Grumble though locals might about the throngs of people descending for SXSW, most still can’t resist the siren call of excitement happening downtown. But all those people need somewhere to eat.
That’s why we put together this guide of hot spots that will fulfill almost every type of craving. From tacos and burgers to classic French cooking, these spots always satisfy. Stop by for a quick bite before a screening, or save the list for once the clamor dies down.
This Capital City classic, tucked around the corner from the hubbub of Sixth Street, offers a charming respite from the crowds. The Trout Meunière, lightly dredged in seasoned flour and served with a beurre noisette, is kept elegantly unadorned, save for a sprinkle of parsley; the escargot are almost scandalously buttery; and the Ile Flottante, a poached meringue island topped with caramel, toasted almonds, and creme Anglaise, is sure to delight.
This newly opened Austin project from superstar San Antonio chef Jason Dady isn’t trying to reinvent the taco. Instead, the menu is simple, with made-to-order guacamole, a zippy ancho chile tortilla soup, and tacos ranging from traditional carne asada to a vegan tofu al pastor. The house margaritas are equally straightforward — just lime juice, tequila, and Diesel 190, a fancier version of Everclear.
Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que
Parked on Congress Avenue, Austin's location of the classic Llano barbecue joint offers the Texas trinity of smoked meats (brisket, pork ribs, and sausage), plus less expected choices like ribeye, goat, and pork chops. Sides like potato salad, corn on the cob, and mac ’n’ cheese are tried-and-true, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Right in the middle of the SXSW action, this casual gastropub has been feeding festival-goers for more than a decade. Many guests stick to quick snacks like East Coast oysters and the punchy garlic and shallot fries, both ideal with a glass of bubbles. And with entrees like a succulent Dewberry chicken and a Berkshire pork porterhouse luxuriated in a date jus, there’s a torrent of reasons to linger.
This ultra-chic lounge at the Line Austin hotel just opened on March 1, but it has already become one of Austin’s hot spot. Trendy though it may be, the vibe is relaxed, dotted with cushy loungers and communal tables that encourage conversations among the crowd. It also has one of the town’s best pick-me-ups: a Stumptown espresso affogato with a scoop of toasted almond frozen custard and a sprinkle of cocoa nibs.
Known for its classic cocktails, and a whopping selection of absinthe, this Warehouse District charmer equally excels in French bistro favorites like duck confit, pommes frites, and croque madame. On a chilly evening, nothing beats the bouillabaisse, a veritable ocean of fresh seafood swimming in a piquant saffron tomato broth.
Red Ash Italia
Revelers can build a strong foundation for a night of parties with this Italian eatery’s heavenly pappardelle bolognese or a plate of roasted pork and veal ravioli with truffles and veal jus. Homebodies can use the inevitable food coma from a plate of extra thick occo buco as an excuse not to go out. Either way, guests shouldn’t miss the chance to pair it with Red Ash’s exhaustive list of regional reds.
She’s Not Here
This downtown newcomer, decorated in the mints and pinks of a midcentury tropical resort, serves an alluring selection of crisp salads, not-so-traditional rolls, and sushi sourced from both land (Chinese broccoli, woodear mushroom) and sea (salmon belly, blue fin tuna). The most talked-about dish, however, is the king crab butter temaki, a hand roll that lives up to its hype.
Second Bar + Kitchen
One of the restaurants that helped put Austin on the map, this contemporary restaurant still packs ‘em in. Order the tangy grilled Brussels sprouts as a starter or a board of house charcuterie. Then, follow it up with the Congress Burger, a tour de force of ground brisket and chuck, shallot confit, and horseradish pickles glued together with a blanket of Gruyere cheese. (Pro tip: There's also a location up north for those who want to avoid the SXSW rush.)