Austin is known for its food, and for good reason: not only can you find some of the country’s best barbecue and Tex-Mex food, but you can also enjoy boundary-pushing restaurants, quirky dive bars, and everything in between. To help you get to know Austin’s wide-ranging, ever-evolving, always-exciting food scene, we’ve created a walking itinerary through downtown and East Austin that will give you a taste of everything the city has to offer. For bonus points, get on a boat and hit the city’s best lakeside restaurant.

Access the secret lounge through a hidden bookshelf in the hostel lobby.
Access the secret lounge through a hidden bookshelf in the hostel lobby. COURTESY OF FIREHOUSE LOUNGE

1. Firehouse Lounge

The city’s oldest standing fire station is home to a sleek, modern hostel hiding one of the city’s coolest bars. You might call it a speakeasy, though the vibe inside is decidedly relaxed and welcoming. Sidling up to this bar might make you feel mysterious, but nobody will be looking down their spectacles at you for ordering a margarita. Their menu celebrates classic cocktails like the Paper Plane and the Martinez, but they’ve also got an impressive lineup of local beers, and thoughtful nonalcoholic options like the saffron cordial, a vibrant mix of saffron, lemon, and ginger.

Chow don on a burger while you listen to jukebox beats.
Chow don on a burger while you listen to jukebox beats. COURTESY OF FITFOODIESONWHEELS

2. Casino El Camino

It’s just a six-minute walk from the Firehouse to the Casino, so when you’re done surreptitiously sipping your Mai Tai behind a bookcase, you can stroll down the street to enjoy one of the city’s most famous jukeboxes while you chow down on a burger. The rare true neighborhood bar on the stretch of Sixth Street known for its bar crawls, Casino El Camino is a true classic, with pool tables, a quality burger selection, and plenty of seating in an oasis-like patio. The drinks are well-priced, which means you’ll have more money to put on your favorite punk songs.

A crispy fried chicken and local cider spread at Spicy Boys.
A crispy fried chicken and local cider spread at Spicy Boys. COURTESY OF SPICY BOYS

3. Spicy Boys

Downtown Austin is home to one of four locations of Spicy Boys, a growing fleet of food trucks turning out Asian spins on extra-crispy fried chicken. Start with their fried chicken sandwich, and choose from the OG (with papaya relish and thai basil ranch), the Hot Gai (with chili oil, cheese, and massaman mayonnaise), or the Tingly (with mouth-numbing sichuan peppercorns). Spicy Boys also takes good care of vegetarians, with plenty of chicken-free options like fried tempeh sandwiches (made with local tempeh), and cauliflower nuggets. Be sure to order extra pickles, a side of tots, and whatever local beer they have on offer.

The best of the wurst at Scholz Garten.
The best of the wurst at Scholz Garten. COURTESY OF SCHOLZ GARTEN

4. Scholz Garten

Walk through the Texas Capitol grounds northeast to Scholz Garten, an Austin institution known for its beer and schnitzel. It also happens to be Texas’ oldest restaurant, established in 1866 by civil war veteran and German immigrant August Scholz. Since then it has reliably served Bavarian pretzels, wurst, and endless pints of beer to both the German immigrant population and UT Austin football fans—it’s a popular spot on game day.

Canje’s famous jerk chicken.
Canje’s famous jerk chicken. COURTESY OF CANJE

5. Canje

At the western edge of East Austin—a mile’s walk east of Casino El Camino—lies Canje, chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph’s love letter to Caribbean food. While the restaurant celebrates the food of the region, it’s named for the Canje pheasant, the national bird of Guyana, where Bristol-Joseph grew up, and Guyanese food holds a special place on the menu. Among palm plants and colorful walls, you can dine on pepperpot wild boar, sour orange ceviche, and a never-fail jerk chicken.

Open for breakfast, even at night.
Open for breakfast, even at night. LBJ LIBRARY VIA FLICKR

6. Cisco’s Restaurant Bakery & Bar

One of the most storied restaurants on Austin’s East Side is Cisco’s, an all-day breakfast spot open since 1943. The story goes that this was President Lyndon B. Johnson’s daily meeting spot. And once you try their Tex-Mex, you’ll see how someone could come here every day. Founder Rudy Cisco is said to be the man who made huevos rancheros famous; whether or not that’s true, the eggs are some of the city’s best. The restaurant is also known for their migas and their fluffy, diner-style biscuits, which you can wash down with a margarita if you’re in a breakfast-for-dinner mood.

The ideal lunch at la Barbecue.
The ideal lunch at la Barbecue. HILARY BODIFORD

7. la Barbecue

A quick walk southeast from Cisco’s is la Barbecue, where you can enjoy a house-made brisket-topped hot dog, and wash it down with an expert-selected bottle of Champagne. In a town known for its smoked meats, la Barbecue stands out for its quality first, and its range of options second. While, yes, you can get amazing brisket and ribs here, you can also choose from a wide selection of house-made pickles (from cucumber kimchi to pickled jalapeños), a wildly inventive sandwich menu (with spins on Chicago dogs and sloppy joes), an extensive cocktail list, and nearly a dozen Champagne options.

These tacos are worth the wait.
These tacos are worth the wait. COURTESY OF JUAN IN A MILLION

8. Juan in a Million

Another East Austin stalwart just a block up from la Barbecue is the cheekily named Juan in a Million. While you’re likely to see a line snaking out the door as you walk up—especially if you’re there on a weekend morning—worry not: the line moves fast, and the food is worth it. Open daily from 7 AM to 3 PM, Juan in a Million is beloved for its breakfast tacos, the most famous of which is called the Don Juan, a super-sized taco filled with egg, cheese, potato, and bacon.

A perfectly over-the-top seafood platter at Este.
A perfectly over-the-top seafood platter at Este. CEDRIC ANGELES

9. Este

Este has become something of an East Austin hot spot since its opening in October 2022, and for good reason. The restaurant has its own garden, which diners can walk through and even sit down in while they wait for a table. The garden’s got vegetables, sure, but it’s also got beehives and birdhouses, to support the local ecosystem and pollinate the crops. Inside, the menu is coastal Mexican, and those freshly picked vegetables and herbs might show up in a dish of steamed mussels or grilled octopus, or as a garnish to a bubbly, sherry-tinged paloma.

Grab a bite at Ski Shores, where it’s always the weekend.
Grab a bite at Ski Shores, where it’s always the weekend. MML HOSPITALITY

10. Ski Shores

While you might not be able to walk to this restaurant, you can walk right onto a boat that will take you there. Ski Shores is a lakeside restaurant and bar on Lake Austin that might just be the best place to post up on a summer day. On the astro-turfed patio, you can enjoy fried pickles and lobster rolls at umbrella-shaded picnic tables, watching water skiers glide along the water. The restaurant opened in 1954 and recently underwent a renovation in 2022 to give its interior a fresh ‘70s lakehouse-style makeover. The cocktail list alone will make you smile: the “Arm Floaties” is a vodka cocktail lightened up with watermelon and lime, while the “Soggy Dollar” is a play on a traditional painkiller. If you’re driving (the boat) home, sip on a “Designated Boater”, which is a bubbly, non-alcoholic aperitif.