Despite the ongoing boom in chain coffee-shops, Austin locals prefer to frequent longstanding local cafes with friendly, familiar staff and a good selection of light bites. Discover the best places to relax with a small meal and some good vibes in Texas by visiting one of these top 10 Austin cafes.
Traditional Dinner at South Congress Cafe Courtesy South Congress Cafe
South Congress Cafe
Continental cuisine meets local Austin culture at the South Congress Cafe, which offers a wide range of food ranging from peppered omelets to fresh gumbo. The cafe was founded in 2003 in response to a new generation of local artists, and aims to provide a progressive approach to modern food. The building itself is a testament to this model; originally a drugstore built in the 1940s, the South Congress Cafe decided to preserve the original brick structure in the bar, while remodeling the rest of the restaurant. Modern architectural details mix with South Congress history, and classic American dishes are served with signature house margaritas. For great drinks, stop by during happy hour weekdays 3-6pm and experiment with a pomegranate martini or habanero pepper-infused tequila. The South Congress Cafe is also great for families who can stop by during brunch and enjoy the classic South Congress Caesar salad.
Located on the busy campus of The University of Texas at Austin, Texas French Bread prides itself on providing artisan breads and a fresh ‘farm-to-table’ dinner. Preferring to let the ingredients ripen naturally on-site, Texas French Bread sources its fruits and vegetables from local vendors with a low carbon footprint. Owners Judy and Paul Willcott don’t stop there; in their commitment to creating a sustainable production process, they avoid fossil fuel-based fertilizers and chemical pesticides. The original menu offered peasant-style French bread, but diners can now enjoy a casual bistro-style dinner that blends French and Mediterranean cooking styles. Be sure to check the menu before heading out: each week’s dishes will change depending on the seasonal variations in vegetable availability. The website also features the Texas-based farms used to provide that week’s delicious dinner, ranging from baked polenta to pork Milanese.
Spider House is set on The University of Texas at Austin campus and is marked out by its antique, one-of-a-kind décor. Sit on the outdoor patio, which boasts art installations including garden statues, twinkle lights and swings, and enjoy a drink. The Spider House Ballroom also often features upcoming musicians in front of red-velvet curtains. Patrons can stay inside working until 2am, but beware, this hotspot is rumoured to be haunted. In fact, it’s almost scary how many locally-crafted beers the Spider House has on tap, alongside baked goods from Quack’s Bakery and fruit cocktails from JuiceLand. Come out during the 5-8pm happy hour, which features good drink specials.
Established in 1947, Hills Cafe has survived floods and fires to provide fresh steaks, burgers, and BBQ to the growing population of Austin. The location of Hills Cafe is a historic monument that began as a 20-seat coffee shop before slowly expanding to the current 500-seat covers, all while preserving the classic recipe for a fine steak crafted by founder Charlie Goodnight. Patrons of Hills Cafe can listen to live music each Friday and Saturday evening from 7pm, best enjoyed over one of the house drinks such as the Goodnight Margarita. Each day also features a special, from Tex-Mex Tuesday to Stagecoach Saturday, where customers can order an $8.99 plate including a side and signature dish.
Home to the famous ‘i love you so much!’ graffiti in Austin, Jo’s is a South Congress staple due to its covered outdoor seating area fit for business meetings and people-watching alike. Locals love this simple establishment thanks to its commitment to making great coffee; in fact, the Austin Chroniclegave Jo’s the ‘Critic’s Coffee’ award three years in a row. Aside from the delicious lattes and macchiatos, Jo’s is known for baked goods like muffins, breads, and rolls baked fresh and served out of a pastry case. Customers can also enjoy Taco Deli tacos served hot each morning at 8am, which showcases the great relationship Jo’s has with other local businesses. Jo’s is widely respected due to the active hosting of South by San Jose, the Pet Parade, and the Chili Cook-off. Come out during these activities, or on any weekday morning for a wake-up call, and don’t forget to snap a quick picture with the famous slogan on the side of the building.
Austin Java is an Austin staple, beloved so much that it has made its way into the Austin airport. As a favor to night owls that refuse to wake up in the morning, Austin Java serves breakfast all day and features house-made tortillas and salsa. Build a breakfast taco from scratch, or stick to a simple shot of espresso; either way, you’ll receive a great snack made from fresh ingredients. Austin Java makes all coffees in a low-emissions roaster powered by biofuel and grinds organic coffee beans. Even the to-go cups are 100 per cent recycled. The best feature of Austin Java, however, may be the art featured at the City Hall 2nd street location. Local artists can feature collections on the wooden-paneled walls of this outfit, which are available for purchase by patrons.
Though Cenote is an East Austin cafe, its namesake refers to the deep wells of the Yucatan Peninsula found in Mayan civilization. Although it does not provide water to the cafe anymore, the local well still sits on the property. The building itself is an amazing treasure; built in 1887, the house appears on Austin’s first hand-drawn map in 1889. The cafe foods are no less impressive; each single-origin coffee is French-pressed and the food is sourced from local farms and an on-site garden. Cenote serves up great sandwiches and salads, gluten-free pastries, and now features Rockstar Bagels for breakfast connoisseurs.
A South Congress essential, Snack Bar offers tapas-style meals all day to locals and tourists walking through the quaint shops and historical buildings . There is something for everybody, from the Mediterranean falafel to the Japanese sake, and portions are available in snack size to pass around. The menu is friendly to vegans and gluten-free patrons, and prides itself on locally grown foods with globally inspired roots. Snack Bar is also a great place to come after a long work day, with a 4-7pm happy hour featuring discounted drinks and $2 off selected snacks. Snack Bar is dog-friendly and a great spot to sit in the shade and enjoy looking out at the South Congress visitors, alone or with a large group.
The Hangover Burger at 1886 Café and Bakery Courtesy The Driskill
1886 Cafe & Bakery
Located in the heart of Austin’s sixth street district, the 1886 Café & Bakery is housed in the historic Driskill Hotel. The delicious recipes are the product of the successful 1886 Lunchroom founded by The Heritage Society of Austin after the hotel was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1969. To pay homage to the cafe history, the current bakery now features Texas comfort foods and the traditional pastries of the 1886 Lunchroom. This historic cafe is open from 6.30am to 10pm daily for small bites such as marinated olives as well as larger plates such as The Driskill Muffaletta. For a real Texas treat, the 1886 chocolate cake is made with a recipe that dates back to the opening of the Driskill Hotel.
The Cafe Crepe was founded by two French natives to bring traditional French cuisine to the Texas restaurant scene. The menu boasts authentic savory and sweet crepes that are best eaten with the house wines and specialty beers offered from Cafe Crepe. The atmosphere mimics a cozy Parisian cafe and the walls are covered with French signs and plates. Cafe Crepe makes a house-blend coffee, but visitors should not expect a wide range of foods. By focusing on their signature dish, the crepe, this small, downtown cafe has become the standard for authentic French fare. Wake up early for a morning special between 7.30 and 10.30am which includes a delicious crepe, coffee, and fruit salad.