Everyone in Austin has their own favorite spots that are near and dear to their heart. In the years that I have had a home there, I’ve been absolutely amazed by how rapidly things have changed. It seems the new restaurants, hotels, and experiences are sprouting up daily.
Below is my list, in no particular order, of the the things I have continued to love in Austin. This list is of course subject to change, as I continue my food and life safari.
Everyone seems to be coming to Austin these days, including Jim and Pam from The Office, so I hope my picks will help you cut straight to the good stuff, and not waste any time on the rest when you swing through this fair town that I love so much.
And of course if you have any favorites, shout ’em out in the comments!
|My Insider’s Guide to Austin|
Best time of Year
Fall, Winter and Spring have the ideal temperatures. There are regular food, film and music festivals, tech conferences, car races, football games and just about everything else you can imagine going on throughout the year.
Recommended Number of Days
4 days is plenty of time to walk or bike downtown at a leisurely pace while also fitting in shopping and sight seeing. You will also have time to rent a car for some day trips in the vicinity.
Recommended Number of People
2 to 4 people is a good group because it is an easy city for people to peel off and reconvene. Austin is an especially popular place for bachelor and bachelorette parties.
Apps to Download
Do512 which keeps you informed of all the goings on about town in Austin while you’re there.
Eat, Drink, Stay, See, Acquire
- The Lobster Roll at Clark’s Oyster Bar is worth a special journey. I have been known to be on the lobster roll diet in this town. *Burp*
- Josephine House is just a few blocks away and is the ultimate ladies-who-lunch spot. But it is also a great place to go solo and take in the warm Austin weather with the most sublime Iced Tea. Who knew that an iced tea could make you feel so classy and taste so crisp. It is served in the thinnest of glass and with a big slice of orange. And the coaster you’ll want to take with you as a souvenir. Plus Josephine House is the perfect spot to sit out in the sun and have a nice chat with the ladies or ponder life by yourself.
- Jeffrey’s is its big brother, located next door. It’s more plush and old-school with velvet, brass, and very noticeable uniforms. I prefer to eat in the bar area on the left side rather than the formal dining room, and they have a great Happy Hour every night of the week. Try the crab toast and deviled eggs and order yourself a martini just to have the bar cart come by. And their burger is pretty otherworldly with those epic thick cut french fries cooked in duck fat.
- The Mixta con Pollo Rostizado at La Condesa is only available during the week at lunch time, but it is worth a stop. It is a salad to end all salads. And while you’re at it, try a sampling of the other interior Mexican menu–the salsa sampler, the street corn, the brussels sprouts with grapes… and that jalapeno margarita, it’s just all so darn good.
- 2nd Bar and Kitchen serves up an epic Fried Egg and Avocado Sandwich. The grilled escarole on it will knock your socks off. And the sweet onions… oh my. Be prepared to have egg yolk squirt out and run down to your elbow. It’s amazing.
- Liche’s Cantina is set along East 6th Street with a small rickety porch and an upright piano player on most nights who sets the mood perfectly in what feels like a stripped down house from the pioneer days. They serve up really excellent Mexican food and have breezy outdoor seating both in the front and back, not to mention amazing cocktails.
- Contigo is set in what may seem like an odd location, but I find that is a common theme with great Austin restaurants. In the East Austin neighborhood, it is modeled after their family’s Texas ranch and exudes a friendly, relaxed vibe. It’s just a great outdoor spot with a refreshingly rustic menu: ox tongue sliders, dewberry hill chicken, and crispy string beans are just a few of my favorites.
- Cafe No Se is a wonderful breakfast and lunch spot. It has delicious healthy menu items like a kale salad with a side of avocado, avocado toast with soft boiled egg, quinoa salad bowls, and so much more. Valet is complementary because it is attached to the South Congress Hotel, so that means you can avoid the South Congress parking situation.
- East Side King is set behind a dive called Liberty Bar. It is Top Chef winner Paul Qui’s brain child, and has perhaps the best bite of food that will ever tickle your taste buds in your entire life. Trust me, eat the Chicken Karage. The location is as grunge as it gets but the earth will peel away and it will just be you and the chicken in no time. The Fried Brussels Sprouts Salad will perhaps be the second best thing that will ever tickle your taste buds in your entire life and you can eat it while having the first best thing. See above.
- Uchi: Chef Tyson Cole is a personal friend and I have to say he may be one of the most underrated chefs in American because I think he may be the best. Austin may not seem a likely place for sushi but I think it may be the best sushi in the country. Tyson’s flavor combinations are unreal. Your eyes will roll back into your head many times over. One of their best deals is their 5-6:30pm Happy Hour where they have a small menu to sample. Just go early and grab your seat at the bar. You won’t be sorry! And if you can’t get into Uchi, try their sister restaurant Uchiko. Did I mention you better go early?
- Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon is a drive-thru Mexican inspired spot with a new brick-and-mortar sister that serves up the best wood grilled chicken with all the fixings like grilled onions, beans and rice, fresh salsas, and warm tortillas. You can also get a great salad or power bowl, and rotating flavors of ice creams. It is a great spot to pick up everything you need for the ultimate picnic to take on a hike or sunbathing session at Barton Springs pool.
- Franklin Barbecue has been declared by many publications and lists to be the best in the United States, and the line to get in the door can be hours long. So consider this a tourist experience not just a meal, grab a coffee and a lawn chair and make new friends while waiting in line for their 11am opening. I think the brisket is worth the wait but I will also say there is incredible brisket that can be found at just about every other BBQ place in town so don’t sweat it if you opt for another one.
- Sway serves up modern thai cuisine, expertly executed. For a long time Austin was sorely lacking in Asian cuisine and at Sway you will find yourself tasting something delicious that you’ve never had before. For a special occasion with friends I also love ordering the Banana Split. It serves 3-4 so bring backup. Or just really, really treat yourself. It is an exotic and thrilling experience.
- Lenoir serves a three course prix-fixe menu ($38) that changes with the seasons. It is an intimate dining room housed in a South Austin bungalow, and is rather romantic so an ideal date spot.
- Tacodeli is an institution and Austin is serious about its tacos. A trip to this town wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Tacodeli. My favorites are the dirty sanchez and the fried avocado tacos.
- Justine’s Brasserie like Contigo, is set far east in an industrial area that will make you wonder if you’ve gotten lost and gone too far. It has a dreamy French vibe with old school music and festoon lights hanging from the trees as you dine. Open until 2am, it is a place you will want to socialize all night, it has a magic to it.
- Eden East is a restaurant on a working farm, where the kitchen is an airstream trailer. The menu changes based on which chef is currently visiting. I would know, because I was once one of those visiting chefs who designed a menu based on what was in season! What is wonderful is the menu is dictated by what is local and what is growing, so a stroll through the gardens serves as inspiration. You have to reserve your spot in advance for one of the picnic tables set underneath giant Pecan trees.
- Elizabeth Street Cafe serves up amazing Thai French Fusion and fun colorful atmosphere. Their spring rolls and broth noodle soups are epic, so are their brunch items. Be sure to cap it off with one of their many flavors of macarons and a super strong iced coffee.
- Mattie’s at Green Pastures is worth a meal because of the incredible setting. Sit on the white porch of the old mansion outside if you can and watch the peacocks stroll by.
- Jo’s Coffee has two locations but I love the one on South Congress because it is perfect for people watching along the main drag. They have breakfast tacos to start your day off right along with the coffee drink called The Belgian Bomber that will put a little pep in your step. It is also where the famous “I Love You So Much” wall is, in case you want to have your photo taken as a souvenir.
- Whisler’s has everything you could want in a bar. The East Austin location has a pitch perfect vibe with its large outdoor courtyard, and cave-like interior. Upstairs is a secret Mezcal bar if you’re in to that sort of thing. Snatch a picnic table early in the evening with friends and do what Austinites do best… hang out in the good weather.
- Midnight Cowboy disguises itself as a massage parlor on the outside, but inside serious mixology is going on. For a group of 8 or fewer, book a table online for one of their very specific time slots, then follow the website’s very specific instructions for getting in.
- By George has two locations: one on Lamar and the other on South Congress. The flagship Lamar location is full of high-end designers, while the women’s store on South Congress is a bit more affordable and youthful.
- Stag is a men’s shop that screams ultimate hipster plaid-shirt-wearing-axe-carrying man. But hipster-eyeroll aside, they have some great stuff, including antique pocketknives, American flags, and old school shaving kits.
- Kick Pleat features under-the-radar brands in a small women’s boutique worth visiting for styles coming out of Brooklyn and LA.
- South Congress Books is a small used book store full of art, photography, fiction, music, and pop culture. Be sure and check out the rare and collectible books as well, my favorite!
- Buffalo Exchange is where I go when I have the steam to go through racks of clothes to stumble on some amazing pieces for $7. Really, you’ll find some great designers at ridiculous prices and while I’m not normally one to have patience for picking through things, when I have, I always walk away with some of my favorite pieces that I get the most compliments on.
HOME GOODS + DECOR
- Mercury Design Studio is my favorite place to shop for my home. It is in the 2nd street shopping district and they curate the most interesting and unique items for the home that you are unlikely to find anywhere else.
- Fortney’s Eclectic Home Furnishings is my second favorite place in Austin for home decor. The owner has impeccable taste and has curated a maze of rooms full of delights and curiosities that you’ll want to bring home.
- JM Drygoods has bright and beautiful handmade textiles from Mexico and beyond. Inside you’ll find colorful caftans, rugs, pillows, and linens from the owner’s frequent trips to Oaxaca, Mexico.
- Spartan is the small gift shop next door to JM Drygoods with minimalist, rustic gifts.
- Nannie Inez is a colorful little shop on South First featuring beautifully designed modern objects from around the world.
- Billy Reid is an Alabama-based designer who brought one of his few storefronts to Austin. The menswear is particularly wonderful, so go inside with your favorite man in mind.
- Kettle and Brine is a newer kitchen and home goods store in Austin that will have you ogling everything and want to re-do your kitchen and your life so you can fit these items into it.
ANTIQUES + VINTAGE
- Uncommon Objects is a whimsical antique store on South Congress. The space is shared by multiple vendors who create some of the coolest vignettes: everything from apothecary, school house vintage, mid-century modern, and a medley of stamps, antlers, and compass necklaces. It is a feast for the eyes.
- Room Service Vintage is a densely packed space full of mid-century kitsch. Room Service is the place you go when you want to find a few fabulous unique accent pieces for your home.
See + Do
- Check out some of Austin’s famed music venues ahead of time to see what acts will be in town, including The Moody Theater, The Mohawk, Emo’s, Stubb’s and The Erwin Center.
- The Broken Spoke is my favorite place to go two-stepping. Don’t know how? No worries, just show up and an elderly man will be glad to teach you and take you for a twirl around the room. It is full of old-time country charm that you shouldn’t miss.
- The Violet Crown is hands down my favorite movie experience. They show all sorts of indie movies that you’ll be so glad you’ve seen and it feels like you’re viewing it in your own personal theater, with plush leather seats. Try to snag a spot in the first row where the seats are extra luxurious. They serve tasty food, desserts and cocktails which you can bring inside for an extra sophisticated experience. Bonus is that there is free 4-hour parking inside the building and you can drive right up to the movie theater level. Just be sure to get your parking ticket validated when you buy your ticket.
- Avenue Barber Shop is the place for a men’s haircut. It is no nonsense and you will walk out with the best haircut you’ve ever had… but still feel like a man.
- Hotel Saint Cecilia is my favorite hotel in the country. With its manicured green lawn, exclusive lounge and iconic lap pool, it is set in an old mansion with adjoining bungalows. It is the place where the famous people stay when they swing through Austin, one of the rooms even boasts a grand piano. You can only access the place if you are staying there or at the little brother restaurant Hotel San José. If you’re able to secure a room you won’t regret it. Be sure to check out some records from the front desk for your record player.
- The Austin Motel was recently bought and renovated by the same owner as the Hotel Saint Cecilia and the Hotel San José. The location is unbeatable and at a very good price point.
- Hotel San José is the stuff that Austin dreams are made of, and the perfect alternative if you can’t swing the Hotel Saint Cecilia. Hidden behind ivy-covered walls, the centrally located bungalow-style hotel is an oasis from bustling South Congress Avenue, and the place you’ll want to sit a sip a michelada during happy hour.
- South Congress Hotel is the newest addition to the Austin hotel scene, and it is a feast for the senses. There’s a relaxing swimming pool and a medley of amazing restaurants, bars and shops right at your fingertips.