The following groomed list comprises most of my favorite eateries, watering holes, and morning buzzes in town, some more desirable than others. My body runs on food, alcohol, and coffee, so I hope you can appreciate my suggestions. Some offer more diverse menus than others, while others specialize in specifics; I have kept the list short and sweet. If you really want to find the popular spots, utilize Yelp; I won’t be offended. I have left out favorites, purely because of wait-time for a table. Additionally, I have also placed a suggested schedule below.
Salty Sow (New American)
1917 Manor Rd; (512) 391-2337
Salty Sow adds no bells and whistles to the menu and décor. Animals play a heavy role on the menu—case in point: triple-fried duck fat fries and mashed potatoes with neck bone gravy. The farmhouse ambiance gives way to both intimate and/or casual experiences, and the from-scratch grub—rooted in traditional cooking methods: braising, roasting, curing—provides a restaurant intangible, hard to come by nowadays. The $15 charcuterie board is a steal, as all of the meats are made in-house.
Contigo (New American)
2027 Anchor Ln.; (512) 614-2260
Modeled after Contigo Ranch, this rustic restaurant gives way to house-cured meats, hand-crafted cocktails, and a decent beer list. You must give the rabbit and dumplings dish a spin. Most of the seating is outdoors, and the open space provides a refined, yet Texan dining experience. Good vegetarian options.
Nubian Queen Lola’s Cajun Soul Food Café (Cajun/Southern)
1815 Rosewood Ave.; Lola’s Cell (512) 483-4711; Store (512) 474-5652
You will not find many more humble spots than this Eastside favorite. Lola’s is a one-woman show, so expect to wait for your plate. Limited seating necessitates that you sit in close proximity inside this no-frills house-esque spot. If you can tolerate the aforementioned quirks, you will be well-rewarded with phenomenal Cajun grub and true hospitality. On Friday nights, the $10 all-you-can-eat gumbo will win your heart and stomach. Oh, and the fried catfish…
Michi Ramen (Casual Japanese)
6519 N. Lamar ; (512) 386 – 1908
This ramen institution recently transitioned into a storefront, first run out of a food truck. Michi Ramen led the pack for what I call the Austin “ramen movement.” Better to make it here while it is new to feel one step ahead of the Austin food scene. For ramen with heavy broth and pork belly, homemade gyoza and fried chicken, you have a winner for dinner. No alcohol yet, as they are in the soft-opening stages.
3 Little Pigs (Pork…’nuff said; Food Truck)
1209 Rosewood Ave.; (512) 653-5088
This food does not solely serve swine-based fare, but the pork belly is a must. Ray Tattum, the brain behind the operation, also cranks out killer meat loaf, ramen, and Asian fried chicken. Right alongside East End Wines, this food truck boasts a menu that would go great with red or white.
G’Raj Mahal (Indian)
91 Red River; (512) 480-2255
For those diners who want Indian (I know there are some of you in the bunch), a very Austin atmosphere, and proximity to the Rainey St. bar district, you will find this full-service outdoor joint to be interesting, to say the least. Everyone loves naan—especially that of G’Raj Mahal, but the Rechaad Masala, a spicy shrimp curry of sorts, is likely a less common dish for most of you “adventurous eaters.” Good vegetarian options.
El Naranjo (Regional Mexican)
85 Rainey St.; (512) 474-2776
Following the trend of interior Mexican fare, El Naranjo offers a menu boasting daily mole dishes—what with the 25+ ingredient lists—alongside housemade tortillas and a traditional Oaxacan chile relleno, chock full of pork, capers, olives, raisins, and the whole kitchen sink. What could be better than straying from the Tex-Mex trap of queso, fajitas, and an abundance of stale chips? The sleek interior makes this experience a bit more upscale. Good vegetarian options.
Banger’s (Sausages and more)
79 Rainey St.; 512-386-1656
Banger’s follows suit in the wave of house-made wieners in the Austin dining scene, but it does so in a reformed fashion. The menu centers around the various sausages, which you then customize with various breads, sauces, and condiments. The duck/bacon/fig lends itself to sweet, savory, smoky nuances, and the OLAF sauce and aioli provide some good backbone. But don’t take my advice. Go, all ye sausage lovers, and create your own. Superb beer selection, to round things out and wash down all of that meat.
2307 Hancock Dr.; (512) 371-6840
Epicerie is the new kid on the block, literally being set in the midst of a central Austin neighborhood, but upon stepping in, you will be transported to a nonchalant French wine country eatery, what with a cheese and deli case, housemade breads and pastries, and hearty grub such as oxtail stew. The menu, somewhat of a French, Cajun, and American hybrid, offers up stick-to-your ribs fare next to lighter soups and salads. Good coffee and alcohol, to boot. Good vegetarian options.
Hillside Farmacy (Classic American)
1209 E. 11th St.; (512)628-0168
This drugstore turned hipster café offers a menu chock full of sandwiches—the unctuous Forager, with mushrooms and truffle oil necessitates a bottle of red; breakfast favorites—give the buttermilk biscuits and gravy a spin; and raw bar staples, i.e. peel and eat shrimp and rotating oyster selections. The decent coffee and alcohol programs play into the eclectic café and bar feel. Soups and salads round out the meal with good vegetarian options.
Brews and Buzz
Check out Rainey St. for a hodgepodge of awesome bars. Among my favorites: Clive Bar, Javelina, Bar 96
4112 Medical Pkwy.; (512) 452-6258
With a cult following as everyone’s favorite neighborhood pub, Draught House offers all you could desire in a beer-only establishment: grimey character, well-sourced microbrews, and a staff who will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They want speed when ordering, a good choice by the drinker, and no funny business.
4200 N. Lamar. #120; (512) 531-9417
Ask anyone in Austin where to get coffee, and if they know North from South, they will send you over this way. They have more ways to serve you a cup of joe than you can count on two hands. The staff takes pride in what they do and source, as evidenced by their “cuppings” on Monday and Thursday, and they truly make you feel like you are in their house, drinking each cup of black brewed to order. What a labor of love.
200 Congress Ave.; (512)-827-2770
Before Houndstooth, there was Medici, and this newest installment of the Austin classic offers up one mean (albeit little) cup of espresso. They solely use local Cuvee coffee beans, but they brew so in a very caring fashion—French pressing each cup to order. The 2-story layout affords you a great atmosphere to sprawl out your books and tech-gear on a table and people watch all day long.
East End Wine
1209 Rosewood Ave.; (512)-904-9056
The masterminds behind this renovated house turned wine shop undoubtedly take pride in what they are doing. Running around the world, they have sourced out some absolute gems, white and red alike. On Fridays, they do a brief free tasting (4-8PM) and open up their new patio for drinking on premises. Drop by for a taste and pick up a few obscure bottles to take home or drink right on the spot. $5 set-up fee per person; but conveniently located next to Three Little Pigs.