<Update: Since posting in March 2018, a few things have changed.>
As a resident of Northwest Austin who often has visitors in town, I’ve been asked for “where to eat” advice quite a bit, but as a home cook food blogger who eats out at some great restaurants, it quickly became my mission to put together a solid round-up of places near me, and for any type of eater.
In late 2016, I polled my neighbors on nextdoor.com about their favorite restaurants from Central to North Austin. Having lived here for a couple of years already, I figured I had it down about what places would rise to the top. Instead, I found out I’d be doing a whole lot more exploring and researching places I’d never tried. This became a year-and-a-half-long (and counting) challenge. My nextdoor.com neighbors likely gave up on the promised compiled blog post, but then I’d rather be thorough than speedy. So after a solid year and a half, I’ve gathered my list of must-try places.
This is the culmination of my culinary exploration and I hope that it inspires tourists from all over, including my own neighbors.
Note: I’ve covered The Domain, The Arboretum, 183/Research adjacent, Jollyville Road, Burnet, West Anderson Blvd, and a smattering of other spots in and around those neighborhoods. The last several restaurants listed here do not feature photos, as I am still sifting through my hundreds and hundreds of photos at the moment. I’ll get to adding those shortly. Food pics sell me on trying new restaurants, so the rest of my list is full of photos.
Without further adieu, and in no particular order, here’s what I’ve selected:
The Roaring Fork — 10850 Stonelake Blvd. Austin, TX 78759
Good for dinner, happy hour, a cocktail, anything. The happy hour is excellent and generous, but in general they do everything the way I would if I owned a place. This is a higher end place and so is their queso. It has pieces of pork in it that they slow cook for their green chili. I love this place. This location is in a very pretty setting looking over Quarry Lake, and the restaurant itself is beautiful. Excellent steaks and salmon. They know what they’re doing with green chili too, which if you know me, you know is a big plus in my book.
Riata Bar & Grill – 12221 Riata Trace Pkwy #100, Austin, TX 78727
I’m calling it a dive because it is a hang for regulars and has a lo-fi vibe. But they serve good pub food and there is a great selection of ice cold beers. Position yourself to watch the game or clips on the Chive network (home video type stuff that will entertain you if you’re looking to chill out).
County Line BBQ — 6516, 5204 Ranch Rd 2222, Austin, TX 78731
County Line sits right on the lake, and is very enchanting. Depending on the weather you can sit outside (even in rain because of the covered dining area), and kids can feed the gazillion turtles that swim up to the bank. The food is incredible (get bread!!!) and the fave among my camp is the Beef Rib, so get one! The indoor seating is great too, as it features windows over the water. – BBQ
Chuy’s – 11680 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78759
This is the original city where Chuy’s started, and from what I hear about the chain expansion, it is best right here in Austin. Try the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Enchiladas, the queso, and basically anything else on the menu.
Weekdays they have a FREE QUESO BAR during their happy hour. They provide chips, pico de gallo, salsa, taco meat, and refried beans so you can eat your weight in Queso Compuesto (means queso with stuff, basically) and the free queso at happy hour is served in a converted car trunk. I mean, that gimmick alone should draw you in. This location has a huge outdoor seating area.
Camino Real – 8650 Spicewood Springs Rd, Austin, TX 78759
This isn’t fancy, but the food is great, especially if you like old-school no-frills Tex-Mex. There are tons of combo plates, all of which show up at your table practically before you order it. Ace waitstaff keeps your chips and salsa full and huge waters, ice teas and fountain drinks too. Yes, they have margaritas too!
Bartlett’s — 2408 W Anderson Ln, Austin, TX 78757
This place is combines high end food with elegant atmosphere and service. A good option for a higher end dinner, but try it out for a happy hour to get the quality bites for a sampling/sharing price. They have amazing steaks, and everything I’ve eaten there is incredible. They also have lots of great unusual cocktails.
Texas Chili Parlor — 1409 Lavaca St, Austin, TX 78701
A divey place near the capitol. Great bloody marys and migas for breakfast. I LOVE THIS PLACE. The senators and mostly locals hang out at this place. Everything about the Texas Chili Parlor is classic dive (in the best way) from the salty but sweet waitresses and bar staff to the cluttery decorations, stickers, and graffitti on the walls. They have my favorite Margarita in Austin.
Kerbey Lane — 2120 N Mays St, Round Rock, TX 78664
Kerbey Lane is a diner with a definite Austin feel (although they’re just slightly north of the Austin line). They rotate their menu seasonally with Texas-inspired stuff (brisket nachos anyone?). Yum. A greasy spoon on crack, with a full bar and solid menu. The owners are great and the queso is famously one of the crowning jewels!
Ramen Tatsu-Ya — 8557 Research Blvd #126, Austin, TX 78758
Arguably the best ramen in Austin. There are differing opinions out there, but I bet most of you agree. So it is on my list, but I must also mention their new sister restaurant Kemuri Tatsu-Ya. My photos are somewhere elusive at the moment, so my pic here is of the Hatch Green Chili Ramen from Ramen Tatsu-Ya that was a special dish and fundraiser for the victims of Harvey in Houston. It was, as expected, a spicy, flavorful, brightly flavored and nuanced ramen. Maybe someday it’ll be a regular menu item. Onto Kemuri Tatsu-Ya!
Kemuri Tatsu-Ya — 2713 E 2nd St, Austin, TX 78702
This is a little south of my target area, but SO GOOD. This place is new by the same owners, and is making all the top tens throughout Austin, and Texas and even Food & Wine just listed it in a top 100 in the country (something like that). It is in the space of a historical and famous old BBQ place beloved in the neighborhood. The owners of the fave Ramen place “Ramen Tatsu-Ya” are using the original smoke oven and fusing crazy Japanese-inspired dishes with real-deal smoked Texas stuff. There can be a line, and the place is small, but with a group the time passes quickly while you wait and the drinks and food are truly odd and like nothing you’ve ever tried before. I highly recommend going with a group so you can order lots of shareable dishes and taste EVERYTHING! Adventurous eaters will delight in the variety and presentation of the food and cocktails.
Brio Tuscan Grille — 10000 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78759
Brio’s happy hour is one of my favorites. The wine is solid for a happy hour price, and on Wednesdays they have martini specials. The food on the happy hour menu is crazy good for the price. Try the Black Pepper Shrimp, which is stacked with eggplant and drizzled in the pepper sauce. Make sure you get bread and the seed crackers to get every last drop of the sauce!
North Italia – 11506 Century Oaks Terrace #124, Austin, TX 78758
This is a higher end Italian place where the make all the pasta same day in-house. The bread comes with sun-dried tomato butter. The food is incredible, and they have a great wine list. Try it out for date night!
Mia Italian Tapas — 11420 Rock Rose Avenue #120, Austin, TX 78758
Culinary Dropout — 11721 Rock Rose Ave #100, Austin, TX 78758
Cover 2 — 13701 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78750
Interesting menu. Sort of like a sports bar but with a chef’s touch. They do a bloody mary bar on the weekends. I like Cover 2 for the menu and vibe. Not much to point out besides it is good at being what it is.
Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen — 11617 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78759
Seafood. Excellent menu. Beautiful oysters, delicious savory seafood dishes including classics and New Orleans-influenced twists. Everything I’ve tried here is very good, and the staff and food feels high-end while you could get away with wearing jeans and a t-shirt. That is a winning combo in my opinion.
Brick House Tap & Tavern — 11680 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78759
The menu keeps changing, which is a little frustrating since I now miss the French Onion Soup and some of their best happy hour bites. Service can be spotty but the food never disappoints. Try the Turkey Club! It comes with a deviled egg on top and killer tots. The burgers and flat breads are also incredible, and they do a solid job of brunch.
Pinthouse Pizza — 4729 Burnet Rd, Austin, TX 78756
Aside from having some of the best pizza in Austin…and even anywhere else I’ve lived (and that includes the East AND the West Coast of the good old USA), the beer is top-notch. Try a flight then settle into a pint of your liking. The staff will put together a flight if you don’t want to choose. The seating is grab one and celebrate you did, very democratic or…something. Long picnic tables you’ll share with your neighbors who might be pretty rad, frankly. I mean…I go there a lot (I’m here all week). Anyway they have awesome starters and salads, and the t-shirts for sale deliver the snark like nobody’s business.
The Pour House Pints & Pies -11835 Jollyville Rd, Austin, TX 78759
This is the place with the bright, colorful awnings and a big outdoor patio. They have an extensive beer menu, but they do offer a full bar as well. The pizzas are interesting and good. They also have salads and sandwiches, along with some traditional Italian entrees. Be sure to order some fried pickles and cheesy bread! The outdoor patio is perfect for chilling out, reading a book or hanging with friends on a Sunday Funday. Dog-friendly, but you have to keep your dog on the outside of the gated area. So…not perfect, but still great for doggin’. Excellent beer menu, and the staff is always one of my fave parts of this hang in my hood.
Asia Cafe — Spicewood/183 Center, 8650 Spicewood Springs Rd #114a, Austin, TX 78759
Big menu with tons of options. I’d name a favorite dish or two, but I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve tried. This is in the same strip mall as Camino Real (mentioned also in this post). Bonus for both: there is also an Indian grocery store and Asian market in this strip mall too, and it is where I take my illustration classes. For a strip mall, you could do a lot worse. They also have a rewards program that seemingly wants me to have free egg rolls CONSTANTLY. How can I complain?
Lucy’s — 5408 Burnet Rd, Austin, TX 78756
Fried chicken…the best in Austin (my favorite, anyway). The atmosphere is casual and very southern and hipster Austiny. Cool artwork to stare at and amusing things to catch your eye everywhere…see: restrooms.
Bonhomie — 5350 Burnet Rd, Austin, TX 78756 (UPDATE: CLOSED)
France meets Austin on your plate! This place has a great happy hour too. The food is high end and the happy hour makes it a little more affordable. Happy hour served in the bar area only as of my last visit. Gorgeous presentation and knowledgeable, friendly staff. The desserts are jaw-dropping, and the light, as you can see from my photos, is clean and refreshing throughout the place. Nicely done!
Hop Doddy Burger Bar — 2438 W Anderson Ln A, Austin, TX 78757
There is almost always a line to get in, but they bring you drinks and hand out samples of milkshakes! Get a “Skinny Dip” — a mini Corona beer tipped over into a frozen margarita. That line will get shorter in no time for one of the best burgers you’ll ever eat.’ They even have the “Impossible Burger” which I just recently tried and was very encouraged that fake meat is improving by leaps and bounds compared to when I was a vegetarian for about fifteen years. They’ve made some recent changes that I don’t mind, including a few updated burger choices. This is a fun place to take the in-laws or make a weekend dinner excursion into a buzzy good time.
Sip Saam Thai — 6301 W Parmer Ln #505, Austin, TX 78729
Thai food with a menu metaphor for those who love movies. This restaurant took over the previous Thai place and after several months they also expanded to the next door space. The decor is clean and fresh. The menu has style and the food is a a delightful combo of comforting curry and noodle dishes with all the magic of fresh herbs and citrus. This has become a staple in our eating out habits since it opened. The yellow curry….mmmmm. Choose your spiciness preference on a scale of 1-10, and beware!
Balkan Cafe & Grill — 11800 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753
If you’ve never tried Balkan food, now is the time! The salads are incredible, the cocktails are interesting and delish. I found the staff to be very warmly educational about the food. Nothing like a serving of kindness to go with an informative and thorough answer to what could have come off as a bunch of dumb questions! Excellent salads and lots of seasoned meats. Great for sampling and sharing.
Caspian Grill — 12518 Research Boulevard, J, Austin, TX 78759
The food here is both gorgeous and very well thought out. The bright colors of the rice and fresh, ice cold salads and veggies contrast with the deep, rich flavors of the Persian grill and spices. The stews surprise with flavors that I personally wouldn’t have thought to combine. The staff are like ninjas showing up just when you’re ready, and with plenty of enthusiasm and knowledge about the dishes. I always have questions, and they always have answers that help me select something amazing.
Oasthouse Kitchen & Bar — 8300 N FM 620 e, Austin, TX 78726
The Oasthouse…what can I say? Every single bite of food I’ve eaten here has been outstanding. From the killer happy hour selections to the carefully curated seasonal menu, they are knocking me out. The pork ribs can’t be beaten. The scallops are cooked juuuuust right (and I’m picky about scallops), and the shared plates are gorgeous and disappear fast. Great wine and cocktails that come with advice, should you request it. Infused vodkas…just nothing bad about this place.
Quality Seafood — 5621 Airport Blvd, Austin, TX 78751
If you know inland seafood, you know that it can be disappointing. Quality Seafood to the rescue. In fact, they provide a major share of seafood to the other Austin area seafood retailers. They’ve nailed it. Not only a great, east coasty feeling lo-fi seafood haunt, but a market where you can pick up the freshest, best seafood in Austin for your home cooking. I referenced QS in my second cookbook due to the incredible advice one of the mongers gave me about making Portuguese Fisherman’s Stew.
I don’t know about you, but I like a salty barkeep, and the women slinging booze here deliver. Sometimes I’m just in the mood for the personality of the place…but the Monday night ALASKAN KING CRAB SPECIAL sure doesn’t hurt either. Live music. Great seafood. Awesome staff. Gitcha some!
NXNW Restaurant & Brewery — 10010 N Capital of Texas Hwy, Austin, TX 78759
I love the chill but clean and cool vibe of NXNW. The burgers rock. There’s a great fireplace to cozy up and enjoy. The staff is a crew of very conversational and interesting folks. They’ve got boss beer and something for everyone on the eclectic menu. Pretty great location for central meet-ups this far north with access to a whole mess of neighborhoods and roads.
Lupe Tortilla — 10515 N. Mopac Expressway NB, Austin, TX 78759
This is my favorite spot for Tex-Mex fare when we have an evening to enjoy out. The spices knock me out. They’re doing it right. You can get anything from insanely flavorful seafood dishes (this can go so wrong in Tex-Mex, it is worth mentioning), and if you love a good carne asada, well, here’s your chance. The fajitas make an excellent choice for a catered event (thank you Lauren for that info and experience), and the margaritas are choice. Not one complaint. Not even the 20 minute wait that they said could be 45.
Shabu — 2700 W Anderson Ln, Austin, TX 78757 (UPDATE: NAME CHANGED, NO MORE HOT POT)
Poke House — 11150 Research Blvd #216, Austin, TX 78759
For a counter service place in a strip mall, this is a gem. They’ve nailed the Subway or Chipotle-like assembly system of making poke your way. Everything is fresh, cold-AF (pardon my French, but nobody wants to question the temp of poke), and the place is clean, bright and professional. They have ahi, but you can also try out the salmon! Love that. Not everybody wants or can have seafood with high mercury content. Solid lunch or quick dinner.
Kura Revolving Sushi Bar — 6929 Airport Blvd, Austin, TX 78752
I mean, who doesn’t love a gimmick? Maybe you? Well…that’s your issue. I love a good gimmick, always have. And revolving sushi places make me quake with gimmicky passion. Hurry! You might miss that spicy tuna roll! Plus, this place, along with all the other great revolving sushi bar gimmicks, has a prize system. Just go try it. Trust.
The remaining list (below) will be supplemented with photos as I gather them. I didn’t want to leave them out of my compiled list of favorites, so be sure to check these out too! As I locate photos, I’ll flesh out my descriptions of these spots as well.
Z-Tejas — Great happy hour. Seating with a pretty view from the outdoor patio. Try the queso…in a town that does queso right, they’re still beating most of the rest.
La Madeleine — This is a chain, but the food and coffee are superior. The French Dip is my go-to, and replace the side dish with French Onion Soup for a dipping alternate to au jus. The buffet-type line opens into a cozy little European feeling coffee shop with nice windows and natural light. Oh…and they serve wine too.
Brooklyn Pie Company — Order a slice (which is bigger than most personal sized pizzas) and go have a beer over at Woodrow’s a couple of doors down. Dog-friendly, and Brooklyn Pies will deliver your food. Great for watching your favorite sports on the giant TVs.
Truluck’s — Beautiful food presentation, and delicious. Date night, special occasion. CRAB LEGS. Yes, I tend to always capitalize those words. My favorite food on the planet.
Frost Gelato — I’m not a dessert person until I am. This place I cannot skip. So many amazing flavors. The presentation is swoon-worthy.
Thai Kun – At the Domain, there are a lot of options, and this one escaped me for awhile because I kept looking at the menu and scratching my head. Finally, I tried it out with a friend who is food adventurous and this is the type of menu you want to explore. Go with a group so you can try a lot of dishes…you’ll try something new, I promise! This isn’t the typical Thai menu. Adventurous eaters must try!
Madam Mams — Delicious and very fresh Thai food. The Pad Thai is on point and the presentation is lovely. One of the things I love about Thai food is the fresh beautiful flavors and colors. Madam Mams does not disappoint.
Cover 3 — See above: Cover 2 with a slightly different menu.
Thanks for checking out my list of favorites! What did I miss? Did I cover something you disagree with? Comments welcomed! I hope to hear from anyone who found my post helpful. Don’t forget to check out the entire Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide for more great info on food you want to eat!