When things get uncertain, have a great meal.
Concerns over COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, have led to the cancellation of South by Southwest. The guess here is that many people (maybe mostly locals and other Texans) will still visit Austin for some music and an attempt to escape their anxiety-filled days. In that case, those good and fearless folks are going to need somewhere to eat in downtown and near East Austin.
Of course, there’s also a chance that Austin will feel like a relative ghost town in mid-March. Many of the restaurants below won’t benefit from the foot traffic associated with the festival, so they’ll definitely be hungry for your business. And, as this March might be tamer than any in recent Austin memory, that means it’s a good chance for you to make it into one of our many fine restaurants.
Whatever happens, restaurants are going to need your support during this uneasy unique time. Just remember to wash your hands. Often.
Some of the major food groups here ...
Franklin Barbecue. 900 E. 11th St. 512-653-1187, franklinbbq.com. Stand in line for a few hours and not only will you have some new friends and a good story, but you will also have access to world-class brisket. And with a taco truck now parked on site, you can enjoy Franklin Barbecue’s smoked meat in a tortilla while you wait.
Kerlin BBQ. 2207 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-412-5588, kerlinbbq.com. The brisket at this East Austin trailer is good on its own or stuffed inside a kolache for the ultimate Central Texas treat.
La Barbecue. 2027 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-605-9696, labarbecue.com. Some of the best barbecue in Central Texas. Start with the brisket and hot guts sausage and go from there.
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue. 401 W. Second St. 512-494-1500, lambertsaustin.com. The fanciest barbecue spot in town, Lamberts smokes traditional meats such as pork shoulder and beef brisket and serves some of the best side dishes of any barbecue spot in Austin.
Micklethwait Craft Meats. 1309 Rosewood Ave. 512-791-5961, craftmeatsaustin.com. Inventive and flavorful sausages and items such as pulled lamb that you won’t find at many other places. Sides and desserts are also stars here.
Counter Café. 626 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-708-8800, countercafe.com. You can almost reach over and touch the grill at this modern diner that pairs eggs with crab cakes, quail, steak and pork chops.
Cenote. 1010 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-524-1311, cenoteaustin.com. Stop in for coffee, breakfast sandwiches, scrambles, bagels and granola.
Jo’s. 242 W. Second St. 512-469-9003, joscoffee.com. Good coffee, breakfast sandwiches and pastries in the 2nd Street District.
Juan in a Million. 2300 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-472-3872, juaninamillion.com. Juan in a Million has been putting out Tex-Mex classics such as huevos rancheros and breakfast tacos for more than 30 years. Expect a line.
Paperboy. 1122 E. 12th St. paperboyaustin.com. The breakfast sandwiches are beautiful representations of the form, with fluffy brioche buns and perfect sunny-side-up eggs.
Casino El Camino. 517 E. Sixth St. 512-469-9330, casinoelcamino.net. All red and black, this cavernous Sixth Street classic has a devilish attitude and serves up thick, aggressive burgers.
Chicon at Fareground. 111 Congress Ave. contigotexas.com/fareground. The owners of Contigo serve their popular burger in Austin’s first food hall.
Dean’s One Trick Pony. 111 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-473-1570, thelinehotel.com/austin. The casual spot at the Line hotel serves a burger smothered with queso. Uh huh.
P. Terry’s. 515 Congress Ave., No. 130. 512-473-8722, pterrys.com. Patrick Terry’s patty empire runs on humanely raised and antibiotic-free Angus beef and chicken. For the record, my order is a double with bacon, cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, onions and jalapenos.
Second Bar + Kitchen. 200 Congress Ave. 512-827-2750, secondbarkitchen.com. This New American restaurant on Congress Avenue puts you right in the middle of downtown and serves an incredibly juicy burger with mildly funky gruyere.
24 Diner. 600 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-472-5400, 24diner.com. Farm-to-table comfort food like a fried chicken sandwich in a modern diner setting. Pretty much always open.
Delray Cafe. 1133 E. 11th St. 512-987-4294, nickelcitybar.com/#delray. Yes, many food trailers are open late, but this one gets recognition because it’s connected to one of the great late-night drinking spots (Nickel City, the former Longbranch Inn) and serves straight-ahead renditions of classics like chili dogs and chicken wings.
Justine’s. 4710 E. Fifth St. 512-385-2900, justines1937.com. A blend of style and grace, Justine’s offers a unique dining experience, whether you’re sitting at a small table in the dimly lit intimate dining room listening to vinyl or out under the trees and twinkle lights. The party goes until late.
P. Terry’s. 404 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-473-2217; 515 Congress Ave., No. 130. 512-473-8722, pterrys.com. Get yourself a double with bacon and jalapenos (or a veggie burger, if you’re into that sort of thing) until early in the morning.
Via 313. Multiple locations. via313.com. These thick squares of pizza are my favorite thing to eat after a night of drinking.
Cisco’s. 1511 E. Sixth St. 512-478-2420, ciscosaustin.com. Breakfast, lunch and now dinner tacos are served, along with migas plates, fajitas and more at this Tex-Mex staple that has been in business for almost 75 years.
Dai Due Taqueria at Fareground. 111 Congress Ave. daiduetaqueria.com. One of the city’s best restaurants now has a taqueria (think wild boar al pastor on homemade tortillas) in Austin’s first food hall.
Joe’s Bakery. 2305 E. Seventh St. 512-472-0017, joesbakery.com. This family-owned restaurant has been drawing crowds for more than 50 years with their perfect crispy beef taco, enchiladas and menudo.
Licha’s Cantina. 1306 E. Sixth St. 512-480-5960, lichascantina.com. Get a taste of Mexican street food such as huaraches with huitlacoche and superb tacos such as beef tongue and grilled chicken thigh with morita-orange salsa at this rustic bungalow with expansive outdoor seating areas.
Pueblo Viejo. 502 Brushy St. 512-373-6557, puebloviejoaustin.com. The tacos are, of course, the stars. But the five salsas, from the smoky dusk of an exceptional black habanero to the morning glow of creamy jalapeno, make for a great supporting cast.
Tamale House East. 1707 E. Sixth St. 512-495-9504, facebook.com/tamalehouse.east. The grandchildren of the original Tamale House founders carry on the family tradition with wet migas and famous breakfast tacos.
Counter Culture. 2337 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-524-1540, countercultureaustin.com. Try the Philly cheesesteak with seitan or the jackfruit barbecue sandwich at this vegan restaurant in East Austin that also serves many gluten-free dishes.
JuiceLand. 120 E. Fourth St. 737-300-2120; 2601 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-351-8349, juiceland.com. Find grab-and-go vegan dishes packed with impressive flavors, from Mexican and Thai-inspired wraps to falafel and an assortment of snack packs.
Mad Greens. 419 W. Second St. 512-213-0160, madgreens.com. Build your own salad from the array of options at this national chain, or order one of their house specials.
WHEN SOMEONE ELSE IS BUYING
Comedor. 501 Colorado St. 512-499-0977, comedortx.com. Architect Tom Kundig has created a sleek but stirring minimalist canvas on which chef-partner Philip Speer and executive chef Gabe Erales have painted a colorful and stunning statement about the possibilities of Mexican dining in Austin. Sart with scallop crudo and build toward the tangy and sumptuous double-cut pork chop.
Hestia. 607 W. Third St., No. 105. 512-333-0737, hestiaaustin.com. The handsome restaurant overlooking Shoal Creek is arguably Austin’s most ambitious. You can sense the care that goes into creating a stunning roster of snacks like scallop mousse in a tempura shell, and the kitchen, fueled by a live-fire grill, does muscular as well as it does delicate.
Juniper. 2400 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-220-9421, juniperaustin.com. The Italian restaurant shows restraint while also leaning into comfort without having to resort to red sauce cliche. It’s a classy and confident restaurant that wants to please as much as it wants to impress you.
Pitchfork Pretty. 2708 E Cesar Chavez St. 512-494-4593, pitchforkpretty.com. Chef Max Snyder, whose résumé includes world-class Eleven Madison Park in New York and two of San Francisco’s finest restaurants, applies thoughtful technique and artful plating to food often associated with comfort and country.
Suerte. 1800 E. Sixth St. 512-953-0092, suerteatx.com. Suerte has earned the dining public’s attention with a strong narrative, understated and authentic design and consistent execution and their suadero tacos are a contender for the modern Austin dining hall of fame.