South by Southwest is not just about music, film and interactive technology. It’s also about the eclectic food available at SXSW and throughout the “Live Music Capital of the World.” Over the past decade, Austin has emerged from merely a great destination for food lovers to a world-class destination for foodies. To help you sort through what to eat and where to go, here is a look at some of the best restaurants in Austin and some of the best food trucks you should visit at SXSW.
200 Congress Ave.
Austin, TX 78701
One of the most widely reviewed restaurants in the city, Congress offers both an à la carte and prix-fixe menu using “the freshest, premium ingredients” available. Sample selections from the tasting menu include such extravagant creations as Charred Hamachi Crudo, Black Trumpet Tortellini and Akaushi Striploin. Executive chef David Bull is a Culinary Institute of America graduate and has earned numerous awards for the restaurant, including best restaurant in Austin for three consecutive years and among America’s Top 50 Hotel Restaurants. Congress is located on the ground floor of the Austonian, the tallest residential building in Texas.
900 E. 11th St.
Austin, TX 78702
Ranked the best BBQ in Texas by Texas Monthly and the best in the country by Bon Appetit, Franklin Barbecue is open only for lunch. But this eatery right off Interstate 290 in downtown Austin is well worth a visit and has been featured extensively from several other leading foodie sites like No Reservations, Eater and Food and Wine. The long lines will be there with or without SXSW, but loyal customers swear it will well be worth the wait. Recommendations from owner/chef Aaron Franklin‘s menu include Tipsy Texan sandwich ($8), Brisket ($10) and Chopped Beef ($8).
604 Brazos St.
Austin, TX 78701
Featuring one of the most diverse wine lists in the city, The Driskill Grill has often been cited as the best restaurant in Austin. The winner of multiple awards, including Top 25 Hotel Restaurants and Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, the celebrated restaurant is located inside Austin’s oldest operating hotel – The Driskill, completed in 1886. The restaurant is led by executive chef Troy Knapp who presents a nightly five-course menu featuring fresh seasonal ingredients and a lavish seven-course tasting menu with optional sommelier-guided wine pairings. Although the menu changes daily, signature dishes to enjoy include Dijon-Crusted Lamb Chops, Prime Dry Aged Filet Mignon and Cornbread-Stuffed Texas Quail.
Four Seasons Hotel
98 San Jacinto Blvd.
Austin, TX 78701
Austin has a wealth of outstanding steakhouses and TRIO is just one of them. And while this Austin restaurant was recognized for Best Service and Best Steak, the Four Seasons Hotel is also one of the major venues for SXSW. TRIO is led by executive chef Elmar Prambs who leads an outstanding staff that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with a Sunday brunch featuring omelets, fresh seafood and smoke roasted Texas ribeye. Also available is a bar menu and happy hour, both open seven days a week.
801 S. Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78704
Ranked as Zagat’s top restaurant in Austin, Uchi Restaurant is also ranked at the top amongst more than 3,000 Austin restaurants from Trip Advisor. Showcasing contemporary Japanese cuisine with moderate prices, Uchi is located across the Colorado River from downtown Austin, near one of the SXSW outdoor venues – Lake Metropolitan Park. The restaurant presents a “Today’s Menu” and everyday menu, with such Japanese delicacies as sushi and sashimi, along with hot and cold tasting dishes like Yokai Nerry with Atlantic salmon, Wagyu Hot Rock and Hamachi Nabe. Uchi Restaurant is led by executive chef Tyson Cole, a James Beard Foundation Award winner for Best Chef Southwest.
Fresh Maine lobster rolls deep in the heart of Texas? That is what you can get from Garbo’s food truck served either Maine or Connecticut-style with homemade chips and a drink. With fresh lobster delivered from her family’s business in New England, Heidi Garbo has only had her food truck around for just a few years. But her business has quickly grown to the point that she was able to open up a restaurant with an extended menu in the Wells Branch section of Austin. Past customers say you won’t find a better place to eat lobster, even from the city’s top restaurants.
Yes, Chi’lantro serves delicious Mexican foods like tacos, quesadillas and burritos. But this food truck also serves Korean-fusion specialties such as pork or rib-eye bulgogi, soy glazed chicken and The Original Kimichi Fries, served with caramelized Korean kimchi, cheese, a “magic sauce” and some cilantro. Chi’lantro also has a restaurant over on South Lamar, with a slightly larger menu, offering kimchi rice balls and K-pops – Korean fried chicken wings served with either honey butter or gangnam sauce and a spicy ranch.
East Side King
If you love Asian street food, then East Side King is one food truck you must visit while at SXSW. Just how good is the food? Well co-owner Paul Qui was the winner of “Top Chef” Season 9, Food and Wine’s Best New Chef last year and a James Beard Award-winning chef. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Austin, Qui and his partner Moto Utsunomiya offers a variety of delicious foods from their menu, such as Thai Chicken Karaage ($8), Poor Qui’s Buns ($7) and Beet Fries ($7). If you are looking for something more upscale while in Austin, you might want to check out Qui Austin, voted the Best New Restaurant in America by GQ.
The official winner of the Truck by Truckwest 2013 Taste Off, this food truck doesn’t have owners (Eric and Liz) that will shout out their business name to customers waiting in line, unless, of course, you’re taking your time. Instead, they serve incredibly delicious gourmet sandwiches along with fresh homemade chips. Described as “offending the masses,” only four permanent sandwiches are on the menu but each of them are exceptional, particularly the Shiner-Bock beer-battered Monte Cristo with a pit-smoked ham and mesquite-smoked turkey, cheddar and provolone cheese and served with a homemade cherry and fig jelly. Not convinced this truck is worth trying? How’s this for proof – Hey!…You Gonna Eat or What recently appeared at No. 58 among Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in 2015, just behind Franklin Barbecue at No. 56.
Selected as one of the top food trucks in the country The Peached Tortilla specializes in Asian-Southern fusion cuisine. Among the superb dishes at affordable prices found on the menu are sliders ($3.23), burritos ($6.70) and tacos ($3), including founder Eric Silverstein’s signature dish, the BBQ Brisket Taco. Just last year, the former litigator-turned-entrepreneur opened up a brick and mortar location a few miles north of downtown Austin. In addition to being honored as one of the Top 101 Food Trucks in the U.S. by The Daily Meal, the Peached Tortilla was also featured as one of the top 10 food trucks in America by LIVE! Kelly and Michael.
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Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.