Truth be told, the 10 nominees for the Tastemaker Award for Restaurant of the Year need no introduction. They have been constantly heralded by the press and have individually racked up an impressive array of awards. And each is an essential part of Austin’s lauded dining scene.
Still, choosing exactly which restaurant on this elite list is the best of the best was certainly no cake walk, requiring a panel of industry experts and a lot of feverish debate. Find out who made the cut at our annual Tastemaker Awards party on April 12 at Fair Market. But first, get a taste of what makes each nominee so great.
From the spare dining room to the minimal menu, this East Austin mecca is all about the power of simplicity. After all, who needs a bunch of bells and whistles when the pies speak for themselves? Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, with the signature spotty char, Bufalina’s Neapolitan pizzas come topped with rustic ingredients like roasted mushroom, ’nduja, and fresh mozzarella. You’ll never want for anything else, except for perhaps a bottle from the always delightful wine list.
June’s All Day
Named for Austin master sommelier June Rodil, this South Congress cafe naturally has an astonishing wine list. It’s no surprise, however, that the restaurant would have all the touches expected from a McGuire Moorman Hospitality project. The menu is accessible, frequently using the Mediterranean flavors that demand a good pairing. The soigné atmosphere is intimate but always with a lively clamor. And the little details make June’s feel like nowhere else in Austin. (Just try not to swipe one of the whimsical wine list zines.)
Before settling into your seat at this stylish East Cesar Chavez Street eatery, it’s a must to order one of the cocktails, which make great use of unexpected botanicals and classic Italian liqueurs like amaro or strega. Hearty snacks like meatballs or insanely delicious puffy potatoes make a suitable pairing as you decide what to select next off chef Nicholas Yanes’ inventive North Italian menu featuring house-made pastas, delicate poached fish, and a soul-satisfying grilled pork roast.
Don’t call it fusion. Even though Ramen Tatsu-Ya chefs Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto meld elements from Japanese isakayas and Texan smokehouses, this isn’t a mash-up just for the sake of novelty. Instead, Kemuri tells the story of the owners' culinary heritage, something that makes as much room for inspired takes on Hot Pockets as it does for traditional chinmi. The atmosphere strikes the same balance, with cluttered walls displaying everything from hunting mounts to Japanese beer signs.
This Holly neighborhood hot spot, converted from an old laundromat, practically oozes cool. Yes, that means there is often a wait (especially during brunch), but we can’t begrudge the crowds. From luxurious toasts and wood-grilled mains from chef Rene Ortiz to ingenious desserts from pastry chef Laura Sawicki, Launderette serves the food people want to eat now in a setting that’s as friendly to families as it is to east side hipsters.
With a charmingly ramshackle dining room — decorated partially with finds from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore — and glistening lighting, this Bouldin Creek neighborhood restaurant is essential for date night. But the intimacy isn’t just from the decor. Owners Jessica Maher and Todd Duplechan change the menu constantly, using what ingredients are available locally and delivering exquisite (yet still affordable) prix fixe dinners that feel like they were made for no one else but you.
We could go into length about this restaurant’s commitment to paying its employees a living wage or its pledge of sustainability. We could wax rhapsodic about the eccentric themes of its special occasion meals (like a Valentine’s Day feast inspired by the Sex Pistols and The Carpenters). But the two reasons we keep going back to this Mueller sweetheart are the people who run it: chef Fiore Tedesco and general manager Adam Orman, both of whom make every meal feel like a celebration.
What started from humble beginnings — a food truck on South Lamar Boulevard — has now become one of the most lauded restaurants in town. With a menu that rigorously uses ingredients from local artisans, farmers, and ranchers, chef Bryce Gilmore and his team have made Odd Duck an essential setting for after work happy hours, dinner with friends, and anniversary dinners. It’s all about community here — and the breaking of (locally milled) bread.
Housed in a former house complete with a cheery back porch, Olamaie has all the gentility one would expect from a Southern restaurant. However, that’s not to say that it doesn’t have a rebellious streak. The cocktail program (under Tastemaker Award nominee Erin Ashford) makes sitting in the parlor a riotous affair, and the dining room is always lively with conversation. And while chef Michael Fojtasek’s menu may be deeply reverent of the culinary traditions of the South, he reworks them into something that is entirely modern.
Few Austin restaurants have the capacity to completely transport you like this modernist 12-seat chef’s table inside the South Congress Hotel. The omakase presented by the ever-affable chef Yoshi Okai delivers gorgeous dish after gorgeous dish, all with playful interplays of flavor and textures. A dinner here has little relation to the rushed parades of most other Austin sushi slingers. It’s dining as a ritual, building to rapture.