Where to Eat Right Now
Where to eat in Austin right now: The 6 best downtown lunch spots
Jan 12, 2015 | 9:34 am
As 2015 gains momentum, those working in Central Austin will often have cause to book a business lunch with their colleagues, bosses, clients or recruits. While there are dozens of downtown options, the following list reflects our picks for the workday classics. These are restaurants nice enough to appeal to the food-focused, formal enough in tone to make out-of-towners feel comfortable, and cost-competitive enough to not get your per diem revoked.
David Bull’s perennial favorite strikes a modern balance between comfort and craft. The menu has something for all tastes — burgers, pizzas, sandwiches, fish, pasta and soups are all available — and are all on point after years of menu refinement. For those who know Bull from his Iron Chef appearance and culinary awards, the price points here may surprise you: The most expensive lunch option is $18, but most plates run in the $12 to $16 range. The little things are done well here: condiments are homemade, and there’s an extensive “zero proof” list of non-alcoholic drinks and sodas for mid-day propriety. If your job is cool enough that you’re imbibing, the beer list is well-curated and often locally focused. One final advantage of Second is seating: the large room and patio mean you can usually get a table without much hassle, though the restaurant does accept reservations for six or more. Our picks for your visit: the black and bleu pizza, the part-brisket “Congress burger,” and the pepperoni soup.
The team at Swift’s Attic runs one of the most hopping restaurants in downtown Austin, but harbors a secret: Swift's is also open for work lunches. During our numerous mid-day visits, the crowds have been modest, a stark contrast to the usual evening mob scene here. The kitchen doesn’t do pedestrian food for lunch, either. There’s an otherworldly Porkstrami with jalapeño kraut, fontina cheese and Russian dressing that we order nearly every time. There’s also a daily soup, a huge burger, and a business lunch of a half sandwich plus soup or salad for just $8. Shareable snack plates are also solid for friendlier work lunches. There are blistered shishitos, mini San Antonio puffy tacos, and warm Brussels sprouts for $6 to $7 each. Five pricier main plates round out the list, though you may not need them. This is a great chance to sample the Swift’s kitchen at bargain pricing (and without elbowing your way in to boot).
Chef Andrew Curren’s 24 Diner runs a booming lunch business, and it’s easy to understand why. The large dining room is full of convivial folks (we spotted Andy Roddick here not long ago) enjoying Curren’s popular and elevated takes on American standards. The menu includes extensive 24-hour breakfast options, the most popular item from which is the chicken and waffles. Curren takes a softer approach to the waffle, likely to contrast with the texture of the crispy fried chicken breast and thigh sitting alongside it. The breakfast menu’s veggie hash is also a winner even at lunch, with a runny egg binding a mix of potatoes, spinach, roasted mushrooms, avocado and Swiss cheese. For those looking for afternoon fare, entrees like chili, meatloaf and (on Tuesdays only) chicken and dumplings are all worth your time.
Six years in, La Condesa remains a downtown favorite. After the departure of highly regarded Chef Rene Ortiz, the menu has continued to evolve and impress under the guidance of Chef Rick Lopez. Lunch at La Condesa is a great way to show out-of-towners the fresher, more thoughtful side of Mexican cooking. The four salsa appetizer is a must, as is the weird and wonderful hongos y huitlacoche, a dish featuring farmer’s cheese, wild mushrooms and corn smut — yes, corn smut, which is a delicacy. We also love the “acelgas” veggie tacos with butter beans, spinach and toasted garlic, and the veggie sides, especially the Brussels and the elotes. The aguas frescas here are also a treat, and lunch pricing is reasonable given the downtown location and posh atmosphere. Lunch mains run from $10 to $16, though the table may want a starter or two to round out a hearty lunch.
Like the other entrants on this list, Max’s isn’t new to Austin, but the food has never been better. Chef Erika Beneke is a rising star and a Chopped champion, and has added a seasonal rotation of dishes and some extra flair (such as game dishes) to Max’s comfort-heavy lineup. The fried chicken ($16.50) is an excellent choice here, served with mashed potatoes, Texas toast and collards. The shrimp and grits is a close second. Sure, Max’s has become a chain, but the Texan spirit still shows in the vibe and the cooking. It’s a crowd-pleaser sure to earn you a nod of thanks from your co-workers.
Finally, what do you do with the heavy-hitter from out-of-town who wants a “real Austin barbecue experience?” Unless you’d like to hire someone to wait in the Franklin Barbecue line during the first half of the work day, the best bet downtown is Lamberts. Larry McGuire’s creation still does crazy business thanks to a strong kitchen and management team. (Also, they take reservations and they’re indoors.) Lunch here isn’t cheap, exactly, but good barbecue rarely is. The three meat plate runs $19 at lunch. We’d suggest the brown sugar and coffee brisket, the maple pork ribs and the jalapeño sausage. For sides, the bacon collards and the mac and cheese are musts, though to cut through the heaviness we usually get the carrot and jicama slaw. On the beverage side, there’s Stumptown coffee for the work afternoon, or a tremendous by-the-glass wine list from June Rodil if you’re celebrating a new account (or something generally awesome).