The one potential bright spot to the whole global pandemic, everyone-trapped-in-their-houses-for-over-a-year thing is this: it’s a lazy person’s paradise. Businesses have shifted how they operate to work in this new era, and everything from childcare pickup to doctor visits has been made easier. It’s a golden age for convenience and the acceptance of gym shorts and flip-flops as business casual wear.
Of course, the hospitality industry has been hard hit, with many restaurants forced to close and others struggling every day to survive (you can support our friends at Southern Smoke if you want to help hospitality workers in need). But a few genius restaurateurs have managed to change up their businesses in order to survive in this strange new world. As a result, some Austin restaurants that either didn’t focus on to-go or never offered at all now have a thriving take-out business. And let’s not forget one of the most important developments of the last century: to-go booze is now available in Austin.
Here are some of Austin restaurants that have given me the best to-go meals during this past wacky year.
One of my favorite restaurants in town and probably the best all-around meal I’ve eaten at home. The fact that you can get their amazing brisket suadero tacos AND margaritas (and palomas) to go is both exciting and dangerous. Like tooling around on an ATV. Pro tip: they do larger family-style takeaway, too, which is perfect for groups.
We love Franklin Barbecue here at Alvies, which is one of the reasons Stacy Franklin was our first-ever Kickback Ambassador. It’s my personal favorite barbecue in town, but as I’ve gotten older and the line has gotten longer, I haven’t gotten to partake as much as I’d like. The line is a cultural institution so I’m not knocking it, but I’m old and have kids and not enough spare time to wait that long, even for the best barbecue. But Franklin was on point with curbside service early on in the pandemic. It’s been a game-changer to put in an order as late as the day before, have them run it out to your car, then shame-eat a half pound of brisket on the ride home.
To-go sushi is very rarely as good as when you get it in a restaurant. But of course if anyone is going to knock it out of the park, it’s Uchi and Uchiko. Both have pivoted to offering to-go dining and done it without losing a step. They offer package omakase deals (called to-gomakase, which is outstanding) as well as a la carte options. Plus to to-go sake, beer and wine. I can’t stress enough how wonderful to-go booze has been for our society.
I’m a huge fan of all the Tatsuyas in town, but none of them were exactly takeaway friendly before. To-go was outright forbidden at Ramen Tatsuya until last year, but now you can pick up and eat that delicious ramen in the comfort of your own home. It’s like a warm, brothy hug.
As a shabu-shabu place based on cooking food in a communal (to the table, not the whole restaurant) broth, Dip Dip Dip was a Tatsuya restaurant that couldn’t just change to allowing to-go orders. So they switched it up entirely and now run a sandwich popup with shabu-shabu inspired sandwiches. They offer beef, karaage chicken, and tempura shrimp sandwiches with a side broth/sauce for dipping. Kind of like a French dip but with way more flavor.
Olamaie is another local favorite. Upscale Southern food and great cocktails hold a special place in my heart. But the off-menu (but not exactly a well-kept secret) biscuits were the star of the show. When they had to close the dining room, the team leaned into the biscuits and opened the popup sandwich shop Little Ola’s Biscuits. They offer both breakfast-y and dinner-y biscuit sandwiches, seasonal sides, and to-go cocktails. They’ve now moved the to-go operation out of the Olamaie space and into Butler Pitch and Putt for now, but soon will have a brick-and-mortar up north.
If you’re heading out to the Hill Country from Austin, you’d be a fool not to stop at Pieous. Especially since they now offer online ordering and a to-go window. They have great pizza, salads and desserts, but the real pro move is to order the pastrami. They offer it in a charcuterie-style platter with pickles and sourdough, or by the pound. Good luck getting home without greasing up your steering wheel.
You could always order takeout from Austin’s self-styled (accurately) Dope Chinese restaurant, but now it’s easier than ever with online ordering and curbside service. People rightfully rave about the brisket fried rice, General Tso’s chicken and kung pao cauliflower. But true Gs know that the Old Thousand take on a Nashville hot chicken sandwich is spectacular and only served at lunch.
This is a neighborhood spot that I don’t think gets enough love outside of North Central Austin. They took a bit to get up and running with curbside takeout, but now they’ve got it down cold. Solid Tex Mex and solid-er margaritas are available to go, and everyone you’ll deal with will be super nice. Like almost too nice. Probably hopped up on margs.