Austin Texas Restaurants

Texas -- the name conjures up images of barbecue, chicken fried steak, fajitas and tacos, and Austin certainly offers all those favorites, but this is also the city Vegetarian Times named the "number two" greenest city in the U.S. Of course, that does not mean everyone in Austin is nibbling on micro-greens, it just is one more illustration of the city's incredible diversity, a city where creativity is not limited to the music scene.

In the last decade, the Austin restaurant scene has boomed. Some big national names have moved in, but there is something about the Austin approach to living that has helped nurture homegrown restaurants of all flavors. The city has proved to be an exciting place to be a chef-creator and some of the most creative chefs in the country can be found working in unassuming converted bungalows and downtown warehouses, places like Uchi, just south of the river on South Lamar Boulevard where Tyson Cole, one of Food & Wine magazine's top chefs of 2005, wields his sushi knives.

But while the city's top chefs like Cole command attention at restaurants like Wink, Jeffrey's, Aquarelle, and the Driskill Grill, there are dozens of neighborhood bistros and cafes that fit the Austin lifestyle, serving food in relaxed surroundings where no one will ever demand diners put on a jacket and tie. In fact, dress codes are virtually unheard of in Austin restaurants - a cautionary note, flip flops and a t-shirt may be okay out at the lake, but they likely will not get you the best table downtown, however, you are unlikely to be turned away if your jeans are clean and your shirt pressed.

Austin restaurants can be easy on the budget, particularly during happy hour when some of the city's outdoor cafes like Z'Tejas on West Sixth Street offer half-priced appetizers. The Austin Chronicle, the city's alternative newspaper, has a comprehensive Austin restaurant guide and often prints ads featuring coupons. The city's visitor and convention website also has a special offers section featuring coupons and discounts.

Our guides to Austin Texas neighborhoods offer tips on favorites and less well-known cafes and restaurants. Here are some helpful culinary guidelines to keep in mind in Austin.

Some of the best barbecue joints can be found in the small towns around Austin and a barbecue trail can be a great weekend getaway, but there are some popular spots in the city. Many barbecue joints close early since eating barbecue seems more conducive to lazy afternoon feasts. Texas barbecue does not rely on tomato-based sauces, but uses dry marinades to flavor the meat, usually brisket, and smokey pinto beans and potato salad are the traditional accompaniments.

When it comes to Mexican food, there's Tex-Mex, Northern Mexican, Interior Mexican and Latin-American. Generally, Tex-Mex includes the familiar Mexican food, tacos, enchiladas, queso, nachos etc. A good sign it's Tex-Mex is if the cheese is all-American yellow. Northern Mexican means fajitas and grilled meats, flour tortillas and fresh salsa with lots of serranos and jalapeno chiles. Interior Mexican is often inspired by the great regional cooking of Mexico -- Oaxaca (black beans and moles), Puebla (mole poblano made with chocolate and chiles), and Veracruz (seafood with mild chiles and tomatoes).

Italian restaurants have come of age in Austin with sophisticated Northern Italian fare, family restaurant pizza joints and hip antipasto bars. The same goes for other ethnic cuisine in the city as Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Indian restaurants have flourished, many of them popular with the city's diverse hi-tech population.

Local traditions include leisurely Sunday breakfast, particularly Mexican breakfast tacos and scrambled egg migas often served well into mid-afternoon, reflecting Austin's late night habits. Noshing and grazing, rather than sitting down for a three course meal, is gaining in popularity with appetizer and tapas menus flourishing. Pub grub and wine bars serving small dishes are other popular options.

Grocery stores like Whole Foods in downtown Austin and the city's two Central Markets, one Southwest and the other near Hyde Park in Central Austin, are offering a vast array of cooked, ready-to-go food, and their outdoor cafes are very popular. The city also has lots of places to picnic or have a leisurely lunch in the park -- our neighborhood guides offer some tips.

Late night dining has taken hold, particularly in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown. Bistros have been become popular and their menus often offer a variety of dishes influenced by several cuisines so it is not hard to find a spot where a meat-eater and a vegetarian can dine comfortably together. Austin is, after all, a city where barbecue and tofu coexist.

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