“I feel like March is a very flirtatious month in Austin,” says Jenny Schipani, general manager at Hotel Saint Cecilia. The Texas capital can’t help but charm with its warm weather and energetic atmosphere as tech titans, musicians, and film fans descend for South by Southwest. It doesn’t hurt that we’re chatting over Topo Chico at one of Austin’s most intimate hotels; sitting under an ancient live oak tree as fluffy clouds float languid overhead. “I think a lot of people move here after coming to South by,” Schipani adds. Even those who have attended the festival in years past will find new reasons to stay, as the city’s food and hospitality scenes are experiencing serious expansion. Saint Cecilia’s current 14 rooms will grow by 6 in the coming year, while another Bunkhouse Group property, The Magdalena—its largest yet—is scheduled to open late fall. But that’s then; something to look forward to. Right now, this spring, these are the restaurants (with a couple hotels attached) to visit while you’re in town.
The LINE Austin hotel opened in June, and—aside from rooms ideally situated for sunset-watching and a heated infinity pool overlooking the river—it contains a downstairs restaurant with thoughtfully presented, satisfying food. At dinner, order the burrata with date jam and verjus to start, then get into the creamy malfaldini and Texas strip steak. Afterwards, head upstairs to take in the view from P6, the hotel’s new rooftop bar. (And if you stay at the hotel, have a lobby coffee in the morning while dog-watching—the place is pet-friendly—then pop across the street for tacos at Dai Due, inside Fareground, Austin’s first food hall.)
Joann’s Fine Foods
For brunch, go to the Austin Motel’s breezy new diner-style cafe. Get cozy in a robin’s egg blue booth to enjoy guacamole and migas on retro dishware before browsing the next-door store’s charming array of goods emblazoned with the place’s slogan: ALL WAYS WELCOME. If you’re there from March 13-17, stop by the neighboring hotel’s South by San José music festival, with headliners like Broken Social Scene, and vendors that embody Texas hippie vibes.
This East Side eatery has become one of the busiest places in town since it opened around this time last year. It made Bon Appetit’s Top 50 list, among other accolades—including a recent James Beard Award nomination for Best New Restaurant—for its focus on homemade masa, or the corn-based dough that is the foundation of most its dishes. Get a seat at the bar, and order a plate of tacos while sampling the menu of “succulent spirits” (mezcal, tequila, sotol). Dessert has to be El Blondie, also made with masa, then topped with butternut squash ice cream.
Over by Zilker Park and Barton Springs, The Carpenter Hotel houses a restaurant offering “deep Texas goodness,” which comes in the form of dishes like caramelized onion pie, country ham, and grilled gulf shrimp. “It’s your meat-and-potatoes food, it’s food that you want to eat…and, in my opinion, it’s food that you want to revisit often,” chef Grae Nonas told Eater. The space is airy, and plentiful wood detailing gives it an added warmth.
Dumplings are the star at this Taiwanese and Chinese restaurant that opened in December. “Sweet Chive is a local, heartfelt business with a lady in charge,” the menu declares. That lady is Phoenix Pai, the chef and owner who grew up with this food before bringing her culinary expertise to Austin nearly 30 years ago. Now, she’s established a friendly, pared-back space with delectable scallion pancakes that will serve as a welcome reprieve from the noise of South by Southwest.
The newest arrival of this bunch, Bar Peached comes from the same team behind the Asian-Southern restaurant Peached Tortilla. Take advantage of the Insta-ready outdoor patio and cool down a banh mi taco with A New Chapter (rum, pineapple, roasted tomato, lime). The dessert worth considering is Korean bingsu, a refreshing yet decadent shaved ice cream stacked with all kinds of toppings—best enjoyed in a celebratory group.