Summer is in the air. Flowers are blooming, birds are singing, warm breezes are beckoning us to spend time outside, and there is no better way to do that than with friends enjoying a delicious meal on an outdoor patio. Austin, Texas has a plethora of incredible restaurants with outdoor dining. Here are six of my favorite restaurants either within Austin’s walkable downtown, overlooking Lake Travis for spectacular sunsets, or for a special night out.
1. Ramen Tatsuya
Chefs/DJs Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto dreamed of showing people what properly prepared ramen, the soul food of Japan, is truly like and how different it is from the bland, freeze-dried packages in the stores. Tatsu and Takuya take pride in preparing the rich broth that is the basis of true ramen. It’s important to know that there are rules for eating ramen correctly. One of the rules is to slurp the broth because it helps to aerate the broth, enhancing the flavor of the noodles.
Ramen Tatsuya’s outdoor dining space is relaxed and comfortable with plenty of shade from the hot Texas sun with the sprawling canopy of a Texas live oak tree and popup canopies. I would highly recommend the shoyu ramen flavored with pork bone broth, scallions, nori, a spiral-curl of chashu, and Ajilama (a specially prepared half-boiled egg creating a custard-like yolk). Pair that with the Hibi-Gibi Punch with sake or the green matcha iced tea.
2. Lazarus Brewing
Situated in a cozy corner of East Austin, Lazarus Brewing is the dream-turned-reality of Christian, who has worn many hats over the years, including software engineer, minister, non-profit founder, and now brewer. Lazarus Brewing is not just a craft alehouse, but also a gourmet espresso bar and street taco-eatery. Christian and his team of creatives, Marilyn (master barista and coffee roaster), Marcus (certified cicerone, a professional beer aficionado), and Rebekah (head brewer), built a 10-barrel taproom designed to encourage people to hang out and relax with friends.
Lazarus’s outdoor dining area is ideal for hanging out, with its mix of family-style picnic tables and smaller bistro-type tables. Large garage-type doors open up to shade coverings and mister fans that help to drop the temperature in the dining area a couple of degrees. Lazarus’s patio is also super dog friendly if you plan on dining with your well-behaved furry friend. If by chance, you need another reason to stay and relax, there is a local band playing on the stage most Friday nights.
Lazarus has 16 taps that they rotate between seasonal ales and mainstay flagships ranging from American IPAs, German pilsners, Belgian strongs, and sweet barrel-aged varieties. As an added treat for those that may not be big on hops, they also make their own root beer. I would recommend trying one of their wild ales aged in tequila or Wild Turkey barrels. The First Noel, a farmhouse-style wild ale with figs was also quite lovely. The menu is a little limited because they focus on serving some of the best street tacos and queso in the area. That being said, you can’t go wrong ordering the street tacos al pastor and the authentic queso fundido with bits of chorizo. Absolutely amazing!
3. The Oasis On Lake Travis
The Oasis is about 30 minutes from downtown Austin but is absolutely worth the drive. Situated on a high bluff that overlooks Lake Travis, the view is stunning and one of the best places to enjoy a breathtaking sunset dinner. The Oasis, even though it has a casual atmosphere and menu, is a great place for a romantic dinner with incredible sunset views and one of its fun traditions called the Lover’s Locks. Either bring a lock with you or purchase one from their gift shop, personalize it with your names, and then snap the lock onto the balcony overlooking the lake.
The menu is casual, highlighting burgers, tacos, salads, fajitas, and other favorites. Some of my favorites on this menu are the super nachos, which is rather misleading because it is such a huge platter of towering chips, refried beans, ground beef, pico de gallo, and other goodies it should really be called “Super Mountain of Nachos.” Uncle Jay’s Fireballs are also a great snack of breaded chicken bites with a tangy honey mustard dressing with just a slight kick of horseradish. For something light, cool, and refreshing, I recommend Beau’s Plate, a selection of chilled shrimp, mango cubes, avocado slices, and a small green salad drizzled with a citrus vinaigrette. The strawberry-lemon vinaigrette is also quite delicious.
4. Rosewood Gulf Coast Chop House
Specializing in flavors and dishes inspired by coastal Southern Texas cuisine, the Rosewood brings an upscale dining experience without being stuffy. Situated in a beautifully restored Victorian home built in 1890 on the east side of Austin, the Rosewood offers ample outdoor seating on their veranda or on their beautifully manicured lawn.
The menu at Rosewood is exquisite and each plate is expertly prepared. Each menu item is created from locally sourced ingredients and made in-house. Each morning, fresh seafood is delivered from the Gulf Coast for that day’s menu. The vegetables, beef, and other meat varieties are supplied from local Hill Country ranchers and farmers.
Because their menu changes daily, it is difficult to say what will be available at any one particular time. What I thoroughly enjoyed and savored during my visit was grilled watermelon, grilled octopus, wagyu tri-tip, and crispy catfish on a bed of chili puree and grilled zucchini and cucumber. If you see any of these dishes on the menu, I would absolutely recommend you order them.
5. Eastside Tavern
Conveniently located near downtown, Eastside Tavern has outdoor dining both on its roof and at street level. If you have a well-behaved furry four-legged friend with you, they are also welcome on both patios. This rustic-chic pub with a modern flair offers a variety of favorites with a barbecue twist, such as the Brisket Patty Melt, mac ‘n’ cheese with your choice of smoked meat, or Frito Pie loaded with chopped smoked beef. My favorite is the tacos. They are not your run-of-the-mill tacos. They are packed with smokey morsels of goodness like smoked chicken, pineapple habanero salsa, blackened Mahi (instead of just some white fish), and braised pork. A perfect side is the fried pickles served in a cast-iron frying pan that adds to the rustic-chic vibe.
I have found that most barbecue places are pretty good at creating smoked meats — that is their specialty after all — but when it comes to salads, they are not so good with the greens. Not so with Eastside. They don’t have a large selection (only four choices), but the greens are crisp and the ingredients are fresh.
If you stop in for brunch, I would highly recommend you try the Whiskey-Infused Banana Bread French Toast. It’s created with smoked banana bread and topped with Tullamore Dew whiskey cream cheese whipped cream. Oh, breakfast has never tasted so good. Another favorite of mine is the turkey avocado toast, which they have taken to a new level with a slice of smoked turkey, tomato, and a soft-boiled egg instead of a fried egg.
6. Caroline Restaurant
Serving American-style meals, casual and modern Caroline is located on 7th Street near Austin’s walkable downtown. Caroline has two outdoor dining spaces to choose from depending on the vibe you are seeking for that meal.
The upstairs patio (which they call “Upstairs at Caroline”) is an urban playground for those 21 and up. Upstairs is definitely a fun place to relax after a day of exploring Austin, featuring themed happy hours like Chill Out Monday, Taco Tuesday (when the tacos are only $2 each), and Sunday Yappy Hour. Sunday Yappy Hour is for the dogs, quite literally. If you bring your dog (or a friend’s) you get 25% off your ticket. Plus, on Sunday there is a special dog-friendly menu with snacks supplied by an Austin-based small business. Upstairs also has a variety of games such as cornhole, billiards, Jenga, and foosball. In addition, live entertainment is regularly scheduled during Yappy Hour from 3-6 p.m.
The street-level patio has more of a cafe-type feel and is fabulous for people watching as well as just chilling with a cup of espresso. The full menu is only available at Caroline street level, not Upstairs at Caroline. They offer breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, and dessert menus. All of their menus have delightful selections, but I am going to tell you about their brunch menu.
Their brunch is a mix of American and Mexican meals with hearty portions to keep you going all day. The Brush Creek Brunch Burger is unlike any other. You get peppered bacon, a fried egg, and a thick slice of aged cheddar stacked on top of a juicy wagyu beef burger with a side of seasoned country potatoes. Another delightful dish with a Mexican flare is the huevos rancheros. Start with a crispy tortilla sitting on a spoonful of mole sauce (to soak up that lovely flavor), black beans, and shredded cheddar. Then layer it with sunny-side-up eggs, slices of ripe avocado, jalapeno coins, then drizzled with queso fresco. It’s the perfect combination of tang and spice.
Austin is truly a unique and fun city with many diverse independent eateries to explore. I am not sure there is enough bandwidth for me to tell you about every single one, but I do encourage you to try these and find others that you may love as well. Happy eating!