Consistently serving some of the best Mexican food in the city is South Congress stalwart Güero’s (1412 S. Congress Ave., 512/447-7688, www.guerostacobar.com, $7–15). Located in a historic feed store with loads of South-of-the-border and South Austin charm, Güeros draws foodies and celebrities for its delectable Mexican food—perfectly seasoned chicken enchiladas in a tangy tomatillo sauce, savory beef and pork tacos, and a heavenly queso flameado (melted cheese). One of Güeros’ biggest fans is former President Bill Clinton, and the restaurant has a menu item named in honor of his favorite combo: chicken taco, beef taco, tamale, and guacamole salad.
Perhaps the most popular Tex-Mex restaurant in town is Chuy’s (1728 Barton Springs Rd., 512/474-4452, www.chuys.com, $8–15), and for good reason. This funky Elvis-obsessed establishment is a reliable source of classic Tex-Mex—enchiladas, tacos, and quesadillas—with a Southwestern flair (blue tortillas, green chiles). The margaritas are highly recommended, and the chips and salsa are so good, you’ll find yourself filling up on them before your entrée arrives. It’s worth exercising some self control for the whole (stacked) enchilada.
To get an authentic feel for the old-time Austin that locals pine for, drop by Magnolia Café South (1920 S. Congress Ave., 512/445-0000, www.cafemagnolia.com, $8–14). This chilled-out, veggie-friendly, late-night spot offers Southern charm and hearty breakfasts all day—their famous gingerbread pancakes are especially appealing after a big night on the town. Magnolia’s Tex-Mex plates (enchiladas, in particular) are also noteworthy.
Another old-school Austin joint is Artz Rib House (2330 S. Lamar Blvd., 512/442-8283, www.artzribhouse.com), serving the best baby back ribs in town. They’re fall-off-the-bone tender, and the combination of succulent flavors from the seasoned rub, savory smoked meat, and tangy sauce is tantalizing. Combine them with a cold beer or Dr Pepper, sides of potato salad and pinto beans, and a heaping helping of live music (playing most nights in the main room around 8 p.m.), and you’ll have an unforgettably authentic Austin experience.
Less laid back but equally delicious is the South Congress Cafe (1600 S. Congress Ave., 512/447-3905, www.southcongresscafe.com, $9–22). Located in the heart of the trendy South Congress scene, this little restaurant is big on style and taste. Most dishes are Southwestern-influenced, and all the portions are huge. The pork tenderloin and blue-corn crêpes are local favorites.
Consistently voted one of Austin’s top restaurants, Uchi (801 S. Lamar Blvd., 512/916-4808, www.uchiaustin.com, $9–16, closed Sunday) is a must for Japanese food lovers or anyone who’s been looking to explore sushi beyond the basic crab and California rolls. Knowledgeable and friendly waitstaff politely explain and recommend items, and the atmosphere is comfortable yet romantic. Suggested dishes include the Muscovy duck, striped bass sushi, and baby bok choy. Not surprisingly, sushi is a specialty (the sushi bar is a singles hot spot). Uchi remains one of the city’s most popular restaurants, so reservations are highly recommended.
Austin was in dire need of a quality Italian restaurant when it was saved by the magnificent Vespaio (1610 S. Congress Ave., 512/441-6100, $12–24). This tiny trattoria (as in 15 tables small) is well worth the hour-long wait, since it’s impossible to go wrong with any of the impressive menu items or extensive daily specials. The appetizers are incredible—seared tuna and sliced braesola (dry-cured beef) with aged provolone—and the entrées are simply outstanding. The mixed meat plate, seafood grill, spaghetti alla carbonara, and handkerchief pasta are just a few of the delectable options. If you have the time, stick around for a post-meal port or brandy.
© Andy Rhodes from Moon Texas, 6th Edition