a large group to gather in Central Texas for all kinds of beach and water activities – swimming, fishing, watersliding, volleyball, grilling, kayaking, paddleboarding, and more. Or, if you're like us, take a shady hammock nap while everyone else gets sunburned. If you're really looking to escape, try the camping option, which includes an overnight cabana with cots and fans.
If you're not much of a grill master, fear not: Just down the road is a renowned dining spot, the Power Plant Grill, named for the site's historic dam and gristmill operations that provided the area's first water and electricity systems in the 1890s. Specialties include bison burgers, crab cake sandwiches, chicken-fried steak, and pecan pie. You can also park at the Grill, float the Guadalupe River, ride their trolley back, and repeat.
Lost Pines / Paw Paw's Catfish House – Bastroplostpines.regency.hyatt.com
This hotel compound is bursting with outdoor experiences and foodie options, and through a partnership with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), the resort features river activities like guided kayak and raft excursions. The Renegade Trailhead provides horseback trail rides, and the resort offers trap shooting, archery classes, UTV rides through nearby McKinney Roughs Nature Park, 18 miles of hike and bike trails, naturalist-led wildlife and plants tours, and plenty of hands-on, daytime kids' activities (aka cool babysitting) for Wolfdancer golfers and spa-goers.
At the risk of sounding like a too-good-to-be-true (fake) Tinder profile, they've also got a two-story water slide, volleyball beach, adults-only relaxing pool, and more. Annnd, there are an impressive eight dining options on-site, including the Stories Fine Dining steakhouse, old-fashioned McDade's Emporium and Ice Cream Saloon, a library snack bar, and Old Buck's Place swim-up bar located on the Crooked River lazy river.
If you absolutely have to leave the property (why?), shimmy on down to the nearby (off-site) Dinosaur Park and Zip Lost Pines, the only dual zip line in Texas. For some real Bastrop charm, we hear Paw Paw's Catfish House and Ma'Coco are great choices.
Flat Creek Estate / Disc Golf – Marble Fallswww.flatcreekestate.com
If you're looking for a wine-handed activity, this is your spot. The Flat Creek Estate is a trifecta: 18-hole disc golf course designed for all skill levels and set within 80 acres of beautiful Hill Country scenery, a winery with guided tours, and the lovely Wine & Food Hall for tastings and tapas.
The various tour options include visits to the fermentation room, crush pad, and barrel room, and a fully explained guide to the winemaking process, plus an option to freely tour the vineyard itself. There are also several packages with different combos of tastings or flights with disc golf rounds and various dining scenarios. Maybe it's a full wine flight and three-course, chef-prepared dinner, or perhaps a casual sandwich after a round and a single glass. The new tapas menu offers items like lemon ricotta crostinis topped with fresh peaches and mint; charcuterie and cheese platters; and crème brûlée.
Another option is the Flat Creek urban wine bar, the Enoteca, in the Marble Falls downtown square. With upscale cuisine in a comfortable atmosphere, expect items like rib eye steak, scallop risotto, and wood-fired pizzas. If you're going all out, book an overnight stay at the Vintner's Quarters, a decked out house with a patio overlooking the vineyard.