So you’re in town for SXSW 2018? Well you’re in luck, because whether you’re actively going to breakout sessions for the festival or you’re just here for the fun, there is no shortage of fantastic places get a bite to eat. Here’s the ultimate guide to downtown Austin restaurants during SXSW, broken down into categories. The parameters are north of Cesar Chavez, west of I-35, south of The Capitol, and east of Lamar. There is an interactive and color coded map at the bottom of this blog post to further help you out and help you get your bearings. **Please note: some of these restaurants may have different hours or may have special events going on during SXSW, so I would call or check to see if they have regular hours beforehand.
Downtown Austin restaurants: Barbecue
Iron Works This place is slinging barbecued meats, including signature beef ribs, and specialty sauces in a historic former iron shop. This place is also located in the thick of things, just behind the convention center and located on the corner of Cesar Chavez and Red River, which is the street that takes you to Rainey Street. They typically open at 11 am and are open all the way through until 9 pm.
Lambert’s Two words: fancy barbecue. This place has a great happy hour upstairs and at the bar with half price appetizers and bar food,
$2 off all beverages at both bars 7 days a week from 5 – 7pm. My go-to is their crispy wild boar ribs with honey, sambal, blue cheese, celery, and a daikon slaw, and my husband’s go to is their oak-grilled natural hangar steak with a fried egg in the hole, cholula butter, and steak tomato.
Cooper’s Originally from Llano, Texas, this spot serves up pit-smoked meats, classic sides and has a full bar in a historic building with a patio. It’s got a great location on 3rd and Congress, and is a great spot to pop into for lunch. It’s family owned and operated and has served barbecue to hundreds of thousands of people over the last several years.
Stubb’s Bar-B-Q This place is iconic not only because of it’s bbq and it’s famous bbq sauce, but because this place also doubles as a music venue.
Downtown Austin restaurants: Healthy
Forthright This is one of my faves in Austin in general, serving up breakfast, lunch, and even now dinner. They’ve got great coffee options, delicious healthy salads, a fantastic burger and sandwiches (see the croque madame below), healthy grain bowls, nut milks, gluten free baked goods, the list goes on and on. It’s also located just next to the Four Seasons hotel, where a lot of the action happens as well.
Athenian Grill This place is missing from many “Top Austin” lists that you may come across online, yet this place always has steady traffic during their lunch hours as it seems to be a favorite for many Austin downtown workers. If you like Greek food, you’ll definitely love this place, as it’s owned and run by a Greek family (and has been for over 10 years). My pick here is the #1 Athenian Chicken Salad…I could eat it every day and never get tired of it.
Modern Market Modern Market offers delicious food with nutritional info on the menu. The restaurant just opened downtown a few weeks ago, and is the perfect spot to grab a bite to eat just after a grueling workout at Soul Cycle.
Jugo If fresh pressed juices and smoothies are your thing, then make sure to make a stop by Jugo. The menu is simple and straight forward, and was designed for busy downtowners looking for something healthy and good on the go.
True Food True Food is one of the few restaurants that are furthest away from the hustle and bustle of SXSW (especially if you consider the convention center as ground zero), but it’s definitely a great choice if you want to have a healthy, non-rushed lunch prior to hitting the action. Some highlights here are their edamame dumplings, their kale caesar salad, spaghetti squash casserole (pictured below)…pretty much you can’t go wrong with anything on this menu.
Leaf This is a great option to get a good, healthy salad, as this is pretty much the only things they offer. They have some on their menu that are already created to help you make a decision faster, or you can also “build your own” and pick your lettuces and toppings and dressings.
Flower Child Flower Child is a hip, new-er addition to the downtown Austin restaurants scene, and serves up bowls, wraps, grains, and greens, all made with fresh and responsibly-sourced ingredients that revitalize your body, mind, and soul.
Blenders & Bowls This place was the original acai bowl place in Austin, and happens to be located inside one of Austin’s hottest yoga studios. Stop by after a great class, or just pop in on your own time to enjoy a smoothie bowl or smoothie. My favorite combo is any smoothie bowl that contains pitaya (dragon fruit) and peanut butter or almond butter–just trust me on this one!
Daily Juice This places offers fresh juice cleanses, fresh smoothies, acai bowls, meals and more. They have multiple locations around town, and this one has already-pressed juices to go, or request your own.
JuiceLand Another great spot for fresh pressed juices,smoothies, snacks, and more.
Downtown Austin restaurants: Mexican
ATX Cocina This is a great spot for high-end Mexican food, fun cocktails, and people watching. It’s only open for happy hour and dinner service onward, and the bar tends to fill up pretty quickly at 4:30 when they open. They do have a great patio, and assuming the weather is nice (which it does tend to be during SXSW), you can enjoy some great cocktails and bites out there.
La Condesa One of the O.G.’s in the modern downtown Austin restaurants scene, this place is the bomb for happy hour margaritas and guacamole. Their happy hour is at their bar and connecting tiny patio, so I recommend getting there right at 5 pm when they reopen for dinner service. With that said they are open for lunch, and their chicken tortilla soup is one of the best I’ve ever had in my life (and I’m originally from Mexico City).
El Naranjo Chef Iliana de la Vega is delivering true interior Mexican food, with a focus on the icons of Oaxacan cuisine. This is always my pick when on Rainey Street, whether you want to have an amazing meal, or just some apps and great cocktails. I love coming here for brunch on the weekend and ordering their yummy chilaquiles.
Polvo’s I’ve added Polvo’s to this list because they’re about to open their newest location on 3rd and Nueces in the 360 building, but it’s unsure whether they’ll be open in time for SXSW. I love this place for their strong margaritas (if you have some time and a friend, order a pitcher of their frozen margaritas!), their fresh ceviche, and some of the best fajitas in town. My fajita pick here is the pastor fajitas, you won’t regret it.
Dai Due Taqueria If tacos are your thing, then make a pit stop at Austin’s newest food hall Fareground and head straight to Dai Due Taqueria which features tacos, tortas and eventually other masa preparations with Texas game (including wild boar al pastor, bison picadillo and venison barbacoa), Gulf seafood and innovative veggie combos such as brined cauliflower torta with sweet potato mole and oak-roasted mushroom tacos. They also make their tortillas in house.
Downtown Austin restaurants: Italian
North Freshly opened just in time for SXSW, North delivers delicious thin-crust pizzas and sophisticated Italian fare. Their pastas are made from scratch daily, and I absolutely love their zucca chips, their grilled artichoke (when in season), chicken pesto gigli pasta, and meatball appetizer.
Backspace a rustic, 30-seat intimate space off 6th street highlighting the best of Italy. Our antipasti are the perfect start to a meal at the backspace; infusing a copious amount of seasonal ingredients and flavors into a tapa-sized portion. Thin-crust pies, small plates & beer/wine plus half-price deals during happy hour.
Red Ash This place is always slammed, so making reservations if you want to come here for dinner is a must. Or you can do what I do and show up promptly at 4:30 for their happy hour at the bar. The bread with olive oil/parmesan/garlic dipping sauce here is a must, as is their gnocchi with fresh cream, gorgonzola montagna, smoked prosciutto, and chives. They’re also known for their wood burning oven that serves up some massive and amazing steaks and other cuts of meat.
La Traviata If you want to be transported to Italy, La Traviata is where you should go. This trattoria reminds me of Italy, not only because of their delicious Italian fare but because of the small tables and small spaces in the restaurant. My favorite here is their bolognese with zucchini ribbons, which is the gluten free option (even though I’m not gluten free).
Taverna This place is in a great location (just across from the W Hotel that gets a ton of traffic and celebs) and offers a great variety of pastas, risottos, pizzas, and salads.
Italic Italic has one of the best happy hours downtown (from 2:30 pm to 6:30 pm!), a great selection of Italian wines, delicious pastas pizzas and more.
Numero 28 This place dishes up southern Italian food in the heart of downtown, in a location that is great for people watching. Here you’ll enjoy fresh pastas, oven-fired pizzas, pizza-style panini, small plates, Italian wines, wonderful meats and cheeses, homemade desserts, gelato, and more.
Downtown Austin restaurants: Hotel Restaurants
Trace This tends to be a popular meeting spot for people before heading out for the night, as they have great cocktails, good food, and it’s in the W Hotel, so there’s always a lot of celeb spotting and people watching going on.
Geraldine’s I love this restaurant located inside the Hotel Van Zandt dishing out American food, well-curated cocktails, shareable plates and tons of live music acts. I also recommend having a drink at the bar, either inside or outside while you’re here.
Corner Located inside the JW Marriott, they have a great outdoor space with tons of tvs and is located in a great spot for people watching as well. The food here is good, and I’m a fan of their cocktails.
Trio at Four Seasons Trio is the restaurant at the Four Seaons, and they have some of the best steak fries that I have ever had! This is a great place to grab a bite to eat during SXSW, as there is always a lot of activity and buzz going around at the hotel.
Stella San Jac Located at the Westin hotel, this is ideally situated between the Convention Center and “dirty” 6th street. Pop in for a snack and a few drinks and be on your merry way.
Caroline Caroline offers two bars (one’s a coffee bar that also happens to have alcohol) within the downstairs area, so it’s great to stop in for a quick snack or for a meal.
Downtown Austin restaurants: Burgers
Burger Bar Located just outside the JW Marriott, this fast-casual spot is great for when you want to grab a burger on the go.
Capital Grille If you have time (and a few extra bucks) to throw down for a fancy burger, this is the place you want to go.
Parkside This place on “dirty” 6th street is normally open only for dinner hours, however in the past few years they have opened for the week of SXSW. Their burger here is fantastic, and they also have a great raw bar.
Tumble 22 If you find yourself at Star Bar and fried chicken is your thing, then you absolutely have to try this place. Hands down they have the best fried chicken (in my opinion) in Austin, and if you’re brave and really like spicy food then you may enjoy their fire in the hole heat level. If you don’t like spice fear not, they also have mild spicy levels.
Casino El Camino this place has made national and international best-burger lists, and is located in a no-frills bar on dirty 6th street as well.
Searsucker At this place, you come for the food, and stay for the drinks and the eventual party. The burger here is fantastic, as are the duck fat fries 😉
Second Bar + Kitchen This is my go to for a fancy burger. It starts off with ground brisket and chuck, then they add a shallot confit, tasty gruyere cheese, greens, tomatoes, and horseradish pickles. You can also add foie gras, an over easy egg, avocado, crisp pork belly, or make it double meat double cheese. For a vegetarian option, they can sub tempeh.
Holy Roller My pick here is the Bombshell Buger, topped with American cheese, hashbrowns, ketchup, and a fried egg on top!
Swift’s Attic Three words: Bowling Alley Burger. This baby is made with house ground beef, gooey melted fontina, griddled onions, fancy-ass special sauce, pickle spear, and a sesame seed bun, all for $12.
Contigo Contigo makes one of my all time favorite burgers, and there is a brand new location downtown at Fareground. I recommend also getting an order of their green bean fries, and grab a beer at the central bar.
Downtown Austin restaurants: Coffee Shops
Le Politique Le Politique recently opened a Patisserie and coffee shop, and it’s the perfect place to pop in to caffeinate and get a delicious pastry or macaron for the road.
Merit Coffee A little bit further away from all the SXSW action, this brand new coffee shop serves up delicious coffee drinks (they roast their own line of coffee) and pastries as well.
My Name is Joe This place is great for when you’re out and about and need a coffee or latte on the go. If you have a bit more time you can get some tartines, toasts, and other yummy dishes.
Houndstooth Located in the Frost Bank tower, this place is really well located during the SXSW madness.
Cafe 605 This is a great place to pop into if you’re near the Rainey Street area, which is where a lot of the unofficial brand parties take place. It’s also located at the Hotel Van Zandt.
Jo’s Jo’s on South Congress is where the famous “I love you so much” sign is, and they have another downtown location on 2nd street. Stop in for breakfast tacos and coffee in the morning, or for a salad or burger (or frosé!) in the afternoon.
Forthright As mentioned above, Forthright not only serves healthy food, they have great coffee drinks with alternative nut mylks as well.
Henbit at Fareground Not exactly a coffee shop, but they have a delicious matcha lavender latte and golden milk chai as well.
Caffe Medici Another great downtown spot where you can pop in for coffee and some breakfast tacos in the morning as well.
Downtown Austin restaurants: Sushi
Ni-Komé Another favorite at the new Fareground food hall, they specialize in creative sushi & nigiri plus customizable ramen (including vegetarian.)
Piranha Killer Sushi A great spot for fancy sushi and a pretty sizable menu of all sorts of Japanese fare.
Downtown Austin restaurants: French
Chez Nous If authentic French is your thing, then you’ll love this downtown classic owned by a French family that has been running this restaurant for over a decade.
Le Politique Austin’s newest French-inspired eatery, Le Politique is great for brunch, lunch, and dinner (and everything in-between). Their croque madame is to die for, and the decor is absolutely Insta-worthy.
Peche I love Peche for some excellent moule frites and absinthe cocktails. They’re located right next to Cedar Street bar, where many impromptu shows (like Ludacris) take place during SXSW. They also have Happy hour all night on Sunday and Monday, and from 4-7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. They feature 1/2 off select food and $5 cocktails, so you can’t go wrong there.
There you have it, my ultimate guide to downtown Austin restaurants during SXSW. Make sure to keep this post bookmarked so you can refer to it (and the map) while you’re out and about, and if you live in the Austin area, you can refer to it when thinking about where to eat downtown, since I will be updating if as new places open and if there are any closings. Of course, make sure to follow along as I make my way through SXSW 2018, and reach out to me on Instagram in case you want any specific suggestions or recommendations.
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