Where Should We Eat?
People ask me this question all the time, but for lots of different reasons. Maybe company is coming to town. Perhaps they’re new to Austin. Most are celebrating something special that has happened in their lives. No matter why they’re asking, however, I’m always thrilled when they do. Because over five years of living in the Capital City of Texas, I definitely found my favorites. This is my go-to list of 10 restaurants I always recommend when the subject of discussion is where to eat in Austin.
I Love the Question
I love Austin, and I love to share about what we found to do, see and eat while we lived in that amazing Texas city. From the day we unloaded our furniture to the day we packed it up again, we embraced the adventure in every way. Especially when it came to where to eat in Austin.
We even started a list. Whether we enjoyed an appetizer, a burger or a celebratory steak, the restaurant’s name was written in my notebook. One page turned into two, and, then? Well, we just kept going. The funny thing is that we actually ate at home a lot, too. However, the list got longer, and I began to have no shortage of really good answers when people asked me where to eat in Austin.
Would you like to guess just how many different names are on that list?
I Have a Secret
Well, here’s the thing. I’ll tell you just about anything you want to know – but I’m not going to tell you that.
I mean, it would be just downright embarrassing – if I weren’t such a big-time lifestyle blogger and whatnot (future dream) – and if we hadn’t NEEDED to eat out so I could TELL you about these places (present obligations), we would have been cooking at home every single solitary night (like in our pre-Austin life)!
Nope. I just can’t tell you the big fat number, at the risk that it might cause me to feel like a big fat gluttonous heathen. But, I will give you a little hint.
It’s more than 50 and less than 5000.
Go-To Top Ten
So, now that you’re convinced of my qualifications and all, could we have a drumroll, please?
Ta-da! I would now love to share with you my go-to top ten list. When I think of where to eat in Austin, these are the ten that first come to mind. They’re all different from each other in ambience, style and menu. However, when judged with the criteria of enjoyable experience, superior service and standards of deliciousness, however, they are all the same.
When someone asks me where to have lunch with a high school best friend who lives in Austin, I know just the place. If I receive a Facebook message from a friend who is headed to Austin for a convention, I have several ideas I know he will enjoy. And when I meet someone who is relocating to the beautiful Texas hill country, I can hardly wait to email my list of favorites.
1. Shady Grove
Update: Sadly, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Shady Grove has announced its permanent closure and started a GoFundMe campaign to help their employees. If you’d like to donate, click here.
Shady Grove has that distinctive vibe that people are looking for when they come to Austin. The food is good, there’s lots of outdoor seating, and the music is always amazing.
If the topic is iconic Austin restaurants, you’re bound to hear Shady Grove mentioned in the conversation. For 28 years, locals and visitors have likewise depended on this place to provide them with a true Austin experience. Menu options set the stage, while voices of beloved performers like Bob Schneider seal the deal. If where to eat in Austin is the contest, Shady Grove will always be found in the winners’ circle.
On Thursday nights, the restaurant offers Unplugged at the Grove, with free music and plenty of Airstream Green Chili Cheeseburgers from the menu.
2. Numero 28
Numero 28 is such a great Austin choice when you’re hungry for authentic Italian atmosphere. One of their signature dishes is a luscious pasta cooked and served out of a parmesan cheese round. Also, the servers speak-a with an Italian accent-a, which always make-a me think I must-a be in Rome-a.
Order the Arancini if you want to try something very Italian and not on every other menu. But if you’re hungry for a pizza that knocks your socks off, pick your favorite then ask for a topping of meatballs. Numero 28 has a special recipe for these Italian delicacies. They’re delicious as an appetizer, but meatballs halved and topped on a pizza is totally next level.
Don’t worry too much about the calories. You can walk off a few on a 2nd Street District stroll afterwards.
For the signature carrot at Bob’s Steak and Chop House, I would give my last nickel.
But, I would also gladly pay the happy hour price and smile the whole time while eating it on the restaurant’s rooftop patio.
This is a terrific place to eat and talk and have a beautiful glass of red wine. However, the terrific doesn’t stop there.
If you’re a fan of bread pudding, I hereby encourage you to order the one at Bob’s. I still think this is the best dessert in Austin.
We who live in Texas cities forget how many Texans don’t live anywhere near a good restaurant chain like Pappadeaux. When farmers and ranchers bring their families to the bigger cities, they want to eat somewhere they’ve heard of. Somewhere they know the food will be outstanding, the service consistent, and the price predictable. They may not want to Google around for somewhere new to try.
That’s why Pappadeaux in Austin is one of my go-to top ten choices.
When we lived in Muleshoe, it was great fun to turn a day trip to the city into a big adventure. We felt like pioneers heading to town for “supplies.” Armed with a list and a plan, we’d strap the kids into their car seats and head east to Lubbock, where we treated ourselves to a fancy lunch before loading up with diapers at Sam’s Club.
If you’re just spending the day in Austin, gathering goods to get you through another month out in the Texas wild, treat yourself to lunch at Pappadeaux first. Of course, if you’re in town to find a new swimsuit, you might rather save lunch for a reward after the shopping.
Eeeek. Did I really just mention swimsuit shopping?
The city of Austin is known for so many things. People travel to see and tour the Texas Capitol Building. They might be in town for a big football game. Conventions are always a thing, and so are the musicians. But it seems like everyone who spends any time in Austin has made plans to enjoy a walk down South Congress Avenue.
South Congress is where you get that weird Austin feel that everyone used to talk so much about. This is also the place to go when you’re looking for quirky gifts, iconic ice cream and legendary live music.
All that SoCo fun can’t be had on an empty stomach, however, so plan to stop in for a pizza at Home Slice. Be sure you ask to sit out back, too.
When you grow up in the Texas panhandle, your family eats more chicken fried steak with gravy than it eats any kind of pan-seared fish with cream sauce. That doesn’t mean we who lived in the prairie didn’t like fish. Not at all. It just means we had come from a long line of people who never learned to cook it and that we consider a meal at a place like Mongers to be a dream come true.
Lots of Yelpers agree with me that Mongers hits its mark in Austin on at least three counts. The food is delicious, the experience is unhurried, and the service is exceptional. Menu options change seasonally, but if you are there when the red snapper is served, you might want to do as I did. Order it, close your eyes and let all your fishiest dreams come true.
The first time I went to Fonda San Miguel was when my middle daughter and I were traveling through town on a college visit weekend. For miles ahead of the city limits, we discussed where to eat in Austin. One of us remembered hearing from someone about a really unique Mexican food place. So, we decided to give it a try.
My eyes are quick to find the relleno on any Mexican food menu, but the ones described at Fonda San Miguel were less typical, a little jazzier, so I was a little hesitant. This was a fun girls’ weekend that couldn’t be ruined by a bad relleno, you know. So, I asked the waiter for an opinion.
“You’re going to love our relleno, ma’am. Especially the Picadillo. It’s very different and very good.”
Wow, was it ever, and did I ever. When I think of Fonda San Miguel in Austin, Texas, the relleno is what comes to mind. It was a-ma-zing. Later, when I told my aunt from Houston about it, she said, “Oh, Fonda is my favorite place in Austin.” Later, I met a food writer for Tribeza magazine who told me how much she and her husband enjoy the place.
“Where have you been all my life, Fonda San Miguel?” That’s what I very soon found myself thinking. How have I not known about you before now, my beautiful Mexican restaurant with the Sunday buffet of my dreams? Is there a sign I can wear to advertise your Quesos Fundido, my lovely Austin favorite?
Well, okay, I wasn’t really asking to wear a Fundido sign on my back. However, let’s just say, it’s hard to shut me up when I get started talking about Fonda San Miguel.
Of course, I can’t really speak at all if I’m eating a beautiful serving of Fonda’s Flan de Almendra made cajeta and almonds. Bet you can’t either.
P. Terry’s Burger Stand has a hometown story, possibly the best drive-thru in all of Austin, and a burger worth going back. Time and time again, those of us who just can’t seem to break the P. Terry’s habit make our way to the home of the turquoise cup.
The thin, crispy fries are so hot and perfectly salted. Do you know what tastes even better with P. Terry’s fries than ketchup? Let me think.
Oh, that would have to be a P. Terry’s milkshake.
North, as we like to shorten it, was one of the first places we took our kids when they came to visit us in Austin. All of us fell head over heels for the food, the atmosphere and for the location. The zucchini chips aren’t something you find on other menus, and, boy, are they good.
And if you want to share a satisfying appetizer, the Chef’s Board at North will not disappoint.
In fact, you can get a plentiful board like this one and a bottle of red wine for under $20, total. That’s quite a deal in Austin, or anywhere, but especially at The Domain. Who wants to spend all their money on food when Kendra Scott is just down the way?
It was a very good start to 2016 when in January of that year, Austin’s Congress Avenue became the fourth location of Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que.
I dearly love Cooper’s half-chicken. My man chooses the brisket. But, neither one of us have ever tried the thing for which Cooper’s is most famous. A two-inch mesquite-smoked pork chop. I think that means we have at least one more trip to Cooper’s in our future.
Perhaps we’ll head down to Austin again soon. On a Sunday, for sure. That way, we can go to church at 310 Willie Nelson Boulevard and then walk over to Cooper’s for lunch with friends.
Just like we did on many wonderful Sundays when we lived there.
There you have it – the Austin eateries on my top ten go-to list.
Just about anywhere you choose on your own will be a good choice. However, I hope I’ve inspired you to try some of my favorites for where to eat in Austin.
Whether you’re up north or down south, sight-seeing downtown, shopping at The Domain, or enjoying east Austin, it’s certain you’ll find an amazing restaurant nearby.
My lengthy list proves it.
Encouraging a life filled with everyday intentional adventure as you keep a record of all your own favorites,
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