and from Ladybird Lake to MLK):
Arro - The upscale, French sister to Easy Tiger and 24 Diner, Arro seems to suffer from some consistency issues. But the better of my two visits here was so lovely that I wanted to include it in this guide. They offer a three-course dinner for $25 that's a great value.
|Scallops at Café Josie|
Clark's Oyster Bar - I've only visited Clark's once (so far), but thoroughly enjoyed my experience there. I thought the prices were on the steep side for what you get, but I am glad for a spot to add to the short list of locally-owned seafood restaurants.
Congress - Executive Chef David Bull was the first to open an Austin restaurant with all-prix-fixe dining. My blow-by-blow of a meal I had at Congress can be found here. Congress is part of a trilogy of restaurants in the same location - Second is a more casual (but still upscale), order-off-the-menu affair, and Bar Congress connects the two and is a great spot for a cocktail while you're waiting for a table (or a show to start).
Driskill Grill - Fine dining in a beautiful historic hotel. The surrounds will delight the traditionalist in you, but the menu is more modern than you might expect.
|Aguachile at La Condesa|
Lambert's - Not your father's barbecue. Think pork ribs with a fennel-coriander rub, brisket with a brown sugar and coffee rub, and brussels sprouts with bacon and brown butter.
La Traviata - Their carbonara will make you cry tears of joy. Blog post dedicated to this thing of beauty here.
Parkside - New American fare. If you're dining with someone who wants a more casual meal, send them back to the Parkside's sister restaurant, a pizza joint adjacent to the Parkside and aptly called Backspace (while you eat at Parkside, of course).
Péché - Absinthe bar that also happens to have excellent food and service.
Ranch 616 - Quirky...like Austin. I'm partial to the jalapeno-maize trout, but I don't really think you can go wrong here. Strong cocktails and a nice patio round out the deal.
Swift's Attic - Inventive small plates (for example, edamame served with pop rock salt) in a wonderfully steampunkish space.
TRIO - The Four Seasons Hotel is all about exceeding expectations, and its restaurant, TRIO, does just that.
|Market Snacks at TRACE|
Wink - Another great spot offering New American fare with a focus on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and an emphasis on personal attention. If you're celebrating a special occasion, let them know; they'll print up special celebratory menus just for you.
JUST EAST OF DOWNTOWN:
Buenos Aires Café - Lovely spot serving up - you guessed it! - Argentinian fare. If you have room for dessert, they've upped the ante with their quatro leches cake. Extra leches is always a win in my book.
East Side Cafe - A glimpse into the good old days when Austin was more hippie-funky, with a large garden on the premises that sources many of their herbs, decorative garnishes, and some of their veggies.
East Side Show Room - Good, locally-sourced eats in a sumptuously steampunky setting. My blog post about it is here.
|Triple Fried Duck Fat Fries with 110 Minute Eggs at Salty Sow|
Salty Sow - On the casual end of upscale dining, which is one of the things I like about it. I'm a sucker for their triple fried duck fat fries, the truffled deviled eggs, the crispy chicken thighs, and the butterscotch boudino. Also, I love the fact that an entire section of their menu is dedicated to "Things in a Jar."
qui - I have long been a fan of Paul Qui. Many years ago, back in his Uchiko days, he prepared what may very well be my favorite meal of all time - a blowout, multi-course wine dinner that I feel sure I will never forget. So I'm sad to report that my first meal at his signature restaurant fell so far short of my (admittedly very high) expectations that I have not been back. That said, many, many people rave about this place, so it seems like I should include it on this list. YMMV.
SOUTH OF THE RIVER (CLOSE TO DOWNTOWN):
Barley Swine - Interesting, innovative fare from a chef with a nose-to-tail philosophy. They now take reservations (yes!), which means I can delete my kvetching from last year's post about the three-hour wait I once endured to eat here.
|Crispy Wild Boar at Lenoir|
Odd Duck - A food trailer that grew up to be a brick & mortar, by the same chef-owner as Barley Swine (above). Full blog post here.
Olivia - New American with a focus on locally-sourced ingredients. The open and well-lit space, designed by Austin architect Michael Hsu, is part of its charm.
Paggi House - One of the more romantic spots in Austin; it also happens to host my favorite brunch buffet in town. Their patio has a great view of the city.
South Congress Cafe - New American in a casual-yet-upscale setting. They don't take reservations, and there can be a long wait at peak hours. Consider yourself warned.
Sway - Modern Thai dishes that pack a serious flavor punch. Full blog post about it here.
|Pitchfork Roll at Uchi|
Vespaio - Italian. Its sister restaurant next door, Enoteca Vespaio, also offers delicious food in a more casual atmosphere.
Zax - A bright, laid back spot with a dog-friendly patio that I always enjoy. I have trouble veering away from the shrimp remoulade salad, but whenever I have, it's always been tasty. For those of you with refined bloody Mary palates, be sure to check out their build-your-own bloody Mary bar during brunch.
NORTH OF DOWNTOWN:
The Carillon - One of my very favorite special occasion spots in Austin. Located in the AT&T Conference Center & Hotel on campus, The Carillon could easily be a buffet restaurant in a large, well-funded university. And, in fact, during the day, it is. But at night, it transforms into a fine dining establishment with excellent food.
Epicerie - French-inspired. On the casual side of upscale dining, but also on the delicious side, so it merits a mention here.
|Grilled Octopus at FINO|
Fonda San Miguel - Interior Mexican in a warm, inviting atmosphere.
Foreign & Domestic - A tiny place with a completely open (and similarly tiny) kitchen surrounded by bar seating so you can watch the action while you swoon over your food. The food here can be a little adventurous (in a good way) - I once tried venison heart tartare here.
Hanabi - A lovely neighborhood sushi restaurant with consistently very fresh fish and some of the most earnest service I've ever encountered. Full blog post about it here.
Komê - One of the few sushi places in town where my non-raw-fish-eating husband gets excited about ordering sushi. Both the raw and the cooked offerings here are excellent - and surprisingly affordable (for sushi).
Musashino - Consistently good old-school sushi. If you're dining with non-sushi-eaters who don't feel like eating tempura or teriyaki, they'll let you order Chinese food from Chinatown upstairs.
Olive & June - This Italian restaurant from established Austin chef Shawn Cirkiel is a favorite of mine. I love their Sunday dinners, when they offer a very generous multi-course meal for $29 (children 12 and under are free!), A blog post about my first meal at Olive & June can be found here.
Texas French Bread - This little bakery and café offers a wonderful dinner service. It's one of my favorites for a casual but delicious meal. Much of the food is locally sourced, and everything I have tried has been beautifully prepared. Plus, it's BYOB, which I love.
Uchiko - The sister restaurant to Uchi. I've heard their food described as more "masculine" while Uchi's is more "feminine" - I guess my taste buds are hermaphrodites, because I love both spots.
Café Malta - Tucked away in a strip mall that also contains a tobacco shop and a Taco Bell, Café Malta definitely qualifies as a hidden gem. To my surprise and delight, they make most everything from scratch, from their pastas to their preserves.
The Grove - A solid offering by experienced Austin restauranteur Reed Clemons - great food and wine + a spacious patio make for a relaxed, enjoyable meal. There are two locations, both on the west side of town - one off 2244, and the other in Lakeway.
Hudson's on the Bend - Specializing in wild game.
|Trout Salad at Jack Allen's Kitchen|
North by Northwest - One of the very few non-chain, upscale eateries in the Arboretum area, it's consistently decent, and they brew their own beer. 'nuff said.
Soto - Many of my food blogger friends rave about this sushi spot; for reasons I can't quite explain, I have yet to visit it.
Did I miss your favorite spot for a fancy meal? Leave me a comment!