Best of 2016
Our 10 favorite new Austin restaurants of 2016
As far as we can tell, 2016 may break the record for most restaurant openings in Austin. Despite our best intentions, we were not able to visit them all. This list is missing a few eateries that opened too late to review, but it is full of outstanding restaurants nonetheless.
Below we highlight our favorite restaurants, listed in order of preference, that opened in 2016, picked not just for their superior fare and beverages, but also their atmosphere, service, and prices.
There are many reasons why we’ve picked this as our favorite opening of 2016. We’ve been smitten with chef Fiore Tedesco’s cooking since his 2013 Dinners to Rock pop-ups and are even bigger fans of his enthusiastic approach and unique takes on Italian classics and family recipes at his brick-and-mortar. Combining high quality, imported ingredients with locally sourced, endemic products (using foraged green pecans to make his own nocello liqueur and chile piquin to enliven a rigatoni puttanesca), he creates a cuisine that is truly original yet comfortable, and his sharable, family-style dishes reinforce the feel that you’re dining at a friend’s house. From the amiable service to the excellent wine and cocktail program, co-owner Adam Orman runs a tight front-of-the-house, yet the laid-back vibes, excellent background music, and accessible prices make L’Oca d’Oro the ultimate neighborhood restaurant.
Hudson’s on the Bend
Superb fine dining meets Austin’s easygoing vibe at the reboot of this mainstay. Chef Billy Caruso pays homage to the former incarnation with remakes of favorites like espresso-rubbed elk back strap and hot and crunchy trout, while introducing diners to his own expertly executed, soon-to-be-classic dishes. Each is an edible masterpiece that tantalizes the senses, combining striking visual appeal with spot-on texture combinations and seasoning. Sommelier Chris McFall has chosen a wine list to match, and his knowledgeable and courteous service adds value and elegance to the experience. Inventive presentations don’t stop with the food — try the seasonal Leaves Ablaze cocktail, served warm in a glass orb. The high price tag puts Hudson’s on the Bend on our special occasion list, but we are convinced that it will soon be listed as one of the most noteworthy restaurants.
As far as transporting experiences go, you’ll be hard pressed to find one more stunning than Otoko. You’ll feel like you’re in one of the world’s great cities within minutes, starting with the almost secret location that leads to the low-lit Watertrade bar. Here, you will enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail superbly crafted by Whitney Hazelmyer to set the mood before moving to the Japanese-style dining room. If you’ve ever sat in front of chef Yoshi Okai, I don’t need to tell you what to expect from the food. At this exclusive 12 seater, he presents a Kyoto-style kaiseki (traditional, multi-course dinner) prepared right before your eyes. There is no set menu here — you will get whatever he dreams up based on the freshest ingredients available that day. His sparkling personality and impeccable technique round out an experience you will not soon forget. The $150 price tag ($75 more with drink pairings) is probably out of reach for most diners, but considering the 20-plus spectacular courses you’ll be eating, it is a fair deal. Start saving now and put it on your bucket list.
Boiler Nine Bar + Grill
This three-in-one restaurant bar at the Seaholm opened with lots of hype and lived up to it. It has become a favorite thanks to executive chef Jason Stude’s wood-fired cuisine with global influences, outstanding cocktail program by Jason Stevens, and amazing wine list by sommelier Paula Rester. Each space has its own vibe, offering a fun way to do a progressive night out without leaving the premises. Start at Deck Nine Observatory Bar with a snack like fries seasoned with barbecue salt or a classic pimento cheese served with saltines and a fun cocktail on tap. Move down to Boiler Nine Bar + Grill and share seasonal small plates like the outstanding Berkshire pork ribs with fish sauce glaze and crisp cucumber salad and entrees like oak roasted chicken with mushroom jus on Gristmill polenta with Texas goat cheese and a snap pea salad. Have dessert or a night cap from the cocktail playlist at The Boiler Room, the super-cool underground bar with a retro feel. Boiler Nine’s bright and airy space is also a great setting to start the weekend with a boozy brunch.
From the moment we walked in smelled wood fire emanating from the open kitchen, we knew we were in for a treat, and boy, does Red Ash deliver. Set in a modern space with an industrial aesthetic rounded out by cozy details, this downtown newcomer is dishing out fine Italian cuisine in a convivial yet intimate atmosphere. Whether you choose the lofty dining area, a cozy booth, or a stool at the bar, service is competent and amiable. Happy hour offers an affordable way to visit the menu, which ranges from a vibrant carpaccio to a melt-in-your-mouth grilled octopus, wood-fired vegetables like cauliflower and broccolini, and house-made pastas including a savory pappardelle with wild boar ragout and the best gnocchi ever. Larger entrees like the osso bucco Milanese will easily feed two. Cocktails lean toward the classics, and the wine list offers selections chosen to match the intensely flavored fare.
Cannon + Belle
We are impressed with this Texas-centric eatery at the Hilton Austin downtown, with a fun menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that is sure to impress visitors and residents alike. The space is beautiful and comfortable, upscale enough for the hotel but laid-back enough to linger over a pint of local craft beer and a hand-tossed pizza from the brick oven. Chef Peter Maffei is passionate about meeting local farmers and producers and using the best they have to offer to represent our varied cuisine, and he has a knack for playful creativity. Prices are accessible for the quality of the food and drinks. Come SXSW this place will be hopping, and with good reason.
This South Lamar newcomer could make this list based on looks alone. The beautifully designed and furnished space is a stunner, combining styles that range from art nouveau to midcentury modern, with custom-made details in a palette of blues and browns that create elegant surrounds. The food is equally beautiful, artfully presented and sourced seasonally and locally by executive chef Jim Tripi and executive pastry chef Natalie Gazaui. We are enamored with the Cedar Tavern, a lovely spot to share drinks and a charcuterie plate with friends or that special someone. Prices are on the higher end, but the food and the atmosphere justify the expense on a special night out.
We are big fans of this informal convenience store slash deli counter. Glancing at the simple menu you would never guess the quality of the food coming out of the kitchen, but one bite of the sensational tuna poke surrounded by paper-thin avocado slices and house-made potato chips and you’ll be a convert. Try the juicy backyard burger or the Korean fried chicken sandwich, or go light with the exquisite Keep It Delicious green salad topped with tangy apple slices, chunky bacon, and crumbled blue cheese. Plus, the lobster roll may be the best in town. Delicious also has a strong game for brunch, featuring the best chicken and waffles ever, a legit pozole, and $2 mimosas. Large portions, affordable prices, and service with a smile land this South Lamar newcomer on our list of favorites.
Another accessible restaurant bar that captured our attention at first bite, Old Thousand combines an easygoing, almost irreverent vibe with high-quality, expertly executed Chinese cuisine, neatly wrapped in a neighborhood-friendly space. Staff is enthusiastic without being overly eager, and the kitchen shows prowess without pretension. Expect classic dishes with modern touches and a few local twists. We’d go back any day just to have the savory pork ribs with a glass of Riesling, but desserts also warrant attention. This is a great date night spot that won’t break the bank.
June’s All Day
This sweet South Congress bistro, named after sommelier and partner June Rodil, is as fun and bubbly as its namesake. As expected, the beverage list is outstanding, with a wonderful selection of boutique wines from around the world, including a mirrored wall where Rodil features special bottles, limited releases, and a monthly thematic list. The eclectic menu leans toward French and features everything from breakfast pastries to sandwiches, snack plates, and grilled entrees. The music fits the lively atmosphere, but prices are certainly on the higher end.