My favorite kind of meal is the kind involving a group of friends, huddled around a shared assortment of messy bowls and plates, picking up their dinner directly and giggling at their sauce-covered fingers. Here is where you can go have an experience like that.
So, you don't have to eat Kismet's food with your hands, but I dare you to daintily cut into their ginormous gyros and come away with neat, clean bites. Abandon that plan, and dive into the gyro's savory, meaty masses, tongue first.
Phoenicia bakery is magical for a lot of reasons -- the $3.99 gyro being a large reason -- as well as the fact that it's a proper grocer for Mediterranean and Middle Easter foods, like olives, pita, baklava...you get the idea. Try the heavenly lahme bi-agin ("meat bread") for lunch someday: It's ground beef, tomatoes, and onions baked right on top of pita bread, kind of like a fatter, unrolled crepe.
Aster's technically doesn't offer family-style seating, but the food here is definitely family style, with wide sheets of sour injera bread laid down on your table, along with large plates of stewed and meats and vegetables that everyone eats with their hands. It's a scene I find oddly romantic -- I guess because you can only eat that way with true friends, whom you'll love no matter what sauces end up on their cheeks.
Dear Austin: Please start eating at Karibu. Please experience the joy that is sour injera bread, dipped and wrapped around saucy chickpeas and stewed, delicious meats. Please talk to their incredibly kind waitstaff. Please fill their long dining corridor with laughter and merriment. Most of all, please allay my fears that this restaurant will close someday simply because it is under-marketed (ok, not marketed at all), for it's simply too wonderful, tasty, and inviting to say goodbye to. Love, A Loyal Karibu Customer
An adorable little food cart smack dab in the middle of downtown, Crepe Crazy serves some unbelievable savory crepes: The Greek Chicken, stuffed with feta, olives, lettuce, tomatoes, and smothered with tzatziki is large enough to last you for dinner, too.
Rainey Street District's glorious little Indian food trailer/pavillion: their huge garlic naan is not only portable, but hits the spot after one too many shots at Lustre Pearl.
There is STILL a reason to visit Highland Mall, folks -- La Chaparrita! As far as I know, this is the only Peruvian restaurant in Austin -- I stopped by here after a zumba class one day (yes, held in the mall), and the ceviche absolutely blew my mind. Again, silverware here is optional; the food here is so good that you won't really care what method you use to get it to your mouth.