If you feel like there's a new Austin restaurant each week, you're right. With 2015 openings now in the triple digits, it has been an exceptional year for local dining. The sheer volume means that most can't get to every opening.
Of the many restaurants we did visit this year, here are seven favorites that stood out as exceptional newcomers. Note: you'll see two restaurants on this list that opened late last year, too late, in fact, to be considered on our list of favorite openings for 2014.
Apis Restaurant and Apiary
Nestled off of Highway 71 in Spicewood, Apis shows a charming balance between Austin ambition and small town civility. An inviting bar greets you upon entry, offering the chance to ease into the evening with a cocktail that utilizes honey from the restaurant's on-site apiary. The bees are a central focus here, as bee and honey elements are threaded in subtle fashion through both the menu and decor.
A robust nightly tasting menu is available, but more thrifty diners can opt for small plates like the unctuous egg toast with dry-aged beef tartare, the elegant hamachi crudo with white soy and Thai basil, or the charred octopus with snow peas. The dining room is small and inviting while the pace is relaxed and the service is professional yet unobtrusive.
Emmer & Rye
The inviting layout and atmosphere are key features at Emmer & Rye. The tables are spacious but the low walls surrounding them shield neighboring conversations and give you a welcome feeling of privacy with your table. The pastas here are commendable, as the restaurant's focus on grains delivers dishes like perfectly al dente buckwheat mafalda with lamb shoulder and eggplant confit.
The restaurant's key point of differentiation, though, is a dim sum-style service for small plates: The kitchen does around 10 dishes each night that are placed on carts and taken around the restaurant for real-time orders and consumption. Ordering light off the set menu is wise — the dim sum selections make for a fun night out, and the selections are often seasonal riffs on the best currently available produce. Cocktails are smart and creative, and the wine list is full of commendable bottles.
Two former members of the Eddie V's team partnered to debut Fixe at the tail end of 2014. Their steakhouse background is evident in the clubby but inviting atmosphere at Fixe: You'll find a good deal of bourbon at the bar, a killer trout dip on the starter menu, and a melange of Southern dishes ranging from classic to modern.
Highlights from the main menu include herbivore grits with garlic kale and romesco, blackened red snapper with rock shrimp and bone marrow, and a beef tartare with crispy oysters and cornmeal pancakes. There are options for all diets, though carnivores will fare best.
Gardner opened last November, but our first visit didn't occur until 2015. Andrew Wiseheart and Ben Edgerton's follow up to Contigo was a sea of change from that concept. The sleek, slick space is as elegant as Contigo is informal, and the menu's focus on garden vegetables is miles from the protein-heavy fare of their first venture. The good news: It works.
Wiseheart's cooking is ambitious in ingredient pairings, but done with an editor's eye. The results are almost uniformly top notch. While the carrot dish with almond milk, couscous, and chili oil is a personal favorite, other plates like the oyster mushroom ciabatta, Brussels sprouts with pumpkin seed miso, and beef tartare with red cabbage and grains aren't far behind. The patio dining is a world removed from the nearby crowds of East Sixth Street — a smart choice for a post-work meal.
When Launderette debuted to big crowds and good press, absolutely nobody was surprised. Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki had already upped the interior Mexican (La Condesa) and Thai (Sway) game during their tenures at those restaurants, so the only surprise with this concept was the seemingly modest neighborhood setting.
The smallish spot focuses on Mediterranean dishes and comfort foods, with a welcomed heavy influence on vegetable plates. The 10-item selection contains enough depth for an entire meal — the endive, cauliflower, and broccolini are standouts. The generous menu caters to cravings, be it for soft egg toast with asparagus or fried oysters with lemon and jalapeño. Cocktails lean toward the classics and aren't fussy.
Manor Road's new Neapolitan pizza spot delivers a solid all-around experience for families and groups at a reasonable price point. There's a lot to like here: The beverage program has smart wine selections and a well-curated selection of beers. It would be easy for the vegetable dishes and salads to be treated as afterthoughts, but they're as thoughtful as the pies. The kale salad with lemon, cashew, and raisins is a highlight, as are carrots with olive oil, balsamic, and tan-tan Moroccan spice.
Of the pizzas offered, the mushroom and pepper versions were our favorites. There's mango rice pudding for dessert or local coffee from Flat Track for the traditionalist.
Via 313's brick-and-mortar was an immediate hit in Oak Hill. Like Jack Allen's Kitchen before it, the casual but smart restaurant attracts hordes of Southwest Austin diners bereft of sufficient area options. The team added standard "bar pies" to the menu to contrast the thick, Detroit-style slices, but most diners opt for the latter.
Our favorites are the Omnivore (mushroom, onion, green pepper, pepperoni, sausage) and Herbivore (just the veggies from the first pie), but there are more that 20 combinations available. The rectangle-style slices are baked in metal trays for crispy, cheesy edges and a thick but lighter-bodied crust. On the beverage side, a full bar is available, but the restaurant's dozen craft beer taps are perhaps better pairings for pizza.