February’s unseasonably mild weather and sunshine has Austin waking from winter hibernation even earlier than usual. As you shake off dry January and head out for drinks and conversation with friends and co-workers, here are spots both familiar and new that pair smart and tasty menus with your drinks.
Whether you’re looking for traditional pub grub or modern and elegant dining, there’s something for all palates on this list of best Austin joints for bar food.
School House Pub
The extended family of Mi Madre’s is behind this quaint and always busy bar on Manor Road. The eclectic menu stays true to the spirit of pub comfort food while encompassing global influences. You can grab classics like poutine or patatas bravas, opt for traditional favorites like fish and chips or spicy wings, or — our pick — grab one of the huge veggie or turkey burgers to share.
Hopfields' success stems in large part to sticking to what it feels strongly about: curated craft beer and French comfort food. The bar’s ratatouille and Pascal burger (camembert, cornichons, and caramelized onions) are two of Central Austin’s best bar dishes, and the remainder of the menu is well worth exploring.
Try as we might, it is nigh impossible to visit drink.well. without ordering the spicy kimchi Reuben, an Antonelli’s cheese board, and crispy ancho chickpeas. The small, bustling North Loop bar has experimented with different menu selections over time, landing on a smart, lean selection of salads, appetizers, and well-honed mains like a burger with smoked onion marmalade and a bone-in Richardson Farms pork chop with braised apples and crispy shallots. Bonus points for offering good (salad) and evil (fries) sides with the sandwich selections.
The dark and welcoming confines of Whip In have both caused and cured many a hangover throughout the years. The excellent craft beer selection often has rarities and one-offs but is now joined by smart global wine selections from Wine for the People sommelier Rae Wilson. We most enjoy the breakfast selections — the Mumbai migas with cilantro chutney and the lotus quiche with red chili pepper, green onion, and fried spinach are solid picks. For later dining, the Windy Hill goat sliders on naan bread topped with feta and roasted peppers is a filling winner.
Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza
Stanley’s doesn’t do traditional pub fare, but beer and pizza are no strangers to one another. Set in a spacious field near Dripping Springs, Stanley’s offers the chance to kick back at a picnic table with wood-fired pies while enjoying one of the state’s best beer selections from adjacent Jester King Brewery and Stanley’s own taps. Our favorite pizzas are the traditional red sauce styles with a hint of bitter greens. The Penelope (speck, mozzarella, arugula, tomatoes, olive oil) and the Ferdinand (Italian sausage, mozzarella, oyster mushrooms, caramelized onions) are delightful.
This establishment is a rarity: a beautiful bar where you can order a good whiskey and an excellent plate of barbecue. Pitmaster Evan LeRoy doesn’t seem content to rest on his considerable accolades: His ‘cue continues to get better over time. The Holy Trinity plate (brisket, pork ribs, and sausage) is a good place to start, as are the starters of smoked beets and jalapeño cheese. There’s a massive patio, and some indoor seating. A brunch “barbecue Benedict” plate is offered Sundays.
The kitchen at Weather Up may be the single smallest cooking space in Austin proper. Despite the cramped quarters, veteran chef Kristine Kittrell (Jeffrey’s, El Chile, Mulberry) produces some magic in a small menu with an unconventional point of view. The dishes are sophisticated and match the heft of the strong drinks at the bar. The pan-seared gnocchi with corn, oyster mushrooms, and green garlic is a popular choice, as is the savory wild mushroom and potato crepe. Those needing comfort food needn’t fear. Meat and cheese plates and poutine are here as well.
Drew Curren’s bakery and pub now seems so lived in that it is tough to remember a Sixth Street without it. The craft beer bar is a patio mainstay and a respite from the seedier side of Dirty Sixth offering good food, beer, and whiskey before your next concert or big night out. While the menu offers much to like, the homemade pretzel with beer cheese is a must. The in-house sausages are solid, and we love the flavor-packed vegetarian brat (beets, lentils, and mushrooms). Carnivores should opt for the garlic sausage with a pretzel bun or the kielbasa with griddled onions and mustard.
The beauty of Contigo is that a large group can opt for highbrow or front porch drinking — it’s that versatile a spot. This means that you can dine on rabbit and dumplings, steak tartare with kohlrabi and dill, or mussels with bacon jam, while your friends crush cans of Pearl Snap and snack on pigs in a blanket and chicken wings. If you haven’t been by lately, the shoulder-season weather of late makes for a great excuse to stop by again.
Gourmands Neighborhood Pub
Gourmands brings a touch of old Austin to 78702. There’s a jukebox, patio, darts, and plenty of room to roam. The draw (besides atmosphere) lies in the sandwiches. Portions are generous, and what better to pair with a pint than an Arnold Reuben on marble rye or a “Godfather” Italian hoagie with ham, Genoa salami, and spicy capicola? If sandwiches aren’t enough, opt for the popular broccoli beer cheese soup served in a fresh bread bowl. This isn’t healthy eating, but it’s a great place for casual hangouts, and it's quite kid-friendly.
Hi Hat Public House
Every neighborhood could use a bar like the Hi Hat. There’s frequent live music, a general good naturedness, and a reliable kitchen cranking out comfortable favorites. If there’s an indulgent bar favorite you like, it’s here. Burgers and cheesesteaks share space with duck nachos, five types of tacos, and shrimp mac and cheese. Soups and salads round out the choices, which primarily serve to complement the smart selection of beers, many of which are produced within blocks of the pub.