Memorable Graduation Dining
10 favorite Austin restaurants to celebrate college graduation
Congratulations to the graduating class of 2016! It’s the big day, so where do you go to celebrate in style? Our list has dining options for large groups that offer a taste of true Austin.
With a variety of cuisines and settings that are perfect for gathering family and friends, you can't go wrong with these selections, guaranteed to provide a memorable meal.
Located lakeside with a touch of Austin kitsch, where else but in Austin can you find Tex-Mex done with a Polynesian twist? With tropical drinks, great service, excellent location, and fun keepsake T-shirts, start with Hula Hut's pu-pu platters for sharing and move on to Hawaiian fajitas or the Pipeline Enchiladas. The specialty cocktails will add a festive note to toasting the grad.
The Salt Lick BBQ
For family gatherings you cannot beat The Salt Lick. The beautiful drive through the Hill Country is worth it for the renowned brisket, rustic setting, and live music outdoors. It’s BYOB and cash only so be prepared before you make the drive. The menu includes a la carte items but if you want the real experience, we recommend the family-style offering, which includes all-you-can-eat beef brisket, sausage, pork ribs, potato salad, coleslaw, and beans with bread, pickles, and onions on request ($24.95 per person, $8.95 for kids 11 and under, free for kids 3 and under). Buy a cookbook for the grad or parents and savor the memories long after the big day.
If your group prefers something closer in that gives that Texas barbecue flair with an Austin setting, look to the County Line. The original is located in a historic speakeasy and boasts a 20-mile Hill Country view with truly magnificent sunsets. The other location is on Lake Austin just off 2222. Both locations accommodate family groups and will take reservations for large parties if you like to plan ahead. The menu boasts three different family-style offerings as well as a la carte selections. Best of all, if your grad develops a craving after leaving Austin, the County Line will send the ultimate care package via AirRibs.com.
Matt’s El Rancho
Legend has it that Matt Martinez started selling tamales at the Capitol in 1923 at the age of 6. Then in 1952, Martinez and his wife, Janie, opened an Austin original: With seating for 500, Matt's El Rancho still makes everything from scratch including its margaritas with fresh-squeezed lime juice. You can choose from breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but whatever time your family gathers you will get an authentic Tex-Mex experience. Often imitated, this is the real deal. Must-try items are Bob Armstrong’s Queso (often named the best in Austin), Mexican Martini (don’t drink more than one), and the brisket tacos that melt in your mouth. Accommodations can be made for private parties, large groups, and celebrations.
They call this a South Texas-style icehouse with a menu that features Texas oddities, and it is the perfect place to take family and friends if you want to try to explain why "Keep Austin Weird" is the motto of the city. The menu includes frog logs served over poblano mashed potatoes, camarones rellenos, divorced quail and trout, and one of the best rib-eye steaks you will ever taste. The decor can only be described as eclectic Southwestern with a touch of Catholic iconography. The tequila and mezcal selection is unsurpassed, and the bartenders are among the best in town. It is a good time guaranteed. In order to avoid a wait, make reservations ahead of time.
While Sway may be a relative newcomer to the Austin dining scene, you cannot beat it for a memorable family-style dining experience. Named one of the best new restaurants in the U.S. by Bon Appetit, Sway offers two types of group dining reservations, which require a minimum of 10 guests. The chef’s menu option includes a number of favorites from the Sway menu, including fresh shucked oysters, prawn miange, green curry, and tiger cry. Lunch and dinner options are available, and reservations must be booked at least 24 hours in advance.
The second option is Moo Sway, a family-style feast that is only available for two groups each day. Moo Sway features an off-the-menu Thai-style pork shoulder, a dozen freshly shucked oysters, jasmine rice, and assorted sauces. Moo Sway also comes with an assortment of favorites from the regular menu.
Stubb’s Gospel Brunch
If your celebration falls on a Sunday, let the spirit move you at Stubb's Gospel Brunch. In the 1970s, Stubb's became the epicenter for barbecue and blues, and some of the best-known Austin musicians got their start in this juke joint. The culinary live music tradition continues and the gospel brunch is always a favorite. The buffet menu includes migas, brisket, fried catfish, sausage, biscuits, chicken, and Southern grits. The make-your-own Bloody Mary bar allows you to create a custom cocktail. And then there is the music … Hallelujah and amen, we have a graduate in the house! All of this merriment for a reasonable cost of $21-$25 per person with kids 10 and under for $9. Reservations well in advance are a must.
Dim sum anyone? Opened just last year, Wu Chow has been getting excellent reviews. Featuring dishes representative of all eight styles of Chinese cooking, and Saturday and Sunday dim-sum brunches, it is just the place for a family celebration. The dumplings are addictive and the Beijing roast duck requires a 48-hour order in advance. The decor is hip and modern. The cuisine is classic with a twist. It all adds up to an impressive experience. Reservations for large parties are highly recommended.
Founded 27 years ago, Eastside Cafe was one of the first restaurants on Manor Road, and was a pioneer in the urban farm-to-table movement. Using herbs and vegetables grown on-site, the location is a bonus (close to campus), and it takes reservations. It serves brunch, lunch, and dinner with everything made from scratch including many vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. Situated in a cozy bungalow, even the hipster family members will find something to love here. The must-try menu items are the homemade feta salad dressing, seasonal soups, and cornbread muffins.
Moonshine is located in a historic building that originally housed a mercantile store, known as the Waterloo compound built in 1852. Later acquired by the Reissig family who added a saloon and domino parlor, Moonshine maintains the comfortable and welcoming atmosphere while serving some of Austin’s best cocktails and innovative takes on classic comfort food. From the homemade pickles and cheesy grits to chicken and waffles, green-chile chicken macaroni and cheese, and the signature skillet apple pie, the culinary hits keep coming. With a menu that boasts something for everyone, the meal is certain to be memorable. Be aware that Moonshine seats on a first-come, first-served basis. Valet parking here is a plus.