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Best Austin Restaurants

AOL PICK from our Editors

There’s no question that Austin’s a foodie town. The home of the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival for the last 25 years, Austin has produced stellar chefs—and attracted those from elsewhere to create a collection of the best Austin restaurants that provide a culinary bonanza for residents and visitors, alike. Sure, we’ve got great Mexican food and the best barbecue around—this is Texas, after all—but Austin dining is much more than that. From mouth-watering Italian to steakhouses and sushi, the best Austin restaurants run the gamut and touch every culture. Austin’s not just a sit-down-and-eat kind of town, either; the city also has a food trailer scene that’s second to none. Airstream-lined sections of town—particularly South Congress Avenue and South First Street—offer crepes, cupcakes, tacos, barbecue, sushi and something wonderful called the Mighty Cone that has developed a cult following since its introduction at the Austin City Limits Music Festival a few years ago. The best Austin restaurants in the heart of downtown tend to be more upscale and varied, while those up north tend more toward chain restaurants, with a few notable exceptions. Anytime is dinner time here, but Austin restaurants are most crowded between 7PM and 10PM. For late-night eats, look no further than Magnolia Cafe, where the blueberry pancakes are divine, or Katz’s Deli, where sandwiches as big as your head beckon after a night at the clubs.

Threadgill's

Neighborhood: North Austin
Price: Moderate

Feel-good Southern comfort food and live music: Threadgill’s is all that and more. Around since 1933 when the original Lamar location opened, Threadgill’s is a local favorite that is known as much for great food as for great music. Don’t miss the fried green tomatoes, the truly decadent chicken-fried steak, meatloaf, pecan-crusted chicken and the vegetable plate. With more than 25 sides to choose from—this okra lover adores the fried ones here, and the Texas black-eyed pea caviar—even the most fickle tummies will be happy. No reservations are needed, but if a hot band is playing, plan to get there early (around 6PM) to avoid the crush and get a good seat outside.

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Driskill Grill

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Expensive

It’s been called “European style with Texas flair,” and that’s not much off the mark. The Driskill Grill takes full advantage of the creativity of executive chef Jonathan Gelman, as well as executive pastry chef Tony Sansalone’s exquisite desserts. Don’t miss duck three ways and the delectable lobster bisque. And, with a “farm to table” philosophy that uses local, seasonal produce and meats, diners can also choose a nightly Farm to Table three-course menu to sample the best of Austin cuisine. Reservations are recommended at this top Austin restaurant (call at least three days in advance) and, while you can wear jeans, it’s best to kick it up a notch and dress to impress—no matter whose designer label jeans are on your butt.

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Uncorked Tasting Room & Wine Bar

Neighborhood: East Austin
Price: Moderate

This cute little house-turned-into-equally-cute-wine-bar-and-restaurant is simplicity at its best. The passionate owner and managing partner, Ron Wight, is usually behind the bar with stellar wine advice and the staff is consistent, knowledgeable and eager to explain the diverse menu. This is the perfect respite to sit back, drink good wine and watch the Interstate 35 traffic (and be thrilled you’re not caught in the thick of it). Start with either the charcuterie or the local cheese board for a taste of Austin. The steamed mussels in saffron tomato broth are wonderful (ask for extra bread, which is an excellent addition to the sauce), as is the South American-style roasted rack of lamb with chimichurri sauce. The hummus trio appetizer is good, and we'll admit that it pairs well with wine, but you can get this anywhere. For that reason, the charcuterie is a much better option.

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Uchi

Neighborhood: South Austin
Price: Expensive

Executive chef Tyson Cole elevates sushi to an art form at this South Austin culinary gem, located in a cute old house in South Austin. Daily and permanent menus are crafted from international seafood and locally grown, seasonal ingredients. Every single dish here is stunning—they get it right every time, trust us. Reservations are a must, since they only accept a limited number each evening. If you're a couple, call at least three days in advance. Got five or more in your party? Call well in advance (we're talking at least two weeks), because unless you’re Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow (both of whom dined here when Coldplay headlined the ACL festival), you will not get a table.

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Juan In a Million

Neighborhood: East Austin
Price: Budget

Family-owned and in business since 1980, this is traditional Mexican food at its best—and well worth the price. We’re not talking Tex-Mex here, but the real thing, with the best breakfast ever (try huevos a la Mexicana or migas or any breakfast taco); authentic sides like homemade guacamole and savory menudo; or entrees like enchiladas (chicken, beef or cheese), carne guisada or flautas. Warning: This place is always crowded in the morning—any day of the week—because of the tacos, but it’s worth the wait, which is usually never longer than 15 minutes.

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Hudson's on the Bend

Neighborhood: Lake Travis
Price: Expensive

Got elk? You’ll find that here and more—including wild boar, pheasant, duck, axis deer, rabbit and other woodland creatures that are cute, sure, but also delicious. Chef-owner Jeff Blank has created pizzazz here on the lake since 1975, and new chef Kelly Casey (the restaurant’s former sous chef) continues the trend. Try the mixed grill for a sampling of all things protein, or the six-course Chef Tasting Menu for a true smorgasbord. Not that hungry? There’s a three-course Chef Tasting Menu just for you. Note: This is a hike from downtown, so plan to leave early enough to get out to Lake Travis (it takes between 30 minutes to an hour to travel here from downtown Austin). Better yet, make later reservations (like 9), then go down the street to the Oasis and catch a drink and the sunset before dinner.

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The Salt Lick Bar-B-Que Restaurant

Neighborhood: Southwest Austin
Price: Moderate

There’s something oh-so-right about smoked meat and BYO-beer, and The Salt Lick, 25 miles southwest of Austin, pays proper homage. Leave your vegetarian friends at home —everything here has some animal in it, unless you want bread for dinner. Brisket is king here, as is the smoked sausage, and the most meltingly good ribs ever to grace a plate. Get the combo platter to try all three, but don’t miss the sides—the beans, potato salad and coleslaw are all standouts. About the BYOB: The Salt Lick doesn’t have its liquor license, so the only legal way to suck down a cold one here is to bring your own. While they can’t open or pour it for you, servers will bring you buckets of ice so you can keep it cold.

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Central Market

Neighborhood: North Austin
Price: Budget

Satisfy your appetite at the foodiest grocery store in town. The original north Austin location has a playscape, covered patio and tons of outdoor seating. Hip Austin parents usually vote this the best place to drink wine (you can buy a bottle to take outside) and entertain the kids at the same time. So, if you’re in town with family, there’s something for everyone. Weekends are notable for live music and Sunday brunch, but if you’re into the music, get there early for a table on the deck near the band.

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Hut's Hamburgers

Price: Budget

Though it’s been nearly washed away by massive flooding along Shoal Creek (there are still water marks on the wall from the ’81 flood), there’s no way locals would let this homage to the hamburger fall by the wayside. Opened in 1939 as Sammie’s Drive-In, Hut’s is an Austin institution, serving up giant burgers and the best onion rings you’ll ever taste. Located in a blue-and-white building that looks like a classic diner, but with college football flags all over, the roomy booth up front is our favorite for getting in and out quickly. The Milner’s Mushroom (creamy mushroom sauce, cheddar), Ritchie Valens (guac, cheddar, chopped tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, mayo, mustard), and Mr. Blue (blue cheese crumbles AND blue cheese dressing—decadent!—plus Swiss cheese, bacon and lettuce) are all standouts. And you can get ‘em with Longhorn grass-fed beef, chicken breast, buffalo or a veggie patty.

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Güero's Taco Bar

Neighborhood: South Congress
Price: Moderate

The salsa bar alone makes Güero's worth a visit, but you probably won’t make it much past the bar in this historic South Congress building and Güero’s ass-kicking margaritas. Skip the frozen—here or anywhere—and get top-shelf rocks instead; you'll get more bang for your liquor buck and imbibe fewer calories than the frozen mix. Order the Longhorn (splash of OJ), or the SoCo Rita (Cazadores, Cointreau and fresh lime juice)—both are sublime. As for food, any enchilada plato with the fresca sauce (avocado and sour cream) is worth the extra mile around Lady Bird Lake. Vegetarians love the grilled veggie alambre (mixed veggies on a bed of rice); for meat lovers we recommend the tacos al pastor—marinated pork with chopped onions, cilantro and pineapple.

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