Feature

Austin's 15 Most Ridiculously Fun Restaurants and Bars

By Veronica Meewes  |  March 7, 2016

There's a ton of amazing food in Austin, but sometimes you want more than a traditional seated dinner. The following places offer unique, interactive experiences that are perfect for whatever you may be celebrating, be it a birthday, bachelor party, bon voyage — or just another Wednesday night.

The Highball
There's always something happening at the bar adjacent to the Alamo Drafthouse South theater, be it adult-themed Tittie Bingo, Geeks Who Drink trivia, Cards Against Humanity or live music on their stage. There are also plenty of tables and booth seating plus shareable plates (think deviled eggs with mustard caviar and citrus salt, roasted poblano dip and crispy Brussels sprouts with shishito peppers), making it ideal for group parties. Upstairs, find seven themed karaoke rooms, each with a dedicated server (and a pretty sweet database of songs).

1120 S. Lamar Blvd.; 512-383-8309

DK Sushi
No matter how long you've lived in this city, you can't claim "Austinite" status if you haven't experienced Thursday night karaoke at DK sushi, led by zany owner DK Lee. Arrive at 7 PM to place orders for specialty rolls like The 69'er (California roll topped with salmon, masago, green onion and spicy mayo) and the Naked Tiger (baked green mussel, gourd and avocado topped with tobiko). Sign up right away for a song (the insanely popular karaoke begins at 8 PM) and prepare yourself for lots of expletives and vulgar jokes courtesy of DK, loud music, bright lights, endless sake bombs and a potential stage exit via gong.

5610 N. Lamar Blvd.; 512-302-1090


The patio at Justine's Brasserie (photo by Justine Gilcrease)

Justine's Brasserie
There's a reason Justine's is so popular for celebratory dinners; a meal enjoyed there is a full sensory experience, particularly on weekends. Inside, candles provide flickering ambiance as vinyl spins on the record player. Reserve a table outside for a quieter experience; the patio is enrobed in green velveteen fabric for the cooler months and features an oyster bar illuminated by chandeliers. Plan on staying late for petanque in the courtyard, conversation at the fire table and tintype photos from the Lumiere Tintype photo booth in the backyard. Be sure to explore the psychedelic, mirror-filled Infinity Room back there too; you may never want to leave.

4710 E. Fifth St.; 512-385-2900

Chosun Galbi
The large booths at this Korean BBQ restaurant are ideal for big groups, and the menu is intended for sharing with others so you get to try the most variety of meats. Order raw marinated beef short ribs, pork ribs and thin sliced chicken, beef and pork, then cook each one on the hot grill at the center of the table. Enjoy the fruits of your labor with rice, and plenty of banchan like pickled radish, kimchi, marinated bean sprouts and more. You'll leave smelling like meat, but it's worth it.

713 E. Huntland Dr.; 512-419-1400


Skee-Ball at Full Circle Bar (photo by Veronica Meewes)

This Knish at Full Circle Bar
As if late-night happy hours, free Skee-Ball (certain nights of the week), yard games and Prosecco flowing on tap weren't enough, This Knish now has a retail space inside Full Circle Bar. Choose from several varieties of knishes, as well as pastrami or breakfast knish sandwiches — fueling up on one of these is sure to improve your game! 

1810 E. 12th St.; 512-814-0211

Gourmands
This spacious neighborhood pub offers a welcoming respite from a hectic week, with comfy booths perfect for chowing down on hoagies and tossing back well-priced pints of beer. And if you're looking to blow off a little steam, darts, Ping-Pong and foosball might just be the ticket. 

2316 Weberville Rd.; 512-610-2031


Lepinja bread, sudzukice, ajvar and rotisserie lamb at Balkan Cafe (photo by Veronica Meewes)

Balkan Cafe & Grill
Tucked away in a little retail center on far north Lamar, this family-owned restaurant serves Balkan cuisine, which spans Macedonia, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Each Saturday (with pleasant weather), owner Zivojin "Z" Zekic spit-roasts a lamb and serves it by the pound or half pound on their patio. Large groups may order an entire lamb of their own ahead of time too. Dishes like chewy lepinja bread, sudzukice (beef and lamb sausages), beef gulas (stew), pecene paprike (roasted red peppers in garlic), ajvar dipping sauce and pickles serve as the perfect accompaniment to the tender chunks of rotisserie lamb.

11800 N. Lamar Blvd.; 737-703-5990

La Gris Gris at C-Boys Heart & Soul
This divey South Congress blues and soul club has a full dance floor most weekends and more mellow live music through the week. Red decorative lights cast a firey glow upon the space and soulful Southern cuisine from a trailer called La Gris Gris completes the atmosphere. Order dishes like BBQ shrimp and grits, vegetarian étouffée and garlic-lemon collards with pork belly and a poached egg. After enjoying good food and conversation on the patio, head back onto the dance floor to cut a rug.

2008 S. Congress Ave.; 512-215-0023


Karaoke and a beer flight at The Highball (photo by Knox Photographics)

Punch Bowl Social (pictured at top)
Where can you find bowling, karaoke, Skee-Ball, Ping-Pong and cornhole all under one roof with quality food and drink? Order snacks like truffle kettle chips and stuffed criminis or entrees like tea-brined chicken with mac 'n' cheese and walnut kale tangerine salad. And, course, don't miss the boozy but balanced punch bowls. There's also a brunch menu with "breakfast drinks" like Fernet and coffee and a cilantro gin fizz, which will undoubtedly help you put on your game face before noon.

 11310 Domain Dr.; 512-368-9070

Patrizi's at Butterfly Bar
There's never a dull moment at this divey bar attached to the Vortex theater. There's usually a film projected inside, while the expansive patio is alive with conversation and patrons hula hoop on the lawn or tuck away in the many-windowed little hut out back. Depending on what night you visit, you may catch live music, pub trivia, puppetry or a burlesque act. Above all, be sure to arrive hungry: you won't believe the fresh, handmade pasta and succulent meatballs coming out of this food trailer.

2307 Manor Rd.; 512-478-5282


Photo courtesy of The Goodnight

The Goodnight
When you want to go bowling but want to something more elevated than nachos and burgers, The Goodnight is here for you. Dine on white tablecloths in the dining room, in the sleek lounge or bar area, or order snacks and drinks to your lane. Chef James Ramsey recently added a variety of dishes to the menu, like mandarin orange poached shrimp with olive oil corn custard and creamy chili and grilled quail with cherry glaze, wilted spinach and blackberry spaetzle. Strike-worthy snacks include Reuben fries and pretzel sticks with Fireman's 4 beer cheese.

2700 W. Anderson Ln. #101; 512-459-5000

Phara's
This Mediterranean restaurant and casbah has become a North Loop institution, thanks to belly dancing beginning each night (Tuesday–Sunday) at 8 PM. Enjoy dishes like shish kebab and roasted lamb shank on the spacious patio or one of the intimate dining rooms, or snack on hummus and meze while smoking hookahs in the colorful Sultan's Lounge. Best of all? You can bring your own wine or beer. 

111 N. Loop Blvd E.; 512-632-7067


Doggie b-day party at Yard Bar (photo courtesy of @marleytheflufftcorgi/Instagram)

Yard Bar
Why not share a party with your four-legged friend? Enjoy shareable snacks like chicken tenders or hushpuppies with housemade "cheez wiz," green onions and sour cream, or choose from a menu of soups, salads and sandwiches. Meanwhile, your pup will love the beef sliders made just for them using beef, carrots, broccoli, squash, pumpkin and flax seeds. Bring in your own canine cake and Yard Bar will provide the doggie ice cream, which comes in two flavors (the PBP with Greek yogurt, pumpkin, bacon and peanut butter and the Hippy with coconut milk, banana, peanut butter and hemp powder). There's also a lengthy list of beer and wine on tap and specialty cocktails like the Kosmic Cowdog (Salty Dog Kosmic Kombucha, Flor de Caña rum, Ancho Reyes and Bad Dog Fire and Damnation bitters).

6700 Burnet Rd.; 512-900-3773

Russian House
Entering Russian House, you'll feel like you've discovered some Eastern European basement party. A coat rack of fur and wool specimens, and plenty of ear-flapped ushankas, greets each guest at the hostess stand, available for the wearing while you sip infused vodkas at the bar — or dine in one of the intriguing rooms filled with tchotchkes and bedecked in lace. Dinner always begins with a shot of vodka on the house which, along with the attire, will really get you in the mood for a barynya performance.

 307 E. Fifth St.; 428-5442

Pinballz
Two levels of vintage pinball machines, carnival games, Skee-Ball, Dance Dance Revolution, air hockey, throwbacks like Ms. Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat and Big Buck Hunter4D simulators and a BYOB policy (beer and wine only, no coolers allowed) make Pinballz a popular place for birthday parties. The menu features the likes of breakfast tacos, fried pickles, mini corndogs, sliders and personal pizzas. Is it the finest selection of snacks you'll find around town? Well, no. But it's exactly what you should be eating while wacking a mole and consulting Zoltar.

8940 Research Blvd.; 512-420-8458 


Pinballz birthday party (photo by Veronica Meewes)