Austin's Best New Restaurants of 2018
Ask anyone in Austin's restaurant industry, and they’ll agree: 2018 was kind of wack. Giant national chains took over shuttered spaces, highly anticipated and well-funded concepts fell flat, and in many instances, we learned that Instagram-porn interiors don’t always equate to good food. There were definite standouts, though (some of them unexpected), and the common threads among this year's top openings seem to be -- corny as it sounds -- sincerity and vision. What’s more honest than a warm biscuit, the muscle memory required to fill and pinch hundreds of dumplings, a meticulous commitment to masa, and the simple pleasure of biting into a really good burger? Nothing. We urge you to find out for yourself as you navigate through the diverse collection of new & noteworthy restaurants 2018 brought us. Bon appetit!
East Austin eatery making modern Mexican cuisine with local ingredients
Suerte is really, really into masa (AKA corn-based dough), and while many associate the ingredient solely with tamales, masa serves as the foundation of Mexican cuisine. Suerte’s owner Sam Hellman-Mass (founding partner of Barley Swine and Odd Duck) and executive chef Fermín Núñez (formerly at Launderette and Uchiko) traveled to Central Mexico, including Núñez’s hometown of Torreón, to gather inspiration from the region’s vibrant culture; the resulting menu highlights Texas ingredients, including masa made with local heirloom grains, using Mexican techniques. Molotes (imagine a pizza roll, only better) are a fun intro, along with the flavor-packed green chorizo tlayuda (imagine a giant chalupa), while we can confidently say the suadero tacos (confit brisket, black magic oil, avocado salsa) are among the best dishes we've tasted all year. Also, don’t miss the creative cocktails and a well-curated mezcal list.
Biscuit-only breakfast and lunch spot
With a menu consisting solely of four biscuit sandwiches and three sides (two of which are biscuits), Bird Bird Biscuit is proof that simplicity works. Chef/co-founder Brian Batch and co-founder Ryan McElroy (owner of Thunderbird Coffee) sought to create a neighborhood breakfast joint with a laser focus on killer biscuits and chicken. Grab a Queen Beak (spiced and breaded chicken thigh, cayenne black pepper honey, bacon-infused chipotle mayo) and a coffee on your way to work, and wonder how you made it this long without them.
Thoughtful Dim Sum and Chinese cuisine served in a Clarksville bungalow
Lin Qi Wu, Wu Chow’s former dim sum chef, opened her charming Clarksville restaurant this summer to much-deserved acclaim. The menu here focuses on Chef Ling’s specialty, Dim Sum, and extends into Chinese cuisine made with ingredients that are healthy (and local whenever possible). The warm and welcoming space, formerly Rounder’s Pizza, teems with brunch-goers on Sundays when the full dim sum menu -- and Chef Ling’s famous Shanghai soup dumplings and siu mai -- are available. During the week, familiar Chinese dishes from sesame chicken to roast duck are elevated by Chef Ling’s modern yet reverent approach. Oh, and Lin also has a full bar!
Casual Asian-inspired smokehouse from James Beard Award-winning Chefs
Uchi’s Chef Tyson Cole and Franklin Barbecue's owner/meat guru Aaron Franklin joined forces this year to create a concept that merges Asian flavors with smoked meats. Don’t expect precious plating or four-star service, though; Loro keeps things simple with a counter-service ordering, beer, wine, and cocktails, as well as elevated-yet-unfussy favorites. The crispy chicken karaage (with chili aioli), sweet corn fritters (with sriracha aioli and cilantro), and Malaysian curry chicken (over fragrant coconut rice and dressed with Thai herbs) are worth revisiting again and again.
Taqueria concept at Fareground food hall from Dai Due’s lauded culinary team
Fareground, Austin’s modern food hall, is home to a few standout eateries like Ni-Kome (from Kome) and Henbit (from Emmer & Rye), but Dai Due Taqueria should be your must-hit. Dai Due’s chef/owner Jesse Griffiths partnered with chef Gabe Erales for this concept; imagine traditional Mexican dishes, combined with Texas game meats and tortillas house-made from heirloom Mexican corn masa. Try the flavorful wild boar carnitas taco on blue corn, or Sonoran flour tortillas or the torta del dia, which rotates based on seasonality -- and don’t even think about skipping the agua frescas, made with local fruits and vegetables.
Ingredients and inspiration crossover between this eatery and its in-house brewery
Situated in a cozy, renovated former military building from the 1950s, this long-anticipated restaurant/brewery has not only created a menu emphasizing local ingredients, but also a relationship between the beers and food. For example, spent grains from the brewery make their way into the housemade bread, and leftover fruit peels add unique flavors to the beers. Menu highlights include the Hearth Bread (served with mesquite butter and roasted garlic), Aged Pork Ribs (black beer vinegar, garden dry rub, spring onion), and warm-weather beer like the Idée Fixe, which is described as a sweet-tea riff having flavors of “summer, English breakfast, lemon zest, black tea leaves.” Yum.
Texas-inspired cuisine in new Zilker boutique hotel
This opening was a big one for the Austin food community; we gained the chic Carpenter Hotel, as well as a fantastic onsite restaurant. Grae Nonas (formerly of Olamaie) is the executive chef, and his “new eyes on old Texas” ethos plays out in the form of comfort food that takes inspiration from Texas’ German, Czech, and Mexican influences; think breakfast tacos, kolaches, club sandwiches, schnitzels, and burgers. The look of the all-day eatery is reminiscent of food halls you might find in Copenhagen, mixed with a clean VFW hall and an ounce of Wes Anderson whimsy.
Former trailer Neapolitan pizzeria re-opened in new bungalow digs
40 North was quietly killing it before its temporary closing, as anyone who scarfed an entire pizza while sitting at one of the picnic tables outside the trailer knows. Charred, simultaneously thin and puffy crusts with flavorful toppings are what we’ve come to expect here, and after 40 North's grand reopening in May, we can also enjoy a menu with a new sandwich and burger, desserts, a wine list, and blessed air conditioning. Try the Hot Honey (tomato sauce, ricotta, coppa, parmesan, fresno, charred scallion, Mike’s Hot Honey) or the Dandelion (fontina, dandelion greens, onion jam, pancetta, parmesan).
Burgers and tiki drinks served in casual, beachy digs
This funky new burger trailer/tiki bar concept is located between Deep Eddy Pool and Deep Eddy Cabaret, as you might guess from the name. The 1968 Airstream trailer serves griddled, all-natural, hormone-and-antibiotic-free wagyu beef from Peeler Farms in Floresville, TX, while the patio bar shakes up tiki cocktails (think Mai Tais and Zombies, perfect for sipping in the island-y atmosphere). Try The Loyal Forever (double cheeseburger, pickled jalapeños, lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, and ranch), then follow it up with Pool Burger’s homemade soft serve with candy toppings. Now we just have to wait for the pool to open.
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