At dinner the other night, my friends and I were discussing all of the new restaurants in town to entertain our upcoming SXSW visitors. The trailer scene exploded last year and some of Austin’s best chefs opened new restaurants: Backspace, Barley Swine, Foreign & Domestic, Haddingtons, Second+Congress, and Uchiko. Trying to pick a place to go out with friends is like playing a roulette of deliciousness.
- Nibbling your way through the farmers markets is a great way to taste some of the best of Austin. On Saturday morning, the Downtown Austin Farmers Market offers terrific vendors like Dai Due, Bola Pizza and Taco Deli. You can dine al fresco, enjoy the live music and soak up the sunshine. On Sunday morning, the Hope Farmers Market in East Austin is another great spot to grab a snack and a cup of coffee.
- Some of the best happy hours in town are at Trio, Parkside, Uchi and Uchiko. Trio offers all of their incredible appetizers are 1/2 off from 5-7 pm, so you get to eat some of the best food in town for the price of a hamburger. Uchi and Uchiko’s social hour offers special prices on a selection drinks and dishes both from the sushi bar and the grill. Parkside’s 1/2 price happy hour for the bar menu, beer and cocktails feels incredibly indulgent and is a total bargain.
- At Second + Congress, Chef David Bull has created the unique experience of two very different restaurants sharing the same space. Second is casual and fun with craft cocktails at the bar and playful dishes like the Buffalo Fried Pickles, Pepperoni Soup, and Beef Short Rib Pizza. Congress, which I haven’t visited yet, is fine dining, possibly the finest in Austin, with a prix fixe only menu of three or seven courses. The Congress Bar menu offers a different selection of craft cocktails and food items from both the Second and Congress kitchens, letting you enjoy the best of both worlds.
- Slightly off the beaten path, Foreign & Domestic in the North Loop neighborhood is worth the effort. Ned and Jodi Elliott are talented, creative and maybe a little crazy resulting in delicious, innovative dishes served in a comfortable diner style restaurant. You know you are in for a different experience when the dinner special comes with a Lone Star tall boy.
- One of my favorite things about Spring in Austin is eating outdoors. The patios at Perla’s, FINO and El Arbol are terrific places to relax, soak in the sun and enjoy lovely meals. [Unfortunately El Arbol closed Fall 2011.]
- In South Austin, I can not get enough of Odd Duck Farm-to-Trailer. Bryce Gilmore is serving up some of the best food in town – from a trailer. I haven’t been to Barley Swine, his new place, yet, but I hear good things. Loving local must run in the family because Bryce’s dad, Jack Gilmore, is also serving up terrific locally sourced fare at Jack Allen’s Kitchen in Southwest Austin.
- Eastside Pies is my favorite pizza in town. One of the owners is a baker and their crust is outstanding. Try their Farm to Table pizza made with farm fresh ingredients.
- 24 Diner serves up high quality diner fare at a reasonable price. I’m particularly fond of the breakfast plates which are all made with locally sourced eggs.
- I like to satisfy my cravings for Tex Mex at Taco Deli. For breakfast, I like the Jess Special taco with their fiery Dona sauce (avoid the salsa if don’t like heat; it’s very, very, very spicy.) The bison taco made with ground bison from Thunderheart is hearty and rich with meaty goodness. I will drive out of my way on Fridays for the delicious ceviche special, offered in a cup or as a taco. At $3.25 it’s the best ceviche deal in town.
Peche, 208 W. 4th St., New American, dinner, average entree $22