Sometimes a restaurant is just a restaurant, but a neighborhood eatery has a way of working into people’s lives. It’s where birthdays are celebrated and proposals are made. With little pomp, they become integral to what makes Austin Austin.
Each year, we send a love letter to the city by honoring the Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year as part of the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards. Before we announce the winner at our annual blow-out party at the Bullock Texas State History Museum on April 10, we’re taking a moment to trumpet the nominated restaurants that always feel like home.
Better Half Coffee & Cocktails
For the past few years, Austin has opened a bevy of all-day restaurants — a term meant to telegraph the wide appeal as much as the opening hours. Arguably, no other restaurant in town embodies the idea as effectively as this stylish West Austin newcomer. Whether stopping by for a ham biscuit and iced coffee in the morning, a cheeseburger at lunch, or a cocktail at night, guests know they will find a fast friend in Better Half. That’s exactly what a neighborhood eatery is supposed to be.
District Kitchen + Cocktails
South Austin deserves more restaurants like this neighborhood gem. Chef Amir Hajimeliki serves the United Nations of dishes, ranging from Moroccan lamb kabobs to pappardelle bolognese, while pastry chef Dennis Van quietly concocts some of the most innovative desserts in town. The bar is far from being incidental, serving rock-solid classics like Manhattans and Sazeracs and creative originals like a drink using butterfly pea flower tea-infused Nikka gin that one might more readily expect at the haute bars downtown.
Foreign & Domestic
Here’s one indication that this North Loop mainstay has worked its way into Austin’s heart: Locals call it simply F&D. That casual familiarity is usually found in places that only serve burgers and fries, but owners Nathan Lemley and Sarah Heard turn the tables with a snout-to-tail menu that explores everything from venison tartare to fried pigs ears. They get away with the more challenging fare because customers trust the chefs' palates. Guests may find the ingredients unfamiliar, but there’s the promise that the meal will be delicious.
If you ask a regular what they like about this campus gastropub, they’re likely to point to the outrageously luscious Pascal burger, but it’s really the salade niçoise that shines. Far from being an afterthought, the eatery makes it a showstopper with a flutter of butter lettuce, seared yellowfin tuna, boquerones, haricots verts, bitter olives, and a sharp aioli that sings when paired with a citrusy lager. Hopfields didn’t have to try this hard with that dish — almost nobody does — but the extra mile is one of the secrets to its longevity.
June’s All Day
When most Austinites think of comfort food, they might conjure a chicken fried steak draped off the edge of a plate or the delightful monochrome of cheese enchiladas served with rice and beans. They pale in comparison to the Capital City’s coziest dish: June’s matzo ball caldo. The soup may seem pricey at $21 an order, but there is no more affordable luxury within city limits — especially when enjoyed on a Monday night with a half-price bottle of bubbles.
After a decade of business, this East Austin brasserie hasn’t lost a bit of its shine. The dining room, painted the deep crimson of the Moulin Rouge, has its charms, but nothing in Austin is more glamorous than the patio, where the carnival lights draw in the city’s most beautiful fireflies. The menu is tailored to the Central Texas demimonde, complete with buttery escargot, steak frites, and a transcendent pork chop.
When a local asks where they should take an out-of-town guest, the answer inevitably comes in like a Greek chorus: Launderette, Launderette, Launderette. It’s not much of a surprise. The interior is hip without being precious, and the wine selection is curious without an ounce of snobbery. The food is approachable but not homogenous, and no other restaurant makes humble avocado toast into such a celebration.
Clad in pale wood paneling, this Crestview deli’s interior is the definition of no muss, no fuss. The sprawling menu, however, is anything but. Dozens of sandwiches vie for customers' attention, ranging from Italian subs to a brazenly gooey grilled cheese. Then, there’s the pizza, which is perpetually named the best in Austin. The No. 7 probably got its name from the order it appears on the menu, but its pepperoni, roasted garlic, and cherub tomato combo is a taste of seventh heaven. We’d like to think that Saint Peter is waiting with it at the pearly gates.
McGuire Moorman Hospitality has splashier concepts, like the country club luxe of Jeffrey’s or the Parisian cafe cool of the aforementioned June’s. This West Austin trailer is the group at its most easygoing. Start the evening with the Deep End cheeseburger and a potent drink like the rum and Herbsaint Johnny Utah. Then spend the rest of the evening playing pool at Deep Eddy Cabaret next door.