The CHOW Guide to Eating and Drinking in Austin, SXSW edition


$ = Under $10, $$ = $10-$25, $$$ = Over $25

Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas
409 Colorado St., 512-476-1320
1120 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-476-1320
Call for showtimes.

A movie theater with table service offering beer, wine, mixed drinks, and really good food, Alamo brings up the question: Why hasn’t this concept taken off across the country? Food like pizza, burgers, and brownies with espresso in them is served at a narrow table that runs the full length of the row. Movies are mainstream (at the time of this writing, Casino Royale was showing), and big-name directors often prescreen flicks here and take audience questions afterward (Quentin Tarantino makes regular appearances). Watch for special theme nights when food is paired to a movie’s subject matter. There are several locations, including one downtown, but the original, biggest, and most popular theater is on South Lamar Boulevard in South Austin. (Downtown and South Austin)

Amy’s Ice Creams
3500 Guadalupe, 512-458-6895
Sun.–Thurs., 11:30 a.m.–midnight; Fri.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–1 a.m.

An Austin institution with 13 locations (including shops on Guadalupe, Sixth Street, and South Congress, all in the downtown area), Amy’s serves fun flavors like Guinness, honey ginger, and chipotle peanut butter. As in the national Coldstone Creamery chain, servers flick and smack around the ice cream with mixed-in ingredients on a marble slab before giving it to you, which some (like children) find delightful. Others find it annoying. All will forget about it when they take their first bite. (North Austin)

606 Rio Grande St., 512-479-8117
Tues.–Thurs., 6 p.m.–9 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 6 p.m.–10 p.m.

A cozy converted 1920s bungalow serving impressive French-influenced cuisine made with seasonal, market-fresh ingredients. Dishes such as rabbit loin with artichokes and sunchokes, or cold foie gras with green grape chutney and sancerre syrup, are elegant and delicious without being precious or stuffy. No vertical towers of food or little drops of sauce you can’t make use of. A great wine list with French, American, and notably Texan selections (see The Best Local Beer and Wine). If you’re looking to celebrate a special occasion, this cozy, quiet restaurant is the place to go. Reservations recommended, especially during SXSW. (Downtown)

Artz Rib House
2330 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-442-8283
Daily, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

Most ‘cue houses serve spare ribs or St. Louis cut ribs. Artz offers baby backs and thick, country-style ribs. They also serve one of the best burgers in town and great sandwiches (the grilled chicken with bacon and Swiss is a favorite), and feature live acoustic music, like old ‘30s-style Texas swing, bluegrass, and folk. (South Austin)

Baby Greens
2316 S. First St., 512-462-1697
Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–6 p.m.

Healthy fast food isn’t an oxymoron at this burger-drive-through-turned-salad-drive- through. Choose from a handful of standard options (like the Southwest, featuring black beans and chicken; grilled veggie; or Greek), say whether you want it as a salad or “salad wrap,” and choose from ten homemade dressings. Homemade soups are also on the menu. (South Austin)

Betsy’s Bar/The Hi-Lo
301 W. Sixth St., 512-480-9433
Betsy’s, daily, 8 p.m.–2 a.m.; Hi-Lo, Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.–2 a.m.

It’s two, two, two bars in one! Betsy’s Bar features overstuffed antique furniture, a laid-back crowd, and two Atari game consoles. This is the kind of place where you can carry on a conversation with friends and never want to leave. Better during the week when the upscale swingers from the connected Hi-Lo don’t spill in. Accessed through the doorway, the Hi-Lo exudes a curvilinear swank, suede-covered ‘70s vibe, with top-shelf cocktails and a beautiful crowd. (Downtown)

Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse
1501 S. First St., 512-416-1601
Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–midnight; Sat.–Sun., 9 a.m.–midnight

Bouldin Creek is an old-fashioned, friendly place that caters to a bohemian crowd. Located in a brightly painted old house, it’s a great place to catch up on a novel or use the free WiFi while sampling the excellent vegetarian food. Breakfast is available all day. Try “Aaric’s baked oatmeal,” a hearty dish with apples, cinnamon, butter, brown sugar, and raisins, or the fluffy house omelette, filled with garlic, veggies, and cheese. There’s also a fine selection of board games if you’re looking to kill an hour or two. (South Austin)

The Brown Bar
201 W. Eighth St., 512-480-8330
Mon.–Tues., 4 p.m.–midnight; Wed.–Fri., 4 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sat., 5:30 p.m.–2 a.m.

An Austin bar striving for big-city impact, the Brown Bar serves specialty martinis ($8 and up) and the best mojitos in town in swanky shades-of-brown decor to beautiful people and those who aspire to be. (Downtown)

Casino el Camino
517 E. Sixth St., 512-469-9330
Daily, 4 p.m.–2 a.m.

A neighborhood-style bar in the midst of hectic Sixth Street that manages to attract both the after-work crowd and those sporting extreme ink. If you’re lucky, local circus sideshow man Mr. Lifto may be tending bar and lifting beer kegs by his nipples. Serves up the best hamburgers in Austin, along with giant orders of fries, but it can take a while. Order at the grill window, then relax with a cocktail or hit the excellent jukebox. (Downtown)

Central Market Flagship Store
4001 N. Lamar Blvd., 512-206-1000
Daily, 8 a.m.–9 p.m.
Central Market Cafe: Sun.–Thurs., 7 a.m.–9 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 7 a.m.–10 p.m.

Austin’s Central Market, the flagship location of the popular Texas grocery store chain, is big. How big? It has a 75-foot-long seafood counter with 100 varieties of saltwater and freshwater seafood, 18,000 square feet of fresh produce with over 600 varieties of fruits and vegetables, 800 cheeses from around the world, 2,500 different wines, 350 different beers, 100 varieties of flowers, 70 varieties of artisanal breads baked fresh daily, and a meat counter with 30 varieties of house-made sausage. Given these stats, it’s no wonder that Austin’s 70,000-square-foot Central Market is a popular destination for both locals and tourists. Whether you’re taking a cooking class, kicking back in the café and listening to live music, or shopping for treats, like most of Austin, you’ll find yourself staying awhile. (North Austin)

Club de Ville
900 Red River St., 512-457-0900
Tues.–Fri., 5 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sat.–Mon., 7 p.m.–2 a.m.

Arguably the most magical outdoor patio in a city where bar patios are standard, Club de Ville’s is set beneath a gorgeous, naturally occurring limestone cliff face. (It’s also decked out with Christmas-tree lights, ample seating, and a great stage where live music is often featured.) Enjoy one of the well-made cocktails and contemplate the Paleozoic Era in an atmo that attracts an artsy-hipster crowd. Conveniently located a few short blocks from the conference center. (Downtown)

Continental Club
1315 S. Congress Ave., 512-441-2444
Tues.–Fri., 4 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sat.–Sun., 9 p.m.–2 a.m.

Opened in 1957 and still going strong, the Continental was chosen one of the best bars in the United States. A big room with great retro, rockabilly, country, and swing, and a rocking happy hour. (South Austin)

Crosstown BBQ
202 S. Avenue C, Elgin
Sun.–Thurs., 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 10 a.m.–10 p.m.
(Call first to make sure they’re open; doors close when they sell out.)

A tin shack with arguably the finest barbecue in Texas. Stand-outs are the smoky brisket, tender ribs, succulent mutton (actually young lamb, not old gamy meat as the name implies), and juicy chicken with perfectly crispy skin. The house-made sausage is spicy and full of flavorful fat, and the sauce is rich, spicy, and deep red with a hint of sweetness. The floor is concrete, and a smoker runs the entire length of one wall. The long communal table in the center and smaller tables around it are all equipped with the requisite red-and-white-checked tablecloths, and the small-town hospitality of Crosstown’s owners will make you feel like a local, though you drove almost 45 minutes to get there from downtown Austin.

Driskill Bar
604 Brazos St., 512-391-7162
Tues.–Sat., 5:30–10:30 (bar until midnight, Fri.–Sat. 2 a.m.)

A favorite of the record label folks, the bar of this gorgeous historic Texas hotel is quite a scene on the nights of SXSW. The smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies put out by the hotel staff mingles with herbal aromas wafting from closed doors, and rich, artsy types with expensive haircuts get drunk in the amber lighting on buttery leather seats. An all-encompassing wine list and great food (see Splurge) make it even better. (Downtown)

Driskill Grill
604 Brazos St., 512-391-7162
Tues.–Sat., 5:30–10:30 p.m. (bar until midnight; until 2 a.m, Fri.–Sat.)

An expense account is a plus here, but the cost is worth it. Exciting, exuberant, innovative New American cuisine with Texas nods by executive chef David Bull, served up in Austin’s most gorgeous, historic hotel. Standout dishes include beef tartare with fried oysters, caviar, and hot mustard; pistachio-crusted scallop with chanterelles; and veal tenderloin with sweetbreads, papardelle pasta, and mornay sauce. Be sure to check out the bar as well. During SXSW, it’s packed with entertainment-industry bigwigs (see Power Bars). (Downtown)

El Borrego de Oro #2
3900 S. Congress Ave., 512-383-0031
Daily, 6 a.m.–10 p.m.

Homemade corn tortillas, real Mexican Coke, and the best Austin hangover cure: birria (a Mexico City regional dish of shredded goat or lamb, eaten either in tacos or in a soup). The pork with green sauce is simply ethereal. In this authentic Mexican joint, with its plastic cups and tortilla-chip baskets, you can eat well for only $6 to $7, not including margaritas. (South Austin)

El Gringo
1917 Manor Road, 512-391-9500
Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Fri., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sat., 5 p.m.–10 p.m.

A new restaurant, instantly popular for its creative interpretations of regional classics (posole made with duck, fried oysters in a cracker-crumb crust with Tabasco aioli and lemon sauce, chicken-fried rib-eye steak with pepper-cream gravy) at affordable prices ($8 to $11 for any of the above). This large, relatively posh spot gets crowded and noisy. But the good news is that on the pecan tree–shaded back patio next to a raging fire pit, the owners renovated a former storage shed into a bar. Called the Red House Lounge, it quenches your thirst if you’re waiting for a table inside, and stays open when El Gringo closes at night. The same folks own neighboring El Chile and El Chilito, also good if you’re looking for nearby alternatives. (East Austin)

El Regio Pollo al Carbon
730 W. Stassney Lane, 512-442-3095; Mon.–Thurs., 10 a.m.–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 10 a.m.–11 p.m.

La Michoacana Mercado
512 W. Stassney Lane, 512-916-9938; Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 7 a.m.–9 p.m.

A mesquite-grilled-chicken shack in an old drive-through burger kiosk, and a Mexican supermarket across the street from it, El Regio and La Michoacana are ideally enjoyed simultaneously. Here’s how: First go get beer. We recommend the Whip In (1950 S. I-35, 512-442-5337)—it’s got the best beer selection in town. Then send one person to La Mich to get their amazing carnitas (pork fried in lard), gorditas (deep-fried tortillas with beans, meat, and cheese), or pork in green sauce. Send the other to El Regio for a whole or half chicken that’s been soaked in a citrus-chile-achiote marinade and roasted over a mesquite fire. (Chickens come with a whole grilled sweet onion and frijoles a la charra—soupy pinto beans with bacon, onion, chiles, cilantro, and epazote.) Set up camp at the picnic tables on the patio of El Regio. (South Austin, highway drive)

Four Seasons Hotel: The Lobby Lounge
98 San Jacinto Blvd., 512-478-4500
Mon.–Thurs., 1 p.m.–1 a.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–2 a.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.–midnight

Hobnob with the high-flyers over lychee martinis (yeah, they’re still serving them in Texas), truffled popcorn, and tuna sashimi on the patio overlooking the lake. That’s Town Lake, the verdant public water hole made from the damming of the Colorado. Stake out your table early! (Downtown)

The Ginger Man
304 W. Fourth St., 512-473-8801
Mon.–Fri., 2 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sat.–Sun, 1 p.m.–2 a.m.

The best-stocked beer bar in Austin, if not Texas: about 120 bottled selections of craft brews and micros (with only a few of those macros), and 76-odd selections on tap (kept at two different temps) from all over the world. Try a Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest, Rogue Shakespeare Stout, or Westmalle Tripel. It can get crowded. (Downtown)

1412 S. Congress Ave.
Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–11

Housed in a big old feed store with hardwood floors, this slightly upscale Mexican-food spot is celebrity sighting central, particularly during SXSW. The decor is Mexican-cantina-meets-renovated-warehouse, and the atmosphere is low-key. The margaritas are some of the best in town, thanks to super-fresh lime juice, and don’t miss the tacos al pastor. (South Austin)

Home Slice Pizza
1415 S. Congress, 512-444-PIES (444-7737)
Mon., Wed., Thurs., 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–midnight; Sun., noon–10 p.m.; slices served 11:30 a.m.–6:30 p.m. and 9:30–11 p.m. (until 3 a.m. Fri.–Sat.)

New York–style thin-crust pizza, subs, and calzones with high-quality ingredients bring lots of locals every night. Try the sausage pizza (mostly ricotta cheese with a little bit of mozzarella, lots of roasted red bell pepper strips, and good Italian sausage with plenty of fennel) or the clam pizza with béchamel sauce. Not the best pizza you’ve ever had, but better than in most cities that aren’t New York. Dine in, or grab a slice and window-shop South Congress’s boutiques, antiques, and garden shops. (South Austin)

Hoover’s Cooking
2002 Manor Road, 512-479-5006
Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 8 a.m.–10 p.m.

Part of the newly gentrified Manor Road restaurant row, this comfy soul-food joint features owner Hoover Alexander’s southern Louisiana influences in a simple, informal atmosphere. Big platters of ham steak with jezebel sauce, jerk chicken, and chicken-fried steak are served up with more than a dozen rotating vegetable sides, like Moroccan-inspired carrots with orange juice, mashed potatoes with roasted garlic, and creamed spinach with jalapeños. Come for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and enjoy a cocktail too—drinks are nice and strong. Lots of high-backed booths for dining in, or get it to go. (East Austin)

The Jackalope
404 E. Sixth St., 512-469-5801
Daily, 11:30 a.m.–2 a.m.

A friendly dive with a punk-rock edge, the Jackalope is a favorite for its central location, reliably strong drinks, and superior bar (blackened burgers with blue cheese, jerk-chicken hoagie, chipotle wings). Inside is red-padded leather, painted-on-velvet nudes, pool tables. Outside is a patio with a fire pit. (Downtown)

Kerbey Lane Cafe
3704 Kerbey Lane, 512-451-1436; 24 hours, all locations
2700 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-445-4451
2606 Guadalupe St., 512-477-5717

See Magnolia Cafe.

La Michoacana Mercado
512 W. Stassney Lane, 512-916-9938; Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 7 a.m.–9 p.m.

See El Regio Pollo al Carbon.

Las Manitas
211 Congress Ave., 512-472-9357
Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–4 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 7 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

You’ll no doubt wind up here anyway during SXSW, but if for some reason you haven’t yet, stop into this downtown Austin breakfast and brunch joint for Mexican made from high-quality ingredients. Migas (see Local Lingo) with mushrooms, menudo with marrow, chile relleno, and the Zacatecan enchiladas are required eating. Fried plantains are also delicious. Check the board for daily specials. (Downtown)

The Luckenbach Bar
412 Luckenbach Town Loop, Fredericksburg
830-997-3224 or 888-311-8990
Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sun., noon–9 p.m. (sometimes open later)

Enter through the back door of this defunct Wild West–era post office, and you’ll find cowboys pickin’ tunes in a space smaller than your hotel room beneath taxidermied deer heads. In the winter, you might get treated to some deer sausage cooked on the wood-burning iron stove. The town of Luckenbach (population 3, according to the sign at its city limits) is like something out of Deadwood and well worth the nearly 90-minute road trip from Austin.

Madam Mam’s
2514 Guadalupe St., 512-472-8306; daily, 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m.
4514 West Gate Blvd., 512-899-8525; daily, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

Tired of barbecue and Tex-Mex? Thai food that’s nearly as good as you’ll get in Thailand can be had at one of two locations, one (West Gate) just 10 minutes by car from downtown. The menu’s based on street-vendor and home-style dishes, like kao soi, the famous red curry noodle soup from northern Thailand, and keow wan pla grai, green curry with homemade fish balls. Large portions, made from the freshest components, and small prices seduce throngs. It’s a casual spot, with lots of close-together tables, mismatched chopsticks, and a student crowd, especially at the Guadalupe Street location. If you’re with a big group, send somebody ahead, or call and put your name on the list. (North and South Austin)

Magnolia Cafe
1920 S. Congress Ave., 512-445-0000; 24 hours, both locations
2304 Lake Austin Blvd., 512-478-8645

Kerbey Lane Cafe
3704 Kerbey Lane, 512-451-1436; 24 hours, all locations
2700 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-445-4451
2606 Guadalupe St., 512-477-5717

Ask almost anybody in Austin where to eat, and they’ll probably mention Magnolia Cafe and Kerbey Lane Cafe, both with more than one location. Although the food at either restaurant won’t win any James Beard awards, both menus are extensive, and offer lots of vegetarian and vegan options for breakfast, late night, and any hour in between. Kerbey Lane is better overall, with good coffee and fluffier pancakes, but Magnolia offers what might just be the best post-drinking snack: steak fries topped with Italian tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. It’s also famous for its Mag Mud, a spicy black-bean dip with chips. We like Kerbey Lane’s fried cheesecake-stuffed taco with ice cream. And we prefer the original Kerbey Lane location, which, shockingly enough, is found on Kerbey Lane. (North and South Austin)

The Mohawk
912 Red River St., 512-482-8404
Tues.–Sat., Grizzly Bar, happy hour, 5–8 p.m.;
the Mohawk Main Club, 8 p.m.–2 a.m. (when there’s live music)

Club de Ville’s neighbor the Mohawk has not one but two outdoor patios (upstairs and out back), a fireplace, a dance floor, and three stages often featuring live music and local DJs. The bar’s website describes the decor, all made out of reused hardwoods, as “woodsy recycled Texas ski lodge.” CHOW likes the Mohawk so much that we’re throwing our SXSW party there. (Downtown)

Oaxacan Tamaleo
1300 W. Anderson Lane, 512-289-9262
Mon.–Sat., 8 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.–3 p.m.

Half Mexican-owned mini-mart, half bare-bones restaurant, this friendly little discovery is known for its big Oaxacan-style tamales, steamed in banana leaves. The lamb barbacoa (slow-cooked over an open fire) and mole are also incredible. A little out of the way (on the north side of Austin, about 15 minutes by car from downtown), but worth it. (North Austin)

2004 S. First St., 512-441-5446
Daily, 7 a.m.–11 p.m.; drinks until midnight

Polvo’s is arguably the best restaurant in town, at least for Tex-Mex, and one of the most comfortable, with a big, casual outside area. Standouts include puntas de filete (beef tips with mushrooms and corn in chipotle chile sauce), and shrimp sautéed with lots of garlic, mushrooms, and tequila. You’ll find big plates and little prices, with serve-yourself salsas and verduras escabeche (spicy pickled veggies). In the morning, get machicado—dried beef, typically served in northern Mexico, that is shredded like thin jerky—in your breakfast tacos (see Local Lingo). Eat them with a side of rajas—strips of roasted poblano chiles. (South Austin)

Roaring Fork Saloon
701 Congress Ave., 512-583-0000
Daily, 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.

A Western-themed watering hole on the street level of the beautiful old InterContinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel, the Roaring Fork does one better than your typical hotel bar with its drinks and food. It’s a popular gathering spot for the after-work crowd from the capital and downtown districts, so expect to see some Dockers. Try the huckleberry margarita or the Big-Ass Burger: 12 ounces of juicy, aged, wood-grilled beef loaded with cheddar and toppings. (Happy hour is 4:30–7 p.m. daily for half-price apps and drink specials.) (Downtown)

Ruby’s BBQ
512 W. 29th St., 512-477-1651
Daily, 11 a.m.–midnight

One of the only—if not the only—barbecue joints in the area selling natural, free-range beef brisket. If they ask, say you want it off the “chuck end” as opposed to the “lean end.” That’s where all the fat is, and fat means flavor. Luke Zimmerman, Ruby’s pit master, is president of the Central Texas Barbecue Association, so he knows what he’s doing. The sides here are a plus: wonderful mac ‘n’ cheese, collard greens, spicy chili con carne, and Cajun dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, and étouffée. (North Austin)

The Salt Lick
18300 FM 1826 (at FM 967), Driftwood
Daily, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
Cash only

Twenty-five minutes from downtown Austin in the bucolic boonies, this huge (we’re talking 10,000 dinners on a weekend evening) barbecue joint is always packed. The first restaurant in a chain with an outpost at the airport, the original location is set in a rambling old building with a big barbecue pit that greets diners when they walk through the door. (However, that’s just for show—the real smoking is done in stainless steel somewhere else.) Nevertheless, the Salt Lick’s all-you-can-eat family-style dinners feature reliably good brisket, ribs, and sausage, as well as massive chopped-beef hoagies, chicken, and turkey. Locals take an ice chest of brews to drink while sitting under the trees at the outdoor picnic tables until their table is ready.

Smitty’s Market
208 S. Commerce Street (Hwy. 183 at Cemetery St.), Lockhart
Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sat., 7 a.m.–6:30 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.–3 p.m.

Brisket, sausage, pork chops, and ribs (Saturday and Sunday only) are some of the finest in the country, and done at this old-school spot the way all Texas ‘cue used to be done: in the back of a butcher shop right on the town square. Meat butchered on the premises gets a simple rub of salt, pepper, chile pepper, and a little garlic, and then is smoked over a long brick fire pit inside. Order at the tiny counter, and your food comes served on a sheet of brown butcher paper rather than a plate. Tables are covered in red-and-white-checked oilcloth. Used to be there were only saltine crackers and slices of white bread for sides; now there’s also beans. Sauce comes in squeeze bottles on the tables, and eating with one’s hands is traditional. Half an hour from downtown Austin.

Taco Xpress
2529 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-444-0261
Mon., 7 a.m.–3 p.m.; Tues.–Fri., 7 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m.–9 p.m.

Popular cook/proprietor Maria Corbalan started out serving her crowd-pleasing tacos in a trailer. Now she’s got a full-fledged casual restaurant and sometime music venue with a larger-than-life-sized statue of herself with outstretched arms on top. You can’t beat the 10 (cheap) options for breakfast tacos (see Local Lingo), and vegans will be happy about the multivegetable options. (South Austin)

Torchy’s Tacos
1207 S. First St., 512-366-0537
Daily, 7 a.m.–11 p.m.

This taco trailer set up on an empty lot in South Austin is the property of cook Michael Rypka, a multiyear winner of the Austin Chronicle’s annual hot-sauce competition before he went pro. It offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner taco options, including standout pork and green chile tacos, and a fried avocado taco that’s a vegan favorite. Eat at the picnic table under an oak tree, or if you’re in the downtown or South of Congress Street area, call and get it delivered via Torchy’s fleet of Vespa motor scooters. (South Austin)

801 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-916-4808
Sun.–Thurs., 5:30–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5:30–11 p.m. (bar opens at 5 p.m.)

We know what you’re thinking: Fusion, sushi, and Texas are three words that sound really scary together. But trust us: The bluefin belly meat with dried cranberries, almond slivers, and white soy is great. So is the yellowtail with ponzu, shiso oil, and Thai chiles. Executive chef Tyson Cole has garnered major attention (like being named one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2005). But his fusion sushi really does live up to the hype, and he also does traditional combos. Colorful digs in a comfortable old house, impeccable service, a superb bar, and food that looks like art. (South Austin)

1610 S. Congress Ave., 512-441-6100
Tues.–Sun., 5:30–10:30 p.m. (bar, 5 p.m.–midnight)

One of Austin’s busiest restaurants, with crowd-pleasing Italian dishes such as mascarpone risotto with lamb loin and fresh peas, and butternut squash ravioli with sage and an amaretto butter sauce. A full bar, a deep wine list, friendly service, and a no-reservation policy guarantee there’s always a wait. Co-owner Alan Lazarus was a chef for Whole Foods Market before opening Vespaio in 1998. Eat at the bar if you’re short on time, or do like the locals do and enjoy a glass of wine and a plate of antipasti at its more casual sister restaurant, Enoteca Vespaio, next door while you wait for a table. (South Austin)

Whole Foods Market Flagship Store
525 N. Lamar Blvd., 512-476-1206
Daily, 8 a.m.–10 p.m.

The massive flagship of the Whole Foods grocery store chain, which first opened in Austin in 1980, is 80,000 square feet and features a chocolate café with a chocolate fountain you can dip fruit and cookies into, a Pike Place Market-esque fish market, an ice cream/gelato shop, a smokehouse, a wine bar, a massive prepared-foods area, and over 600 cheeses. Like the San Francisco Marina Safeway of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, this WF is a notorious Austin pick-up scene for 20- and 30-somethings, as well as a date spot where couples move from mini-restaurant to mini-restaurant and make a night of it. While you’re in the neighborhood, check out Book People across the street, the largest independent bookstore in Texas, and the famous indie record shop Waterloo Records nearby at 600A N. Lamar Blvd. (Downtown)

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