Austin’s Top Restaurants Converge at Downtown Fareground Food Hall
The chic indoor and outdoor dining space is home to Henbit, TLV, Little Wu and more amazing eateries
By Karen O. Spezia
Food photos by Holly Cowart
Scenery photos courtesy of Fareground
It sounds too good to be true: there’s a place serving some of Austin’s tastiest dishes prepared by some of its finest chefs, all in one spot. You heard me right. No more Ubering or scootering or circling for parking spots just to score a table at your favorite restaurant. No more debating about who wants tacos and who wants ramen and who wants shawarma. No more racking your brain about which bar to hit because it’s all under one roof at a foodie fantasyland called Fareground.
Located on the ground floor of a downtown skyscraper, Fareground houses five restaurant kiosks helmed by some of Austin’s best chefs, including several James Beard nominees, and offers Asian, Mexican, French, New American and Mediterranean cuisine, plus two craft cocktail bars. It’s hard to put a label on Fareground: it’s way more stylish than a food court, yet not quite as grand as a European food hall. Like so much in our city, it’s uniquely Austin.
But it’s not just convenience and top-notch casual eats that are the draw, it’s also that Fareground is a lovely place to dine. The restaurant storefronts are clustered around a soaring atrium accented with marble, brass and wood, overlooking a lush hillside landscape. There are a variety of attractive seating options, including an airy indoor dining space and a shaded outdoor patio. In this secluded and chic ambiance, it’s easy to forget you’re at the nexus of one of downtown’s busiest intersections.
With so many tempting choices at Fareground, it’s hard to know where to start. But you can’t go wrong with TLV, named after Tel Aviv’s airport code and serving fantastic Mediterranean cuisine prepared by Israeli-born chef Berty Richter. I usually make a meal out of the superb salatim side dishes: Baba Ganoush, tabouleh, cucumber salad, tzatziki, cumin beets and a hummus so smooth and creamy that I start resenting the store-bought tub at home in my fridge. Scoop it all up with the best pita in town, fresh out of the oven and warm, light and puffy. For a more composed dish, try the Mushroom Shawarma, a bowl of hummus topped with roasted mushrooms, red onions, tahini, fresh herbs, and drizzled with spicy amba mango sauce and an herbaceous schug condiment. It’s a complex yet comforting dish that knocks my socks off every time. For dessert, don’t miss the delicate, subtly sweet malabi rosewater custard.
Next, make your way over to Little Wu, an offshoot of Austin’s beloved Wu Chow Chinese restaurant helmed by Chef Ji Peng. There you’ll find noodle bowls and an excellent dim sum assortment. The combo sampler is a fun way to taste a variety of dumplings and potstickers. Or try my favorite noodle bowl, loaded with tender Yakisoba noodles and homemade broth, topped with braised mushrooms and marinated tofu, then garnished with fresh herbs, slivered onions and crispy shallots.
Celebrity chef and James Beard nominee Richard Sandoval and Austin-based Executive Chef Albert Gonzalez are the tastemakers behind Taco Pegaso, offering a tasty variety of Mexican favorites. Start by nibbling on chips dunked into Queso Con Todo, chipotle-poblano melted cheese punched up with guacamole, picadillo taco meat and charred tomato salsa. Then move on to any of the first-rate tacos or burritos, including chicken tinga and shredded beef birra, all served on outstanding homemade tortillas.
Henbit is helmed by another pair of acclaimed chefs: Kevin Fink is a James Beard nominee and Tavel Bristol-Joseph was named one of Food & Wine Magazine’s ‘Best New Chefs of 2020.’ They’re both involved with other notable Austin restaurants like Emmer & Rye, Hestia, Kalimotxo and Canje. Henbit boasts a variety of fresh modern American favorites like a juicy burger and a fried chicken sandwich, plus seasonal bowls like a spicy ginger chicken and seafood poke. Don’t miss two of Henbit’s signature items: the crispy sweet potato tots with spicy aioli and the massive Monster Cookie loaded with dark chocolate and pecans.
Austin Rôtisserie offers a touch of France in Texas. Inspired by the sidewalk rotisseries of Paris, its signature dish is succulent roasted chicken served with baby potatoes cooked in chicken drippings. There are also classic bistro dishes like Salade Niçoise, French carrot soup and a simple but sublime Parisian baguette sandwich with ham and swiss cheese. Co-owner Sophie Nathal grew up in Paris, and her husband Eric is a former Miami restaurant veteran.
You’ll need something to wash down all this deliciousness, and Fareground has two terrific bars to imbibe. On the ground floor, DRINK pours beverages all day including coffee, kombucha, wine, beer, cocktails and frozen drinks. On the upper level is Ellis, a striking U-shaped bar overlooking the bustling sidewalk and serving sophisticated cocktails paired with casual nibbles like flatbreads, wings and fries.
Fareground ticks so many boxes. It’s a godsend for downtown lunch breaks, providing something quick but good. In the evenings and on weekends, it has a more relaxed vibe, frequently enhanced by live music and a buzzing bar scene. For out-of-towners with limited time, it offers a convenient way to sample Austin’s culinary bounty in one fell swoop. This enticing food bazaar showcases a world of flavors prepared by esteemed local chefs, satisfying everyone’s cravings under a single stylish canopy. And that’s the truth.