2027 Anchor Lane
+1 512 614 2260
Contigo is the brainchild of owner Ben Edgerton who grew up on his family’s 4,000 acre ranch of the same name in Jim Wells County, TX. He always wanted to open a restaurant and so created this incredible interpretation of the ranch in East Austin. We landed at Contigo on a perfect Sunday afternoon and were treated to cold beers and spicy margaritas in the open-air dining room. The whole place feels like a high-end state fair with string lights and glossy picnic benches, and the food is even better. Andrew Wisehart who was formerly at the Michelin-starred Le Toque in Napa runs the kitchen and while the menu is all Texas, it's also really inventive. Don’t leave without trying the rabbit & dumplings, pigs in a blanket or the strawberry doughnuts. We were there for brunch, which was pure perfection, but I’m guessing any meal here is a great one and at night the scene must be simply magical.
2402 San Gabriel Street
+1 512 220 0953
Visiting Austin and not eating barbecue is an unthinkable sin. There are many places to choose from, and while Freedmen’s is perhaps lesser known than some of the most famous (think Franklin’s or Salt Lick), I would argue that is superior in every way. For starters, it’s in the coolest building ever. Just a quick history: The building is a landmark, built in 1869 by a former slave named George Franklin. It became the heart of Wheatvale, one of Austin’s freedmen’s settlements (hence the name). Over the years the building served as a residence, a church and a grocery, and you can truly feel the history within its walls. So now that your history lesson is over, let’s get to the food and drink here. For starters, Freedmen’s is big into retro craft cocktails and their whiskey wall is also something you have to see. The food at Freedmen’s is straightforward barbecue and it’s really, really delicious. Go for The Holy Trinity (brisket, pork spare ribs & house-made sausage) and add some sides (the grilled cabbage slaw with cider vinegar is the perfect accompaniment to cut some of the fat in the meat) or starters (smoked beets with herbed goat cheese – not your typical bib item!) and do not leave without eating at least twice your body weight in the smoked banana pudding.
400A West 2nd Street
+1 512 499 0300
Maybe it’s enough to tell you that La Condesa has the largest selection of 100% blue agave tequila and mezcal in all of Austin, or that its bar program is run by Cocktail World Cup champion Nate Wales. Or maybe it’s enough to tell you that when it comes to modern Mexican fare, Chef Rick Lopez is so good he was nominated for a James Beard award for best New Restaurant. Or maybe it’s just enough to tell you that every single thing on this menu (I know because I really did try every. single. thing) is incredible – from the four types of guacamole (jumbo lump crab with apple and coconut vinegar? Yes, that’s true). To the zanahoria (roasted carrots, crispy quinoa and pickled currants with a carrot top chimichurri) to the huarache de nopal y chorizo masa (grilled cactus paddle) to the bistec asado (grilled hanger steak with garlic mojo, bone marrow, beef tongue & radish) and the carne torcida tacos (smoked brisket pastrami on a rye tortilla with horseradish). The room feels a little sterile, but other than that, this is a definite must.
507 Calles Street
+1 512 236 1022
This is the first (and only) place I have ever had vegan chicharrones. Yes, you read that right: VEGAN. CHICHARRONES. I didn’t understand it either, and I’m still not sure I fully grasp how they were made (tapioca, I think?), but they were DAMN good, and you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between them and the real thing. And the most amazing part about them is that they are not all indicative of the menu at Mettle (meaning this is NOT a health food joint). Mettle is a bright, airy and a very cool bistro-type place in up and coming East Austin. The menu includes gems such as bacon tater tots (vegan what?), fried black-eyed peas, fried chicken and chicken fried beef cheeks. If fried isn’t your thing, there are lighter options (no judgment) including grilled scallops and yes, a vegan “soul” plate.
1600 East 6th Street
+1 512 436 9626
Paul Qui is the resident bad boy chef of Austin. Born in the Philippines, he grew up loving to cook and went on to win season 9 of Bravo’s Top Chef. Over the past few years he has taken over the Austin food scene with a series of food trucks (East Side King) and this, his eponymous restaurant. Qui is kitschy and playful and can be scary. The menu reflects what Qui has always been about – a blend of French and Japanese cuisine with a little Texas thrown in, and I say scary because on paper a lot of it seems unlikely and maybe even inedible. But let me tell you: leave your judgments at the door. This food is off the hook insanely good. The offerings change often so it’s hard to pin down what you might have the pleasure of trying, but whatever he’s cooking, you should be eating.
*Note: Since we ate there, they have opened a Tasting Room that you can purchase tickets for in advance. From what we can tell it looks like a pretty insane option, so try and get in, and please let us know how it is!