Award season is upon us in the food world and with it comes the third annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards celebrating the best of the best in Austin’s dining scene. To kick off the event announcement, we spotlight the Best Restaurant nominees.
This year’s nominees were collectively selected by a panel of highly respected culinary experts who are dynamically engaged in Austin’s dining scene. The winner of the 2014 Tastemaker award for Best Restaurant, along with the rest of the categories, will be announced live at an event on May 7. Get a taste of Austin's best restaurant nominees below, as described by a handful of this year’s judges.
Going to Arro is like going to a dinner party at a good friend's house. The cheerful waitstaff at the casual bistro guides guests through easygoing, yet impeccably prepared menu items that are worthy of a party without being pretentious. From the fresh breads, and the cheeses from Antonelli's, to the casual twists on French classics like bone marrow and bouillabaisse, to the delightful desserts prepared by Mary Catherine Curren, the menu is packed with elegant comfort food. The masterfully chosen wine list and Cordial Cart have one of the best selections of French wines and delights in Austin. - Matt McGinnis, CultureMap and WhatAreYouDrinking.net
At first glance, you might think Barley Swine was a small pub or a taquería. Instead, it is one of the city's most cutting-edge and creative restaurants. Customers feel comfortable here precisely because it's so unprepossessing; that's how Chef Bryce Gilmore gets them to try dishes they might never have considered if the atmosphere was formal. - Patricia Sharpe, Texas Monthly
Josh Watkins and Plinio Sandalio are not just thoughtful with their food, they are scientists. There's a lot of creativity and depth in this kitchen, and while they don't go overboard with components, you'll be amazed at how complex some of the accent ingredients are. You can order without fear here, and I'm especially fond of their fish dishes, both raw and cooked. - Tom Thornton, CultureMap and Eater Austin
Congress is the calm in the eye of the storm that is downtown Austin on a weekend night. Its whipped-cream color scheme is cool and luxurious, and David Bull's menu manages to be cerebral and playful at the same time. Congress is one of the city's most consistently fascinating dining venues. - Patricia Sharpe, Texas Monthly
El Naranjo changes the conversation in Austin about the meaning of "Mexican food." In the understated, sleekly elegant space, Chef Iliana de la Vega brings to our town the experience of fine dining in Mexico City or Oaxaca, showcasing acclaimed, complex salsas, craft cocktails, fresh ingredients and a fierce and exacting commitment to traditional Mexican flavors, culinary techniques and values. - MM Pack, Food Writer and Historian
Foreign & Domestic
For me, Foreign & Domestic is the ultimate in refined, comfort food. Chef Ned Elliott takes simple ingredients and makes them sing, creating perfectly balanced plates that leave you looking for bread to sop up the last morsel. Sitting at the counter is one of my favorite spots in town. - Kristi Willis, CultureMap and Edible Austin
Franklin Barbecue is a departure from the majority of the Tastemaker nominees in that it is a counter-service joint that only stays open until the day's product runs out, and serves 12 items on the menu including desserts. Yet, when a single barbecue joint claims as much national attention as Franklin, including the title of "best barbecue in the country," it earns a seat among the other top-rated restaurants in town. - Jessica Dupuy, CultureMap
Reinventing an old Austin icon was a gutsy move by all accounts for Austin restaurateur Larry McGuire and his McGuire Moorman Hospitality group. But like a phoenix from the flame, this meticulous team of restaurant masterminds brought a refreshing revitalization to this Clarksville locale that gives a new meaning to fine dining in Austin. While some scoffed at the elevated prices and showy service, there’s little to complain about once you’re seated in one of the snazzy new dining rooms. Table-side cocktail cart, wonderfully prepared steaks and accoutrement, and kid glove service: it’s an indulgence, but one well worth the experience. - Jessica Dupuy, CultureMap
The ever-changing and imaginative menu has a range of dishes that are bound to delight any guest. From brave dishes like sea urchin and exciting twists on more recognizable fare like côte de boeuf, its easy to find something you haven't had at another restaurant before. General Manager June Rodil deftly picks an outstanding selection of wines to enhance the flavors of the food. The relaxed, vibrant environment lends itself to a a festive feel that lets the food keep the spotlight. - Matt McGinnis, CultureMap and WhatAreYouDrinking.net
When Rene Ortiz debuted Sway, our first impression was gratitude that he didn't soften the spice profiles of his Thai dishes. By all accounts, current chef Alexis Chong continues to build on that foundation, with a menu full of bold dishes that are both comforting and flavorful. The room can be really loud, but the food is always solid. The by-the-glass wine list is also worth mentioning — it's thoughtful and usually affordable as well. - Tom Thornton, CultureMap and Eater Austin
Swift's Attic's creative culinary team of Mat Clouser, Zack Northcutt and Callie Speer always inspire with their often whimsical takes on the basics of well-prepared dishes using premium farm-to-table and seasonal ingredients. - Marla Camp, Edible Austin
The CultureMap Tastemaker Awards will be held May 7 at Brazos Hall. Previous winners of the category are not eligible for a nomination.