Dine and Dash
By Kristi Willis; Chez Nous photo by Rudy Arocha; La Condesa photo by Jody Horton, courtesy of La Condesa. Trio and Swift’s Attic photos by Rudy Arocha; Uchi photo by Mark Jorgenson, courtesy of Uchi/Cultivate
What could be more fun than eating your way through the city one dish at a time? Imagine not having any traffic or budgetary restrictions and getting to pick your favorite course at each spot: a progressive dinner, Austin-style. Following are some of the city’s best bites, served up by course, from tried-and-true eateries, as well as new kids on the block. The progressive-dinner format made it difficult to include restaurants specializing in prix-fixe menus, a practice that offers a constantly changing menu to diners but makes it tough to highlight a dish that might not be available in a week. Look for some of the top prix-fixe offerings on our best-of list.
Charcuterie Plate (Assiette de Charcuterie) at Chez Nous
An Austin culinary standard, Chez Nous features a delightful starter with traditional house-made pâtés, terrines and sausages served with cornichons and olives. It is the perfect dish to linger over while sipping French wine with friends.
Granja Salad at La Condesa
This contemporary Mexican restaurant serves one of the best salads in town featuring seasonal vegetables from the farmers market, making each time you order it a bit of a surprise. The fall version includes roasted squash and watermelon radishes paired with bright greens and a perfectly poached egg.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara at La Traviata
Italian Bistro La Traviata, tucked in to a small storefront on Congress Avenue, is easy to overlook until you taste their Spaghetti alla Carbonara, spaghetti and pancetta topped with an egg yolk (think breakfast pasta). Don’t let the egg scare you; when you mix up the ingredients, the result is a bowl of divine, Italian comfort food.
Uchiviche at Uchi
While you can’t go wrong with any of the superbly crafted dishes at Uchi, the Uchiviche, the restaurant’s take on a ceviche, is a true star. The traditional Latin ingredients of tomato, bell pepper and cilantro give the dish a kick without overwhelming the delicate salmon and striped bass, a perfect example of Uchi’s careful restraint on the plate.
Richardson Farms Pork Chops at Trio at the Four Seasons
A pork chop may not whisper luxury to you, but in the adept hands of the crew at Trio, this entrée will make you rethink the humble pig. Paired with peach chutney and ancho chile, this tender chop will kick your old notions of pork chops and applesauce to the curb.
Popcorn & a Movie at Swift’s Attic
Pastry Chef Callie Speer shows off her playfulness with this homage to a night out at the movies: a scoop of buttered-popcorn ice cream served with a crispy chocolate candy bar and a rootbeer gelée. The dessert is simultaneously smooth and crunchy, salty and sweet, and truly delightful.
BEST OF THE REST
Fine Dining: Congress
Even though Austin is best known for our laid-back jeans and flip-flops culture, it’s nice to have a true fine-dining restaurant with the service and atmosphere to match Chef David Bull’s exquisite food.
Place for a Date: Lenoir
Small and intimate with beautiful lamps dangling from the ceiling, the atmosphere is relaxed but intimate, even at the community table. The prix-fixe menu makes it easy to enjoy three unique dishes without feeling stuffed.
Happy Hour: Parkside
Oysters, fried okra, and blond pâté and cocktails are all halfpriced from 5 to 6:30 p.m. every day. It is one of the best deals in town, and there are similar specials at sister restaurants Olive & June and The Backspace.
Eat for under $20: Contigo
With reasonably priced, finely crafted bar snacks, small plates and charcuterie, you can sip and sup under the stars without making a major dent in your wallet.
Brunch: Fonda San Miguel
One of Austin’s oldest standout restaurants serves up some of the best interior Mexican food in town and an exquisite brunch that lets you explore and experiment to your heart’s desire. Warning: You are going to overeat.
Place to Eat Adventurously: Foreign & Domestic
Items like beef tongue, venison heart and pork jowls on the menu might cause you pause, but they shouldn’t. In the deft hands of Chef Ned Elliott, these often overlooked cuts become true delicacies.
Place to Feel Like You’re in Europe: Fabi + Rosi
Chef Wolfgang Murber serves classic European fare in a lovely renovated West Austin home. Stepping into Fabi + Rosi feels like hopping the pond without having to pack your passport.
Eat BBQ in Style: Lamberts
Sliced barbecue on butcher paper is a Central Texas delicacy, but sometimes you want something a bit more refined. Lamberts is the perfect place to satisfy your cravings while sipping your favorite cocktail and using a fork and knife.
For Wowing Anyone: Uchiko
The little sister of Uchi has no inferiority complex. Featuring expertly prepared sushi and composed dishes, each plate wows diners with every bite. Really trying to impress? The 10-course chef’s tasting menu will knock their socks off.
Family Dining: Jack Allen’s Kitchen
Chef Jack Gilmore has a talent for creating menus that have something for everyone, from the pickiest of eaters to the avid experimenter. Relax in a comfortable, open space and enjoy tasty dishes made with fresh, local ingredients.
2012 was a banner year for food in Austin. From a Top Chef Texas win for Chef Paul Qui to the inaugural Austin Food & Wine Festival, food celebrities swarmed the city and local chefs racked up serious awards and recognition.
Local restaurant groups exercised their muscle by opening new spots (Bar Mirabeau, Cherry Street, Clark’s Oyster Bar, Easy Tiger, Elizabeth Street Café, Gusto Italian Kitchen + Wine Bar, Olive & June, Swift’s Attic), and experienced area chefs struck out on their own (Lenoir, Spin Modern Thai).
With the good also comes the bittersweet, as 2012 saw the closing of Austin standards Shoreline Grill and Jeffrey’s. The McGuire Moorman group has promised a return for Jeffrey’s in the new year, and we will have to wait to see if any other culinary phoenixes might rise from the ashes.
Bar Mirabeau. Casual New American cuisine on West Sixth from Chef Parind Vora of Jezebel.
Bob’s Steak & Chop House. New steakhouse in the warehouse district from the team that started Bob’s in Dallas.
Cherry Street. Casual Italian from Chef Jason Dodge, also of Peché, just north of downtown.
Clark’s Oyster Bar. Clarksville neighborhood oyster bar and seafood from the McGuire Moorman group that also owns Perla’s, Elizabeth Street Café, Lamberts and Fresa’s.
Easy Tiger. Combination bakery and New American pub from Chef Drew Curren and the 24 Diner team.
El Naranjo. Chef Iliana de la Vega transformed her popular traditional Mexican food truck into a full-service restaurant in the Rainey Street neighborhood.
Elizabeth Street Café. The McGuire Moorman group opened a Vietnamese café on South First featuring noodles and bánh mì, as well as a full French bakery.
Gusto Italian Kitchen + Wine Bar. Casual Italian in the Rosedale neighborhood from the team of restaurateur Eddie Bernal.
Hillside Farmacy. Farm-to-table fare in East Austin from Chef Sonya Cote, formerly of East Side Show Room.
Jezebel. Chef Parind Vora’s flagship restaurant has returned, this time on West Sixth, with a prix-fixe-only New American menu.
Lenoir. Chefs Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher serve a casual prix-fixe menu highlighting Central Texas ingredients in French-, Spanish- and Asian-inspired dishes.
Olive & June. Italian fare focused on family-style dining from Chef Shawn Cirkiel of Parkside and The Backspace.
The Russian House. Chef Vladimir Grivkov cooks authentic Russian cuisine in a downtown restaurant that also acts as the area’s Russian cultural center.
Salty Sow. Chefs Harold Marmulstein and Richard Velasquez have created a playful meat-centric menu to entice any carnivore. Vegetarians, be warned.
Spin Modern Thai. Contemporary Thai from Chef Ek Timrerk is a bright spot in an otherwise unassuming strip mall near Lakeline Mall.
Swift’s Attic. New American small plates from Chefs Mat Clouser and Zack Northcutt and Pastry Chef Callie Speer.
Braise European Bistro
Jeffrey’s Maria Maria
Red House Pizzeria
Sago Modern Mexican