Greg and I moved to Austin pretty impulsively which is very much on brand for us. We had never spent any time at all here before we bought our condo and decided to settle here. I had my reservations about the city, but I'm happy to say Austin has proven to be a great city to live and work in full time. We've been having a great time eating, drinking and exploring our way across the city and it's really growing on us.
I figure it's only fair to give Austin it's own city guide. So here it is!
Things to Know Before You Go!
Austin is smaller and greener then you think!
Austin has three distinct areas that you're going to want to visit: Downtown, East Austin and South Congress. There are other neighborhoods but as far as being a tourist these are the 3 you need to hit.
Downtown was not really a place anyone lived until about 5 years ago. It was mostly just office buildings but it’s beginning to build out and I can’t wait to see what it becomes. Each week there are new restaurants to try which makes it so fun and I am pretty sure there have been at least 4 cranes in the sky for years. If you want to be in the center of it all and walk most anywhere you want to go stay in DT, that's where Greg and I decided to settle.
East Austin is home to the “Keep Austin Weird” movement and it's so great. Used to be a shady part of town but is now the up and coming spot. Funky breweries, tap rooms, restaurants, and coffee shops East Austin has a lot going for it. I love biking around and trying new places over there on the weekends and looking at the cool modern houses being built. It's walkable in some areas but more of a bicycle spot.
South Congress is also a bit funky but smaller than East Austin. Really just the strip along South Congress Ave (a road) but there are lots of great streets off of the strip home to local coffee, funky restaurants, funky shops and more. It's a great spot for browsing and spending a Saturday. Hotel San Jose is my favorite hotel to stay in the area if this sounds like your kind of spot!
Restaurants I love:
ATX Cocina — Upscale Tex Mex and my own little neighborhood fave spot. Cute outdoor patio as well with shade and heaters in the winter. They make their tortillas by hand so you only get 4 at a time but it’s so worth it. If you ask for more they will bring you some. I get the salsa tasting and the chicken every. time.
Uchi— This is a long time sushi staple in Austin that sparked the new Japanese food trend happening in Austin and I am not mad about it. Asian food is my favorite so the more Asian spots the better! I loved the Omakase and the dishes that blew my mind were the Edamame (i swear they cover it in crack and then grill it, who knew you could reinvent edamame??) and the cooked fish in a broth served with a spoon. I’m a bit of a raw fish fanatic and if you cook it I will get another dish but this one, it changed my mind.
Forthright Cafe: Perfect spot for a slow brunch. Patio seating, full list of coffee options but the cappuccino is the one to get. I also love the iced coffee with homemade cashew milk. The coffee is in cubes and milk poured over top. Such a sweet delight. Brunch item to get is the mushroom toast with poached egg. Everything is great but that mushroom toast, my jam.
Bar Chi: My regular neighborhood sushi. I have narrowed in on the menu of choice. White stingray roll (it has a lime vinaigrette that is fabulous), salmon nigiri and whole scallop nigiri. Add a gyoza if I am feeling crazy. Great spot for a stable yummy sushi spot in downtown.
Wu Chow: Dumplings. More traditional Chinese food and I like it that way. I love a good family style Chinese restaurant and this place delivers, and a bonus is that all the ingredients are farm to table . Soup dumplings were great and I would get those each time. I love changing it up so I will get different menu options each time and I have a hard time believing these guys wont deliver.
Elizabeth Street Cafe: Okay more Asian but hey, if loving Asian food is wrong then I don't wanna be right! ! Cute little spot over in the South Congress area with fusion Vietnamese. The chili oil dumplings were fantastic as were the Dan Dan noodles. Next time I am definitely trying the Bahn Mi.
Via 313 Pizza: Detroit style pizza in a food truck behind a bar on Rainey street, Craft Pride. Sitting out back with a Texan craft beer with a slice of this pizza is my idea of a great time. People watching is pretty great and they have live music most nights!
Counter 3. Five. VII: Upscale tasting menu that my husband took me to when he wanted to make sure I liked Austin. This place was great and I recommend doing the tasting menu and sitting at the bar. Counter seating is always my go to.
Fareground: This is a great spot for a group that can’t decide on what they want. You have some of the best full service restaurants and chefs in town creating counter style restaurants in the nicest food court environment I have ever been in. You can get everything from Ramen and Sushi to Mexican to Charcuterie boards to Chicken to Buddha bowl style dishes. They have a bar as well if you are feeling like a beverage. Amazing outdoor seating too.
Barley Swine: This restaurant was incredible. Family style small plates with funky beers. Decent environment but the food is fabulous. A bit north of town and a drive if you are looking to explore a bit outside of downtown Austin.
Odd Duck: Food truck turned killer restaurant. I am all about this spot. Not a ton of parking so I recommend ubering but they have valet too. I went for brunch and everything looked incredible. Sit at the bar for the best seat in the house and see all the dishes come out. The pork belly is their most well known dish.
BBQ: This is Texas and BBQ deserves its own list.
Lamberts — Upscale bbq great for entertaining your fancier guests but still wanna show them good bbq. Do not pass up the brisket. I recommend ordering family style to try all the goods.
Terry Blacks — This is the best brisket and beef rib of anywhere I have tried in Austin. And I have tried a lot. Beware, the beef rib is huge.
Salt Lick — This one is a drive but an experience worth having. Out in Dripping Springs it’s got to be the biggest restaurant I have ever been to. They have this down though. With a bar to order from while you wait and tons of outdoor seating to enjoy your beverages, you don’t even know you are waiting. You can also order from the to-go bar and eat at the tables if you don't want to wait for a table with service. Try the lemonade, its fresh and delicious.
Cafe Medici— Hands down the best espresso in town. It's my staple, and there's multiple locations so you have no excuse. So, just go!
Merit— My second favorite spot for coffee in town. I love their beans for brewing at home as well.
Better Half Coffee and Cocktails— Great outdoor patio for groups. Love that they have both coffee and alcohol for when you can’t decide :)
Hamilton Pool — 50 foot natural waterfall with pool and stalactites. A small hike pops you out there. 23 miles from Austin near Dripping Springs. There are also wineries, distilleries and breweries out there too. It makes for a nice little day trip.
Barton Springs — This is where everyone goes when it gets hot. Which is like 9 months out of the year in Austin.
Fredericksburg: Wine, antique shops, small town life. I recommend spending the night there as it’s a bit far from Austin. In my opinion Texas has a long way to go when it comes to wine but none the less this can be a fun weekend trip with friends. Stay tuned for a full winery guide! They are absolutely not all created equal.
Gruene: This town has a cute little Texan downtown and is home to the oldest dance hall in TX. So many greats have played there and stop on their way through for a more intimate vibe. There's a great Mexican restaurant downtown as well as a huge Southern restaurant called Gristmill. Try the onion rings, they are the biggest I have ever seen. More like donuts than onion ring sized.
Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center: Cave grotto and canyon tours at 10, 12 and 2 on the weekends
My Restaurant Bucket List
Emmer and Rye — Everything about this place I am excited for. One of the top restaurants in Austin on every list ever made.
East Side Pies — Pizza, duh!
Tiny Pies — Tiny pies, who does not want to try that? It means you can just eat more, right? Their tiny!
Lin Asian Bar and Dim Sum — Dim Sum is my favorite food so this is a must
Loro — Uchi and Franklins had a baby. How do you mix bbq and sushi? I don't know but I do know I want to find out.
Franklins — Staple bbq in town, you wait for hours so i haven’t had the time yet. One day.
Dai Due — Farm to table American restaurant on all the hot lists
La Barbecue — So much BBQ so little timeeee!!
Have you been to Austin? What's on your list? Leave a comment below or comment on my Instagram @lizmercer_ I would love to hear your tips!