Austin Dining: Tastefully Laid back
The celebrations of our lives are punctuated by the clink of glasses. We savor special moments by sharing meals with those we love. Food and wine are inextricably paired with the communal events that commemorate our milestones.
When it’s time to pause and give thanks for the blessings of our lives, you may want to mark the event at one of Austin’s best downtown restaurants. Our area draws more than its fair share of fine chefs and skilled restauranteurs, who add a little Texas heat to their well-seasoned palettes, creating meals to remember. We’ve assembled a little list of the best downtown Austin restaurants; one taste, and you’ll be looking for an excuse to visit them again. National Grammar Day is just around the corner….
Exceptional Cuisine in a Laid-Back Style
Austin has attracted more and more attention from the culinary world. In the past twenty years, our city has emerged from relative obscurity and taken a good share of the awards and accolades handed out annually by recognized chefs and critics. Whether you prefer a recent arrival or an old favorite, there are a few downtown Austin restaurants that you simply must try.
Since 1975, this Austin bistro has served presidents and pop stars, SXSW partygoers and loyal locals with sophisticated palates. But this is not a white-gloves-and-pearls sort of place; its relaxed and intimate atmosphere is distinctly Austin. Jeffery’s is, in many ways, a pioneer in the Austin food scene, proving to other high-end restaurants that this area can — and will — support talented chefs and inspired menus.
The owners have recently sold Jeffrey’s, and it will close temporarily at the end of March for menu and physical renovations. The new owner pledges to retain the character of this storied eatery, but you still may want to come by for a meal or two before it officially changes hands.
The finest Italian food in Austin can be found at this sophisticated trattoria in the SoCo neighborhood. A consistent winner of critic’s awards, the menu is a blend of wafer-thin, wood-fired pizzas, perfect handmade pastas and northern Italian dishes prepared with fresh herbs and vegetables from the restaurant’s own garden. Try the daily special risotto, and make sure to include one of the sumptuous desserts. This is one of the most romantic atmospheres in Austin, and a sure bet for a date night that must impress.
There may not be any more authentically Texas restaurant than the Driskill Grill. Housed in the magnificent Driskill Hotel, built by a cattle baron of the same name in 1886, it regularly appears at the top of local and national “best of” lists. It’s been recognized by a laundry list of critics from the most well-known publications and organizations: Wine Spectator, Fodor’s, Zagat, AAA, Food & Wine, Condé Nast Traveler, and Travel & Leisure to name just a few.
But it’s not just the plush, 19th century interior or the magnificent dishes that set this landmark apart. This is a five-star restaurant that’s committed to local, organic ingredients, producing a “farm-to-table,” three-course menu each night, showcasing the absolute best of Central Texas farmers.
Uchi & Uchiko
What can be said that hasn’t already been said about Tyson Cole and two of the premiere sushi restaurants in the nation? Uchi, opened in 2003, has rocketed up the critics’ charts, earning accolades from Bon Appétit, Zagat, and Texas Monthly. Uchiko, the Japanese farmhouse inspired “child of Uchi” that opened in 2010, immediately garnered top mentions from Texas Monthly, the three largest Texas newspapers, and GQ magazine.
Cole himself was named one of the “Top 10 Best New Chefs” by Food & Wine in 2005, and appeared on the Iron Chef television program. But when Cole received the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southwest in early 2011, it secured him a place in the pantheon of American chefs that few ever reach. A meal at either restaurant will engender a new appreciation of the simple, exquisite flavors inherent in all ingredients and the deft hand that respects them enough to let them speak for themselves.
Much of Austin’s fine dining scene is the result of long-tended reputations, molded over thousands of exquisite evenings. Barley Swine, named after two of chef Bryce Gilmore’s favorite things (pork and beer) has built a remarkable reputation in slightly more than a year, securing a dedicated following that enabled him to trade in his trailer for a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
But Gilmore’s new notoriety — he was named of one of America’s best new chefs by Food & Wine in 2011 — has not blunted his focus. A kaleidoscope of fresh ingredients are gently nudged onto “small plates,” allowing diners to compose their own gastronomic melody for each unique evening. Barley Swine is about as far away from mass production as you can get, with only 34 seats available for a few lucky diners. Make sure you’re one of them.
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The End to a Perfect Evening
After a beautiful meal, there’s nothing better than sharing a few bites of dessert and a hot cup of coffee. To polish off the perfect evening, stop by one of the many dessert spots in Austin.
- Gourdoughs — Open all day and most of the night, Gourdoughs serves some of the most unusual, wonderful, phenomenal doughnuts ever created. Don’t even think of them as doughnuts — think of them as little pieces of heavenly artistic license, housed in a vintage trailer on South Lamar.
- 1886 Cafe & Bakery — Located in the Driskill Hotel, this is a great place to get a late night snack, or linger over a cup of coffee. The 1886 Chocolate Cake is legendary, but don’t have it without the homemade ice cream. You’ll never need to eat again.
- Amy’s Ice Creams — Several locations around Austin make this a convenient place to top off your evening with a scoop, but the real draw of Amy’s is the creativity they bring to their flavors. They offer free samples, so try at least a few. Flavors change often and new concoctions are developed regularly, so you might find almost anything: bacon jalepeño popper, big boy breakfast, burnt caramel, ancho chocolate, and Shiner Bock are just a few of the hundreds of flavors created over the years.
- Chez Zee — An Austin favorite since 1989, Chez Zee serves up some of the most delicious cakes in Texas, adding a southwest flair to more traditional offerings, including Coco Leches Cake, Creme Brulee French Toast and Godiva Leches Cake.
- Mozart’s — Have dessert on the Lake! Mozart’s is where young lovers and old married couples come to share a dessert (or two) and sip some of the finest coffee, roasted on site. Watch the river flow by from the massive wood deck and just relax into the rest of your evening.