Austin never has a shortage of exciting new eateries, so it takes something special to stand out from the crowd. After a year of fine dining, our judges have selected the 16 nominees battling it out to be named the 2019 Best New Restaurant at the annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards.
Now it’s time for you to weigh in by voting for your favorites in a bracket-style elimination challenge. The tournament runs March 20-April 8, and you can vote once a day, every day. But first, meet the nominees before we reveal the winner during a blowout party at the Bullock Texas State History Museum on April 10.
One of Austin’s best pizza trucks found a permanent home in May 2018 when it settled into a light-filled bungalow near downtown. The Neapolitan pies — especially the Hot Honey with ricotta, Parmesan, and Fresno peppers — are just as good as they always were, but the roomier kitchen allowed chef Clint Elmore to branch out with new menu items. The labneh, served with a briny relish of green and kalamata olives and an enormous puff of flatbread, is one of Austin’s most fully realized dishes.
Better Half Coffee + Cocktails
To paraphrase The A-Team’s Hannibal Smith, we love it when a plan comes together. From the architecture to the coffee program to the come-as-you-are patio, all the various elements of this West Austin hot spot blend seamlessly. The food is the kicker. Diner classics like steak sandwiches set the approachable tone but are accompanied with an innovative twist. At Better Half, that means a sandwich invigorated with crispy sweet potatoes, kale, kimchi butter, and a tangy burst of Middle Eastern zhoug.
Everything in this hotel restaurant is effortlessly chic, mining glamour out of the familiar trappings of institutional style. Under the direction of chef Grae Nonas, the menu works much the same way. What could have been a workaday chicken schnitzel is made remarkable with the caramel murk of a black garlic chimichurri. And a humble vaquero bean dip, served with snappy sesame crackers, feels improbably luxe.
Dean’s One Trick Pony
The more casual cousin to the Line Austin’s Arlo Grey, Dean’s has the swinging vibe of a midcentury resort. Keeping with the huaraches and linen is a sunny menu of crisp salads, robust sandwiches, and salty snacks. Here, there are no demands that pinkies should be in the air. Relax with a plate of krab rangoon and a frozen margarita and a classic board game.
The first impression of this East Austin food truck may be that it is a very simple operation. However, that doesn’t give enough credit to what goes on behind the scenes. Before hitting a tortilla, each ingredient is layered on the disc-like pan, taking on the flavors of each new addition like a patina on bronze. The process takes plenty of prep work and even more patience. It’s a testament to chef Xose Velasco (and the cooks in his family who came before) that it all appears so effortless.
Fine dining can be a meaningless term, often defined by price point rather than quality. The anchor restaurant inside the Fairmont Austin hotel, however, takes every nuance of the word seriously. For one, the service is exquisite, paying attention to the overall experience rather than just the mechanics of refilling a glass. The drink program is based more on providing guests options than a need to impress. And that’s not even getting into the food. Whether a whole grilled branzino, a wood-fired avocado, or a coconut rice pudding, it all feels celebratory.
Joann’s Fine Foods
A team effort from powerhouses McGuire Moorman Hospitality and Bunkhouse Group, this trendy diner naturally drips with Austin cool. It’s a good thing that it’s not just gloss. Joann’s menu is exactly what Texas food should be in this moment: crowdpleasers like beef fajitas or chicken fried steak gussied up enough to feel contemporary served with nostalgic dishes like pozole rojo that taste the way they should. Putting green peas in guacamole may raise a few eyebrows, but Joann’s knows what works.
Lin Asian Bar
Not all Capital City foodies know chef Ling Qi Wu’s name, but they certainly know the Shanghai soup dumplings she created for Wu Chow. Now striking out on her own, she brings those incredible treats to West Austin, along with an array of incredible dim sum ranging from beef potstickers to crispy pork and shrimp shumai. The entrees are just as alluring, especially the electric salt baked trout.
Perhaps 2018’s most hyped restaurant opening, this easygoing concept comes from barbecue wizard Aaron Franklin and lauded Uchi chef Tyson Cole. Now that the initial hullabaloo has died down, it feels like the sort of neighborhood hangout they probably intended — the type of place to get a leisurely draft cocktail and snack (the kettle corn with brisket burnt ends is to die for) during happy hour or a date night destination that is sure to put some stars in your sweetheart’s eyes.
This fast-casual poke shop comes from Dallas mainstay Jon Alexis, and the menu and decor is inspired by Southern California, but somehow it still feels as Austin as they come. Part of that is using an innovative ordering system in such a tech-savvy town, another is the commitment to local sourcing and sustainability. Alexis thought about the community he was serving, and it shows in the many regulars who eat at Malibu weekly.
Yet another Austin food truck that made the leap to brick-and-mortar, this stripped-down shop offers arguably the best pastrami in town. Get it on a grilled rye Reuben piled high with Swiss and sauerkraut and drizzled with a piquant Russian dressing or a patty melt that is sure to please even the pickiest of eaters. Almost equally as good are the classic deli sandwiches. It’s all about the components, all sourced from the finest purveyors.
Like all the best superheroes, this food truck has two identities. In the morning, it serves up moist cake doughnuts with a little booze flavoring for kick. In the evening hours, it switches over to classic comfort food like sandwiches and Frito pie. Both are here to save the day.
One of Austin’s most breathtaking new restaurants, Rosewood took the comely Victorian Haynes-DeLashwah House and outfitted it in a stylish mix of old and new. That balance is reflected in chef and owner Jesse DeLeon’s cooking. Gulf seafood dishes such as the Fishermen’s Platter are inspired by tradition but refreshed with local ingredients and a global palate. The cocktails are also killer; a watermelon mint paloma is a must on a balmy Austin day.
She’s Not Here
A tropical paradise in the middle of downtown Austin, this stylish eatery is bouncing every night with patrons hungry for classic and not-so-classic sushi, breezy cocktails, and the cult king crab butter tamaki hand roll. The spot is open for lunch, but it feels most alive in the evening hours, when a limited menu feeds the see-and-be-seen crowds.
Sour Duck Market
Although best known for his pair of upscale restaurants — Odd Duck and Barley Swine — Bryce Gilmore first made a name locally cooking out of a Fleetwood Mallard trailer. With its rows of picnic tables and laid-back atmosphere, the casual Sour Duck feels like a return to the days when Austin’s best restaurant was in the open air. This time around, however, Gilmore has a much larger kitchen and a full bar.
Like a great country duet, this Dripping Springs joint adeptly weaves its voices. On one side is classic Texas barbecue from the Stiles Switch team. On the other are Cajun specialties like po-boys or a flaky crawfish and sausage pot pie. When the influences all come together, as in the delectable gumbo with a whomp of smoked brisket, that’s when the restaurant truly sings.