Where Chefs Eat: 7 Classic Austin Restaurants

By Megan Giller  |  February 5, 2014

Austin's recent restaurant explosion is great, but that's not to say we haven't been eating well for years. For all the cutting-edge eateries that have recently opened, there are just as many classic restaurants that tend to get overlooked. To give those spots a little love, we chatted with a few local chefs, who revealed what they order at their secret (and not-so-secret) long-standing spots.

  • Dirty Martin’s

    What it is: A greasy spoon with killer burgers near campus
    Who it’s good for: Students, service-industry folks, families
    Chef fan: Callie Speer, an Austin native and the pastry chef at Swift’s Attic
    Why: “Throughout the entirety of my existence I’ve gone there and it’s never changed - it’s still good,” she says. Always the rebel, Speer would skip school as a teenager and hang out there with her friends. Much later, when she worked at Jeffrey’s, she and the other chefs would make pilgrimages there.
    What to order: “A big nasty cheeseburger”

  • Credit: Spencer Selvidge

    Tamale House on Airport Boulevard

    What it is: A dive with great Tex-Mex, especially breakfast tacos
    Who it’s good for: Anyone who loves hipster-watching and breakfast tacos at a very reasonable price
    Chef fan: Shawn Cirkiel, the chef and owner of Parkside, the Backspace, Olive & June and just-opened Southwestern restaurant Chavez
    Why: “I have been going since I was knee-high.”
    What to order: “Migas with cheese eaten on the steps out of a to-go container for $4. Can't be beat," Cirkiel says. We also recommend the potato, egg and cheese breakfast tacos for 85¢ each.

  • Chez Nous

    What it is: Austin’s oldest classic French restaurant
    Who it’s good for: Romantic dinner dates, as well as remarkably cheap and big lunches
    Chef fan: Larry McGuire, the chef and owner of Jeffrey’s, Josephine House, Elizabeth Street Café, Perla’s and Clark’s
    Why: “I eat here every year for lunch on my birthday with my mom,” McGuire says.
    What to order: At lunch go for the flawless croque madame and side salad ($8.50). McGuire says he always orders champagne and the housemade pâté selection. For dinner hit up the fixed-price menu for under $30.

  • Phoenicia Bakery

    What it is: A Middle Eastern deli and market
    Who it’s good for: Families and anyone looking for a quick lunch or take-home goodies
    Chef fan: John Bullington, former chef at Alamo Drafthouse and chef of forthcoming A-OK Chinese
    Why: “I like taking my kids to those places to try the olive bar and dolmas. They’re like, ‘What is that?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know, let’s eat it.’”
    What to order: Beyond the housemade breads and Mediterranean dips like hummus, go for shawarma or gyros. Bullington gets their prosciutto sandwich with lettuce on a toasted roll.

  • Poodie’s Hilltop Roadhouse

    What it is: A Hill Country beer, burgers and live music joint
    Who it’s good for: Friends of all ages, country music lovers
    Chef fan: James Holmes, owner and chef of Olivia and Lucy’s Fried Chicken
    Why: Willie Nelson’s longtime road manager opened the locale years ago, and Holmes used to hang out there. He says he would go out to the Backyard music venue “when Willie would play. We would cook and party with all of Willie's people all day, and then after the concert, everyone would head out for late-night at Poodie’s. We would all have the munchies and instead of hanging inside of Poodies we would hang outside the backdoor of the kitchen, and those guys would make us Poodie Burgers. Plus they have an autographed jock strap from Earl Campbell that's framed above the bathrooms, and that's pretty cool.”
    What to order: The Poodie burger, of course, with green chiles, onions and pepper jack cheese

  • Hudson’s on the Bend

    What it is: One of Austin’s oldest nice restaurants, with a focus on Southwestern cooking and wild game
    Who it’s good for: Business dinners, hungry meat lovers
    Chef fan: John Lichtenberger, executive chef of Peche
    Why: “I love how chef Jeff Blanks uses his classic French training and sources local game."
    What to order: The pheasant breast stuffed with a butternut squash tamale in white chocolate mole is the stuff of dreams.

  • Matt’s El Rancho

    What it is: Tex-Mex at its finest
    Who it’s good for: Families, big parties
    Chef fans: John Bullington, Larry McGuire, Callie Speer
    Why: “Usually when you go to a Tex-Mex place, you get El Lago or El Milagro chips,” Bullington says. “Matt’s actually grinds their own corn.” Speer goes there for their fail-safe strong margaritas.
    What to order: Bullington orders the beef tenderloin tacos or the tacos al pastor, as well as the strong margaritas. McGuire likes to sit at the bar and eat the famous Bob Armstrong dip (queso, taco meat, guacamole and sour cream). If you haven’t tried it, get thee to South Lamar pronto.