Austin’s Best Neighborhood Restaurants That Locals Love

Credit: Wu Chow

Editor’s Note: At the time of publication, Austin is allowing both indoor and outdoor dining. Keep up with the latest restrictions on dining in cities across the U.S. and Canada.


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, offering takeout, delivery, al fresco seating, and socially distanced dining rooms. 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 

Though indoor dining is closed at the time of publishing, socially distanced patio seating is 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 

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 

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

Takeout

Hank’s is lucky enough to have a drive-through window so diners can safely grab an order of spicy fried chicken and a bottle of wine to-go.

Hank's Pastry

Credit: Hank’s

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 at limited capacity. 

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

Habesha (North Central) 

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 limited capacity 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.

Credit: Habesha

Seoulju Korean Kitchen and Bar 

Credit: Seoulju

This family-run restaurant focuses on Korean fried chicken and owner John Lee’s love of soju, a Korean liquor that Lee infuses on site in order to create unusual riffs such as the popular strawberry shortcake flavor. Meanwhile, Lee’s mother whips up homemade sauces to accompany the fried chicken, such as sweet chile and spicy garlic fish sauce. Since its opening in 2019, Seoulju has been landing on best-of lists and satisfying the fried chicken needs of locals and destination diners alike.

Dining at the restaurant 

The restaurant offers limited capacity indoor dining, where diners can accompany the fried chicken with Korean snacks such as corn cheese, a warm mixture of mozzarella and sweet corn. 

Takeout

Seoulju’s food and bottles of soju are available via takeout and delivery.

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 limited indoor dining, complete with hand sanitizing stations and disposable menus to help ensure diner safety. 

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 limited 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

Musashino 

Musashino’s chef and owner Takehiko Fuse is serious about his sushi and has been preparing the most authentic nigiri and maki in Austin since 2000. Though most sushi aficionados have heard of Uchi, the trendy Austin sushi spot that has nationwide cred, Uchi’s owner and chef actually first apprenticed under Fuse. Nestled in an unassuming multi-business retail center, locals flock here for the beautifully plated sushi in an intimate space that feels like it’s right off the bustling streets of Tokyo.

Dining at the restaurant 

Indoor seating is available at limited capacity, and diners also have the option to sit on the newly expanded patio and enjoy fresh cuts of a la carte fish, including Norwegian mackerel and fatty tuna wrapped in pickled mustard greens. 

Takeout

No takeout or delivery options.

Better Half Coffee & Cocktails 

Café by day and bar by night, this all-day spot slings delicious healthy-esque global comfort foods, including the famous cauliflower tots with beet ketchup and granola bowls with local Greek yogurt and pomegranate molasses. Run by former baristas, Better Half serves memorable coffee drinks, too — try a cinnamon cardamom latte or a Thai iced coffee with chocolate bitters. At night, diners can sample a rotating selection of cocktails on draft, or the restaurant’s selection of natural wines. 

Dining at the restaurant 

The restaurant is open with limited capacity, but locals love to snag a seat on the patio, especially for weekend brunch. Try the hash browns with coffee and cream gravy and a michelada with a smoked chili-salt rim.

Takeout

Better Half offers takeout and delivery. 

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 

The dining room is open for limited seating, where booths are divided by plexiglass, and patrons have the option of contactless payment. 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.

Credit: Emmer & Rye

Clark’s Oyster Bar 

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.

Credit: Clark’s

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.

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

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 limited 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. 

Credit: Wu Chow

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 limited indoor seating. At the Anderson Lane location, there’s a brand 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. 

Credit: The Backspace

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 

Fixe is staying at 50% capacity and taking standard precautions, 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.

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