Where to Eat & Drink Near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport
Southeast Austin is booming with breweries, distilleries, coffee shops, and great food
In many cities, the neighborhoods that surround an airport don’t get a lot of praise as trendy hotspots for dining and drinking. For many years, the same was true of Southeast Austin. This area’s industrial zoning made it a less-than-obvious choice for restaurateurs and bar owners…but, for distillers and beer brewers, these large lots with space to set up both equipment and a bar area seemed like prime opportunities. “It is really, really hard to find a location in Austin zoned to allow use as a distillery. We knew we wanted to be in Austin and as accessible as possible — not too far from downtown. And we were stubborn enough to wait,” sas Tri Vo, founder & CEO of Fierce Whiskers Distilling. Vo’s team honed in on the Montopolis neighborhood just west of Austin-Bergstrom because “It is exceptionally convenient to both downtown and the airport, and you get a bit more space as well.”
Austin-Bergstrom’s close proximity to Downtown Austin and to the major highways that run through the metro Austin area means that the food & drink venues in nearby neighborhoods are accessible to everyone, not just to travelers. “I think that more than just being airport adjacent, the completion of the Highway 183A interchange connects Southeast Austin to Downtown in a whole new way. Visiting Radio/East from as far as Mueller would be a reasonable trip,” says Jack Wilson, a partner in the soon-to-open Southeast Austin outpost of Radio Coffee & Beer (which will be called Radio/East).
As Vo references, although property prices are consistently increasing citywide (no surprise to any renters or homeowners in town!), areas like Montopolis, McKinney, and Franklin Park can provide deals that won’t be found in more developed spots like East Austin and South Congress. According to Trey Hudson, Wilson’s partner at Radio/East, “Southeast Austin is one of the last areas in the city where we could get two acres of land to build a coffee bar/venue/community gathering space.” Hudson also points out that residential growth in Southeast Austin is on the rise, since low(er) property costs make it an appealing option for buyers priced out of Austin’s more spendy neighborhoods: “New housing developments like Easton Park in Southeast Austin have certainly created a new demand for food and beverage establishments in the area. The Montopolis neighborhood north of 71 has been changing for years. As a resident of a Southeast neighborhood, Franklin Park, I’ve seen more renovations and new builds in my neighborhood, as well as in Dove Springs and the Mckinney neighborhoods.”
The teams behind venues like Meanwhile, Fierce Whiskers, and Radio/East understand how important it is to connect with local communities, and getting the neighbors on-board with these projects is a key part of their success. “We opened right in the heart of the pandemic, when everyone in the world was in need of connection and a sense of community. Community is one of our core values, and we take it to heart. It is a privilege to be in a position to hold space for our neighborhood, as well as guests from other parts of Austin and beyond. We’ve built a wonderful little oasis with fantastic food trucks, live music, and a soccer field because we wanted this space to be welcoming to all, especially families and dogs!” says Will Jaquiss, founder and brewmaster of Meanwhile Brewing Co.
Although they’ve only been open in Southeast Austin for a few years, Meanwhile has a strong reputation among local businesses as an operation that brought something to the area that hadn’t existed before, but that also works hard to offer an experience that fits the needs of those who feel as connected to the neighborhood as the brewmasters do. “We have lots of wonderful regulars, and I think everyone has their own reason for being here. Most live close by, but not all! There are some folks who like working here during the week to get out of the house and to eat some delicious breakfast tacos. On the other side, we’ve got regulars who play in our ASSC soccer league every week after work. We try to give people the opportunity to make the space their own,” Jaquiss tells us.
Vo agrees that local patrons play a huge role in Fierce Whiskers’ customer base, explaining that “our tasting room relies on the support of the immediate neighborhood. People from the neighborhood frequent our tasting room, often riding in on bikes or walking by on foot. We are proud to be a part of the South Austin community in that way. We feel like we are just beginning to be known in other parts of Austin.”
The close-knit nature of the Southeast Austin scene also encourages local distillers, brewers, and restaurateurs to visit each others’ spots. “We are encouraged by our neighbors doing great things and we all happily support each other. You can often find me at Meanwhile Brewing having a coffee or a beer,” Vo says. Hudson backs that up by adding that “Radio has been longtime supporters of Meanwhile Brewery and Pinthouse Brewery. You can find their beers on tap at Radio Coffee & Beer, and we plan on dedicating a tap to each of our neighbors at Radio/East. They both serve this neighborhood so well. We’re planning on doing beer collaborations and block parties, so keep your ears and eyes peeled.”
For the Radio gang, following up their wildly successful South Lamar flagship with a Southeast Austin companion venue gives them the chance to grow their reach and make the most of the bigger space. “We can park more guests, serve more guests, and entertain more guests. We have one acre dedicated to parking and free street parking. Ten bartenders and five baristas on two espresso machines make sure the working crowd get their coffee, beer or cocktail with a reasonable wait. Our stage can accommodate 600-700 capacity shows, and with the size and scope of the new property, look for us to be hosting all kinds of large events throughout the year. We’re excited to offer a fun, new atmosphere to our community in 78744. We’re taking all the great things people love about Radio Coffee & Beer: cocktails, coffee, music, community…dogs!…and doing it on a larger scale,” says Hudson.
Radio/East is set to open later on this summer, and in terms of the future of Southeast Austin as a food & drink destination, Will Jaquiss thinks that there’s every reason to be excited and optimistic, especially as this part of the city starts to work on growing its pedestrian infrastructure. “I’m looking forward to seeing things become more pedestrian friendly, especially once the Bergstrom Spur is built. If that comes to pass, I have no doubt that the Southeast Austin hospitality scene will continue to blossom. We’re looking forward to it!” Jacquiss told us–and we’re looking forward to it, too!
In the meantime, be sure to check out Meanwhile Brewing, Fierce Whiskers Distillery, and Radio/East this summer, along with these food trucks (located at the previously-mentioned businesses), cafés, and breweries:
Best Bites in Southeast Austin
Distant Relatives at Meanwhile Brewing: James Beard Award-winner Damien Brockway heads up the BBQ game at this impeccable food truck with a permanent residency at Meanwhile Brewing. The menu changes seasonally, but hits like brisket with a smoked butter and mustard sauce, a pulled pork sandwich with kohlrabi slaw and chili sauce, and black eyed peas with burnt ends are regular favorites.
Side Eye Pie at Meanwhile Brewing: Meanwhile’s pizza truck serves up Neapolitan-style pies with properly blistered crusts and lively topping combinations like the Side Eye (pepperoni, Italian sausage, bell pepper, Castelvetrano olives, red sauce, and fresh mozzarella) and the Local Trip (mushrooms, Parmesan cream, Fontina cheese, and fresh herbs), in addition to playful sides like cheesy breadsticks and crispy salami chips. Side Eye Pies uses locally-sourced grain from Barton Springs Mill, making their pizzas as homegrown as they are tasty.
Pueblo Viejo at Meanwhile Brewing: With 6 Austin locations, Pueblo Viejo has become a staple in the local taco scene, and their truck at Meanwhile Brewing fully lives up to the quality standards of its other spots. Don’t miss their legendary Don Chago taco with beans, bacon, cheese, and avocado.
Bésame at Meanwhile Brewing: Bésame takes artisanal ice cream making very seriously, and their Meanwhile Brewing truck serves up creative flavors like Painted Black with malted milk ice cream, Oreos, and brownie chunks; Life Gave Me Lemons with lemon ice cream, lemon curd, and candied ginger; My Jam with pretzel milk ice cream and fresh strawberry jam, in addition to seasonal flavors that swap out on a regular basis.
Songbird at Meanwhile Brewing: Meanwhile’s newest addition to their food truck stable is Songbird, a spot dedicated to chicken sandwiches served on milk bread and loaded fries. Menu highlights include the General (fried chicken thigh, General Tso sauce, broccolini, and pickled chili), the Brutus (fried chicken, bacon, Caesar dressing, and pickled onions), and the Texas Disco fries (poblano gravy, bacon, farmer’s cheese, and pickled onions).
Texsueño at Fierce Whiskers Distillery: Chef Brandon Martin’s Texsueño truck became a huge hit during its first residency at High Noon in East Austin, with guests and reviewers alike raving about Martin’s inventive taqueria menu. Dishes like the sweet potato taco with salsa macha and cabbage, flautas with red chile, potato, cheese, smoked tomatillo oil, and chili oil, and guacamole made with Texas-grown avocados and seasoned with grapefruit juice have made Texsueño an equal success at its new location at Fierce Whiskers Distillery.
Ani’s Day & Night: The name of this café-bar hybrid says it all: Ani’s Day & Night in Montopolis is truly set up for hangouts that can last from morning until night. A well-curated coffee and tea menu, a full array of house cocktails, local beers, and natural wines, and eats from food trucks like Nyam Sunshine Cuisine (which serves Caribbean-Latin dishes) and Las Alegres Comadres (which focuses on cuisine from Mexico City) combine with the spacious outdoor and indoor seating to make for a chill but engaging place to spend several hours.
Café Nena’i: This locally-beloved South American café in Montopolis is very ahead of the curve, having opened in 2017. Mother-daughter owners Elena Sanguinetti and Gladys Benitez hail from Paraguay, and their pastry menu is full of flavorful Paraguayan and Argentinian specialties like chipa (Paraguayan cheese bread), pastafrola (a tart filled with guava jam) and donuts filled with dulce de leche.
Pinthouse Brewing: Pinthouse is arguably one of the most locally-recognizable brewers in Austin, and their flagship location (where the brewing actually takes place) can be found in McKinney. Guests can enjoy signature Pinthouse beers like Electric Jellyfish IPA and Magical Pils, along with seasonal specials and a satisfying food menu with sandwiches, burgers, salads, pizzas, and more.
Independence Brewing Co.: At their expansive McKinney brewery, Independence Brewing Co. really leans into the industrial vibe of their space, and the result is a sleek, minimalistic, and very cool tasting room accompanied by an airy outdoor lawn. It comes as no surprise that Independence Brewing is a popular location for events like trivia and live music.