Things are looking up for the stretch of Airport Boulevard between I-35 and Highland Mall. Despite the shuttering of several longstanding establishments, ambitious restaurateurs are tapping into the potential of the centrally located thoroughfare.
While locals may still be mourning the sudden shuttering of Tamale House — as well as the elusive Stallion Grill and Your Mom's Burger Bar — promising new restaurants are slated for the area, which is evolving into a local culinary destination.
And we're talking about more than just the high-profile addition of the first In-n-Out in the Austin city limits.
"Now that the population is changing, people are starting to see [Airport Boulevard] more as a destination," says Scott Talkington of House Pizzeria.
A prime example is the Omelettry, which will leave its Burnet Road location of more than 36 years in favor of a more affordable spot near I-35 this fall. "We were urban pioneers when we first opened the Omelettry in 1978," Kenny Carpenter has said. "So we’ll be urban pioneers again on Airport. We see great potential there — that area is so underserved."
That sentiment is echoed by Scott Talkington, owner of House Pizzeria, who says the area was "underserved" when he opened the restaurant in 2009. "Our first goal was to move into a neighborhood that was underserved like this one was. This used to be a KFC (where we are currently), so I think the cuisine of the area is also changing." More diversity — in terms of cuisine — is on the way.
Later this year, Sala & Betty, a new concept from former Aquarelle chef/owner Teresa Wilson, will open in the shuttered Stallion Grill space. Wilson told the Austin-American Statesman she will use the old drive-thru window to serve "slow food fast." The restaurant's main dining room will serve "eclectic New American" cuisine, likely drawing from her French influences.
Another fast-casual concept will take over the former Your Mom’s Burger Bar spot. Bun Belly, a new restaurant from the owners of the local chain Pho Thaison, will serve banh mi and bun bowls. According to the Austin Chronicle, Bun Belly will open its doors later this summer.
The trend, says Talkington, is that Airport Boulevard is finally becoming a destination. "The density around us is increasing. We’re in the Ridgetop neighborhood, and along with Hyde Park, the area is starting to [get denser]," explains Talkington. "Now that the population is changing, people are starting to see it more as a destination because they’re starting to live here now instead of driving through [the area] to work."
Highland Mall's transformation into an Austin Community College campus and a potential hub for tech startup Rackspace will also be a boon for area establishments. As the population of students and workers increases, so will the demand for dining options. Talkington says he welcomes the increased demand, as well as the new restaurants.
"I think that having more restaurants in [the] area is a good thing," says Talkington. "If you look at other areas of town, such as Barton Springs Road or Manor Road, more restaurants are good. They bring more people to the area because they provide variety and are more of a destination. We all help each other, essentially."