5 Austin bars where food is as good as the drinks

Knoxy Knox. Backbeat opened as a cocktail bar (with beer and wine as well), but its owners made sure to have a small menu of well-made food items as well.
Knoxy Knox. Backbeat opened as a cocktail bar (with beer and wine as well), but its owners made sure to have a small menu of well-made food items as well.

Tomorrow’s Austin360 cover story — which is online now — will be all about the best places in town to get a good drink, whether you’re looking for wine, beer or cocktails, a casual outdoor atmosphere, or live music befitting Austin’s title as the Live Music Capital of the World.

There was one category I had intended to include in the story but cut it for space — bars where the food is as good as the drinks. Because quality can so often be lacking for either one, I’m including that roundup now. Look for the American-Statesman restaurant critic Matthew Odam’s dining guide in a big spread online and in print on Sunday, when he’ll spotlight Austin’s top restaurants.

Drink.Well & Backbeat

207 E. 53rd St., drinkwellaustin.com; 1300 S. Lamar Blvd., backbeat-atx.com.

When local bar owners Michael and Jessica Sanders, who had helped transform the North Loop area into a budding entertainment district with cocktail bar Drink.Well, announced they were opening a second space, Backbeat, on South Lamar Boulevard, they made it clear that both places were going to be very different from each other.

But Backbeat hasn’t differed from Drink.Well in one regard. Both serve as well-rounded hangouts where food items like chicken liver mousse or a spicy kimchi reuben are as thoughtfully crafted and delectable as the cocktails. Drink.Well, in particular, focuses on the seasons for both programs and has recently released its fall menus, with drinks such as the Jinn’s Tonic (Old Tom Gin, apricot, grapefruit, cardamom, rose water and Mediterranean tonic) specifically intended to pair with the dishes.

You won’t go wrong at Backbeat, either, where the list of original cocktails are divided by flavor profile and types of spirits, and the food options include the sorts of higher-end snacks befitting such classy drinks, whether it’s a beet salad or a paté melt that you’re desiring. Backbeat also has seasonal menus to choose from.

Hopfields

3110 Guadalupe St., hopfieldsaustin.com.

Is it a charming French bistro? A laid-back beer bar in the campus area? Hopfields, a gastropub with French-inspired fare, manages to straddle both identities seamlessly. Here, you’ll find one of the best burgers in Austin — juicy, with creamy camembert cheese and caramelized onions — as well as a tap list that regularly features sought-after brews like Lakewood Brewing’s French Quarter Temptress or the AleSmith English Nut Brown. Don’t miss out on Hopfields’ pomme frites, with herbs and aioli, either. They’re an indulgence you won’t regret.

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Contributed by Banger’s. On Rainey Street, Banger’s has sausages, a large outdoor area and craft beers to lure the crowds.

Banger’s

79 Rainey St., bangersaustin.com.

Although the feat of having more than 100 taps of beer — often ones you can’t find anywhere else — often overshadows all the other things Banger’s has to offer, the Rainey Street bungalow bar draws regular crowds for its dog-friendly patio and its food as well. The kitchen here specializes in gourmet hot dogs that run the gamut from more traditional fare (sausages like andouille and bratwurst) to the more exotic (sausages made from rabbit and South Texas antelope). It’s your chance to be as adventurous with your carnivorous side as with your craft brews.

Isla

208 W. Fourth St., islaaustin.com.

The sister bar to French-focused Peche in the Warehouse District, Isla is meant to feel like a Caribbean cantina that you’ve just stumbled into in the middle of downtown Austin. That theme plays out with both the food and the rum-filled cocktails like the Tituba (rum, coconut cream, lime, basil and jalapeño — a see-saw of spicy and sweet). The dinner menu is full of island specialties, including three types of ceviche, jerk-spiced beef rib and cast-iron lime chicken with Cuban beans and rice. Ready? Your tropical paradise awaits.

Waller Creek Pub House

603 Sabine St., wallercreekpubhouse.com.

Across the street from another beer haven, Easy Tiger, this downtown pub opened last year with 30 rotating beer taps and a menu of straightforward bar food. Waller Creek Pub House — named for Austin’s first mayor, Judge Edwin Waller, and the creek near the bar — has pub grub such as wings, grilled cheese and burgers, all the sorts of things we want in our bellies after a night of multiple pints. Get one of the “heaps of fries” baskets, which come as either plain, Greek, Asian or Italian-flavored fried potatoes.

The Buzz Mill to start offering Voodoo Doughnuts at both locations

Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez / American-Statesman. The 24-hour Buzz Mill off Riverside Drive is now about to sell Voodoo Doughtnuts, in addition to beer, coffee and food.
Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez / American-Statesman. The 24-hour Buzz Mill off Riverside Drive is now about to sell Voodoo Doughtnuts, in addition to beer, coffee and food.

The Austin outpost of Voodoo Doughnuts will soon not be the only place where locals can get their hands on the sweet treats. Starting tomorrow morning, the Buzz Mill, a 24-hour coffee shop and bar off Riverside Drive, is going to have them, too.

And once the second location of the Buzz Mill opens off South Congress Avenue — right next door to the Infinite Monkey Theorem winery — the doughnuts will be available there as well.

Among the Voodoo Doughnuts options at the Buzz Mill: the Voodoo Doll, a raspberry-filled doughnut with chocolate frosting and a pretzel stake; the Bacon Maple Bar, a doughnut topped with bacon maple frosting; and the Diablos Rex, a chocolate-cake doughnut with chocolate frosting, red sprinkles, a vanilla pentagram and chocolate chips in the middle.

As if that’s not enough for our stomachs to handle, the Buzz Mill is also going to have an array of vegan options that include “fruit-cake doughnuts, which come with banana, applesauce, or pumpkin choices that are topped with maple frosting, chocolate frosting, toasted or flake coconut, Oreo’s, Chico sticks, powdered sugar, cinnamon, or sprinkles,” according to a news release.

You can thank Jason Sabala, owner of the Buzz Mill, for satisfying your sweet tooth at any hour of the day. A longtime friend of Voodoo’s owners, Cat Daddy and Tres Shannon, he was elated when he found out they were opening another location of the Portland-based doughnut shop here. People in the downtown area, he said in the release, had been needing “a day and night option for folks with a sweet tooth, and there’s no better choice than Voodoo.”

The second location of the Buzz Mill, which should be opened in February, will be at 121 Pickle Rd. It’ll offer much of the same as the original place at 1505 Town Creek Dr., from live music to the infused spirits menu to the separate study room. Plus, Sabala is hoping to spread the lumberjack vibe of the Buzz Mill to other cities, most notably San Marcos, later this year and next.