With SXSW in town, locals and visitors alike are looking for places to duck into for a drink and a bite throughout the festivities. Whether you're in search of something quick between sessions or a place to get away, here is a list of the best restaurants and bars to check out.
In the thick of the action
This popular restaurant and bar at Hotel Van Zandt, a preferred location of visiting celebs, serves an upscale menu of Texas-inspired cuisine by chef Stephen Bonin for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s a strong focus on local and seasonal ingredients, with lots of veggie-centric options. We are big fans of the crunchy ceviche tacos, the pig face candy bar, and the barbecued short ribs, but check for recently added items too. You can’t go wrong with the cocktail program from barwoman extraordinaire Jen Keyser, which includes Far from the Tree, the current Official Drink of Austin.
This casual Japanese corner offers great people-watching from the patio on South Congress, as well as happy hour food and drink specials Monday-Friday from 4-6 pm, including $2 Kirin and Lone Star beers, $5 sake punch and wine, $6 select sushi and maki rolls, and $7 select appetizers. The menu boasts new items such as the Build Your Own Bowl (BYOB), with your choice of rice, meats, and veggies, and two kinds of ramen: the umi miso ramen, a spicy miso seafood broth with Pacific escolar, Gulf shrimp, shiitake mushroom, white onion, napa cabbage, and yellow corn, and the robot ramen featuring shoyu pork broth with seared pork belly, wood ear mushrooms, bean sprouts, and ajitama egg.
Numero 28/Alimentari 28
This Italian duo offers a one-two punch of flavor and hospitality. Alimentari is the perfect spot for a vast selection of grab-and-go sweet and savory pastries, breads, panini, as well as a properly made espresso, fresh pressed juice, and homemade gelato. Next door, Numero 28 is a neighborhood trattoria perfect for a sit-down lunch or dinner, snacks and cocktails, or a glass of wine on tap.
Smack in the middle of Sixth Street, this classy oasis offers a killer weekday happy hour from 5-6 pm, featuring half off bar menu items and beer and cocktails. Plus, the already famous Bubbles Wednesday offers a chance to go high-end on the cheap, with half off all sparkling wine and oyster platters.
Second Bar + Kitchen
Chef David Bull and team are prepared for the masses to hit the Austin restaurant during the festival, so they are simplifying things by serving one menu only during all meal times. It includes items appropriate for any time of day, including Texas eggs Benedict, a selection of thin-crust pizzas, grilled flank steak with warm potato salad, and those infinitely addicting black truffle pommes frites. Cocktail and wine programs are stellar, as is the lively atmosphere, but be warned of the crowds during peak hours.
Waller Creek Pub House
This laid-back pub offers a sidewalk patio up front and a shady creekside retreat for maximum outdoor drinking and dining. The food menu is straight-forward pub grub, but everything including condiments and dressings is made in-house. Highlights include the Fancy Asian fries, topped with Sriracha, roasted peanuts, cilantro, hoisin sauce and lime mayo; the T.A.B.L.E sandwich (a BLT with avocado and a sunny side-up egg); and the burgers (add jalapeños for a true Austin take). In March, the pub is spotlighting Kalamazoo, Michigan-based Bell’s Brewery as the featured brewery of the month with $5 pints of Bell’s all month long.
Walton’s Fancy and Staple
During the full run of the festival, the cozy deli on West Sixth Street will feature SXSW-inspired seasonal cocktails for $8, including the Party Thyme, Excellent (tequila blanco, ruby red grapefruit juice, and house-made thyme syrup). Plus, every Wednesday in March they’ll feature a selection of happy-hour-priced specials from 4-7 pm, including an artisan cheese board served alongside Texas honeycomb and preserves, candied nuts, fruit, and lavash cracker bread; smoked trout rillettes; sunchoke hummus; and beef tartare. This is also a good spot to grab a hearty breakfast, cold or hot sandwiches, salads, and sweet treats.
Away from the madness
Boiler Nine Bar + Grill
Close enough to the action, this cool spot offers three different spaces, menus, and vibes to get away from the hustle and bustle. Chef Jason Stude has added new sandwiches to the lunch menu, like the Oak Grilled Pimento Cheese, made with cheddar and raclette, tomatoes, and fresh basil. Deck Nine Observatory Bar just reopened for the season and is the perfect spot to sip cocktails on tap accompanied by picnic-style foods. You can always escape to the Boiler Room basement bar, where time is irrelevant and cocktails from Jason Stevens are always on point.
Looking for a quiet spot with great food and drinks? You can hardly do better than this Clarksville favorite, where you can enjoy lunch happy hour featuring half-priced drinks and a gourmet dinner of all-you-can-eat small plates for $45. The global-influenced menu is varied and features seasonal local ingredients on every dish. This is the perfect place for a business dinner to seal that deal.
The swanky restaurant at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center on campus will be offering a special three-course dinner menu for $35 from March 7-18, featuring innovative spring dishes inspired by Texas flavors and made with Texas ingredients. The elegant and quiet atmosphere — just a few blocks north of downtown — is an ideal escape from the festival’s crowds and noise.
The newest project from the Ramen Tatsu-Ya team has already become a favorite among locals on the east side. The Texas-influenced space, a reflection of owner and chef Tatsu Aikawa’s Japanese background and Central Texas upbringing, is a full-service restaurant serving smoked meats, yakitori, ramen, and izakaya classics with local flare, like the octopus fritters topped with Texas chili, cheddar, and smoked jalapeños. Decor is fun and funky, a combination of classic Japanese tea house and Texas roadhouse, and the cozy patio should prove perfect this time of the year. Enjoy sake, beer, and unique signature cocktails.