Austin is not only the state capital, but also happens to be the food capital of Texas too. No matter how your tastes differ, there is something incredible for everyone, whether you’re into juicy barbecued meats, brunch, tacos, fine dining or food trucks, you won’t just be pleased, you’ll most likely blown away.
We hit the lively city of Austin to uncover the very best of food and drink whatever your dining preferences may be.
Geraldine’s, on the fourth floor of Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt, is an exceptional restaurant and bar with a distinct Austin touch. It mixes classy dining with a live music atmosphere, with daily performances from home grown talent. Executive chef Chris Schaefer uses seasonal ingredients from local farms to create modern interpretations of dishes of the south. Stand outs include the grilled Texas quail, and their Brussels sprouts in a fish sauce caramel are something to write home about. The bar is extensive, and we recommend the Oregon reds.
Ciclo is the ultimate candlelight dinner destination; a luxurious modern Texas kitchen ignited with Latin influences and ingredients. What sets these dishes apart is the presentation; the flambeed Texas Wagyu tomahawk is one of the house signatures that will turn the heads of fellow diners, and even dessert of vanilla and cacao nib bon bons is a spectacle. Ciclo sits within the Four Seasons Austin, with both outdoor terrace and indoor tables and booths. The menu is focused, the food is luxurious and the service is unparalleled. This is the Austin experience that your date will never forget.
Being in such close proximity of Mexico, the Mexican food in Austin is known for being the most authentic in US. For the very best of the bunch, head to ATX Cocina. They serve traditional Mexican dishes elevated with modern approaches and techniques, gluten free. Plates are sharing style and the portions are generous, meaning the whole family can sample plenty of everything. Start with the crab tostada and sopes, share your carne guisadas and skuna bay salmon, colour the sides with big veggies and order hand-shaken margaritas for the table. The interiors are outstanding, a modern communal atmosphere for the style conscious.
For a sit-down brunch, meet buddies at Verbena. The new 2020 hotspot on West 6th Street is an all-day urban oasis, and its thriving patio provides the perfect place to enjoy pastry baskets, soft scrambled eggs, buttermilk pancakes and a mimosa or espresso. Whilst 6th street is bustling, Verbena’s patio is tucked away in a courtyard with gorgeous greens and outdoor features, and it’s pet friendly if you enjoy dog-watching. The menu is farm to table driven, and whether plant or protein, you feel as though nutrition is of uppermost importance (whether or not bubbles are helping them down). If you miss brunch, they also have a great happy hour and dinner menu.
It’s completely acceptable (and encouraged) in Austin to go out to get the meat sweats. Food trucks are big in the city and everyone has their go-to. Our favourite in the morning is Brooklyn Breakfast Shop. Arrive early, because when they run out, they’re done for the day. You can’t go wrong with their biscuit sandwich made with whey, or the Barbacoa hero with avocado pickled chilli and egg.
In the afternoon, Leroy and Lewis are kings of barbecue, offering a rotation selection of alternative cuts, creative sides and made from scratch sauces with locally sourced products. Expect brisket, ribs and sausage alongside pastrami beets, cauliflower burnt ends and kale Caesar slaw. The L and L burger with smoked brisket patty is our favourite, and the unusual cheddar cheesecake is surprisingly good. LeRoy and Lewis can be found at 121 Pickle Road by Cosmic Coffee and Beer.
Buenos Aires Café is a colourful, casual eat in on the East Side, rooted in Argentina and grown in Austin. It’s co-owned by chef Reina Morris and her daughter Paola Guerrero-Smith, and for fifteen years has been serving guests family style cooking including churrasquito – strip loin with house-made chimichurri, handmade empanadas, milanesa, and plenty of Malbec to wash it all down with. The pastel de papas Argentine take on a shepherd’s pie is particularly comforting, and the quatro leches sponge cake is divine.
Austin’s interpretation on the traditional Japanese izakaya has a hip and happening makeover at Kemuri Tatsu-Ya. Chef/owner Tatsu Aikawa’s ramen tatsu-ya has been a hit with locals for many years, and more recently kemuri tatsu-ya has joined in the success. The east-side restaurant has an Okinawa shack feel (with interesting wall décor with items sourced from vintage and antique shops around Texas and Japan).
Guests are greeted with sake upon arrival, before being unleashed with an array of smoked meats, grilled skewered meat and izakaya classics, plus a Japanese and American beverage list. There’s an Omakase set meal (Omakase is Japanese for ‘I’ll leave it up to you’) if you prefer to let the team choose the highlights. Spoiler alert, if you choose the O-Sakana Omakase you’ll get a very special bento consisting of skate wing, rice, nori and miso BBQ sauce in a fun build-your-own system.
For those who love outdoors with a laid back crowd, groovy sounds and head-turning smells, try Banger’s. The wildly popular sausage house and beer garden frequently sees long lines, but the wait is justified. Meat here is of the highest quality, so you’re getting the actual good stuff when it comes to sausages unlike anywhere else. Stand outs include the house-made drunken chicken, classic Bratwurst, and our favourite; the Chinese barbecue sausage (served with cabbage and pickled carrot salad, and a side of hot Chinese mustard). The carbs are stellar especially the dripping poutine made of salt and pepper fries twice cooked, cheese curds and veal gravy. To drink, the garden has hundreds of craft beers on tap, and to take away, festival-inspired merch means you’ve joined the club.
Intero is the Austin classic, in that it will never go out of fashion. Why? Because of its superior seasonal menus and ever so charming personality. It is the kind of place you’ll come back to again and again, even if you’re just in town for a few days. The sustainability focused farm-to-table Italian serves outrageously delicious pastas, made from locally available ingredients.
Chef Ian Thurwachter takes Italian dishes and lifts them with a contemporary twist. The mafaldine stars smoked pork short rib, butternut squash and pecan, the ricotta gnocchi has house prosciutto, apple and mustard seed, and the spaghettini has a whole array of surprising flavours. What’s more is superstar chocolatier Krystal Craig’s creations, which set the bar for desserts – you’ll want to take home some of her unique chocolate truffles such as Earl Grey tea and peanut butter and honey.
If you like heights you’ll love the Edge Rooftop. The massive lounge and pool sits pretty at the JW Marriott Austin and overlooks Congress Ave and Lady Bird Lake. You’ll also be able to get a glimpse of 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from under Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge – the largest urban bat colony in the world – at sunsets during warm months. It’s quite the sight and wonderfully accompanied along with a Pina Colada, nachos, and a cosy fire pit.
Last but by no means least, if you’re in a celebratory mood then TRACE has your fiesta covered. The sleek, upscale restaurant serves seasonal flavours of Central Texas responsibly sourced from the region’s farms, so you’re having ‘conscious cuisine’ despite engaging in sophisticated fun. Expect juicy, yet light, flatbreads that don’t go overboard with the cheese, such as the avocado with chickpeas, broccoli, feta and zaatar honey, amazing seafood from Mediterranean octopus to a soft and crispy Salmon Almandine, to the finest, softest cheesecake you’ll ever taste.
TRACE’s ambience is Austin glam, and there’s live music, local DJs and other events out on the patio. The best part is that TRACE sits within the W Austin, THE spot to dance the weekend away. You can do this up on the WET pool bar, where a stupendous weekday happy hour sees locals in a safe-distanced party spirit, or for a more cosy, studio 54 vibe, hang out in the sexy Living Room Lounge, separated into a Tequila Bar and a Secret Bar. The drinks are world class, food is healthy indulgent and the company glitters.