Editor's Note: In 2019, shutters and controversies rocketed to the top of our most-read restaurant and bar stories, fueled by a nostalgia for the Austin of yesteryear.
Still, that doesn't mean that locals spent 12 months gazing into the past. As always, Austinites were ready to embrace the new, whether it was a stunning downtown restaurant, the new location of a legendary Texas barbecue joint, or a next-generation grocery store.
1. Swanky Austin restaurant nabs Texas' only spot on Esquire's Best New Restaurants 2019. With its dazzling space by acclaimed architect Tom Kundig and innovative Mexican cuisine from chefs Philip Speer and Gabe Erales, Comedor has wowed locals since it first opened in April. The editors of long-running men's magazine Esquire were equally dazzled. Six months after the restaurant's debut, the magazine named it one of the nation's most promising new concepts, vaulting it above the rest of Texas' freshman class.
2. H-E-B's massive new Tarrytown store fires up barbecue restaurant and full bar. As more Austinites embrace the convenience of home delivery services like Instacart and Amazon Prime Now, one Central Texas supermarket chain is pulling out all the stops to get people to visit its bricks-and-mortars. In 2021, West Austin will be gifted a gigantic new grocery complete with patio seating, a full bar, and an outpost of cult chain True Texas BBQ. No store does more, indeed.
3. Oldest barbecue joint in Texas reveals opening date for first Austin location. Locals were practically giddy with anticipation when Southside Market & Barbecue announced it was headed to The Shops at Arbor Walk. The Elgin-based joint brought a slew of slow-smoked meats, a convenient pick-up counter, and a mini-market tailored to amateur pitmasters when it opened on November 24.
4. Troubled fast-casual restaurant chain suddenly shutters all Austin locations. It was Verts Kebap before it abruptly rebranded to Verts Mediterranean Grill in 2016. In 2017, it again took on a new identity as Noon Mediterranean before California's Elite Restaurant Group assimilated it into its Daphne's Mediterranean chain in 2018. In July, the gig was up, and the company decided to pull out of Texas completely. Though no one seemed to want to eat at the once-promising concept, CultureMap readers were always hungry to read about the trials and tribulations of the ill-fated eatery.
5. New cafe called Lou's Bodega is opening old wounds in East Austin. When hospitality superstars Larry McGuire and Liz Lambert opened their new east side concept in January, they ignited a firestorm of controversy. In this thoughtful essay, CultureMap Austin editor Katie Friel outlines the issues at stake.
6. Austin comfort food restaurant closes 2 area locations as tastes change. You know that popular meme comparing Austin's skyline in 2005 and 2017? It's a neat summation of how this once-sleepy college town has become an ever-expanding metropolis. The influx of new residents has had an influence on the dining culture, too, as preferences shift from homey to sleek. Red's Porch, once a neighborhood favorite for quick and easy eats, was one of this year's casualties. In June, the homegrown chain shuttered its Round Rock location, followed by its North Austin outpost in August. The South Austin flagship closed in October, robbing Austin of one more spot to enjoy chicken fried steak.
7. Acclaimed Austin sandwich shop shutters only remaining brick-and-mortar. When chefs John Bates and Brandon Martinez introduced Noble Sandwich Co. (nee Noble Pig) to the Capital City in 2010, it was a harbinger of a new ingredient-forward approach to dining that has since defined the local culinary scene. Name recognition, however, was no bulwark against the city's rising costs. In September, the team decided to close their Burnet Road location to focus on their Interstellar BBQ concept and other future projects. Meanwhile, East Austin Chinese-American restaurant Old Thousand quickly gobbled up the prime property for a second location.
8. Legendary East Austin restaurant ends 31-year run after sale to acclaimed local chef. Thirty-one years is an awfully long time to run a restaurant, especially one as mindful about sourcing and guest experience as Eastside Cafe. While we wish owner Elaine Martin a happy retirement and look forward to seeing what Suerte restaurateur Sam Hellman-Mass does with the graceful old house, we miss the baked brie with apple chutney like the dickens.
9. Austin's 8 best burgers to sink your teeth into. The only Austin tradition more hallowed than compiling best-of lists is arguing about the picks that make the cut. As always, this juicy exploration of Austin's meatiest subject attracted spirited debate.
10. Iconic Clarksville pharmacy may have flipped its last burger as trouble looms. This historic West Austin neighborhood may be mission control for tony McGuire Moorman Hospitality, but it has also traditionally been home to some of the most affordable burgers in town. That all came to an end in February when Nau's Enfield Drug was forced to close its soda fountain and grill due to competitive pressures. Still, hope may be on the horizon. Nau's website promises that the restaurant is currently under renovations and looking to hire experienced cooks.