Austin’s 12 Best Neighborhood Restaurants That Locals Love

Credit: Wu Chow

Austin has a lot to offer. That’s why 30 million people (typically) visit annually — to check out the city’s famous music festivals, sample the iconic breakfast tacos, and take advantage of the lakes, the parks, and the sunshine. It’s also why the city’s population has more than doubled in the last 20 years — fueling an eclectic and thriving restaurant scene.

Though the pandemic has been tough on the dining industry, Austin’s restaurateurs have risen to the occasion. There has never been a better time to support the neighborhood favorites that helped put the city’s dining scene on the map. 

From a Japanese joint owned by a sushi master to an Ethiopian restaurant that doesn’t shy away from spice, this list is quintessentially Austin, capturing the residents’ love of high-quality food, diverse cuisines, and good vibes.

East Austin

Dai Due

A commitment to regional ingredients, including Texas olive oil and Texas wines and beers, has set Dai Due apart ever since partners in business and life, Jesse Griffiths and Tamara Mayfield, opened its doors in 2006. Though the offerings constantly change with the seasons, meat always takes center stage, from Wagyu beef to creative preparations with wild game, such as a recent riff on an Italian sub packed with housemade Nilgai antelope salami, wild boar summer sausage, and Wagyu bologna. 

Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining and outdoor patio dining are available by reservation. Don’t miss the restaurant’s selection of Texas wine: Dai Due’s wine selection is carefully curated, offering diners a great starting point to sample delicious varietals from the Hill Country. 

Takeout: A limited menu is available for takeout via the restaurant’s website.

Hank’s 

Hank's Pastry

Credit: Hank’s

With its well-lit white interior, wicker drop chandeliers, and lush plants, Hank’s food matches the restaurant’s minimalist beauty. The menu consists of simple, fresh American fare such as wood-grilled salmon with turmeric yogurt and Southern dishes such as brined fried chicken and Gulf shrimp and grits. Don’t miss the housemade baked goods, like the restaurant’s famous Chantilly cake.

Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining is available, along with seating on the restaurant’s patio. The happy hour, offered daily from 3pm to 6:30pm, has great deals such as $6 cocktails. As a bonus, burgers are half off on Mondays.  

Takeout: Hank’s drive-through window allows diners to grab an order of spicy fried chicken and a bottle of wine to-go.

Licha’s Cantina 

There’s no shortage of Tex-Mex in the great state of Texas, but unless you’re on the border, real Mexican food can be hard to come by. Enter Licha’s Cantina, named for the family’s Mexico City-born matriarch, Licha. Set in a little white house with turquoise trim, there’s not a hard-shell taco in sight. Instead, diners can find sopes, gorditas, and cochinita pibil, a Yucatan dish where pork is marinated in citrus with achiote, a seed that gives the dish its signature burnt orange color.

Dining at the restaurant: Locals have always been drawn to Licha’s for the outdoor space, where white string lights wind around big twisty tree trunks, creating a fun, romantic vibe as guests munch huaraches and tacos al pastor. Indoor dining is also available. 

Takeout: Licha’s is open for both pick-up and delivery; diners can bring home Mexican street foods such as lengua (beef tongue) tacos and esquite.

North Austin

L’Oca d’Oro

What started as a supper club at Franklin BBQ is now a favorite farm-to-table Italian neighborhood spot known for its local, seasonal ingredients and chef Fiore Tedesco’s interpretations of dishes from Italian regions ranging from Veneto to Sicily. Pasta, bread, cheese, vinegars, and liqueurs are all made in-house, and strong relationships with local farmers mean that the rest of the menu is made up of sustainably grown or raised ingredients from nearby farmers. Because dishes change with the seasons, diners can always expect to find something new and exciting on the menu, such as pear ravioli with brown butter, sage, and pecorino Toscano, or meatballs made with Wagyu brisket, heritage pork, and tomato jam. 

Dining at the restaurant: L’Oca d’Oro is open exclusively for outdoor dining. Reservations are strongly recommended, as seating is limited.

Takeout: Call the restaurant directly for takeout.

Habesha (North Central) 

Credit: Habesha

The family that owns this hidden treasure chose the name “Habesha” to honor the spirit of inclusivity: the term is used by Ethiopians and Eritreans to refer to themselves in a way that eschews distinctions of ethnicity, tribe membership, or country of citizenship. Diners feel that inviting warmth in this relaxed atmosphere, where every party shares food, sampling an assortment of flavorful vegetable or meat dishes by scooping them up with injera, a traditional sourdough pancake. Since 2013, Habesha has earned the reputation for being the tastiest and spiciest Ethiopian restaurant in the city.

Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant offers indoor dining. Don’t miss the goden tibs (spicy prime short ribs) or doro key wot (chicken drumstick stew), which comes out still sizzling.

Takeout: Habesha offers both delivery and pick-up. Families can take advantage of the special vegan and meat takeout package for $49.99 and $59.99 respectively, which both include four entrees and four sides.

SLAB

Back in 2006, the hip hop-themed Southern barbecue joint SLAB (the letters stand for Slow, Low, and Bangin’) was but a food trailer called Sugar Shack BBQ. Fast forward a few years, and owners Mark Avalos and Raf Robinson have had their smoked meats endorsed by celebrity chef Guy Fieri and have grown the business to include two food trucks and two brick-and-mortar locations. Though other barbecue joints around the city have the reputation and the hour-long tourist lines to match, SLAB remains a favorite among locals, beloved for its “Texas-sized sammiches” such as the Notorious P.I.G. (pulled pork) and Texas O.G. (brisket). Careful: They’re taller than an open mouth.

Dining at the restaurant: SLAB is open for indoor dining, complete with hand sanitizing stations and disposable menus. 

Takeout: The restaurant offers its full menu for takeout.

Chez Zee 

Since its opening in 1989, this casual bistro with the year-round Christmas lights and the adorable back patio has offered Austinites Southern comfort dishes — think chicken fried steak, jalapeño cornbread stuffing, and fried pickles — as well as standard American fare such as burgers and porkchops. Chez Zee’s charm lies in its old-school vibe and owner Sharon Watkins’ love of art, which is evident in the representation of local artists inside the restaurant and on the patio.

Dining at the restaurant: Chez Zee is open for indoor dining, but locals love grabbing a patio table to sip a coffee and indulge in a dessert from the on-site bakery. Offerings range from standards such as key lime pie to interesting choices such as lemon cake prepared with rosemary from Chez Zee’s garden.

Takeout: The restaurant offers takeout and delivery.

  

Central Austin

Emmer & Rye

Credit: Emmer & Rye

Lovers of variety never get bored at the carbon-neutral, farm-to-table concept Emmer & Rye, where the new American menu changes daily. Co-partners and chefs Kevin Fink’s and Tavel Bristol-Joseph’s commitment to the best local and seasonal food means on-site butchering and brining, as well as housemade breads and pastas. The airy, minimalist décor feels as fresh as the food, and the beautiful open kitchen lets diners watch the chefs work their magic.

Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining is available inside the bright, bustling space. Diners can also book a seat on the restaurant’s patio. In either spot, be sure to enjoy one of the innovative cocktails such as the Gathering Clouds: toasted pecan and sunflower cognac, toki, nuka apple, and egg whites.

Takeout: Emmer & Rye offers curbside pickup and delivery.

Clark’s Oyster Bar 

Credit: Clark’s

An icon of the local dining scene, Austin native Larry McGuire has opened 13 restaurants in the city. With his partner Tom Moorman, he launched the upscale seafood spot Clark’s Oyster Bar in 2012, offering an extensive raw bar set against a sleek white interior. Clark’s (the little brother of the always-packed South Congress seafood restaurant Perla’s) offers one of the best weekend brunches in Austin, slinging dishes such as the restaurant’s cioppino (a seafood stew) served over grits.

Dining at the restaurant: To enjoy rare oysters and sip Champagne, the restaurant is open for dine-in service and also revamped the extensive patio to include more seating, sunshades, and heaters when necessary.

Takeout: Clark’s Oyster Bar offers the majority of the restaurant’s menu for takeout, including oysters with all of the fixings for diners to shuck at home.

Downtown

Wu Chow

Credit: Wu Chow

This modern Chinese restaurant serves eight styles of Chinese cuisine, from the better known Sichuan and Hunan to the lesser-known, seafood-focused Jiangsu. Opened by owners of the beloved farm-to-table restaurant Swift’s Attic, the same local farmers and growers supply Wu Chow, where diners will notice that dishes such as Sichuan braised eggplant are made with local vegetables.

Dining at the restaurant: Wu Chow offers indoor seating, as well as patio dining for those looking for fresh air and downtown Austin people-watching. Sundays are the best time to go, when the restaurant serves a full dim sum menu, offering small dishes such as shrimp har gow (dumplings), turnip cakes, and egg custard tarts.

Takeout: The restaurant offers both takeout and delivery. 

The Backspace

Credit: The Backspace

The exposed brick, rich mahogany, and wood-burning oven lend this popular Neapolitan pizzeria a cozy elegance. Born and raised in Austin, chef Shawn Cirkiel of Parkside Projects opened The Backspace in 2010 after training at top restaurants in New York City, Napa, and cooking at some of Austin’s most high-end chef-driven spots. Cirkiel’s commitment to fresh, simple food is on display at all four of his Austin restaurants, but perhaps nowhere more than The Backspace, where the menu brings locals back again and again for the dishes such as fennel sausage pizza or Sicilian eggplant panini.

Dining at the restaurant: The Backspace now has a second location in the North and both spots are open for indoor dining. At the Anderson Lane location, there’s a new patio. At the Downtown location, the best time to drop in is during the weekday happy hour, where antipasti, beers, and wines by the glass are half off.

Takeout: The Backspace offers both takeout and delivery.

Fixe 

Southern charm is everywhere at Fixe, where the décor creates an ambience of Sunday supper at a friend’s house: ornate dinner plates arranged artfully on the walls, an inviting open kitchen, and string lights woven through the slatted wood overhead. The food is equally comforting, with popular dishes such as fried chicken with spicy honey, pork chops with bacon jam, and the pear cobbler for dessert. 

Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining is available and recommended for those who want their famous biscuits fresh out of the oven.

Takeout: Fixe offers pickup and delivery; call the restaurant to order.

Diana Spechler is a novelist and essayist whose work appears in The New York Times, The Guardian, Washington Post, Harper’s, and elsewhere.

Lauren McDowell contributed reporting to this guide.

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