Editor’s Note: Welcome to The Greats, a series on the restaurants around the country that define their cities. Here now, a guide to the Austin Greats.
Ask any Austin resident what they like about their city and they’ll probably mention the laid back vibe, friendly people, music, and warm weather. And pretty soon they’ll start talking about food. Whether arguing over who slings the best breakfast tacos in the city, where to go for the most delicious barbecue, or which food truck is the greatest of all food trucks, Austinites are seriously invested in their culinary scene.
That’s because Austin’s got it all: old-guard institutions that have been around forever, cutting-edge chef-driven fine dining, some of the country’s most beloved Tex Mex, biscuits that win James Beard Awards, a family-run ranch-to-table restaurant that sources from the family ranch, and more. It’s undeniable that the gastronomy of Texas’s capital is cause for celebration.
So celebrate it by visiting the city’s greatest restaurants in a city crammed full of them. These are the restaurants that make Austin dining great.
Uchi (South Austin)
In a stylish refurbished house (“uchi” is Japanese for “house”), founding chef and partner Tyson Cole slings the freshest sushi in the city. Raw fish options include extensive a la carte pieces and a ten-course omakase, and traditional Japanese dishes such as wagyu beef carpaccio round out the menu. An Austin treasure since 2003, Uchi made such an important contribution to the national food scene that the James Beard Foundation named Cole, who trained in Tokyo, Best Chef: Southwest in 2011. For sushi lovers in north Austin, Cole’s second restaurant in the city, Uchiko, is just as delightful as his first.
Dining at the restaurant: In addition to dinner service, daily happy hour, known as Sake Social, offers snacks and $4 sake beneath the soft lighting of Japanese lanterns.
Takeout: Uchi is open for takeout and delivery.
L’Oca d’Oro (Mueller)
This beloved Italian spot is known not only for its delicious homemade pasta, wood-grilled entrees, shareable small plates, and charmingly hip vibe (co-owner and chef Fiore Tedesco came to L’Oca by way of the ultimate hipster Italian spot, Roberta’s in Brooklyn), but also for its social conscience — pre-Covid, to ensure that servers earned a living wage and to provide health care access, every check arrived with a 20 percent hospitality charge. This restaurant has a serious conscience and place in the community: Since March 2020 when L’Oca d’Oro became delivery-only, Tedesco and his partner Adam Orman have secured funding to prepare hundreds of thousands of meals for the city’s food insecure.
Dining at the restaurant: L’Oca d’Oro will open patio seating in April, so diners can enjoy wood-roasted mushroom lasagna and a glass of Sangiovese al fresco.
Takeout: L’Oca d’Oro offers subscription bags, including an option for three dinners a week (for two or four diners) to enjoy at home. Starting in April, regular nightly takeout will become available.
Emmer & Rye (South Austin/Rainey)
This beloved fine dining spot boasts bright natural light and an open kitchen, and centers on an ever-changing American menu of fresh seasonal ingredients. Impeccable service and partner Tavel Bristol-Joseph’s famous desserts have been landing Emmer & Rye on best-of lists since it opened in 2015. Owner Kevin Fink, previously of famed restaurants Noma and The French Laundry, dazzles with dishes such as blue crab on red-leaf lettuce with green tomato and cilantro. Last year, though the award was ultimately canceled due to the pandemic, the James Beard Foundation nominated Fink for a new category: Best Chef in Texas.
Dining at the restaurant: Emmer & Rye is open for dine-in service.
Takeout: Emmer & Rye offers both pickup and delivery.
Justine’s Brasserie (East Austin)
Since 2009, this sexy, arty French comfort-food restaurant that frequently makes it to Austin’s Eater 38 list has been known for its late-night raucous fun — disco balls, escargot, famous French onion soup, and live DJs. It’s one of those rare restaurant experiences that truly transports its diners, its ambience like a movie set or a fever dream. Celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Zooey Deschanel have been known to pop in. And everyone stays for dessert because the crème brulee is just that good.
Dining at the restaurant: Outdoor patio dining in private cabanas is available by reservation Wednesday through Monday.
Takeout: Curbside pickup is available and just right for an order of steak frites.
When it opened in 2014, this Southern restaurant immediately won the hearts of diners and critics alike. Food & Wine magazine named chef Michael Fojtasek a Best New Chef that, Austin American-Statesman named Olamaie best restaurant of the year in 2015, 2017, and 2019, and the accolades haven’t stopped. Fojtasek was a James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef: Southeast in 2018 and 2019, and for Best Chef: Texas in 2020. The magic happens inside a 90-year-old white house with black shutters, where the décor is elegant and classic and the modern Southern cuisine is top of the line, from the hush puppies and wagyu beef tartare to the pecan pie with vanilla ice cream.
Dining at the restaurant: The dining room is closed until further notice.
Takeout: Hard-hit by COVID, Olamaie has transitioned from fine dining to biscuits to-go: Little Ola’s Biscuits offers a limited southern menu centered on Olamaie’s famous biscuits — fried chicken, country ham and cheese, and even dog biscuits.
Perla’s (South Austin)
Everyone’s favorite patio in Austin sits smack in the action, a perfect place to enjoy fresh seafood and watch the pedestrians strolling down South Congress. Oak trees wrapped in string lights stretch over wooden tables and brightly colored umbrellas, underneath which diners slurp oysters and sip cocktails, splitting dishes such as espelette shrimp & blue crab gumbo or an order of salt & jalapeño pepper-fried calamari. Part of McGuire Moorman Hospitality Group, which owns 14 restaurants in the city, Perla’s opened in 2009 and is always bustling.
Dining at the restaurant: Stop by for weekday happy hour between 3 pm and 6 pm, when each oyster costs 50 cents less than usual and drinks are $2 off. The patio is the coveted spot, but indoor dining is open and offers a giant fish tank.
Takeout: Curbside pickup is available; diners can order online through Perla’s website.
Red Ash (Downtown)
Named for the “red ash” released from the fire of a wood-burning grill, this Italian steakhouse — a 2018 OpenTable Diner’s Choice Award winner — has been dazzling Downtown food lovers since Larry Foles and Guy Villavaso (founders of old-school Austin favorite Eddy V’s) opened its doors in 2016. Executive chef John Carver whips up recipes from the northern and southern regions of Italy, such as wood-roasted beef bone marrow with wild mushroom risotto, hand-made small potato gnocchi “gratinata,” and bruschetta of wood-roasted dry-aged steak trimmings. The year Red Ash opened, Zagat named it one of the hottest restaurants in Austin, and five years later, its sleek modern interior — industrial décor with a graffiti wall — beautiful plating, and unique flavors maintain its elite status.
Dining at the restaurant: Reservations through OpenTable allow diners to choose among table, high-top, or bar seating.
Takeout: Through Red Ash’s website, diners can order from an a la carte menu, available for pickup daily between 5:30 pm and 9:30 pm.
Wu Chow (Downtown)
Wu Chow has become one of the city’s most popular restaurants by combining Chinese food with farm-to-table cooking. The hip vibe, tiki cocktails, and Shanghai soup dumplings quickly drew a fan base to Stuart Thomajan’s and C.K. Chin’s second Austin restaurant (they also own Swift’s Attic). The menu mixes and matches dishes from all eight Chinese cooking styles, offering up everything from Hunan beef to Sichuan tofu, and is packed with delicious vegan and gluten-free options, including vegan hot and sour soup that tastes like the real thing.
Dining at the restaurant: Diners who reserve a table anytime between 11 am and 3 pm on a Sunday can enjoy Wu Chow’s famous dim sum service. Both indoor and patio seating are available.
Takeout: Diners can choose between curbside pickup and delivery.
Dai Due (East Austin)
Since chef Jesse Griffiths and business partner Tamara Mayfield opened Dai Due in 2006, the restaurant has been instrumental in turning the Texas gastronomy stereotype on its head. Forget white butcher paper tablecloths and nothing-but-barbecue: Dai Due’s menu comprises creative dishes using only Texan ingredients — even locally sourced olive oil — serves only Texas wine and beer, and has single-handedly elevated the concept of Texas cooking to haute cuisine. Griffiths and executive chef Janie Ramirez pickle, brine, and preserve; use their scraps; employ organic practices; and prioritize farm-to-table freshness. The menu changes frequently but could include pork posole verde, a killer wagyu double cheeseburger, and grilled wild boar steak. Not just a source of local pride as one of the state’s most innovative restaurants, Dai Due also frequently garners national attention, including a spot on GQ’s list of the 25 most outstanding restaurants of 2015.
Dining at the restaurant: Through OpenTable, diners can reserve a table on the patio, partially enclosed by a beautiful, arching trellis covered in lush greenery.
Takeout: Online ordering for pickup is available through the website.
Eberly (South Austin)
In 2016, Austin restaurateurs Eddy Patterson and John Scott (of popular Stubb’s BBQ) renovated an old print shop into one of the city’s classiest restaurants. Eberly has the corner on swanky, old-timey ambiance, from its leather furniture to crowded bookshelves to the 150-year-old mahogany bar that was purchased from now-closed iconic New York City bar Cedar Tavern and rebuilt right inside the restaurant. But most importantly, executive chef Jo Chan’s menu is a local treasure, with unique farm-to-table offerings, including tagliatelle with forest mushrooms and braised short rib with cheddar polenta and roasted Tokyo turnips.
Dining at the restaurant: Eberly is open for socially distanced, reduced capacity dining.
Takeout: Eberly is not currently offering takeout.
Biscuit lovers flock to this Austin favorite for classic Southern comfort fare — shrimp and grits, fried chicken sandwiches, lobster and crawfish pot pie, Texas red fish. In 2014, chef James Robert, who grew up cooking with his mother and grandmother in Louisiana, opened this spot in hopes of creating a cozy “Sunday supper” setting for his favorite home-cooked dishes. Fixe is homey, but it’s also luxe, with a beautiful open kitchen and choice ingredients. Simple deviled eggs, for example, come garnished with smoked trout roe. But back to the biscuits: This is the recipe that puts Fixe on the map. They are a marvel, flaky, buttery, and served with local honey.
Dining at the restaurant: Fixe is open for indoor dining with safety precautions in place.
Takeout: Diners can order through the website for curbside pickup or call the restaurant to schedule a delivery.
Bar Peached (Clarksville)
In 2010, litigator Eric Silverstein ditched his law career and opened a food truck. The Peached Tortilla was such a hit that a decade later, Tokyo-born Silverstein is now a cookbook author who owns two trucks, a catering company, and three brick-and-mortar restaurants in Austin. At his newest, Bar Peached, a bright yellow bar meets Asian-inspired snacks, including pork buns, chile crab toast, and pesto udon. The white house with playful contemporary art on the walls opens onto a charming patio and a century-old tree that create the ideal vibe for sipping a margarita de Peached (habanero- and Thai basil-infused tequila with orange liqueur and lime) or sharing a “bingsu”— Korean shaved ice topped with anything from black sesame paste to matcha powder.
Dining at the restaurant: Diners can reserve indoor or patio seating through OpenTable.
Takeout: Bar Peached offers curbside pickup and delivery.
Jacoby’s (East Austin)
The Jacoby family brings down-home Texas recipes straight from its ranch in Melvin, northwest of Austin, to its restaurant along the banks of the Colorado River. The menu offers a mix of tried-and-true Southern specialties — Texas “caviar,” chicken-fried steak, shrimp and grits — with modern touches — think pork belly risotto and vegan cauliflower “steak.” Barn wood sourced from Melvin, dark leather, antique chandeliers, and exposed brick lend the space a rustic elegance. Beyond its all-around excellence, what sets Jacoby’s apart is its authenticity — these aren’t hipsters playing cowboy; this is a family of real Texas ranchers from a long line of Texas ranchers.
Dining at the restaurant: Dine indoors or in the beautiful garden.
Takeout: Jacoby’s offers delivery and pickup options (order through OpenTable), including happy hour four evenings a week with $5 appetizers and $10 burgers.
Intero (East Austin)
Go for the fresh, waste-nothing recipes; stay for the artisanal chocolate. Austinite husband-wife team chef Ian Thurwachter and chocolatier/pastry chef Krystal Craig opened Intero’s doors in 2018, blending the sweet and savory flavors of Italy with local, seasonal ingredients, and instantly taking a place among the best restaurants in Austin. (Texas Monthly named it among the best restaurants in Texas.) The wood-fired oven pizzas boast innovative toppings such as braised beef osso bucco, and diners delight in the clean complexity of the hand-crafted cocktails. The Dark Ritual (aged rum, two types of amaro, and lemon peel) pairs beautifully with the chocolate truffles.
Dining at the restaurant: Dine in or on the semi-covered patio.
Takeout: Intero offers pickup.
The name evokes the Greek goddess of the hearth, an apt mascot for a restaurant centered on a 20-foot hearth and fire-based cooking techniques. When it opened in 2019, Hestia became an instant classic, and Food & Wine named executive chef and partner Tavel Bristol-Joseph among the ten best new chefs in America. The ever-changing menu offers luxurious entrees such as 60-day dry-aged wagyu tenderloin, small plates (king crab in kelp butter, oak-charred cabbage), and playful desserts, including a posh take on s’mores with chocolate caramel mousse, oat biscuit, toasted meringue, and grapefruit. Expert plating, an open kitchen, and diner booths strike just the right balance of stylish and cozy.
Dining at the restaurant: Hestia is open for dinner every day except Monday.
Takeout: Diners can choose between curbside pickup and delivery.
Hillside Farmacy (Central East Austin)
From the 1950s to the 1970s, the site of one of award-winning chef Sonya Cote’s three Austin restaurants was the city’s first Black-owned pharmacy, Hillside Drugstore. In 2012, the Hillside restaurant team restored the dilapidated building, which still belongs to the pharmacist’s family, and created a vintage wonderland — shiny white floor tiles, framed antique pharmacy prescriptions, metal swivel stools around an old-timey bar. The menu is simple, farm-based, and playful, with dishes such as a Texas cheese plate, an “adult happy meal” (Texas grass-fed burger, malt vinegar fries, and an old fashioned), and a fried egg sandwich with eggs from local, sustainable, organic farms.
Dining at the restaurant: Diners can choose between indoor and outdoor seating.
Takeout: Both pickup and delivery are available through OpenTable.
Chef Shawn Cirkiel, who grew up on a farm, made farm-to-table dining in Austin a thing before it was a thing. Since 2008, this upscale gastropub has been packed with happy hour revelers (Zagat named the happy hour among the ten best in Austin), oysters-and-bubbles lovers (on Wednesdays, Parkside sell both half off), and diners craving one of those epic bacon cheeseburgers (among the 101 best in America, according to The Daily Meal). The flagship restaurant of Cirkiel’s Parkside Projects Restaurant and Hospitality Group, Parkside stands out on bustling Sixth Street as a hip space with exposed-brick walls, steel posts, Edison drop lights, and local ingredients that are famously fresh.
Dining at the restaurant: Reservations are recommended.
Takeout: Pickup and delivery are available.
Matt’s El Rancho (South Austin)
In a city full of Tex-Mex, one dish at this 69-year-old Austin landmark sets it on a pedestal: Matt’s El Rancho is the go-to for anyone with a queso craving. The famous queso, or “Bob Armstrong dip,” comes topped with taco meat and guacamole. It’s practically a whole meal, and with a basket of tortilla chips, it’s sized for sharing, either outside on the patio or in the no-frills dining room where bright Mexican art adorns the walls. The menu offers up all the Tex-Mex classics — fajitas, quesadillas, enchiladas — and the margaritas are a must. The lore surrounding Matt’s El Rancho traces back to the founder Matt Martinez’s childhood, when he sold tamales from a cart outside the Capitol.
Dining at the restaurant: Both indoor and patio seating are open for lunch and dinner seven days a week.
Takeout: Both curbside pickup and delivery are available through Matt’s El Rancho’s website.
Arlo Grey (Downtown)
In 2018, five years after Kristen Kish became the first woman of color to win Top Chef, the Korean-born culinary master graced Austin with Arlo Grey, an international (or as Kish calls it, “elevated Midwestern”) restaurant in the LINE Hotel. Common dishes pair with unexpected flavors — burrata with cucumber broth, for example — to surprising success. The sophisticated space adorned with lush plants and sprawling windows provides lake views, both inside and from the patio. Little touches, including art composed of pages from Kish’s cooking journals, grant diners a precious glimpse into the celebrity chef’s heart and mind.
Dining at the restaurant: Arlo Grey’s dining room is closed until further notice.
Takeout: Pickup is available through OpenTable.
Devil May Care (Downtown)
This atmospheric Mediterranean spot on Sixth Street, helmed by BDG Hospitality and Nova Hospitality, slings chilled lobster in tabouleh, lamb ribs with tzatziki, Greek wine, Moroccan mint tea, and falafel in a speakeasy-style space. From an unassuming entrance, diners descend a staircase to find a dining room complete with antique furniture, Persian throw rugs, and neon lights. It’s rare for a restaurant to provide not just a meal but an experience, and since it opened in 2019, Devil May Care nails it, transporting its diners into a lounge-like underworld.
Dining at the restaurant: Devil May Care makes for a fun night out, and the dining room is open for dinner Thursday through Sunday evenings, but Sunday brunch is an experience, too, complete with live DJs.
Takeout: Devil May Care offers curbside pickup Thursday through Sunday evenings.
Diana Spechler is a novelist and essayist whose work appears in The New York Times, The Guardian, Washington Post, Harper’s, and elsewhere.