So you’re in town for SXSW? Whether you’re here for just a day or two or a whole week, there is no shortage of incredible restaurants around Austin. Because the festival is focused along a somewhat central-Austin radius, I won’t overwhelm you with restaurants that may potentially be outside your SXSW scope or your Uber budget. I’m picking my favorites that are located either downtown, on the east side, along South Congress, South First, or South Lamar. Just remember to be patient, and soak it all in–this is a marathon, not a sprint, and if you overwhelm yourself it will make for a miserable SXSW experience!
Let’s begin 🙂
Best Restaurants for SXSW: DOWNTOWN
This is where 80% of the action is, between the massive convention center, the bungalows rented out for parties on Rainey Street, and of course the world-famous 6th Street (or dirty 6th as the locals like to call it). Here’s my SXSW Downtown Austin list, enjoy!
Parkside–This 6th street gastropub is known for it’s raw seafood bar (fresh shucked oysters and yummy ceviches), along with its variety of dishes, ranging from rabbit, to osso bucco, to pork, etc. If you are able to snag a seat on their outdoor patio, you will be able to witness the madness that is dirty 6th street, from the comfort of your own table and cocktail.
Second Bar+Kitchen-what don’t I like about this restaurant! Make sure to try their buffalo fried pickles, chicken fried olives, black truffle pomme frites, veal meatballs “arrabiata”, avocado fundido, pepperoni soup, seared faroe island salmon (one of my faves), the burger, and their black and bleu pizza. Make sure to leave some room for their brussels sprouts—they’re one of the best in town!
La Condesa-this is probably my favorite place in Austin for Mexican food (and that says a lot, since there’s so many Mexican restaurants in Austin). Try to get there before 5:00 and snag a seat in their bar area to experience their very generous happy hour. Their margaritas and mezcal cocktails are some of the best in town, and make sure to try their ceviches.
Lambert’s-Fancy barbecue. What’s that you ask? Why don’t you come in and see for yourself! They basically serve high-end barbecue, and the most delectable crispy wild boar ribs. Make sure to try their spicy deviled eggs too, along with the brisket, pork ribs, pulled pork, and maybe one of the oak grilled entrées.
Wu Chow-two words: soup dumplings. One of Austin’s newest Downtown restaurants has been receiving rave reviews, and for good reason. Bringing authentic, modern Chinese food to the heart of town, you’ll enjoy mind-blowing soup dumplings (for dinner only), salt & pepper squid, spicy Sichuan deep-fried chicken, and honey pecan gulf prawns, along with dim sum service on Saturdays and Sundays
Daruma Ramen-In case we have a freak cold front come in (hey-it’s happened), this place is a must, even if there’s a line out the door.
Trace at the W-If you don’t have much to do during SXSW, hang out at the W for excellent people watching, and when you get hungry, pop into Trace for some awesome food. If it’s a nice day, make sure to sit on their patio and enjoy your food as you stare people down.
Clark’s Oyster Bar-A chic little restaurant with some of the best and freshest seafood in town, it’s also a wonderful spot for people watching, if you can get a seat.
Josephine House-one of Clark’s sister restaurants, Josephine House resides in a beautiful and cozy bungalow just outside the madness of Downtown in Austin’s Clarksville neighborhood. If you have some coin to throw down, try making a reservation at Jeffrey’s, Josephine’s older brother right next door. Reservations are recommended at Josephine House as well.
Olamaie-is one of two restaurants in Austin serving up beautiful and elevated Southern food, and is currently only open for dinner. Reservations are recommended as this restaurant is quite popular with the locals, not to mention the out of towners.
Fixe-is the other high-end restaurant serving Southern cuisine, and a reservation is recommended here as well. The highlights from the menu are the biscuits (family recipe, made to order, and quite possibly the best you’ll ever try), their incredible fried chicken, the mouth-watering lobster pot pie, and the pork shoulder.
Best Restaurants for SXSW: RAINEY STREET
G’Raj Mahal-if you like Indian food, this is a great place to hit before imbibing at the bars along Rainey Street. Once a food truck, it was so well received that the owners were able to successfully turn the food truck into a brick and mortar. Because of the popularity of Rainey during south-by (what us locals call it for short), I’d recommend to arrive early and be patient.
Via 313-If you want some of the best Detroit style pizza (semi-thick but light and airy crust), Via 313 is a no brainer, and it’s located at the far end of Rainey Street at Craft Pride, so you can enjoy a pizza and some cold beers.
Banger’s-Calling all sausage and hotdog enthusiasts! This sausage house and beer garden boasts abundant beers on tap in a rustic cottage set amidst a lively beer garden where live music is plentiful and dogs frolic in an off-leash mini dog park.
El Naranjo-If you like Mexican food, you’re going to love this restaurant opened up by a couple who moved to Austin from Oaxaca. This place serves up legit Mexican food (not tex-mex), and some must haves from their menu include the salbutes de cochinita pibil (pulled pork marinated in tomato and spices), mole negro de Oaxaca, and tinge poblana (pulled pork cooked with chorizo, tomatoes, chipotle chilies, and garnished with avocado).
Emmer & Rye-Enjoy elevated New American small plates with fresh breads and pastries made from freshly milled heirloom grains and just-sourced herbs and veggies from the outside garden. Chef Kevin Fink worked at both French Laundry and Noma, so you know the food will be just as good as it is beautiful.
Geraldine’s-A fab new restaurant at the newly built Hotel Van Zandt, Geraldine’s offers delicious craft cocktails, fabulous shareable plates, and because we’re in the Live Music Capital of the World–live music and acts. Make sure to try out their smoked yellowtail tacos, and check out their jazz brunch on Sundays.
Best Restaurants for SXSW: EAST AUSTIN
Also known as the “east side”, this is where a lot of the action happens, especially during the music portion as Fader Fort draws in extremely large crowds.
Thai Kun-A glorious thai food truck (Paul Qui is one of the geniuses behind it), this little trailer was nominated by Bon Appetit magazine as one of the top ten restaurants in the US for 2014. Make sure to come with one or two friends, and order one of each of the menu items to make sure you don’t miss out on anything. The food truck is now located at Whisler’s, perhaps my favorite bar in Austin. Make sure to check out their mezcal bar in the loft inside the bar!
Fukumoto-If you’re jonesing for some sushi or yakitori izakaya, then head over to Fukumoto between shows or tracks. They are only open for dinner, but their bar opens at 4:30, so you can start warming up with some sake at that time.
La Barbecue-Delicious, moist bbq to rival Franklin’s, and lines are probably half as long for those at Franklin’s BBQ (also was on GQ’s list of 25 Best New Restaurants in America).
Counter Cafe East-For some organic, down home diner food, head over to Counter Cafe East. I love that they serve lunch and breakfast all day, and they have great burgers, sandwiches, eggs benedict, and more.
Contigo-if you find yourself deep in North East-ish Austin, hit up Contigo. They have one of my favorite burgers there, and their ox tongue sliders and rabbit & dumplings are pretty delectable.
Blue Dahlia-This is a vegetarian-friendly french bistro serving up lovely salads, delicious soups, and some of the most beautiful tartines in town.
Dai Due-Dai Due is a farm-to-table restaurant that sources ingredients locally in a shabby-chic space with a butcher shop. Their menu changes often, and they’re open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Salt & Time-Austin’s other favorite butcher shop, they also have a casual restaurant with a meat-centric menu, ice-cold beers on tap, and one of the best cuban sandwiches in town.
Licha’s Cantina-Another authentic Mexican restaurant serving casual yet innovative Mexican dishes like sopecitos (black bean layered corn cups) and huaraches (corn flat breads), this place is ideally located on East 6th street amongst all the great bars, so it’s a great place to start your night and you can go from there.
Counter Culture-my favorite vegan restaurant in Austin, and my go to place when I want to eat pizza yet want to not feel guilty afterwards. They also have an incredible beet/mushroom/walnut veggie burger, and other daily specials.
Hillside Farmacy-if you find yourself starving while waiting in line for Franklin’s bbq, see if your friends can hold your place in line and head over to Hillside Farmacy for some coffee and a pastry. If you decide to brunch or eat here, you’re in for a treat too.
Franklin bbq-(if you have 4 hours to kill, get whatever you can!)
Juniper-One of my favorite new restaurants in Austin, this place is a must, especially if you’re looking for great ambiance, amazing food, and excellent people watching. The food is as wonderful as the decor is beautiful, laden with gin cocktails and northern Italian inspired food.
Launderette-Set in a beautifully decorated, modern looking diner, you can expect a variety of cuisines to be served here in an unpretentious and delicious manner. No matter when you go, make sure to leave room for their incredible desserts. They are open daily for dinner, and are now serving brunch as well. They take reservations for groups of 8 or more.
Monger’s Market + Kitchen-If you want to get your fresh seafood fix, head over to this cozy bright and airy restaurant serving fresh seafood recently caught in the Gulf of Mexico. The Raw Bar features a rotating selection of fresh oysters, shrimp and crab, and their menu changes with the season and depending on the availability of what has been freshly caught.
Best Restaurants for SXSW: SOUTH CONGRESS
Great restaurants and stores jam-packed on just one (not so) little street. If you want to take a break from the crowds and traffic that you will experience downtown and in East Austin, head to South Congress. The only traffic you’ll experience here is a bunch of people trying to find parking, but the good thing is once you find a parking spot you can enjoy a few hours of great food, shopping, people watching, and most likely some live music.
Perla’s-if it’s a nice day out, chances are everyone and their mother will try to snag a spot on Perla’s patio. Serving fresh seafood with a Gulf Coast vibe, this is one of my favorite places to eat and people watch. All their seafood is great (I <3 their oysters!), make sure to also try their shells and cheese, brussels sprouts, and please please try their nicoise salad if it’s on the menu.
Home Slice Pizza-Arguably one of Austin’s best New York style pizza places, they had so much business and were always so busy that they opened a whole other place next door. One is a dine in shop, the other one is so you can buy pizza by the slice. Whichever way you can get it, I suggest you do.
Hopdoddy-the stuff that burger dreams are made of. This place will satisfy the burger hunger of any type of meat burger lover, and veggie burger lover as well. Try all of them if you can.
Enoteca & Vespaio-if you’re looking for yummy Italian, this is your place to go. Enoteca is open during the day and for brunch, while Vespaio is open for dinner service. You can’t go wrong with anything you order here.
Cafe no Se-This is a bomb place to get the best avocado toast, delicious carrot humus, incredible burgers, healthy salads, and great cocktails. I love it for brunch on the weekends or for a leisurely lunch. It’s also in the new South Congress Hotel which is a chic and trendy new hotel smack dab in the middle of all the action on South Congress.
Best Restaurants for SXSW: SOUTH LAMAR
If you have time to spare, venturing out of your SXSW comfort zone and jumping into a cab to leave downtown to check out South 1st street and SoLa will prove to be fruitful, at least when it comes to food.
Uchi-my all time favorite restaurant, serving the most creative and flavorful Japanese food, with an incredible simplicity that highlights the beautiful flavors on the plate. Austin’s worst kept secret is their Sake Social Menu, or happy hour, where from 5-6:30 everyday they have a special menu with half priced items. My suggestion is to go Sunday, where maybe it’s the least crazy (this is a guess), and really, even if you have to wait an hour and a half for a table, it’s absolutely worth it.
Odd Duck-Chef Bryce Gilmore was a finalist in the Best Chef Southwest category for the incredibly important James Beard Awards. Once you go to any of his restaurants, you’ll see why. Make sure to come here with a few people so you can order as many plates as possible (4 people should allow you to order everything on the menu), and enjoy.
Barlata-this place is as delicious as it is fun, and serves authentic spanish tapas and food, making it one of the few restaurants in Austin in this genre. Make sure to try their Arros Negre paella, their Ahi tuna “a la plancha”, and their choriburger. Also not to miss: their super fun porrón, or cava (sparkling wine) bong.
Currently one of my favorite restaurants in Austin, this place is a can’t miss for either a great dinner or brunch! I love their innovative take on New American small plates, and the restaurant is gorgeous (as is their food), perfect for Instagram-worthy shots ;). If you go for dinner, make sure to order the Smoked Hamachi Pipette to start (just trust me on this), and if you go for brunch at least someone in your group must order the biscuits and gravy, they’re the best I’ve ever had!
Best Restaurants for SXSW: SOUTH FIRST STREET
Sway-If you like Thai food, this is quite a treat. Think fancy Thai, and it’s incredible. Make sure to try the Son in Law, one of their most popular dishes, and their oysters are the best I’ve ever had.
For some fabulous French-Vietnamese food, phenomenal coffee, and wonderful pastries (and Bánh mìs, Phở, etc) head on over to the darling Elizabeth Street Cafe. It’ll most likely be a really nice day, so I would recommend you sit outside under a shaded tree and enjoy a delicious brunch or lunch of spring rolls, Phở, and finish it off with one of their lovely daily selections of macarons.
Such a gem of a restaurant, both in terms of the decor (it’s in a beautiful little bungalow along First Street), and its phenomenal food. For just $40, you get a lovely three-course prix fixe menu, and get to choose from a variety of dishes whose ingredients have been carefully sourced by local purveyors that pride themselves in raising sustainable food.
Trailers at 1503 S. 1st street. We got Gordough’s (note their brick and mortar below), where you can get just the naughtiest sandwich served on a donut, Mellizoz Tacos, where you’ll feel like you’re eating street tacos in Mexico, and Dock and Roll Diner, where you can get one of Austin’s best lobster rolls.
Alcomar- If you want to get your authentic Mexican food fix, head on over to Alcomar. They’re open for both lunch and dinner, and will offer respite from the SXSW crowds. You can’t go wrong with pretty much anything on the menu, and please please bring your sweet tooth with you, because their El Rey chocolate tart with pink salt & mexican vanilla ice cream will blow. your. mind!
So I realize this isn’t the end-all be-all list, but it’s pretty exhaustive. If you find you don’t have a chance to get out and get to one of these restaurants–don’t fret! There are plenty of wonderful food trucks that I imagine will be parked all around the south-by perimeter, and there are plenty of great mom and pop restaurants and shops that you can pop into and grab a quick bite.
If it is your first time coming to Austin for SXSW, or if it’s your first time checking out this blog, let me know what you think!! Feel free to leave your comments below, or you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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