If you ask most Austin couples, I’m betting they would tell you that they first fell in love over a basket of chips and queso, or a slab of brisket, or perhaps at a picnic table outside a food truck. But every once in a while, we Austinites do it up right. The restaurants on this list are the ones that local lovebirds head to for proposals, birthdays, Valentine’s Days and anniversaries—or just when we need an excuse to spiff up a little and hit the town. They all have food that stands out, even in a strong local restaurant scene, and ambiances that are just as memorable as the fare. Don't leave your big night to chance, though: Reservations are a good idea at all of these restaurants. Also, keep in mind that none of these places remotely falls into the category of “cheap eats,” but for your money you’ll get a meal that you’ll long remember. So go ahead, whether it’s with an artful cocktail or wine from a carefully curated list: toast your special evening and the good fortune that brought you together—and to Austin.
Hudson’s on the Bend
A good way to get closer as a couple is to try something new together—like, say, Hudson's rattlesnake cakes. (Don't worry—they’re delicious and don’t look at all snake-y). If you’re up for a bit of a drive (to the west) from Central Austin, this is one of the restaurants that started putting Austin on the food map.
How romantic is this? Lenoir was opened in 2012 by husband-and-wife team Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher. Enjoy a fresh, seasonal prix-fixe menu amid shabby-chic décor that’s lovely by candlelight. Reservations are extra-important if you want an intimate dinner: the cozy room only has a few two-person tables.
Stroll down South Congress Avenue after dinner at this warm and reliable Italian restaurant. Opened in 1998, Vespaio still draws healthy crowds, so if you’re set on visiting, know that reservations are accepted only for dining times between 5:30-6:30 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday. Outside of that window, you might face a bit of a wait.
Dinner at the contemporary Mexican restaurant La Condesa feels like a visit to a beautiful, tropical-modern resort—but you’re really in the middle of Austin’s Second Street District. Make it a full date night with a concert afterward at ACL Live, or an indie movie at Violet Crown Cinema; both are nearby.
Even the most laid-back of towns needs a certifiably fancy restaurant or two. Since 2010, Congress has been making its mark in Austin thanks to acclaimed Executive Chef David Bull, an atmosphere of understated elegance and impeccable service. Not up for the restaurant’s three- or seven-course menus? Bar Congress focuses on small plates and craft cocktails.