The Ultimate High-Low Austin Dining Guide

By Megan Giller  |  February 17, 2014
Credit: Flickr/eblaser

Going out to eat can be expensive. Fortunately, Austin has its fair share of places for food lovers on a budget as well as places to indulge when money is no object. No matter what camp you’re in, here are smart choices for sushi, steak, barbecue, cocktails and more.

  • Burger

    Budget: Mighty Fine. This local chain is always a people-pleaser, not least because you can get a quarter-pound hamburger with the fixings for $3.74 and fries for $1.19. The menu is cheap, and Mighty Fine is Austin through and through: it uses all-natural, antibiotic-free, preservative-free meat and fresh ingredients across the board.

    Splurge: Porter Ale House. The burger here is serious business: the patty itself is made with freshly ground short rib, filet and hanger steak, and it comes topped with triple-cream brie, crisp pancetta and kettle chips. With addictive fries on the side, it’s worth the $14.

  • Adventurous Cocktails

    Budget: Rio Rita. The East Side coffee shop turns into a lounge come nightfall, with cheapish strong drinks. $6 gets you a house margarita, paloma, ginger hound, French ’75, a fancy gin sour and more. Or spend a bit more and try one of the famous infused vodkas (we like the habanero).

    Splurge: Midnight Cowboy. The upscale, reservation-only cocktail lounge is hidden in the midst of Dirty Sixth Street. Ring a bell and give the password, and then treat yourself to $12 cocktails made tableside by some of the most experienced mixologists in town.

  • Credit: Spencer Selvidge

    Tasting Menu

    Budget: Carillon. Though a tasting menu is never going to be cheap, chef Josh Watkins keeps it doable, with six courses for $70. Creative New American never tasted better.

    Splurge: Uchi and Uchiko. The price ranges from $170 to $220 depending on the day, and the list features a mix of the “greatest hits” of the menu and daily specials.

  • Credit: Spencer Selvidge


    Budget: Hightower. The new comfort-food restaurant on East Seventh Street keeps its prices affordable with off-cuts of meat. Try the hanger steak, tender and medium-rare, for $16.50. The cheddar, cotija, avocado and big steak fries on the side help too.

    Splurge: Jeffrey’s. Chef Larry McGuire has created the ultimate old-school experience at his revamp of this classic Austin place, with over-the-top options like the $140 38-oz. porterhouse or the $82 23-oz. bone-in rib-eye (top them with foie gras butter to make them even more decadent). Even 8 ozs. will run you $50 here, but for fine dining, it can’t be beat.

  • Sushi

    Budget: Maiko. The West Sixth Street hot spot has a happy hour that lasts into the night almost every day of the week. We like the sushi 1.2.3 menu: 1 spicy roll, 2 slices sashimi and 3 pieces of sushi for just $13.50.

    Splurge: Soto. The upscale Japanese restaurant features some of the freshest fish in town as well as fusion dishes that are reminiscent of chef Tyson Cole’s creations at Uchi. The drive is worth it.

  • Credit: Rebecca Fondren


    Budget: Schmidt Family BBQ. The feuding families of Lockhart barbecue royalty have made a truce with this new joint, which features some excellent smoked meat at pretty standard barbecue prices. So why is it our low-end choice? As with any awesome barbecue, expect crazy lines and the possibility that it might run out of meat.

    Splurge: Lambert’s. This restaurant dubs its fare “fancy barbecue,” so you know you’re in for a different sort of smoked meat experience, and high-end ingredients are around every corner. Try the Angus brisket for $18 and ranch-style beans for $7 as well as nontraditional dishes like the crispy wild boar rib appetizer for $14.

  • Hot Spot

    Budget: Titaya’s. The beloved Thai restaurant on Lamar Boulevard has finally reopened, and it sports a new menu and recast interior. Though entrees are big and will run you around $12 here, expect crazy lines and wait times.

    Splurge: Odd Duck. Chef Bryce Gilmore’s new brick-and-mortar restaurant features creative small plates like a chicken-fried chicken egg and grilled quail with roasted cauliflower, as well as lunch options like a pretzel kolache with cheddarwurst and kraut. Expect the plates here to cost about the same as at Titaya’s ($12) but be about a third of the size.

  • Credit: Flickr/eblaser

    Fried Chicken

    Budget: Gus’ Fried Chicken. This newly opened Memphis import has been wowing Austinites with its Deep South-style chicken (read: little breading), where three pieces of chicken will run you around $7. Word on the street is that besides the Texas Chili Parlor, Gus’ is Carillon pastry chef Plinio Sandalio’s favorite destination.

    Splurge: Olivia. The fried chicken on the brunch menu at this modern French restaurant in South Austin is the stuff of legend. But it’s not cheap: $18 gets you a plate of it along with homestyle potato salad and a pickle.

  • Comfort Food

    Budget: Burro Grilled Cheese. The little grilled cheese trailer that could on South Congress features artisanal sandwiches at affordable prices. For $5, try the O.G. with Havarti on Hawaiian bread or the Grilled Glory with peanut butter, balsamic-apricot fig jam and chocolate sauce on sourdough.

    Splurge: Peche. Chef John Lichtenberger’s new (mainly French) menu features pot pie made decadently upscale with the addition of rabbit. The flaky pastry crust on top is almost the best part, and a fresh arugula salad on the side brightens up the dish. All of this can be yours for $28.

  • Asian-Style Soup

    Budget: Daruma Ramen. Kome’s lunch ramen was so popular that the restaurant decided to devote an entire restaurant to it. This downtown fixture features soup to warm you up for just a bit of dough: try the shio or shoyu broth varieties for a measly $9.

    Splurge: Elizabeth Street Café. Yes, we’re talking about the much-discussed $22 seafood pho here. With shrimp, red snapper and jumbo lump crab in a flavorful seafood broth, there’s a reason it’s so pricey - and delicious.