There are more new Austin restaurants than we can count. Brand-new concepts, including the remake of a classic and a reimagined space are December's best bets for dining and drinking. From high-end stunners to a neighborhood pizzeria, there is something for everyone on this list.
Aviator Pizza and Drafthouse
Husband-and-wife duo John McElroy and Ana Lam-McElroy bring their successful Elgin pizzeria to a cool spot in the 78745. Made from a family recipe that includes a 26-year-old starter, Aviator’s crust is crunchy on the bottom and soft and chewy on top, brushed with a rosemary-infused olive oil blend. Toppings are not esoteric by any means, but they are fresh and include herbs and produce from Elgin farmers.
We liked the simplicity of the crispy pepperoni topped with chopped fresh basil, the everything-on-it Major Tom, and the fun dessert pizza topped with house-made cinnamon roll icing and plump blueberries. Aviator offers 24 Texas craft beers from a super cool, custom-made tap system which is the piece de resistance, and there are also six taps serving wine selections. Plans are afoot to add a dog-friendly patio with projection screens to show sports events. This is an inviting, family-friendly spot that fills a much needed niche in this South Austin neighborhood.
Cannon + Belle
After a complete remodel, the new restaurant at the Hilton Austin is wowing guests and locals alike with simple comfort food inspired by the local harvest. Cannon + Belle serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a convivial space that includes an indoor beer garden with picnic tables, a lively bar, and a comfortable dining room with eclectic furnishings. The intent is to keep things as relaxed and local as possible, which includes libations and ingredients grown and produced in proximity to Austin.
We love chef Peter Maffei’s playful menu, from the thin-crust breakfast pizzas to the 3rd Coast Niçoise salad, and the spectacular holiday ham served with creamy cheddar grits and braised greens. The bar continues the local theme, offering Duchman Family wines and KTonic kombucha on tap, a variety of Austin craft beers, and seasonal garden-to-glass cocktails. For dessert in a glass try the Austin Iced, a mix of TX Blended whiskey, Little City cold brew coffee, 512 Pecan Porter, demerara syrup, heavy cream, and black walnut bitters.
Hudson’s on the Bend
The reboot of this legendary Austin restaurant is truly stunning in every respect. From the revamped landscaping and patio to the carefully refurbished architecture and the comfortable new bar, the space brims with a cozy yet elegant vibe. But Hudson’s on the Bend is more than just a pretty face — the food, cocktail program, and wine selections reveal an impressive depth, clearly executed with love and passion.
Bar manager Stephen Keys crafted the opening cocktail list with the flavors of fall in mind, picking the names from a poem by John Keats. Chef Billy Caruso’s menu is an exercise in creativity, using varied kitchen techniques and fresh local ingredients to superb result. Each dish is a sensory masterpiece, beautifully composed and bursting with surprising flavor. The smoked carrot salad is a perfect example. A simple eggplant soup is like a painting made from vegetables and flowers, a soup and salad in one. And the braised rabbit with trumpet mushrooms and glazed parsnips exemplifies Texas comfort food at its best. Dessert is just as lovely, with selections changing often. Sommelier Chris McFall is still building his outstanding wine lover’s dream list, which will keep growing as the restaurant evolves. Sure, prices are dear, but every bite and sip will be worth it.
This Fourth Street favorite has morphed into Austin’s new 100 percent Peruvian restaurant, with a menu created and crafted by chef de cuisine Julio César Flórez Zaplana. A native of Lima, the young chef has been trying to turn Austin diners on to his country’s gastronomy since 2010 when he helmed the kitchen at La Sombra. At Isla he’s been given full creative license to serve interpretations of the home-cooked dishes of his childhood, prepared with a Texas twist. For instance, the filling for the papa rellena consists of braised brisket instead of the traditional ground beef, but it is still seasoned with raisins, olives, and warm spices “just like Mom makes it,” says the chef.
Flórez is focusing on adapting what’s available to create a cuisine of his own. We enjoyed his homage to Nikkei (Japanese-influenced cuisine) with the maki causa, a sushi-style roll filled with spicy potato puree, crab meat salad, and cucumber, topped with flying fish roe; the traditional taste of ají amarillo prepared untraditionally with rabbit; and the classic Peruvian cebiche mixto made with mahi mahi and crispy fried octopus. The cocktail menu follows suit with pisco drinks that range from the classic sour to a version of the Manhattan.
We love everything about this new East Austin neighborhood eatery, from the flowery wallpaper to the beautiful wooden bar, the friendly atmosphere, and the imaginative takes on classic Chinese fare. Old Thousand is an excellent spot to meet friends over drinks and snacks or to have a cozy dinner for two.
Start with the pork ribs in a savory tangy sauce topped with crunchy diced celery and pair it with the refreshing Killing Me Softly, made with Hendrick’s gin, Chartreuse, and cucumber, garnished with a fresh dill sprig. Vegetarians will find a satisfying entrée in the umami-rich kung pao cauliflower, topped with chile flakes, toasted cashews, shishitos, and chile oil. For the meat eating set, Old Thousand’s version of char siu pork served with fluffy steamed buns is a no-brainer. Try the five spice churros to end your meal and smile all the way home.