Al Fresco Dining
Isn’t it charming when you walk by a restaurant, drive by a bakery or bike past a café and see diners sitting outside enjoying a meal? It somehow feels so cosmopolitan. International, even. Five or six years ago, it would have been difficult to generate a list of good restaurants in Austin that offered al fresco dining. But the dining scene has evolved — as has Austin.
Today, there are countless spots in the city that serve delicious food to patrons who prefer to sit outside and enjoy the temperate climates (not counting June, July and August). The hard part is determining which venues are the best. No worries, that’s our job. We’ve done our homework and devised a short list of some of the city’s finest outdoor dining venues (in no particular order). Bon appétit.
91 Red River, 512-480-2255, grajmahalaustin.com
This ultra-casual Indian spot in the city’s Rainey Street District is the perfect place to chill with friends or family. Find a table under the raj tent and take in the scene, notably the colossal bike-art sculptures from the Austin Bike Zoo.
Start off with the incredible naan and then work your way through the menu, which features everything from pakoras (five seasoned vegetable fritters served with mint and tamarind chutneys) and chana masala (a vegetarian dish of tomato, ginger, and stewed chickpeas) to chicken tikka masala (bird topped with a creamy tomato sauce) and tandoori shrimp marinated and baked in the tandoor. You’ll want to linger over a bottle of wine (BYOB).
Trio at the Four Seasons
98 San Jacinto Boulevard, 512-685-8300, triorestaurantaustin.com
We look forward to brunch on the patio at this elegant dining venue that offers one of the city’s best views of Lady Bird Lake. The setting is pristine, from the chic décor to the manicured lawn, and the food is delightful. Menu offerings such as made-to-order eggs Benedict, Richardson Farms pork tenderloin, and pan-blackened grouper make it rather difficult to select only one item, so we like to share plates. Sip on a glass of Champagne and settle into an Adirondack chair while you pass away a lazy day.
2027 Anchor Lane, 512-614-2260, contigotexas.com/austin
The vibe at this East Austin space is relaxed, friendly and cool. Co-owner Ben Edgerton, a San Antonio native who gave up on Madison Avenue to open a restaurant fashioned after his family ranch in South Texas, hit it just right — the perfect storm of laid-back ambience, hand-crafted cocktails, upscale comfort food and the great outdoors.
Converse with friends (or total strangers) at the communal picnic tables underneath the rows of strung lights while you nosh on co-owner and executive chef Andrew Wiseheart’s mussels bathed in yellow curry, coconut milk, and mint; rabbit and dumplings; crispy green beans with sambol aioli (warning: highly addictive); or pork liver paté with eggplant fritters and Contigo Ranch honey. The menu at this hot spot changes daily.
1601 Waterston, 512-477-5584, josephineofaustin.com
This beautiful spot in Clarksville is the latest venture by restaurateurs Larry McGuire and Thomas Moorman, the duo behind Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar, Elizabeth Street Café, Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon and Clark’s Oyster Bar. The interior, with its white-painted wooden walls, small tables and eye-catching floral arrangements, feels fresh and inviting, but on a beautiful day, we prefer to sit outside in one of the wicker chairs perched on the lawn of this stylish refurbished cottage.
Executive chef Libbey Goldberg, who spent six years at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, is committed to using as many products from local farms as possible — and the results continue to wow.
Olive and June
3411 Glenview Ave, 512-467-9898, oliveandjune-austin.com
The outdoor spaces on three different levels at this Italian venue in West Austin are some of the loveliest in the city. We often find ourselves here under the canopy of trees sipping on an Aperol Spritz or a glass of white wine while savoring the moment. It could just be us, but the first-level patio seems to be more subdued than the others (perhaps it has something to do with the adjacent bar on the second-level terrace).
We like to nibble on everything from gemelli (pork sausage, white wine, arugula, garlic, and fennel) to grilled branzino (with apples, hazelnut, watercress, agrodolce, pancetta, and parsnips) — a few of the myriad creations by chef-owner Shawn Cirkiel (of Parkside fame). We’re looking forward to more days here.