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The Best Restaurants in Austin



In the Where to Eat: 25 Best series, we’re highlighting our favorite restaurants in cities across the United States. These lists will be updated as restaurants close and open, and as we find new gems to recommend. As always, we pay for all of our meals and don’t accept free items.

East Austin | Wine bar

Birdie’s is not just another wine bar. Chalk that up to the partnership of Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel and her husband, Arjav Ezekiel — she’s a highly skilled chef, and he has the energy and affability of the dancing tableware in “Beauty and the Beast.” Birdie’s is the place to be whether you just want to drink something interesting or you’re planning the big night out. In Ms. Malechek-Ezekiel’s hands, simple food — a creamy vegetable soup, roasted carrots with pesto — feels anything but simple. Add to that an electric atmosphere and wine glasses that seem to magically refill themselves — you’ll want to return just to see what the couple might cook or pour next. PRIYA KRISHNA

2944 East 12th Street, Unit A; no phone;

The chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph made a name for himself in Austin with the pastries at Emmer & Rye and Hestia, which he co-owns. Here at Canje — an ode to his Guyanese roots, with a menu that also stretches across the Caribbean — he has switched gears, with brilliant results. The food is a tangy, spicy, coconutty dreamscape. Tilefish soaked in tamarind and rum butter. Prawns brushed with a verdant green seasoning and smoked chiles. A tres leches cake drenched in coconut milk. What makes the jerk chicken so supercharged with flavor? Mr. Bristol-Joseph ferments his seasoning. And plan on at least one order of the buttery Guyanese-style roti per person. PRIYA KRISHNA

1914 East Sixth Street, Suite C; 512-706-9119;

East Austin | Bakery

Hidden in an unassuming building in a residential neighborhood is the concha-meets-funfetti-pastry fever dream that is Comadre Panadería. Here, conchas dusted with Barbie-pink strawberry jamaica powder share space with a sheet cake topped with prickly-pear buttercream and a black-bean honey bun. Every creation from the baker Mariela Camacho feels simultaneously innovative and nostalgic — as if a panadería took a trip through the snack aisle of an American grocery store. PRIYA KRISHNA

1204 Cedar Avenue; no phone;

East Austin | Mexican, Tacos

In a city of superlative tacos, the ones that Luis “Beto” Robledo (above) makes at Cuantos stand out. It’s the choricera — a round pot with deep sides and a shallow center, commonly used for cooking the meats in their own fat — that makes the difference in these Mexico City-style tacos. The standout is the suadero, in which brisket is plucked from the pot, still dripping with juices, sliced into thick slabs and then loaded into fresh, two-bite tortillas with plenty of cilantro and onion. These tacos demand to be eaten immediately, messily and with the understanding that you’ll be ordering three more. PRIYA KRISHNA

1108 East 12th Street; 512-905-0533;

Cherrywood/East Austin | Modern Texas

Locavore restaurant iconography tends toward still-life-worthy artichokes, tomatoes and gourds. Dai Due is different. Its commitment to Texas ingredients, extending from produce to its wine list, is all but unrivaled, yet the image that best captures the restaurant’s ethos is meat sizzling over live fire. The chef and owner, Jesse Griffiths, channeled his passion for Texas’ great outdoors — and more specifically the animals he hunts there — into this lusty, idiosyncratic butcher shop and chophouse. The seasonal vegetables are often very good, in no small part because they’re often cooked in tallow (as are the seasonal fried crawfish hand-pies, which are wonderful). But you’re here for what the chef de cuisine, Janie Ramirez, is grilling over Texas post oak: coffee-cured antelope leg fillets, aoudad meatballs, memorably flavorful pork chops, and quail stuffed with boudin and plated with pickled blueberries. BRETT ANDERSON

2406 Manor Road; 512-524-0688;

East Austin | Thai

If the chef Lakana Sopajan-Trubiana’s zippy, herbaceous and deeply comforting northeastern Thai food tastes farm-fresh, that’s because it is. Ms. Sopajan-Trubiana, who was raised on a farm in Isaan, grows many of the vegetables and herbs used in her restaurant, and her green thumb makes the Thai flavors sing. Dishes you’ve seen at other Thai restaurants, like laab or red curry, seem far more interesting here. The om gai, a chicken soup heady with lemongrass and dill, is comfort in a takeout container. PRIYA KRISHNA

4204 Menchaca Road; no phone;

East Austin | Mexican, Tacos

Discada serves one type of taco, and it’s unforgettable. The restaurant uses the discada method, also known as “cowboy wok” cooking, that’s popular in Mexico City. In this style, various chopped meats and aromatics are cooked in a plow disc from a tractor and added in layers, to build on the rendered fat and flavor from each one. The tacos, brought to Austin by the high-school friends and co-owners Anthony Pratto and Xose Velasco, are dainty but pack a big punch. Even in a taco-saturated city, there’s truly nothing else like Discada. PRIYA KRISHNA

1319 Rosewood Avenue; 512-920-5473;

South Lamar| Oaxacan

El Naranjo’s story — from food truck to brick-and-mortar restaurant to its current incarnation inside a slick, window-lined space on South Lamar Boulevard — mirrors that of Austin’s restaurant scene over the past dozen years. But the restaurant’s roots are in Mexico. Iliana de la Vega and Ernesto Terrealba opened the first El Naranjo in Oaxaca City in 1997, and the Austin restaurant’s food, now overseen by their daughter Ana Torrealba, still reflect those origins. The daily-changing ceviches, huitlacoche-queso empanadas and blistered octopus will make you fall in love with the cooking. But it would be a mistake to miss the moles: the dark, raspy, 30-plus ingredient mole negro; or the nutty, relatively lean mole blanco, sparked with a drizzle of habanero oil. Either pairs well with a refreshing mezcal cocktail. BRETT ANDERSON

2717 South Lamar Boulevard, Suite 1085; 512-520-5750;

East Austin | Coastal Mexican

Este is inspired by the seafood dishes of the Mexican coast, but it’s not strictly limited to them. The menu isn’t filled with faithful recreations of the aguachiles and tostadas found in cities like Ensenada or Veracruz. Instead, the chef Fermín Núñez isn’t afraid to go off-road in the name of uncovering something delicious. Grilled turbot with salsa verde shines even brighter with a rich slick of hummus on the bottom. Hazelnuts and brown butter enliven the salsa macha in the grilled squid. “You wouldn’t find it in Mexico,” Mr. Nuñez said of his cooking. “But it is Mexican.” PRIYA KRISHNA

2113 Manor Road; 512-522-4047;

Ezov’s food features Texas ingredients in dishes that are colorful, sprightly spiced and inspired by the chef Berty Richter’s upbringing in Tel Aviv. There are audibly crisp falafel riding a swirl of tahini, amba and schug; cubes of pomegranate-stained raw snapper, scattered with chopped pistachios; and juicy, skewered kofta riding a bed of fire roasted eggplant and topped with charred, oil-slicked pine nuts. If you’re interested in wines from the Eastern Mediterranean, especially Lebanon, ask to see the bottle list. That said, if you dare to order the everything bagel martini, consider yourself warned.

2708 East Cesar Chavez; 512-305-1118;

East Austin | Barbecue

Why wait hours for barbecue in a city where there are excellent alternatives? Fair question. The answer is that Franklin’s barbecue is as good, if not better, today than it was when Aaron and Stacy Franklin graduated in 2011 from a food truck to this cinder block building. Mr. Franklin has since become one of the country’s most recognizable pitmasters. His buttery-tender brisket, juicy sausage and weekend-only beef ribs remain consistently exceptional. And the hospitality, extended even in the pre-opening hours to customers waiting on the sidewalk, bears none of the entitlement or cynicism typically found at restaurants where the demand for seats so vastly exceeds the supply. All of which makes Franklin a rare breed: a restaurant that has become a tourist attraction, while upholding the standards that made it famous in the first place. BRETT ANDERSON

900 East 11th Street, Austin; 512-653-1187;

Anderson Mill | Barbecue

Texas barbecue has always been great. It has also never been better. Get yourself to this northwest Austin joint for a taste of how both things can be true. The brisket and pork spare ribs are as good as any you’ll find, traditionally prepared and reminiscent of what Texans have been eating for generations. But the owner and co-pitmaster John Bates also applies the techniques and creative license of fine dining to expand the Texas barbecue repertoire, which here includes pulled lamb shoulder, pork belly glazed with peach tea and turkey breast marinated in hefeweizen. The sides are so delicious — smoked scalloped potatoes, a citrusy beet salad topped with pumpkin seeds — you could even post a sign once unthinkable near Texas barbecue: vegetarians welcome. BRETT ANDERSON

12233 Ranch Road 620 North, Suite 105; 512-382-6248;

Holly| Tex-Mex

Are you the type of person who finds outsize comfort in short-order cafes and diners, preferably with a bit of age on them? Perhaps you feel the same about Mexican restaurants where you can get a pork chop with your huevos, the taco selection runs to nearly 20 and refried beans are effectively unavoidable? You’ll love Joe’s, which also happens to be a time capsule from the era when East Austin was a working-class Mexican American stronghold. The breakfast-and-lunch restaurant has been run by the women of the Avila family for most of the years since Joe Avila opened it in 1962. You’ll undoubtedly want more of the fluffy, housemade flour tortillas; extras are 50 cents apiece. BRETT ANDERSON

2305 East Seventh Street; 512-472-0017;

Holly | Barbecue Izakaya

Kemuri is arguably (along with Blood Bros. BBQ, outside Houston) the state’s most fully realized Asian-influenced barbecue place. What the chef-owners Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto call a Texas izakaya is also a full-service restaurant that imagines what a Japanese chef might have been cooking at a Texas roadhouse 100 years ago. The answer covers a lot of ground, from smoked eel, hamachi collar and brisket to rayfin jerky, karaage with egg salad and a daily-changing sashimi. Mr. Aikawa and Mr. Matsumoto are innovative tastemakers who operate a number of popular Texas-inspired Japanese restaurants in Austin. This restaurant and bar, first opened in 2017 and decorated with Texas flags, taxidermy and vintage signs in Japanese, is their crowning achievement, at least thus far. BRETT ANDERSON

2713 East Second Street, Austin; 512-803-2224;

South Manchaca | Barbecue

The pitmaster Evan LeRoy has been building a following for his open-minded take on Texas barbecue since 2017, when he opened the first LeRoy and Lewis as a food truck with his wife, Lindsey, and partners Sawyer and Nathan Lewis. So it’s no surprise to find crowds at the brick-and-mortar location that opened this winter. Established favorites (Citra hop pork sausage, brisket burger, cauliflower “burnt ends”) are on a menu that also expands on L and L’s freewheeling style. Lamb kofta tacos and smoked Italian beef sandwiches are among the new additions that will leave diners grateful to live in the age when Texas barbecue is so open to experimentation. (Note: The original LeRoy and Lewis is still parked outside the South Austin Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden.) BRETT ANDERSON

5621 Emerald Forest Drive; 512-962-7805;

East Austin | Barbecue

For those who come to Austin for great barbecue but don’t want to wait in a certain hourslong line, Micklethwait remains reliably great. The owner, Tom Micklethwait, specializes in the oak-fired Central Texas-style, and unlike many Texas pitmasters who have expanded into multiple locations, he has kept his operation lean — you can taste the attention and care that goes into the meats. The bright, balanced sides and dreamy oatmeal cream pie are a bonus. PRIYA KRISHNA

1309 Rosewood Avenue; 512-791-5961;

Windsor Park/East Austin | Barbecue, Deli

Giving Jewish deli food the barbecue treatment is one of those ideas that feels obvious as soon as you chow down on peppery, smoky slabs of pastrami between two thick pieces of toast with a big smear of mustard. But you didn’t think of it. The chef Geoffrey Ellis did. Mum Foods — which operates as a brick-and-mortar as well as a farmers’ market stall — is a sandwich lover’s dream, a place where the ratio of meat to bread to condiments feels obsessively considered. PRIYA KRISHNA

5811 Manor Road; 512-270-8021;

East Austin | Mexican

At Nixta, Edgar Rico and Sara Mardanbigi are throwing a big backyard party, and you’re invited. Mr. Rico, the chef, uses heirloom varieties of corn that he grinds himself to make the outstanding tortillas, and his arsenal of vibrant salsas and sauces can make even a plate of raw vegetables feel cutting-edge. Ms. Mardanbigi’s warm service makes the place seem more like a friend’s house than a restaurant, and her Iranian heritage occasionally finds its way into dishes like sholeh zard, a marriage between the Persian rice pudding and arroz con leche. PRIYA KRISHNA

2512 East 12th Street; no phone;

North Side | Southern

Many people consider Texas part of the Deep South. Olamaie embraces this, with buttermilk biscuits that are the stuff of county-fair blue ribbons (albeit offered with sturgeon caviar), oysters Rockefeller and gumbo z’herbes that would bring nods of approval in New Orleans. Nevertheless, Olamaie, housed in a renovated bungalow, is not defined by its exacting takes on traditional dishes. Amanda Turner, the chef de cuisine, nimbly stretches the boundaries of Southern cuisine. The smoked amberjack crudo sparkles with leche de tigre and chile crunch. The grilled pork chop is redolent of jerk spices. This is expansive Southern cooking, befitting a native Texan who was raised in the diverse kitchens of its capital city. BRETT ANDERSON

610 San Antonio Street; 512-474-2796;

North Austin | Mexican Japanese

The chef Christopher Krinsky probably isn’t the first person to put taco toppings on ramen, but he certainly won’t be the last. In his tiny shop tucked inside a grocery store, the bowls of ramen are flavor bombs whose blending of Mexican and Japanese tradition works brilliantly — mole serves as the dipping sauce for tsukemen, while carnitas and charred chiles swim in the tonkotsu. And no, the restaurant doesn’t serve birria ramen, so don’t even think about asking. PRIYA KRISHNA

1700 West Parmer Lane, Suite 100; no phone;

East Austin | Mexican

What, exactly, did they put in this snapper to make it taste this good? And the cabbage? And the beans? At this Mexican-inspired restaurant, practically every dish inspires that level of wonder. Only a chef as wildly creative as Fermín Núñez could think to give beans the aligot treatment and slather them on a tlayuda, or reinvent the Choco Taco with cinnamon semifreddo and peanut caramel. Mr. Núñez is charting a distinctive path for himself in Mexican cooking. PRIYA KRISHNA

1800 East Sixth Street; 512-522-3031;

Bouldin Creek | Japanese

In 1995, Tyson Cole, a white, Florida-born sushi novice, was hired by Takehiko Fuse, a revered Japanese chef working in Austin, on the condition that he learn to speak, read and write Japanese. That discipline is still evident in the food at Uchi, the restaurant Mr. Cole opened eight years later. This sequence of events helps explain how Austin, a landlocked city where people of Japanese descent make up only 0.2 percent of the population, became home to one of the country’s most dynamic Japanese restaurant scenes. Dishes that partner raw or lightly cooked seafood with non-Japanese marinades and sauces, fruits and even goat cheese are emblematic of Uchi’s locally influential cross-culture style — now found at Uchi locations around the country. Nevertheless, dinner here is a uniquely Austin experience. BRETT ANDERSON

801 South Lamar Boulevard; 512-916-4808;

Bouldin Creek | Korean

Underdog is a wine bar and shop combined with a Korean American restaurant. The appeal of eating here is as simple and direct as the concept. The menu is filled with successfully playful takes on Korean cuisine, including a steamy egg soufflé covered in bonito flakes, Korean fried chicken with shiso ranch, and thick-cut galbi that showcases Texas beef. The worldly wine list is smartly curated and offers glasses (and even half-glasses) of wines (like a 2010 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino) that are normally only available by the bottle. The co-owners, Claudia Lee and Richard Hargreave, a sommelier, bring a personal touch to their fashionable place. The business is named after their dog, Squid, in case you’re wondering.

1600 South First Street, Suite 100; 512-367-2441;

Various locations | Mexican

In the Texas breakfast-taco wars, Veracruz All Natural remains one of Austin’s stalwart champions. And it’s not just because of the restaurant’s beloved migas taco, a delightful mess of tortilla chips, scrambled eggs and pico de gallo wrapped in a fresh corn tortilla. The sisters and owners Maritza and Reyna Vazquez have created a mini-chain of taquerias, inspired by their coastal Mexican hometown, that helped move the city beyond Tex-Mex, toward Mexican fare that emphasizes fresh produce, bright flavors and pressed juices. Austin is a better food town for it. PRIYA KRISHNA

Various locations;

In Texas, it’s not unusual to find exceptional food in a gas station or convenience store. Wee’s Cozy Kitchen, which recently located from a Shell station to the downtown corner store Royal Blue Grocery is the perfect example. The food by owner Wee Fong Ehlers is as good as ever, and the scene is still the same: satisfied locals digging into bowls of curry laksa that are heady with herbs and chiles. From her tiny kitchen, Ms. Ehlers cooks every dish to order, even freshly chopping the lemongrass. Wee’s provides all the warmth of home cooking, and yes, you can pick up a six pack of beer, too. PRIYA KRISHNA

609 Congress Avenue; 512-577-8626;

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