It’s no secret that running a restaurant or bar is difficult, especially in Austin. With so many opening every month, only the truly exceptional have what it takes to compete long term. So how admirable is it when an establishment can keep the doors open for 15, 20 or even 50 years?
The purpose of this article is to celebrate 15 restaurants and bars in Austin that have served hungry and thirsty Austinites for 15 years or more. My list comes from Austinites who have lived here long enough to remember when quarter beer night was a thing.
This isn’t a ranking by any means. My goal is to focus on what led to the success of each establishment. To do so, I sat down with someone at each business to get the real story. I’ve included their explanations for the lasting success of their local businesses (spoiler: customers come first). Without further adieu, here are Austin’s 15 over 15.
Ross’ Old Austin Cafe
11800 N. Lamar Blvd #6, Austin, TX 78753
Year Opened: 1993
What explains their success? “The quality of our food and consistency have been key. We rely on repeat business and word of mouth recommendations, so hospitality, reasonably priced food, our salad bar and a friendly environment has been our focus.” -Ross Sterzig, Owner
Why you should visit: This North Austin neighborhood favorite traces its roots to a 1900’s Austin bakery as well as The Milam Cafeterias. The fried catfish, salad bar and ribeye and are some of the more popular items. Be sure to stop by on Tuesdays (6:30-9 PM) and Fridays (6-9 PM) for live music from local musicians.
5621 Airport Blvd, Austin, TX 78751
Year Opened: 1938
What explains their success? “We have wonderful relationships with our vendors. We expect good quality products and they deliver that to us. Our employees are family and when they are happy at work, it is easy to pay it forward to our supporters.” -Carol Huntsberger, Owner
Why you should visit: For seafood lovers and skeptics, Quality Seafood provides a comfortable environment to try something different. Lobsterfest Saturday every Saturday features fresh Maine Lobster, boiled to order.
BB Rover’s Cafe and Pub
Editor’s Note: BB Rover’s closed in December 2018, after 31 years in business.
12636 Research Blvd Suite B-101, Austin TX 78759
Year Opened: 1987
What explains their success? “Keeping a comfortable atmosphere and neighborhood feel and being family friendly. We were the first bar of our kind in Northwest Austin and differentiated ourselves with a selection of over 250 beers. We’ve shifted over the years to include more Texas beers, but our focus continues to be on creating a friendly experience for our customers.” -James Kuemmel, Restaurant Manager
Why you should visit: The pizza alone is worth a visit and they have a great beer selection. For a true Austinite experience, ask about the 101 Beer Club. Try 100 different beers and you receive a t-shirt, your name on the 101 Beer Club plaque, 10% off your bill on weekends and an invitation to their Labor Day party.
Editor’s Note: After 65 years, The Frisco is closing. According to a statement from the owners, the closure is due to “changing demographics, increasing competition, and an already tight labor market.” The last day of service is July 29, 2018.
6801 Burnet Rd, Austin, TX 78757
Year Opened: 1953
What explains their success? “We feel like we have been in business so long due to our founder Harry Akin’s statement, ‘There is nothing accidental about quality.’ We serve quality product, with the best smiling faces, to a great local clientele.” -Deborah Donovan, General Manager
Why you should visit: Surrounded by the Crestview neighborhood in the middle of a rapidly developing corridor, The Frisco’s sign is hard to miss. It also was the first restaurant to integrate in Austin. The Famous Frisco is the way to go for a great all-American cheeseburger.
1511 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702
Year Opened: 1943
What explains their success? “The menu has been the same for many years and the same cooks and waitresses have also been a part of the ‘Cisco’s family’ for many years. We believe our traditional, no-frills Tex-Mex cuisine brings in our customers and knowing what to expect is what keeps them coming back for more.” -Gloria Williamson, Cisco’s Spokesperson
Why you should visit: Cisco’s claim to fame includes being President Johnson’s favorite breakfast spot and a place for politicos to cut their teeth. Come for the migas and stay for the biscuits. Breakfast is definitely the meal to have here, but if you’re hungry for lunch, order their Carne Guisada.
1607 San Jacinto Blvd, Austin, TX 78701
Year Opened: 1866
What explains their success? “Adapting Scholz Garten to the present is due to staff and management wanting to change with the times without forsaking the past. Some of our staff has been working at Scholz Garten since 1979. We look forward to coming to work everyday so we can be a part of it.” -Tom Davis, Owner
Why you should visit: Scholz Garten has done a great job of preserving the building they’ve occupied for so long. It’s not just the oldest business in Texas, but you can get great German food here without having to trek all the way out to Fredericksburg (or Munich). Pair the food with one of their German brews, which should definitely be enjoyed in the beer garden.
2002 Manor Rd, Austin, TX 78722
Year Opened: 1998
What explains their success? “Our food is really good. It’s not trendy; it was good 15 years ago and will continue to be good 15 years from now. Our staff is what makes Hoover’s successful.” -Tom Tompkins, Restaurant Manager
Why you should visit: While breakfast tacos and BBQ garner a lot of attention in Austin, Chicken Fried Steak is often overlooked. At Hoover’s, the quality of the meat and the seasoning of the batter makes for a standout Chicken Fried Steak. The Caribbean rice pairs well with anything on the menu.
Draught House Pub
4112 Medical Parkway, Austin, TX 78756
Year Opened: 1968
What explains their success? “Our space, our staff and the beer. We’re a neighborhood pub with handbuilt furniture that’s warm and authentic. Most of our bartenders have been with us for more than a decade. And we curate our beer list like nobody’s business, rotating taps to ensure a fine and fun selection.” -Josh Wilson, Manager and Brewer
Why you should visit: As the weather begins to cool, Draught House Pub’s beer garden is the perfect setting for a lazy Sunday afternoon and catching up with friends or family over a pint. The tap list is extensive and almost guaranteed to include something for everyone, even non-beer drinkers.
4811 Burnet Rd, Austin, TX 78756
Year Opened: 1978
What explains their success? “We are very consistent, and we focus on giving our customers excellent service while providing a quality product. We are often told by our customers, ‘thank you for not changing anything’ as so much of Austin has changed since 1978.” -Jesse Carpenter, Co-Owner
Why you should visit: The proof is in their pancakes! This cash-only joint gets really busy on the weekends, but don’t let the wait intimidate you. Good things come to Austinites who wait….in line.
Kerbey Lane Cafe – Central
3704 Kerbey Ln, Austin, TX 78731
Year Opened: 1980
What explains their success? “A combination of luck, quality food and always doing the right thing. 34 years ago, the owners of Kerbey Lane Cafe started this restaurant because they wanted a place that served high quality food at affordable prices. We sourced locally before it was cool, not only because the food tasted better, but because it was the right thing to do.” -Karli Isiyel, Director of Branding
Why you should visit: The central location is tucked away on Kerbey Lane and is surprisingly spacious. While Kerbey Lane is famous for its pancakes, migas and seasonal menu, the Crispy Chicken Benedict or Eggs Francisco are solid bets for those who do not fear calories.
Fonda San Miguel
2330 W North Loop Blvd, Austin, TX 78756
Year Opened: 1975
What explains their success? “Our longevity is to continually emphasize quality of ingredients, focus on authenticity of the cuisine and excellent service and constantly tweaking improvements with original owners remaining highly involved.” -Tom Gilliland, Co-Owner and Founder
Why you should visit: Their tortillas are handmade and their margaritas pack a punch. Must try dishes are the Cochinita Pibil (savory pork slow cooked in a banana leaf), the Huaraches (fried corn masa topped with beans, crumbly cheese and hard to pronounce) or the Mixiote (Mee-Choat-eh), which is seasoned meat cooked in a special paper wrapper, with a red sauce full of comforting and delicious flavors.
10010 N Capital of Texas Hwy, Austin, TX 78759
Year Opened: 1999
What explains their success? “Our staff is what’s led to our success. Developing our staff to be friendly right away is the biggest deal because at the end of the day this is all about our guests, not about us. Being a brewpub, our focus has been on making great food and great beer consistently.” -Davis Tucker, Owner
Why you should visit: NXNW has been able to find the right balance of brewing great beers and offering great food, a feat not many can pull off well. The Northern Light brew is everything you wish light beer always tasted like: full of flavor, but easy to drink. Enjoy it on their patio and you’ll be toasting to 15 more years of NXNW.
The Whip In
1950 S I H 35, Austin, TX 78704
Year Opened: 1986
What explains their success? “Quality, Quality, Quality. With those ingredients we can’t lose. We are able to provide a friendly place where people can enjoy beer and each other. Namaste is the #1 way we greet each other in the restaurant and we try to live that every day and be nice to our customers and each other.”-Dipak Topiwala, General Manager
Why you should visit: Not only does Whip In offer a large selection of beers and good Indian food, it also brews its own beer. Order the Sita’s Saison if you can get your hands on one. It was quite the hit at this year’s Texas Craft Brewers Festival. Don’t miss the live music every night and check out this great write up as well.
603 W 29th St, Austin, TX 78705
Year Opened: 1976
What explains their success? “What’s kept us afloat (even when we were in the red) is the quality and consistency of our delicious pizza product. We were first on the scene with a pan pie, and wheat crust too, so it’s definitely NOT your average pizza. The business supports our families and 60+ employee family, so even when times get challenging, we dig in and keep on keepin’ on.” -Chris Strader, Marketing Director
Why you should visit: When it comes to deep dish pizza, Conan’s is the place to go. Their whole wheat crust is flavorful and hearty and their sauce is pretty great. Looking to boost your Austinite credentials? Order The Savage or read about it here before doing so!
Crown and Anchor Pub
2911 San Jacinto Blvd, Austin, TX 78705
Year Opened: 1986
What explains their success? “We focus on quality and we supply it at reasonable prices with friendly service. We absorb price increases to provide a good deal to the local neighborhood and UT students. And we like to have fun with our customers and take care of our staff.” -Craig Steede and Erik Haglund, Co-Owners
Why you should visit: The beer selection offers a slew of local and mainstay craft suds with some rotating taps. They also use a specialty meat grind from a small supplier for their burgers. So grab a beer and burger on their patio any day of the week.
Celebrating 15 Over 15
Choosing a restaurant or bar for a night out in Austin is almost as daunting as choosing a college major. These 15 over 15 have survived ups and downs, recessions, and have not been immune to the challenges that come with the tremendous growth Austin is experiencing. They have managed to make themselves go-to food and drink choices for so many Austinites.
The common thread here is straightforward: quality food with friendly service. So this weekend, try one or more of the 15 over 15 and support local business.
Edwin Ochoa is a food, beer, cooking and running enthusiast. He loves doing all of those things in Austin and writing about them to distract readers from work.
How many of the 15 over 15 have you visited?