History of Austin
The 9 restaurants that changed Austin's dining scene forever
It is no secret that Austin is on an international trajectory, with people flocking here from all over the globe due to our abundance of sunshine, award-winning parks, music venues, and increasingly dynamic restaurant scene.
Gone are the days when Tex-Mex ruled the town and meals were eaten on the go en route to a show. These days the meal is the show, and Austin is establishing itself as a culinary destination appealing to foodies all over the spectrum.
From meat lovers waiting in line at Franklin Barbecue to food connoisseurs carefully watching chefs preparing meals at Counter 3-FIVE-VII to hordes of tourists catching culinary tour buses to sample typical Austin cuisine like breakfast tacos, brisket, gourmet donuts, vegetarian/vegan offerings, and good ol' Southern-inspired comfort meals, Austin's dining scene has never had so much to offer.
In reflecting on where the city's culinary scene is going, it's important to remember how it got here. Austin has been fortunate in that a number of restaurants have not only survived, but thrived since the early days of serving locals. And lucky for locals today, many of these storied places are still serving the classic fare that has kept on them on the scene for decades.
Established in 1866, this historic establishment is the oldest operating business in the Lone Star State and the oldest operating beer garden in the country. Scholz's achieved historic status in 1967 and has long served as the unofficial headquarters for Longhorn fans and journalists covering the legislative session. The restaurant and bar has a huge outdoor patio and was once one of the few places in town where customers could relax and find shade under the elm trees. Today, Scholz's is increasingly surrounded by the University of Texas campus and Dell Medical School, but it remains a popular gathering spot for locals.
This popular restaurant was started in 1953 by the legendary Harry Akin. His restaurants were the first to be integrated in the city. Today, a single restaurant, The Frisco, remains on Burnet Road, serving plenty of comfort food and desserts to an established base of customers.
Hut's has been serving hamburgers, fries, onion rings, and other delicious foods since 1939 to an eclectic mix of locals, hipsters, and celebrities including Willie Nelson and his bandmates. Originally located on South Congress, Hut's moved to 807 W. Sixth St. in 1969. Behind Hut's is Frank & Angie's Pizzeria, another long-running shop serving pizza and pasta dishes. The restaurant is also owned by Hut's and originally opened in 1955.
Cisco's Restaurant & Bakery
Cisco's has been an East Austin staple since 1943. Serving breakfast and lunch daily from 7 am-2:30 pm, Cisco's has a storied history as a politico hangout, and even counted President Lyndon B. Johnson as a frequent patron. Still family-owned and -run, the migas and biscuits are not to be missed.
Hoffbrau was started in 1932 by brothers Robert "Coleman" Hamby and Thomas Hamby. They originally delivered ice, and when refrigeration was introduced, the brothers bought land (they each paid $125) on West Sixth Street to start a restaurant. Hoffbrau is still owned and operated by family members and serves steaks, salad, potato wedges, and chicken breasts. Hoffbrau also owns the Rustic Tap Beer Garden next door.
The Tavern sits at 12th Street and Lamar Boulevard and is instantly recognized for its "The Tavern — Air Conditioned" neon sign out front. The property was purchased in 1916 and served as the Enfield Grocery store until 1931. (In fact, "Enfield Store" is still carved on the outside of the establishment.) Afterwards, it briefly became a steakhouse before turning into The Tavern in 1933. Today, the restaurant still serves burgers, wings, queso, and sandwiches, as well as plenty of beer, wine, and liquor. The upstairs patio is rumored to have at one time hosted a secret speakeasy and is said to be haunted.
Dirty Martin's Kum-bak
This longtime campus eatery has been on Guadalupe Street since 1926. It is a favorite of both neighbors and UT students, as well as alumni, and even former football coach Mack Brown. Originally called Dirty's because of its dirt floor, the floor is long gone, but the food remains tasty as ever with burgers, fries and tater tots, fried pickles and jalapenos, and even veggie and turkey burgers to choose from. There are also multiple television screens to watch sporting events (preferably UT games). Dirty's also serves alcohol and hosts live music and private events in its new backroom bar.
Matt's El Rancho
Matt's El Rancho restaurant began on Cesar Chavez Street (on the current site of the Four Seasons Austin) and moved to its present location on South Lamar Boulevard in 1986. Known as "The King of Mexican Food," Matt's El Rancho serves Tex-Mex and had many firsts, including lime margaritas; Mexican seafood dishes; and the famous Bob Armstrong dip (queso with guacamole, taco meat, and sour cream added to the dip). Although the original owners Matt and Janie Martinez, are now deceased (as is local politician and regular Bob Armstrong), the restaurant is still family owned and run by the Martinez children.
And finally, a nod to one restaurant that has vanished from the Austin scene but altered it forever ...
Katz's Deli, also located on West Sixth Street, was opened in 1979 by the colorful Marc Katz. By 1985, Katz's was serving meals 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Katz's Never Kloses was its motto, and most Austinites remember grabbing a late-night bite at one time (or at least seeing the ubiquitous yellow cab parked in front). After a few bankruptcies and family squabbles, Katz's closed its doors in January 2011. Gone, but certainly not forgotten.