I’ve got a birthday coming up real soon, so it got me thinking about fun places (both casual and high-end) to go with a group of friends to celebrate a special occasion. All these places can accommodate your party of eight (some need more notice than others), and many have private dining rooms. Find more restaurants broken down by category at austin360.com/austinrestaurants.
And … take my 2014 Dining Guide — a list of my top 25 restaurants and 75 more critic’s picks — with you by bookmarking Austin360.com/diningguide on your smartphone or tablet.
Arro. 601 W. Sixth St. 512-992-2776, ArroAustin.com. The folks behind Easy Tiger and 24 Diner bring comforting French dishes such as steak frites and croque monsieur to this lively restaurant on West Sixth Street.
Austin Land and Cattle. 1205 N. Lamar Blvd., 512-472-1813, austinlandandcattlecompany.com. This place feels like old Austin, with its eclectic decorative touches, laid-back vibe and friendly service.
Barley Swine. 2024 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-394-8150, barleyswine.com. Bryce Gilmore’s restaurant delivers imaginative farm-to-table dishes on a tasting menu, as well as an engaging selection of beer and wine. You’ll also encounter some of the best service in town. They can seat parties of up to nine with advance notice.
Contigo. 2027 Anchor Lane. 512-614-2260, contigotexas.com/austin. You’ll feel like you’re celebrating your special occasion at a good friend’s ranch as you dine on comforting and rustic dishes (ox tongue slider, rabbit and dumplings) and sip excellent craft cocktails.
Congress. 200 Congress Ave. 512-827-2750, congressaustin.com. One of Austin’s best chefs, David Bull presents fine dining on a level with few equals in town. If your party is large enough, you can request the private dining room.
El Naranjo. 85 Rainey St. 512-474-2776, elnaranjo-restaurant.com. Renowned Mexico City chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita recently told me that El Naranjo chef/owner Iliana de la Vega is the best Mexican-born chef working in the United States. Her restaurant is an understated elegant oasis amid the Rainey Street noise.
Freedmen’s. 2402 San Gabriel St. 512-220-0953, freedmensbar.com. With a historic old building, handsome bar and outdoor courtyard, this is the best restaurant space for barbecue in Austin. Take your party outside to the large picnic tables and dine al fresco.
Gardner. 1914 E. Sixth St. 512-354-1480, gardner-austin.com. This handsome restaurant from the Contigo owners lets vegetables be the star (without sacrificing big flavor). And there’s a cool bar tucked away from the main dining room. Ask them about their private dining room.
Home Slice Pizza. 1415 S. Congress Ave., 512-444-7437, homeslicepizza.com. Sometimes the best way to celebrate a big occasion is with a pizza party, and these guys serve the best New York City-style pizza in Austin. And they do it with a smile.
Jeffrey’s. 1204 W. Lynn St. 512-477-5584, jeffreysofaustin.com. The Austin institution was revamped and redesigned by successful restaurateurs Larry McGuire and Tommy Moorman. The restaurant, with an elegant main dining room and a bar that feels plucked from Manhattan, serves old-school classics like lobster thermidor and a roster of expensive dry-aged steaks. They also offer a private dining room.
Justine’s. 4710 E. Fifth St. 512-385-2900, Justines1937.com. Backyard garden fete … Left Bank bar party … this early East Austin adopter brims with personality and style while serving classic French bistro fare (steak frites, mussels) and a chalkboard of nightly specials.
La Condesa. 400 W. 2nd St. 512-499-0300, lacondesa.com. Located in the heart of the 2nd Street District, this upscale Mexican restaurant offers good food and vibrant design in a very social setting. Inquire about their subterranean private dining room.
Launderette. 2115 Holly St. 512-382-1599, launderetteaustin.com. Chef Rene Ortiz’s new East Austin restaurant defies classification, with a menu that ranges from meatballs to crab toast and charred octopus. Sit your large party at the circular table in back and spin the centerpiece Lazy Susan and try a little bit of everything.
LaV. 1501 E. Sixth St. 512-720-8112, lavaustin.com. Rustic French and Mediterranean-influenced cuisine from chef Allison Jenkins and an enormous wine list made approachable by wine director Vilma Mazaite at this classy East Austin restaurant. Don’t skip dessert. Pastry chef Janina O’Leary is a wizard. Their private dining room is, fittingly, surrounded by wine bottles .
Lenoir. 1807 S. First St. 512-215-9778, lenoirrestaurant.com. Chef-owner Todd Duplechan prepares “hot weather food,” using local and seasonal ingredients to create flavors that echo hot weather locales like Southeast Asia, India and Africa. Lenoir is one of the city’s best (in food and service), and though the capacity is around 40, if you prepare ahead of time, you can reserve the centerpiece communal table for your party.
Licha’s Cantina. 1306 E. Sixth St. 512-480-5960, lichascantina.com. Take your party to the expansive outdoor seating area and dine on well-executed Mexican street food like huaraches with huitlacoche. And the smart and tasty cocktails will add some fuel to your party’s fire.
Olamaie. 1610 San Antonio St. 512-474-2796, olamaieaustin.com. Refined Southern food in a sophisticated setting has already earned this new restaurant recognition from the James Beard Foundation. I celebrated a friend’s birthday there recently at the large table that offers glimpses of the bar in the front of the restaurant. Everyone left extremely pleased.
Parkside. 301 E. Sixth St. 512-474-9898, parkside-austin.com. Maybe it’s because of the Sixth Street location, but Shawn Cirkiel’s restaurant that offers hearty Texas bistro dishes and an impressive raw bar always feels like a party. Your group will fit right in.
Qui. 1600 E. Sixth St. 512-436-9626, quiaustin.com. Every member of Paul Qui’s team, from his bartenders to his chefs, makes you feel welcome at the popular chef’s eponymous restaurant. The tasting menu will impress you with a wide range of global flavors, and the service is exceptional without feeling stuffy or artificial. Take your small party to the chef’s counter for a truly decadent experience.
Texas French Bread. 2900 Rio Grande St. 512-499-0544, texasfrenchbread.com. Mild-mannered sunlit bakery by day, Texas French Bread feels like a supper club of some sort, which is how dinner service here originated. Bring your own special bottle ($12 corkage fee) to celebrate.
Trio. 98 San Jacinto Blvd. 512-685-8300, TrioRestaurantAustin.com. If you want to feel special on your special day, nobody delivers service like the Four Seasons. Try the mesquite-smoked rib-eye with a big bottle of cabernet.
Uchi. 801 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-916-4808, uchiaustin.com. Austin’s best sushi restaurant delivers every time, with perfect fish and perfect service. Uchi always hums with excitement.
Vespaio. 1610 S. Congress Ave. 512-441-6100, AustinVespaio.com. You can drink Barolo, dine on a towering plate of lasagna and feel like a Made Man in this upscale Italian restaurant.
Wink. 101 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-482-8868, winkrestaurant.com. Wink balances being a fine dining destination with being a neighborhood restaurant. Their food will impress, and their service will make you feel like one of the regulars, even if you’re not.