Lenoir, on 1st in the South Congress district, is my favorite restaurant.  Anywhere.  Shabby-über-chic, creative-yet-accessible.  Flawless dishes are anchored in the New American genre, filled with local ingredients, and inspired by world flavors.  The ever-changing menu focuses on ‘light food’: “very little butter, cream and gluten”.  Three course prix fixe dinner is $45 – an absolute bargain for the experience.

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The intimate space at Lenoir is beautifully designed © The Whistletrip

It starts with warm house-made bread, rotating between recipes which have included zucchini, walnut and honey.  Each is accompanied by a different, complementary spread.  Dishes are then selected from Field, Sea, Land and Dream (dessert) categories, each with 3 or 4 mouthwatering options.  I have not had a single dish be less than absolutely divine, despite many visits.  And the consistent excellence is matched with impeccable service.  A treat every single time.

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The inventive prix fixe dinner menu at Lenoir is unbelievably good value © The Whistletrip

Irene’s, an airy restaurant and bar on West Avenue, threatens to serve up comfort food staples at dive bar standards.  Water arrives in oversized plastic tumblers and coffee comes in disposable take-out cups.  But the food springs a delicious surprise.  Ingredients are selected with real attention to detail.  The avocado toast is made creamy with yummy feta (I don’t even like feta), is slightly sweet, and uses specially made oat bread from local bakery Easy Tiger.

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Geraldine’s at the bustling Hotel van Zandt is perfect for a music-filled fuel up before dancing on Rainey Street.  The Texas-inspired contemporary menu ranges from classics-with-a-twist, like whole trout with hazelnut chermoula, to the downright unusual, such as goat tartare.  Live bands take to the stage up front every night.  And the restaurant opens up to the hotel pool – you can take your drink out in a shatter-proof glass and enjoy it while looking over Austin city at night.

Mozart’s Coffee Roasters offers a dizzying array of pastries and cheesecakes.  Its huge wooden terraces on Oyster Landing Marina have spacious picnic-style tables so that you can indulge your sweet tooth while taking in unbeatable views of Lake Austin.  The casual vibe encourages an ultra-leisurely pace, making for a particularly relaxed evening or weekend afternoon.

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Get to Mozart’s early on sunny weekend mornings © The Whistletrip

Sway is my favorite Thai restaurant in the USA.  Period.  This sleekly designed spot on 1st Street is a go-to for both groups of friends convening at family sized tables and couples enjoying date night at the kitchen counter seats.

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Family-style seating at Sway

The flavorful dishes include enough vegetarian and gluten-free options to cater for everyone.  Don’t miss the popiah tod, a creative blue crab spring roll, or the phat phrik khing, a light stir fried pork loin with shitake mushrooms and toasted almonds.  Come here for equally delicious classics – the pad thais are beyond satisfying – or unique takes on Texan, like the Thai basil waffle and chicken on the brunch menu.  The drinks list is extensive and unusual  – tart drinking vinegars and kombucha concoctions are well worth trying.

© Ann Berry