***This guide has been updated. The latest version can be found here.***
As in years past, I've divided my suggestions into areas of town, and have included only locally-owned restaurants. Hope you enjoy this year's installment!
and from Ladybird Lake to MLK):
Arro, 601 W. 6th Street, Austin TX 78701 - 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.
|Scallops at Café Josie|
Clark's Oyster Bar, 1200 W. 6th Street, Austin TX 78703 - I've only visited Clark's once, 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, 200 N. Congress Ave., Austin TX 78701 - 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, 604 Brazos, Austin TX 78701 - 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.
El Naranjo, 85 Rainey Street, Austin TX 78701 - Quite possibly the best interior Mexican food in town.
Fixe, 500 W. 5th Street, Austin TX 78701 - Upscale Southern food seems to be having a moment in Austin right now. Fixe is my favorite of the bunch, serving amazingly fluffy biscuits and some of the best fried chicken I've ever tasted.
|Aguachile at La Condesa|
Lambert's, 401 W. 2nd Street, Austin TX 78701 - 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, 314 N. Congress Ave., Austin TX 78701 - Their carbonara will make you cry tears of joy. Blog post dedicated to this thing of beauty here.
Parkside, 301 E. 6th Street, Austin TX 78701 - 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).
Olamaie, 1610 San Antonio St., Austin TX 78701 - another new upscale Southern restaurant with phenomenal biscuits (off the menu) and simply gorgeous surroundings (I so coveted their dining chairs that I asked our server to find out where they were from). Word to the wise, though; they will firmly refuse any changes to their recipes (this includes removing ingredients), so study the menu beforehand to make sure it will work for diners with dietary restrictions.
Péché, 208 W. 4th St., Austin TX 78701 - Absinthe bar that also happens to have excellent food and service.
Ranch 616, 616 Nueces St., Austin TX 78701 - 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, 315 N. Congress, Austin TX 78701 - Inventive small plates (for example, edamame served with pop rock salt) in a wonderfully steampunkish space.
TRIO, 98 San Jacinto, Austin TX 78701 - The Four Seasons Hotel is all about exceeding expectations, and its restaurant, TRIO, does just that.
|Market Snacks at TRACE|
Wink, 1014 N. Lamar, Austin TX 78701 - 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, 1201 E. 6th Street, Austin TX 78702 - 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.
Dai Due, 2406 Manor Road, Austin TX 78722 - I struggled with whether to include Dai Due here; we enjoyed some outstanding dishes while we were here, but we also suffered through a painfully chewy $90+ steak. This place gets a ton of love from other food writers, so I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. (T-F 8a-3p and 5p-10p; Sa-Su 10a-3p and 5p-10p)
East Side Cafe, 2113 Manor Rd, Austin TX 78722 - 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, 1100 E. 6th Street, Austin TX 78702 - Good, locally-sourced eats in a sumptuously steampunky setting. My blog post about it is here.
Gardner, 1914 E. 6th Street, Austin TX 78702 - More veggie-focused than its sister restaurant, Contigo - though there is plenty to keep the meat-eaters happy, too.
Hillside Farmacy, 1209 E. 11th Street, Austin TX 78702 - 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 9a daily and closing at 10 or 11 at night.
Jacoby's, 3235 E. Cesar Chavez, Austin TX 78702 - This family-operated restaurant sources all of its beef from the family's ranch, and there's a really cool little mercantile on the premises so you can get a little shopping fix after your meal.
La V, 1501 E. 7th St., Austin TX 78702 - A French spot inspired by Provence that bills its wine list as "world class." Full blog post here.
Launderette, 2115 Holly St., Austin TX 78702 - This restaurant has been long anticipated by fans of Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki (both formerly of Sway and La Condesa). I'm so looking forward to trying it.
Mettle, 507 Calles, Austin TX 78702 - It took me too long to discover Mettle, but my first visit had me clamoring for more. Wonderful food by a chef with a résumé that includes Alinea and a stint with Thomas Keller.
Salt & Time, 1912 E. 7th St., Austin TX 78702 - It's a butcher shop! It's a restaurant! It's both, in one tasty package.
|Triple Fried Duck Fat Fries with 110 Minute Eggs at Salty Sow|
qui, 1600 E. 6th St., Austin TX 78702 - 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, 2024 S. Lamar, Austin TX 78704 - Interesting, innovative fare from a chef with a nose-to-tail philosophy. They are now all-prix-fixe and take reservations.
|Crispy Wild Boar at Lenoir|
Odd Duck, 1201 S. Lamar, Austin TX 78704 - 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, 2043 S. Lamar, Austin TX 78704 - 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.
South Congress Cafe, 1600 S. Congress Ave., Austin TX 78704 - 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, 1417 S. 1st, Austin TX 78704 - Modern Thai dishes that pack a serious flavor punch. Full blog post about it here.
|Pitchfork Roll at Uchi|
Vespaio, 1610 S. Congress Ave., Austin TX 78704 - Italian. Its sister restaurant next door, Enoteca Vespaio, also offers delicious food in a more casual atmosphere.
Zax, 312 Barton Springs Rd, Austin TX 78704 - 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:
Asti, 408C E. 43rd St., Austin TX 78751 - Solid Italian fare from experienced restauranteurs Lisa & Emmett Fox.
Blackbird and Henry, 3016 Guadalupe, Austin TX 78705 - Delicious food served in a casual, welcoming space.
The Carillon, 1900 University Ave., Austin TX 78705 - 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.
|Grilled Octopus at FINO|
Fonda San Miguel, 2330 W. North Loop, Austin TX 78756 - Interior Mexican in a warm, inviting atmosphere.
Foreign & Domestic, 306 E. 53rd St., Austin TX 78751 - 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. I probably eat here more often than any other restaurant. 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). I just wish they took reservations, as there is usually a wait, and their waiting area is cramped and uncomfortable.
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.
Sala & Betty, 5201 Airport Blvd, Austin TX 78751 - This casual, family-friendly new place from the chef of the former Aquarelle is so accessible, price-wise, that its spot on a fine dining list could fairly be questioned. But I am so excited about the delicious meal I just enjoyed here that I decided to include it.
|Mussels at Texas French Bread|
Uchiko, 4200 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin TX 78756 - 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.
Andiamo Ristorante, 2521 Rutland Drive, Austin TX 78758 - This out-of-the-way Italian restaurant has a devoted following for a reason. Addictive bread, wonderful pasta, photo art that will make you want to get on the next plane to Italy. Their monthly wine dinners are not to be missed (reservations fill up quickly, so be sure to get on their mailing list!)
Café Malta, 3421 W. William Cannon Dr., Austin TX 78745 - 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, Two locations: West - 6317 Bee Caves Rd, Austin TX 78746 and Lakeway - 3001 RR 620, Austin TX 78734 - 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, 3509 RR 620, Austin TX 78734 - Specializing in wild game.
|Trout Salad at Jack Allen's Kitchen|
North by Northwest, Two locations: Northwest - 10010 N. Capital of Texas Hwy, Austin TX 78759; and South - 5701 W. Slaughter Ln, Ste D, Austin TX 78749 - Consistently decent, and they brew their own beer. 'nuff said.
Soto, 11066 Pecan Park Blvd, Cedar Park, TX 78613 - 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!