A Guide to Austin’s Quirks

If you want to stand in line, Austin is the place. It’s an incredible food town with a great vibe and unique local foods, quirky brands, and, of course, barbecue.

But so much of the best is served out of containers/food trucks/food trailers/Airstreams/metal boxes/dumpsters transformed into “places that serve food.” And the lines don’t stop at smokers and brisket. Turns out Austin residents and guests alike also stand in line for tacos, burgers, hot dogs, and pizza.

Before we really get into the food, you have to stay somewhere.

There are really two good neighborhoods to choose from for out-of-towners and first-timers:

 

Downtown: Safe and easy, chock full of every other major hotel brand you can imagine—book where you have points. It’s a good jumping-off point to walk the city or riverside.

South Congress: The best choice, just across the river. It’s cool neighborhood with character and more personality than the typical downtown convention/tourist area, with tons of local retail and food venues peddling everything you could want. Our favorites to stay:

  • Hotel Saint Cecilia: A little quirky, extremely friendly, and a perfect blend of luxury-boutique-meets-hipster-cool. The interior courtyard/small bar area is actually one of the best hotel hangouts we’ve seen.
  • Hotel San Jose: Saint Cecilia’s sister property is just down the street, and is another fun choice.
  • South Congress Hotel: A bit bigger, with food and retail on site, and thoughtfully designed. The bar Central Standard is actually quite good.

Keep walking and work up an appetite.

On the South Congress side of the river:

  • June’s All Day (our new all-day favorite)
  • The original Hopdoddy (still has lines)
  • Vespaio Enoteca and Restaurant (it’s more old-school Italian, but we’ll often start our night here for a drink and app)
  • Guero’s Taco Bar (now huge)
  • Home Slice Pizza (yes, lines, but also has a takeout window)
  • Torchy’s Tacos (recently relocated)
  • Elizabeth Street Café (a French-Vietnamese restaurant and boulangerie. Don’t miss the kouign amman.)
  • Loro (a new fast-casual Asian smokehouse with Aaron Franklin as part owner)
  • Lenoir (a pretty little spot with a destination-worthy wine garden in the back)
  • Uchi and Uchiko (almost-famous sushi joints, on opposite ends of Lamar Blvd)
  • Odd Duck and Barley Swine (actually-famous don’t-miss sister spots for food that’s highly creative, unpretentious, and really delicious—take a second to admire Odd Duck’s bar-centric action, but Barley Swine has now moved across the river)

 

On the other side, the Lower East neighborhood is the new “it” place:

  • Kerlin BBQ and La Barbecue are this ’hood’s line-worthy BBQ joints (Franklin BBQ and Ruby’s are further north).
  • Kemuri Tatsu-Ya (a Beard nom for Best New Restaurant this year, it’s a Texas take on Izakaya)
  • Launderette (a creative must-stop that popped up right in the middle of a neighborhood)
  • Bufalina (classic Neapolitan pies in Texas)
  • Suerte (new last year, from one of the original Odd Duck guys serving Mexican food with local ingredients)
  • Holy Roller (nostalgic dishes and a space with Austin’s music roots)
  • Rosewood (new, elevated Texas food in a historic mansion)
  • Emmer & Rye (a classic with dim-sum-style carts from a Beard favorite chef. It’s at the end of Rainey Street, which is riddled with bars and bar-food-driven trucks and restaurants.)
  • Sour Duck Market (new from the Odd Duck team, a bakery/bar/all-day resto)
  • If you’re in the mood for lines, Cesar Chavez Street is food-truck central.

Closer to Downtown:

  • Swift’s Attic is the place to be for drinks.
  • Fareground is the first food hall in town, just off of Congress on the north side of the river. Some of the vendors make it worth a stop if you’re nearby, but it hasn’t quite hit destination-worthy status.
  • Happy hour at Red Ash is one not to skip.
  • La Condesa is classic Mexican with a cool vibe.
  • Boiler Nine has a great rooftop and a cool glass-box look.

A few other food notes:

  • You’ll never win a fight over the best tacos in Austin—mostly because it’s too hard to choose. Many list Torchy’s, Tacodeli, and Guero’s, while others call them overrated. For food “container” tacos, Pueblo Viejo on 6th Street always pops up on the list, and it was pretty good.
  • It’s a drive up to UT Austin land, but Dai Due is an inventive butcher-shop-meets-supper-club. When you run across a fresh, cool concept like this, it’s worth checking out. And it seems the butchers are all chicks.
  • The new Arlo Gray at the Line Hotel downtown has been getting a lot of buzz, with its young celeb chef, trendy menu, a great cocktail program.