Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Old Thousand

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a bona fide food snob when it comes to Chinese food. I spent the first 18 years of my life eating my mom's outstanding Chinese food nearly every day, so the Chinese food I encounter has to live up to very high standards.

So I'll confess that when I saw some of the early press about Old Thousand describing it as "classic American-Chinese food," I was a little skeptical. The phrase "American-Chinese food" conjured up images of sickly-sweet pineapple sauces and General Tso's chicken. But then I noticed that the chefs were Uchi alumni, and then the Old Thousand folks very graciously extended an invitation to their soft opening, and I could not resist a peek.

I'm so glad I didn't let my preconceived notions talk me out of going, because WE LOVED IT. The food and service were excellent, and as we left, we repeatedly gushed to our server that we'd be back again soon. Here's a little look at what we tried.

I kicked off my meal with Old Thousand's signature cocktail (also called the Old Thousand), which is their take on an old fashioned. It was smooth and easy to drink and relaxed us into our meal.


Old Thousand Cocktail

The three of us ordered three smaller plates to share: the pork ribs, the Chongqing chicken, and the gai lan (Chinese broccoli). The pork ribs ($8.88) arrived first. They were tender and so flavorful; we all wished for more.
Old Thousand Ribs

The Chongqing Chicken ($7) was one of my favorite dishes of our meal. The spices made my taste buds sing and there was nary a hint of grease on these perfectly fried specimens.

Old Thousand Chong Qing Chicken

The gai lan ($8.25) was nice and crisp, and the oyster sauce - which I don't usually like - tasted housemade. Also, roasted garlic makes everything better!

<Old Thousand Gai Lan

We enjoyed the first of our entrees, the honey prawns ($16), but thought the portion was a little on the small side for the price.

Old Thousand Shrimp

The brisket fried rice also rang in at $16, but I would gladly pay that again for this plate of luscious, unctuous goodness. Chinese sausage is an underutilized ingredient in Chinese restaurants in the United States, in my opinion, and I was thrilled to see it alongside local brisket in this delightful melding of old and new flavors.

Old Thousand Brisket Fried Rice

The Dan Dan noodles ($10) were maybe our least favorite dish of the evening; they seemed a little on the bland side. However, our server and another food writer we saw that evening both raved about them, so perhaps we got a less flavorful batch?

]Old Thousand Dan Dan Noodles

Our last entree was the char siu pork ($26). The dish was plentiful, and I loved that it was served with steamed buns (which my mom also makes). A person could definitely make a couple of meals out of this plate!


Old Thousand Char Siu

Of course we were unable to resist dessert. Old Thousand's desserts leaned away from the traditional, and for me that meant missed expectations. But they were undeniably delicious, and if I hadn't had it in my head that they were going to taste a certain way, I think I would have enjoyed them a lot more. In short, I think you'll like them.

This delicate custard tart (dan ta)($3) was my favorite of the two we tried. It wasn't as eggy as most Chinese custard, and the twist of Meyer lemon kept it light - my dining companions actually preferred it to the traditional version.


Old Thousand Custard Tart

Our server likened the 5 Spice Churro ($5.50) to a Chinese doughnut - another thing I grew up eating, as my dad loves them. I found this version a little on the dry side, though nothing a dip in the pandan cream accompanying it couldn't solve.


Old Thousand Chinese Doughnut

Many years of Asian food cravings have taught me that it's a rare day when you get to enjoy really good Asian food while ensconced in surroundings with any atmosphere to speak of. Old Thousand delivers on this front in spades: it's cool enough that your hipster friends will approve, but then so will your decidedly un-hip Chinese food snob friends (like me). And when you can please both of those camps, you know you've found yourself a winner.  


Old Thousand Marquis

1000 E. 11th Street #150
Austin, TX 78702
737-222-6637


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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Your Cardiologist Hates This Pumpkin Pie (But You'll Love It)

Some of the bloggers I know are very organized about blogging. They have editorial calendars where they actually think through what they'll be posting and write about particular things when they'll be most relevant. Me, I blog by the seat of my pants. I pretty much write whenever I feel like it and have time (which, unfortunately, is not nearly often enough) - and when I write, it's often about things that have just happened, which means the topics are not always appropriately timed.


This is an example of one such post. Thanksgiving has just passed, we're officially into the Christmas season, and it's a little late to be writing about pumpkin pie. But I just made this one for the third year in a row, which means it's worthy of a blog post. And I have time and energy now, so that's when you're getting it. :)  

This pumpkin pie is not too sweet, a little less pumpkin forward than most, and maybe even toying with the idea of tasting like a buttery pumpkin cheesecake. I'm usually sort of ambivalent about pumpkin pie, but I can't get enough of this one.


Pumpkin Pie

Your Cardiologist Hates This Pumpkin Pie (based on a Paula Deen recipe)

Ingredients:
1    8-oz package of cream cheese, softened
2    c canned pumpkin
1    c sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1    egg + 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1/2 c half and half
1/4 c (1/2 stick) melted butter
1    tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1   piece pre-made pie crust (or two if you'd like to add cut-outs to the top) - I love Pillsbury's refrigerated dough, which comes 2/box
Whipped cream, for topping

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Put one piece of pre-made dough into a 9", deep dish pie pan and gently press it to the bottom and sides. Crimp the edges of the crust. Poke holes all over the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork. Cover the inside and the edges of the crust with aluminum foil and cover the bottom with pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes, remove the pie weights and the foil from the bottom (but not the edges!), and bake for another 10 minutes or until the crust dries out and is beginning to color.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese with a hand mixer. Add the following ingredients in the order listed and beat until combined after each ingredient:
• pumpkin
• sugar & salt
• eggs
• half and half
• melted butter
• vanilla
• cinnamon
• ginger

Pour the filling into the pie crust, Re-cover the edges of the crust with foil and bake for 50 minutes, or until the center is set (a toothpick will come out clean). If you want to add cut-outs to the top, I usually add them about 25 minutes in - if you do this, you will probably need to bake 5-10 minutes longer since the pie will cool slightly while you're adding the cutouts. Serve with freshly whipped cream.

P.S. If you do cutouts on the top using the second crust, you'll have a lot of crust left over for these Blue Cheese Pie Crust Crackers!


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Friday, November 25, 2016

Easy as Pie (Crust) Blue Cheese Crackers

Usually when I make pies, I like to add little pie crust cutouts on top to fancy it up a little - leaves for Thanksgiving, stars for the Fourth of July, and so on. This works well with my lazy pie-maker crust-making method, which is to buy Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts.  I frequently get compliments on this crust, and it is better than any pie crust I've made myself - and no, I'm not getting paid for this endorsement!  Anyway, since the crusts come two to a box, it typically leaves me with an extra crust to use for cut-outs. But whenever I do this, I end up with a whole lot of extra crust. What to do with it?

I've tried several different things over the years - sprinkling it with cinnamon and sugar, parmesan cheese, garlic salt, all manner of toppings - but none of them were ever really compelling. This Thanksgiving, I happened to have some pungent blue cheese lying around. I cut the crust with cookie cutters, sprinkled a bit of the blue cheese on top, and popped them in the oven on a cookie tray along with my pie. Voila, super tasty blue cheese crackers!

IMG_1517

My pie was baking at 350F, so I baked my crackers at the same temperature for about 15 minutes, until they were golden brown. However, if you're doing crackers alone, you might try using this recipe from Pillsbury, which suggests baking at 450F for 6-7 minutes.

These are so addictive and ridiculously easy - they remind me of those delicious cheese straws, but so much easier to make! Enjoy!

What do you do with your leftover pie crusts?

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Picnik

"Hello, Sunshine."

That's the phrase that graces the top of Picnik's menu and website. It captures a mood that we felt in full force during our first visit there, particularly in our interactions with the owner, Naomi, who is radiantly gorgeous, humbly sweet, and very clearly passionate about the food they are serving at her brand new brick and mortar on Burnet Road. They are committed to using locally-sourced, high quality ingredients, and everything on the menu is gluten-free, soy-free, and corn-free. And they make it clear on their menu that they are happy to assist with modifications for special dietary needs or restrictions - a promise that grew out of Naomi's own personal history of combatting food allergies since childhood.

Picnik is famous for its butter coffee, and while I really wanted to try this, drinking caffeine at night makes me sad. Instead, I opted for their caffeine-free marshmallow chai. I loved the very clean sweetness of it. My husband ordered a cup of butter broth, which is chicken bone broth with grass-fed butter, MCT oil, and himalayan sea salt (he also added tumeric to his).  Having drank a lot of obviously inferior broth in my life, I was skeptical of the idea of just sipping a cup of broth - but after having tried this, I am a believer. It was luscious and amazing and pretty much made every broth I've ever had taste like bath water by comparison. If you take nothing at all away from this review, it should be that you should try the butter broth at Picnik.


Cuppa marshmallow chai (left) and butter broth (right)

As an appetizer, we tried the loaded guacamole ($7.95), which is unique because it contains apple and kale as well as avocado, and is served with almond flour tortilla chips. It was tasty and satisfying and, like so many of the things we tried, it tasted clean, like it wasn't going to drag us down and make us feel heavy later.

Picnik Guacamole

For my entrée, I tried the breakfast risotto ($14.95) - a bed of comforting green power rice topped with crispy pastured pork belly, wonderful oven-roasted tomatoes that offered a satisfying pop of flavor when bitten into, feta, spinach and kale pesto, and a gorgeous poached egg that was obviously not from the grocery store (I originally took photos of this dish before breaching the yolk, but when I saw the telltale bright orange yolk, I had to retake them again.)

Picnik Risotto

My husband ordered the orange chicken & broccoli ($16.95); I only tried a bite of this before he made it magically disappear.

Picnik Orange Chicken & Broccoli

Both of us are enthusiastic brussels sprout lovers, so of course we had to try those, as well. These were wonderful specimens, fried to crispy perfection.

Picnik Brussels Sprouts

We were stuffed at this point, but our server described Picnik's blondie gelato sandwich as the "pièce de résistance," so who were we to resist? We weren't sorry; the chocolate chunk-filled blondies were just perfect with the vanilla bean gelato (sourced from Dolce Neve).

Picnik Blondie Ice Cream sandwich

Full disclosure: the folks at Picnik very generously treated us to our meal. However, I will also say that at the end of this meal, my husband declared, "I will do all the house chores you need in order for you to have time to blog about this place. I love it and I want everyone to know about it!" If you know my husband, you'll know that this is pretty unusually enthusiastic for him. Fortunately for him, I was just as excited as he was, so he hasn't picked up any additional chores...yet.

We left Picnik feeling happy and satisfied and are already plotting a return visit soon. See you there!

Picnik Interior

4801 Burnet Road
Austin, TX 78756

(also still a trailer down south with a much more limited menu):
1700 South Lamar, 400-B
Austin, TX 78704

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Melted Food Truck

Recently, the management of our office complex has been arranging for various food trucks to visit us at lunch time. Our office has very few food options nearby, so this development is quite exciting. I love trying new food trucks but I hate eating outside when the temperature is in the 90s, so being able to take the food back to my delightfully climate-controlled office is pretty happy-making.

One of my favorites of the parade of trucks that has come by is the Melted Grilled Cheese Truck. Their menu piqued my interest immediately - almost every single one of their offerings sounded like something I wanted to eat. After much internal debate, I settled on a Farmer's Market BLT ($10). There were a bunch of us ordering from our office, so we also got a couple sides of tater tots ($2) and a side of Asian crunch salad ($3).

The Asian salad was pretty well portioned for $3, but it could have used a little more oomph, maybe a bit of salt or acid to zing it up a bit. This would be an easy fix, though, and it was nice to have something relatively healthy to help justify the tater tots.

Melted Truck Asian Slaw

While I'd be hard pressed to recall a tater tot I didn't like, these tots were excellent specimens - nice potato flavor with a satisfyingly crunchy exterior.

Melted Truck Tots

The Farmer's Market BLT was excellent. The flavors and textures played perfectly off one another. Tangy goat cheese, juicy fried green tomatoes, crispy bacon, spicy arugula, garlic aioli - the ingredients are a virtual greatest hits of "things I like on sandwiches." And the locally-made sourdough bread was just the right texture - awesomely buttery-toasty, but soft enough to avoid feeling like I was scratching up the roof of my mouth. Full disclosure: approximately ten napkins were harmed during the "research" for this blog post.

Melted Truck BLT

Best of all, 100% (yes, you read that correctly) of the truck's profits are donated to the International Justice Mission, an organization that works to protect people in developing countries from violence.

Melted Truck

In a saturated food truck market, it can be overwhelming to figure out which to try. My vote is that you put Melted at the top of your list. Delicious food and a charitable cause make this truck a standout from my perspective.

Melted Food Truck
Mobile locations - check here to find out where they'll be
(512) 710-MELT

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

De La Terre, an Austin Supper Club

I love a good tasting menu. It takes all the decision-making out of the equation and gives a chef the opportunity to serve you dishes that will really show off his or her skills. So I was really excited when our friends Laura & Shane invited us to the soft opening of De La Terre, a new supper club that's held every Monday in the space at Foreign & Domestic (which is closed on Mondays). The brainchild of chefs Lori Bergeron & Anthony Nicaj, De La Terre serves 10-12 course tasting menus focusing on local produce (including many foraged ingredients). The results are beautiful and delicious.

De La Terre, 5-16-16
Chefs Bergeron & Nicaj introducing the meal

Here's a peek at what we ate:

De La Terre, 5-16-16
Strawberries, ripe tomatoes, shiso, crispy chicken skin, and farmer's cheese
(paired with Groiss Austria Rosé Sommerwein 2015)

De La Terre, 5-16-16
Oyster with wildflower mignonette pearls and bachelor's button

De La Terre, 5-16-16
House baked sourdough with house butter and dewberry jam

De La Terre, 5-16-16
Carrot "tom kha"

De La Terre, 5-16-16
Scallop with prosciutto, hazelnut, asparagus and bull briar
(paired with Domain Ciringa Sauv Blanc)

De La Terre, 5-16-16
Pork belly pupusa with carrot chimichurri, curtido, & onion flower

De La Terre, 5-16-16
Black garlic gnoccetti (these looked freakishly like pupae but tasted wonderful) 
with maitake, shumeji, and quail egg
(paired with Fork Machine Central Coast Pinot Noir 2014)

De La Terre, 5-16-16
Under blade with dewberry, sorrel, pesto
(paired with St. Bernardus Abt. 12)

De La Terre, 5-16-16
And the creme de la creme, a peach beignet with duck egg ice cream, honeysuckle, and lavender
(paired with Moscato d'Austi)

We've been lucky enough to enjoy a lot of tasting menus, and this held its own amongst the best. They had a few kinks to work out when we went to the soft opening in mid-May, but with a month of Mondays under their belt, I'm guessing they've ironed those out by now. Even with the minor kinks we experienced, this was an outstanding meal and experience. Congrats to Chefs Bergeron and Nicaj on their exciting new venture!

De La Terre
Monday nights at Foreign & Domestic
306 E. 53rd Street
Austin, TX 78751

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Truffled Deviled Eggs, or How I Indulged My Truffly McTruffleface

I have a friend in the food business who rolls her eyes at truffle oil. She thinks the whole truffle oil trend is restaurants' cheap way of tricking uneducated diners into thinking dishes are better and fancier than they really are.

I am one of those diners. I LOVE truffle oil. I don't care how foolish it makes me; if you add truffle oil to my food, I will likely gobble it up, all the while making "yummy sounds" a la Young Frankenstein.

So when I needed a super-easy dish for a neighborhood party, I picked up a couple dozen already-boiled-and-peeled eggs at Costco (yes, this is the ultimate in laziness, but not having to pick the shells off two dozen eggs saved me a ton of time) and Googled a few recipes for truffled deviled eggs. I used this recipe by Anne Burrell as a base, sort of, but her mayo-to-egg ratio seemed awfully high, so I cut back on that significantly. Also, I didn't have any chives on hand, so I just sprinkled a little porcini salt on top, mostly for color. Basically, I used:

• 2 dozen hard boiled eggs
• 1 cup mayo (NOTE: this is the kind of recipe where you really should taste as you go. Depending on the size of your eggs, you may not need this much. Start with 1/2 cup, taste it, and add as needed to taste.)
• 1 T truffle oil
• Garnish of choice (chives, dill, paprika, interesting finishing salts, whatever you've got)

I didn't even bother to pipe them to make them pretty; like I said, I was short on time, so I just plopped the mixed yolks back into the whites, sprinkled the salt, and called it a day.

Truffled Deviled Eggs

Making them pretty would have been a colossal waste of time, because they disappeared in minutes. One neighbor caught my eye as she was reaching over to the plate and sheepishly confided, "This is my third one. Is that un-neighborly of me?"

All's fair in love and potlucks, so of course I assured her that I had already eaten three, myself.


*     *     *

BONUS TRUFFLE TIP:

Last time I was at Trader Joe's, I discovered that they are selling truffled marcona almonds. If you are a shameless truffle lover like me, YOU MUST BUY SOME OF THESE.

They are unabashedly, perfectly, wonderfully truffly and rich, an indulgent low carb snack, and just the thing to put out in little bowls at your next party - except you'll need to buy about 100 bags of them if you do that, because they are addictive. 

Trader Joe's Truffle Marcona Almonds

At $6.50 for a 6 oz bag, they aren't cheap, but considering the price of marcona almonds, the price of truffle oil, and the fact that these are so insanely delicious, I'd say they're worth every penny.

What are your favorite truffly dishes or products?

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Friday, March 4, 2016

AFBA 2016 City Guide: Best Chinese Food in Austin



My second post for this year's Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide is an update of my Chinese food guide for 2015. I spent the better part of the first eighteen years of my life eating Chinese food pretty much every day. My mom is a formidable cook, so this background led to me being a bit...picky...about Chinese food. And while Austin isn't exactly a Chinese food mecca, there are some wonderful spots in town to find excellent Chinese cuisine.

CANTONESE

DinHoSalt&PepperSquid.jpg
Salt & Pepper Squid at Din Ho = "the usual"
If you live in or near Central Austin, Din Ho Chinese BBQ (8557 Research Blvd., Austin, TX 78758) is probably your go-to for Cantonese food. Over the twenty years I've been going there, the food and service has varied a bit in quality; even so, I've yet to be unhappy about a meal I've eaten here. Our standard order here always includes salt & pepper squid (called "fresh and dried squid in special salt" on their menu) and sauteed snow pea leaves; other favorites are their won ton soup, Peking duck (served with steamed buns rather than the traditional pancakes), and Singapore style rice noodles.

If you need a spot to host a large banquet or wedding, the very spacious New Fortune Chinese Seafood Restaurant (10901 North Lamar Blvd., Ste A-1, Austin TX 78753) is the place you're seeking. An Asian organization to which I belong hosted their Lunar New Year banquet at New Fortune this year, and the food was fantastic. Looking for something a bit fancier? The more well-appointed Chinatown Restaurant (three locations: North, 3407 Greystone Dr., Austin TX 78731; Downtown, 107 W. 5th St., Austin TX 78701; and Westlake, 2712 Bee Caves Road, Ste 124, Austin TX 78746) would appeal to those turned off by the austere atmospheres of most Chinese restaurants. Chinatown's food tilts away from the traditional, but traditional Chinese food lovers will enjoy the flavors here, too (my favorite dish here is their sizzling honey pepper steak).

Great Cantonese food can also be found at First Chinese BBQ (10901 N. Lamar, Austin, TX 78753) and Ho Ho Chinese BBQ (13000 N. IH-35, Austin, TX 78753). If you find yourself out in Lakeway, I've also had some truly outstanding meals at Pao's Mandarin House (2300 Lohman's Spur, Austin TX 78734). Hot tip: Pao's has a secret menu with some of the more traditional dishes on it that I've found you have to ask for unless your party is predominantly Asian.


SZECHUANESE

IMG_6009*-2-2.jpg
Sichuan Spicy Sizzling Lamb at Sichuan River
When you start talking Szechuanese food, most people are familiar with the popular Asia Cafe (8650 Spicewood Springs, Austin TX 78759), known for their spicy fish. Ditto A+A Sichuan (13376 Research Blvd., Austin TX 78750), a little ways further west of Asia Cafe. But few people seem to have heard of my favorite Szechuanese restaurant, Sichuan River (4534 Westgate Blvd, Austin TX 78745) down south. I'm also fond of the little-known Szechuan House (11005 Burnet Rd, Austin TX 78758) up north (ignore the terrible Americanized-looking food on their website - this is not representative!). Both Sichuan River and Szechuan House offer several dishes in common that are outstanding: a version of sizzling lamb; dry fried green beans; and ma po tofu. Szechuan House also has a mushroom dish called "Stir Fried Three Kind (sic) of Mushroom" that I would order pretty much every day if I were a vegetarian. If you're looking for something more hip, Wu Chow (500 W. 5th St., Austin TX 78701), from C.K. Chin of Swift's Attic, also offers Szechuanese fare. You pay a premium for the beautiful surroundings and the downtown location, but there are certainly circumstances that justify the extra expense.


NOODLES

I'm not really sure this is a legitimate category for a Chinese food post, but there were three places whose noodles deserved mention so it seemed like they should all live together. 

RiceBowlCafeBeefNoodleSoup.jpg

Rice Bowl Café (11220 N. Lamar, Austin TX 78753) serves up a GIGANTIC bowl of handmade noodles with beef and veggies for just $9.50; they also have my favorite scallion pancakes in town.

ChenZSpicyLambNoodleJPG

Chen's Noodle House (8650 Spicewood Springs Rd., Austin TX 78759) and Chen Z (6705 Hwy 290, Austin TX 78735) both offer a variety of wonderful handmade noodle dishes in delightfully divey surroundings.

XianNoodlesJPG
Xian Noodles at Xian Sushi & Noodle

Xian Sushi & Noodle (Two locations: Mueller - 1801 E. 51st St., Bldg C 370, Austin TX 78723 and Northwest - 13201 RR 620 N. Ste U208, Austin TX 78717) is the only place in town where you can watch a chef hand pull your noodles before serving them. You can choose the thickness of your noodles; I think the texture of the thicker ones like the pappardelle adds a bit of oomph that makes the noodles taste more homemade.

DIM SUM

WuChowCustardTarts.jpg
Dan Ta (custard tarts) from Wu Chow
In the last year, the dim sum scene in Austin has brightened a bit. For traditional dim sum, my favorite is New Fortune Chinese Seafood Restaurant (10901 North Lamar Blvd., Ste A-1, Austin TX 78753). For a more upscale dim sum experience, check out Wu Chow (500 W. 5th St., Austin TX 78701). They have hands-down the best xiao long bao in town and the flakiest dan ta (custard tarts) I have ever tasted. They are using high quality ingredients and making everything from scratch (including those incredible tart crusts!).

Other dim sum spots in town include Shanghai (6718 Middle Fiskville Rd., Austin TX 78752) and Chinatown Restaurant (dim sum only offered at two of their three locations: North, 3407 Greystone Dr., Austin TX 78731 and Westlake, 2712 Bee Caves Road, Ste 124, Austin TX 78746). Chinatown recently acquired a dim sum chef from San Francisco and significantly upped their dim sum game. Full blog post about Chinatown's dim sum can be found here.

If you're in the know about great Chinese food that I missed, please let me know in the comments!



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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

AFBA 2016 City Guide: Best Fine Dining in Austin



Believe it or not, this is the seventh (!!) year of publishing an upscale dining guide on this blog. As with previous years, this year's post is again part of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide. To simplify things, I've used an easy-to-apply, bright-line rule to define "fine dining" for this guide: any locally-owned restaurant that offers at least one entrée that cost more than $25 may be a part of this list. For those of you who, like me, are usually trying to think of a restaurant in a particular part of town, this list is divided according to restaurant location. Bon appétit!


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

Austin Land & Cattle, 1205 North Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78703. According to their website, ALC is the only independent, family-owned steakhouse in Austin. They've been around for 20 years, which is quite an accomplishment in Austin's ever-changing restaurant landscape.

Cafe Josie
Scallops at Café Josie
Café Josie1200 W. 6th Street, Austin TX 78703 - One of the few establishments left near downtown where you can have a conversation without shouting over a din. I've found the food to be delicious and consistent. If you're dining with extra-hungry people, they offer a $40 all-you-can-eat option as well as an a la carte menu.

Clark's Oyster Bar1200 W. 6th Street, Austin TX 78703 - The prices here are on the steep side for what you get, but everything I've tried has been excellent, and I am glad for a spot to add to the short list of locally-owned seafood restaurants.

Cippolina, 1213 West Lynn, Austin, TX 78703 - Charming bistro with a more casual feel.

Counter 3. Five. VII., 315 Congress, Ste 100, Austin TX 78701 - This all prix-fixe restaurant guarantees you a front row seat to the show of creating your meal.

Driskill Grill604 Brazos, Austin TX 78701 - Fine dining in a beautiful historic hotel. They have their own dry aging room.

El Naranjo85 Rainey Street, Austin TX 78701 - Quite possibly the best interior Mexican food in town.

Emmer & Rye, 51 Rainey Street, Ste 110, Austin TX 78701 - My first experience at Emmer & Rye could have been better, but the large majority of the people I know who have been really love it, so perhaps we were there on an off day.

Fixe500 W. 5th Street, Austin TX 78701 - My favorite spot for upscale Southern food, serving amazingly fluffy biscuits and some of the best fried chicken I've ever tasted.

Geraldine's, 605 Davis Street, Austin TX 78701 - New spot in Austin's first Kimpton hotel property that offers live music every night.

The GroveThree locations: Downtown, 800 W. 6th Street, Austin TX 78701; 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.

Jeffrey's, 1204 West Lynn, Austin TX 78703 - On the spendy side as far as Austin fine dining goes, but you can enjoy their excellent food for much less during happy hour - 4:30-6:30 Tues-Sun and all night on Monday.

Josephine House, 1601 Waterston, Austin TX 78703 - A very sweet restaurant in an old house. I'm partial to their Monday night steak frites night.

La Condesa
Aguachile at La Condesa
La Condesa400 W. 2nd Street, Austin TX 78701 - 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. The small plates are the star of the show.

Lambert's401 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 Traviata314 N. Congress Ave., Austin TX 78701 - Their carbonara will make you cry tears of joy. Blog post dedicated to this thing of beauty here.

Parkside301 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).

Olamaie1610 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.

Péché208 W. 4th St., Austin TX 78701 - Absinthe bar that also happens to have excellent food and service.

Ranch 616616 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 Attic315 N. Congress, Austin TX 78701 - Inventive small plates (for example, edamame served with pop rock salt) in a wonderfully steampunkish space.

TRIO98 San Jacinto, Austin TX 78701 - The Four Seasons Hotel is all about exceeding expectations, and its restaurant, TRIO, does just that.

TRACE
Market Snacks at TRACE
TRACE200 Lavaca St., Austin TX 78701 - In the super-cool W Hotel Austin, which makes it a great choice for a meal before hitting a show at ACL Live,

Wink1014 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.


EAST:

Al Fico, 1700 E. 2nd Street, Austin TX 78702 - Comforting Italian fare from the folks who own Vino Vino (see North of Downtown section). Full blog post about Al Fico can be found here.

Buenos Aires Café, Two locations: East - 1201 E. 6th Street, Austin TX 78702; Lakeway - 13500 Galleria Circle, Bee Cave, TX 78738 - 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 Due2406 Manor Road, Austin TX 78722 - I struggled with whether to include Dai Due here; after two visits, it has yet to impress, and on one of these visits we suffered through a painfully chewy $90+ steak. This place gets a ton of love from other food writers, though, so I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt.

East Side Cafe2113 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 Room1100 E. 6th Street, Austin TX 78702 - Good, locally-sourced eats in a sumptuously steampunky setting. My blog post about it is here.

Hillside Farmacy1209 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 shepherd's pie, and they've got you covered for every meal - opening at 9a daily and closing at 10 or 11 at night.

Jacoby's3235 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.

Launderette2115 Holly St., Austin TX 78702 - I'm a huge fan of Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki (both formerly of Sway and La Condesa), and their latest venture did not disappoint. It's one of the few places where I actually get excited about ordering chicken; their brick chicken is outstanding.

Salt & Time1912 E. 7th St., Austin TX 78702 - It's a butcher shop! It's a restaurant! It's both, in one tasty package.

Salty Sow
Triple Fried Duck Fat Fries with 110 Minute Eggs at Salty Sow
Salty Sow1917 Manor Rd., Austin TX 78722 - 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 brussel sprout caesar salad, 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."

qui1600 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, manymany people rave about this place, so it seems like I should include it on this list. YMMV.

SOUTH OF THE RIVER (CLOSE TO DOWNTOWN):

Cantine, 1100 South Lamar Blvd, Ste 2115, Austin TX 78704 - Newish venture from Austin restaurant veterans Emmett & Lisa Fox. Be sure to try the anchovy-stuffed fried olives, a holdover from the Foxes' now-closed favorite, FINO.

Juliet Ristorante, 1500 Barton Springs Rd, Austin TX 78704 - Italian fare in a lovely space reminiscent of my parents' home in the 70s (but modernized to be beautiful in this decade). My food experiences here have been a little inconsistent, but it's worth a visit.

Crispy Wild Boar at Lenoir
Crispy Wild Boar at Lenoir
Lenoir1807 S. 1st St., Austin TX 78704 - Like eating at the home of owners Todd and Jessica Duplechan. The concept is simple: any three courses for $45; extra courses are $10. The food is wonderful and the service is exemplary. Don't miss it (and be sure to make a reservation).

Odd Duck1201 S. Lamar, Austin TX 78704 - A food trailer that grew up to be a brick & mortar, by the same chef-owner as Barley Swine (below). Full blog post here.

Olivia2043 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.

Otoko, 1603 South Congress, Ave., Austin TX 78704 - A brand new, 12-seat sushi and kaiseki counter by Austin superstar chef Paul Qui.

South Congress Cafe1600 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.

Sway1417 S. 1st, Austin TX 78704 - Modern Thai dishes that pack a serious flavor punch. Full blog post about it here.

Pitchfork Roll at Uchi
Pitchfork Roll at Uchi
Uchi801 S. Lamar, Austin TX 78704 - Sushi/Japanese fusion. It's a scene, and usually requires a wait, but it's worth it. Don't miss the hamachi nabe.

Vespaio1610 S. Congress Ave., Austin TX 78704 - Italian. Its sister restaurant next door, Enoteca Vespaio, also offers delicious food in a more casual atmosphere.

Zax312 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:

Asti408C E. 43rd St., Austin TX 78751 - Solid Italian fare from experienced restauranteurs Lisa & Emmett Fox.

Barley Swine6555 Burnet Road, Ste 400, Austin TX 78757 - Interesting, innovative fare from a chef with a nose-to-tail philosophy.

The Carillon1900 University Ave., Austin TX 78705 - 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 very good food.

Chinatown, Three locations: North - 3407 Greystone Drive, Austin TX 78731; Downtown - 107 W. 5th Street, Austin, TX 78701; West - 2712 Bee Caves Road, Ste 124, Austin TX 78746 - I recently attended a media tasting at the Westlake location and loved many of the dishes served, especially the sizzling honey pepper steak.

Fonda San Miguel2330 W. North Loop, Austin TX 78756 - Interior Mexican in a warm, inviting atmosphere.

Foreign & Domestic306 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.

Chirashi at Hanabi
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.

Mussels at Texas French Bread
Mussels at Texas French Bread
Texas French Bread2900 Rio Grande, Austin TX 78705 - 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.

Uchiko4200 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.


Vino Vino, 4119 Guadalupe Street, Austin TX 78751 - Wine bar that also serves excellent food.


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

Andiamo Ristorante2521 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!)

Apis, 23526 Highway 71 West, Spicewood, Texas 78669 - One of my very favorite restaurants in Austin. Their 23-course tasting menu is my current favorite way to celebrate a big event.

Café Malta3421 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.

Eleven Plates, 3801 N. Capital of Texas Hwy, Ste C-200, Austin TX 78746 - A solid offering on the west side of town with a nice patio overlooking the hill country and a solid menu (and truffle fries!).

Hudson's on the Bend3509 RR 620, Austin TX 78734 - Specializing in wild game.

Trout Salad at Jack Allen's Kitchen
Jack Allen's KitchenThree locations: South - 7720 Highway 71 West, Austin TX 78735; West- 3600 N Capital of Texas Hwy, Austin, TX 78746;  and Round Rock - 2500 Hoppe Trail, Round Rock, TX 78681 - Jack Allen, the founding chef of Z'Tejas, brings a breath of fresh air to otherwise-barren upscale restaurant landscapes. The flavors here are bright, fresh and innovative. Try the Navajo Taco or the trout salad - both are fantastic.

North by NorthwestTwo 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.

Soto11066 Pecan Park Blvd, Cedar Park, TX 78613 - Well worth the drive to Cedar Park. If you want to be really wowed by a meal, go find Chef Andy and tell him to surprise you. He will. Full blog post here.

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

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