Austin's top fine-dining restaurants
In Austin, two questions—“Where is the best sushi?” and “What is the best fine-dining experience?”—often yield the same answer: Uchi. Since 2003, the South Lamar Japanese restaurant has been the spot for visiting celebrities and fine-food appreciators. And for good reason: through more than a decade of training in Tokyo, New York and Austin under various sushi masters, executive chef and co-owner Tyson Cole has cultivated a culinary mainstay that isn’t inexpensive by any means (for one piece of fish, you’ll often pay a price comparable to an entire roll at other places), yet is well worth every penny given that fish is flown in daily from Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market. That fact, combined with menu specials updated every day, speaks to an extraordinary commitment to creativity and quality—a world-class experience worth a visit for locals and visitors alike.
From its 2009 food trailer origins to a primarily glass-walled brick and mortar location at the same site (opened in 2013), brother-chefs Bryce and Dylan Gilmore—along with partners Sam Hellman-Mass, Mark Buley and Jason James—have established one of the most popular South Lamar spots for gourmet brunch, lunch and dinner. While the sources of their fixings remain consistent—only local farmers, a keystone of their mission since the trailer days—the menus at Odd Duck change daily depending on seasonally available ingredients, which means each visit has the potential to yield a wholly different experience. In other words, you’ll want to go back more than once (read: all the damn time).
Similar to sister restaurant Odd Duck in the way the menu shifts seasonally, Barley Swine represents owner-chef Bryce Gilmore’s dedication to culinary creativity. You'll be wooed by any dish offered here, but if you wish to err toward the mind-blowing end of the spectrum, we recommend going for the Chef’s Tasting experience: $90 for about 10 courses, depending on the season, with a reservation at the 8-seat chef’s table. The 80-seat dining area and more relaxed patio are also excellent options, but watching the prep behind each impressive dish makes for at least half the enjoyment of this essential, high-end ATX eatery. If you’re on the fence about coughing up all that cash, check out Swine Time (happy hour food and drink specials from 5-6pm, Monday through Friday) for a more modestly priced ease-in.
South 1st Street mainstay Lenoir somehow manages to mesh cozy with comfort. Its 34-seat dining room—replete with a wine-selection-facing bar and family-style center table that basks in the glow of Austin’s most gorgeous repurposed-materials chandelier—leaves enough space between pairs of patrons for an intimate date while evoking the feeling of exclusivity and hand-crafted hominess. Yet, the food—which rotates seasonally according to sustainable, local sources and is curated by spousal co-owners Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher—is anything but standard. For $45, guests can choose three courses from four categories: Field (greens-based), Sea (fish), Land (meats) and Dream (dessert), with optional beverage pairings and extra courses for $10 apiece. Delicate portions with global origins (French, Mediterranean and Indian influences) and formidable flavor (try the antelope heart, finer than most filets) make up Lenoir's distinctive menu of “Hot Weather Food,” designed to compliment the local climate. On sunnier days or balmy nights, a visit to the oak-shaded wine garden, which requires no reservation and offers an abbreviated snack menu, is a must.
This downtown New American haven’s moniker might be confusing at first glance, but it’s really a clever guide to the downtown restaurant’s offered experience: a 25-seat kitchen-facing counter where guests can choose from three prix-fixe course options of three, five or seven, with ever-changing menus based on seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. Those choices, creatively crafted right in front of you by owner Eric Earthman, executive chef Damien Brockway and their small crew of chefs, range $45-$95 per person. Or you can splurge for each course paired with wines for $70-$150 per guest, which—with superior knowledge from sommeliers who specialize in food-friendly wines—is the offering that solidifies this spot as a veritable vino must-visit as much as an all-star dining destination.
Where virtually all other fine-dining establishments come up short—kitchen closure before midnight—Justine’s Brasserie has prevailed for eight years. “Very late night dining. When you think you’ve gone too far, keep going,” reads the welcome message on the restaurant’s website, which is back-dropped by some racy film footage that has become the source of much debate over the years (porn or art?). The video also hints at the spirit of debaucherous freedom celebrated at a place that prides itself as much on its decorous bar as its delectable French bistro-inspired fare (onion soup, duck confit, salade niçoise, steak frites, escargot, etc), curated by chef Taylor Chambers and served from 6pm to 1:30am nightly (except Tuesdays). Go for the drinks and food, and stay for the sexy scenery—you wont want to leave without snapping a selfie among sparkling chandeliers in the mirrored infinity room.
The freshest garlic bread, daily homemade pastas, specially aged steaks carved by the ounce in the kitchen according to your preference—all of the Northern and Southern Italian specialties at Red Ash, a welcome addition to Austin’s fine dining scene, scream made-to-order. Pick a quiet spot in the modest-sized dining room, or sit at the chef’s counter and you will witness firsthand the top-notch culinary crew members, led by owner/executive chef John Carver, as they bring out the best in an array of locally sourced ingredients. And unlike most other ATX restaurants of a similar caliber, this one is open seven days a week starting at 5pm, which means it's suitable for a late lunch, early dinner or a romantic date before moving on to a nearby late-night drinks spot. There's also a daily happy hour, which runs until 6:30pm and offers a meals-worth of mouthwatering small plates ($7 apiece) along with a superb selection of wines, beers and cocktails (each $2 off per glass).
Since opening on Rainey Street in late 2015, Emmer & Rye has been generating serious buzz—and with it, serious crowds. It’s the kind of space you want to ogle: towering shelving peppered with vintage cookbooks and copper pots serve as a room divider, and an open-format kitchen reveals a very organized culinary team. The menu features rustic takes on New American cuisine, like the white Sonoran pappardelle with pork ragout, polenta with fermented mushrooms, shiitake, mint marigold espuma, and a grand dry-aged ribeye. While dining, you’ll be visited by a dim sum cart carrying a revolving selection of bites and small plates. And the house cocktails are designed with a high level of imagination; the “Where There is Smoke” is a stirred concoction of Rittenhouse rye, pecan olorosso sherry and smoked ice.
You’ve heard of farm-to-table—it’s all the rage right now among Austin’s New American fine-dining hotspots. Well, East Austin outpost Jacoby’s, a purposefully rustic-looking indoor-outdoor restaurant and connected market focused on artisan goods, is pushing a slightly different concept: ranch-to-table. That’s because their fantastically delicious fare, which hinges on hormone- and antibiotic-free, hand-cut and dry-aged beef, is produced at the Jacoby family’s own ranch in Melvin, TX. Sure, their dishes aren’t as creatively outlandish as some comparably priced joints (we’re talking mainly high-quality burgers and steaks here), but trust: owner Adam Jacoby, executive chef Albert Gonzalez and the rest of their team have crafted a variety of menu items that deliver a bang for your buck while retaining decidedly homemade qualities (on top of two types of cheddar, the mac n’ cheese has savory cheese curds in it, ya’ll).
If experiencing old-school Austin while copping a seriously superb meal is your goal, then Jeffrey’s is your destination. The west side spot is over 40 years old, but with a revamp of the building and menu in 2013, the old house-turned-restaurant has remained a can't-miss eatery in the growing ATX fine-dining scene. The consistently changing menu (based on seasonally available farm-to-table products) boasts steaks, aged and cut by locals Lone Star Meats, as the main attraction, but you won’t want to skimp on other specialties including the wood oven veal chop milanesa, crispy fried Brussels sprouts (made with serrano honey for a sweet-spicy kick) and an excellent selection of wines and cart cocktails.
Note that the cuisine at Juniper is described as Northern Italian-inspired—emphasis on the hyphenated descriptor because, following the trend of many recently opened ATX fine-dining spots, the ingredients are all sourced primarily from Central Texas, with a few exceptions like Pittsburg (for Strube Ranch’s wagyu cuts) and McCallen (for G & S Groves’ citrus fruit). With chef and former Uchi creative director Nicholas Yanes at the helm, this romantic dining locale—fitted with dark wood fixtures, green and blue velvet upholstery and juniper tree fronds (obvs)—also follows the local trend of small, artfully composed plates that are worth the higher price point by satisfying without over-stuffing.