Maguro sashimi at Uchi. (Credit: Erica Wilkins)

South by Southwest is a dizzying storm of music, tech talks, movies, parties, boozing and networking. But you still have to take time to eat. Yes, there are tons of parties that offer free food, but visiting local restaurants is a great way to get to know the city.

For out-of-towners (and locals), navigating the restaurant landscape can be difficult. That’s why I’ve created this handy cheat sheet of critic’s picks, broken down by category.

All these restaurants and trailers are within about two miles of the eye of the SXSW hurricane (Sixth and Red River streets, for these purposes). Some of these restaurants may have special events and private parties during SXSW, so it’s smart to call ahead. And some will be impossible to get into. There’s always August.

Chef Todd Duplechan makes “hot weather” food at Lenoir. (Credit: Laura Skelding AMERICAN-STATESMAN)


Barley Swine. 2024 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-394-8150, This is the list’s farthest restaurant from the epicenter, but no distance would keep me from including one of my favorites. Bryce Gilmore’s restaurant serves imaginative farm-to-table dishes on a tasting menu, as well as an engaging selection of beer and wine.

Bufalina Pizza. 1519 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-524-2523, The best Neapolitan pizza in the city and a great Italian wine list at this little East Austin restaurant make the wait worth it. Also try the hand-pulled mozzarella and charcuterie plate.

Casino El Camino. 517 E. Sixth St. 512-469-9330, This dark Sixth Street bar with a rock ‘n’ roll vibe and devil-may-care attitude grills fat, juicy burgers.

Clark’s. 1200 W. Sixth St. 512-297-2525, An excellent cheeseburger is a nice surprise at this jewel box seafood restaurant that features an excellent oyster program.

Congress. 200 Congress Ave. 512-827-2750, One of Austin’s best chefs, David Bull presents fine dining on a level with few equals in town.

Dai Due. 2406 Manor Road. 512-524-0688, Part butcher shop, part restaurant, Dai Due epitomizes the seasonal, farm-to-table ethos with well-executed dishes full of flavor, from French toast with cajeta in the morning to grilled pork chops at night. The best restaurant to open since last SXSW.

East Side King. 900 Red River St. 1618 E. Sixth St. 1816 E. Sixth St. Asian fusion dishes such as beef pho po-boys, Thai-style fried chicken and pork belly hot dogs served at bars in the Red River and East Sixth Street districts. Their most recent addition, Thai Kun at Whisler’s, serves some of the city’s best Thai food.

El Naranjo. 85 Rainey St. 512-474-2776, Renowned Mexico City chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita recently told me that El Naranjo chef/owner Iliana de la Vega is the best Mexican-born chef working in the United States. That’s all the bona fides you need to hear. Her restaurant is an oasis amid the Rainey Street noise.

El Primo. 2100 S. First St. Tiny taco stand serves solid al pastor tacos, and the gentleman behind the operation couldn’t be more kind.

Franklin Barbecue. 900 E. 11th St. 512-653-1187, The best barbecue I’ve had at a sit-down restaurant in Texas. That’s why the lines are so long. That and a blend of cultishness and curiosity. Aaron Franklin smokes brisket with a pitch-black caramelized bark that covers meat that falls apart like red velvet cake. Bonus points: Best barbecue sauces in town.

Fresa’s. 915 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-428-5077, The El Presidente (chicken fajita with pickled carrot, jicama, cucumber, jalapeño and tomatillo salsa) is one of the best tacos in the city. Chef Rene Ortiz made it for President Barack Obama, but we common folks can eat it, too.

Gardner. 1914 E. Sixth St. 512-354-1480, The new restaurant from the Contigo owners lets vegetables be the star (without sacrificing big flavor). And there’s a cool bar tucked away from the main dining room.

Home Slice Pizza. 1415 S. Congress Ave., 512-444-7437, The best New York City-style pizza in Austin.

Hopdoddy. 1400 S. Congress Ave., 512-243-7505, Quality ingredients and thoughtful flavor profiles make for long lines on South Congress.

Jackalope. 404 E. Sixth St. 512- 472-3663, This dive bar serves sandwiches, wings and hot dogs, but the stars of the show are the fat burgers. Try the honey jalapeno bacon burger or the Chupacabra (goat barbacoa).

Jeffrey’s. 1204 W. Lynn St. 512-477-5584, The Austin institution was revamped and redesigned by successful restaurateurs Larry McGuire and Tommy Moorman. The restaurant, with an elegant main dining room and a bar that feels plucked from Manhattan, serves old-school classics like lobster thermidor and a roster of expensive dry-aged steaks.

Mueller Meat Co.2500 E. Sixth St. Old-school barbecue cook John Mueller’s brisket bark is as fierce as his half-joking snarl.

Justine’s. 4710 E. Fifth St. 512-385-2900, Backyard garden fete … Left Bank bar party … this early East Austin adopter brims with personality and style while serving classic French bistro fare (steak frites, mussels) and a chalkboard of nightly specials.

La Barbecue. 1200 E. Sixth St. 512-605-9696, The best barbecue in Austin. Start with the brisket and go from there.

La Condesa. 400 W 2nd St. 512-499-0300, Located in the heart of the 2nd Street District, this upscale Mexican restaurant offers good food and vibrant design in a very social setting. (Recommend: venison tacos, cochinita pibil, tuna tostadas, margaritas.)

La Traviata. 314 Congress Ave. 512-479-8131, This quaint restaurant in the heart of downtown sticks to simple Italian classics. Try the homemade ravioli.

Launderette. 2115 Holly St. 512-382-1599, Chef Rene Ortiz’ new East Austin restaurant defies classification, with a menu that ranges from meatballs to crab toast and charred octopus.

LaV. 1501 E. Sixth St. 512-720-8112, An elegant addition to the scene from wine director Vilma Mazaite and chef Allison Jenkins, both veterans of Aspen’s Little Nell, LaV serves rustic, French and Mediterranean-influenced cuisine and an impressive wine list. Don’t skip dessert. Pastry chef Janina O’Leary is a wizard.

Lenoir. 1807 S. First St. 512-215-9778, At this charming and elegant bungalow, chef-owner Todd Duplechan prepares what he calls “hot weather food,” using local and seasonal ingredients to create flavors that echo hot weather locales like Southeast Asia, India and Africa. One of the city’s best restaurants.

Licha’s Cantina. 1306 E. Sixth St. 512-480-5960, Get a taste of Mexican street food like huaraches with huitlacoche at this rustic bungalow with expansive outdoor seating and great cocktails.

Nobody does crunchy tacos better than Mellizoz.

Mellizoz. 1503 S. First St. This taco truck will make you a believer in the simplicity of a crispy taco stuffed with ground beef and bright, fresh vegetables.

Micklethwait Craft Meats. 1309 Rosewood Ave. 512-791-5961, Tom Micklethwait’s East Austin trailer specializes in inventive and flavorful sausage and makes surprisingly good desserts.

Odd Duck. 1201 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-433-6521, Chef Bryce Gilmore came to attention with his trailer of the same name that focused on farm-to-table dining. This window-wrapped restaurant serves refined rustic food, and the focus remains on local and seasonal ingredients with dishes like grilled lamb with green chile hummus and goat heart tacos.

Olamaie. 1610 San Antonio St. 512-474-2796, Refined Southern food in a sophisticated setting has already earned this new restaurant recognition from the James Beard Foundation.

Parkside. 301 E. Sixth St. 512-474-9898, A raw bar, hearty entrees like duck cassoulet and a solid bar menu (topped by one of the city’s best burgers) make this bistro a blend of Central Texas and the coast.

Paul Qui’s eponymous restaurant will likely be one of the hardest tables in town during SXSW.

Qui. 1600 E. Sixth St. 512-436-9626, The tasting menu at Paul Qui’s eponymous restaurant delivers flavors from the Philippines, Japan, Spain and more. Bonus points: Wonderful cocktails and exceptional service. Good luck snagging a table during SXSW (several special events are being held there).

Red Star Southern. 1700 E. Sixth St. Southern comfort food like fried chicken and pulled pork sandwiches from a chef who also oversees the pastry program for the Parkside family.

Salt & Time. 1912 E. Seventh St. 512-524-1383, This butcher shop sells sandwiches with fresh, quality meat cured or smoked in-house. One of the best Italian grinders in town.

Second Bar + Kitchen. 200 Congress Ave. 512-827-2750, New American on Congress Avenue puts you right in the middle of downtown, and the patio is great for dining and people-watching if the weather is decent. (Recommend: pepperoni soup; seared trout; fried pickles; seared scallops; cheeseburger; bleu cheese, pork belly and medjool date pizza.)

Sway. 1417 S. First St. 512-326-1999, Exotic and alluring, both in design and menu, Sway likely introduced many Austinites to the concept of Australian Thai — a sweet and fresh spin on classic Thai. Get the blue crab fried rice, son-in-law, jungle curry and salt-and-pepper shrimp.

Trio. 98 San Jacinto Blvd. 512-685-8300, You needn’t check into a room at the Four Seasons to be treated like a VIP at Trio. The accommodating and exceedingly polite staff anticipates your needs when guiding you through the restaurant’s steak-centric menu and comprehensive wine list.

Uchi. 801 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-916-4808, Maybe the best restaurant in Austin. World-class sushi just south of downtown, and the fish-ambivalent can find other things they like. (Recommend: Everything.)

The brisket sandwich at Valentina’s Tex-Mex.

Valentina’s Tex-Mex. 600 W. Sixth St. 512-221-4248, A great marriage of Central Texas and Mexico meet on items like a sliced brisket taco with guacamole and serrano salsa.

Veracruz All-Natural. 1704 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-981-1760; 1403 E. Seventh St. 512-318-1830; This growing empire serves the best migas taco in town (and more). Try the quesadillas. And the tortas. Try it all. You may want to call in advance. They make good food, not fast food, as their sign reads.

Via 313. 1111 E. Sixth St. 512-939-1927; 61 Rainey St. 512-609-9405; Two brothers from Michigan operate the two trailers that serve thick, fluffy, cheesy squares of pizza in front of a bar on the east side and next to a bar in the Rainey Street area. Try the Detroiter. Expect a wait. It’s worth it.

Wink. 101 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-482-8868, One of the early adopters of the farm-to-table and seasonal ethos in Austin, this small restaurant executes excellent dishes on a regularly rotating menu that always has a home for foie gras.


Brown’s Bar-B-Que. 1901 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-517-8520, This South Lamar trailer smokes some of the best chicken and pork ribs in town.

Lamberts Downtown Barbecue. 401 W. Second St. 512-494-1500, The fanciest barbecue spot in town, Lamberts smokes traditional meats such as pork shoulder and beef brisket and also has a touch with more delicate items like a smoked trout salad.


Cenote. 1010 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-524-1311, Breakfast sandwiches, bagels and granola in the morning, with an afternoon of sandwiches giving way to bigger dishes like pan-roasted redfish at this café surrounded by a quaint white picket fence.

Counter Café. 1914 E. Sixth St. The second location of the breakfast and lunch diner on North Lamar Boulevard recently opened, serving favorites like crab cakes and eggs and a fat burger.

Jo’s. 242 W. 2nd, 512-469-9003; 1300 S Congress Ave. 512-444-3800, Good coffee, breakfast sandwiches and pastries.

P. Terry’s is Austin’s answer to In-N-Out Burger, and they serve an excellent veggie burger.


El Sapo. 1900 Manor Road. 512-366-5154, More than a dozen burgers with a Tex-Mex twist from the owners of nearby Mexican restaurant El Chile.

Nau’s Enfield Drug. 1115 W Lynn St. 512-476-1221, Wax paper burgers from a grill that features a classic soda fountain with a full pharmacy up front. It doesn’t get much more classic than this Austin institution that opened more than 60 years ago in Clarksville, just west of downtown.

P. Terry’s.404 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-473-2217, Austin’s answer to (and besting of) In-N-Out Burger before we had the California invasion, this retro spot has made its name on the strength of quality ingredients, friendly service and competitive prices.

Sandy’s. 603 Barton Springs Road. 512-478-6322. Thin, classic burgers and small crunchy fries at this drive-thru and walk-up spot with the frozen custard sign. Great deals on burger meals Thursday and Saturday.

Shady Grove. 1624 Barton Springs Road. 512-474-9991, The family-friendly restaurant located amid the grove of pecan trees keeps the crowds coming in with green chile hamburgers, chicken fried steak and queso catfish.


Gus’s Fried Chicken. 117 San Jacinto Blvd., 512-474-4877, No frills at this Memphis import that serves crunchy and tender fried chicken with a little spice kick.

Lucy’s Fried Chicken. 2218 College Ave., 512-297-2423, In addition to solid fried chicken, try the grilled oysters and boudin blanc.


Driskill Grill. 604 Brazos St., 512-391-7162, A throwback piece of Austin fine-dining culture that too often goes overlooked. A great escape feet from the SXSW madness.

Trace. 200 Lavaca St., 512-542-3660, Trace does an admirable job battling the stereotypes that often come with being a hotel restaurant. Service is polite and measured, and the menu is fresh and engaging.

Takoba is located on East Seventh Street and offers plenty of outdoor seating.


 Chapala. 2101 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-320-0308, Great breakfast values and  solid staples like burritos and chalupas. Margaritas for $3 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

 Manuel’s. 310 Congress Ave., 10201 Jollyville Road. 512-472-7555, This sophisticated  Mexican restaurant in the heart of downtown has delivered bright, citrusy ceviche and chile rellenos  since 1984.

 Takoba. 1411 E. Seventh St. 512-628-4466, Great happy hour deals and well-  executed favorites such as torta de carnitas and pozole rojo make this restaurant with multiple outdoor  seating areas a popular East Austin destination.

Zocalo. 1110 W. Lynn St. 512-472-8226, A fresh spin on Tex-Mex at this modernist café in Clarksville owned by the Galaxy Café folks. Try the spicy campechana or the chilaquiles.


The Backspace. 507 San Jacinto Blvd., 512-474-9899, Neapolitan pies as well as charcuterie and a nice roster of antipasti.

Due Forni. 106 E. Sixth St. 512-391-9300, The restaurant serves Roman and Neapolitan pizzas, using two separate Napolitano ovens (hence the name). That means one group of pies with a thicker, fluffier edge and another with thin, crackery crust.

East Side Pies. 1401 Rosewood Ave. 512-524-0933, Cracker crust farm-to-pizza from a tiny walk-up with a little patio for dining. Get the Girther (avocado, blue cheese and roasted onions) and add bacon.

Enoteca. 1610 S. Congress Ave. 512-441-7672, Fine dining restaurant Vespaio’s cute little sister, Enoteca makes very good pizza, piping hot pastas and solid Italian desserts.

Salvation Pizza. 51 Rainey St. 512-499-0105, Thin, crunchy Connecticut-style pizzas at this restaurant in the Rainey Street District.

A selection of sandwiches from Walton’s Fancy and Staple.


Blue Dahlia Bistro. 1115 E. 11th St. 512-542-9542, The shady back patio is something of a secret garden; the menu, an ode to light French cuisine. Serves open-faced tartine sandwiches.

Easy Tiger. 709 E. Sixth St. 512-614-4972, A bake shop, beer garden and outdoor oasis just on the fringe of Sixth Street’s shot bars.

Gourmands Neighborhood Pub. 2316 Webberville Road. 512-610-2031, The website address says it all for these sandwich enthusiasts, who serve more than a dozen original sandwiches (along with snacks, bread-bowl soups, etc.) out of a pub that was once home to a Tejano club.

Walton’s Fancy and Staple. 609 W. Sixth St., 512-542-3380, Ms. Bullock’s adorable café and market makes tasty sandwiches, like the turkey sweet, which comes with bacon, caramelized onion, apple and white cheddar on a croissant.


Arro. 601 W. Sixth St. 512-992-2776, The folks behind Easy Tiger and 24 Diner bring comforting French dishes such as steak frites and croque monsieur to West Sixth Street. Try the frog legs in brown butter.

The Bonneville. 202 W. Cesar Chavez St. 512-428-4643, Despite being located downtown, this spot can be hard to find. Attentive service and dishes like chicken under a brick make the discovery worth the search.

Botticelli’s South Congress. 1321 S. Congress Ave. 512-916-1315, Intimate Italian dining on bustling South Congress, with a patio out back for a relaxing glass of wine and maybe some tunes. Try the homemade ravioli with butternut squash in a brown butter and sage sauce.

Buenos Aires Café. 1201 E. Sixth St. 512-382-1189, A taste of South America in East Austin at this charming café that started on South First Street years ago. The selection of empanadas (spinach, beef, chicken and tuna) are not to be missed. Neither is the steak sandwich with a vibrant chimichurri.

Café Josie. 1200 W. Sixth St. 512-322-9226, Fresh Texas bistro fare like grilled quail and blackened redfish at this understated restaurant that serves lunch and dinner.

Carillon. 1900 University Ave. 512-404-3655, Thoughtful execution and robust flavors come from the kitchen in this high-ceilinged restaurant on the University of Texas campus.

Chez Nous. 510 Neches St. 512-473-2413, A little bit of French class amidst the boozy grumble and stumble of Sixth Street. Try the duck confit or housemade charcuterie.

 The Clay Pit. 1601 Guadalupe St. 512-322-5131, Contemporary Indian food in a lively and  warm space have made this restaurant between the Capitol and the University of Texas campus a hit for years.

 Eastside Café. 2113 Manor Road, 512-476-5858, Comforting dishes that take a  light approach, relying on seasonal vegetables at this quaint house in East Austin.

 East Side Showroom. 1100 E. Sixth St. 512-467-4280, Snack on shared plates  of cheese, coffee-cured pork ribs and mussels with bacon while enjoying a classic cocktail at this whimsical steampunk-inspired spot.

Elizabeth Street Café. 1501 S. First St. 512-291-2881, This posh little spot serves Vietnamese classics like banh mi, vermicelli bowls and soups made with quality ingredients. A great destination for coffee and pastries.

Fixe. 500 W. Fifth St. 512-888-9133, Upscale Southern Food, including a trio of grits and veal brisket, at this spot that opened downtown in December.

Frank. 407 Colorado St. 512-494-6916, Fancy dogs like the Jackalope (made with smoked antelope, rabbit and pork sausage, and topped with cranberry compote) at this fun spot in the middle of the Warehouse District.

Hillside Farmacy. 1209 E. 11th St. 512-628-0168, Pâtisserie and café in the morning, solid deli in the daytime and an evening menu full of bistro classics and oysters, this well-designed space has a little something for everybody.

The roasted pork jowl dish is a signature item at Hightower. (Tina Phan AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Hightower. 1209 E. Seventh St. 512-524-1448, This neighborhood haunt now serves lunch, weekend brunch and dinner, with creative flavor profiles like a dish of ceviche with fennel mojo, popcorn crumble and scallion ash.

Hoover’s Cooking. 2002 Manor Road. 512-479-5006, Get the chicken fried steak, mustard greens and Caribbean rice at this place that serves up comforting, rib-sticking classics with soul.

Josephine House. 1601 Waterston Ave. 512-477-5584, An adorable little Clarksville spot adjacent to Jeffrey’s where meals can range from a grilled manchego cheese sandwich to a curried snapper.

JW Marriott. 110 E. Second St. 512-474-4777, Austin’s largest hotel opened in February and is home to Italian restaurant Osteria Pronto, Texas-inspired bistro Corner, and the street-facing Burger Bar window. Caveat: This is one place on this list I haven’t visited, but given its high-profile location, I thought I should at least share with you the details, since I’m sure people will be curious. If you eat there, feel free to email me and share your thoughts.

Perla’s. 1400 S. Congress Ave. 512-291-7300, Seared halibut, lobster grits, a dazzling array of oysters and good steaks are hallmarks at this restaurant that has a patio made for South Congress people-watching.

Swift’s Attic. 315 Congress Ave. 512-482-8842, Flavorful dishes like braised goat shoulder with smoked tomato and fig ragout at this lively restaurant that dabbles in Asian flavors (see: Korean barbecue flank steak).

Vespaio. 1610 S. Congress Ave. 512-441-6100, This upscale Italian restaurant has been a long-standing staple on South Congress thanks to dishes like their lasagna, cioppino and veal scaloppini.

Zax. 312 Barton Springs Road. 512-481-0100, A friendly atmosphere pervades this restaurant that features a quality tap wall and solid dishes such as Caesar salad, mussels and fries, and pan-seared duck breast. At lunch try one of their pizzas or the pulled pork quesadilla.


Austin Land and Cattle. 1205 N. Lamar Blvd., 512-472-1813, This place feels like old Austin, with its curious decorative touches and laid-back vibe.

Vince Young Steakhouse. 301 San Jacinto Blvd, 512-457-8325, Chef Philip Brown’s charred and ruddy steaks and broad menu selection — from housemade charcuterie to pan-roasted duck breast — draw the crowds as much as the famous name on the outside of the building.

The cochinita pibil taco at El Chilito on Manor Road.


El Chilito. 1623 E. Seventh St. 512-334-9660, Soups, salads and a more than a dozen tacos (vegetarians: try the rajas con hongos) at this East Austin taco stand. Breakfast tacos served all day.

Joe’s Bakery. 2305 E. Seventh St. 512-472-0017, This family-owned restaurant has been drawing crowds for more than 50 years with their perfect crispy beef taco, enchiladas and menudo.

La Mexicana. 1924 S. First St. 512-443-6369, Barbacoa tacos on fluffy homemade tortillas and Mexican pastries make for a great late-night one-two punch at this all-night spot.

Taco Mex. 2944 E. 12th St. The tile-walled cafe has a welcoming vibe and cranks out excellent tacos, from the burnt-orange citrus and spice of pastor to chocolatey mole draped over pulled chicken.

Taco More. 2015 E Riverside Drive. 512-821-1561. Not much in terms of ambiance, but this place serves great tacos and a restorative cabrito consommé.

Takeria DF. 2020 E. Seventh St. 512-619-0715, The DF tells you all you need to know — Mexico City-style street tacos like al pastor and barbacoa. The green salsa is one of my favorites in town.

Tamale House East. 1707 E. Sixth St. 512-495-9504, The grandchildren of the original Tamale House founders carry on the family tradition with wet migas and famous breakfast tacos.

Luke’s Inside Out.

 TRAILERS (non-tacos)

 Bombay Dhaba. 1207 S. First St. Veggie and meat curries make up the heart  of this Indian trailer that offers great lunch combination deals.

 Burro Cheese Kitchen. 1221 S. Congress Ave. Grilled cheese sandwiches  with fancy ingredients like almond pesto aioli and spicy maple bacon sauce.

 Kyoten. 1211 E. Sixth St. Veterans of some of the best sushi restaurants in the city  serve highly sustainable sushi and rice bowls from this East Austin trailer.

 Luke’s Inside Out. 1109 S. Lamar Blvd. Longtime Austin cooking veteran Luke  Bibby serves up one of the best burgers in South Austin (along with nightly specials and sandwiches like a Korean barbecue rabbit) from his trailer outside the Gibson bar.

Three Little Pigs. 1209 Park Place. Longtime Austin restaurant veteran chef Raymond Tatum serves up very good Asian-inspired comfort food from his trailer next to East End Wines.


24 Diner. 600 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-472-5400, Farm-to-table comfort food in a diner setting that does away with the chrome and fluorescent lighting.

Magnolia Cafe. 1920 S. Congress Ave. 512-445-0000; 2304 Lake Austin Blvd. 512-478-8645, Funky and fun, this place is a testament to the fact that pancakes and omelets tastes good any time of the day or night. So do quesadillas.


Bouldin Creek Cafe. 1900 S. First St., 512-416-1601, One of Austin’s true temples to vegetarian and vegan fare, even the most avid meat-eater will be impressed with dishes like portobello fajitas or the zucchini migas.

JuiceLand. Multiple locations. These guys specialize in clever names (Clean and Soba Noodles), big flavor and being able to approximate meaty items with vegetarian ingredients (try the Super Happy Fun Bowl that tastes a lot like a spicy salmon sushi dish).

Leaf. 419 W. Second St., 512-474-5323, Choose from one of a variety of Leaf’s salad options, or make your own with a variety of ingredients, some of which are locally sourced.