If the rate of Austin restaurant closures over the past few years has taught locals anything, it’s that one can’t take anything for granted. Those classic eateries you’ve been meaning to try might suddenly shutter tomorrow, joining the ranks of recent losses like Eastside Cafe, Hut’s Hamburgers, and Ruby’s BBQ.
Instead of always flocking to the next big thing, it’s time to work these tried-and-true eateries into the rotation, ensuring their good eats will be around for generations to come.
Aster’s Ethiopian Restaurant
Though Austin has made strides toward dining diversity in the past decade, it hasn't always been a torchbearer for international cuisine. Still, since 1991, Aster Kassaye’s namesake eatery has wowed locals with dishes like keyi begg wott (an impossibly tender lamb stew simmered in Berbere sauce with loads of pungent garlic) and vegetarian dishes like gomen (Ethiopian-style collard greens). The slightly ramshackle dining room seems frozen in the city’s slacker past, but scooping up lavishly spiced sauces with spongey injera remains eternal.
Dirty Martin’s Kum-Back Place
Current-day fans may not think much about it, but this beloved campus burger joint’s name is a nod to its original 1926 dirt floors. Concrete was poured in the early '50s, but the earthy monicker stuck. Though customers no longer have to worry about soiling their pristine white kicks, this forever favorite still serves greasy flattop burgers that are downright filthy. Still, with newer menu items like totchos and Impossible Burgers, it definitely isn’t stuck in the past.
The Driskill Grill
Blame it on the Capital City’s party loving spirit or architect’s preference for hardly sound-absorbing materials like concrete and glass, but it’s increasingly rare to find local dining rooms that keep the decibels in check. The stately restaurant inside downtown’s most iconic hotel provides an alternative. While the grill’s menu has changed many times since it first opened in 1887, the quiet fin de siècle elegance remains intact. The wood paneling and old-school carpeting dampen any clamor, so the servers can actually hear diners rave about Texas cassoulet and the decadent steaks.
This Tex-Mex classic, a Guadalupe Street staple since 1954, gave Austin a fright in July 2019 when it announced it was throwing in the towel. Two months later, a new ownership group saved it from extinction. Thankfully, the new crew saw no need to tinker with the menu. Diners can still get a full order of bean and cheese nachos for less than $10, and the enchiladas remain proudly bubbling with American cheese.
While plenty of Austin restaurants got caught up in the '10s craze for small plates, chef Hoover Alexander’s signature eatery still knows the value of healthy portions. The hand-breaded chicken fried steak, served with a pool of cream gravy and three choices from a lengthy list of sides, is big enough for dinner and leftovers the next day. Still, value is just part of the equation. While New American cuisine may be all the rage, this Manor Road mainstay proves there is always a need for Southern comfort.
Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop
An East Side standby since the ’60s, this casual cafe delivers with succulent barbacoa, sprightly migas, and delightful pan dulce. Go on Fridays for unexpected lunch specials ranging from meatloaf served with mashed potatoes to rich chicken mole. Go any day for the hominy flecked menudo, one of the city’s most surefire hangover cures.
Quality Seafood Market
With roots in the '30s, the current iteration of Quality settled into its Airport Boulevard home in 1970. Mostly known for its surplus of fried foods like clam strips, popcorn shrimp, and catfish, this seafood stalwart also continues to surprise with less crispy fare. Try the PEI mussels in the luxurious coconut green curry sauce or a salmon taco confettied with mango-pineapple pico de gallo.
How’s this for old-school? This German restaurant and beer garden has been around since 1866. Since then, it has hosted generations of Longhorns fans, state politicos, and locals who want a cold beer on a Sunday afternoon. One of the few places in town to score traditional dishes like jägerschnitzel and currywurst, the restaurant also boasts some clever riffs on its heritage. Order Hill Country sausages made with venison and cheddar or clever, crunchy sauerkraut balls served with sour cream and mustard sauce.