Toast the Tastemakers
Each year, we have the honor of celebrating Austin's dynamic culinary scene at our annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards.
Throughout the spring, we've introduced you to our talented group of 2022 nominees, who were selected by industry experts and past winners, and who represent the best of the city's restaurant and bar offerings right now. After weeks of anticipation (and a heated Best New Restaurant tournament), it's time to unveil this year's winners.
On April 28, we gathered with nominees, industry experts, and the Austin community for the 2022 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards at Fair Market. Guests savored specialty bites from participating nominees, sipped an array of delicious drinks, and then tuned in for the coveted awards ceremony where Alamo Drafthouse legend Tim League revealed this year's winners.
Join us in raising a toast to the 2022 CultureMap Austin Tastemaker Awards winners. Meet them below.
Restaurant of the Year: Cuantos Tacos
There are few things Austinites cherish more than a simple, scrumptious taco — and this eye-catching yellow food truck parked on the east side is definitely delivering the goods. With a mouthwatering menu of Mexico City-style street tacos, Cuantos Tacos doesn’t hold back when it comes to exacting seasoning, meaty ingredients, and classic Mexican flavors. Popular favorites like barbacoa, brisket, and carnitas tacos are must-haves, but many a local taco connoisseur has found themselves seduced by Cuantos Tacos’ perhaps unfamiliar yet tantalizing tacos featuring delicacies like pork stomach (buche), Mexican chorizo (longaniza), and beef cheek (cachete), and rightfully so. Every dish on this small but delightful menu is worth devouring.
Chef of the Year: Edgar Rico, Nixta Taqueria
If there’s been one chef’s name on Austinites’ lips for the past couple years, it’s definitely Edgar Rico. With the opening of his essential east side taqueria, Nixta, in 2019, the Culinary Institute of America-trained chef introduced this taco-obsessed town to the ancient corn-tortilla-making process of nixtamalization (which has since become all the rage at many a Capital City taco house) and made an immediate splash in a city that was already home to dozens of taquerias. He says Nixta is the culmination of what food means to him: “imaginative creations that are steeped in technique, history, tradition, and finesse.” Those finessed creations have not gone unnoticed by Austin taco lovers or extolled culinary institutions, including the James Beard Foundation, which recently named Rico a James Beard Award finalist in the Emerging Chef category.
Bar of the Year: Tiki Tatsu-Ya
If the island life is your jam and you embrace the life’s-a-beach mentality, there’s no need to swim against the tide, as Austin is home to what we’ll deem the best tiki bar this side of Polynesia. But what else would you expect from the innovative culinary pros behind the universally loved Tatsu-Ya restaurant group? Delight in some rum-forward concoctions, or dive right on in to the kitschy tiki cocktails, like the Slurping Bastard — served in a fantastic chalice that bears a striking resemblance to any Ramen Tatsu-Ya customer in mid ramen slurp — or the Stranded on Saturn gin cocktail, the Cobra Kai, or the banana-forward Forbidden Grog. Or make the whole table happy with a Banzai Boat of shooters.
Rising Star Chef of the Year: Amanda Turner, Olamaie
If you’ve dined out in this town in the past decade or so, you’ve likely had the pleasure of devouring any number of chef Amanda Turner’s exquisite dishes. A maestro of a variety of cuisines, from Italian, modern American, and even Japanese (she interned at restaurants in Japan for several months), Turner cut her teeth at celebrated Austin establishments like Juniper, Odd Duck, Uchi and Uchiko, and Jester King. But it is her position as chef de cuisine at lauded eatery Olamaie that has catapulted her into a new culinary realm. She was even recently named a James Beard Award semifinalist in the Emerging Chef category for her work at Olamaie. With the restaurant’s seasonal menu of gorgeously presented New American fare, Turner is in her culinary element — and will no doubt continue to accumulate more accolades — and Austin diners get to reap the delicious rewards.
Pastry Chef of the Year: Susana Querejazu, Lutie's
One of Eater’s former Young Guns, Susana Querejazu has certainly shot forward among the ranks of pastry chefs in Austin. The executive pastry chef at the Commodore Perry Estate and its garden restaurant, Lutie’s, has contributed to some of the city’s most influential restaurants: Enoteca Vespaio and Vespaio Ristorante, Uchi and Uchiko, Odd Duck and Barley Swine. Querejazu left Austin in 2017 on a brief hiatus with her husband, executive chef Bradley Nicholson, to branch out creatively in the kitchen. As Nicholson changed jobs, so too did the multitalented Querejazu, who worked as an assistant sommelier and pastry sous chef (including some time at Michelin-starred restaurant Saison in San Francisco). No matter where she is, Querejazu is an authority on the perfect lamination of croissants, and she loves applying that knowledge to good causes by organizing charity bake sales.
Bartender of the Year: Cory Starr, Tiki Tatsu-Ya
When Tiki Tatsu-Ya arrived in Austin last October, this theme park of a bar created its own niche. Our Bar of the Year winner in its first year, it never misses an opportunity to dazzle in the campiest way possible. Beverage manager Cory Starr dove straight into that excess with 200 bottles of rum, reported the Austin Chronicle. Tackling perhaps the most widely recognized (and heavy handed) genre in mixology, Starr’s strong sense of tiki whimsy is balanced by impeccable recipe-making skills honed over five years in Hualalai.
Best New Restaurant: Wax Myrtle's
Wax Myrtle’s, the new indoor-outdoor restaurant and bar at Austin's Thompson Hotel property, offers everything a summer pool lounger requires: covered cabanas, an oversized fireplace, monthly programming, a menu of contemporary American cuisine, and plenty of curated cocktails. The Wax Myrtle’s menu includes perfect pool snacks (we’re looking at you, charred octopus skewer), as well as heartier fare like burgers, pork chops, and beef ribs. And with an extensive menu of cocktails, beer, and wine, Wax Myrtle’s supplies everything you need to while away an afternoon by the pool.
Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: 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.
Wine Program of the Year: Birdie's
This new East Austin cafe and natural wine bar has had locals buzzing since it opened in the summer of 2021, thanks in part to its impressive wine list, which includes a blend of classics and new producers with an emphasis on “mindful farming and minimal intervention in the cellar.” Designed to evolve with chef Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel’s European-inspired food menu, the wine list runs the gamut from sparkling wines and Champagnes to an array of whites, oranges, rosés, and tons of luscious reds. This family-run neighborhood spot also serves up an abundance of off-list wine gems featuring hard-to-find bottles, so be sure to engage the enlightened staff about the many available choices.
Brewery of the Year: Meanwhile Brewing Co.
This community-oriented South Austin brewery and taproom debuted in the Capital City in late 2020, and despite having its roots in the Portland beer realm, Meanwhile has entrenched itself in the Austin scene, becoming a go-to spot for locals seeking a world-class beer to swig among a sweeping outdoor space that includes a stage and events venue, a soccer field, and plenty of shady spots to kick back with a few friends and a pint. Indeed, the Meanwhile taproom features a selection of 20 rotating beers, wines, and low-proof cocktails, so there’s always the chance to check out a new favorite. Meanwhile’s coffee and bites from several onsite food trucks add to the allure. Fair warning: It’s extraordinarily easy to while away an afternoon here, so cancel your evening plans and stay awhile.
Best Vegan Restaurant: Counter Culture
One of Austin’s most talked-about vegan restaurants earned its reputation over more than a decade in business, starting as a food truck and settling in its iconic retro turquoise haven curated by owner and DJ Sue Purr. Counter Culture uses produce from local farmers and inspires lots of grateful raving about vegetarians' and vegans’ place in barbecue, thanks to their jackfruit offerings. The cashew cheesecakes also draw in both practiced vegans and omnivores considering cutting back. There’s a long drink list of smoothies, juices, beers, and wines, making Counter Culture a great place to spend an entire afternoon.
Chantal Rice and Brianna Caleri contributed to this story.