Austin's culinary offerings have grown exponentially in the past decade, bu new Italian restaurants have been surprisingly scarce among the new arrivals — until now. Classics like Vespaio and La Traviata still pack in loyal followings, but there was ample reason to believe a wider array of Italian options would be welcomed.
This year, the pendulum has shifted, with more than a half-dozen new entrants vying for your dining dollars. To help assess your options, this month we focus exclusively on Italian restaurants either new to Austin or coming this fall.
Asti Trattoria veteran Jacob Weaver and Firehouse lounge co-founder Robert Millican make an impressive food and beverage pair at this new 78704 hangout. The mid-century design, massive patio, and bull's-eye location at South Lamar Boulevard and Barton Springs Road have made this one of Austin's biggest summer hits. As the weather cools and festival season hits, expect big crowds on the patio for the robust happy hour program, which features discount salumi, pizzas, rosé, and antipasti. Of the items we've sampled, our picks include the olive oil tasting (sourced from Con' Olio), the charcuterie board (from an array of all-American producers), and the spaghetti carbonara.
Andrew Curren knows how to entertain a crowd. After creating the biergarten Austin always wanted at Easy Tiger, the group debuted a mid-century beauty in Italic earlier this year. The restaurant's clean lines, high ceilings, and West Sixth Street setting have made it an after-work and date night staple. Order wine here with abandon: Master Sommelier Craig Collins is an expert on the Italian wine trade and carries a largely affordable list of choices for all palates and budgets. We're partial to his Verdicchio (white) and Barbera (red) selections as crowd-pleasers, but order to your palate. For sustenance, we're fond of the crispy polenta, the gnocchi with summer vegetables, and (when on menu) the shaved Brussels sprouts salad.
The splashy debut of the JW Marriott this spring has provided much-needed hotel capacity downtown, and with those rooms came some new dining and drinking choices. The hotel's most upscale offering is Osteria Pronto, a large Italian-focused space suitable for business dinners and date nights. The menu's beverage list includes popular cocktails along with thoughtful by-the-glass offerings of less familiar grapes like Nero d'Avola and Soave. Highlights from the dinner menu include the stellar wild mushroom and roasted garlic pizza; the straw and hay pasta with prosciutto, peas, and pine nuts; and the sea bass with polenta and rock shrimp.
Cantine Italian Cafe & Bar
When thinking of the people to thank for elevating Austin's dining scene over time, Emmett and Lisa Fox rank high on the list. As the founders of both Asti Trattoria and the now-departed Fino, the duo showcased great talents like Bill Norris, John Bates, and Josh Loving that have gone on to brighten the city's food and beverage presence nationally. At the new Lamar Union complex, they riff on their favorite themes — Italian and Mediterranean — with Cantine. The eclectic menu has something for all tastes: octopus carpaccio and fried quail share space on the appetizer menu. This strikes us as a perfect spot for a birthday dinner with friends: There are pizza and pasta options for those who play it safe, along with porchetta, duck, and several thoughtful veggie sides for the more adventurous. Wines here are old world, and beers are mostly local, though there are some funky Jolly Pumpkin offerings in the mix.
Manor Road gets in on Austin's newly elevated pizza game with Unit-D, a 50-seat space near Dai Due that opened in July. The focus here is Neapolitan pizza from Chris Turgeon, formerly of Foreign & Domestic and Chicago's 42 Grams. The menu wisely includes three salads and some small plates of vegetables to combat all the bread and cheese, a move we wish more pizza restaurants would embrace. There's a small selection of craft beers on tap, along with a more extensive canned selection. There's no liquor here, but there is plenty of varied wine to choose from.
The legendary Uchi eye for visual flair and edited ingredient restraint should show through at Juniper, a new East Austin "Northern Italian" project opening this fall from former Uchi creative director Nicholas Yanes. At a summer preview dinner, Yanes showcased moderate portions and surprising ingredient combinations. Highlights were dishes like the chilled squid with celery, grapes, and smoked tomato vinaigrette and duck with peaches and pickled pearl onions. As befits the moniker, Juniper will host a full bar featuring rare and interesting gins.
After years of development (and delay), Al Fico seems to be tracking to a mid-fall opening. The long rumored project from the team behind Vino Vino is located on East Second Street, and Chef Clinton Bertrand (ex-Vespaio) leads the kitchen. Sugar Mama's and Contigo vet Kendall Melton is helming the pastry program. The lengthy menu is chock-a-block with old guard classics like cozze (mussels with pancetta and lemon), Trippa (tripe with tomato and garlic), and melanzane (roasted eggplant with ricotta and tomato). Expect great things from the wine list.