Like it or not, Austin’s dining public tends to be culinary magpies, flittering from one shiny new restaurant to the next. In doing so, they are missing a lot of great meals. These eight unsung restaurants may not be trendy, and the interiors may be more lived-in than chic, but they deserve every local's attention.
This stridently traditional ristorante may be located in a strip mall, but the dining room is nothing but elegant. The starched tablecloths are white in defiance of tomato sauce, the napkins are carefully folded, and fresh flowers lend the tables grace. Yet, for all that gentility, the place never feels buttoned-up. Go ahead and slurp that spaghetti alla carbonara. Andiamo cares more about the pleasure of the moment than any sense of decorum.
As the Capital City’s cuisine gets ever more showy, there’s something to be said for a place that does the classics right. Nothing about this West Anderson Lane spot is particularly innovative, but what’s not broke doesn’t need fixing. Bartlett’s club salad, mushroom Swiss burgers, and rosemary salt-crusted prime rib are canonical in execution and as sparklingly American as Fourth of July fireworks.
Most of the noodle talk around town centers on that other famous ramen shop, but this Sixth Street oasis makes some brilliant broth of its own. That especially holds true during the summer, when heavier soups can weigh guests down. Daruma’s stocks always offer plenty of zip — from the delicate chicken base used in the shio to the complex fruit and veggie variety anchoring the veggie miso.
Maybe this Bouldin Creek food truck has a magical beaded bag, the kind Hermione Granger used to improbably tote weeks' worth of supplies in Harry Potter. It’s difficult to ascertain just where they put all the ingredients for the lengthy menu, which spans both Japanese and Korean cuisine. Wizardry or not, dishes like Kimcheese fried rice with kimchi and mozzarella, the Waikiki beach roll with soft shell crab, and the spicy ramen soup are simply spellbinding.
Austin has no shortage of superlative Mexican restaurants, from pioneers like Fonda San Miguel to red-hot newcomers like Suerte and Comedor. But none feel as neighborly as this South Austin charmer. El Mesón feels less like a restaurant and more like an extension of chef and co-owner Marisela Godinez’s home kitchen. Her beef Yucatan, cochinita pibil, and grilled parrillada will make you feel like family, too.
Though this North Austin eatery has plenty for the carnivore, including their signature chicken momo dumplings, it is an absolute must-hit for vegetarians and vegans. The gobi Manchurian — crisp cauliflower tossed in a piquant sauce and a final pop of soy — disappears quickly, and the Bombay Brussels, swapping out a tangy mustard sauce for the typical sweet glaze, is equally delicious.
There are no-frills restaurants and then there are no-frills restaurants like this Manor Road window offering gorditas, burritos, and nachos on the cheap. There may be no tables to speak of, but the steady stream of customers don’t seem to mind leaning against the building with a soda from the convenience store next door — especially with one of the city’s best carne guisadas taco in hand.
Tuk Tuk Thai Cafe
Judging by the passionate social media refrains that greeted Tuk Tuk’s reopening in May, it may be a slight exaggeration to call it entirely unsung. Still, this South Austin spot doesn’t get near the attention it deserves. The pineapple fried rice, pepped up with lime, has achieved near legendary status among regulars, but customers who dig deeper will find an outstanding panang curry that effortlessly balances the earthiness of duck with sweet grapes.