Food is an expression of culture and the perfect medium for sharing one’s culture. Philosophers throughout the ages have waxed poetic about the nature and value of food. I like what Wendell Berry said:
Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.
Following our move to Austin in March 2018, we started to experience some of the local food and beverage traditions, from margaritas and queso to Live Oak-smoked meats (at The Salt Lick in Driftwood). Last year, I recorded my early impressions in an article called First Bites: Bat City’s Best Tacos, BBQ and Pasta.
Now, it’s time to update the list!
Austin Eats This Up
El Chipiron: This tapas bar on S. Lamar is the gin and tonic capital of Central Texas. The gin is from Spain and the craft cocktails are served in a large red wine glass. The food is also spot on, and I like the location and the easy-going vibe.
Sway Thai: The top floor at Sway Thai’s new location on Bee Cave Road features one of the best views of the city from anywhere in the city. This is swanky Thai with valet parking and menu items not seen before. It’s hip, but not pretentious, and the food and drinks are delightful.
Pieous: Sourdough-crust wood-fired pizza, housemade pastrami, and excellent salads in a friendly, casual environment in Dripping Springs…SOLD!
The Switch: BBQ is a religion in these parts and everyone has their favorite smokers. The Switch is an offshoot of Stile’s Switch and a nice change of pace from the buffet-style dining that is common to BBQ restaurants. At this new Dripping Springs establishment, you get to sit in a plush oversized booth and order classic items, or you can venture into some new twists on the standards like a smoked turkey BLT.
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ: This is the food truck’s food truck. People line up at this S. Manchaca shrine to smoked meats. The great thing about Valentina’s is how the meats they smoke are then used in tacos and tortas. This is the finest of fusions.
Yuyo: Peruvian cebiche, unlike its kissing cousin ceviche, does not soak in citrus until the fish is plated. Essentially, cebiche is crudo plated in a delicate citrus sauce. This stylish yet comfortable restaurant on Manor Road also serves delicious empanadas, craft cocktails and more.
Ramem Tatsu-Ya: Get in line, it’s well worth the wait. Ramem Tatsu-Ya is educating people on what ramen truly is. “It’s the soul food of Japan.”
Cruzteca: This is our local go-to for classic Tex-Mex. After outgrowing its food truck beginnings, the restaurant is now located in a Sunset Valley strip mall. I get the enchiladas with ranchera sauce and crispy taco. It is delicious every time. So are the house margaritas.
Uchi: This is a WOW restaurant for special occasions. Do you have a sushi fanatic in your world? Uchi will rock their world, of that I am utterly confident. Inventive is the first word that comes to mind when I consider their menu. I highly recommend the Machi Cure (smoked yellowtail on yucca crisp with Marcona almonds and Asian pear). The cottage setting on S. Lamar is also a portal into another, more Japanese, world.
Jester King Brewery: Take me home country roads. Jester King makes experimental farmhouse ales and serves wood-fired incredible pizzas on their 165-acre country estate west of the city. This is beer and pizza on an entirely different (higher) level. The property features several bars with unique taps, so it pays to wander around a bit and to save room for another glass.
The Civil Goat: Tucked into a nondescript location on relatively rural Cuernavaca Road, this coffee roaster has the beans and the avocado toast to go with them. In all seriousness, their avo toast is definitive, and I love the lost neighborhood vibe of the place. I feel like I’m in the Santa Cruz mountains when I’m there.
Better Half Coffee & Cocktails: Another ham biscuit, please! This is my favorite place for morning coffee meetings. The coffee is great but the ham biscuit dripping with honey is something to behold and then devour. I also love their easy parking on 6th Street and the large back yard for sunny day sippin’.
Some other notable restaurants that could easily be added to this list: Loro, Perla’s, Contigo, El Naranjo, and Home Slice Pizza. There are also several restaurants we’d like to try for the first time, including Emmer & Rye, Lenoir, Buffalina, Jeffrey’s, and Foreign & Domestic.