Austin's 9 best neighborhood restaurants reflect the soul of the community
MEET THE TASTEMAKERS
One of the threads that keep an ever-shifting Austin from unraveling is its neighborhood businesses. Whether it's the dive bars in East Austin, the design shops near Clarksville, or the funkier boutiques down South, each area's institutions offer continuity while the skyline morphs.
That goes double for restaurants, which allow us to slow down amidst the hectic pace. It's a much-needed service we celebrate every year with the Tastemaker Award for Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year. The 2023 nominees range from a homey taqueria to a trendy European-inspired café. Still, patrons can always rely on all of them to provide gracious hospitality and a delicious meal.
Join us in honoring them at the highly anticipated Tastemaker Awards on May 18 at Fair Market, where we will announce the winner. And then spend a little time getting to know your neighborhood gem. Find your tickets here.
A paean to seasonal, local ingredients, chef Bryce Gilmore's signature restaurant was showered with praise right out of the gate. Almost 15 years later, it has settled into being one of North Central Austin's favorite neighborhood haunts. The prix fixe menu still makes room for innovation, finding startling connections between protein and produce. But the vibe remains as worn-in as the reclaimed wood cladding the bar.
Though certainly upscale, this East Austin eatery doesn't buy into the fuss of fine dining. Dogs sniff around on the gravel patio, there are no white tablecloths to catch errant crumbs, and customers happily queue up to order from the counter. That doesn't mean that the food is relaxed. Married owners Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel and Arjav Ezekiel pair an evocative wine list with stunning French-Italian plates that reserve the crispness for technique, not napkins.
Few restaurants have as much of a sense of place as this Manor Road classic. A typical dinner travels through Central Texas' manifold foodways, stopping to consider German cuisine with an antelope hotlink or Mexican fare with carnitas flautas in a habanero broth. As bright as it is, it never seems academic. Instead, its homespun wisdom warms over like a campfire chat.
As the name implies, this Holly neighborhood staple revels in the midcentury era, when "third places" were essential to American life. And it's no small feat to get folks to put down TikTok and embrace the chatty conviviality of weekend brunch. Still, the food remains contemporary — using international preparations like sambal and dukkah to appeal to a curious palate. Never has comfort food had such a spark.
This Mueller neighborhood eatery was a trailblazer in paying staff a fair wage, charging a hospitality fee instead of making its servers rely on tips. It's rare for a neighborhood restaurant to be, well, so neighborly. Italian food demands a shared table, of course. This one happens to be topped with exquisite handmade pasta and pioneering vegetable dishes.
This Lamar Boulevard concept merges the powers of Uchi chef Tyson Cole and Franklin Barbecue proprietor Aaron Franklin, but it's not precisely fusion. The smoked meats never feel squashed together like an early 2000s mashup. Instead, they add heft to a vibrant blast of accompaniments like shishito salsa verde, yellow curry-yuzu vinaigrette, and chili gastrique.
Owners Edgar Rico and Sara Mardanbigi bootstrapped this East Austin taqueria to James Beard acclaim, and one gets the sense that they take nothing for granted. Building on early triumphs like the sensuous duck carnitas taco, the joint keeps expanding its scope to antojitos like Yucatan Sikil P'aak and endearingly tasty goofs like the Space Glizzy crispy dog.
For an iconic Austin date night, head to this South Lamar hot spot before taking in a show at the nearby Alamo Crafthouse. We promise the fair will be as cinematic as anything on the screen. Like its erudite sibling restaurant, the focus here is on sustainable and seasonal fare. Unlike Barley Swine, Odd Duck occasionally shakes it at the club.
Sour Duck Market
The third Bryce Gilmore restaurant on the nominee's list, this counter-service cafe is also the most casual. Instead of composed small plates, diners can nosh on simple chopped salads, a vegan schnitzel sandwich, or a double cheeseburger unfussily using American cheese. It's a departure for the chef, sure, but look closer. The market uses the same thoughtful sourcing as the rest of the brood.