South by Southwest is a nonstop carnival of music, movies, panel discussions, networking and partying. But you should take time to eat more than just the gratis energy bars given as corporate swag or the free tacos that come with a long wait in line.
Austin is known for a few culinary treasures: namely, tacos and barbecue. Below is a list of the best of those along with burgers, breakfast spots, and vegetarian-friendly and late-night dining options. All of the restaurants and trailers listed are within about 1 1/2 miles of the Austin Convention Center, the hub of SXSW activity. Restaurants with an * are critic’s picks.
Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que. 217 Congress Ave. 512-474-4227, coopersbbqaustin.com. Now you don’t have to drive to Llano to get this renowned barbecue. Available at lunch and dinner.
*Franklin Barbecue. 900 E. 11th St. 512-653-1187, franklinbarbecue.com. Maybe you’ve heard of this place. What makes it so popular? World-class brisket, awesome ribs, a ceaselessly joyful chef and a line culture unlike any place in Texas.
House Park Bar-B-Que. 900 W. 12th St. 512-472-9621, houseparkbbq.net. Smoked meats with a side of history at Austin’s oldest barbecue restaurant.
Iron Works BBQ. 100 Red River St. 512-478-4855, ironworksbbq.com. Queue up for some sausage, chicken, ribs and a view of Waller Creek.
*Kerlin BBQ. 1700 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-412-5588, kerlinbbq.com. The brisket at this East Austin trailer is good on its own or stuffed inside a kolache for the ultimate Central Texas treat.
*La Barbecue. 2027 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-605-9696, labarbecue.com. Some of the best barbecue in Central Texas. Start with the brisket and hot guts sausage and go from there.
*Lamberts Downtown Barbecue. 401 W. Second St. 512-494-1500, lambertsaustin.com. The fanciest barbecue spot in town, Lamberts smokes traditional meats such as pork shoulder and beef brisket and serves some of the best side dishes of any barbecue spot in Austin. Seats can be hard to come by without a reservation.
*Micklethwait Craft Meats. 1309 Rosewood Ave. 512-791-5961, craftmeatsaustin.com. Find inventive and flavorful sausages and items you won’t find many other places, like pulled lamb. Make sure to get slices of the homemade bread.
Terry Black’s Barbecue. 1003 Barton Springs Road. 512-394-5899, terryblacksbbq.com. Grandsons of one of the scions of Lockhart barbecue have brought their old-school approach to lunch and dinner service just south of the river.
*24 Diner. 600 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-472-5400, 24diner.com. Fried chicken biscuit, Belgian waffles and more breakfast favorites are served around the clock.
Annie’s Cafe & Bar. 319 Congress Ave. 512-472-1884, anniescafebar.com. Enjoy omelets and French toast in the morning at this cafe with sidewalk seating and a view of Congress Avenue.
Arturo’s Underground Cafe. 314 W. 17th St. 512-469-0380, arturosundergroundcafe.com. Egg sandwiches, breakfast tacos and other Southwestern specialties are served in the morning at this hidden favorite that has been around for more than 20 years.
*Counter Café. 626 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-708-8800; 1914 E. Sixth St. 512-351-9961; countercafe.com. You can almost reach over and touch the grill at this modern diner that turns out great burgers, crab cakes with poached eggs and curried peanut sauce, and all of the breakfast classics.
*Cenote. 1010 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-524-1311, cenoteaustin.com. Stop in for coffee, breakfast sandwiches, scrambles, bagels and granola.
*Elizabeth Street Café. 1501 S. First St. 512-291-2881, elizabethstreetcafe.com. This posh Vietnamese spot is a great little under-the-radar breakfast option thanks to its coffee, pastries and dishes like a wood ear mushroom and roasted pork omelet. Grab a macaron to go.
Forthright Cafe. 98 San Jacinto Blvd. 512-433-6155, forthright.cafe. Waffle breakfast sandwiches in the morning and American classics like a turkey BLT at lunch make for an approachable and familiar menu at this cafe with an outdoor patio near Lady Bird Lake.
Hillside Farmacy. 1209 E. 11th St. 512-628-0168, hillsidefarmacy.com. This pâtisserie and café serves an egg sandwich, bangers and eggs, and more until 1 p.m.
*Jo’s. 242 W. Second St. 512-469-9003; 1300 S. Congress Ave. 512-444-3800; joscoffee.com. Good coffee, breakfast sandwiches and pastries at locations downtown and south of the river.
Juan in a Million. 2300 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-472-3872, juaninamillion.com. Juan in a Million has been putting out Tex-Mex classics such as huevos rancheros and breakfast tacos for more than 30 years. Expect a line.
*Paperboy. 1203 E. 11th St. paperboyaustin.com. The breakfast sandwiches are beautiful representations of the form, with fluffy brioche buns and perfect sunny-side-up eggs
*Casino El Camino. 517 E. Sixth St. 512-469-9330, casinoelcamino.net. All red and black, this cavernous Sixth Street classic has a devilish attitude and serves up fat, aggressive burgers.
*Chicon. 1914 E. Sixth St. 512-354-1480, contigotexas.com/chicon. You’ll find a great burger in a smartly designed Southwest Texas space. Make sure to get a whiskey cocktail as well.
*Chicon at Fareground. 111 Congress Ave. faregroundaustin.com. The owners of Contigo and Chicon have their own spot in Austin’s first food hall, and there you can get their popular burger.
Hopdoddy. 1400 S. Congress Ave. 512-243-7505, hopdoddy.com. Quality ingredients and thoughtful flavor profiles make for long lines on South Congress.
Hut’s Hamburgers. 807 W. Sixth St. 512-472-0693, hutsfrankandangies.com. This nostalgia-packed restaurant not only serves up burgers made with Texas-raised beef but also make burgers with buffalo and longhorn meat.
Jackalope. 404 E. Sixth St. 512-472-3663, jackalopebar.com. The stars of the show here are the fat burgers. Try the honey jalapeno bacon burger or the Chupacabra (goat barbacoa).
*Luke’s Inside Out. 1109 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-589-8883, lukesinsideout.com. The juicy cheeseburger awash in special sauce and layered with crispy bacon is the kind you’d hope to find at a backyard party run by your groovy Old Austin friend.
*Parkside. 301 E. Sixth St. 512-474-9898, parkside-austin.com. This Texas gastropub serves one of the best burgers downtown. It’s small but packs a savory punch.
*P. Terry’s. 515 Congress Ave. #130. 512-473-8722; 404 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-473-2217; pterrys.com. Patrick Terry’s patty empire runs on humanely raised and antibiotic-free Angus beef and chicken. For the record, my order is a double with bacon, cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, onions and jalapenos.
Roaring Fork. 701 Congress Ave. 512-583-0000, roaringfork.com. Poblano peppers, cheddar and smoked pepper bacon layer this Southwestern burger with a naughty name we can’t print here.
Sandy’s. 603 Barton Springs Road. 512-478-6322. Get thin, classic burgers and small, crunchy fries at this drive-thru and walk-up spot with the frozen custard sign. Great deals on burger meals Thursday and Saturday.
*Salt & Time. 1912 E. Seventh St. 512-524-1383, saltandtime.com. The marriage of butcher shop and salumeria makes for a unique dining experience and a great, beefy burger.
*Second Bar + Kitchen. 200 Congress Ave. 512-827-2750, secondbarkitchen.com. This New American restaurant on Congress Avenue puts you right in the middle of downtown and serves an incredibly juicy burger
Shady Grove. 1624 Barton Springs Road. 512-474-9991, theshadygrove.com. The restaurant located amid the grove of pecan trees keeps the crowds coming in with a menu that includes green chili hamburgers.
*Swift’s Attic. 315 Congress Ave. 512-482-8842, swiftsattic.com. Fontina cheese and grilled onions give nutty sweetness to this burger served at lunch or dinner.
*24 Diner. 600 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-472-5400, 24diner.com. Farm-to-table comfort food in a diner setting that does away with all the chrome and fluorescent lighting. Try the fried chicken sandwich. Pretty much always open.
*Bouldin Creek Cafe. 1900 S. First St. 512-416-1601, bouldincreekcafe.com. Get your vegetarian (and coffee) fix until midnight daily at South Austin’s home to the hip and crunchy.
*Casino El Camino. 517 E. Sixth St. 512-469-9330, casinoelcamino.net. Grab yourself a fat burger off the grill with a side of whiskey and attitude at this Sixth Street staple. Kitchen is open until 1 a.m.
*Delray Cafe. 1133 E. 11th St. 512-987-4294, facebook.com/delraycafeatx. Yes, many food trailers are open late, but this one gets recognition because it is connected to one of the great late-night drinking spots (Nickel City, the former Longbranch Inn) and serves great versions of classics like chili dogs and chicken wings.
*Frank. 407 Colorado St. 512-494-6916, hotdogscoldbeer.com. Order fancy dogs like the Jackalope (made with smoked antelope, rabbit and pork sausage, and topped with cranberry compote) at this fun spot in the middle of the Warehouse District. Open until at least midnight daily, with full menu available until 2 a.m. on weekends.
*Home Slice Pizza. 1415 S. Congress Ave. 512-444-7437, homeslicepizza.com. Come here to find the best New York City-style slices in Austin and one of the best Italian subs, as well. Neighboring More Home Slice is open until 3 a.m. on the weekends.
*Justine’s. 4710 E. Fifth St. 512-385-2900, justines1937.com. A blend of style and grace, Justine’s offers a unique dining experience, whether you’re sitting at a small table in the dimly lit intimate dining room listening to vinyl or out under the trees and twinkle lights. The party goes until 2 a.m. every night they’re open.
La Mexicana. 1924 South First St. 512-443-6369, la-mexicana-bakery.com. There may be a better middle-of-the-night meal than tacos, but that’s not an argument you want to make in Austin. In addition to tacos, this 24-hour spot also sells a colorful assortment of Mexican pastries.
Magnolia Cafe. 1920 S. Congress Ave. 512-445-0000, themagnoliacafe.com. Funky and fun, this place is a testament to the fact that pancakes and omelets tastes good any time of the day or night. So do quesadillas. Come whenever; stay till whenever.
Max’s Wine Dive. 207 San Jacinto Blvd. 512-904-0111, maxswinedive.com. It’s always the right time for fried chicken and champagne. Open until midnight every night but Sunday.
*P. Terry’s. 404 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-473-2217; 515 Congress Ave. #130. 512-473-8722 pterrys.com. Get yourself a double with bacon and jalapenos (or a veggie burger, if you’re into that sort of thing) until early in the morning.
*Second Bar + Kitchen. 200 Congress Ave. 512-836-5700, secondbarkitchen.com. New American with great burger and pizzas in the heart of downtown. Open until 1 a.m. on weekends.
Texas Chili Parlor. 1409 Lavaca St. 512-472-2828. This Austin institution has been serving up bowls of chili and plates full of burgers and fries since 1976. Open until 2 a.m. daily.
*Via 313. Multiple locations. via313.com. There aren’t many food trucks on this list, but these thick squares of pizza are my favorite thing to eat after a night of drinking. Open late.
*Whataburger. 601 Barton Springs Road 512-477-9586, whataburger.com. Texas Forever. Texas 24/7.
*La Condesa. 400 W. Second St. 512-499-0300, lacondesa.com. This beautiful restaurant feels plucked from the leafy streets of cosmopolitan Mexico City and serves excellent tacos (try the short rib in mole) and one of the best margaritas in town.
*Dai Due Taqeuria at Fareground. 111 Congress Ave. faregroundaustin.com. One of the city’s best restaurants now has a taqueria (think wild boar al pastor on homemade tortillas) in Austin’s first food hall.
*Fresa’s. 915 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-428-5077; 1703 S. First St. 512-992-2946, fresaschicken.com. Walk up or drive-thru on Lamar or sit down at the South First Street location for complex tacos like the El Santo with agave-lime chicken, pickled carrots, jicama, jalapeno and more.
Joe’s Bakery. 2305 E. Seventh St. 512-472-0017, joesbakery.com. This family-owned restaurant has been drawing crowds for more than 50 years with their perfect crispy beef taco, enchiladas and menudo.
*Licha’s Cantina. 1306 E. Sixth St. 512-480-5960, lichascantina.com. Get a taste of Mexican street food like huaraches with huitlacoche and superb tacos such as beef tongue and grilled chicken thigh with morita-orange salsa at this rustic bungalow with expansive outdoor seating areas.
La Mexicana. 1924 S. First St. 512-443-6369, la-mexicana-bakery.com. Barbacoa tacos on fluffy homemade tortillas and Mexican pastries make for a great late-night one-two punch at this 24-hour spot.
*Mellizoz Tacos. 1503 S. First St. 512-916-4996, mellizoztacos.com. This taco trucks serves a great taco take on steak and eggs, an old-school crunchy beef taco and more.
*El Primo. 2100 S. First St. 512-227-5060, elprimomex.com. This tiny taco stand serves solid al pastor tacos, and the gentleman behind the grill couldn’t be sweeter.
*Pueblo Viejo. 502 Brushy St. 512-373-6557, puebloviejoaustin.com. The tacos are, of course, the stars. But the five salsas, from the smoky dusk of an exceptional black habanero to the morning glow of creamy jalapeno, make for a great supporting cast.
*Taco More. 2015 E. Riverside Drive. 512-821-1561, tacomoretx.com. There’s not much in terms of ambiance, but this place serves great tacos and a restorative cabrito consommé.
Tacos Guerrero. 96 N. Pleasant Valley Road. 512-939-2308. Yolanda Guerrero calls everyone “mijo” or “mija,” and there’s not a false note in her familiarity, tacos or salsas.
*Tamale House East. 1707 E. Sixth St. 512-495-9504, facebook.com/tamalehouse.east. The grandchildren of the original Tamale House founders carry on the family tradition with wet migas and famous breakfast tacos.
*Turf N’ Surf. 407 Lavaca St. 512-276-2763, lavacastreet.com. Fresh tuna, snapper, shrimp and mahi are grilled and blackened for great seafood tacos.
*Veracruz All-Natural. 1704 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-981-1760, veracruztacos.com. This growing empire serves the best migas taco in town (and more).
*Bouldin Creek Cafe. 1900 S. First St. 512-416-1601, bouldincreekcafe.com. Home to the best veggie burger in town (add the barbecue sauce), Austin’s temple to vegetarian and vegan fare impresses with dishes like portobello fajitas and zucchini migas.
*Counter Culture. 2337 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-524-1540, countercultureaustin.com. Try the Philly cheesesteak with seitan or the jackfruit barbecue sandwich at this vegan restaurant in East Austin that also serves many gluten-free dishes.
*JuiceLand. 120 E. Fourth St. 737-300-2120; 2601 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-351-8349; 1625 Barton Springs Road. 512-480-9501; juiceland.com. Find grab-and-go vegan dishes packed with impressive flavors, from Mexican and Thai-inspired wraps to falafel and an assortment of snack packs.
*Leaf. 115 W. Sixth St. 512-474-5323, leafsalad.com. Choose from one of Leaf’s salad options, or make your own with a variety of ingredients, many of which are locally sourced.
Mad Greens. 419 W. Second St. 512-213-0160, madgreens.com. Build your own salad from the array of options at this national chain, or order one of their house specials.
MORE AUSTIN EATS
Looking for a fine dining spot or somewhere to dine on a corporate expense account? Check out my Top 25 restaurants in Austin and more at austin360.com/eats.