In last week’s post on tips for relocating to Austin, Sarah’s comments inspired me to put together a list of recommended restaurants. The restaurants on this list appeal to me both from a design perspective as well as for the food. Locals can chime in on anything I might miss here, but if you’re new to Austin, this list will make your culinary transition a breeze! Feast with your eyeballs as well as your tastebuds…
Lamberts – 2nd Street District
401 West 2nd Street | Menus change daily (refer to sample menus online)
Lamberts is a mecca for those who love modern design and mouth-watering barbecue. The restaurant features that signature Liz Lambert style with a dose of Marfa cool that all of the Lambert family businesses are so well known for. (If you’re relocating to Austin, you might be familiar with the Hotel San Jose on SoCo and its oft-lauded chic design à la owner Liz.) I love the mix of old and new at Lamberts and the food is just to die for. I have a special place in my heart for Lamberts because my husband and I went to its former incarnation the night we got engaged.
Jack Allen’s Kitchen – Southwest Austin
(Coming soon to Round Rock)
7720 Highway 71 West | Menus
Eating at Jack Allen’s Kitchen is like having a Top Chef experience without the Top Chef price tag. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. Everything’s superfresh and locally-sourced. Gawd help you if you like their Facebook page, for they tempt you daily with photos of their scrumptious offerings. I’m salivating while typing this, just thinking about it. In terms of decor, there’s definitely an upscale vibe but it’s not an uptight upscale, if you know what I mean. Casual comfort is still the order of the day–very rustic-modern with a hit of drama coming from the high ceilings. In the words of Tina Fey, I want to go there.
Galaxy Cafe – Clarksville
(Other locations: South Austin & The Triangle)
1000 West Lynn | Menus
Each of the three Galaxy Cafe locations takes a different spin on modern design, but they all share the same vibrant color palette and an emphasis on simplicity, fun and funkiness. You can’t help but smile when you walk into these restaurants. On the gourmet end of the “fast casual” dining spectrum, this is one of the few Austin restaurants that understands what the word “seared” means when it comes to my beloved tuna. So many places around here want to cook it to death. Due to this penchant with other restaurants, I find it nearly impossible to order anything other than Galaxy’s Asian Seared Tuna Salad: sesame-crusted, wild-caught tuna steak over a bed of mixed filed greens with cucumber, edamame, crispy vermicelli rice noodles and a side of soy vinaigrette…and yes, add the avocado! They also have good kid meal options.
Kerbey Lane Cafe – South
(Other locations: UT, Northwest, Central & Southwest)
3003 South Lamar Blvd. | Menus
Kerbey Lane Cafes are Austin institutions. Open 24 hours, the recently reopened South Lamar location is my fave after its style update and new location. Part Flintstones fun, part Eames sophistication, this is a happy place to eat. Some of my choice meals are on their menus that change seasonally (lamb burger!), but my current plate of choice is the Southwestern Salad with grilled chicken, tossed in fresh cilantro-lime vinaigrette. Delish!
Blue Star Cafeteria – Central
4800 Burnet Road | Menus
I applaud anyone who will let modern pink wallpaper loose inside a restaurant–every girl looks good surrounded by pink. Sparkly silver vinyl banquettes are another happy design plus. The vibe is casual but elevated, with food and prices to match. I love coming here for their Strawberry Salad tossed in Tobasco maple vinaigrette. Caveat: no kids menu, so parents be ready to pony up eight bucks for that grilled cheese for the kiddo.
24 Diner – Downtown
600 North Lamar Blvd. | Menus
Few restaurants blow me away more on the basis of both food and interior design like 24 Diner does. The exaggerated proportions of the light fixtures over the bar, the sort of dark and subdued color palette, and the mechanical design features throughout the restaurant remind me a little bit of a Jean-Pierre Jeunet movie (Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children)–in a good way. As for the food, it’s literally Top Chef-worthy, as executive chef Andrew Curren was a contestant on the popular culinary competition show during Season 9. Think comfort food with a gourmet twist and locally-sourced ingredients. Everything on the menu’s excellent, but do yourself a favor and order the chicken and waffles on your first trip. Brown sugar butter!
Zocalo – Clarksville
1110 West Lynn | Menu
Not your typical heavy Mexican food, Zocalo serves up a lighter version in this fast-casual restaurant. My favorite plate is the house specialty Chilaquiles (Zocalo Plate): grilled chicken and crispy corn tortillas tossed in a creamy verde sauce and served on top of black beans with sour cream and queso fresco. I’m also a big fan of their self-serve watermelon aguas frescas and horchata. As for the minimalist decor, you can’t go wrong either inside or out on the patio–both dining areas are light and airy with pops of citron green and mod geometrics.
Uchi – South Austin
801 South Lamar Blvd. | Daily Menu
Uchi executive chef Tyson Cole is a James Beard Award winner and that alone is reason enough to get your butt to South Austin for the best sushi of your life. Add to that a supremely dramatic interior and you have an event on your hands, whether you’re celebrating or not. Hell, celebrate that you’re there!
Satellite Bistro & Bar – Circle C
5900 Slaughter Lane | Menus
There’s a very swingin’ mid-century vibe to the Satellite Bistro’s interior but the food’s just straight-up great. While I do love the Champagne Gorgonzola Salad with grilled chicken, the best time to hit the Satellite is for their weekend brunch. The Flying Saucer (roasted portabella mushroom, roasted red peppers, feta cheese and avocado over toasted English muffins, topped with 2 poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce) is to die for.
Snack Bar – SoCo
1224 South Congress Avenue | Menu
SoCo’s Snack Bar is all about “happy time” and that makes us a match made in heaven. The decor is very fun and casual with some unique mid-century bits thrown around in good measure. Food-wise, I’m in love with their Chicken Reuben and their hummus, but what really rocked my world is the borscht I got on special once. If you ever see it on the menu, don’t pass up the opportunity. Fresh, local, delicious…and very happy.
Hopdoddy Burger Bar – SoCo
1400 South Congress Avenue | Menu
The interior design of Hopdoddy Burger Bar is all about simplicity. When Jeb and I checked it out for the first time, I was struck by the fact that there wasn’t a lot going on necessarily, but what was in the room was strategically selected. More importantly, the food is amazing. The buns are made from scratch, the burger varieties are interesting and visually appealing, the beer is handcrafted. What more can you ask for? Crazy divine milkshakes? Okay, but good luck choosing between the Caramel with Sea Salt and the Nutella with Chocolate Pretzels. Good gawd.
P.Terry’s – 6 Locations
This is not your granddaddy’s fast food. This is a very persnickety food buyer’s kind of fast food. It’s very fresh and specifically chosen by picky people. The chicken burgers are particularly outstanding, and the service is top-knotch. What I love about P. Terry’s from a design perspective is their out-of-the box playfulness, simple finish combinations, and a vintage-modern nod to diner style. Each P. Terry’s location is definitely branded with the same color palette, building materials and logo design, but every one has a distinctive look. Not all locations are dine-in, but they all have a drive-thru window.