MEET THE TASTEMAKERS
We live in weird times, y’all. But despite a warped menu of challenges that Austin restaurants have been confronted with in the past couple years, so many of them have stepped up to the plate, not simply enduring, but defying the odds and transforming how they operate to confront the weirdest of complications, all with the intent to keep nourishing this weird city.
And it’s not just well-financed restaurant conglomerates that are remaining cool as a cucumber while still bringing home the bacon; plenty of Austin’s neighborhood eateries are thriving amid the pandemic and proving that no matter the circumstances, feeding their local communities comes first.
With admiration for their perseverance and a hearty appreciation for their evolving accomplishments, we’ll celebrate these go-to neighborhood eateries at our annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards.
Read about this year’s Tastemaker nominees for Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year below, then join us for the 2022 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards on Thursday, April 28 at Fair Market for our signature tasting event and awards program. Early bird tickets are available now.
Meanwhile, keep supporting Austin’s neighborhood restaurants by dining in, taking out, and getting your favorite cuisines delivered — and don’t forget to tip restaurant workers generously. They’re doing it all for you, Austin.
Better Half Coffee & Cocktails
Parked squarely amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Austin, this West Fifth Street hot spot could have easily faded into its noisy surroundings and become just another flash in the pan. Luckily, for neighborhood locals who appreciate both a lively morning meal and a lip-smacking evening burger with a side of pastrami-loaded queso and a few stiff cocktails, this all-day cafe is here to stay. This neighborhood joint recently updated its menu, rolling out tempting new dishes like crispy pork belly with refried black-eyed peas, and shrimp and crab-finger orzotto, a must-have risotto-style plate. Of course, we won’t fault you if you opt for the classic jalapeño-honey-butter-drenched chicken biscuit.
While “progress” has advanced on the Manor Road neighborhood with a staggering amount of development that makes this east side area hardly recognizable these days, Dai Due, the ingredient-driven, locally focused restaurant and butcher shop that opened in 2006, has remained a centerpiece of the community and a curated recipe for a successful modern Austin restaurant. Though Dai Due’s menu is updated regularly (one of its best attributes), you can always count on a superb selection of charcuterie and sandwiches (breakfast and heavier choices), farm-fresh sides, and tempting desserts. Still not satisfied? Grab some outstanding meats and meal staples from the deli to cook up another Dai Due masterpiece at home.
Home Slice North Loop
Any Austinite who puts their trust in crust knows when it comes to New York-style pizza in the Lone Star State, this local mom-and-pop pizzeria turned saucy icon reigns supreme in Austin. Though many visitors will be familiar with the original Home Slice location on South Congress Avenue (and its adjacent More Home Slice takeout spot), Home Slice North Loop, which rose up in 2017, is where the locals go for an authentic slice and a super cool family-friendly environment. Embellished with lots of glitz and glittery curiosities, the North Loop location summons thoughts of a boardwalk carnival. But the real magic is in, well, the slice. From Home Slice’s tried-and-true specialties to its build-your-own pies (as well as bodacious calzones, salads, subs, and wings), there is not a single item on the menu that isn’t spectacular, especially when enjoyed on the patio with some neighbors.
This innovative Holly Street darling has become a sweetheart staple of Austin’s restaurant scene, thanks to the culinary genius of executive chef Rene Ortiz. Though beloved pastry chef Laura Sawicki moved on from the restaurant late last year, it remains a go-to spot for casual neighborhood gatherings. Launderette’s menu of globally inspired seafood dishes and perfectly prepared meaty dishes and veggies — not to mention its scrumptious brunch — keep local foodies coming back again and again. Combined with its friendly service and spacious covered outdoor patio, this tucked-away East Austin café is an ideal neighborhood gathering spot. So, grab some friends and head eastbound for some of the city’s best grub. And don’t worry about who’ll pick up the tab; it’ll all come out in the wash.
When two of Austin’s most prominent award-winning chefs — Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue and Tyson Cole of Uchi — decide to merge their Asian and barbecue specialties into one smoking South Austin neighborhood eatery, your best move is to embrace the meat sweats and pork out! This laid-back Asian smokehouse and bar is the perfect south side spot to bring your whole brood for a handcrafted, soulful barbecue experience unlike any other in the city. The expansive indoor-outdoor concept, inspired by Texas dancehalls and Far East sensibilities, offers a welcoming, casual vibe amid gorgeous heritage trees, all marvelously setting the stage for messy, smoked-meat-filled family gatherings and top-notch dining experiences. Pro tip: Opt for any menu item or limited-time special featuring brisket burnt ends, and don’t skimp on the drinks, as Loro offers a dazzling array of offerings, from batch cocktails and beer to wine and sake and the best booze slushies this side of the Atlantic.
This not-so-secret South Austin neighborhood Mexican joint and cantina draws locals and visitors as much with its casual, artsy ambience as with its authentic interior Mexican cuisine and powerful margaritas. The stacked salsa bar is so delicious, you’ll have to pace yourself so you don’t fill up on chips and the spicy stuff before your giant plate of nachos, tacos, or enchiladas shows up. Polvos’ menu also features some of the best Mexican seafood dishes in the city, and the rellenos are undeniably excellent. But be prepared to call a menu audible because you know the second the next table’s order of sizzling fajitas gets delivered, you’re changing your mind in favor of those flaming skillets. Whether feasting in the cozy, colorful dining room or sipping a beer rita and people-watching on the popular covered patio, it’s incredibly easy — and even encouraged — to while away a sunny afternoon at Polvos.
Ramen Tatsu-Ya East Sixth Street
Need more proof of Austin’s increasing rise as a global metropolis? The city is home to some of the most crave-worthy Japanese soul food on the planet thanks to the culinary wizards at Ramen Tatsu-Ya. Since 2012, executive chefs and co-owners Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya “Tako” Matsumoto have been steadily educating Austinites that “ramen” doesn’t have to mean those cheap dried noodle packages, and winning over locals with their incredibly flavorful and days-in-the-making broths and variety of ramen dishes. Though many local foodies continue to flock to the brand’s South and North Austin locations, Ramen Tatsu-Ya’s east side restaurant offers a bit more of a roomy neighborhood vibe (and a less complicated parking situation). Get your buds and your taste buds ready. As they say at Ramen Tatsu-Ya, slurp’s up, y’all!
Sour Duck Market
When celebrated local restaurateur and James Beard Award-nominated chef Bryce Gilmore opens a cheery east side bakery, café, bar, and beer garden, Austinites eagerly swarm in. And rightfully so, as Sour Duck Market boasts the creme de la creme of offerings for a neighborhood spot: a menu featuring made-from-scratch crafted baked goods, sammies, salads, shareable plates, and a “killer selection” of beer and wine, and an adorable backyard dining space ideal for quickly chowing down on a pastry and sustainable coffee or firmly parking your crew for an extended happy hour extravaganza with some brews and beer-and-cheddar bratwurst. But the neighborhood vibes don’t end with beer garden revelry; on rainy, humid, or allergen-forward days — or if you simply prefer more of a coffeehouse mood — Sour Duck’s spacious interior, which includes bar seating, offers lots of room to spread out and chill.
Texas Chili Parlor
You can’t truly call yourself a bona fide Austinite until you’ve scarfed down an Original Legendary Bowl of Red at this downtown institution — and bonus Austin points if you choose the flaming-hot XXX chili. The menu’s got plenty of other tasty offerings, but let’s be real: You’re here for the hot chili and ice-cold beer. Given its proximity to the Capitol and downtown businesses, Texas Chili Parlor has long been an essential spot for legislators and exec-type folks negotiating over Frito chili pie, bowls of red, and jalapeño burgers. But it’s also a beloved hole-in-the-wall hub for a rendezvous with friends, and is probably the best place to cure a hangover in the Capital City. Embrace the burn!
This all-day café is as charming as can be and features an impressive and sometimes unexpected variety of Italian-inspired dishes. Though the brand branched out in late 2020 with a second location on the east side, its original eatery — complete with a sizable patio and precious indoor dining space — make Uncle Nicky’s Hyde Park location a go-to neighborhood spot. Nosh on some mini frittatas and Fluffy OJ for breakfast, or opt for a smattering of antipasti or straight-up legit house-made pastas to share with friends. Then stick around to say “uncle” at happy hour, with deals on Uncle Nicky’s refreshing spritzes. You might as well make it an all-day neighborhood dining adventure, as you definitely don’t want to miss out on the wine and cheese plate or the Disco Lemonade shots.