If there’s one thing we can say about Austin’s restaurant scene, it’s that there seems to be a new place opening its doors on an almost daily basis. But how do you know which ones will make the grade and which ones will shutter its doors before the general public has even had a chance to give it a try? Here’s a list of soon-to-open spots we’re willing to call “safe bets” for the long haul in the Capital City’s dining landscape.
Estimated open: June
For a while now we’ve heard rumblings of the new venture to arrive from local celebrated chef Drew Curren and his trusty team at ELM Restaurant Group (24 Diner, Easy Tiger). But news just got juicier when the plan changed to open the restaurant in the recently vacated locale of Haddington’s on West Sixth Street. Now we’ll be able to visit all three restaurants without having to change streets. With Arro, Curren will apply his highly trained culinary skills to team up with his equally talented pastry chef wife, Mary Catherine, to their own modern take on a French restaurant.
The menu will abound with French classics available in single-item selections as well as in arrangements of three-course prix fixe options. Following the laid-back standard delivered at both 24 Diner and Easy Tiger, Arro aims to hit the mark for those looking for casual evening dinners, late night drinks, afternoon coffee, or simply something to quell the nagging sweet tooth.
Estimated open: May
This month, the northeast corner of West Avenue and West Sixth welcomes a sizzling new Tex-Mex joint to the mix. Though Austin certainly doesn’t have a dearth of Tex-Mex restaurants, this one intends to stand out with a vibrant menu of locally-sourced seasonal ingredients. Sources include Johnson’s Backyard Garden, John Lash’s Farm to Table, Countryside Farm, pasture-raised chickens from Vital Farms, plus fine ingredients such as Rancho Gordo beans out of Napa to produce time-honored dishes with a modern twist.
Fajitas seared off on a wood-smoked char broiler and ordered by the pound will be the house specialty. The venture is the latest endeavor from the group behind Kung Fu Saloon and the Brew Exchange and operating partner Geoff Freeman, formerly of Eddie V’s Prime Seafood. Perhaps the best feature will be the upstairs al fresco patio boasting some of the best views of Austin’s downtown skyline.
Estimated open: Late April/Early May
Longtime Austinites know this iconic restaurant name as one of the first to elevate Austin’s restaurant scene decades ago. Now with new ownership under Larry McGuire’s restaurant power team McGuire Moorman Hospitality, many are waiting to see how the young entrepreneur will honor the memory of the original, while breathing new life into the old establishment. For one, he’s taken the entire building down to its bare bones. From there, he’s carved out a beautiful vision of something new and fresh.
We’ll soon see how the approach to classic French technique and an inspirational nod to American icons Chez Panisse and the French Laundry pays off. Considering the success of previous McGuire Moorman Hospitality ventures — Lamberts, Perla’s, Clark’s, Elizabeth Street, Josephine House — we’re betting it hits the stride it endeavors to achieve.
Estimated open: Early Summer
From the the often proclaimed "Rainey Street Queen," Bridget Dunlap, Mettle will open off of East Sixth Street not only as the entrepreneur’s first non-Rainey venture, but also her first full-scale restaurant. Executive Chef Andrew Francisco — formerly of Olivia — will take the helm of his first kitchen drawing on his classic French technique and inspirations from some of his favorite cuisines including French, Asian and Modern American.
Pastry Chef Finney Walter returns to the Austin culinary scene joining Francisco to head up the sweeter side of things. Before returning to Austin in late 2011, Walter was assistant pastry chef at The Restaurant at Meadowood (Napa Valley), during which time the restaurant achieved its third Michelin star. Though Mettle is still in its final stages, the restaurant is set to open in early summer.
Estimated open: May
Perhaps the most hyped restaurant set to open is from the most hyped chef in town. It's a good thing Paul Qui has the skills to back it up. Menu details have yet to be officially released, but there’s no question we’ll see Qui’s quirky and innovative takes on an array of Asian cuisines. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s managed to attract an overwhelming number of former co-workers from his original home at Uchi/Uchiko as well as a seasoned management team including General Manager June Rodil from Congress and Craft Bartender Michael Simon from Chicago. Perhaps it’s true that "all’s fair in love and restaurants."
We’ll see if that’s the case once Qui opens its doors — hopefully by the end of May. We’re willing to bet Chef Qui will invest all of his tireless energy not to let us down.