Weekday lunches are your one-hour respite from “I have a hard stop at 11am” and “Looping in Jeff.” It’s a chance to break free from your stand-up desk and give yourself and the one coworker you actually like an excuse for an adventure at noon. The tricky part is finding a place that’s far enough from your office that you won’t see everyone from work, but not so far that you’re eating with the people who work at Dell. Here are some of our favorite places to grab lunch while you silently question all the people who are eating out of tupperware right now.
Most of our time at Home Slice is spent sharing giant pizzas with friends over beers and negronis, and debating which Super Mario character we’d want as a roommate. During the week, though, when you don’t have time for pizza, beer, or Princess Peach, Home Slice’s North Austin location serves quick Italian subs that are big enough to split, as well as buffalo wings and a great Greek salad. They also do pizza by the slice in case it’s against everything you believe to come here and not get pizza.
Take some time away from your office and that cube mate who’s been trying to convince you to join her at a sound bath this weekend. Instead, meet a friend for a salad on the patio at Vinaigrette. The prices are a little high, but the portions are big and less-expected toppings, like duck confit and cotija cheese, keep the salads exciting.
If you still have stress dreams about the time you circled the block so many times to find parking that you just skipped lunch and went back to work, head to Better Half downtown. They have patio seating, a chicken burger we love, and, importantly, their own dedicated lot. When you’re done, order a coffee and try very hard not to think about how much more productive you’d be if you just posted up here instead of going back to the office.
Some days are for corporate card lunches and others are for spending less than $10 because you “accidentally” ordered an indoor trampoline last night. Truthfully, we’d ruin our budgets for Vaquero Taquero’s al pastor tacos topped with pineapple and their spiciest salsa - but thankfully we don’t have to. The tacos are $3.50 and the quesadillas are $4.50 - so it’s one of our favorite spots for an inexpensive midday meal. It’s a small space, so come solo or with the one coworker you actually enjoy seeing outside of the office.
The food hall at Fareground has plenty of lunch options all in one place, but the one we keep going back to is TLV. The Israeli street food here includes fluffy pitas stuffed with falafel and hummus or roasted cauliflower and labneh, as well as salads and platters. Asking to share food at lunch is like asking someone to borrow their toothbrush, but at TLV, we make an exception because we want a little bit of everything. We just make sure to only come here with people who won’t mind our dipping habits.
Fighting the campus crowd is usually not our first choice for lunch hour. Maybe it’s because the responsibility-less students remind us that we have to go back to our desk prisons, or maybe it’s because there’s always a bus in our way. But the sandwiches at Fricano’s are worth the trouble. There are five kinds of Reubens, an always-dependable Italian club, and portions so big we usually only get through half. Which we inevitably eat the second we get back to our desks.
Counter Cafe is about as close to “lunch and a show” as you’ll get if you grab a seat at the bar of this tiny diner and watch the cooks grilling right in front of you. The place is consistently full, though you rarely have to wait for a table during the week. We like the Lamar Street location for its “we’ve been here a while” feel, but if you find yourself on the East Side, the newer, shinier location works just as well. Breakfast is served all day, there are plenty of healthy options, and the prices are reasonable. The Counterburger is a solid choice, and if you want to eat less/spend less, try the breakfast tacos.
Sometimes you need a lunch spot that’s dark and divey - the kind of place you probably won’t find tourists from NYC/LA who just discovered that Austin is amazing. No flowers on the table, no daily juice, and definitely no one talking about the LVP of their book club. Gourmands is in an old nightclub space, and is now just a glorified pub - but one that makes very solid food. The service isn’t fast so don’t plan a meeting for 1:01pm, but relax here for a while with a sandwich and a soup while you try not to run into any of your coworkers.
Don’t just glance over this one. Come back. There’s some real deep insight here about Whole Foods. Ready? The fish bar. That’s right, head to the seafood counter for fresh fish tacos (they grill them to order). If you’re not feeling tacos, the sushi selection is way above average and their barbecue is surprisingly good. Just avoid the constant madness that is the salad bar. Whole Foods is easy and predictable, and we sometimes like that in our lunch spots.
Tacodeli feels like home, if you grew up in the kind of home with consistently excellent tacos. We like it because it’s not trying to out-Tex Mex the other taco places - it’s just trying to make great food. And while you may pay a dollar or so more than the average taco, you get high-quality everything. The staff will ask how your meal was and - the kicker - wait to hear the answer. There’s a reason the line is always out the door.
If you’re recovering from the weekend or just need to eat something that’s green-ish, Jugo is one of the healthier spots in town that we actually endorse. With plenty of smoothie and juice options, plus salads and snacks, you’ll feel like all those people who outrun you on the Town Lake trail. You can go back to things in taco form soon, but in the meantime this is a good place to get some nutrients on your lunch break.
This location of Jo’s is way more restaurant than coffee shop. The original location on South Congress only has a few food options, but here you can get everything from salads to melts to pretty good burgers. Try to snag a table inside because the Grackles outside are next-level aggressive.
So, you want a salad. Not a sad, half-wilted, pre-made salad that was probably made two days ago. You want an actually excellent salad. Your best option downtown is Leaf. The line is consistently long, the price adds up quickly, and the staff will probably rush you, but stay focused - the salads are worth the stress. You just need to decide how badly you want one.
Royal Blue Groceries are all over town, and we can pretend to be upset about how much Austin is changing or we can just agree to order a slice of pizza or a Reuben and be very satisfied. Speaking of the Reuben, get yours here with extra dipping sauce. Most locations offer a range of other grab-and-go food options, plus outdoor seating for when it’s not 100 degrees out. There’s a solid selection of bubbly waters, kombuchas, and beers if it’s that kind of day.
If it’s the first nice day of spring or you have no afternoon meetings (or you just decided none of your afternoon meetings matter and you walked out of your office with purpose), Elizabeth Street Café is the right pick for your long weekday lunch. Sit outside and order spring rolls - they’ll be a much-needed change of pace from the salads and sandwiches you ate over your keyboard all week. Allow some time at the end of the meal for an iced Vietnamese coffee before you head back to work (if you’re heading back at all).
You can’t miss Fresa’s - just look for the giant rotating neon chicken out front. Once you’re actually inside, order stuff like the Power Bol with wood-grilled chicken and enough vegetables to feel better about those two donuts you housed at the office breakfast this morning. And on the days when Austin feels like you’re walking around inside a blow dryer, you don’t even need to get out of your car. The drive-through here will make you excited to be alive. Or at least to be getting your lunch here.
Most of the time, Austin wears its Austin t-shirt proudly, but Walton’s has a different kind of Southern charm. Maybe it’s the glass case full of pastel pastries or the succulents for sale in the back. Either way, the food here is actually great - we typically go for a hot sandwich like the Pastrami (or really any sandwich involving the pretzel roll).
If you’re having the type of day (good or bad) that calls for a lunch steak, Salt & Time is here for you. This butcher shop has an excellent selection of high-quality meats, sandwiches, and salads, and lunch is particularly good. Get the Roast Beast or house-made bologna and sit at the long bar for a quick meal, or grab a table if you have some time to linger. Don’t worry if you’re bringing a vegetarian - there’s always a daily non-meat special.