Austin Restaurants: Vegetarian-friendly

Mother’s Cafe & Garden, a vegetarian restaurant in Austin.
Mother’s Cafe & Garden, a vegetarian restaurant in Austin.

Restaurant listings*

Each week, we’re offering a rotating list of places to eat right now. This week: Even hardcore carnivores will find something to enjoy at these restaurants specializing in veggie-friendly fare.

(*This is not a comprehensive list. Don’t see one of your favorties below? Send me an email at and I will add it to our online listings.)

Blue Dahlia Bistro. 1115 E. 11th St. 512-542-9542, The shady back patio is something of a secret garden; the menu, an ode to light French cuisine.

Bouldin Creek Cafe. 1900 S. First St. 512-416-1601, One of Austin’s true temples to vegetarian and vegan fare, even the most avid meat-eater will be impressed with dishes like portobello fajitas or the zucchini migas.

Counter Culture. 2337 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-524-1540, The gluten and soy-free version of mac & cheese at this restaurant that started as a trailer will make you a believer in healthy eating, as will a healthy Philly “cheesesteak” made with seitan.

Casa de Luz. 1701 Toomey Road. 512-476-2535, Dark leafy greens and beans, but no oil, abound at this place that’s part community center, part restaurant.

Daily Juice. Multiple locations. In addition to organic smoothies and juices, the two locations also serve a selection of grab-and-go items like kale salad, Thai salad and quinoa korma.

Eastside Café. 2113 Manor Road. 512-476-5858, Comforting dishes that take a light approach, relying on seasonal vegetables at this quaint house in East Austin.

Juiceland. Multiple locations. These guys specialize in clever names (Clean and Soba Noodles), big flavor and being able to approximate meaty items with vegetarian ingredients (try the super happy fun bowl that tastes a lot like a spicy salmon sushi dish).

Leaf. 419 W. Second St. 512-474-5323, Choose from one of a variety of Leaf’s salad options, or make your own with a variety of ingredients, some of which are locally sourced.

Mother’s Café. 4215 Duval St. 512-451-3994, Hyde Park’s original hippie cafe weathered a fire and still draws steady crowds with dishes like their spinach-mushroom enchiladas.

Mr. Natural. Multiple locations. 512-916-9223, Healthy meals with a Mexican accent (and a good veggie burger) at three locations around town.

Swad. 9515 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-997-7923. Swad specializes in vegetarian dishes from northern India. Favorites include masala dosa and chole bathura, or try the sampler and find your own favorites.

If you are looking for more upscale options, Qui, Barley Swine and Congress will all create vegetarian tasting menus with advanced notice, and South Austin’s Lenoir offers three courses for $39, with three of the 9 options being vegetarian.

Austin Restaurants: Austin Classics

Color is bright and bold at the Chuy’s on Barton Springs Road, a longtime Austin favorite that is growing nationally.
Color is bright and bold at the Chuy’s on Barton Springs Road, a longtime Austin favorite that is growing nationally.

Restaurant listings

Each week in Austin360, we’re offering a rotating list of places to eat right now. This week: Whether they’ve been around 10 years or 50, these restaurants have helped establish Austin’s culinary identity. More restaurants broken down by category here.

Austin Land & Cattle. 1205 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-472-1813, No pretense, just good steaks, a fun mood and a bar that serves strong drinks and excellent happy hour specials, such as a filling steak sandwich.

Bouldin Creek Cafe. 1900 S. First St. 512-416-1601, One of Austin’s true temples to vegetarian and vegan fare, even the most avid meat-eater will be impressed with dishes like portobello fajitas or the zucchini migas.

Casino El Camino. 517 E. Sixth St. 512-469-9330, CasinoElCamino.Net. All reds and blacks, this Sixth Street classic has a devilish attitude and serves up fat, peppery burgers off a grill, like a garden party along the River Styx.

Chuy’s. Multiple locations (the original is at 1728 Barton Springs Road). 512-474-4452, Fajitas served on fluffy tortillas and specials such as the Elvis Presley Memorial Combo (beef Tex-Mex enchilada, cheese ranchero enchilada, chicken tomatillo enchilada, a seasoned ground sirloin crispy taco and homemade tostada chips dipped in chile con queso) have made this place a local and now nationwide sensation.

County Line. 6500 W. Bee Cave Road, 5204 FM 2222. 512-327-1742, This local barbecue behemoth has been cranking the ‘cue for 38 years at its original location, and has since expanded to another Austin location by the lake and several more around Texas.

Crown & Anchor Pub. 2911 San Jacinto Blvd. 512-322-9168, The Crown and Anchor opened in 1987, and the gristle-edged burgers have a flavor that makes it possible the same flat-top has been in service for all 26 of the years. That’s a good thing. Get the double with bacon and cheese.

Eastside Café. 2113 Manor Road. 512-476-5858, Comforting dishes that take a light approach, relying on seasonal vegetables at this quaint house in East Austin.

Hill’s Café. 4700 S. Congress Ave. 512-851-9300, Time has not left much of a mark on this classic place where you can always rely on the chicken fried steak.

Hoover’s Cooking. 2002 Manor Road. 512-479-5006, Get the chicken fried steak, mustard greens and Caribbean rice at this place that serves up comforting, rib-sticking classics with soul.

Hudson’s on the Bend. 3509 RM 620 N. 512-266-1369, Enjoy exotic game, excellent steaks and attentive service in this unique and lovely setting.

Hyde Park Bar & Grill. 4206 Duval St. 512-458-3168, There’s something of a “Cheers” vibe at this old neighborhood haunt known for their fries. (Also 4521 West Gate Blvd.)

Juan in a Million. 2300 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-472-3872, This East Austin restaurant has been putting out Tex-Mex classics such as huevos rancheros and breakfast tacos for more than 30 years.

Kerbey Lane. Multiple locations. 512-447-3767, An Austin original that has been interested in conscientious sourcing since before it was popular.

Magnolia Cafe. 1920 S. Congress Ave., 2304 Lake Austin Blvd. 512-445-0000, Funky and fun, this place is a testament to the fact that pancakes and omelets tastes good any time of the day or night. So do quesadillas.

Matt’s El Rancho. 2613 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-462-9333, A 61-year-old Austin institution offering Mexican food in a sprawling but welcoming space.

Maudie’s. Multiple locations. If you haven’t had Maudie’s Diablo Sol Food queso, you can’t really call yourself an Austinite. These Tex-Mex purveyors have recently moved to serving all-natural beef and pork and organic eggs.

Shady Grove. 1624 Barton Springs Road. 512-474-9991, The family-friendly restaurant located amid the grove of pecan trees keeps the crowds coming in with green chile hamburgers, chicken fried steak and queso catfish.

Shoal Creek Saloon. 909 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-474-0805, Who dat gonna serve you some Gulf oysters and a roast beef po’ boy? You know who.

South Congress Cafe. 1600 S. Congress Ave. 512-447-3905, This bright and airy spot on South Congress consistently executes solid Southwestern flavors with dishes like fettuccine salsa fresca and coriander-rubbed grilled lamb.

Threadgill’s. 6416 N. Lamar Blvd., 301 W. Riverside Drive. 512-451-5440, It doesn’t get much more Austin than this house of home-cooking. Meat eaters run for the chicken fried steak, while vegetarians get more than lip-service with the heaping helping of side dishes.

Top Notch Hamburgers. 7525 Burnet Road. 512-452-2181, New ownership was wise not to change the aesthetics at this classic car-hop spot that was featured in “Dazed and Confused.” The charcoal-grilled burgers have a unique flavor, and the fried chicken is always crispy.

Vespaio. 1610 S. Congress Ave. 512-441-6100, A classy spin on red-sauce Italian, Vespaio has been a long-standing staple on South Congress thanks to dishes like their lasagna and veal scaloppine.

Z’Tejas. Multiple locations. 512-478-5355, original treehouse on West Sixth Street opened almost 25 years ago and has expanded across the city and states west with Southwestern favorites like green chile pork nachos, red chile and mango steak salad and pepita-crusted chicken.

From the archives: Profile of Jeffrey’s server Johnny Guffey

Johnny Guffey at Jeffrey's in 2005. (Credit: Amber Novak FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN.)
Johnny Guffey at Jeffrey’s in 2005. (Credit: Amber Novak FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN.)

This profile from Kitty Crider ran in the Statesman on November 2, 2005.

‘Hi, my name is Johnny and I will be your waiter — for the next 25 years.”

Like that would really happen in Austin.  This is a university town, where waitstaff changes with the semester. No sooner do the Ashleys, Brads and Sams learn the difference between coulis and couscous than they exit for another gig.

Except for Johnny.  He didn’t leave.

Johnny Guffey,  57, has been at Jeffrey’s Restaurant for two and a half decades. “We’re now oldies sweating to the oldies,” Guffey quips of his tenure. “I came with the dirt, not with the building.”

It was 30 years ago this month that Peggy and Ron Weiss and Jeffrey Weinberger founded Jeffrey’s, one of Austin’s first fine-dining restaurants. Located in Clarksville, the intimate eatery has long been a gathering place for power brokers and guests celebrating special occasions.

Next to the owners, Guffey has seniority at the restaurant, where the staff calls him Mother because of his age. But he is not the only one there with more than a decade at Jeffrey’s. This funny fella, who spouts more lines than Tuna’s Aunt Pearl, has become such an icon that his character is in the “Keepin’ It Weird” production playing at Zachary Scott Theater.

Guffey works five tables in the center section of Jeffrey’s — polishing the glasses, folding the napkins, adding the fresh flowers, mastering the daily menu,  waiting on the guests. He’s served governors, stars, CEOs, politicos including President Bush, John Kennedy Jr. and more.

“Lady Bird still comes in. What kind of honor is that to wait on her?” he says.

But it’s not just the stars he loves to serve. It’s the young people on their first dates and the people having their anniversaries, even those entering with walkers. He’s gone so far as to drive an elderly regular couple home one night.

He has another couple who have come to see him every year on their anniversary. Now they are divorcing after 25 years and they are coming to have their last dinner with him as well. He considers it an honor.

“Over the years I’ve built a following,” he acknowledges. “It’s like having people over to your house, but you don’t have to cook.”

Some of his regular customers know his schedule and won’t come in if he is not there, owner Peggy Weiss says. Some nights all of his tables are requested.

Former Gov. Ann Richards says, “Everybody knows Johnny. He has the best sense of humor and knows the menu backward and forward. He has the biggest collection of Fiesta pottery anywhere, but you don’t have to talk to him about it. ”

His boss Ron Weiss adds: “It’s very comforting for me to know that Johnny is there taking care of our customers and giving them our best. When people dine out, they’re buying more than food and drinks; they’re buying a dining experience. Johnny has been a significant part of that dining experience for most of our existence.”

Not that there hasn’t been a hiccup on occasion.

“Every time I drop a knife or piece of silver, which isn’t often, I always think of the time I was waiting on Sissy Spacek and missed her little Adidas tennis shoe with a steak knife by 3 inches. She looked up and said, ‘You missed me.’ “But she came back the next night and asked for his table again.

Guffey considers his four-nights-a-week waiter job a great job. “My hours are good. The food is good. If I want to take three weeks off, there is always someone who wants to pick up the tables. It’s the ultimate slacker job in the ultimate slacker town,” he says.

He never set out to become a professional waiter. That’s a New York thing, not Austin, he adds.

Instead, he studied English and history for three years at what was then Southwest Texas State College. He says he worked with disabled students at the Brown schools in the area and with Marcia Ball in the library system in Austin before her musical career took her on the road. He became one of the first shuttle bus drivers at the University of Texas. Then he decided to go to Europe in 1976 during the U.S. bicentennial (“roots in reverse”) and hang out a while.

Upon his return, he got a job at the Texas Chili Parlor as a busboy and then became the first male waiter. When a friend told him about a busboy job at Jeffrey’s, he applied and got it.

“But he was such a terrible busser we almost fired him,” Peggy Weiss says. “We were in a bind, though, so we gave him a shot at waiting. Once he could interact with customers, we saw that he was all personality.

“He loves people. He really cares about them and wants to take care of them. And they love him back.

“Johnny is not only family to us, but to so many of our customers, ” she says.

He is single. His kids are his two dogs — Max, a 95-pound standard poodle,  and his sister,  Sophie,  a 55-pounder. Guffey is a self-described Old Austinite who bikes to his job from his Clarksville home,  enjoys a good burger at the Frisco or Dirty’s,  exercises at Castle Hill Specialized Fitness,  frequents local theater productions,  collects Fiestaware and loves his job.

But he knows he is not a one-man show at Jeffrey’s.

“I breeze in here at 5 o’clock (in the afternoon); the chefs have been here all day. A lot of time we get the glory, but it is such a team effort, down to the dishwashers.” He knows. He remembers scraping that dried-up, melted cheese off those plates at the Chili Parlor decades ago. So when he got that $850 tip from a customer recently, he shared it with the busboys, the kitchen staff and the bartenders. Smart “Mother.”;  445-3656

Johnny Guffey on the perfect waiter

* Can read a table within a minute or two of walking up and know whether his patrons want to be entertained or want him to be invisible, whether they want him to be their friend or just their waiter.

* Must be clean, be neat.

* Must be familiar with the restaurant’s drinks.

* Must know the menu and what’s in the dishes. Better yet, have tasted the food. It is very important in fine dining to be able to speak knowledgably.

* Must be able to communicate the guests’ needs to the kitchen. If people are allergic to nuts, you certainly don’t want to kill them.

* Must be observant: Keep water glasses filled, replace butter,  anticipate needs.

* Must know how to upsell without overselling. Don’t try to rip off the customer.

The waiter in a nutshell

Wants to go: with a creme brulee in his hand.

Will pig out on: the duck, any fish and the crispy oyster nachos. ‘I don’t like oysters, yet I can eat these all night long like Tater Tots.’

Salutes: the regular customer who has chocolate intemperance (Jeffrey’s signature dessert) first, then the oysters,  then the entree,  then another chocolate intemperance.