From its quirky retail shops to the perfect bowl of queso, South Congress hasn’t always had the charm it now has. In the ’70s and ’80s, it was a pretty sketchy area of town, reserved for cheap rent and unique personalities in search of live music. Although it’s evolved into one of the hottest spots in the city to dine, shop, and stroll, it’s kept its spirit alive by welcoming all walks of life. From your morning coffee to your evening cocktail, we’ve rounded up the best spots to dine in this pocket of Austin just south of the river.
Located right next to South Congress Hotel, this beautiful coffee shop boasts high-quality beans from Revelator Coffee on their classic menu along with pastries from its sister restaurant next door, Cafe No Se, as well as goods from local purveyors like Fronk’s Nut Milk and farmer’s market darling, Jeany’s Ginger Elixir. Enjoy their honey lavender latte in the courtyard or along the way up and down the avenue.
After 41 years open in Austin, Magnolia Cafe is a must for their pancakes, queso, and Migas. It’s family-owned and has been on the block for many decades, which means it’s seen many personalities walk through its doors. Before the pandemic, it was South Congress’s only 24-hour restaurant where after a night out of dancing and blues at C-Boy’s Heart & Soul, a gingerbread short-stack was the only answer.
With refined bites and a stellar wine list, June’s All-Day from Austin’s hospitality giant, McGuire-Moorman, offers a simple French-ish menu with a Texan, feel-good twist. With classics like Steak au Poivre to the cold-weather favorite Matzo Ball Caldo, June’s cool atmosphere has us coming back for more. Plus their patio makes for fantastic people watching. Take advantage of their weekly Sunday Pub Night, when they serve up unsurprisingly great Indian food.
Replicating the classic slice-on-every-block window you see in pizza shops across New York, husband-wife team Jen and Joseph Strickland and Jen’s college roommate, Terri Hannifin Buis, founded Homeslice in 2005 because they were craving a sense of home and familiarity they got growing up at their local pizzerias. It’s since morphed into an establishment with inventive pies and one of the only spots in town to get authentic fried eggplant as a topping. Whether you’re celebrating or just needing to scratch that pizza itch, swing by or order in for the comfort only the perfect slice of za can provide.
Austin’s cycling community runs deep with trails running through the city and across Hill Country. For a quick refuel and bike fix, cyclists head to The Meteor, where not only can they get a flat tire fixed but an exceptional espresso too. Wine enthusiasts, look no further: this multi-hyphenate has a fantastic selection of local and international wines in the city, ranging from organic to vegan to sparkling. Most definitely worth the uphill ride.
For all the sushi lovers out there, this one’s for you. Lucky Robot has some of the best rolls south of the river, and when Chef Jay Huang had a mission to deliver Texas’s first sustainable sushi restaurant, James Beard heard him loud and clear. His infusion of Latin American ingredients with his modern Nikkei style results in inventive and artful plates like the Ume Nashi Crudo, an ume braised bartlett pear, avocado, English cucumber, ume ponzu, salsa macha, and micro arugula, and seasonally-rotating bowls like the Kurobuta “Tacu” Yaki with Niman Ranch pork belly, crispy rice, Japanese red bean, 144-degree egg, radish, carrot, farm-to-table sunomono, bonito flakes, and ponzu verde. It’s truthfully hard to go wrong here, and with affordable price points, there is plenty of opportunity for return service.
Come for the queso, stay for the salsa bar. This South Congress mainstay is an iconic 30-year establishment that delivers on margaritas, Migas, and mole. Catch live music in the Oak Garden next door every weekend and relax knowing you’re in good hands. While they specialize in interior Mexican cuisine with a hint of Tex-Mex, this is one spot that locals and tourists alike adore.
Amy’s Ice Creams is one of those unique to Austin scoop shops that since 1984 has defined this city’s ice cream culture: made with love with a dash of quirk up its sleeve. Amy’s employees are trained to flip, twist, and toss scoops into cones and cups to bring Austinites some live entertainment while in line — Austin is the live music capital of the world, after all. Each summer since 2004, the employees host the Trick Olympics and although it’s a chance for them to show off their honed skills, make no mistake: The quality of the ice cream, with unique flavors like Mexican Vanilla, Chocolate Wasabi, and seasonal favorite, Yule Log (mascarpone, Nutella, chocolate cake, and walnuts), remain the star of the show. With an impressive boozy flavor list, the grown-ups can get lit on infused flavors featuring local spirits like Shiner Bock and Tito’s Vodka.
When the pasta cravings hit, it’s time to listen. Vespaio, Italian for “Wasp’s nest,” translates to the buzzing energy surrounding each dish here. Chef-owner Ryan Samson leads his expert culinary team to bring comfort and celebration to Austinites through traditional Italian dishes. Favorites include the Cacio E Pepe, Risotto Del Giorno, and the Burrata. Although not cheap, the food speaks for itself through its local ingredients and impressive technique. Well worth a dinner with your parents over a nice bottle of Chianti, wouldn’t you agree?
If you accept that the line around the corner will be there, the wait is easier and the burger will be juicier. That’s the saying, right? Hopdoddy is a right of passage for anybody looking for a solid burger spot. Its consistency is what keeps it kicking, and we can always count on the Hopdoddy team to deliver. However, it’s not necessarily the burger that’s the star of the show here (they have over a dozen varieties). The red velvet custard, garlic Parmesan fries, and Caesar salad with crispy chickpeas are what keeps us standing in that line time and time again.