As beloved for its fine dining establishments as it is for its food trucks, Austin’s restaurant scene is brimming with compelling backdrops for memorable nights — picture windows framing the skyline, art from all over the world, a Greek restaurant’s marble bar that matches the white of Santorini.
“Special occasion-appropriate” is open to interpretation, but the truth is, to make it in the restaurant industry in a city as food-focused as Austin, an establishment has to be special. So this carefully curated list has a little of everything, from classic white-tablecloth fine dining to a ten-course barbecue feast.
Some of these restaurants are new and others have been Austin staples for years, but what they all have in common is that they’re perfect spots for toasting to birthdays or anniversaries or job promotions, or simply to being alive in one of the country’s coolest cities.
Restaurateur George Theodosiou has opened 46 New York City restaurants in the past decade and his experience is on full display at Simi. At this new upscale modern Greek spot, the fish is famously fresh and the ambience is carefully curated: Decor includes a grand art piece that resembles an ancient Greek fishing net, an octopus wall mural, and a library in the lounge. The sleek white marble bar at the center of the space is among the hippest in the city. Executive chef Diego Sanchez has an expertly light touch, with recipes as simple as fish straight out of the water with a little olive oil to bring out the natural flavor.
Dining at the restaurant: Outdoor seating is coming soon, but for now, diners can enjoy the raw bar and “land” menu inside this attractive, sprawling space where woven-basket chandeliers cast dim lighting from high ceilings.
Takeout: Simi does not yet offer takeout or delivery.
To step into the Ken Fulk-designed Lutie’s is to enter a luxurious alternate reality — in place of chandeliers, plants grow wild from the ceiling, and with its polished wood, mirrored back, and high velvet chairs, the bar recalls a bygone era. The signature restaurant of the Commodore Perry Estate Hotel, a restored mansion from the original Roaring Twenties, Lutie’s dazzles with its impeccable service, fresh ingredients, and choice wine list. Even the bread and brown butter are standouts.
Dining at the restaurant: It is an experience to dine indoors at Lutie’s, but the gorgeous view from the patio is even more impressive. Look out over the lush estate grounds while sipping a craft cocktail and enjoying a roasted lettuce salad with pumpkin seeds or charcoal-grilled chicken with leeks and hominy.
Takeout: Lutie’s does not offer takeout or delivery.
From aguachile to carne asada, the menu at this popular restaurant is not Tex-Mex, but deeply Mexican — chef Kevin Taylor’s parents owned a Mexican restaurant for decades — with a modern twist: The plating is spare and symmetrical, showing off fresh ingredients and splashes of color. Opened in 2017 by Larry Foles and Guy Villavaso, the same people who launched other beloved Austin restaurants, including Red Ash and Eddy V’s, ATX Cocina prioritizes quality and authenticity, even importing its corn from Oaxaca for the tortillas made in-house.
Dining at the restaurant: Diners can choose between patio seating and indoor dining in a modern space filled with pale wood and clean, geometric lines. Even if there’s nothing particular to celebrate, every day is a party during happy hour, when margaritas are three dollars off.
Takeout: The restaurant offers curbside pick-up for anything off the menu, plus taco kits and margarita kits. Alcohol orders must be accompanied by food. Delivery is not available.
Nothing says “special occasion” like a ten-course tasting menu, which this Italian-inspired restaurant offers with wine pairings. Though chef Nicholas Yanes trained in Italy and favors the cuisine of the north, he isn’t confined by it. From the English pea tart with Sicilian pistachios to the ribeye with salted radish to the grilled blueberries with elderberry pana cotta, the Juniper dining experience is delicious and chic, the plating as artful as the white juniper tree painted across one wall.
Dining at the restaurant: From the dark stained oak floors to the sophisticated drop lighting, the setting couldn’t be more intimate, just right for sipping a Montepulciano Rosato. Illuminated by string lights, the patio, too, lends ambience befitting the spot-on cannolis. OpenTable offers bookings for the ten-course seasonal tasting menu, the five-course prix fixe menu, and the Juniper brunch prix fixe menu.
Takeout: Through OpenTable, diners can order takeout by phone or delivery online and enjoy a la carte menu items such as risotto with lobster and stracciatella with sugar snap peas.
Going out for barbecue doesn’t have to mean wiping your fingers on a butcher-paper tablecloth — baby back rib lovers with something to celebrate head to MML Hospitality’s swanky take on a barbecue joint. The exposed brick and warm lighting pair well with slow-smoked Texas prime brisket or blackened shrimp from the oak-burning grill. Craft cocktails such as the Hazy Honey Collins (gin, IPA, lemon, and IPA syrup) are a good choice for those who find the full-page whiskey menu too intimidating. Check the online schedule for live music in the Upstairs Bar and Lounge.
Dining at the restaurant: Whether seated indoors or on the patio, diners should not miss the homemade desserts, including apple fried pie with vanilla ice cream.
Takeout: Lambert’s offers online ordering for curbside takeout and slings a barbecue “family pack” that serves three to four. The restaurant does not have delivery.
Centered on a grand 20-foot hearth in the open kitchen, this live-fire restaurant was an instant success upon its opening in 2019 because of the picture windows framing the cityscape and the top-shelf ingredients, including wagyu ribeye and lion’s mane mushrooms. Executive chef Kevin Fink and partner/executive pastry chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph knew what they were doing: They had already nailed it when they opened new American restaurant Emmer & Rye in 2015. Their little restaurant empire now includes five popular places, but Hestia’s uniqueness and style makes it perfect for special occasions.
Dining at the restaurant: Exposed brick and ductwork lend the space a modern industrial feel, a fun contrast with cozy booths, where diners enjoy oysters with smoked pear and verjus foam. Outdoor seating is available.
Takeout: The Hestia website offers online ordering for curbside pickup. People can also order delivery through GrubHub.
Among the most famous sushi chefs in Texas, James Beard Award-winning Tyson Cole of Uchi opened sister restaurant Uchiko in 2010, and it’s tough to find a flaw in it. Natural materials throughout the space — lots of walnut and wood — accented by steel and brass create a warm, sophisticated ambience. The sushi is the most innovative in town; this is probably the only sushi menu you’ll ever see that includes venison garnished with blueberry, celery, and collards.
Dining at the restaurant: It’s worth hitting the “sake social,” Uchiko’s take on happy hour, from 4pm to 6:30pm daily, or ordering the omakase — a five- or ten-course tasting menu. People can dine indoors or on the patio.
Takeout: Through OpenTable, diners can order delivery via UberEats. Uchiko’s website offers curbside pickup.
Many of MML Hospitality’s restaurants qualify as special-occasion spots — the charming patio at Perla’s is an old favorite, for example — but this new upscale red-sauce Italian concept has a particularly festive atmosphere with its fun old-timey bar and vintage family photos crowding the wall. The menu offers standards such as flavorful eggplant parmigiana, wood-grilled octopus, and shrimp francese. Diners who know their way around an Italian wine list will delight in the wide section of brunnelo, and those with a sweet tooth can’t go wrong with the cannoli.
Dining at the restaurant: Outdoor dining will be available soon. In the meantime, indoor seating means sipping cocktails with the delicious aroma of garlic in the air.
Takeout: Sammie’s is not open for takeout or delivery.
Once a boutique stocked with little treasures from around the world, Aviary morphed into a wine shop, and then continued its evolution until 2017, when owners Marco Fiorilo and John Coronado finally renovated it into a wine-centered restaurant in a bright space with turquoise walls and a pink bar. Interesting small plates like barbecue carrots, ceviche, and quail tamales make for a celebratory meal with lots of toasting.
Dining at the restaurant: Space is limited both indoors and outdoors, so diners should make a reservation through OpenTable. Each section of the wine list is named for a celebrity who shares traits with the wine style. The Etta James red wines, for instance, are “sultry, rich, sexy, and smooth,” while the Steve McQueen reds are “burly, assertive, tannic, and bold.”
Takeout: Delivery and pickup are available through OpenTable.
Anyone who wants to celebrate just being in Texas will enjoy this restaurant’s elevated take on wild game. Chef Tim Love offers a wild culinary ride — rabbit-rattlesnake sausage, elk-foie gras sliders, duck prosciutto — and fun craft cocktails such as “The Willie” with single malt whiskey, vermouth, bitters, and cherrywood smoke. Antler light fixtures surround the bar, taxidermy busts adorn the walls, and rich leather and animal hyde upholster the furniture for rich vibes.
Dining at the restaurant: Lonesome Dove is an experience. Go for the tiny Texas flag souvenir planted in your slider; stay for the sweet potato crème brulee with bacon streusel.
Takeout: For those who prefer their Texas wild boar ribs delivered to their doorstep, the OpenTable website links to UberEats. Lonesome Dove also offers curbside pickup.
Sway (West Lake Hills)
Since this upscale Thai restaurant opened and landed on Bon Appetit’s 2013 “50 Best New Restaurants In America” list, the buzz hasn’t stopped — it’s a fave among local foodies. Though the pandemic knocked out the original location, chef/partner Charles Schlienger and operating partner Peter D’Souza are still serving up crowd favorites on Bee Caves Road, including a braised pork shoulder dish with a crispy egg, rice, and pineapple. Sway is all beauty and sophistication with its sleek communal dining tables, macrame wall art, inventive menu, and stunning rooftop bar. Every plate is a work of art.
Dining at the restaurant: The OpenTable website offers a unique experience: Diners can book outdoor seating on the downstairs patio, a great place to sip a “Phuket Your Troubles” (mezcal, Thai basil, pineapple, lime juice).
Takeout: For those who prefer to enjoy their brisket jungle curry at home, the OpenTable website offers takeout and delivery options.
Top Chef winner Kristen Kish opened this eclectic fine dining restaurant in The LINE Hotel, fusing her training in French and Italian cuisines with her nostalgia for the Midwestern food of her childhood with some Texan and global touches. The result is an innovative and playful menu — think fried dumplings with Calabrian chili; duck egg carbonara; and grilled sourdough bread with crushed green olives, Texas olive oil, charred scallions, red vinegar, aleppo, and feta — in a hip lakeside space in The LINE Hotel.
Dining at the restaurant: People can dine al fresco by the lake or inside with an air-conditioned view.
Takeout: Those who want to curl up on the couch with a bowl of mafaldini and watch Top Chef re-runs (Kish’s season is 10) can access the takeout menu on OpenTable’s website. Delivery is available, too.
For a special-occasion restaurant that’s utterly unique, Austinites gravitate to this family-owned Ethiopian restaurant for a chance to forgo silverware for the tastiest injera (spongy flatbread used for pinching and scooping) in the city. Husband-wife team Yidnekachew Fantu and head chef Selam Abebe serve up shiro wat (chickpeas simmered in onion and garlic) and perfectly seasoned kitfo (finely minced extra-lean beef) and lega tibs (cubes of lamb) in a simple space with exposed brick walls and a fully stocked bar. Plenty of delicious meatless options also make this spot a favorite among vegans.
Dining at the restaurant: Habesha offers indoor seating. Between the family-style dining and the finger food, the experience is intimate and fun.
Takeout: OpenTable’s website offers takeout options — curbside or delivery through Postmates and UberEats.
For upscale wood-fired Italian cuisine conceptualized and prepared by owner and executive chef John Carver, book a table at Red Ash Italia in its industrial-chic downtown space with its famous homemade pasta and dazzling plating. Red Ash fuses the feel of a trendy steakhouse with the taste of the most authentic Italian home cooking: From lobster tails hot off the wood-burning grill to pappardelle alla bolognese to olive oil cake and a glass of limoncello, the menu provides fresh ingredients, unique flavor pairings, and aesthetically pleasing color combinations on every plate.
Dining at the restaurant: Whether seated upstairs or downstairs, next to the graffitti wall or at the bar, diners will enjoy the hip, classy atmosphere and excellent service.
Takeout: The OpenTable website is the place to go to order takeout. Delivery is not available.
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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