Never before have Austin’s restaurants been faced with such profound challenges. While the height of the pandemic provoked local eateries to walk the line between keeping staff safe and providing an essential service to the community, subsequent supply-chain shortages, staffing scarcity, and the escalating cost of food and goods have only compounded the problem.
Yet, amid such tumultuous opposition, the Austin restaurant scene has remained resilient, with restaurateurs perpetually pivoting and developing new ways to conduct business, take care of employees, and feed this growing metropolis with equanimity and a coolheaded approach that’s truly inspiring.
That’s why more than ever, these heroes of Austin’s restaurant industry deserve to be acknowledged and saluted for their adaptability, their resolve, and their mettle.
We’ll celebrate these local epicurean stalwarts at our upcoming CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, which honors the best of Austin’s food and beverage scene.
We’re less than a week away from the big event, so it’s time to toast the Tastemaker nominees for Restaurant of the Year. Read about them below, then join us to commemorate these Austin restaurants at our signature tasting event and awards program on Thursday, April 28 at Fair Market. Tickets are available now!
There are few things Austinites cherish more than a simple, scrumptious taco — and this eye-catching yellow food truck parked on the east side is definitely delivering the goods. With a mouthwatering menu of Mexico City-style street tacos (the ideal size for gobbling in two or three bites), Cuantos Tacos doesn’t hold back when it comes to exacting seasoning, meaty ingredients, and classic Mexican flavors. Popular favorites like barbacoa, brisket, and carnitas tacos are must-haves, but many a local taco connoisseur has found themselves seduced by Cuantos Tacos’ perhaps unfamiliar yet tantalizing tacos featuring delicacies like pork stomach (buche), Mexican chorizo (longaniza), and beef cheek (cachete), and rightfully so. Every dish on this small but delightful menu (which also includes excellent quesadillas and traditional nixtamalized corn tortillas) is worth devouring.
Any foodie who’s lived in Austin for more than a minute is likely familiar with the omnipresent Emmer & Rye restaurant group, which includes concepts that range in offerings from farm-to-table and feel-good cuisine to Israeli street food, Caribbean fare, and Basque-influenced chow. At Hestia, the Greek goddess of the hearth presides over all live-fire dishes, which are prepared on an awe-inspiring, custom 20-foot hearth by chefs who are obviously passionate about how fire can transform food. From craveable snacks (milhojas with goat brie, chives, kaluga caviar) and small plates (sunchokes with sunchoke velouté and kombu) to a fiery selection of entrees (the dry-aged 8-ounce Texas wagyu New York strip with honeynut squash, ash-aged chèvre, and fig agrodolce is kind of life-changing), and a dessert menu worth saving room for, Hestia is consistently cooking food with spirit. A visit would not be complete without a few sips from Hestia’s vast 250-bottle wine list.
In the pantheon of Austin Italian restaurants, locals have been pretty spoiled with eccellente options, but there’s always room for one more sweetheart spot, especially one that takes sustainability and farm-to-table cuisine seriously. Native Austinites and highly skilled chef-owners Ian Thurwachter and Krystal Craig named their perfectly moody and enchanting restaurant Intero, located on East Cesar Chavez Street in a converted motorcycle shop, in honor of snout-to-tail cooking. Translating to “whole” in Italian, Intero emphasizes whole, locally sources ingredients, traditional Italian techniques, and innovative dishes aimed at captivating Austin palates. Though the menu changes regularly to highlight seasonal ingredients, you can always count on gorgeous small plates and snacks, handmade pastas, Texas-sourced meat and fish dishes, and a wonderful wine selection. Pro tip: Dessert is nonnegotiable here, as pastry chef Craig’s sweet treats are quite transformative. And just because you dine on a divine dessert doesn’t mean you can’t grab a few artisan chocolate truffles for later. You’re welcome!
Amid the meteoric rise of Austin’s restaurant scene, this local darling has remained true to its soulful Southern roots, even as owner and acclaimed executive chef Michael Fojtasek has continued to expand his food empire with new concepts. While Olamaie’s fare is nothing if not comforting, its offerings are far from the greasy, deep-fried bites often associated with Southern cooking. Here, tradition frolics with contemporary culinary techniques in a dance that produces stunning dishes that seduce the eyes as well as the taste buds. Dig into some turnips and ham, then follow that up with some braised beef cheeks or the grilled pork chop and some heavenly brown butter sweet potatoes. Before you dive headfirst into executive pastry chef Jules Stoddart’s sublime desserts, sip on an incredibly satisfying hand-crafted cocktail and nosh some of those exquisite must-have biscuits with salted honey butter for a true Olamaie experience.
For four delicious years, Austin has been lucky enough to dine at this beloved east side eatery that specializes in blending traditional Mexican cooking with Texas ingredients and is propelled by a passion for masa, that all-important Mexican ingredient. And with executive chef Fermin Nunez — a Food & Wine Best New Chef 2021 — at the helm, Suerte goes above and beyond in its refined offerings, from surprising chip-and-dip choices to an alluring selection of cold and raw dishes (the ceviche is mind-blowingly good) to all things masa, heftier dishes like goat barbacoa and wagyu New York strip prepared a la Mexicana, and a diminutive but intriguing menu of veggies that are so flavorful they could make a delicious meal of their own. Indeed, Suerte is the place to go when you want your taste buds to get lucky. Pop by for happy hour, aka lucky hour, for marvelous deals on cocktails, beer, wine, and spirits like sotol and mezcal, and check out brunch for a delightful Suerte experience and some of the best chilaquiles in town.