The best restaurants in Austin have gained national attention for everything from tacos and brisket to southern food and sushi.
Since moving to Austin in April 2016, I've spent a lot of time eating out solo, with friends, and on dates.
My list of Austin's best restaurants is based on personal experience. It's subjective. And because I haven't been everywhere (yet), it is subject to change.
When putting a list like this together, I consider the following:
- Quality and inventiveness of the food
- Interior design and ambiance
And as anyone following Feastio on Instagram knows, I have a sweet tooth. So, I pay extra attention to dessert menus.
The following list is presented in the order that you should run to these restaurants for your next meal out.
Austin's Best Restaurants
Hestia opened in downtown Austin in December 2019, and thankfully, I was able to get in for a superb dinner by early March of the following year.
This is the fifth restaurant by executive chef Kevin Fink (a 2020 James Beard Award Finalist) and business partner, pastry chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph (one of Food and Wine's best new chefs of 2020).
At Hestia, the role of taking orders and bringing dishes is shared with the chefs. This proved to be a delightful concept, offering us opportunities to interact with those in the kitchen.
Everything is cooked over a custom-built 20-foot hearth in an open kitchen.
Highlights from my meal included:
- Uni and cornbread (pictured above)
- Parker House rolls with formagina butter (the best rolls you'll ever eat!)
- King crab with kelp butter
- S'mores-inspired chocolate mousse
- Kakigori, a Japanese-style shaved ice
Hestia was my pick for the best restaurant in 2019-2020, and I'm glad it's still going strong.
607 W 3rd Street, Downtown (website)
Food & Wine named Suerte one of the country's best new restaurants for 2019.
Sumptuous brisket tacos with black magic oil and avocado salsa cruda make the case. These are the best tacos in Austin.
Four brisket tacos and a Nada Paloma (Cimmaron Blanco tequila, Union mezcal, citrus soda, grapefruit) would've sufficed. Still, I also ordered the duck breast with mole negro and fennel masa dumplings.
What are three more tacos?
The Tres Leches dessert with Texas peach, masa streusel, and burnt vanilla mousse finished my incredible first meal here.
Suerte is led by Mexican chef Fermín Núñez, whose resume includes La Condea, Laundrette, and Uchiko.
Dinner nightly, brunch Saturdays and Sundays.
1800 E 6th St, East Austin (website)
Led by chef/co-owner Philip Speer, Comedor made an immediate splash in the Austin dining scene when it opened to rave reviews in 2019.
In the heart of the Texas capital, this modern Mexican restaurant features an all-black exterior of brick, glass, and steel as if it were designed to stealthily evade detection.
An inner courtyard offers a break from the business of the city streets.
It's best to bring friends, as I did, so you can sample as many plates as your wallet will allow.
The bone marrow tacos ($36) are a signature dish and best shared given their size.
We also tried the pig head quesadilla, tuna, octopus and shrimp tostada, and surprisingly awesome chicken liver mousse with a churro, beets, and peach.
Given Speer's four nominations for Outstanding Pastry Chef during his tenure at Uchi, it's no surprise the dessert game here is strong, too.
I had the pleasure of devouring tres leches with Tejate ice cream, burnt meringue, and corn milk.
Plus, chamomile mousse with guava sorbet, mezcal, and ants. Yes, those kinds of ants!
501 Colorado Street, Downtown (website)
Lutie's Garden Restaurant
In April 2021, Lutie's opened to the public at the historic Commodore Perry Estate, a new luxury hotel in the Hancock neighborhood of central Austin.
Chefs Bradley Nicholson and Susana Querejazu, who worked together at Barley Swine and Odd Duck, accepted the invitation to run the restaurant.
If there was one restaurant I had my excited eye on this spring, it was Lutie's.
My mid-April lunch did not disappoint. The interior evokes a garden atmosphere with a ceiling full of hanging plants. And the European vibes extend to the patio with overlooks a true garden.
I began with a refreshing Botanist gin cocktail and veggie spring roll with cucumber dip before moving on to Texas beef with bone marrow and a side of sweet potatoes.
I couldn't decide on dessert, so I ordered two: Kouign Amann ice cream with caramel and wax creme caramel with burnt honey. The latter was my fave of the two.
Lutie's is open from 5-10 pm, Wednesday to Sunday.
4100 Red River Street, East Austin (website)
In my first year in Austin, Launderette won me over with their incredible buttermilk pancakes with blueberry compote and crème fraîche.
That same year, they were nominated for Best New Restaurant by the JBF and recognized by Food and Wine as one of the best new restaurants in the United States.
The accolades have continued, with Laura Sawicki becoming a JBF semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2018.
The restaurant, named after the laundromat that once occupied the space, has a bright, airy interior. It's attractive; however, I typically prefer to sit outside.
Typical of the meals I order was this 3-course dinner:
- Deviled eggs with black truffle, crispy pancetta, and baby celery
- Pan-seared salmon with farro
- Mint white chocolate semifreddo with dark chocolate magic shell and fleur de sel
The food is consistently impressive, and the desserts will light up your eyes. Of the restaurants on this list, I've been to Launderette the most.
Brunch, lunch, happy hour, dinner. Arrive early or make a reservation.
2115 Holly Street, East Austin (website)
See also: Best Brunch Spots in Austin
Otoko is an exclusive 12-seat Japanese restaurant hidden in plain sight above the courtyard at The South Congress Hotel.
Led by Chef Yoshi Okai from Kyoto, the restaurant specializes in a multi-course Kyoto-style kaiseki omakase menu.
The price for this culinary journey is a hefty $175, not including drinks, tax, and tip, which is as expensive as food gets in Austin.
But, for those willing to spend the money, you'll be treated to one of the most intimate and sophisticated dining experiences the city has to offer.
I managed to get a reservation in 2019 on a night when they offered an a la carte menu.
- Hokkaido uni
- Black cod
- Ocean trout (prepared two different ways)
- Pumpkin tempura
- Hamachi (being prepped in the photo above)
- Mochurro sando (a saikyo miso ice cream sandwich)
And made it out, having spent $110 (including tax and tip), plus a $25 deposit paid to book a seat.
Be sure to arrive 30 minutes early so you have time to enjoy a craft cocktail or Japanese whiskey at Watertrade, the intimate bar next door.
Dinner only, Wednesday through Saturday.
1603 S Congress Ave, South Austin (website)
See also: Best Speakeasies in Austin
Uchi / Uchiko
Uchi is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in Austin. Its name is synonymous with excellent sushi.
Chef Tyson Cole opened his flagship restaurant in 2003 and soon attracted national attention for his creative dishes.
In 2011, he was recognized with a James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef (Southwest) and was a semi-finalist for Outstanding Chef in 2016.
I've dined at Uchi a few times, the first being a happy hour with friends. I went back a second time and sampled a more significant portion of the menu.
I enjoyed the food. However, the lighting was dark where I was seated in the back, so it was hard to appreciate the dishes fully. And the restaurant is always full, so it can get noisy.
That's why I've become a fan of Uchi's sister restaurant, Uchiko, which Cole opened in 2010. It's a little more relaxed and understated while still offering similarly fresh and inventive sushi.
Both restaurants fly in their ingredients daily from Japan and are committed to sustainability.
Dinner only. The majority of seating is for walk-in diners.
In December 2009, Bryce Gilmore and his brother opened Odd Duck -- a food truck focused on locally sourced ingredients.
The truck was a success, so they opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant by the same name a few blocks from Uchi in south Austin.
Gilmore's second act was Barley Swine, which "features a seasonal menu that is always changing based on the availability of ingredients and the aspirations of the kitchen."
For $105, you can try the 11-course Chef's Tasting menu. Wine pairing is available for an additional cost.
Bryce Gilmore is a 6-time James Beard Foundation award nominee for Best Chef (Southwest).
Dinner only, starting at 5 pm, Thursday through Sunday. By reservation only.
6555 Burnet Road #400, North Austin (website)
See also: Best Coffee Shops in Austin
Emmer & Rye
Named one of America's best new restaurants in 2016 by Bon Appétit, Emmer & Rye is a farm-to-table restaurant that changes its menu daily.
Diners can either order a la carte from the menu or pick from a dim sum cart that makes the rounds during service.
Attention to detail is what sets Chef Kevin Fink's restaurant apart.
At Emmer & Rye, they mill their grains for pasta, bread, and desserts and have an in-house fermentation program.
In 2018, Fink was a JBF semifinalist for Best Chef (Southwest).
Dinner only, 5:30 pm - 10 pm, Tuesday through Sunday.
51 Rainey St #110, Downtown (website)
Terry Black's Barbecue
Terry Black's Barbecue was opened in 2014 by twin brothers Michael and Mark Black from Lockhart, Texas.
The brothers are 4th-generation pitmasters carrying on the family tradition begun by Terry Black in 1932.
The competition for the best barbecue in Austin is fierce.
I haven't been to the most famous restaurant, Franklin's, but I have a hard time believing their brisket can be any better than what I've experienced, repeatedly, at Terry Black's.
The melt-in-your-mouth fatty brisket will make you a believer in Texas BBQ. I can't resist their pork ribs, either. The beef ribs are massive.
Food is served cafeteria-style, and you pay for meat by the pound. So load up on a little of everything. You won't regret it.
11 am - 9 pm, Sunday to Thursday, and 11 am - 9:30 pm Fridays and Saturdays.
1003 Barton Springs Road, South Austin (website)
If you're in the mood for a luxurious dining experience, look no further than Jeffrey's in the Clarksville neighborhood west of downtown.
Caviar, Hudson Valley foie gras with roasted plums, and shellfish risotto are just a few of the usual menu options.
Jeffrey's is known for its dry-aged prime beef, grilled over locally-sourced live oak and finished in a 1,200-degree broiler.
From a 6-ounce filet mignon to a 42-ounce porterhouse steak, they've got you covered.
I've only eaten here once, at the invitation of a friend, and I had the best pork chop I've ever eaten (sorry, mom!).
The dessert menu typically features items like chocolate and praline soufflés, raspberry mille-feuille, and baked Alaska.
Dinner only, 4:30 - 10 pm, daily. Reservations recommended.
1204 W Lynn St, Clarksville (website)
The following two places were on my inaugural list of the best restaurants in Austin (2019).
Both closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic. Fingers crossed, they'll re-open.
Nominated for Best Chef in the Southwest (2018) by the James Beard Foundation (JBF), Chef Michael Fojtasek delivers a tour de force of modern southern cuisine at Olamaie.
The restaurant is housed in a charming white bungalow. The interior is intimate without being too dark -- essential given how beautifully the dishes are presented.
My first visit included three incredible courses:
- Sweet potato pone with Harbison brie, Benton's bacon, and kil't chicories
- Dewberry Hills Farm chicken with oyster mushroom, carrot, farro, and bay laurel
- Vanilla cake with Cocoa Barry dark chocolate, candied fennel, and vanilla ice cream
The menu is updated regularly based on what's in season, so what's here today may be gone tomorrow.
1610 San Antonio Street, Downtown (website)
I'm capping this year's list of best restaurants in Austin at these stellar places.
I'm confident a meal at any one of them will bring a smile to your face.
I'll be updating this list annually and writing much more about these and other Austin favorites. Stay tuned!