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Where to Eat on South Congress Avenue

The Best Dining in SoCo


South Congress Avenue is one of the oldest and most popular streets in Austin, Texas (it's been a major thoroughfare since the early 1800s). While the road runs all the way from The Capitol Building in downtown Austin to Highway 71, there is a popular section in the middle that features a large cluster of unique restaurants and artsy shops. It is one of the few pedestrian-friendly areas of town and is a magnet for artists and art lovers. Read on to learn about the best places to eat along the most exciting stretch of South Congress Avenue.

1. South Congress Cafe

South Congress Cafe in Austin
Emily Starbuck Gerson
1600 South Congress Ave.
(512) 447-3905
This chic eatery is the culinary delight of SoCo. It's actually more of a swanky restaurant than a cafe. The large glass windows pour in natural light, and the restaurant is full of interesting shapes, such as the uniquely curved plates and bowls. They offer innovate dishes, most of which offer Southwestern flavor, such as the crab enchiladas, the duck and oyster gumbo, and the seafood parfait appetizer. While some of the steak and fish entrees are in the $20 range, there are plenty of options for those on a budget, such as the delicious salads and pastas. The actual dining area of South Congress Cafe is small and it can get packed on weekends, so don’t be surprised if you have to wait for a table.

2. Home Slice Pizza

Home Slice Pizza in Austin
Emily Starbuck Gerson
1415 South Congress Ave.
(512) 444-PIES
Home Slice Pizza isn’t a fancy or high-end place to have a meal, but it is well loved in Austin. If you are looking for some delicious and authentic New York-style pizza (by the slice or pie), Home Slice is the place to go. Home Slice has been voted as the No. 1 pizza restaurant in Austin by the Austin Chronicle Restaurant Poll. You can eat at the restaurant and enjoy the quirky hubbub of South Congress or carry out and enjoy your pizza at home. Home Slice Pizza offers an impressive variety of toppings, including chopped clams, fried eggplant, broccoli and whole Kalamata olives. If you have room for dessert, they offer cannoli, rice crispy treats, NY cheesecake and other tasty sweets.

3. Vespaio

Vespaio on South Congress
Emily Starbuck Gerson
1610 South Congress Ave.
(512) 441-6100
This two-part Italian restaurant sits along one of the most popular stretches of South Congress. Vespaio is the main restaurant, which is a bit overpriced, but offers creative Italian food in a casual atmosphere. They serve traditional Italian appetizers and salads, in addition to a variety of delicious warm breads. Wood-fired pizza is one of the specialties here. The cuisine ranges from regular Italian food (margarita pizza) to the exotic (grilled tuna with avocado and chile aioli). Wine lovers will not be disappointed with the lengthy list of offerings. Connected to Vespaio is its baby sister, Enoteca, which is a more casual café with deli items, dry goods and plentiful desserts for sale.

4. Woodland

Woodland Restaurant in Austin
Emily Starbuck Gerson
1716 South Congress Ave.
(512) 441-6800
Woodland isn’t just a name. The exterior of the restaurant is coated in tree bark and there is a large tree living in the center of the restaurant. This casual eatery features Southern home cooking, which will make you feel like you're at Grandma's. Some offerings include meatloaf, a sloppy joe, corn fritters, pot pie, fried chicken, mac ‘n cheese, and chicken fried steak. Woodland also offers delicious desserts, such as chocolate cream pie. Woodland also offers lighter fare such as salads, veggie burgers and fish tacos. They also have a delicious brunch menu in addition to a variety of cocktails (come during happy hour for better prices, though prices here are overall very reasonable).

5. Magnolia Café

Magnolia Cafe on South Congress Avenue in Austin
Emily Starbuck Gerson
1920 South Congress Ave.
(512) 445-0000
There are twoo main reasons why Magnolia Café is so popular: They are open 24 hours a day and they serve a hearty breakfast menu the whole time. The lengthy menu features something for everyone, including sandwiches, salads, burgers, Mexican food (tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, etc.) and more. They are also well known for their pancakes; be sure to try the gingerbread! While the food is not high-end, it is certainly satisfying and affordable. Magnolia Cafe has a fun, busy atmosphere and especially perfect when you want good food at an hour when everything else is closed. Beware that on weekend nights, you have to place to-go orders in person (that's when it is busiest).

6. Guero's

Guero's Taco Bar on South Congress in Austin
Emily Starbuck Gerson
1412 South Congress Ave.
(512) 447-7688
Guero’s Taco Bar has been a popular Mexican restaurant in Austin since 1986 (though it wasn’t located on South Congress until 1995; its previous home was on Oltorf). The large restaurant is housed in a century-old feed and seed building, with the old sign still on the exterior. They specialize in authentic interior Mexican food, particularly tacos. They offer a large variety of other fare, such as enchiladas, tamales, quesadillas, salads and much more. Guero’s has a huge menu of hand-shaken margaritas (both frozen and regular). The restaurant earned more acclaim when it was featured in Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 film “Death Proof.” Sit on the sidewalk patio for a great people-watching experience.

7. Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar

1400 South Congress Ave.
(512) 291-7300
If you think you can’t find good oysters or fish this far from the ocean, you’re dead wrong. Perla’s serves such fresh seafood, you may think you’re dining on the coast. The juicy oysters are a favorite here. Perla's also serves calamari, crab, fish, scallops, oysters and other tasty creatures from the sea. Not a seafood fan? Don't worry; they serve steak and other dishes that you can enjoy. Their dessert menu includes home-style classics such as ice cream sundaes and fried apple pies, in addition the very popular wild blueberry shortcake. Sure, Perla's menu is pricey, but if you’re in the mood for some fresh seafood in the South Congress area, it is the place to be.

8. Botticelli's

Botticelli's on South Congress in Austin
Emily Starbuck Gerson
1321 South Congress Ave.
(512) 916-1315
The menu at Botticelli’s offers both delicious classic Italian dishes and those with a modern twist, such as the butternut squash ravioli. You can sit inside the intimate indoor restaurant or enjoy the open air of the beer garden, which has a canopy of oak trees and has its own bar (and is warmed with heat lamps when it’s cold out). Botticelli’s features live music in the beer garden starting at 7:30 p.m. every Monday thru Saturday. Each Sunday night starting at 7:30 p.m., they have a movie night. Botticelli's also has happy hour in the evenings with a $5 menu. If you want even more music after your experience here, good news! The Continental Club is just two doors down.
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