20 best restaurants in Austin
Ever since Otoko opened in the South Congress Hotel in 2016, the 12-seat eatery has been propelled to the forefront of local and national dining; it doesn’t hurt that Food & Wine recently named chef Yoshi Okai one of the best new chefs in America. The space itself is intimate, with a decor comprised of both warm wood and futuristic white glowing panels. The charismatic Okai (also a musician) sports a punk rock style and a mischievous grin, and his energetic personality shows in Otoko's omakase offerings as Okai thoughtfully incorporates Texas ingredients alongside the best quality bluefin tuna and uni from Japan. Tickets are very limited, get yours here.
Taylor Hall and Adam Brick (who has since moved on from Apis) opened the eatery as a model of sustainable dining (case in point: the restaurant keeps bees that both pollinate the garden and provide honey for dishes). Located 27 miles west of Austin on six acres, Apis’s vibe parallels the landscape that surrounds it: the walls are limestone, the floors are made from smoky brown repurposed wood, and earth tones dominate throughout. Currently, diners have a choose-your-own-adventure prix fixe menu to choose from, although special dinners and tasting menus often pop up. The seasonally-rotating menu is packed with both high-concept dishes and re-imagined comfort food, and courses like 60-day aged ribeye and sunflower miso glazed ora king salmon are served alongside buttermilk biscuits with honey butter and bee pollen salt. Dessert also sparkles—we love the meyer lemon panna cotta—and the cocktails are just as enticing.
Part Japanese izakaya and part Texas smokehouse, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya delivers a playful mashup of the two cuisines alongside a sophisticated cocktail program. Name sound familiar? Yes, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya is from the guys behind ramen phenomenon, Ramen Tatsu-Ya. From fusion comforts and skewered, grilled meat to the not-for-the-faint-of-heart “odd bits” menu, expect many high points. Favorites include the brisket and gouda “Hot Pocketz” and the Texas ramen spiked with beef broth and slow smoked brisket with traditional accoutrements ajitama, bamboo, scalllion, nori, pickled greens and mung sprouts. Cocktails like the matcha painkiller—served in a maneki-neko (aka lucky cat)—are a testament to the culture of quirkiness at Kemuri.
If there were an Austin award for “Most Hyped Restaurant,” it would go to Franklin Barbecue. It might, in fact, be the most hyped in all of Texas. How could a barbecue joint reach this level of notoriety? James Beard Award winner Aaron Franklin honed his craft for years before opening the barbecue trailer that he quickly outgrew. The line started back then and hasn’t stopped; queues start at 6:30am every morning without fail—with waits up to four hours—and last until the food runs out. The brisket is seasoned and smoked to juicy perfection; the pulled pork will ruin your palate for any other pulled pork. Franklin’s house-made sausage is spicy, flavorful and oozing with juices. The hype is real, and one bite will make you a believer.
Executive chef Michael Fojtasek (along with former partner Grae Nonas) have topped national lists since opening Olamaie, where their innovative twist on traditional Southern cooking is a far cry from the heavy and fried fare we often associate with Southern cuisine. Don’t miss the unexpectedly elevated Hoppin’ John (Sea Island red peas, smoky likker, soft-boiled egg) and the hearty bone-in pork chop (sorrel, peach, field peas). The desserts also impress, although we prefer ours in a glass via the exciting cocktail program from Erin Ashford. Try The French School: bourbon and Swedish Punsch enhanced with Creole shrub, lemon and orange blossom water.
No best-of list in Austin would be complete without Uchi, which James Beard Award-winning chef Tyson Cole opened in 2003 to immediate critical acclaim. Cole is known for his skill in merging traditional Japanese flavors with unexpected influences and ingredients. It’s evident in every one of Uchi’s artfully plated dishes—some of the most loved selections include the Machi Cure (smoked yellowtail, yucca crisp, marcona almond, Asian pear, garlic brittle) and the Zero Sen roll (yellowtail, avocado, cilantro, shallot, tobiko, yuzu). Check out sister restaurant Uchiko for an equally impressive but more casual experience.
Rainey Street eatery, Emmer & Rye, has been packed since opening; offering exceptional food in the kind of space you'll find yourself constantly ogling. Towering shelves are peppered with vintage cookbooks and copper pots serve as a room divider, while an open-format kitchen reveals a very focused culinary team. The menu features rustic takes on New American cuisine like the roasted sweet pumpkin with crispy chickpea, benne butter in smoked pumpkin broth, and a dim sum cart carries a revolving selection of bites and small plates. The house cocktails are designed with a high level of imagination: M’Lady Lemon is made with Austin Reserve Gin, Yellow Chartreuse 80, Lillet Blanc, pickled citrus and Fee Bros. Rhubarb Bitters.
Lenoir attacks all your senses in the best possible way: The walls of the dainty space are draped in antique lace; wine glasses full of every shade of champagne and wine fill the room, and spicy aromas waft from the kitchen. Husband-and-wife team Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher are creating ever-changing prix-fixe courses they refer to as “hot weather food”—flavors inspired by the cuisines of hot climate regions. Influences come from Morocco, India and Southeast Asia—think spicy, citrusy and light on butter and cream. The wine list offers selections from a variety of wine regions (with an emphasis on France and Italy), and the team sources their ingredients almost exclusively from Texan farmers and artisans. Be sure to visit their wine garden—an equally lovely outdoor space with a menu of small bites.
Fukumoto is a sushi bar and yakitori izakaya helmed by former Musashino chef Kazu Fukumoto, and there's plenty going for it: The sushi here is perfect. The marinated and grilled yakitori menu will take you to Tokyo. The friendly servers will help you navigate the menu and offer sake pairings. Kazu is usually found behind the bar, and everything that leaves the kitchen does so with his blessing. Order from the specials board; you’ll never be disappointed by the fish collar or snapper sushi flight or Wagyu beef treat of the day. Oh, and pro tip: Be sure to look out for Japanese electronic toilets and a magical mirror that will make you look 10 years younger
Barley Swine’s relocation from South Lamar to Burnet Road came with changes: more seating, patio dining, a full bar with chef-forward cocktail program and a new menu with an emphasis on seafood. What has remained the same is executive chef and owner Bryce Gilmore and his staff’s dedication to dreaming up complex, visually-stunning food that they painstakingly source locally. In the savory department, think pig face carnitas with peanut slaw, and an apple crisp in aged beef fat and vinegar for dessert.
At June’s, wine is the star of the show and the eclectic fare serves as the delicious supporting cast. Named after partner and master sommelier, June Rodil, the vibe here is decidedly throwback with a hip edge. The retro-style diner complete with a jukebox and checkered tile is made current with the signature McGuire Mooreman Hospitality attention to detail—just look to the menu, coasters and pens. Referred to as June’s All Day, the cafe opens bright and early at 8am with options like their famous matzo ball caldo as well as crêpes and omelettes. For dinner we absolutely love the indulgent bone marrow Bolognese made with handkerchief pasta, kale and parmesan.
Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto dreamt up the concept for Ramen Tatsu-ya after living in Los Angeles and Japan, two cities where authentic ramen shops are as common as they are delicious. With Ramen Tatsu-ya, they have absolutely seduced Austin with their classic approach to ramen. The rich, aromatic broth is time- and labor-intensive, and the fresh noodles, created in partnership with L.A.-based noodle maker Keisuke-san, are shipped in weekly. Order the tonkotsu original (creamy pork bone broth, chashu pork, marinated soft boiled egg, mushrooms, scallions) and a side order of sweet-and-sour yodas (sauteed brussels sprouts tossed in apricot vinegar and curry)—a perfectly acidic accompaniment to the rich ramen.
Executive chef Thai Changthong strikes gold with Thai-Kun, the modest food truck operation from East Side King which has garnered national accolades for the mouthwatering, intensely spicy “O.G. Thai” offerings. First-timers will want to hit the Thai-kun fried chicken (deep-fried chicken thigh, chicken fat rice, “boom sauce”) and for the initiated, the fiery beef panang curry (beef chuck simmered in panang curry, kaffir lime leaf, holy basil, jasmine rice). Both locations are easy to spot—just look for the truck brightly painted with Dr. Seuss-like psychedelia. Also worth mentioning: You can order every item on the menu for under $60.
There is usually a wait at Bufalina, but it's always worth it. Half of the seating in the small, industrial space is communal, which can be brutal if your tablemates get their pizza first. Each Neapolitan pie is cooked very quickly in a wood-fired oven imported from Italy; the crust is crisp, slightly charred and arrives on the table with just the right amount of chewiness. The philosophy on toppings here is truly Italian, in a less-is-more sense. Try their simple but addictive Calabrese (tomato, mozzarella, salami, serrano, garlic, basil) or the earthy, sweet and herbal roasted mushroom (caramelized onion, comté, mozzarella, herbs).
Clark’s Oyster Bar reflects the personality of Clarksville, the historic neighborhood where you’ll find this popular ode to bivalves. The crisp, white interior is elegant with white-and-black penny tile flooring and luncheonette-style seating in the bar. There’s a charming formality here, from the staff’s bowties and pressed aprons to the refined approach to the menu. You should always get the oysters: with cute names (“pink moon,” “moondancer”) and origins on the East coast, West Coast and PEI, these are best Austin has to offer. The crab cakes and lobster roll are winning picks for entrées, as is the mac and cheese with lump crab. Looking for good booze? The cocktail menu is a mix of martinis and modern classics, all of which are mixed with care.
Brothers Zane and Brandon Turner opened the first Via 313 trailer in 2011; it was named after the zip code in Detroit where they grew up. It's pure Detroit style here: The pies are square, the edges laced with crispy burnt cheese, and the sauce is dolloped on top. Via 313 recently opened up a third location on 6th Street after it moved its trailer that had been parked outside Violet Crown Social Club. The menu offers great out-of-the-box options, but we’re partial to something simple: “The Detroiter” (double pepperoni, finished with the brothers' signature sauce).
Launderette is the buzzy New American café helmed by longtime culinary partners in crime, chef Rene Ortiz and pastry chef Laura Sawicki. True to its name, the restaurant was a regular neighborhood washateria not long ago. The feel of the converted space is bright, laid back and undeniably hip. Weekend brunch is the perfect time for people-watching East Austin’s young and pretty population, while other menu highlights include fried oysters, wood-grilled charred octopus and the heavenly Plancha Burger, a fast-food style burger served with “special sauce,” caramelized onions and American cheese on challah bread. The cocktail list is equally fun—we love the Wild Honey (mezcal, lemon, honey ginger syrup, chili tincture).
Justine’s is located just East of where most Austinites are comfortable hanging out; a warm, glowing, beating heart nestled amidst dark industrial warehouses. Upon entering, you will feel instantly transported to another place—one clad in deep reds, emerald-green velvet and lit by vintage chandeliers. There’s always a scratchy blues record playing, and a slinky cast of servers and staff almost too chic to believe. If you’re a sucker for ambiance, you’ll embrace the fact that that your dinner will take place over a couple of hours. The cuisine is decidedly classic French—order the escargot Bourguignonne, salade de crabe, steak frites, and a Sazerac—or three.
Hill Country arrives in East Austin with the opening of Pitchfork Pretty, a quaintly named, elegantly designed restaurant where executive chef Max Snyder makes breakfast and dinner. On weekday mornings, grab a blueberry streusel or the Pretty (an everything bagel with pimento cheese, dill pickle, red onion and alfalfa sprouts); in the evening, dishes from both the land (pork shoulder with bok choy, fried chicken with sweet potato salad) and sea (oysters, ruby trout) leave a strong impression. Finish with a slice of the lemon icebox pie if you know what's good for you.
Salt & Time’s co-owners Ben Runkle and Bryan Butler are adamant that they’re a butcher shop first and restaurant second. They purchase meat from Texas ranchers, butcher it into steaks and roasts, and age, cure, dry and smoke it. They also make salumi in-house. Salt & Time started as a small operation selling charcuterie and bacon at farmers’ markets before moving into a brick and mortar site. The space is bright and unpretentious and the beer selection is considerable and well curated—Lone Pint Yellow Rose and Reissdorf Kolsch are available on tap. The kitchen team takes a refreshing, no-nonsense approach to the food: fresh, locally-raised meat and veggies, cooked perfectly, and served in generous portions. This is the great go-to when you’re craving a huge, perfectly cooked burger.
Time to hit the bars
Consider this your ultimate bar crawl guide.