Where to Eat in December: 10 go-to restaurants for holiday cheer
Editor's note: For this piece, we asked our staff to pick their favorite Austin restaurants to celebrate the holiday season. We found that people overwhelmingly chose traditional haunts: old hotels, Austin staples and —of course— a Chinese take-out restaurant. Below are the places where we join together with friends and family to continue in our traditions and to celebrate another year come and gone.
I'm hoping to check out Arro's happy hour sometime this holiday season. Their traditional melted raclette over vegetables or ham is the perfect comfort food during a cold snap. The Swiss eat it in the Alps, so it must help you stay warm.
- Meredith Bethune
If you’re looking for a more sophisticated dinner for the season, there’s always something cozy and inspiring about The Carillon. Though you won’t find dishes laden with any particular Christmas theme, you will find a well-appointed prix fixe menu (Three-course for $50 or six-course for $70) thoughtfully designed by executive chef Josh Watkins and pastry chef Plinio Sandalio.
Choose from items such as Thai cured hamachi with black garlic and puffed rice, mussels with chorizo and saffron or the signature crispy pork belly with Asian pear salad and Diablo glaze to build your evening meal and revel in the experience with friends and family. Between the food, excellent wine selection and kid-glove service, a special dinner here sets a delightful holiday tone.
- Jessica Dupuy
The Driskill, The Bonneville and Contigo
I take my family to the Driskill when they visit for the holidays. The Christmas tree alone inspires a surge of holiday spirit, and the lounge area is lit with warmth and light from the fireplace. They also have a ton of Christmas events, such as holiday music, a tree lighting and afternoon tea services.
The Bonneville is doing a special French Canadian menu for Christmas Eve which looks delicious — featuring poutine and tourtierre from Chef Jennifer's hometown. I also can't wait to warm up at Contigo by sampling from their hot toddy menu.
- Veronica Meewes
This is great because it's well priced and has delicious hot chocolate, something that is much needed to recover from the many falls we take while attempting to skate. My boyfriend and I started going in college, and we love going back because we seem to get worse every year. We also make sure to whip out our phones to take videos of each other. The videos are even better at this rink because it's so small that when you fall, everyone turns and around and see it.
- Elizabeth Burke
While sister restaurant Vespaio is repeatedly lauded (and rightfully so) as one of the best restaurants in town, I have always preferred Enoteca. Last year, I came to Enoteca on a cold night in December to celebrate Christmas with a dear friend. Dark and cozy, and manned with an incredibly friendly staff, this is just the kind of place I want to sip a glass of wine, twirl my fork through some tagliatelle con funghi and celebrate the season.
- Katie Friel
Perhaps it’s the many reruns of the movie A Christmas Story I saw while growing up, or a cultural fascination with the popularity among the Jewish community of eating Chinese food on Christmas Day, but I always like a good Chinese food fix during this time of year. I found my latest favorite from Austin American-Statesman food critic Matthew Odam, who included Szechuan House on his list of Top 50 Restaurants in Austin.
Though the menu is fairly lengthy, you can’t go wrong with spicy house-made Chung’s dumplings, Hunan chicken, Szechuan-style fish replete with spicy Szechuan peppercorns or savory smoked-tea duck. You might not find yourself here for your family holiday celebration, but it’s a nice change-up on the holiday dining lineup.
- Jessica Dupuy
Every year, I take my niece to the Four Seasons so she can see the gingerbread village. Sometimes we go for afternoon tea in the lobby bar, and other times we will have lunch or dinner at Trio.
The Four Seasons offers more exotic items for the adventurous eater but doesn't bat an eye at accommodating picky palettes. My niece doesn't eat sandwiches, so they made her a veggie and fruit plate for tea. They were very impressed when she devoured the whole thing. It's worth the money to have a special place that we can share.
- Kristi Willis
Nothing says “'Tis the Season” like good old home cooking. But when you don’t have the time, equipment or know-how to put on a Martha Stewart-style meal, it’s good to know there are places like the Monument Cafe in Georgetown, which not only churns out an above-average assortment of soulful dishes from chicken-n-dumplings to biscuits and gravy for breakfast and the best coconut cream pie this side of your grandmother’s kitchen.
It’s also offering a few special items for Christmas Day lunch including turkey and cornbread dressing with sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and green beans, or beef tenderloin with peppercorn sauce, roasted new potatoes and steamed asparagus. (Pecan, Coconut, Chocolate and fruit pies will also be on deck.) The best part is, you can bring the Monument to your own home. Simply call in your order for a full spread of holiday magic and hang your apron up without even getting it dirty. (Just be sure you make the 48-hour cutoff deadline before the big day.
- Jessica Dupuy
Often taken for granted by longtime locals and overlooked by newer foodies, Fonda San Miguel was among the first local restaurants to offer a contemporary take on authentic regional cuisine made with fresh, often local, ingredients. A food-savvy aunt and uncle took me to dinner there when I first moved to Austin, and I still associate its combination of warm, truly artful decor, the rich flavors and textures of its food and the focus on hearty, filling but subtly flavored dishes with the comforts of family and home.
A holiday meal at Fonda is also a great way to combine the Mexican tradition, by now thoroughly assimilated by Austinites of all stripes, of celebrating the Christmas holidays with fresh tamales and the American concept of a grand holiday feast. Granted, it leaves out the tamalada — the traditional tamale-making party with friends and family — and the fun of meeting friends and neighbors who are selling or buying tamales this time of year, but the warmth and cheer of Fonda (not to mention the varied menu and comfortable surroundings often lacking at taquerias and other popular takeout tamale places) will make a happy holiday community of whoever comes to the table.
- Cindy Widner