Nothing showcases Austin’s growth over the last few years like a wander through the east side. Whether shopping local, touring artist studios, or hunting for the best brew, you can find it all east of I-35. So, it would be impossible to present the best date night spots in Austin without giving East Austin its own spotlight.
The best way to categorize it is to look at four major thoroughfares: East Cesar Chavez Street, East Sixth Street, East 11th Street, and Manor Road. We’ve picked the best new spots on each street for you, opened no earlier than 2014 — and as recently as last month.
East Cesar Chavez Street
Working eastward down East Cesar Chavez, Launderette will be your first stop. Located on Holly Street, the ex-laundromat oozes a Mad Men vibe without overdoing it. From retro starburst lamps over the bar to tropical birds on a gold backdrop in the bathroom, every detail signals a carefully curated design that balances groovy with refined. The effect is stylish yet inviting, modern but friendly and warm. Even the exterior neon sign welcomes you to the neighborhood like a beacon of good things to come. And good things do come.
Chefs Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki created a Mediterranean-meets-NOLA-inspired menu with something for everyone. The crispy pork ribs positively slid off the bone, while Brussel sprouts with apple-bacon marmalade have convinced us there is no other way to enjoy such delicacies. As for the drinks, the wine list equally accommodates both taste and budget, while the negroni would hold its own in a battle for Austin’s best.
Tillery Kitchen + Bar
Opened just last month, Tillery Kitchen + Bar is on course to become one of East Austin’s rising stars. The intimate atmosphere feels like a backyard dinner party at a friend’s house. Cozy up by a fire pit in the cushioned courtyard while enjoying cocktails and stunning lake views. Quaint patio tables and stringed lights manage to contrast but not compete with sexy wood paneling throughout, floor-to-ceiling glass, and a loft-style interior.
To eat, Tillery serves to-die-for in-house pastas. Go on, try the pork confit with asiago pappardelle for yourself. We only passed up the leek pesto Fettuccine in favor of the pork confit, but tough decisions like that just provide excuses to go back. Another highlight was the humble side skewer of beef, served at request with the seasonal Greek salad: a modest choice, perhaps, but it certainly put the "tender" in tenderloin.
For drinks, try their twists on classics like the sage margarita and mezcal old fashioned. With warmer weather upon us, we can’t wait to return for mint juleps and more.
Finally, Juniper was an East Cesar Chavez trailblazer when it opened in fall 2015. Chef Nicholas Yanes prepared for his new venture by traveling through Northern Italy, and thankfully for us, he was inspired to bring that experience back to Austin, creating a menu of inventive classics that connects Northern Italy with Central Texas.
His unique interpretation can be seen across the menu: from innovative items like housemade tater tots to classics like chicken liver mousse with preserved citrus, dark chocolate, and lavash cracker. Juniper is (of course) the theme: a cool juniper-inspired color palette runs throughout the interior; an artist’s rendering of a juniper tree lines the wall behind the bar; and the cocktail program features several gin offerings, which gets its flavor from the juniper tree.
The Chef’s Favorite Negroni — where a little less juniper in the gin brings out the sweetness of Campari and Vermouth — quickly became our favorite too. Pair one (okay, two) with dessert: the staple Milk + Honey (a scoop of chamomile frozen yogurt over oats and a honeycomb base) and the unbelievable Ricotta Zeppoli (sugar-flecked homemade doughnut holes with espresso ganache). The whole experience is a work of art.
East Sixth Street
The sister restaurant to Contigo, Chicon opened last spring as the replacement of shuttered Gardner. The laid-back menu and design showcases the team’s commitment to community. And shareable plates on the exposed patio mean that if you come for an intimate date, you should also be prepared to bump into a friend or two.
This new iteration fits both the Contigo team and the neighborhood just right, providing an equally intimate space for a romantic evening and a fun, comfortable environment to relax with family or friends. Highlights include pork rolls, whipped feta dip, and goat gnocchi, with seasonal cocktail favorites like the New Delhi Mule (vodka, grapefruit, ginger beer, honey, cardamom) and the Figgy Stardust (mezcal, fig, amontillado, peach leaf).
The happy hour and weekly specials are some of the best deals in town. Happy hour extends all night on Thursdays, and Sunday steak night (our favorite) features $28 12-ounce local rib-eyes. As the group listed on a recent Instagram post, “Come for the steak, stay for the whiskey and wine.”
East 11th Street
Paperboy focuses on our favorite thing: breakfast, and breakfast alone. In 2015, owner Ryan Harms teamed up with local chef Zecheriah Perez (most recently of Odd Duck) to craft a menu of open-faced toasts (both sweet and savory), breakfast bowls, and delectable sandwiches using the freshest ingredients from local farms. The menu includes goods from Milagro Farms Eggs, Mill-King Dairy, Animal Farm, B-5 Farm, Tecolote Farm, and Phoenix Farm, all paired with a stellar coffee program that exclusively features Tweed Coffee, the roasting company behind Austin’s own Houndstooth Coffee.
Our favorite was the sweet potato hash, which we waited for while sipping house coffee and skimming a daily newspaper. Best enjoyed outdoors on these fabulous days that only February in Texas can offer.
Another new-but-already-staple East Austin establishment is Dai Due, sprung from the supper club fantasies of chefs Jesse Griffiths and Tamara Mayfield. For almost a decade, whispers of a brick-and-mortar brewed, born from Griffiths’ famous pop-up dinners in borrowed spaces around Austin and at local farms. Between the wildly successful pop-ups, a trailer at the local market, and an acclaimed cookbook (Afield), Griffiths managed to garner both national attention and a growing fan base before finally opening a brick-and-mortar in 2014. The result was worth the wait.
Everything on the menu — everything — is as local and as seasonal as it comes. Between Tuesday burger nights (dry-aged Wagyu with tallow fries) and the mouthwatering a la carte menu, dinner will give you the most glorious meat sweats Austin has to offer, but brunch is, hands down, the best in town. We recommend splitting biscuits and gravy with venison sausage (always add the egg) or the sourdough pancakes with macerated peach, Mexican cinnamon bacon butter, and grilled bacon.
Prefer a romantic meal at home? The market and butcher shop provides take-out meats, breads, and pastries that will be sure to impress your date.