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Austin’s Favorite Homegrown Fast-Food Restaurants

From tacos to burgers to baked goods, many of Texas' most iconic fast food spots were started right here in Austin

It’s no secret that Austin is lauded for its culinary scene, with award-winning chefs and particularly unique dining concepts drawing international attention. But Austin is also increasingly becoming known for exceptional, locally-based fast food options. From strictly local options with decades of history to newer chains that launched here and are now branching out nationwide, Central Texas is a breeding ground for epic fast-casual establishments.

Battle of the Burgers

Perhaps one of the most iconic and rapidly growing chains is P. Terry’s Burger Stand. 100% local to Austin and surrounding areas, this health-conscious chain, owned by Kathy and Patrick Terry, got its start on July 5, 2005, on the corner of South Lamar and Barton Springs. Now, with 29 locations today, P. Terry’s is considered a staple within the city and has plans to start opening locations in Houston as early as 2024. The concept — “a classic burger featuring a simple, high-quality, yet affordable menu backed with quick, friendly service in a pleasing environment” — helps drive customer loyalty.

“As Patrick was homing in on the menu, branding and building design, Kathy was reading ‘Fast Food Nation’ that basically blew the lid off how unhealthy typical fast food was. They decided the menu should be all natural — no preservatives, antibiotics or hormones,” says P. Terry’s CEO, Todd Coerver. “We don’t have freezers, microwaves or heat lamps. Everything is fresh, all-natural and cooked to order. That was ultimately their promise to their friends and family, to feed them food that they can feel good about.”

Hopdoddy Burger Bar, another homegrown iconic chain, is also spreading its reach and is now available in more than a dozen other cities, including seven other states. Established on South Congress in 2010 and named for ‘hops,’ a flower ingredient of beer and ‘doddy,’ a nickname for Black Angus Cattle, everything at Hopdoddy is uniquely made from scratch, with some of the freshest and tastiest house-made buns and sauces.

Another never frozen, all-natural, hearty burger chain with the goal of “doing the right thing” started as an Austin food truck in 2008. Hat Creek is known as a place for “good food, good folks, and good fun.” All locations have convenient outdoor seating with places for little ones to run around and play. The flagship eatery, in Westlake hills, opened in 2011, and today Hat Creek has 25 additional locations, including spots in Dallas-Fort Worth, Waco and near Houston. These burgers stand out for generous amounts of hearty beef, particularly in the “Big Hat” offerings, along with health-conscious Paleo Burger Bowls, a single patty with avocado and diced sweet potatoes, served on a bed of baby spinach.

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Locally grown chains are great, but Austin is also home to longer-standing staples with deep ties to the city’s history and culture. Top Notch, Sandy’s and Dan’s Hamburgers have been around for decades.

Advertised as a “taste of old Austin,” Sandy’s is known for old fashioned burgers, along with delicious cones, shakes, malts, sundaes and floats. Proudly serving since 1943 at its sole location on Barton Springs, the restaurant is named for the founder’s daughter.

Decades after Sandy’s, Top Notch joined the local burger scene in 1971 with a location on Burnet Road. One of the only local places for a charcoal grilled burger, Top Notch is known for its appearance in the movie, “Dazed and Confused.” Fried chicken and dipped onion rings still dominate today’s menu, along with nods to the era of car hop restaurants. After years of only one location, Top Notch now has a location in Hutto, which just opened in March 2023.

Dan’s Hamburgers, also established in the 1970s, is still family owned and operated with three locations in Austin and one in Buda. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the burger chain features an extensive breakfast menu, including omelets, eggs made any style and of course — a local favorite — breakfast tacos. For lunch and dinner, the motto is “keep it simple” with a menu of burgers, grilled cheese and chicken basket options — along with a signature Hickory Sauce.

From Food Truck to Hot Spot

Pizza eateries are not usually hard to find, but some stand out more than others. Starting in 2011, as a food truck on East 6th and Waller, Via 313 now has several brick-and-mortar locations across Texas and Utah. Via means “by the way of,” and 313 is Detroit’s area code which matches owners Brandon and Zane Hunt’s mission to bring a taste of their hometown to Austin (and now other locations, too).

Hearty and fresh doughs go through a slow rising process and are placed in steel pans that resemble automobile parts pans commonly used by mechanics in Detroit. The special pans, commonly used to cook Detroit style pizzas, ensure a crisp bake on all sides of the thick crust. Two types of pizza layered on the pizza and the sides of the pizza allow for a memorable crunch.

To add a further Detroit touch, all Via 313 locations have the words, “Everything is Going to be Alright.” If you think this is a Matthew McConaughey “alright, alright, alright” reference, think again! These words are inspired by an art installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.

A tip from an Austinite of 12.5 years: if you want to eat at Via 313 during peak dining times, make sure to order an hour or so in advance. This spot for quick food is usually in such high demand, it may take some time to reach your table or door.

Korean Barbeque inspired Chi’Lantro is another food truck turned major success story. This former Shark Tank contestant has eight brick-and-mortar locations across Austin and unique, customizable menu items like Kimchi Fries and six original sauce options. A popular option is to build your own bowl and choose from a variety of fresh bases, proteins, hot premium and veggie toppings.

To start the mobile food truck in 2010, the CEO and founder, Jae Kim, once maxed out his credit cards and $30,000 in savings to pursue his dream of running a Korean Mexican fusion food truck.

El Taquito didn’t completely originate in Austin, but it is still one of the first of its kind in the city. With beginnings in the 1980s as a street taco cart in a Northern Mexico town, El Taquito claims to have “broken the mold” as the first to introduce the combination of “queso fresco and a slice of avocado” in its tacos when it opened on Riverside Drive in 1995. Now, with an additional location in Pflugerville, El Taquito serves dozens of taco varieties, along with enchilada plates, salads, soups and more.

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Rising from a single food trailer in 2017 – to five standing restaurants less than four years later, Tumble 22’s original location is on Burnet Road. Inspired by Nashville hot chicken and guided by Texas chef Harold Marmulstein’s secret blend of spices and careful cooking in hot oil, the restaurant proudly does not use any MSG products. Ranging from “wimpy” to “stupid hot,” the eatery offers six levels of spice in its sauces. Another option is a different take on a delicious cobb chicken salad, complete with deviled egg on top.

Bread and Bakery Items

Known for its bake shop and beer garden atmosphere, Easy Tiger is starting to grow its reach through bread sales. Once a single location that opened in the Waller Creek district in 2011, the eatery is now selling its bread at H-E-B and Whole Foods, including different regions across Texas. A total of three Easy Tiger restaurant locations are currently available in Austin, with fresh food options ranging from seasonal sandwiches, salads, pastries, charcuterie boards and more.

Don’t Forget Dessert

Is a meal really complete without at least the option for dessert? Making Austin super proud, Tiff’s Treats continues to branch out, now available in six other states. These cookies delivered warmly are unlike any other and sure to brighten almost any day. Leon and Tiffany Chen started Tiff’s Treats when they were students at University of Texas in 1999. Back then, Tiff stood Leon up for a date, but then brought over fresh, hot from the oven cookies to apologize. Leon convinced Tiff to turn her cookies into a business and the two began taking orders via a cell phone, while baking cookies at Leon’s apartment. The couple opened their first storefront on The Drag across from University of Texas in 2000, and today, with 86 stores in existence, tasty brand collaborations and more than eleven cookie products, plus three brownie options and chocolate chip cookie truffles. The rest is history.

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Read More From the Food Issue | May 2023

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