Austin remains one of the nation’s top tourist destinations, with exciting things to do come rain or shine. Increasingly, Austin is attracting foodies with its burgeoning culinary scene that offers everything from classic Texas barbecue to fun fusion dishes. Those who love food will find a number of exciting options scattered throughout Austin, from new and hip joints to restaurants that have been serving delicious food for decades.
What separates Austin from many other culinary cities is a continued focus on substance over style. These restaurants understand that good food comes first, which means tourists are in for a real treat. Some of the must-try restaurants in Austin include:
1. Franklin Barbecue
An institution in Austin, Franklin Barbecue often has waits of up to four hours. In fact, customers are encouraged to show up at 7:30 in the morning to make sure they get food before the restaurant sells out for the day. While this may sound like going to extraordinary lengths for some barbecue, it is well worth it.
Proprietor Aaron Franklin has been called the “king of brisket.” The protein that dominates Texas barbecue, brisket has a rich, fatty flavor infused with oak smoke and is cooked until it practically melts in the mouth.
While the Austin barbecue scene fluctuates year to year with the arrival of new barbecue joints, the perennial standout is Franklin Barbecue.
A perfect choice for those who cannot decide exactly what they want for dinner, Launderette serves up small plates inspired by a wide range of different food genres. The menu includes a number of small bites, such as the burrata or striped bass crudo, as well as wood-fired specialties and a selection of different vegetables. The dishes are meant to be shared (with the exception of the Plancha Burger, which some people argue is the best hamburger in town). Meanwhile, fans of dessert should not miss out on the birthday cake ice cream sandwich.
Launderette was opened by James Beard award nominees Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki in the hip, revitalized area around the intersection of Cesar Chavez and Holly Street.
3. Jester King Brewery
The Austin beer scene has risen to national prominence in the last couple of years, largely due to Jester King Brewery. While the actual facility is just outside of the city limits, it is a must-visit for people who like craft beer. The brewery plays with ingredients quite a bit, offering brews made through spontaneous fermentation and featuring very unique flavor profiles. As an example, the Aurastone is an ale fermented with peaches and apricots and aged in Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc barrels. As a complement to this beer, Jester King serves some of the best pizza in all of Austin. Prepared by Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza, these pies are made in the Neapolitan style.
4. Kemuri Tatsu-ya
People may not associate Texas with excellent Japanese food, but Kemuri Tatsu-ya breaks the mold. Of course, the restaurant pulls from many of the flavors of Texas barbecue in its preparation of Japanese izakaya. Guests are encouraged to order from the smoked section, with highlights including gochujang-pepper pork ribs, fish collar, and barbecue eel. Diners also love the skewers and the chicken karaage, as well as classic Japanese dishes like ramen. More adventurous diners will enjoy the exotic menu, which features squid guts and chicken heart.
5. Vaquero Taquero
Austin is also known for its excellent Mexican food, and one of the shining examples is Vaquero Taquero. While people may think of tacos as street food, the truth is that a lot of time is invested into these handheld dishes. Vaquero Taquero reminds diners of the difference that this time can make in terms of flavor. While the tacos themselves are served up rather quickly, it is clear that a lot of love has been put into everything from the al pastor, cooked on a trompo, to the tortillas, made from nixtamalized corn. Generations of food knowledge has gone into the recipes served up by this restaurant, making it quite a special experience.
6. Spicy Boys
Food trailers have been cropping up all over Austin. These establishments are similar to food trucks, but they stay in a single place. Spicy Boys, based on East Sixth Street at Zilker Brewing Company, is one such eatery. Serving up some very playful dishes envisioned by chef Dillon Misonznick, the restaurant focuses primarily on chicken, especially Asian-inspired fried chicken that comes in both sandwich and wing form.
Altogether, Spicy Boys has seven unique flavors, including Korean BBQ, lemon Sichuan, and the fiery Spicy Boy, among other great options. Another favorite dish is the buttery roti, which comes with yellow chicken curry or vegetarian panang curry.