Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Guide to Upscale Dining in Austin, 2013 Edition

***This guide has been updated. The latest version can be found here.***

The Austin Food Blogger Alliance is once again publishing their comprehensive City Guide featuring our members' favorite restaurants in our fair city of Austin. For the fourth year (!!), I'm covering the fine dining beat. This year, I've added a Thai food post, as well.

As with my upscale dining posts from previous years, I've roughly categorized all the restaurants into areas of town, and there's a handy map to help you find something near you. Locally-owned or -operated eateries are so much a part of what makes Austin great that I've chosen to limit my post to restaurants in that category.

DOWNTOWN (broadly defined here as spanning from I-35 to MoPac,
and from Ladybird Lake to MLK):

Café Josie - Café Josie has undergone a change in ownership since last year, and the menu has been modernized. I haven't been to the restaurant since the new guard took over, but I tried their udon at Wine & Swine and was super impressed. I'm looking forward to visiting the restaurant again soon.

Clark's Oyster Bar - I've only visited the relatively-new 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.

La Condesa - It took me a couple visits to hit my sweet spot here, but now I'm a huge fan. Flavorful, interesting Mexican fare in a gorgeous and interesting space. Don't miss the desserts - pastry chef Laura Sawicki is a genius.

Lambert's - Not your father's barbecue. Think pork ribs with a fennel-coriander rub, brisket with a brown sugar & 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 - 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 in a wonderfully steampunkish space.

TRIO - The Four Seasons Hotel is all about exceeding expectations, and its restaurant, TRIO, does just that.

TRACE - In the super-cool W Hotel Austin, TRACE focuses on locally-sourced products and is one of my favorite brunch spots in town.

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.


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.

East Side Cafe - A glimpse into the good old days when Austin was more 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.

Hillside Farmacy - This sweet little place is housed in a building that once was home to a pharmacy, and they've kept many of the accoutrements of the previous occupant intact. Their menu covers everything from raw oysters to ribs, and they've got you covered for every meal - opening at 8a daily and closing at 10 or 11 at night.

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."


Barley Swine - Interesting, innovative fare from a chef with a nose-to-tail philosophy. Be forewarned: I once endured a three-hour wait for a table here; maximize your chances of a shorter wait by arriving with as small a group as possible, either right when they open or late in the evening (they will call you when your table is almost ready, so you can head down the street for a pre-dinner cocktail or two. Or three.)

Lenoir - Like eating at the home of owners Todd and Jessica Duplechan. The concept is simple: any three courses for $35; extra courses are $10. The food is wonderful and the service is exemplary. Don't miss it (and make a reservation - word is out).

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. Named one of 2009's Best New Restaurants in America by Bon Appetit.

Paggi House - One of the more romantic spots in Austin; New American in lovely surrounds. Their patio has a great view of the city.

South Congress Cafe - New American in a casual-yet-upscale setting.

Sway - one of my favorite new restaurants from 2012, Sway offers modern Thai dishes that pack a serious flavor punch. It's covered in more detail in my Thai post.

Uchi - Sushi/Japanese fusion. On the higher end of the pricey range, in part due to their small portion sizes. But every bite will be outstanding. My favorite meal of 2011 took place here.

Vespaio - Italian. Reservations only available before 6:30 p.m. M-Th & Sunday - all other times, be prepared for a wait. 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.


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 consistently excellent food.

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 $35 (children 12 and under are free!), A blog post about my first meal at Olive & June can be found here.

FINO - A wonderful hidden gem that doesn't get as much attention as it deserves. The menu has a Mediterranean/Spanish slant, but there is something here for everyone...everyone with taste buds, that is. Its sister restaurant a couple of miles away, Asti, serves solid Italian fare.

Fonda San Miguel - Interior Mexican in a warm, inviting atmosphere.

Foreign & Domestic - Ned & Jodi Elliott bring with them some serious chef chops, including stints at Thomas Keller's Per Se. Their restaurant is playful and accessible, with a completely open (and tiny) kitchen surrounded by bar seating so you can watch the action while you swoon over your food.

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 - As good as it gets in town for old school sushi.

Texas French Bread - This little bakery and café has been around since the early '80s, but just added dinner service within the last few years. It's one of my favorites for a casual but delicious meal. Much of the food is locally sourced, and everything I tried was beautifully prepared. BYOB.

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.

BIT OF A HIKE (North of 183, south of Ben White, West of 360):

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.

Hudson's on the Bend - Specializing in wild game.

Jack Allen's Kitchen - Jack Allen, the founding chef of Z'Tejas, brings a breath of fresh air to an otherwise-barren upscale restaurant landscape, the Oak Hill area. The flavors here are bright, fresh and innovative. Try the Navajo Taco or the trout salad - both are fantastic.

Mikado Ryotei - Not as good as Musashino for straight up, traditional-style sushi, but they've got some really excellent maki here if that's your sushi preference.

North by Northwest - One of the very few non-chain, upscale eateries in the area, it's consistently decent, and they brew their own beer. 'nuff said.

Soleil - Finally, a restaurant with a great view of Lake Travis and good food. The sunsets here are not to be missed.

Did I miss your favorite spot for a fancy meal? Leave me a comment!


  1. Great list! I still need to visit many of these places. I often default to Eddie V's for fanciness. Their oysters and Chilean sea bass call my name.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Ms. Mad Betty! I love Eddie V's, too, but didn't include them since they're a chain.

  2. I so wish you lived in Minnesota. (P.S. Cafe Malta... my peeps!)

    1. If I lived in Minnesota, I'd be too busy stuffing my face with your and my mom's great food that I wouldn't know any of the restaurants (besides Mandarin Kitchen, of course).

  3. This is such a great round-up, and I love so many of the restaurants on here, but I have to say, I'm SO GLAD FINO made the list. It's one of my all-time favorites.

  4. Tomodachi Sushi!


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