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A SXSW festgoer's guide to Austin's many new restaurants

Mike Sutter

Welcome to the boomtown, South by Southwesters. We've had an explosion in our central-city restaurant population since the last time you were here:

Congress is the flagship of a three-part venue — with Bar Congress and Second Bar + Kitchen — to showcase the talents of former Driskill Grill chef David Bull. In the spare elegance of Congress, the menu brings together four courses for $65 or seven courses for $95. Dishes might include rack of lamb with cardamom yogurt, grilled rib-eye with foie gras beurre rouge, beef tartare with fried oysters and desserts such as grapefruit sorbet with Campari pop rocks. The wine list is 20-plus pages, and the Bar Congress lounge is doing some of the city's best cocktail work: hops-infused gin, bourbon with allspice dram, absinthe with egg and cream and more. 200 Congress Ave. 827-2760, .

Second Bar + Kitchen brings a more casual lineup of pizzas, soups, small plates and hearty dinners to the Congress family. Entrée prices run from about $12 to $28, with smaller bites to fill the gaps: short-rib croquettes, black truffle fries, pepperoni soup and avocado fundido. There's wine on tap (I said it), a curated roster of local beers and a sticky toffee pudding with bacon ice cream, all in a space that feels like a high-design diner. 200 Congress Ave. 827-2750, .

Haddingtons combines a serious chef (Zack Northcutt) and mixologist (Bill Norris) for a unique gastropub, where you might start with truffled egg custard or Scotch eggs then move to grilled trout and lamb pie while sipping on a duck-fat Sazerac or a $48 bottle of Belgian champagne-style beer. 601 W. Sixth St., 992-0204, .

Barley Swine represents Austin's keep-it-local, keep-it-eclectic movement, arising from the success of chef-owner Bryce Gilmore's farm-to-market trailer called Odd Duck. In his new brick-and-mortar restaurant, Gilmore does small plates that combine elements such as scallops with duck cracklings or sweetbreads with Brussels sprouts, even crispy pig's foot with soft-boiled egg. Beer gets the same respect a sommelier would give a wine list. 2024 S. Lamar Blvd. 394-8150, .

Franklin Barbecue, the trailer that's made a national name for itself with brisket as rippled with character as the history of barbecue itself, closed last week because it's moving indoors Saturday, taking over the former home of Ben's Long Branch BBQ. 900 E. 11th St. 653-1187, .

Backspace is the pizza-parlor sibling (and next-door neighbor) to chef Shawn Cirkiel's East Sixth Street bistro called Parkside. From a $12,000 Italian pizza oven, Backspace produces Neapolitan-style pies and antipasti dishes such as white beans with guanciale and octopus with blood orange. Backspace and Parkside will be open for lunch and dinner for SXSW from Friday through March 21. 507 San Jacinto Blvd. 474-9899, .

Hopdoddy gives South Congress Avenue another reason to be as crowded as the Wisconsin statehouse. A group including restaurateurs from the Roaring Fork and Moonshine and the owner of the Continental Club have put together a burger place that bakes its own buns, shreds its own beef and makes its own ice cream for shakes. Good choices include a seared tuna burger with wasabi and fried seaweed, a turkey burger on a grain-studded bun and a lamb burger dressed like a Greek salad. 1400 S. Congress Ave., Suite A. 243-7505, .

Vince Young Steakhouse shows how much we love our former Texas Longhorns quarterback. The steakhouse staples are here: wedge salad, lamb chops, crab cakes, cheesecakes and high-dollar bone-in rib-eyes the size of a national championship trophy. Pick up a bottle of Chateau Margaux signed by Young for around a thousand bucks. 301 San Jacinto Blvd. 457-8325, .

Trace, the restaurant at the new W Austin Hotel and Residences, has carved a specialty niche by having an on-staff "forager, who will scour the local earth, skies and waters for chef Paul Hargrove's meat and produce." Trace just started a daily happy hour from 4 to 6:30 p.m. with $5 cocktails, small plates and "drunken doughnuts." 200 Lavaca St. 542-3660, .

Worth the drive

Outside downtown, a few places of note have sprung up:

Uchiko might seem like the second home for people who can't get a seat at Uchi, Austin's renowned Japanese sushi bar and fusion grill. But thanks to chef Paul Qui, Uchiko has its own personality, bringing inspiration from the Philippines (where he was born), Vietnam and Thailand, most explosively in a fried chicken dish called karaage, with a crackling thin shell around tender meat. 4200 N. Lamar Blvd., No. 140. 916-4808, .

Foreign & Domestic is emblematic of the high-low movement, showcasing high-end technique in a scaled-back setting. The husband-and-wife team of Ned and Jodi Elliott have almost 20 years' experience between them working for Michelin-starred places like Per Se, Gramercy Tavern and Bouley in New York. But they see Foreign & Domestic as a casual place that might have venison-heart tartare with fried pig's ear on one night, or octopus and scallops with squid ink and chorizo on another, or something as simple as slices of prized Tennessee ham. 306 E. 53rd St. 459-1010, .

Takoba is a plot of high urban design bordered by a gas station, a palm reader and the melancholy grandeur of the State Cemetery. The menu features Mexican standards — ceviche with shrimp, guacamole, tortas with pork al pastor, a chile relleno as cinnamon-scented as a sweet roll — but Takoba is a taqueria at heart. Pork carnitas are still done the way owner Jose De Loera's father does them: slow-braised and smoked over a wood-burning pit. 1411 E. Seventh St. 628-4466, .

The Noble Pig shows off what two serious cooks can do with a tiny strip-mall sandwich shop. What they do from scratch includes baking bread, grinding sausage, pickling vegetables and curing meat. What they do with all that is make sandwiches with respect: a BLT with pork belly and roasted tomato, duck pastrami with sour rye pickles, Creole catfish and deviled eggs with curried yolk. 11815 N. RM 620, Suite 4. 382-6248, .

Black Star Co-op symbolizes Austin's euphoria for beer with four housemade brews on tap, the best Austin and Texas tap lineup in the city and over-achieving food that includes toffeed beer nuts, all-meat chili, housemade charcuterie and pickles, even braised pork with sweet potatoes and greens. 7020 Easy Wind Drive, Suite 100, at the Midtown Commons near Airport and North Lamar boulevards. 452-2337, .

The Juicebox & Soup Peddler are the hub of what I call Hangover Recovery Central. The pocket-sized shop dishes out restorative smoothies, juice shots and artisan soups in the Austinville 78704 development that includes Papalote Taco House, Phil's Icehouse for burgers and Amy's Ice Creams. 2801 S. Lamar Blvd. 804-2474, .

Soleil and Uncle Billy's Brew & Que bring broiled trout and barbecue, respectively, to the Lake Travis dinner-and-a-sunset club whose only member used to be the Oasis. Soleil is an upscale but unpretentious concept from Houston chef Robert del Grande with Italian pastas and pizza, plus grilled steaks and seafood. Uncle Billy's brews its own beer to go with modestly priced barbecue plates. At Lake Travis near the Oasis at 6550 Comanche Trail. Soleil: 266-0600, www.soleil . Uncle Billy's: 266-0111, .

Vaya con Dios

The boom goes both ways, blasting away a few places you might remember from last time.

Katz's, the 24-hour deli on West Sixth Street.

Jaime's Spanish Village, the Mexican restaurant on Red River Street.

Mother Egan's, the Irish pub and former SXSW venue on West Sixth. The building was torn down, and a bar called the Dogwood has taken its place.

The Shuck Shack, a fried-seafood place with outdoor game pits on East Cesar Chavez Street.

Kyoto, the sushi bar on Congress Avenue where you might have lined up for happy hour.

Restaurant Jezebel, the French-Indian-Caribbean fusion laboratory of chef Parind Vora on Congress Avenue, which burned during the summer. If you need a fix, try Vora's newest restaurant, Braise, at 2121 E. Sixth St. 478-8700, .