Where to eat in Austin right now: 8 best lunch spots in town
By: Tom Thornton
Not long ago, looking for upscale Austin lunch options could be a daunting task. Since many of the city’s top restaurants served dinner only, those looking to book a smart work lunch or an interesting vacation meal midday were rather limited in their options. Over the past year, a number of lauded chefs and cult favorites have opted to add daytime service, meaning that there’s never been a better time to make plans for a working lunch.
Here are our top eight recommendations of where to eat lunch in Austin right now.
While Jesse Griffiths has been rightly recognized as a leading light in Austin’s locavore food culture, we’ll take this opportunity to commend him for something else: serving superb breakfast dishes through the end of lunch service. With a 10 am to 3 pm daytime window, Dai Due offers a hybrid menu of thoughtfully sourced, butchered, and cooked local fare ranging from biscuits and gravy with venison breakfast sausage to a deli hash of cured and smoked meats with sweet potato, fennel, turnips, and eggs. If you’re partial to lunch fare, the pastrami on rye or the chili (when available) are can’t-miss options. The atmosphere is smart and perhaps a bit more upscale than you’d expect. Business lunches wouldn’t be out of place here, but it is still casual enough to meet up with friends.
This Southern garden favorite has earned well-deserved praise nationally and now offers a lunch service with similar sensibilities and lower pricing. Diners can opt for comfortable favorites like Benton’s country ham with pimento cheese, green tomatoes, and chestnut hush puppies or a Hoppin’ John with soft-boiled egg. There’s also an emphasis on seafood with an excellent chilled Gulf crab salad and a fish stew with swordfish and smoked bottarga. Olamaie’s dining room is modern, moderately sized, and stylish, a bright choice for a business lunch with important clients or colleagues.
Like the Salt Lick before it, the original location of Ramen Tatsu-ya stymied many a business traveler who Googled it as a “best of Austin” spot and then found the remote location too difficult to attempt. The ramen joint’s second location on South Lamar Boulevard remedied the issue by being both more spacious and a short Uber ride from downtown. The South location reflects the added capital available to Tatsu-ya after its strip mall success up north. Tables are spacious and comfortable, and the wall art from Blue Dozen Collective is a noisy and fun visual feast. One important note: Fans of the tonkotsu pork bone broth won’t find it during lunch service. The daytime offerings are a chicken shoyu broth (with the signature ajitama egg) and a brothless vegan ramen bowl.
Fort Worth chef and TV personality Tim Love has finally landed in Austin after years of work with C3 Presents on music and food festivals. Given his brazen public persona, Love’s food at Lonesome Dove comes across as more thoughtful and subtle than one might anticipate. The menu has the requisite beef tenderloin and rib eyes, but there’s also a wide array of Gulf seafood; wild game dishes; and outliers like farro congee (a savory porridge) and a lamb stew with Swiss chard, Muenster, and a hen egg. While unapologetically Texan, the atmosphere here is one of a refined steakhouse and would work well for out-of-towners wanting something “Texan.”
While not new to the lunch game, Josephine House’s intentional quiet demeanor can mean it is overlooked as one of Central Austin’s most pleasant lunches. The casual sibling to Jeffrey’s still exudes a vibe of luxury, though one filtered through Austin’s relaxed point of view. Standout dishes include the beef and barley soup, the curry chicken salad sandwich, and the much-discussed Josephine rice bowl. While not cheap, the bowl of heirloom black rice, poached egg, harissa roasted vegetables, avocado, and pesto is plated and composed beautifully. If you’d like to escape your office for a lunch date with your significant other, Josephine House feels decidedly removed from downtown.
Any fan of Austin dining has heard the stories: Launderette’s waits on Friday and Saturday nights are lengthy. But many aren’t aware that after finding its footing with dinner service, the restaurant expanded to include lunch. The menu keeps a few popular dishes from dinner, like brick chicken and the plancha burger, but adds in a range of new choices like pork schnitzel; duck-confit cassoulet; and a Spanish-style halibut with chorizo, potato, and romesco. Lunch and dinner pricing is similar here, so the primary benefit of a lunch visit is the lack of significant wait times. The booths on the front porch are our pick for best seats in the house, but sitting toward the left side of the bar to watch the kitchen is also fun.
Bryce Gilmore’s trailer has experienced tremendous success as a brick-and-mortar — just try walking in at 7:30 pm any night of the week. As with Launderette, crowds are smaller during lunch service. The lunch and dinner menus are fairly different. While dinner focuses on small shared plates, lunch opts for a selection of sandwiches with soup, salad, and vegetable sides. Both the pulled-pork torta with red chili and avocado and the lamb-meatloaf sandwich with potato salad are popular choices — these are fairly generous in portion and filling without a side. A grapefruit sorbet with peanuts and eggnog mousse and an apple-fritter doughnut with sour-cream ice cream are highlights of the dessert menu. Business lunches and friendly gatherings work equally well here.
Fans of Via 313’s Detroit-style pizza were initially able to enjoy the square, reverse-style slices during dinner hours only and while dining al fresco at a picnic table. With Via 313’s brick-and-mortar expansion to Oak Hill, lunch service has been added, as have appetizers, local draft beers, and wine. The space offers counter and booth seating, and the Marc English-designed interior pays homage to Detroit. For those looking for traditional pizza, bar-style pies are also available.