Austin's steady growth over the past five years has brought dramatic change in Central Austin: from skyscrapers to hotels, the signs of "New Austin" are evident everywhere. Less discussed, though, are the changes now happening outside the city center.
Southwest Austin now finds itself full of residents ready to spend on high-quality dining. As a result, new establishments are opening south of Ben White to big crowds and great feedback. Here are our picks not to miss when you're next in the 'burbs.
A more casual project from the group behind Uchi, St. Philip has attracted steady crowds to Sunset Valley since opening in 2014. The menu is now gradually changing under the guidance of former Uchiko chef de cuisine Page Pressley. Pressley has added new items like a towering bruschetta, which employs a base of avocado topped with marinated tomatoes and onions, radish, egg yolk and fresh greens for a starter (that one could reasonably order as a full lunch). The ricotta dumplings are another hit; the rich dumplings are lightened with fresh, bitter flavors from diced pea pods and the aromatics of mint. This is also an Austin menu that works for vegetarians: there's a indulgent broccolini sandwich with ricotta and sunflower seeds on a thick country loaf and an excellent cauliflower side prepared with Mediterranean notes of yogurt and raisins. There's ample patio seating here, and a bakeshop filled with everything from donuts to homemade hazelnut "Twix" bar for carry-out dessert.
A longtime secret of East Coast expats, Wholy Bagel's New Jersey owners replicate the comforts of a New York deli as well as anywhere in Austin. The star here is the bagel, and like Austin's barbecue scene, if you come late, you may be greeted with a "sold out" sign long before the scheduled 3 pm closing. For first-timers, ordering the Nova Lox sandwich is imperative: the lox (brined salmon) is matched with red onion, capers, tomatoes and a scallion cream cheese in what we'll simply call breakfast perfection. Other sandwich options include a solid Reuben with a light dusting of Russian dressing and sauerkraut or a burly breakfast special of Taylor ham, fried egg and cheddar. While you're here, grab a variety of bagels and freeze them — they're that good.
After accruing rave reviews on Rainey Street and East Sixth Street as a food trailer, the Detroit-style pizzas of Via 313 recently made a brick-and-mortar debut in the quiet suburbs of Oak Hill. The restaurant occupies the former Flores space, though you wouldn't know that given the redesign. The thick, square pies are here, as is a nicer selection of craft beers than you'll find anywhere else in Oak Hill. The seating is a mix of booths, four-tops and counter space, and the restaurant is full nightly by about 6 pm. You'll also find a new thin-crust "bar pie" on the menu and a limited selection of appetizers like meatballs, stuffed artichokes and cheese bread. Hours are dinner only, but the restaurant expects to add lunch service in early summer.
Sichuan River quietly took over the Tien Jin space late last year. The resulting menu has been a delight to South Austin's Sichuan fans, thanks to a number of dishes that were previously tough to find nearby. On our visits, highlights have included the salty, crunchy, sautéed green beans, which are served in huge portions suitable for group sharing. The spicy mala fish filets are another winner, as is the Chong Qing (dry-fried with chilies) chicken. For those even more adventurous, items like pig elbow, sour trotters and chicken feet with pickled peppers are available. The service here is polite and friendly, and the tables are filled with regulars. It's a much-appreciated addition to Westgate.
While the pizzas at Pieous get plenty of attention, we'd argue that the real reason to visit is the pastrami. The moist and peppery beef is perhaps the best we've seen in the city — though we're not exactly in the city here. You can purchase it on a platter with pickles, onions, bread and mustard, but we prefer to buy it solo — barbecue-style — and share it with friends along with a pie or two. Among the pizzas, the aggressively spiced House on Fire (soppressata, spicy onions, mozzarella and Calabrian peppers) is our pie of choice, but those preferring less heat can opt for the sweet and salty Bacon Bleu with arugula and bacon marmalade. Lines can be long: Go for a leisurely lunch rather than when you're in a hurry.