As the flagship location of the University of Texas, Austin has long been known as a popular music and party destination, but late-night fun is far from all the city has to offer. Before you step out into the Austin nightlife, you might want to enjoy a good meal to prepare your stomach for the rigors of a long night out, and we are here to point you in the right direction.
No city in Texas worth its weight doesn’t house some excellent steakhouses, and Austin is certainly no exception. Sullivan’s in downtown Austin is going to be one of your best options, featuring not only top-notch steaks, but an excellent seafood menu and a cigar and jazz lounge on-site. You might also want to check out Austin Land and Cattle Company in North Austin (be sure to try some of their signature special sauces), or popular Dallas-based steakhouse III Forks which has branched out with an Austin location.
For traditional and new American cuisine, be sure to pay a visit to Bess Bistro On Pecan, a popular Austin hotspot in the warehouse district opened by actress Sandra Bullock in 2006. Another great choice is farm-to-table style restaurant Wink in the West End, a trendy locals favorite for the sustainability-minded diner. North by Northwest Restaurant and Brewery is another excellent option for lovers of food and fresh-brewed beer alike.
When it comes to Italian food in Austin, some of the best purveyors include La Traviata, Carmelo’s, Vespaio Ristorante, and East Side Pies for pizza. Try the Cioppino alla San Francisco at La Traviata for a veritable seafood smorgasbord in a tomato and white wine garlic sauce at just under $20, or splurge on the Bistecca Diana, a luxurious Filet Mignon-based dish cooked table-side and served over fettuccine alfredo at Carmelo’s. The Pappardelle Con Ragu Di Agnello at Vespaio is to-die-for; featuring hand-cut pappardelle pasta in a local Texas lamb sauce with minted ricotta cheese. East Side Pies has a build-your-own pizza aesthetic with an extremely wide variety of unique specialty pizza sauces and a plethora of toppings, not to mention a great selection of signature pizzas you will not find anywhere else. East Side Pies sources their vegetables from local farmers and features vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options as well as plenty of meaty specialties for the carnivores among us.
For a no-frills Asian meal at a locals favorite hole-in-the wall establishment, check out Kim Phung Chinese and Vietnamese noodle house on North Lamar. This would be a great choice for a casual lunch that’s both light on the wallet and heavy in flavor. Thai Kitchen, which has served the likes of celebrities like Willie Nelson and the Neville Brothers is another favorite of locals in-the-know, with entrées averaging in the $12 range. For sushi and Japanese fare, check out Musashino and Kenichi, and for Asian BBQ and more (there are plenty of vegetarian options as well so don’t be discouraged by the “BBQ” in the name if you are a non-carnivore), Din Ho Chinese BBQ is a can’t miss proposition.
With Texas being intimately intertwined with Mexico, it is no surprise that the Lone Star State is known for it’s Latin cuisine. Manuel’s is one of Austin’s best Mexican restaurants, specializing in authentic Latin fare using only the best local and natural ingredients. Curra’s Grill in South Austin is another locals favorite, serving up well-priced and delicious Latin cuisine for 15+ years. You might also consider Fonda San Miguel in South Austin, or Nuevo Leon on the East End if you are in the mood for good south-of-the-border food in Austin.
Considering Austin’s decidedly counterculture flare, it is not a surprise that it is home to some excellent vegetarian and vegan eating establishments. If you would prefer to spare your animal friends during your dining experience, you might pay a visit to Mother’s Café and Garden, open since 1980, or Mr. Natural, located on South Lamar. Other options include largely Asian-inspired Veggie Heaven, and Casa De Luz in South Austin, an organic, vegan, and gluten-free establishment.
For fine dining in Austin, visit five-star restaurant Congress in downtown Austin, voted by by Bon Appétit Magazine as one of the best new restaurants of 2011. Check out Imperia in the Warehouse district for fine cuisine with an Asian flare, or Fabi + Rosi for European inspired fare. Driskill Grill in the historic Driskill hotel in downtown Austin is another excellent option for upscale cuisine in the city.
Dining in the big T tends to bring to mind standard American fare, particularly the stereotypical Texas steakhouse. However, as a counterculture and offbeat city and a major metropolitan area, Austin has every type of food you might desire in abundance. Be sure not to underestimate the city’s food culture, and don’t forget to “keep Austin weird” and try something unusual while on vacation in Austin.