Are you wondering what to eat in Austin TX during your first visit to the Lone Star State’s capital city? Read on to discover ten must-eat Austin food favorites that you simply should not miss during your trip to the weird but wonderful city.
Despite its status as the capital of Texas and home of the University of Texas’ main campus, Austin unabashedly takes pride in being weird. In fact, “Keep Austin Weird” has been the Austin Independent Business Alliance’s slogan since the early 2000’s.
Being weird is just part of Austin’s charms. This vibrant Texas city attracts residents and travelers from all the world with world-class art, music (the city claims to be the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’) and food as well as weather conducive to a range of outdoor activities from kayaking to mural-hunting.
Travelers who plan way in advance can attend major festivals like South by Southwest (SXSW) in the spring and Austin City Limits in the autumn. Others can enjoy Austin’s charms on a more leisurely basis, either independently or via activities like a food tour.
Austin Food Guide | What to Eat in Austin
Food travelers won’t have any problem finding food in Austin. One of the best American food cities, Austin is filled with eateries at all price points serving local favorites and fine cuisine. Not all of these eateries are stationary – more than 1,000 food trucks serve a variety of cheap eats around the city.
We get that Austin’s diverse food choices can be overwhelming. With this in mind, we recommend that you start your culinary exploration with the following Austin food favorites:
1. Texas Barbecue
Texas Barbecue is legendary and Austin’s location in Central Texas puts the city in the epicenter of the state’s BBQ action. Crowds queue for hours to eat copious amounts of brisket, pork ribs, chicken and sausage at the best Austin Barbecue joints, often making the wait part of the dining experience.
Unlike barbecue in Memphis, Kansas City and North Carolina, Texas Barbecue doesn’t rely on sauces and rubs for flavor. Instead, Texas pitmasters cook meat low and slow in a hardwood fire pit to achieve melt-in-your-mouth juiciness. Sides like pickles, onions and white bread complete the meaty meal.
Start your Texas Barbecue odyssey with brisket at Franklin BBQ, globally famous due to attention from the late Anthony Bourdain and New York‘s James Beard Foundation. Continue your carnivorous journey at local BBQ joints and trucks in Austin before driving to nearby Lockhart for the ultimate Texas Barbecue day trip.
Read our Lockhart BBQ Guide.
Pro Tip: You can eat at Black’s Barbecue‘s Austin outpost if you don’t have time to venture to Lockhart. But, trust us, you want to make the half-hour drive to Lockhart.
Where to Eat Barbecue in Austin
Franklin Barbecue, Kerlin BBQ, La Barbecue, Micklethwait Craft Meats and Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew
2. Bar Food
Finding a place to drink is Austin is the opposite of a challenge. As a college town and home to a constant stream of 20-somethings moving to the city, Austin has a multitude of bars, beer gardens and music clubs serving all kinds of potent potables.
Tourists who flock to Austin’s ‘dirty’ Sixth Street will find big crowds, sports bars and chains like Coyote Ugly. Sure, there are some good spots in the mix, but we rather go to areas like Rainey Street for a more civilized drinking experience.
Don’t forget to eat before and during any Austin drinking session to avoid intoxication. Uber is a great transportation option if you end up drinking more than you eat.
You can chow down on sausages and beer at aptly named Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden or hunker down at a spot that serves pizza, Tex Mex or BBQ. The bar food options in Austin are practically endless.
Where to Eat Bar Food in Austin
Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden and Bars Around the City
3. Healthy Food
As home to the original Whole Foods Market, Austin has been ahead of the health food movement for decades. Since Whole Foods opened its first shop in 1980, both the store and Austin’s healthy food options have grown exponentially.
Dozens of fast-casual and sit-down Austin restaurants serve food appropriate for vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free diets. These menus aren’t limited to smoothie bowls, but you’ll find the same Acai bowls in Austin that you’ll also find in destinations like Bali.
Start your healthy Austin tour at the flagship Whole Foods. Not only is it cool to visit the chain’s ground zero, but you can kill two birds with one stone by shopping and eating while you’re there. Food bar options include seafood, tacos and BBQ.
Where to Eat Healthy Food in Austin
Whole Foods Market
When you eat Tex-Mex in Austin, expect Mexcian classics tweaked to include lots of cheese as well as spices not typical in Mexico. Pair your Enchiladas or Chimichangas with refried bean, rice and a Spicy Margarita. Why? Because you can!
Where to Eat Tex Mex in Austin
5. Food Trucks
More than a thousand food trucks roam the streets of Austin with many of the best clustered in parks around the city. These clusters provide ample choices as well as tables for those who want to sit while they eat.
Plan to travel the world when you eat at Austin food trucks. In just a day, you can eat food from Brazil, Vietnam and the Middle East or you can keep it local with BBQ and Tex-Mex. If you want dessert, you can eat that at an Austin food truck too.
Where to Find Food Trucks in Austin
Barton Springs (The Picnic), Rainey Street and South Congress Avenue
In Austin, the question isn’t where to find brunch. Rather, with so many restaurants serving the breakfast/lunch hybrid weekend meal, the question is where to find the best brunch for your mood.
We ate classic brunch dishes at 24 Diner and Tex-Mex at Maria’s Taco Xpress for our two Austin brunches. However, Austin brunch options have exploded since our visit. You can and should eat every type of food from the simple to the sublime when you do brunch in Austin.
Where to Eat Brunch in Austin
Pretty Much All Restaurants in Austin
You might not expect to find a lot of sushi in Austin considering the city’s distance from both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. You would be wrong.
In Austin, you can eat sushi at various price points and in different ways. This is a city where you can select sushi from a revolving conveyor belt or settle down to a ten-course omakase meal. As for us, we’re heading straight to Lucky Robot Japanese Kitchen for a dose of sushi fun when we return to Austin.
Where to Eat Sushi in Austin
Uchi (serious) and Lucky Robot Japanese Kitchen (seriously fun)
8. Upscale Dining
A visitor to Austin could easily spend a week eating cheap eats like Tex-Mex and BBQ all week long and leave full and happy. But that would be a shame considering the exciting crop of upscale Austin restaurants taking the fine dining experience in new directions.
Consider the money you save eating at food trucks as an investment in a special meal or two while you’re in Austin. Maybe you’ll want to blow your wad on sushi at Uchiko or at the Barrey Swin chef’s table. Or maybe you’ll choose to fulfill your Top Chef goals at season 10 winner Kristen Kish’s Arlo Grey.
Where to Experience Upscale Dining in Austin
Arlo Grey, Barley Swine and Uchiko
9. Fancy Donuts
Donuts aren’t new to Austin. Bakeries like Round Rock Donuts have been hand-rolling donuts for decades in the weird but wonderful city. But fancy donuts are a newer entry to Austin’s dessert scene.
Gourdough’s opened its first location, a food truck, in 2009 and sells wildly creative donut creations like Funky Monkey, Porky’s and Baby Rattler, each big, fat and delicious. Portland’s Voodoo joined Austin’s donut party in 2015 with their colorful creations including our favorite, the colorful Marshall Mathers donut topped with vanilla icing and miniature M&Ms.
Try at least one fancy donut in Austin. When you do, take a photo before you take a bite. A good donut is always photogenic.
Where to Eat Fancy Donuts in Austin
Gourdough’s Big Fat Donuts and Voodoo Doughnut
Don’t mess with a Texan when it comes to cocktails. The folks in Austin take drinking as seriously as they take their cowboy boots. In other words, they mean business when it comes to cocktails.
Austin is a city where you can satisfy your liquid passion at dive bars and classy lounges. We recommend The Roosevelt Room if you’re in the mood for an upscale mixology session. Otherwise, head straight to casual Curra’s Grill and order a wickedly tasty Avocado Margarita.
Where to Drink Cocktails in Austin
Curra’s Grill and The Roosevelt Room
Useful Austin Facts
Food in Austin FAQs
Austin has a well-rounded food culture that’s famous for its BBQ, Tex Mex, food trucks and healthy options.
Yes. The standard tip at Austin restaurants is 15-20%.
Food in Austin ranges from cheap eats to fine dining. In other words, you can eat for under $50 a day or blow it out and spend much more on fine dining experiences.
Anthony Bourdain visited Barley Swine, El Azteca (permanently closed), El Taco Rico (permanently closed), Franklin BBQ, JMueller BBQ, La Mexicana Bakery (permanently closed), Lala’s, Quality Seafood and Texas Chili Parlor while filming the eighth season of No Reservations.
Phil Rosenthal visited Birdie’s, Distant Relatives, Interstellar BBQ, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya, Le Roy and Lewis Barbecue, Nixta Taqueria, Salt Lick BBQ, Suerte and Torchy’s Tacos while filming the sixth season of Somebody Feed Phil.
People typically eat dinner between 7pm and 9pm in Austin.
Yes. Reservations are necessary at Austin’s better restaurants.
Hungry for More in the USA?
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.
We self-funded our trip to Austin.
Original Publication Date: February 7, 2020