I build my itineraries around dining and drinking when I visit other cities. I’ll hazard a guess that you do the same. I also field countless emails and texts from friends and visiting writers asking where they should go in Austin to get a good sense of what’s going on in the city.
With that in mind, I devised a game plan for 72 hours of eating and drinking in Austin. Professional gluttons like myself tend to hit multiple spots for dinner (and even lunch), but I tried to make this list somewhat manageable and contained it to centrally located destinations. You can do the whole thing or order a la carte from the menu of ideas.
This schedule doesn’t contain all of my favorite restaurants in town (you can find that at austin360.com/eats), but it should provide a fun and filling snapshot of Austin’s scene. I’m working off a late Thursday afternoon arrival and a Sunday afternoon departure.
Happy hour: Grab a $3 can of cold Austin beer or supercharge your afternoon with a boilermaker on the patio at all-day cafe and bar Better Half, just west of downtown. Their burger is also only $5, if you’re feeling peckish.
Dinner: Texas smokehouse meets Japanese izakaya. No matter where you’re visiting from, you don’t have a place like Kemuri Tatsu-ya back home. Hot Pocketz combine brisket and fried tofu to amazing effect. Start light with lemon-spritzed grilled scallops or sushi-style tuna with avocado before getting into the beef tongue or brisket ramen.
Drinks and late-night: A dive bar with a sense of history despite its relative youth, Nickel City is a good place to get a whiskey and Lone Star and a little rowdy, and its little brother food truck, Delray Cafe, can help you sop up the booze with fried mozzarella or a chili-cheese dog.
Breakfast: The migas taco at the Veracruz All-Natural food trucks (located in East Austin, Mueller and South Austin) may be the best in Austin, and that is saying something. Eggs, cheese, tortilla strips and a fluffy flour tortilla make for textural perfection on a taco that is seasoned just right.
Lunch: Annual James Beard nominee chef Bryce Gilmore’s casual farm-to-table standout Odd Duck serves the city’s best burger and other comforting Texas creations like a fried quail sandwich at lunch. Also, given their exceptional craft cocktails and strong wine list, it’s a great place to start the Friday day drinking.
Dinner: Emmer & Rye represents a touch of sophistication in the sometimes shambolic Rainey Street District. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. Led by founding chef Kevin Fink, the kitchen experiments with and celebrates fermentation, heritage grains and local produce and protein, to stunning effect. The cocktail and wine lists are also excellent, as is service. My No. 1 restaurant in 2018.
Drinks: Half Step serves smart and beautiful cocktails in a renovated cottage that also features an expansive courtyard and wraparound patio, just a couple of blocks from Emmer & Rye, amidst the Rainey rambunctiousness.
Late-night: Need a post-midnight snack? Head to the Via 313 trailer behind Craft Pride on Rainey Street for thick, cheesy, delicious squares of Detroit-style pizza.
Breakfast: Fortify and rehydrate with a cold-pressed juice or smoothie from JuiceLand and then head over to the Paperboy trailer in East or South Austin for a great breakfast sandwich, such as bacon, egg and pimento cheese on a pillowy brioche bun.
Barbecue: You’re in Austin: Time to eat some barbecue. Choose from the following, depending on what you’re after: Franklin Barbecue for the story and the best brisket anywhere; Micklethwait Craft Meats for sausage, lamb and charm; La Barbecue for hot guts sausage and intense sandwiches; Kerlin BBQ for brisket, smart sides and a small line; Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ for the best barbecue tacos you’ve ever had; and LeRoy & Lewis for chefy touches and unexpected offerings such as beef cheek and mac-and-cheese-stuffed quail.
Day beers: Beer: Austin has an embarrassment of riches these days when it comes to breweries. Bounce around East Austin and check out Hi Sign Brewing (IPAs), Hops & Grain Brewing (eclectic and excellent), Friends and Allies Brewing (an assortment of crushables) and Oddwood Ales (wild yeast ales), among others.
Dinner: Suerte represents the best of modern Mexican cuisine in Austin. They nixtamalize local corn in house to create the masa used for beet tostadas, green chorizo tlayudas, sublime brisket tacos and more.
Drinks: Head to the intimate Small Victory, tucked into the corner of a parking garage, for quality cocktails and some speakeasy-inspired privacy.
Late-night: Want to go late and maybe get a little loose (and eat steak frites)? Justine’s French brasserie is the spot, a mix of Left Bank-meets-backyard party where the vinyl is always on point.
Brunch: Even if you’re jumping on a plane in the afternoon, you still have time to get Sunday Funday started at June's All Day. Stroll Austin’s premier tourist drag, South Congress Avenue, before popping into this stylized charmer that looks like a mashup of the Peach Pit and a French cafe. Lighter palates will enjoy an appetizer board with pastrami salmon on bialy, while bigger appetites can attack a juicy cheeseburger or fried-chicken sandwich. Something everyone can agree on? One of the coolest wine lists in town. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up staying until Monday after all.