If you've dined at any of these restaurants, you will agree that they are all worthy of the title of Restaurant of the Year in our annual Tastemaker Awards. Representing many cuisines and ethnic roots, these fabulous spots have contributed to making Austin one of the hottest culinary destinations in the country.
Get a taste of the nominees below, and join us as we unveil the winner at our big event on April 19.
At Barley Swine, local and seasonal are not just trendy adjectives. The menu here changes daily depending on ingredients available and whatever they inspire the chefs to create. Although chef/owner Bryce Gilmore gets the credit — and the James Beard nominations — his kitchen is egalitarian and everyone contributes to the greater whole. Now with an expanded space that allows more people to enjoy the nightly delights, Barley Swine continues wowing with impeccably beautiful plates, garden-to-glass cocktails, and excellent beer and wine lists.
Emmer & Rye
This gem in the heart of the Rainey Street District could very well find a home in a corner of any major U.S. city, except for the hyper-local nature of its menu. Chef Kevin Fink is an advocate (dare we say activist) of sustainability, and he walks the walk by sourcing heirloom grains (which are milled in-house); relying on whole-animal butchery; and making his own vinegars, preserves, condiments, and pickles using natural fermentation. As expected, the food is adventurous but familiar, and the atmosphere, service, and bar round out a terrific dining experience.
After honing his skills at some of the best kitchens in Austin and Dallas, chef Nicholas Yanes opened this lovely east side eatery to showcase his love for Northern Italian fare. At Juniper he delivers creative dishes inspired by his travels, showcasing Central Texas products as they marry with Old World techniques. The space is modern and inviting, and it features a convivial atmosphere augmented by a solid bar program.
The "Golden Goose" has wowed since opening day, thanks to chef Fiore Tedesco’s adventurous Italian cuisine matched by Adam Orman’s sensational bar program. While it is a casual neighborhood hangout with personable, professional service, it is not your typical checkered tablecloth Italian. Here, classic and family recipes receive a modern interpretation using Texas ingredients from nearby farms, served in individual or sharable family-style formats. The restaurant is also a pioneer in paying servers a living wage, and it is one of only two Sanctuary Restaurants in Austin.
The lovely Lenoir continues to dazzle diners with chefs Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher’s “hot weather food,” sourced almost exclusively from Texas’ farmers and food artisans. The prix fixe menu changes weekly, and the wine list evolves through the seasons to match the cuisine. The atmosphere is exquisite and romantic without being stuffy, and the wine garden under the oaks adds yet another beautiful space to wine and dine.
Dining at Otoko is much more than just going out to dinner — it is a culinary experience for all the senses. Recently named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs for 2017, Yoshi Okai treats this intimate Japanese restaurant as his own private playground where he uses local produce, wild foraged herbs, and fish flown daily from Japan to create an omakase dinner like no other in town. The exclusive experience has a price tag, but from the moment you sip a cocktail at the low-lit Watertrade bar before entering the 12-seat dining room, you know you’re in for something very special indeed.
Swanky Sway brings Thai cuisine to a higher level in exotic surrounds that transport you to a faraway locale. Executive chef Martin Wilda offers a modern take on iconic dishes and shares creations of his own inspired by the ingredients and flavors of Southeast Asia, while the bar strives to offer beer and wine to match. They have a varied list of non-alcoholic house-made sodas and drinking vinegars that are a welcome addition. The chef’s counter provides the perfect perch for watching the chefs in action, and the large communal tables are perfect for large groups.
What more can we say about this duo of Japanese, trendsetting restaurants helmed by award-winning chef Tyson Cole? Uchi was one of the pioneers in shaping the Austin restaurant scene we know now, and Uchiko — loosely translating as "son of Uchi" — followed suit with even more adventurous sushi and cutting-edge dishes like the Jar Jar Duck. Both remain relevant and innovative in a city where new restaurants pop up on a weekly basis.
This younger sibling to Swift’s Attic was one of the most anticipated openings of 2015, and it did not disappoint. Executive chef Ji Peng Chen and dim sum chef Ling Qi Wu prepare traditional Sichuan dishes like spicy deep fried chicken, soup dumplings, and mapo dofu in classic style, in a modern space that is sophisticated yet comfortable. Weekend dim sum service includes all the favorites and cool Tiki drinks.