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What's Awesome in Austin

Where to eat and drink right now between all of those film screenings, technology talks and music sets.

These days, Austin's food and cocktail realm is almost as robust as its live music scene. A pair of restaurants that debuted to national acclaim a little over a year ago are leading the way. CONGRESS (200 Congress Ave.), an elegant 10-table spot in the sleek Austonian high-rise from James Beard nominee David Bull, offers prix fixe three- and seven-course menus featuring haute cuisine dishes such as crisp sweetbreads with green peppercorn curry. Meanwhile, the down-home-goes-refined BARLEY SWINE (2024 S. Lamar Blvd.) finds chef Bryce Gilmore mixing barbecued beans with wagyu brisket and grilled foie gras with sweet potato ice cream. Booked? Try these four other newcomers that have opened since last year's SXSW.

Easy Tiger
709 E. Sixth St.

This sausage spot and beer garden plus bakery has emerged along the infamous "Dirty Sixth" corridor of rowdy college bars. Expect 30 craft brews on tap and house-made sausages on pretzel buns. The goat cheese baguette sandwich comes with pear and fennel mustard, and the beef jerky is smoked on premises. Canned-beer partisans better opt for a Lone Star tall boy.

Elizabeth Street Cafe
1501 S. First St.

Restaurateurs Larry McGuire and Thomas Moorman, who offer barbecue at Lamberts and seafood at Perla's, have turned their attention to French-inflected Vietnamese at this 40-seater. Expect the requisite banh mi sandwiches and spring rolls, as well as steamed buns holding Niman Ranch pork belly and broiled escargot with Thai basil curry butter, plus profiteroles and macaroons. Elizabeth Street raised quite a few local eyebrows when it opened in late 2011 offering a super-deluxe $22 version of the typically humbly priced soup pho. But recession sensibilities be damned: Its amped-up version -- featuring shrimp, red snapper and Dungeness crab -- is still available on the menu.

Hopfields
3110 Guadalupe St.

A French gastropub that bowed north of the UT Austin campus, it boasts 42 microbrews (Avery Mephistopheles Stout, Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye Ale) and a menu of French home-style bites on the order of salade nicoise and heirloom tomato tart. Swig away under the exposed ductwork and beams in the main room, or visit the back den, decorated with books and bric-a-brac.

Midnight Cowboy
313 E. Sixth St.

Tim League, owner of the vaunted Alamo Drafthouse boutique theater chain (it's the ArcLight of Austin), took over the Midnight Cowboy massage parlor across the street from one of his branches after police shut the place down in a prostitution sting in 2011. Now, on March 9, the opening night of SXSW, it reemerges as a 1920s-themed watering hole whose antiques-heavy design was heavily inspired by Boardwalk Empire. Three former "massage" rooms have been turned into private party spaces for small groups, and the mixology-grade cocktails include the Pisco Sourgrass, involving honey-sorrel syrup, and the Kalamazoo Julep, featuring celery leaves.

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