Dive restaurants have an inexplicable allure. Cozy and inexpensive, there’s an unpretentious approach to everything offered, from eclectic vibes to crazy good food.
We in Austin appreciate the weird, and there’s no shortage of unusual yet wonderful eateries in this town. We took a look at the beloved dives of Austin that have a strong following of loyal customers and an unassuming neighborhood charm. They’re not modern, they’re not trendy, and we like it that way. Here are the top 10 dive restaurants in Austin.
Four words: Broccoli beer cheese soup. Located in an old Tejano nightclub, Gourmands dishes out delicious and affordable sandwiches, salads, and soups alongside pingpong, foosball, and darts. There’s an urban grittiness to the restaurant served with a side of punk rock that makes it a neighborhood favorite.
Pull up a chair and let the ladies behind the bar take care of you for an evening. There’s a weathered feel to Quality Seafood, which originally opened in 1938. Located off Airport Boulevard, must-order items include bacon-wrapped scallops, blackened salmon, and grilled oysters. Don’t miss out on $3 Taco Tuesdays featuring mahi mahi and shrimp tacos or Lobsterfest Saturdays featuring entire lobsters, flown in fresh from Maine that morning, for $25.
This one’s contentious. Yes, we’ve had horrible service here. Yes, the restaurant recently failed the health exam in January (Polvos has since turned around its score), but we can’t seem to get enough of the Mexican dive that is Polvos. The drinks are handmade, strong, and reasonably priced, and you can’t go wrong with an order of queso — with the works, of course (ground beef, guacamole, and pico de gallo). For a cheap date night, order the chicken/beef fajita combo to share. That, along with a Mexican Martini will leave you full and buzzed.
Pho Saigon Noodle House
For a piping hot bowl of noodles with the most tender of meat, pho-get about it, you need to head to Pho Saigon in North Austin’s Chinatown Center. Order a sinfully sweet Thai iced tea to accompany your pho, and be amazed when the bill comes and you’ve spent under $10. The shopping center is worth visiting too for fresh-baked bread from Texas Bakery and bubble tea from Short N’ Sweet.
Nubian Queen Lola’s Cajun Soul Food Cafe
If the name isn't a mouthful already, your meal certainly will be. The rich, Southern comfort food served at Lola’s is some of the best you’ll find in Austin: huge portions of catfish po’boys, fried chicken, and pork chops and irresistible sides like cornbread and macaroni and cheese. Owner Lola Stephens gives back to her East Austin community by closing the restaurant on Sundays to serve the homeless in the eatery’s backyard.
A visit to East 12th Street’s Taco-Mex is a little like visiting the home of your abuela. With kitschy religious decor and cute signs on the wall donning sayings like “Never trust a skinny chef,” this is one of Austin’s hidden gems when it comes to quality Mexican food. Have a seat, receive full service from the friendly staff, and enjoy Tex-Mex favorites that are cooked to perfection. We highly recommend any of the customizable breakfast tacos or the massive enchilada plates.
Located on the side of I-35, you’ve probably driven by the tiny Aster’s building at one point or another. For the right price you can enjoy traditional Ethiopian stews like wot and alichi served with injera bread. The plates are quite large and range from $12 to $15. You can also get a taste of East Africa with Ethiopian beers Bedele, Harar, or Meta.
While you may know Broken Spoke for two-stepping and country music, the honky tonk also serves a mean chicken-fried steak. You can also enjoy burgers, Mexican, and barbecue offerings while you take a break from dancing. Operated for over 50 years in South Austin, Broken Spoke offers a truly Texan dining experience with an unbeatable atmosphere.
The sign says it all: Burgers, dogs, drinks, beer. What more do you need to know? This East Sixth Street dive serves up quintessential bar food on the cheap. We recommend the Frito pie, garlic jalapeño ranch bacon burger, and the Capitalist Pig BLT washed down with a local brew. Don’t miss out on Sputnik’s happy hour that runs from 3 to 7 pm and offers $4 pints, $4 house wine, and $10 single-malt scotch.
Head to the swamps for this Louisiana-inspired dive. With intriguing appetizers like gator bites and frog legs, this restaurant keeps the Cajun-Creole culture alive in South Austin through traditional plates and live music that will make you feel like you’re walking the streets of New Orleans. Other must-try dishes include seafood gumbo, crawfish etoufee, and the muffuletta sandwich. Evangeline Cafe has a mom-and-pop vibe with walls and ceilings filled with over-the-top funky decor.