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As Texas navigates reopening restaurants and bars safely, al fresco spots provide the perfect place for long-quarantined Austin residents. Some of these favorites are open only on the patio, others are allowing customers to eat to-go orders in the space, and a few are full service—the details are subject to change. This is not an all-inclusive list, but here they are, in no particular order:
Upscale seafood fare is served under striped umbrellas on the tree-lined porch, with dogs allowed and an unfettered view of South Congress foot traffic.
Address: 1400 S. Congress Ave.
Serving craft cocktails with names like Riki Tiki Tavi and Lucid Dreams, Whisler's is a favorite on the city's East Side and is currently only open Thursday-Sunday for patio service.
Address: 1816 E. 6th St. (Photo: Whisler's)(Whisler's)
3. 77 Degrees
Exotic cocktails and tasty small plates are only a small part of the draw for this rooftop oasis in the Rock Rose section of the Domain, offering cushy seating, fans with misters and views of the action below.
Address: 11500 Rock Rose Ave. (Photo: Charlie L. Harper II)(Charlie L. Harper III)
4. Iron Cactus
Serving 100 tequilas in a turn-of-the-century building, this Mexican food restaurant's gorgeous and popular rooftop overlooks on historic Sixth Street.
Address: 606 Trinity St. (Photo: Iron Cactus)
This charming Greek eatery on South Lamar sports a relaxing front courtyard covered in shade trees and drenched in an Austin-hippie-meets-Mediterranean-village vibe.
Address: 2050 S. Lamar Blvd. (Photo: Charlie L. Harper II)(Charlie L. Harper III)
A converted house with porch and yard on the city's East Side serves interior Mexican cuisine in a setting that kind of resembles a chilled-out house party in Mexico City.
Address: 1306 E. 6th S. (Photo: Licha's Cantina)
Beer, wine, coffee and cafe food meet a distinctly local vibe in the laid-back courtyard, a neighborhood favorite just east of I-35.
Address: 1400 E 38th 1/2 St. (Photo: Charlie L. Harper II)(Charlie L. Harper III)
8. Posse East
Drink a beer, grab a burger and watch your favorite sports from a safe distance on the patio in this university-adjacent sports bar, a local favorite for nearly 50 years.
Address: 2900 Duval St. (Photo: Posse East)(Posse East)
One of Austin's food-truck-turned-restaurant success stories, this little haven on the East Side serves some of the city's most popular Turkish fast food - wraps and falafel shots and local beer.
Address: 1311 E. 7th St. (Photo: Charlie L. Harper II)(Charlie L. Harper III)
10. G'raj Mahal
Another food-truck success story, this Indian food joint has been a staple on Rainey Street for more than a decade and boasts a patio in the shade surrounded by decorative bicycle wheels and great people watching.
Address: 73 Rainey St. (Photo: Charlie L. Harper II)(Charlie L. Harper III)
Sit on the covered front porch with your buddies and your pups at this South Lamar favorite, with a full bar and menu that includes one of the best Chicago dogs in the city.
Address: 2108 S. Lamar Blvd. (Photo: Black Sheep Lodge)
This iconic South Congress restaurant and beer garden serves interior Mexican fare and boasts a full bar, house-made tortillas and excellent SoCo vibe. Its small front porch and the Oak Garden next door are both open.
Address: 1412 S. Congress (Photo: Guero's)
13. Culinary Dropout
This hip spot on the edge of the Domain's North Side plaza offers a spacious covered patio lined with white leather benches and tables with plenty of room between them, serving food and drinks in a casual but cosmopolitan setting.
Address: 11721 Rock Rose Ave. (Photo: Charlie L. Harper III)(Charlie L. Harper III)
This iconic three-level club downtown sports many cool indoor spots, but it made this list for its stellar rooftop, with cush seating, shade and views of the skyline.
Address: 412 Congress Ave. D (Photo: Speakeasy)(Speakeasy)
15. Jo's Coffee
A SoCo staple for decades, the window service and covered patio and sunnier street-side seating give a funky summer-camp-cantina feel to one of the city's trendiest urban neighborhoods. Don't forget the photo op with the iconic "I Love You So Much" message painted in red on its green north-facing wall.
Address: 1300 S. Congress Ave. (Photo: Jo's Coffee)
If you're dying for a date night and looking for a romantic outdoor space, this dreamy Italian eatery in the hills of Northwest Austin boasts beautiful views and elegant fare on its comfortable patio.
Address: 6203 N. Capital of Texas Hwy. (Photo: Siena Ristorante)(Siena Ristorante)
17. Hula Hut
A longtime Lake Austin favorite just west of downtown, the Hula Hut (and its neighbors along the lakefront) beckons with a decidedly summer vibe; the pina coladas and coconut shrimp are a bonus.
Address: 3825 Lake Austin Blvd. (Photo: Hula Hut)(Hula Hut)
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As summer temperatures continue to increase, so does Austin's "Party Island"—a hundreds-strong army of kayakers and paddle boarders who gather each weekend in the middle of Lady Bird Lake.
Born from the pandemic, the swarm of paddleboarding partiers has continued to grow each summer and can be seen from the nearby Lamar Boulevard Bridge. And while "Party Island" certainly lives up to one half of its name, it's not actually an island at all: instead, it's located at a shallow sandbar near Lou Neff Point.
With beers, burgers from portable grills and even DJ turntables in hand, more friends and strangers continue to beat the heat in new ways at the distinct Austin hangout.
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If you are a committed, grunge-wearing resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy–almost automatic–to look at Texas as an extraordinarily dry, hot and culturally oppressive place that is better to avoid, especially in the summer. Our two granddaughters live with their parents in Portland.
Recently we decided to take the older girl, who is 15, to Dallas. Setting aside the summer heat, a Portlander can adjust to the vibes of Austin without effort. So let’s take Texas with all of its excesses straight up. Dallas, here we come.
Our 15-year-old granddaughter and her sister, 12, have spent summer weeks with us, usually separately so that we could better get to know each individually. In visits focused on Austin and Port Aransas, the girls seemed to be developing an affection for Texas.
Houston and Dallas are two great American cities, the 4th and 9th largest, each loaded with cultural treasures, each standing in glittering and starchy contrast to Austin’s more louche, T-shirts and shorts ways.
Three hours up I-35, Dallas loomed before us as a set of gray skyscrapers in a filmy haze, accessed only through a concrete mixmaster of freeways, ramps and exits. I drove with false confidence. Be calm, I said to myself, it will all end in 10 minutes under the hotel entrance canopy. And it did.
The pool at the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas. (Crescent Court Hotel)
We stayed three nights at the Crescent Court Hotel ($622 a night for two queens), a high-end hotel in Uptown, patronized by women in white blazers, business people in suits, and tall, lean professional athletes, their shiny Escalades and Corvettes darting in and out, and other celebrities like Bill Barr, the former attorney general who shoe-horned his ample self into a Toyota.
Each morning as I walked to Whole Foods for a cappuccino, a fellow identified by a bellman as Billy the Oilman arrived in his Rolls Royce Phantom. Where does he park? “Wherever he wants to. He likes the Starbucks here.”
We garaged our more modest set of wheels for the visit. We were chauffeured for tips by Matt Cooney and Alfonza “The Rev” Scott in the hotel’s black Audi sedan. They drove us to museums, restaurants and past the enclaves of the rich and famous. In Highland Park, The Rev pointed out the homes of the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman along with the family compound of the Hunts, oil and gas tycoons.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s “Cartier and Islam” exhibit (until Sept. 18) attracted an older crowd; the nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science was a powerful whirlpool of kids’ groups ricocheting from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the oil fracking exhibit. Watch your shins.
A Geogia O'Keeffe oil painting called "Ranchos Church, New Mexico" at the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art. (Rich Oppel)
For us, the best museum was the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a 50-minute, madcap drive away via a 75 mph toll lane along I-30. Don’t try it during rush hour. The Carter has an exquisite collection of Remington paintings and sculptures and an excellent array of 19th and 20th-century paintings as well. Pick one museum? The Amon Carter. Peaceful, beautiful, uncrowded, free admission and small enough to manage in two hours.
The Fort Worth Stockyards, a place of history (with a dab of schmaltz), fun and good shopping, filled one of our mornings. The 98 acres brand the city as Cowboy Town, with a rodeo and a twice-daily (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive. We shopped for boots, drank coffee and watched the “herd” of 18 longhorns. So languid was their progress that if this were a real market drive the beef would have been very tough and leathery before it hit the steakhouse dinner plate.
The cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. (Rich Oppel)
But we could identify: the temperature was 97. “I saw a dog chasing a cat today,” said the emcee, deploying a very old joke. “It was so hot that both were walking.”
With limited time, we chose three very different restaurants:
- Nobu, in the Crescent Court Hotel; Jia, a modern Chinese restaurant in Highland Park; and Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Nobu’s exotic Japanese menu set us back $480, with tip, for four (we had a guest), but it was worth it.
- Jia was an ordinary suburban strip mall restaurant, but with good food and a reasonable tab of $110 for four.
- Joe T.’s is an 85-year-old Fort Worth institution (think Matt’s El Rancho but larger), a fine Mexican restaurant where a meal with two drinks was $115.
Sushi at high-end restaurant Nobu. (Crescent Hotel)
It was all a splurge for a grandchild’s visit. Now we will get back to our ordinary road trips of Hampton Inns, where a room rate is closer to the Crescent Court’s overnight parking rate of $52. And to corner cafes in small towns.
Did Dallas change our 15-year-old’s view of Texas? “Yes. I think it’s a lot cooler than I did. The fashion, the food.” So, not only Austin is cool. Take Texas as a whole. It’s a big, complex, diverse and wonderful state.