The CHOW Guide to Eating and Drinking in Austin, SXSW edition

SPLURGE

$ = Under $10, $$ = $10-$25, $$$ = Over $25

Aquarelle
606 Rio Grande St., 512-479-8117
Tues.–Thurs., 6 p.m.–9 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 6 p.m.–10 p.m.
$$$

A cozy converted 1920s bungalow serving impressive French-influenced cuisine made with seasonal, market-fresh ingredients. Dishes such as rabbit loin with artichokes and sunchokes, and cold foie gras with green grape chutney and sancerre syrup, are elegant and delicious without being precious or stuffy. No vertical towers of food or little drops of sauce you can’t make use of. A great wine list with French, American, and notably Texan selections (see The Best Local Beer and Wine). If you’re looking to celebrate a special occasion, this cozy, quiet restaurant is the place to go. Reservations recommended, especially during SXSW. (Downtown)

Driskill Grill
604 Brazos St., 512-391-7162
Tues.–Sat., 5:30–10:30 p.m. (bar until midnight; until 2 a.m, Fri.–Sat.)
$$$

An expense account is a plus here, but the cost is worth it. Exciting, exuberant, innovative New American cuisine with Texas nods by executive chef David Bull, served up in Austin’s most gorgeous, historic hotel. Standout dishes include beef tartare with fried oysters, caviar, and hot mustard; pistachio-crusted scallop with chanterelles; and veal tenderloin with sweetbreads, papardelle pasta, and mornay sauce. Be sure to check out the bar as well. During SXSW, it’s packed with entertainment-industry bigwigs (see Power Bars). (Downtown)

Uchi
801 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-916-4808
Sun.–Thurs., 5:30–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5:30–11 p.m. (bar opens at 5 p.m.)
$$–$$$

We know what you’re thinking: Fusion, sushi, and Texas are three words that sound really scary together. But trust us: The bluefin belly meat with dried cranberries, almond slivers, and white soy is great. So is the yellowtail with ponzu, shiso oil, and Thai chiles. Executive chef Tyson Cole has garnered major attention (like being named one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2005). But his fusion sushi really does live up to the hype, and he also does traditional combos. Colorful digs in a comfortable old house, impeccable service, a superb bar, and food that looks like art. (South Austin)

Vespaio
1610 S. Congress Ave., 512-441-6100
Tues.–Sun., 5:30–10:30 p.m. (bar, 5 p.m.–midnight)
$$–$$$

One of Austin’s busiest restaurants, with crowd-pleasing Italian dishes such as mascarpone risotto with lamb loin and fresh peas, and butternut squash ravioli with sage and an amaretto butter sauce. A full bar, a deep wine list, friendly service, and a no-reservation policy guarantee there’s always a wait. Co-owner Alan Lazarus was a chef for Whole Foods Market before opening Vespaio in 1998. Eat at the bar if you’re short on time, or do like the locals do and enjoy a glass of wine and a plate of antipasti at its more casual sister restaurant, Enoteca Vespaio, next door while you wait for a table. (South Austin)