Austin’s Friendliest Wine Bars

SXSW is here! As all of Austin’s guests arrive, downtown is transformed into a crazy web of people, events, and pop up eateries and bars. It is going to be a hell of a ride this year since I work for a company that participates in SXSW. If you are looking for a fun, friendly, and Austintacious wine experience  check out my favorite places to grab a glass!

My guide for the coolest and friendliest wine bars is based on different criteria than you typically find in other guides. These are places that I hang out at regularly (ok, A LOT) and love the energy, people, and the overall experience. I judge these places based on friendliness of staff, inviting/fun/quirky spaces, and a decent wine/food selection. Some do not have the most high end wine selection, but I don’t want them too. I enjoy the vibe and people so I pick places that represent all that makes Austin the best place to live in Texas. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

1. Max’s Wine Dive
Max’s Wine Dive located downtown is one of the best places to grab a glass of wine. Don’t sit at a table. Grab a chair at the bar before the dinner rush hits and the bartenders are more than happy to chat you through their wine list in addition to any speciality wines that may be open. I always ask about the ‘day old’ wines that have been opened they are selling at a reduced price. If you go on a Wednesday or Thursday evening prior to their weekly shipment there are usually really interesting wines open they will let you try as well. Who doesn’t like awesome wine for a great price?! Everyone that works there has always been super friendly and very knowledgable. Added bonus: Max’s Fried Chicken. 

Max's Wine

2. House Wine
House Wine is a fun, quirky wine bar located on Lamar and Josephine not too far from downtown. I’ve spent many a night in coffee houses so House Wine brought back the nostalgic feeling of the “early days” of Austin where you could sit on the patio for hours and read. It is a great place to hang out with your friends, significant other, or on your own if you need some quiet time. Cool and comfortable, HouseWine offers small plates of cheeses, olives, and desserts.  The last time I was there they had a cheese plate/bottle of wine special for $50. Great deal! Added bonus: Make-your-own-s’mores plate.

3. East End Wines
East End Wines is actually a wine store located in a historic home on Rosewood Ave in East Austin. With a vast array of wine to choose from you can find economical wines along with high end and rare wines. The great part about East End Wines is they go out of their way to help you pick the right bottle as well as introduce you to new wine. Very friendly and knowledgable (see a theme?) Because you are buying the bottle retail, you can afford to spend a little more and try something different. They also host free wine tastings on Friday afternoons  from 4pm-8pm. If you would like to enjoy the bottle on the patio (and try Raymond’s food truck), they will uncork the bottle (for a small fee) and provide the glasses. Added bonus: Three Little Pigs food truck. Best meatloaf and collard greens EVER!

Wine and Food

4. Red Room Lounge
Red Room Lounge has been around for about a year and a half now and used to be the best kept secret downtown. However, I think the secret is out because the last time I was there it was packed! Red Room Lounge is a cool, laid back, basement lounge with a diverse wine selection at all price points. I like that I can enjoy a less expensive, but still high quality, bottle of wine or I can splurge and order something luxurious. With a somewhat obscure entrance and a basement descent, you may think you stepped into Prohibition era bar. That is why it is one of my favorite places in town. I can sit for an hour, have a wonderful glass of wine, and breath. Added bonus: Bill Elsey, one of Austin’s hottest, award winning sommeliers, is usually around to walk you through the wine list.

Red Room Wine

5. Uncorked
Uncorked was one of the first wine bars I started visiting when Austin’s food and wine scene was still young. Located on East 7th Street just off I-35 in a historic house, Uncorked offers great food, wine, and a view that is one of the best in town. I have consumed many a glass of wine on that patio while I waited out Austin’s crazy evening traffic!  You can order wine flights, glasses, or bottles from a country specific wine list. Tentative wine orderers are put at ease using the winedex tasting guide. Each wine has a series of symbols that describe the type, body, and style. If you have any questions or hesitations they go out of their way to explain the wines and let you try a sample before you order.  The local cheese and charcuterie boards as well as the truffled mushroom risotto are also wonderful. Added bonus: The amazing patio!

UnCorked Wine

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Top 10 Italian Restaurants in Austin

PIcture of Italy“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” – Federico Fellini

Craving Italian food, but not sure where to go? Reminiscing of that amazing meal in Italy and need a fix? Non c’è problema! I have put together a list of favorite Italian restaurants in Austin to help you out!

If I had to pick only one style of food to eat, I would undoubtedly choose Italian. Italians are passionate about food. Food is pleasure, love, family, sharing, and community. I love everything about Italian cuisine. It is diverse, yet simplistic, and can encompass many different styles, textures, and ingredients. An Italian dish should tell you a story, and in turn, inspire you to tell others.

To define the list below, I focused on fresh, simple, locally sourced ingredients, a welcoming atmosphere, a decent wine list, and the story. If the food makes me dream of Italy, I will go back again and again!

Top 10 Italian Restaurants in Austin

1. Trattoria Lisina

Trattoria Lisina is located outside Austin in Driftwood, but I had to include it in my list. I go to Trattoria Lisina every few months and I’m never disappointed. Owned by Damian Mandola, the menu is more diverse than Mandola’s Italian Market. Trattoria Lisina offers a multi-course, sophisticated menu from pan roasted chicken, to osso buco, to daily fish specials. It is not uncommon to eat from everyone’s plate while dining there! We had our wedding reception at Trattoria Lisina and everyone involved (event planner, staff, chef) was wonderful! They made our day special and treated us like we were family.

2. Patrizi’s Italian Food Truck

I was fortunate enough to attend a media tasting at Patrizi’s a few weeks ago and had to add it to my list of favorite places. Located at the Vortex Theater, the menu features fresh, simple, homemade pasta dishes using local ingredients. My favorite right now is the pasta pomodoro with homemade ricotta cheese. The garlic confit and infused olive oil is amazing as well! I love the funky Austin vibe, but the food reminds me of a little slice of Italian heaven!

3. Vespaio

I’m not sure I can say anything bad about Vespaio (except not taking reservations). It is a “neighborhood-hangout-meets-Italian-gourmet-comfort-food” establishment. Vespaio makes almost everything from bread, cheese, stocks, pasta, and sauces. They even do all of their own butchering. It is so self-contained that it feels like a working Italian farm. My two favorite things at Vespaio? The wine list and the risotto specials. The wine list offers many wonderful Italian selections and the seafood risotto will blow your mind. It is THAT good. Just go earlier in the day so you don’t have to wait in line.

4. Botticelli’s

Botticelli’s is a small trattoria on South Congress serving up traditional as well as modern Italian cuisine. I like Botticelli’s because it is small, cozy, and the inventive spin they put on some of the traditional fare is unexpected. Check out my first review of Botticelli’s (just ignore the horrible newbie photos!) My favorite dish is the chicken and Italian sausage lasagna with veggies. It is usually offered as a special, but I’ve always been lucky enough to get it. The wine list is limited, but offers decent Italian selections. After dinner, head out back to the beer garden for dessert and live music!

5. Olive and June

Olive and June is located in central Austin and serves Tuscan, farmhouse inspired cuisine using locally sourced ingredients. With a beautiful outside seating area, extensive wine and cocktail menu, and rustic fare, I have to refrain from going every day after work! I also love the small plate options which encourage sharing at the table. My favorite small plate is the zucchini involtini. I recommend following with the sausage gemelli and the citrus torta.

6. Trento

Trento is a neighborhood eatery located in West Lake. I have been going there since they opened early 2012 and I love it. It is convenient, friendly, good wine list, and they make the best ravioli dish I have ever eaten. Try the homemade cheese ravioli with lamb sausage, sage, brown butter, and poached egg (if it wasn’t so rude to lick the plate I would probably do it). For a light meal, I recommend going for happy hour and have the caprese salad or the mussels!

7. Asti Trattoria

Asti is a small, cozy restaurant in the Hyde Park area that offers a Tuscan style menu. And when I say cozy, I mean say hi to the table next to you because you will eventually participate in their conversation. Even though it can get crowded, it is a fun atmosphere buzzing with excitement and great food. I love the interesting, unexpected combinations of the dishes. One of the most memorable meals at Asti was a summer pasta dish with lobster, corn, and sweet cream. SO good! Also try the seafood risotto, duck breast, and rigatoni amatriciana!

8. Gusto Italian Kitchen

Gusto Italian Kitchen is a great neighborhood eatery in the Rosedale neighborhood. We like it because it is convenient, moderately priced, super friendly, and offers solid food and wine choices. It is a great place for a quick weeknight meal or happy hour. Go for the sausage pizza, spaghetti carbonara, slow roasted pork shoulder, and the olive oil cake!

9. La Traviata

La Traviata is a small bistro located on Congress Avenue. It is another moderately priced, solid Italian eatery. It isn’t fancy or intimidating, just good food. It reminds me of the bistros in the Florence area! I especially like the beef carpaccio, proscuitto di parma, and carbonara (can you tell I am a carbonara fan? 🙂 ). Great wine list as well.

10. Andiamo

Andiamo is a locally owned, hidden gem on Rutland Drive. Blink and you might miss it!  Andiamo offers a fresh, seasonal menu using locally sourced products. I have to confess it has been a while since I have visited Andiamo, but it has stayed on my top ten list despite my absence. Try the mushroom ravioli with saffron broth-YUM! They are running a lobster special in June so plan to join them soon!

What are your favorite Italian restaurants? What dish makes you dream of Italy?

Meaty Goodness at Live Fire Austin

Live Fire SaltlickCome on baby light my fire! Last night I attended the Live Fire meat extravaganza. Live Fire is sponsored by the Austin Food and Wine Alliance and held at the world famous Salt Lick Pavilion in Driftwood, Texas. Sixteen chefs, numerous cocktail and wine tastings, and plenty of meaty goodness to go around!

I started the evening at Sway’s booth to try the Thai chili beef with coconut cream and vegetables. It was burn-your-face-off great! I don’t eat spicy food that often, but wow it was worth it! Good thing they were passing out Prosecco when you entered the pavilion. It was a nice way to cool down!

I sampled wines by Becker Vineyards, Pacific Rim, among others that escape me. I moved on to Dai Due’s flatiron steak tacos, flank steak rouland by Homegrown Revival, brisket by Franklin’s, and my favorite of the night-oxtail ramen with beef tongue chashu by Ramen Tatsu-ya. I dreamed of beef tongue and woke up smiling. My husband was very suspicious, but it was THAT good.Food for Live Fire

This is one of my favorite events of the year. I discovered I liked beef tongue, pickled strawberries, and espresso BBQ sauce (separately, but might prove to be an interesting combo!). I love trying new food combinations and you just can’t go wrong with lots of Texas steer!

Beef–it kicks chicken’s ass any day! Moo!

The WellGro Co.

Last weekend I participated in a herb garden fundraiser sponsored by The WellGro Co. at Contigo restaurant. The event raised funds to build a garden at Travis High School. The WellGro Co. is a local non-profit organization run by Ed and Kerri Hughey committed to bringing real food back into schools.  Ed and Kerri were moved into action by the childhood obesity epidemic and wanted to support organizations that drive change and make a positive impact. The WellGro Co. holds several events throughout the year as well as offers products on their website to help raise funds to support those organizations.

food 1

This event in particular spoke to me because I was raised on processed food, often receiving free or reduced lunches at school.  I think that is why I am so obsessed with homemade, fresh, healthy food now. I’m not always perfect, but I’ve learned to balance. Kids on low-income meal plans often do not have a choice as to what they eat.  A hot dog and chips are easier and cheaper than organic chicken and vegetables. How can we expect children to choose to eat healthy if they have never been exposed or have access to real food?

Food 2

The Travis High School garden will provide an organic learning environment for the culinary students. They will have a chance to forge a relationship with their food and also educate others (friends, family, etc) on the importance of eating something other than fast food.

The herb workshop was taught by Sam Thorp of Johnson’s Backyard Garden. He shared his tips and tricks for successful planting and maintenance. I plant herbs every year and use them all through the spring and summer. I definitely learned a few new things! During the workshop we planted herbs in Contigo’s garden which will be used at the restaurant.

Food 4

After the workshop we had a great lunch prepared by the Travis High School culinary students. Can’t beat fresh arugula, sausages, and potato salad! Perfect food on a gorgeous day!  I had a great time and met some inspiring people in the food community.

Food 3

Check out some great photos of the event on Chris Perez’s website: MetropoChris.  For more garden inspiration check out Lorin Baum’s company Texas Roots. And support your local food community!

Food 6

Food 7

Restaurant Jezebel

In keeping with our annual tradition, my husband and I booked our anti-Valentine dinner the weekend after the official date. We gave up trying to get into restaurants early into our relationship and prefer to have a “regular” dinner date to celebrate Valentines. We are hip like that 😉

We visited Restaurant Jezebel way back when it was still located on Congress Ave and were very happy when the new location opened on West 6th Street. Not much has changed as I had to book a reservation a month in advance! The dining room is still very small, dark, and eclectic with gorgeous nude paintings. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but I loved it. It was charming and romantic.

I heard it was more formal and they now offer only a 4 or 7 course tasting menu instead of an a la carte menu. We were there for a special occasion so we went all in and ordered the 7 course tasting menu with wine pairings. It’s definitely a lesson in food S&M when the chef has his way with you for 5 hours!

We started with sashimi, swordfish and mackerel, fried crab and moved into heavier dishes with pork belly, quail, kangaroo, and foie gras. I had too much foie gras in one dish and asked for something else. I was promptly brought a small plate of grilled fish and it was perfect. Chef Vora and his staff go out of their way to make sure you are comfortable.

Dessert was just as elaborate and included a selection from a mobile dessert cart. I had to try the strawberry macaroons and white chocolate bourbon truffles. I’ve had macaroons in France and these were so close I thought I was in Paris again!

I also thought the mobile cocktail cart was a nice touch. They will make anything you want table side. However, we went with the wine pairings and I have to say I was not disappointed. I enjoyed everything that was recommended to us.

I didn’t want to take fuzzy iPhone pictures of such beautiful food. I would recommend you visit Fed Man Walking, Tribeza, or Restaurant Jezebel’s website for nice photos of the kitchen and food.

This is a fine dining establishment and the pricing is in line with the level of service. You have to be comfortable with paying for an experience and view it as such.  It was fun, interesting, and the first time I have talked to my spouse for an extended period in quite a while (5 whole hours!).  I’m glad we did it!