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Elizabeth Street Café
The best seat in the house is the table in the front corner, especially in the morning, when sunlight is pouring through tall windows onto aqua-blue banquettes. Snag that spot for a breakfast bánh mì; one version comes layered with fried eggs, crispy pork belly, avocado, and mint. A lunchtime tête-à-tête with your smartphone at the bar calls for the house special, bún bò huê, a pile of soupy noodles zapped with lemongrass. In the evening, check out the bánh cuôn, squishy crepe-like noodles filled with savory pork and wood ear mushrooms. Owner-chefs Tommy Moorman and Larry McGuire, of Lamberts and Perla’s, understand Americans’ tastes, but the final effect is charmingly exotic. 1501 S. First (512-291-2881). B, L & D 7 days. elizabethstreetcafe.com
When people are scraping their plates for every last bite of candied pork belly and collard greens with soy-balsamic syrup, it hardly matters that some folks think the craze for pig parts is passé. Chefs Harold Marmulstein and Richard Velazquez blew into Austin from Sarasota and Atlanta, respectively, early in 2012, bringing with them the Deep South’s salty, crackly, piggy flavor profile. The two tricked out a modest space on Austin’s East Side and forged a menu that focused on Dixie, with frequent liberties taken. Their oyster boudin fritters, for instance, come with a dollop of pink chipotle rémoulade. Their frilly brussels sprouts leaves are tossed with golden raisins and pecorino. We Texans love us some barbecue, Tex-Mex, and steaks, but Southern traditions speak to our souls too. 1917 Manor Rd (512-391-2337). D 7 days. saltysow.com
TOP PICKS FROM OUR DINING GUIDE
Barley Swine | New American
Some nights you’re jammed elbow-to-elbow at a corner community table at this south-side spot. Other nights you’re lucky enough to claim a seat in view of the kitchen action. Either way, you’re guaranteed a delicious experience, whether it’s rabbit three ways (terrine, grilled loin, and crispy schnitzel) or grilled lamb loin partnered with a spicy lamb sausage.
Beer & wine. 2024 S. Lamar Blvd (512-394-8150). D Mon–Sat. $$–$$$
Congress | New American
Cocooned in the Austonian, this genteel little dining room is presided over by attentive servers who coddle you like a sous-vide egg while chef David Bull sends out artful plates boasting flavors that are in no way delicate: think unami-laden huitlacoche gnocchi with white truffle shavings.
Bar. 200 Congress Ave (512-827-2760). D Tue–Sat. $$$$
Contigo | American
At this alfresco spot, stylish picnic tables loaded with rustic comfort food (and guarded by optimistic dogs) will make you feel as if you’re at a backyard dinner party hosted by your coolest friends. On the menu: treats like ox tongue sliders with pickled green tomato and baby romaine salads with zippy blood orange and creamy goat ricotta.
Bar. 2027 Anchor Ln (512-614-2260). D 7 days. B Sun. $–$$
Fonda San Miguel | Mexican
With its hacienda atmosphere, this lovely 37-year-old dining room makes us feel grown-up. Carne asada will sate your appetite, especially if you choose the accompanying enchilada smothered in what might be the city’s definitive mole poblano. Age has its rewards. Bar. 2330 W. North Loop (512-459-4121). D Mon–Sat. B Sun. $$$
Franklin Barbecue | Barbecue
Your initial response to the queue for extraordinary cue is likely to be some variation of “Holy #$%@$! No way.” But get in that festive, tailgating-style line anyway. The hours will fly by and soon you’ll be seated in that turquoise temple inhaling succulent pork ribs, juicy sausages, and what may be the state’s best brisket.
Beer. 900 E. 11th (512-653-1187). L Tue–Sun. $
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue | Barbecue & New American
This fancy barbecue joint attracts a steady crowd every day. The patio is ideal when the weather is nice, and the ’cue is generally spot-on (although this time the thick-cut brisket was a tad dry; the oak-smoked chicken, though, was as juicy as ever). Here’s a tip: try the daily fish special. Our sautéed grouper on savory “low country” rice with tomatoes, onions, and black-eyed peas stole the show.
Bar. 401 W. 2nd (512-494-1500). L Mon–Sat. D 7 days. B Sun. $$–$$$
Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar | Seafood
If you haven’t been to a Larry McGuire joint, you’re likely new to Austin. This spacious seafood spot under giant oak trees is currently the Lady Mary Crawley in his family of restaurants—beautiful and very established. We weren’t quite as taken with our choices this time; the fried calamari was fine but not exceptional, as were the grilled oysters with chewy bits of bacon. Similarly, bouillabaisse, although brimming with shellfish, seemed lackluster. Our new favorite is the classic surf and turf, pieces of rare hanger steak paired with chunks of king crab in the shell; a side of watercress served as a bracing palate cleanser.
Bar. 1400 S. Congress Ave (512-291-7300). L Mon–Fri. D 7 days. B Sat & Sun. $$$
Uchi | Japanese
Overheard at Uchi: “I’m not sure I like [fill in the blank], but I’ll try it here.” And that is what’s so great about this place. Surrender to the magic carpet ride, whether it’s to revisit old favorites like the Pitchfork roll—grilled wagyu and avocado adorned with a “hay” of crispy leeks—or new creations, like exquisite cured hamachi nestled up to karashi mustard and graced with peppery nasturtium leaves.
Beer, wine & sake. 801 S. Lamar Blvd (512-916-4808). D 7 days. $$$
Uchiko | Japanese
Can you eat at Uchiko on a budget? At the “sake social hour” you can, starting with the yokai berry combo of Atlantic salmon and Asian pear with a yuzu dashi, moving on to grilled beef tongue with a citrusy kiss of yuzu kosho, and finishing with koviche, bits of scallop with quartered tomatillos and candied kalamata olive powder.
Beer, wine & sake. 4200 N. Lamar Blvd (512-916-4808). D 7 days. $$$
Vespaio Ristorante | Italian
A SoCo mainstay before there was a SoCo, Vespaio purveys consistently good Italian in a city where it’s in short supply. Warm service and a bustling open kitchen complement imaginative specials, like an impossibly luxe risotto jazzed up with lump crab and tomato conserva and served with tender slices of grilled beef tenderloin.
Bar. 1610 S. Congress Ave (512-441-6100). D 7 days. $$–$$$
More Recommended Restaurants
Backspace | Pizza
507 San Jacinto (512-474-9899). L Mon–Sat. D 7 days. $$
The Blue Ox BBQ & Pancake Cabin | Barbecue
1505 Town Creek Dr (512-537-2047). L Tue–Sun. D Tue–Sat. B Sun. $$$
The Bonneville | New American
202 W. Cesar Chavez (512-428-4643). D 7 days. $$
Cafe Josie | Eclectic
1200 W. 6th (512-322-9226). L Mon–Fri. D 7 days. $$–$$$
Épicerie Café & Grocery | New American
2307 Hancock Dr (512-371-6840). L & D Mon–Sat. B Sun. $$
Josephine House | New American
1204 West Lynn (512-477-5584). L Mon–Sat (snacks and cocktails till 5). $$–$$$
Michi Ramen | Japanese
6519 N. Lamar (512-386-1908). L & D Tue–Sun. $
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All reviews are provided by food editors Patricia Sharpe and Courtney Bond.