Austin's restaurant scene offers everything from Hill Country barbecue to world-class Japanese cuisine worthy of the Top Chef title. But for those nights when you want to get the night started on a romantic note (or after you've enjoyed one of the city's most romantic activities), any of the following restaurants should set the right mood.
This little old house on the east side is an ideal choice for first dates. The atmosphere is intimate but not obnoxiously romantic. The organic garden out back adds a burst of freshness to everything from the Asian chicken salad to the pork tenderloin with rosemary. Stellar vegetarian options include the veggie enchiladas and the garden burger.
The flirty name may seem a little too obvious for some, but really, why be mysterious? The space is small, intimate and not too fancy. The service and the food are the stars here. If your date isn’t a vegetarian, get the night started with foie gras. Standout entrees include the duck breast and smoked sashimi. The dessert menu changes daily, but it often includes crème brulee and an excellent chocolate cake.
While schnitzel and escargot may not sound like romance-inspiring dishes, Fabi + Rosi somehow pulls it off. Housed in a Craftsman-style bungalow, the small German/French restaurant earns bonus points for interior design. The mostly white interior is lit with lovely little chandeliers. Produce and meats all come from right here in central Texas.
Hipster alert. While Justine’s is as much of a scene as a restaurant, the little French eatery has earned a loyal following primarily because of the expertly prepared cuisine. The loyalty of Justine’s clientele is even more amazing given the restaurant’s location -- in far east Austin. The scallops and mussels are the most popular entrees. Try the chocolate pear tart for dessert. Choose outdoor seating if the weather allows. The interior dining room sometimes gets raucous.
It’s not a trendy choice, but Fonda San Miguel has been serving up fantastic interior Mexican cuisine since 1975. The ranchero-style building and colorful decor set a relaxed, cheerful mood. Start with a fresh margarita and ceviche and don’t look back. The pork dishes -- particularly cochinita pibil -- are consistent crowd pleasers. Want a little more spice? Try the carne asada or the chipotle lamb kabobs.
This beautifully designed multi-level restaurant will put you at ease as soon as you sit down. Need even more comfort? Start with the gooey, house-made mozzarella appetizer. The Farm Egg is a hearty starter that can make up for the smallness of the plates to come. If you’re a pasta fan, you’ll love the Mezzelune with butter squash and white raisin mostarda. When the weather’s nice, ask to sit on the patio, which is built around a large tree.
With an ever-evolving seasonal menu, Lenoir buys its produce and meat from central Texas purveyors whenever possible. Popular dishes include the chickpea panisse, buttermilk rabbit and grilled quail. When available, the coho salmon ceviche -- with melon and avocado puree -- is a must-have. Located in a little old house, Lenoir is an excellent choice for a first date or special occasion.
A small Italian restaurant on South Congress, Botticelli's is only a few steps away from the Continental Club, one of the best music venues in Austin. So it's the perfect starting point for a dinner-plus-music type of evening. When the weather's nice, you can also take a stroll along Congress and window shop at the antique stores and vintage boutiques. The restaurant's northern Italian cuisine is uncomplicated but immensely satisfying. The ravioli with mushrooms is always a solid choice.
Offering tiny plates of exquisitely crafted gourmet dishes, Cafe Josie will get your night off on the right foot without filling you up. The smoked brisket with beef and potato rosti is a must-try, along with the fried chicken with buttermilk biscuit, pickles and caramelized garlic. For a Latin flair, opt for the citrus-braised pork with masa grits and corn salsa. It may not sound light, but remember, the plates are tapas-sized. For a fun dessert, try the funnel cake with ice cream or the crème brulee with cashews, dark chocolate and cherries. Dim lighting and abundant greenery add to the relaxed atmosphere. The restaurant is built out of an old carriage house, with rustic brick floors and French doors.