Until the 1980s, the most-admired and highest-profile restaurant in Austin  was Fonda San Miguel (2330 W. North Loop Blvd., 512/459-4121, www.fondasanmiguel.com , $11–27). It’s still a top-notch experience, but the trendy downtowners have overshadowed this North Austin stalwart of late. Fonda San Miguel remains the place to go if you’re in search of authentic, flavorful interior Mexican food, and the hacienda-like atmosphere adds to the experience. Start off with a renowned margarita (mango is a popular choice) and continue with a pork, seafood, or enchilada dish (the mole sauce is especially succulent). Fonda San Miguel’s Sunday brunches are legendary, so be sure to make reservations.
Far less formal is the campus-area Changos Taqueria (3023 Guadalupe St., 512/480-8226, www.changos.com , $5–10). Perfect for a quick quality lunch, Changos offers tacos with some flair—hand-pressed tortillas while you watch, marinated mahimahi, five salsas to choose from—accompanied by a fruity agua fresca. Just down the street is the very un-trendy, old-school El Patio (2938 Guadalupe St., 512/476-5955, closed Sun.). It may not be cool, but it’s comfort food to the max—cheesy enchiladas, crispy beef tacos, tasty chalupas, and some of the best chips and queso in the city. Although the waiters finally ditched their maroon polyester jackets, they still offer diners a free dessert of their choice: sherbet or candy (a sweet buttery coconut-flavored praline).
The third component of Austin’s  holy food trinity is Southern cooking (Tex-Mex and barbecue are the others), and despite South Austin’s proud reputation as Bubbaland, two of the city’s finest down-home cookin’ establishments are located north of the river.
The local legend is Threadgill’s (original location 6416 N. Lamar Blvd., 512/451-7201, www.threadgills.com , $8–14). Besides the meatloaf, Threadgills’ biggest claim to fame is its role in Janis Joplin’s early career—she and other aspiring musicians during Austin’s hippie era would reportedly take the stage in exchange for free grub. Threadgills’ food has become nearly as famous as Joplin’s career was. If you’ve never experienced a chicken-fried steak—tenderized meat covered in crispy breading and creamy gravy—this is the place to do it. And for a meat-centric place, the veggies are outstanding, even if they’re cooked with bacon, mixed with cheese, and doused in butter.
An equally tantalizing brand of Southern cooking is on the menu at Hoover’s (2002 Manor Rd., 512/479-5006, www.hooverscooking.com , $8–17), just east of I-35 downtown. Owner/cook Hoover Alexander brings a comprehensive collection of Southern influences to his dishes—his mama’s home cooking, East Texas Cajun, pit-style barbecue, and even Tex-Mex. The results are sublime: smothered pork chops, jerked chicken, spicy sausage. The gravy is the best in town, and the sides (mac and cheese, jalapeño creamed spinach) are legendary.
Good burger joints are a must in any college town, and Austin  has several noteworthy locales. The king of the old-timers is Dirty Martin’s Kum-Back Place (2808 Guadalupe St., 512/477-3173, www.dirtymartins.com , $4–8). Much more appetizing than it sounds, Dirty’s is a legendary burger stand that still offers carhop service. Inside, a thin layer of grease everywhere lets diners know they’re in for the real deal—grilled patties oozing with cheese on a sweet bun accompanied by thin fries or, better yet, tater tots. Washing it all down with a chocolate shake is mandatory.
A few miles north, Dan’s Hamburgers (5602 N. Lamar Blvd., 512/459-3239, $4–8) is a classic ’50s-style burger joint. Utterly unpretentious, Dan’s offers a perfect microcosm of Austin’s population—rich, poor, old, and young fill this no-frills restaurant daily just to partake of the reliable, tasty burgers. Incidentally, Dan’s serves one of the best diner-style breakfasts in town. Biscuits and gravy, breakfast tacos, pancakes, and huevos rancheros provide an ideal way to start the day.