Like most of Austin, the South Congress neighborhood has a long and winding history. What started as a dirt road cut off from the city proper by the Colorado River evolved to an artsy retail destination in the 1930s. After IH-35 drew traffic away, it became a haven for drug dealers and ladies of ill repute in the 1970s. Finally, it began a swing back to a shopping and dining hotspot in the late 1990s.
With its unobstructed view north towards the state capitol building, South Congress has recently attracted the attention of local and national retailers, developers, and restauranteurs. If you’re not sure where to start, here is our roundup for the Best of South Congress!
Since 1986, Guero’s has been serving up tasty Tex-Mex in Central Austin. Originally located on East Oltorf, they’ve been holding down the fort in the old Central Feed & Seed building on South Congress since the mid-1990s.
Get a table in the main restaurant for fajitas, enchiladas, and some seriously addicting Chile con Queso. During the summer, enjoy live music in the shaded Oak Garden next door while sipping on a frozen house margarita with a Cointreau floater.
The South Congress we know today boasts high-end hotels and upscale restaurants. But when the South Congress Cafe opened its doors in 2003, it brought some class to what had been a very casual street.
Current entrees include Duck and Dumplings, Lamb Enchiladas, and a phenomenal Short Rib Hash. And you have to try their award-winning Bloody Mary! They make their own vodka infusion with bell peppers, citrus, garlic, and jalapeños!
The furthest north on our list, Ego’s is a bit off the beaten path. Located behind a gas station and beneath an office building, it’s worth the visit. Affordable drinks and nightly karaoke have kept the people coming back for 40+ years. Bring your friends and channel your inner Beyonce while you enjoy everything this delightful dive has to offer.
Enoteca Vespaio is the Italian bistro offspring of the larger Vespaio Ristorante next door. The bistro is a more laid-back affair, offering a casual lunch or dinner to hungry South Congress visitors.
The menu features a range of charcuterie from Berkshire pork pâté to duck liver mousse. And of course, they have the four P’s — panini, pizza, pasta, and pastries.
The Continental Club is a glowing tribute to adaptability in a neighborhood experiencing an upheaval. Since first opening its doors in 1955, it has gone from an upscale supper club to Austin’s first burlesque to a blue-collar dive. Now, it’s one of the city’s favorite live music venues.
Country, blues, and rockabilly bands grace the stage at The Continental Club 7 nights a week. Past performers have included Gary Clark, Jr., Joe Ely, and Stevie Ray Vaughan!
Address: 1315 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704
Phone: (512) 441-2444
This coffee stand and people-watching venue has been a staple of South Congress for over 20 years. Their breakfast tacos, baked goods, and high-octane coffee keep the people coming back for more. A popular choice is the Belgian Bomber — chocolate, hazelnut, coffee & cream mixed with cold brew for a sweet and caffeinated treat.
And if you see a line of people around the corner, they may not be waiting for coffee. They’re probably preparing to snap a photo with the famous “I love you so much” graffiti that’s become one of Jo’s Coffee’s official logos.
Address: 1300 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704
Phone: (512) 444-3800
Amy's Ice Creams
Located just across South Congress from Jo’s Coffee, Amy’s Ice Creams boasts a rotation of 350 different flavors! Rotating specialties include the Up in Smoke — dark chocolate ice cream with chipotle peppers, cinnamon sticks, honey, and peanut butter! Another is Yoda’s Swamp, an unusual name for sweet cream ice cream, crème de menthe, and swirls of homemade fudge and whipped cream.
Each summer, check out Amy’s Annual Trick Olympics, where staff members face off to see who can do the best gravity-defying ice cream tossing tricks!
Address: 1301 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704
Phone: (512) 440-7488
Home Slice Pizza
Home Slice has been bringing New York-style thin crust pizza to South Congress since 2006. Customers can dine in or grab a slice to go at the walk-up pizza window.
The specialty pies here are not to be missed. Their classic Margherita is better than you’ll find anywhere. And the Eggplant Pie is an absolute knock out. It may sound a little odd if you’ve never had eggplant on a pizza before, but take our word for it.
And the word is out — as of October 2018, Home Slice was listed as the #4 best pizza joint in the country by TripAdvisor.
Address: 1415 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704
Phone: (512) 444-7437
People like to say that Austin isn’t really Texas. I don’t know if they’re trying to compliment Austin or insult the rest of the state. But in either case, Allen’s Boots is quintessentially Texas. They’ve been serving up a smorgasbord of boots, leather, hats, and all the fringe you could ever want since 1977.
Whether your daily drive is cattle or a Corolla, Allen’s will have something fun for you.
Address: 1522 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704
Phone: (512) 447-1413
Although they’ve now expanded to 36 locations across 6 states, the South Congress flagship of this burger behemoth will always have our hearts. Bright and cheerful inside, you’re greeted by a big bar where you can grab a beer or a frozen ‘rita while you wait to order your meal. And what a meal!
HopDoddy prides itself on creative burger concoctions. Ever had sweet cherry jalapeño jam on a burger? Well, they have it here, and a whole lot more. With two vegetarian burgers and a flood of fry options, there’s something for just about everyone.
Address: 1400 S Congress Ave Ste A190, Austin, TX 78704
Phone: (512) 243-7505
Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar
Perla’s brought some much-needed seafood to South Congress when it opened back in 2009. Since then, it’s become one of the most popular places in town for Gulf and coastal seafood.
They like to let the food do the talking here, with simple preparations of seared or grilled fish. But they also have more complex dishes, like an amazing bouillabaisse, or scallop and summer squash risotto. And if you really want to pull out all the stops, you have to get the Grande Platter — two tiers loaded with seasonal clams, oysters, shrimp, and crab.
In the summer, there is no better place to be than comfortably ensconced on Perla’s oak-shaded patio, sipping rosé and watching the world pass by.
Address: 1400 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704
Phone: (512) 291-7300
Lucky Robot Japanese Kitchen
Lucky Robot is a sushi and seafood restaurant with an eye on sustainability. After a recent partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, they’ve committed to taking all seafood off their menu that is overfished or farmed unsustainably.
The result has been some creative substitutions. Instead of bluefin tuna (which has been overfished for years), they serve line-caught bigeye tuna from Hawaii. Hamachi has been replaced with Hawaiian amberjack. And instead of eel, they’re getting clever with catfish!
The result is a unique sushi menu that both tastes great and feels good.
Address: 1303 S. Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704
Phone: (512) 444-8081