Austin brims with creative residents who march to the beats of their own drums. After all, the city is famous for its “Keep Austin Weird” slogan, conceived by longtime residents in the 1990s who felt Bat City was losing its bohemian charm. Austin may not exude the same funky vibe it once did, but it continues to lead the country in the innovation department—there’s a reason scores of tech giants are headquartered here.
Austin’s restaurants and bars reflect its fiercely independent spirit. A farm-to-table favorite in an East Austin butcher shop serves only local fare. A beloved North Central trattoria, known for its housemade everything, also champions fair wages. A late-night brasserie with an exceptionally prolific vinyl selection—and a legendary royale with cheese—doubles as an artists’ haven.
Whether you’re seeking hyperlocal and sustainable menus, stunning interiors, or a progressive approach to staffing, these restaurants have it all. Here are six cutting-edge spots keeping Austin not just weird, but also delicious.
L’Oca d’Oro (North Central)
This extraordinary Italian trattoria whips up everything from scratch, including its pastas, breads, cheeses, vinegars, and even herbal liqueurs. It also stands out for chef Fiore Tedesco’s regional pasta club, a subscription-only service that offers a monthly bundle of fresh noodles complete with sauces, a fresh cheese or antipasti set, at least two signature pantry items, fresh salumi, signature condiments, and more. But the “golden goose” (what the restaurant’s name means in Italian) is a true trendsetter for championing fair wages and ethical employee treatment. It pays its staff a living wage, eliminating the need for tips; it also offers paid sick leave, rare for the industry. When the historic Texas winter storm struck in 2021, Tedesco and co-owner, Adam Orman, put their kitchen to work, feeding thousands. L’Oca d’Oro’s commitment to the local community, be it area farmers, diners, or food banks, is nothing short of admirable.
Nixta Taqueria (East Austin)
2022 James Beard Award winner for Best Emerging Chef, Edgar Rico, steers this tiny but stellar counter-service taqueria. Nixta is known for its creative plant-based plates such as sikil p’aak (a Mayan pumpkin seed-based dip) served with crudité and masa-black sesame crackers, plus a vegan beet “tartare” tostada among other lesser-seen, herbivore-friendly dishes. The house tortillas are made from heirloom corn sourced from a family grower in Oaxaca, and the drinks list is filled with low-intervention and natural wines, local beer and cider, and sake-based cocktails. Nixta scores bonus points for its commitment to uplifting its East Austin community: its premises include a free community fridge stocked with fresh food and daily essentials, open to neighbors and community members from all walks of life.
Lucky Robot (South Austin)
This unassuming Japanese place on South Congress innovates in more ways than one. It was the first restaurant of its kind in Austin to incorporate Peruvian Nikkei dishes; in 2019, it became the first sushi place in Texas to partner with the James Beard Foundation and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s sustainability programs. Now, executive chef Jay Huang (who comes from some of Austin’s best kitchens including Uchi and TRACE at W Austin hotel) uses sustainably sourced seafood, implementing Austin’s only dry-aging fish program, a 200-year-old Japanese culinary tradition that elevates flavor and texture. Through a new dry-aging chamber, Huang modernizes the tradition with Lucky Robot’s market fish program, along with select specialty catch selections from the restaurant’s domestic fisheries partnerships.
Canje (East Austin)
At Caribbean-inspired Canje, acclaimed pastry chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph (of other area hotspots such as Emmer & Rye, Hestia, and Kalimotxo), ventures into new territory, steering the full menu, not just the desserts. Expect modern riffs on dishes from Jamaica to Puerto Rico, marking the first time Bristol-Joseph is sharing his upbringing on the menu. Canje grabbed national attention after being featured on the New York Times’s 50 Best Restaurants of 2022 list, thanks to avant-garde, seasonally inspired dishes such as striped bass with tamarind, rum butter, green mango, and papaya. The wild boar pepper pot with cassareep (a seasoning made from cassava root and spices), orange peel, and ginger, is a house specialty. A tropical-tinged cocktail selection adds to the unique, plant-filled atmosphere.
Dai Due (East Austin)
At this trailblazing butcher shop and restaurant, all ingredients, including wine, beer, and cider, are sourced from Texas. James Beard Award winner chef Jesse Griffiths is an avid hunter and fisherman, and his love for all things local shines in his whole animal butchery and nose-to-tail cooking approach. Dai Due’s menu changes daily, showcasing locally foraged or grown ingredients. The kitchen dries, cans, pickles, ferments, smokes, candies, and freezes the local seasonal bounty with an unmatched, pioneering spirit. In addition to the unique, made-in-Texas experience, the East Austin standby also offers butchering classes and hunting camps with Griffiths himself.
Justine’s Brasserie (East Austin)
The blackboard specials change daily at this charming, one-of-a-kind Parisian brasserie. Set in a refurbished 1937 East Austin bungalow, Justine’s is known for its exquisite indoor/outdoor space, decked with crystal chandeliers, blue velvet curtains, and assorted art. The menu includes traditional bistro fare such as onion soup, butter-soaked escargots, beef tartare, steak frites, and the crowd favorite, the royale with cheese, a French-style burger served on a housemade bun. Owned by photographer Justine Gilcrease and her musician husband Pierre Pelegrin, Justine’s is an exceptionally eclectic haven for local and visiting artists who enjoy late-night drinks and bites while listening to Pelegrin’s vast vinyl collection.
Claudia Alarcón is a Mexico City-born writer based in Austin, Texas covering dining, drinking, and travel since 1999.
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