Photo by Veronica Meewes

In late August, even the most devout red wine and whiskey lovers change their habits. No matter what you like best, 100-degree weather is best fought with a cold beer and some solid air conditioning. To help you cope, here are our top picks with great tap-wall curation and high-quality casual fare to complement your pint glass.

Our first pick is a bit of a cheat because Craft Pride doesn’t have a kitchen. Rather, Craft Pride pairs beers with the stomach-lining goodness of Via 313’s Detroit-style pizzas. The thick, four slice wonders work great to share for two as a heavy snack, or order one all for yourself but be prepared to take a slice home. The most popular order, The Detroiter, utilizes smoked pepperoni under cheese and a second layer of natural casing pepperoni on top. Our pick is The Herbivore, an artfully composed pizza of mushrooms, onions, green peppers and black olives. Pair these with rare selections from Craft Pride’s unprecedented all-Texas tap wall. On a recent visit, we sampled Hops & Grain’s outstanding new A Pale Mosaic IPA and cult favorite Lone Pint’s Gentleman’s Relish Brown Ale.
We have a go-to move at drink.well.: Order the crispy ancho chickpeas and a spicy kimchi Reuben, then peruse the small but thoughtful tap selection on the chalkboard. Drink.well.'s cocktail selection is very well regarded, but as a neighborhood mainstay, the bar knows that quality draft beers are a must. You’ll currently find the seasonal Austin Beerworks unicorn Einhorn (served with a bar spoon of house-made raspberry syrup), as well as Circle’s Fanny Pack (a local Kolsch) and Epic’s Hop Syndrome. Ask the bar what they’re drinking: The team here is knowledgeable and quick with a suggestion.
When Easy Tiger paired Chef Andrew Curren’s cooking with 33 craft beer taps, Austin music fans rejoiced. Where Dirty Sixth is often a wasteland of Lime-A-Ritas and domestic light lagers, Easy Tiger’s team of beverage pros brought a collection of America’s best craft brews. Pair these with a sausage on a pretzel roll — our favorites are the veggie (which includes beets, lentils, panko and pumpkin seeds) and the duck and fennel with mustard and slaw. Beer selections are robust and easy to peruse on a big chalkboard, with recent picks including Jolly Pumpkin’s Bam Noir dark saison, Dogfish Head’s American Beauty (an IPA with granola), Firestone Walker’s Easy Jack Session IPA (the perfect August porch beer).
Don’t mistake this for a North Campus undergrad haunt: Hopfields is an altogether more refined experience. Despite a pint-sized kitchen, the restaurant serves an impressive "French pub" menu of smart picks like ratatouille, Niman Ranch steak frites and a mushroom leek tarte. There’s also an excellent French-accented Pascal Burger, which is served topped with Camembert, cornichons, caramelized onions and coarse mustard. Taps here rotate often, but you’ll find local favorites (Hops & Grain, Argus Cidery) and best-of-breed national picks like Prairie and Odell. If the tables up front are occupied, walk towards the back to find some extras hidden in nooks and crannies.
If you’re in the mood for hearty fare, how does “a butcher shop with a kitchen and beer” strike you? Salt & Time utilizes sustainable Texas-sourced meats for its salumeria and restaurant. For lunch, you’ll find an array of meaty sandwiches from a classic Italian grinder to a roasted lamb baguette with tzatziki. Dinner is more complex, with butcher’s cut steaks, chicken-fried rabbit and smoked short rib tortellini among the current offerings. You can pair these with more than 30 craft beers in bottles, cans and bomber format. The esoteric selections here include Mateo & Bernabe from Spain, Belgium’s Orval Trappist Ale and Belgium’s To Ol, along with an array of local favorites.
Like drink.well., Second’s tap wall isn’t large, but the selections are thoughtful. There’s a mixture of seasonal, weather-appropriate styles: On a recent visit, we found Lagunitas IPA for hop heads, Pearl Snap for summer quaffing, and the classic Live Oak Hefeweizen. Grabbing a drink here gives you access to an outstanding kitchen helmed by Chopped winner Jason Stude. Dishes lean toward comfort classics — pizzas, burgers and salads comprise a good deal of the menu. We’ve found Second to be a great solution when guests in a large party each want something different. With large plates of fish, snacks of fried pickles and shishito peppers, and cheese and charcuterie boards, there’s something fitting for all palates.
A touch of Old Austin in changing times, the Whip In continues to attract a loyal following with the Texas-India comfort-food menu and a consistently impressive array of beer taps and bottles. (Your wine-loving friends will find great selections on tap and in the cooler, too.) At lunch, grab the perennial favorite Mumbai Migas: locally sourced eggs scrambled with onions, corn tortillas, cilantro chutney and feta cheese. Daily specials, like Mattar Paneer (peas and paneer cheese), are also a good bet. For beer, the Whip In’s own Kamala Brewing beers are available, and the shop also has an excellent mix of rare and hard-to-find drafts on tap, mostly from Texan and American breweries.

Hopfields serves an impressive "French pub" menu in the heart of North Campus.

Photo by Veronica Meewes
Hopfields serves an impressive "French pub" menu in the heart of North Campus.

Where to eat right now: 5 hot South Austin restaurants worth the drive

Where to Eat Right Now

Austin's steady growth over the past five years has brought dramatic change in Central Austin: from skyscrapers to hotels, the signs of "New Austin" are evident everywhere. Less discussed, though, are the changes now happening outside the city center.

Southwest Austin now finds itself full of residents ready to spend on high-quality dining. As a result, new establishments are opening south of Ben White to big crowds and great feedback. Here are our picks not to miss when you're next in the 'burbs.

St. Philip
A more casual project from the group behind Uchi, St. Philip has attracted steady crowds to Sunset Valley since opening in 2014. The menu is now gradually changing under the guidance of former Uchiko chef de cuisine Page Pressley. Pressley has added new items like a towering bruschetta, which employs a base of avocado topped with marinated tomatoes and onions, radish, egg yolk and fresh greens for a starter (that one could reasonably order as a full lunch). The ricotta dumplings are another hit; the rich dumplings are lightened with fresh, bitter flavors from diced pea pods and the aromatics of mint. This is also an Austin menu that works for vegetarians: there's a indulgent broccolini sandwich with ricotta and sunflower seeds on a thick country loaf and an excellent cauliflower side prepared with Mediterranean notes of yogurt and raisins. There's ample patio seating here, and a bakeshop filled with everything from donuts to homemade hazelnut "Twix" bar for carry-out dessert.
Wholy Bagel
A longtime secret of East Coast expats, Wholy Bagel's New Jersey owners replicate the comforts of a New York deli as well as anywhere in Austin. The star here is the bagel, and like Austin's barbecue scene, if you come late, you may be greeted with a "sold out" sign long before the scheduled 3 pm closing. For first-timers, ordering the Nova Lox sandwich is imperative: the lox (brined salmon) is matched with red onion, capers, tomatoes and a scallion cream cheese in what we'll simply call breakfast perfection. Other sandwich options include a solid Reuben with a light dusting of Russian dressing and sauerkraut or a burly breakfast special of Taylor ham, fried egg and cheddar. While you're here, grab a variety of bagels and freeze them — they're that good.
Via 313
After accruing rave reviews on Rainey Street and East Sixth Street as a food trailer, the Detroit-style pizzas of Via 313 recently made a brick-and-mortar debut in the quiet suburbs of Oak Hill. The restaurant occupies the former Flores space, though you wouldn't know that given the redesign. The thick, square pies are here, as is a nicer selection of craft beers than you'll find anywhere else in Oak Hill. The seating is a mix of booths, four-tops and counter space, and the restaurant is full nightly by about 6 pm. You'll also find a new thin-crust "bar pie" on the menu and a limited selection of appetizers like meatballs, stuffed artichokes and cheese bread. Hours are dinner only, but the restaurant expects to add lunch service in early summer.
Sichuan River
Sichuan River quietly took over the Tien Jin space late last year. The resulting menu has been a delight to South Austin's Sichuan fans, thanks to a number of dishes that were previously tough to find nearby. On our visits, highlights have included the salty, crunchy, sautéed green beans, which are served in huge portions suitable for group sharing. The spicy mala fish filets are another winner, as is the Chong Qing (dry-fried with chilies) chicken. For those even more adventurous, items like pig elbow, sour trotters and chicken feet with pickled peppers are available. The service here is polite and friendly, and the tables are filled with regulars. It's a much-appreciated addition to Westgate.
While the pizzas at Pieous get plenty of attention, we'd argue that the real reason to visit is the pastrami. The moist and peppery beef is perhaps the best we've seen in the city — though we're not exactly in the city here. You can purchase it on a platter with pickles, onions, bread and mustard, but we prefer to buy it solo — barbecue-style — and share it with friends along with a pie or two. Among the pizzas, the aggressively spiced House on Fire (soppressata, spicy onions, mozzarella and Calabrian peppers) is our pie of choice, but those preferring less heat can opt for the sweet and salty Bacon Bleu with arugula and bacon marmalade. Lines can be long: Go for a leisurely lunch rather than when you're in a hurry.

Pieous serves up delicious pies and raved-about pastrami.

Pieous serves up delicious pies and raved-about pastrami.
Photo by Melody Fury

Where to eat in Austin right now: 6 new restaurants from favorite local chefs

Where to Eat Right Now

Austin's restaurant scene is in full bloom this spring. This season, a number of veteran Austin chefs and restaurateurs are debuting concepts that have long been in the works.

Here are a handful of the best new restaurants from some of Austin's favorite chefs. Experience these new ideas from familiar faces behind some of your past favorites.

Leading the charge in Austin's 2015 debuts: Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki's newest project, Launderette. As the previous chef team behind La Condesa and Sway, expectations were high for this new project. The medium-sized East Austin space is tucked south of Cesar Chavez on a quiet corner and offers a lengthy menu of comfortable favorites.
On a recent visit, our favorites were selections from the toasts (try the crab or soft egg) and vegetables (we recommend the endive with bleu cheese and thyme or the sticky Brussels with pecorino, almond and pickled apple). Reservations are only taken for large groups, so come early, or be prepared to have a drink while you wait. A Cremant or Lambrusco from the sparkling section is a good bet.
Monger's Market & Kitchen
Seafood enthusiasts will be doubly familiar with the partners behind Monger's: Chef Shane Stark helmed the kitchen at Kenichi and Paggi House, while Roberto San Miguel has been a staple at Austin farmers markets for years. Together, they've brought a much-needed fish market and restaurant to 78702.
Early feedback gives high marks to the fish BLT with smoked bacon and chile aioli and the smoked fish dip with pickled chile. A sizable open patio means that evening crowds have discovered this new hangout, so order a bottle of white wine (we suggest the Colomé Torrontes, a bargain at $26) and some oysters upon arrival.
Chef Drew Curren's ELM Restaurant Group just can't miss. 24 Diner, Arro and Easy Tiger have become Austin mainstays over the past six years. Italic offers beloved Italian staples like pizza, fresh pastas and contorni at moderate pricing in downtown. It also takes the mid-century Starr Building modern, while leaving the classic spirit of the space intact.
Master Sommelier Craig Collins curates a wine list that is all Italian yet surprisingly affordable: Few bottles cross the $100 mark, and the menu offers aged selections from as far back as 1987. Plates are designed for sharing: Try the shaved Brussels sprouts salad, crispy polenta and roasted cauliflower to share as starters. Pastas are reasonably priced ($10-$18) and are available in small and large portions. A generous selection of Italian amari and desserts are available to finish your evening.
Sala & Betty
Teresa Wilson's Aquarelle was a downtown mainstay for anniversary dinners and special occasions; it shuttered less from indifference than from the changing real estate market. Wilson's newest idea embraces a locavore focus and the reality of 2015 Austin: It's designed for diners who have good taste but limited time. The restaurant debuted with a drive-thru counter, which presents a selection of to-go meals for four priced at $34. Meals include a pound of beef sirloin, roasted pork shoulder, rotisserie chicken or grilled veggies paired with two sides. There are also build-your-own breakfast biscuits for morning commuters and sandwiches and salads for the lunch crowd.
Inside you'll find the same breakfast selection, but lunch expands with entrees like gulf shrimp with polenta and pickled okra ($10) and a vegetable quiche ($8). For dinner you can get extravagant with lamb chops or albacore tuna or stay casual with fried chicken or a bowl of chicken and dumplings. Patio enthusiasts will dig the large outdoor dining area.
Austin's burgeoning cocktail scene has been missing a reliable tiki bar, but the 2014 debut of Pleasant Storage Room simply didn't connect. Neighbors at classic cocktail bar Peché seized on the bar's surprise closure and have opened their own tiki concept in the space.
There's a generous happy hour with $6 cocktails, a lengthy Caribbean and seafood menu and an excellent drink list focused on rum and tiki specialties. Of those we've sampled, we'd strongly suggest the Jungle Bird (Blackstrap, Campari, lime, Orgeat) and the Barrel of Rum (spiced rum, grapefruit, lime, passion fruit syrup, Angostura) as must-orders. Tip: Isla and Peché make excellent pregame spots for ACL Live and Austin Music Hall shows.
Counter 3.Five.VII
Chef Lawrence Kocurek is no stranger to Austin fine dining. Over the past decade he's helmed the kitchen at Roy's, TRACE and Hyatt Lost Pines and kept a farmers market presence with Kocurek Family Charcuterie. This latest outing, though, feels more like a destination than a mile marker. Nestled just below Swift's Attic on Congress Avenue, the space is distinctive despite its limited size.
The setup is simple: Diners choose a three-, five- or seven-course menu, priced at $45, $75 or $95 (wine pairings are available at an additional charge). There is no traditional wait staff; the chefs take your order and serve your dishes, leading to quite a bit of interaction and chatter. For those patrons who aren't hungry enough for a lengthy meal, a small wine bar offers rare bottles, 16 by the glass selections and charcuterie and cheese boards. A helpful and descriptive video preview is available on Counter's website.

Launderette's endive with blue cheese and thyme.

Photo by Melody Fury
Launderette's endive with blue cheese and thyme.
Fixe Austin/Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/FixeAustin]

Where to eat in Austin right now: 6 best restaurants for Southern favorites

Where to Eat Right Now

Austin staples like Hoover's and Evangeline Cafe have long made pork chops and chicken fried steak for satisfied fans, but the interest in doing something new with comfort food has exploded in recent months. The following spots are advancing the conversation on what comfort food means in Austin in 2015.

Eight months in, Olamaie's co-chefs Grae Nonas and Michael Fojtasek are leading lights in Austin's modern Southern charge. The flavors here are described as "garden Southern," meaning you'll see veggies, grains and pickles getting plenty of run in addition to the meaty courses. The off-menu biscuits are a crowd-pleaser, as are the pickled veggies. Our favorite thing to do here is bring a group for drinks and order the entire small plates section. With fried catfish, beet salad, smothered cornbread, beef tartare with sunchokes, button mushrooms, and glazed sweet potatoes, there are favorites for every palate. The wine list is quite affordable for fine dining, and the sleek but refined cocktail menu is consistent.
When Fixe opened soon after Olamaie, it was fair to wonder if the competitors were riffs on the same idea. Thankfully, they aren't. Where Olamaie is genteel, Fixe is boisterous: Both have great food, but their atmospheres couldn't be more different. James Robert and Keith House are veterans of Eddie V's, and you can see it in the bustling bar scene, loud conversations and general party vibe. That's not a knock on the cooking: the menu is strong overall, with the seafood mains (think lobster and crawfish pot pie) being particularly memorable. The three differing grit treatments also offer a study in contrasts, with a choice of Gulf shrimp, Texas quail or a farm egg anchoring the plates. The apple rye cocktail makes for a perfect start to the party.
Red Star Southern
Erica Waksmunski isn't your typical Austin food trailer owner. As former pastry chef for David Bull at Congress, she dazzled Austin with fresh takes on favorite classic and childhood desserts — a role she continues today with Shawn Cirkiel's Parkside Projects. Waksmunski's Red Star does "East Coast Southern," meaning you'll find cayenne and buttermilk fried chicken with pickles; pimento cheese sandwiches with jalapenos and tabasco; and an open-faced "beetloaf" sandwich with black eyed peas, onions and mushrooms. The trailer makes for great takeout. It anchors the former East Side King spot at The Grackle, meaning that a whiskey to chase your meal is just steps away.
Odd Duck
Comfort dishes are abundant at Bryce Gilmore's casual spot, though you'll have to get used to their reconstructed form. The current dinner menu has sunchoke tater tots with beets and dill oil; hand-milled grits with a red chile pork stew; and fancy beans with cabbage, bacon and sage. At lunch, you can also find a veggie-filled take on pot pie with broccoli, mushrooms and root vegetables, and tasty sweet potato bites accented with peanuts, chiles and coconut. This month the restaurant expands for late-night dining on weekends, with hours stretching until 2 am on Friday and Saturday. Service here is on point, and the cocktail program is rapidly becoming one of the city's best.
Dai Due
Dai Due focuses on local food — not comfort food — but Jesse Griffiths isn't afraid to make you a great bowl of chili. The menu changes often, but you can always find Dewberry Farms fried chicken and potatoes on Sunday nights. There are also biscuits and gravy with venison sausage on the breakfast and lunch menu, along with homemade pickles on many plates. If it's on the menu, grab the aforementioned chili. It comes in a huge cauldron topped with chopped jalapenos, a slab of cornbread and (for a surcharge) a fried duck egg on top. The warm and welcoming space on Manor Road hops at all hours with an appreciative and loyal crowd of regulars.
Kin and Comfort
The latest project from Ek Timrerk (Spin Modern Thai, Titaya's) blends his Thai skills and comfort food to mostly great results. The coconut cabbage slaw is a dish that really works (and surprises): Coarsely cut slaw mixes with fried Brussels sprouts and pickled beets for a mix of textures and temperatures. The fried chicken thigh is also a winner, featuring the added bonus of tom sam (green papaya salad) and indulgent fried green tomatoes. Our only quibble was the panang mac and cheese: rather than a hybrid, it's essentially a curry sitting on top of a pasta — we prefer the other selections. Note: This counter sits inside the Hana World Market food court. Head inside the store to the far right, and bring cash.

Fixe's seafood main courses are particularly memorable.

Fixe Austin/Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/FixeAustin]
Fixe's seafood main courses are particularly memorable.
The Peached Tortilla/Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/peachedtortilla/?fref=ts]

Where to eat on the cheap: 6 local restaurants to find affordable and delicious dinners

Where To Eat on the Cheap

Over the past year, Austin has been graced with a vast array of new dining options. Despite all the growth and change, there remains a constant need for well-executed yet affordable spots for evening dining.

While pricey newcomers abound, the six options here reflect the best of breed — spots that are careful in their preparation, cooking and service, but are approachable enough not to feel guilty about splurging on a Wednesday night dinner. From ramen to burgers, the list proves that you don't have to spend a fortune to eat elevated versions of the classics. Instead, you just need to know who cares enough to serve up top quality at crowd-friendly prices.

Noble Sandwich Company
While Noble Sandwich has made its reputation as an otherworldly lunch spot, owners John Bates and Brandon Martinez have recently started dinner service at both of their locations. The menu stays true to the Noble ethos: slow-cooked proteins are accented by a collection of house-made pickles, breads and condiments. Evening options include red chile braised oxtail grits with a fried egg, seared Creole catfish, smoked quail with Napa cabbage, and a red wine braised lamb. There's also a fun and unusual take on a burger: Noble's version uses a ground pork patty and tops it with provolone, bacon, romaine, tomato and red onion on a challah roll. A limited but curated selection of Texas beers is available, and wine service is coming later this month. While the atmosphere is pretty casual, the cooking at Noble is anything but.

Top pick: Red chile braised oxtail grits ($10.50)

The Hightower
It's tough to find a better example of old Austin's easygoing, unhurried atmosphere mixed with drinks and food catering to the new Austin scene than The Hightower. To begin, your table would do well to order any of the vegetable starters (we like the green beans with honey mustard, farro, pecans and mint, but the Brussels sprouts with peanut butter, golden raisins and lemon are also good fun). The atmosphere here is more bar than restaurant, and there are quite a few drink options. Among those we've sampled, the rotating selection of frozen caipirinhas are far better than they need to be, while other cocktails lean toward the sweet side but employ solid base liquors, many of which are local. Of the main courses, the most popular order — and deservedly so — is the short rib bowl. The short rib comes in a large vessel meant for mixing with an array of accompaniments including a soft-cooked egg and grits, fried onions and corn. This is a fun plate and half the challenge is getting several components on the fork at once. The rich dish is a great way to soak up a drink, and goes well with the good-natured character of the restaurant.

Top pick: Braised short rib with egg ($15.50)

A caveat here: Bufalina is small, and waits here can be lengthy. That said, if you time it correctly, this is one of the city's best dining experiences full-stop. A labor of love that took years to open, owner Steven Dilley's ode to Neapolitan pizza raised the bar for Austin. The concept isn't unlike that of a barbecue run — you're going for pizza, and almost everything else is superfluous. (If you'd like something besides pizza, there are a couple of salads, some olives, two desserts, and meat and cheese boards.) The pizza you pick invariably depends on your personal taste, but our love of olives and garlic usually leads us to the Pizza Napoletano. Another popular choice is the Fresca, which pairs a spicy prosciutto with arugula, Meyer lemon, olive oil and mozzarella to great effect. Dilley's attention to detail doesn't stop with the food, and he's created a wine list full of rare and esoteric treasures. From the reasonably priced Lioco Rosé of Carignan ($35 per bottle) to impeccable, food-friendly Domaine du Vissoux Beaujolais ($35 per bottle), the list has cult producers, reasonable prices — and is obviously tended to with great care.

Top pick: Pizza Napoletano ($14)

The Peached Tortilla
As a noted veteran of the Austin food truck explosion, Eric Silverstein's brick-and-mortar carried the weight of high expectations from the moment it was announced. Thankfully, the thoughtful skill in Silverstein's truck menu simply expands to a larger canvas here. The philosophy of "southern and Asian" is still there, but the ideas can stretch out further than tacos and burgers (though those are here, too). Our favorite dishes on a recent visit included the Thai Chop Chop Salad ($10), a dish that could easily serve as dinner should you not wish to share. There's a lot going in this dish including fried tofu, green apple, fried shallots, peanuts, fresno chiles, radishes and fish sauce caramel. It's an embarrassment of riches texturally, but Silverstein somehow balances the parade of diverse flavors into a cohesive whole. He works more magic with his Southern Fun, a chow fun noodle dish accented with smoky, moist brisket and kale. About two bites into the dish, our dining companion started discussing when to return to have it again, which gives you a reasonable idea of how good it was. Don't skip dessert: both the Asian Movie Night (popcorn ice cream, Asian caramel, rice puffs) and the Singapore Fling (coconut tapioca, palm sugar syrup, grilled Asian pear, lime) are well worth an order.

Top pick: Southern Fun ($13)

Salt & Time
Discerning local carnivores were thrilled to see Salt & Time's arrival in brick-and-mortar format. The business shows obvious care with its in-house salumi, sausages and smoked meats and the space has allowed them to do nightly specials like the $50 "Butcher's Cut" 12-ounce New York Strips ... but that's not why we're here. Chef Josh Jones also does meaty dishes for those on a moderate budget, and the shop is only too happy to make you a burger and pull you a pint on a weeknight. The "Butcher's Burger" was an immediate hit — clocking in at 8 ounces of house-ground beef, and served with homemade pickles, beef fat fries and a tomato jam. Lest that not be indulgent enough, add cheese, spreadable "N’Duja Tejano" salami, bacon or an egg. Should you prefer a non-burger option, there's also a cauliflower steak; a braised beef stroganoff; and a polenta with cracklings, kale and egg all priced at $18 or less. The bar here focuses on high-end beer, and recent tap selections run the gamut from Texas rarity Lone Pint to the beloved Live Oak.

Top pick: Butcher's Burger ($12 plus add-ons)

Ramen Tatsu-Ya — South Lamar
Many of us have waited in line a time or two for Ramen Tatsu-Ya. The unassuming ramen shop in North Austin went from local foodie favorite to nationally acclaimed destination spot not long after opening, which led to some difficulty securing a table. Thankfully, the resulting success has enabled the team to open a larger second location near the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. The warm and welcoming space has an open kitchen to observe the action, fantastic art painted on the walls, and great beers on draft from Live Oak and Hitachino Nest. The core menu remains the same: five main ramen options supplemented with toppings and a few small bites. Much of the non-ramen menu is good but unnecessary, so cut to the chase and focus on the main attraction. If your dining companion doesn't mind sharing, order a #2 (the Tonkotsu Sho-Yu) and #3 (the Mi-So-Hot) and share them. The two bowls are completely different in style — the Mi-So-Hot is a rich and heavy blend of ground pork, Napa cabbage, bean sprouts and egg, while the more mild-mannered Tonkotsu Sho-Yu is peppery and lighter in comparative texture.

Top pick: Tonkotsu Sho-Yu ($9.75)

The Peached Tortilla's new brick-and-mortar is perfect for an affordable night out.

The Peached Tortilla/Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/peachedtortilla/?fref=ts]
The Peached Tortilla's new brick-and-mortar is perfect for an affordable night out.
Max's Wine Dive/Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152243446249246&set=a.445448999245.244468.119747679245&type=3&theater]

Where to eat in Austin right now: The 6 best downtown lunch spots

Where to Eat Right Now

As 2015 gains momentum, those working in Central Austin will often have cause to book a business lunch with their colleagues, bosses, clients or recruits. While there are dozens of downtown options, the following list reflects our picks for the workday classics. These are restaurants nice enough to appeal to the food-focused, formal enough in tone to make out-of-towners feel comfortable, and cost-competitive enough to not get your per diem revoked.

David Bull’s perennial favorite strikes a modern balance between comfort and craft. The menu has something for all tastes — burgers, pizzas, sandwiches, fish, pasta and soups are all available — and are all on point after years of menu refinement. For those who know Bull from his Iron Chef appearance and culinary awards, the price points here may surprise you: The most expensive lunch option is $18, but most plates run in the $12 to $16 range. The little things are done well here: condiments are homemade, and there’s an extensive “zero proof” list of non-alcoholic drinks and sodas for mid-day propriety. If your job is cool enough that you’re imbibing, the beer list is well-curated and often locally focused. One final advantage of Second is seating: the large room and patio mean you can usually get a table without much hassle, though the restaurant does accept reservations for six or more. Our picks for your visit: the black and bleu pizza, the part-brisket “Congress burger,” and the pepperoni soup.
The team at Swift’s Attic runs one of the most hopping restaurants in downtown Austin, but harbors a secret: Swift's is also open for work lunches. During our numerous mid-day visits, the crowds have been modest, a stark contrast to the usual evening mob scene here. The kitchen doesn’t do pedestrian food for lunch, either. There’s an otherworldly Porkstrami with jalapeño kraut, fontina cheese and Russian dressing that we order nearly every time. There’s also a daily soup, a huge burger, and a business lunch of a half sandwich plus soup or salad for just $8. Shareable snack plates are also solid for friendlier work lunches. There are blistered shishitos, mini San Antonio puffy tacos, and warm Brussels sprouts for $6 to $7 each. Five pricier main plates round out the list, though you may not need them. This is a great chance to sample the Swift’s kitchen at bargain pricing (and without elbowing your way in to boot).
Chef Andrew Curren’s 24 Diner runs a booming lunch business, and it’s easy to understand why. The large dining room is full of convivial folks (we spotted Andy Roddick here not long ago) enjoying Curren’s popular and elevated takes on American standards. The menu includes extensive 24-hour breakfast options, the most popular item from which is the chicken and waffles. Curren takes a softer approach to the waffle, likely to contrast with the texture of the crispy fried chicken breast and thigh sitting alongside it. The breakfast menu’s veggie hash is also a winner even at lunch, with a runny egg binding a mix of potatoes, spinach, roasted mushrooms, avocado and Swiss cheese. For those looking for afternoon fare, entrees like chili, meatloaf and (on Tuesdays only) chicken and dumplings are all worth your time.
Six years in, La Condesa remains a downtown favorite. After the departure of highly regarded Chef Rene Ortiz, the menu has continued to evolve and impress under the guidance of Chef Rick Lopez. Lunch at La Condesa is a great way to show out-of-towners the fresher, more thoughtful side of Mexican cooking. The four salsa appetizer is a must, as is the weird and wonderful hongos y huitlacoche, a dish featuring farmer’s cheese, wild mushrooms and corn smut — yes, corn smut, which is a delicacy. We also love the “acelgas” veggie tacos with butter beans, spinach and toasted garlic, and the veggie sides, especially the Brussels and the elotes. The aguas frescas here are also a treat, and lunch pricing is reasonable given the downtown location and posh atmosphere. Lunch mains run from $10 to $16, though the table may want a starter or two to round out a hearty lunch.
Like the other entrants on this list, Max’s isn’t new to Austin, but the food has never been better. Chef Erika Beneke is a rising star and a Chopped champion, and has added a seasonal rotation of dishes and some extra flair (such as game dishes) to Max’s comfort-heavy lineup. The fried chicken ($16.50) is an excellent choice here, served with mashed potatoes, Texas toast and collards. The shrimp and grits is a close second. Sure, Max’s has become a chain, but the Texan spirit still shows in the vibe and the cooking. It’s a crowd-pleaser sure to earn you a nod of thanks from your co-workers.
Finally, what do you do with the heavy-hitter from out-of-town who wants a “real Austin barbecue experience?” Unless you’d like to hire someone to wait in the Franklin Barbecue line during the first half of the work day, the best bet downtown is Lamberts. Larry McGuire’s creation still does crazy business thanks to a strong kitchen and management team. (Also, they take reservations and they’re indoors.) Lunch here isn’t cheap, exactly, but good barbecue rarely is. The three meat plate runs $19 at lunch. We’d suggest the brown sugar and coffee brisket, the maple pork ribs and the jalapeño sausage. For sides, the bacon collards and the mac and cheese are musts, though to cut through the heaviness we usually get the carrot and jicama slaw. On the beverage side, there’s Stumptown coffee for the work afternoon, or a tremendous by-the-glass wine list from June Rodil if you’re celebrating a new account (or something generally awesome).

Max's Wine Dive's classic fried chicken.

Max's Wine Dive/Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152243446249246&set=a.445448999245.244468.119747679245&type=3&theater]
Max's Wine Dive's classic fried chicken.
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Austin chefs turn out for farmer-focused food festival, returning this spring

Field Guide

Sometimes reinventing the wheel is a good thing, which may explain the immediate and warm welcome Field Guide Festival received upon its launch in 2021 and return in 2022. Moving past the food festival trope of tiny bites, loud music, and general Baccanalian vibes, Field Guide Festival seeks to foster connections between farmers, chefs, consumers, and everyone in between. Returning to East Austin on Saturday, April 22, the innovative event invites Central Texans to consider their role in the future of food in the Austin community.

Founded by female powerhouses, Lindsey Sokol and Trisha Bates, the goal of the fest is to leave guests inspired to participate in their local food system, equipped with the knowledge of where to find the best, most sustainable food available in Austin and the surrounding area.

"Field Guide Festival presents an answer to the question, ‘Where does your food come from?’ by highlighting the local farmers and chefs of Austin," Bates shares in a release. "Our festival is the only place in the city where you will see the farmers side-by-side with the chefs who transform their food, creating dishes uniquely representing this exact time and place. You'll never have this food, presented in this way, again."

The recently-released 2023 lineup features an impressive roster of 34 farmer and chef partners who will partner together to create dishes exclusive to the festival using in-season produce. Tickets will include a full day of food and beverages, cooking demonstrations, symposium conversations, live music, and a farmer’s bodega — all benefiting the Central Texas Food Bank.

“The Central Texas Food Bank is honored to be a partner of such a special gathering,” says Mark Jackson Chief Development Officer of Central Texas Food Bank in a releasE. “Not only will revenue from the event help ensure that thousands of our neighbors facing food insecurity have enough to eat, but attendees will learn about the impact food has on our whole community while having fun.”

Curated by Field Guide Culinary Director Chef Philip Speer, the 2023 chef and farmer lineup is below:

  • Abby Love (Abby Jane Bakeshop) & Amalia Staggs (Farmshare Austin)
  • Colter Peck (Elementary) & Becky Hume (VRDNT Farm)
  • Fiore Tedesco (L’Oca D’Oro) & Sean Henry (Hi-Fi MYCO)
  • Graeme Little (Fairmont Austin) & Julia Poplawsky Lewis (Cielito Lindo Farm)
  • Graham Fuller (Emmer & Rye) & William Nikkel (Trosi Farms)
  • Joaquin Ceballos (Este) & Anamaria Gutierrez (Este Garden)
  • Krystal Craig + Ian Thurwachter (Intero) & Celia Bell (Two Hives Honey)
  • Mia Li (Ora King Salmon) & Joe + Kasey Diffie (Joe’s Microgreens)
  • Natalie Gazaui (Chef Consultant) & Gregory Mast (Central Texas Food Bank Garden)
  • Nicholas Yanes (Juniper + Uncle Nicky’s) & Perrine Noelke (Local Pastures)
  • Rhys Davis & Michael Fojtasek (Maie Day) & Marianna Peeler (Peeler Farms)
  • Kevin & Rosie Truong (Fil N Viet) & Travis Breihan (Smallhold)
  • Susana Querejazu (Lutie’s) & Hannah Gongola (H2Grow Farms)
  • Todd Duplechan (Lenoir + Vixen’s Wedding) & Ryan Gould (Geosmin Regenerative)
  • Zechariah Perez (Sour Duck Market + Odd Duck) & Montana Stovall (Dancing Bear Farm)
  • Ooni Chef Demos by Casey Wilcox (Little Trouble) & Christina Currier (Comedor)
  • Force of Nature Chef Demo by Katrina Ferraro and Freddy Diaz (Las Brasas)

Featuring a mix of savory, sweet, and plant-based options, all food and beverages are included with each ticket, allowing guests to roam and sample everything. Tickets are $100 for adults, while a new Young Foodies ticket option ($50 for ages 13-30) and free entry children 12 and under encourages the whole family to come savor and celebrate the best of Central Texas food.

“New this year, Field Guide will welcome guests of all ages!" says founder Lindsey Sokol. "We’ve created a food festival that puts education first in order to strengthen the food system for the future, including the next generation. Our goal is to present food in a way no one else in Austin is doing, where the local food system is the priority.”

For more information and to purchase tickets for the event, please visit fieldguidefest.com or follow along on social media @fieldguidefest.

Trendy boxing gym knocks out Cedar Park with more planned

Out of the Box

New or aspiring boxers who worry about punching above their weight may have a new solution that caters to all. Rumble Boxing, a gym that boasts clients including David Beckham, Selena Gomez, and Justin Bieber, is now open in Cedar Park, with plans to expand elsewhere in Austin in February.

Unlike the boxing-solo-before-dawn movie trope, Rumble offers group classes that make the sport accessible and fun, including some workouts that aren’t just traditional boxing (called “boxing-inspired circuits”). Boxers of all levels get together for something that looks in videos like a spin class with boxing equipment.

The gym calls it a “10-round, 45-minute fight,” but an explanation on the website reveals “fight” to be more of a metaphor. Some rounds involve punching bags, while others incorporate floor training with bodyweight and dumbbell exercises. The classes promise a balance of both; half and half throughout the class.

Ambiance plays a significant part in the experience, and the gym emphasizes its music and lights along with “the program, and the collective heartbeat of the room.” Although the program contemporizes boxing for greater accessibility, the core elements are still there. Boxers will learn “the six punches”: the jab, the cross, front and back hooks, and front and back uppercuts.

The system has proven popular so far, and not just with celebrities. In business since just 2017, Rumble has 35 studios in the United States, plus some in Australia and the Dominican Republic. In Texas, there are also locations outside of Houston and Dallas, with more set to open in both by March.

Rumble Boxing is now open at 12160 W Parmer Lane, Suite #150. Hours of operation vary by day and are available at rumbleboxinggym.com.

This professional development group is working to connect Black Austinites and keep them in Austin

Fellowing the Leader

Even though Austin is generally understood as friendly and good for transplants, it’s always hard to land in a new city and gauge your longevity there. Finding resources takes time and connections, and for new Austinites who experience social marginalization, it may not feel possible to thrive.

Seeking to create those connections, the African American Leadership Institute (AALI) is a professional development group focused on increasing civic awareness and leadership opportunities for Austin's Black population. According to the website, their mission is to "build a stronger Black Austin community by equipping exceptional leaders to live up to their moral responsibility ... to make life better for everyone in our city, state, and the world."

Established in 2021, the idea for AALI evolved out of the Leadership Austin model, which also provides civic leadership training and is in turn an evolution of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. After participating in the 2002 class at Leadership Austin, AALI founder Heath Creech noticed a pattern: Companies were bringing Black employees to Austin, but underutilizing their skill sets when they arrived. Feeling more like guests than active community members, those employees packed up and looked for a new place to hit the ground running.

Creech realized Black Austinites needed their own program like Leadership Austin, so he connected with BiNi Coleman, a strategist who prioritized Black leadership through her organization 212 Catalysts. Partnering with Leadership Austin to create a parallel system, the pair started AALI to target exceptional leaders through its annual Leadership Cohort. This group of annual fellows learns how to engage in intensive community building and “deep dives” into multiple issue areas — all with a lens toward the Black community in Central Texas.

In just two years, AALI has seen in its first two groups that a third of participants say they were thinking of leaving Austin, but decided to stay. To find people willing to offer the vulnerability to apply even while feeling untethered from the Austin community, AALI had to drop some pretenses that other organizations may use to ensure commitment to applying.

“[The] AALI launch committee … determined for one that our Northstar metric should be connection: Addressing this lack of belonging in the community,” says Coleman, now AALI’s CEO. “If people emphasize that they feel a greater sense of connection to the Black community, or the overall community, we are doing our jobs. So far, that's never been less [affirmative feedback] than 96 percent or so.”

The only eligibility requirement is that participants must live in the Austin MSA (the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos metropolitan area). The organization waived the minimum years of residence requirement. Applications could be written or recorded via video, to ensure that different communication styles made their strongest possible impacts. It’s working.

“We've had people that range from being … essentially homeless, and made it in AALI because they are relentless about being out in the community, and delivering basic needs to families and things of that nature,” says Coleman. “And then we have people that are corporate VPs, and we have people who are executive directors of nonprofits. In our inaugural year we had [Austin ISD Police Chief] Wayne Sneed, for instance. It really ranges the gamut.”

The 2023 fellows are no exception: Announced in January, the group of 34 includes an associate professor addressing education policy and philanthropy, the CPO of the Boys & Girls Club of Austin, the director of the Downtown Austin Alliance, a doula, multiple school principals, and more. Throughout the program, these Fellows’ main objective is to get to know each other and make themselves known, so when program leaders can offer connections to outside organizations, they know who to recommend. Coleman tells a story about Aaron Demerson of the Texas Workforce Commission speaking at a session, and having a meeting booked with one of the fellows within "a couple of hours."

AALI has further expanded its outreach by launching a one-day event, Black X Conference, which allows anyone who registers to join and make connections whether or not they plan to pursue a fellowship. Scheduled annually for the Friday leading into the Juneteenth holiday, this year's Black X Conference is set for June 16.

"People ... seem to just really enjoy it and it lights a fire beyond just connecting with each other" says Coleman. "They learn about all these different issue areas and the Black community history and lens ... and then they're connected. So now if they choose to activate, they'd have what they need: They've got the information, they're aware. They know where to get more information."

More information about the African American Leadership Institute (AALI), including a full list of 2023 fellows with LinkedIn pages, is available at aaliaustin.org.