Meet the Tastemakers
The 10 best neighborhood restaurants in Austin are good for the soul
Part of what knits together the fabric of a city like Austin are the individual neighborhoods we call home. Whether we're East Austinites, Tarrytowners, or proud members of the '04, the neighborhoods where we live become a part of our identity, and the businesses we patronize become the places where we live our lives.
Each year, the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards honor these local haunts with the Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year category. The 2018 nominees range from a stalwart West Campus bistro to a buzzworthy East Austin cafe, but all are sweet local spots where patrons can always expect a good meal. Before we announce the winner during our can't-miss Tastemaker Awards on April 12 at Fair Market, check out the nominees below, or better yet, swing by in person for a dose of hospitality alongside some of the best dishes in Austin.
This East Cesar Chavez shop serves some of Austin's best pizza, which means patrons can expect to wait, but that's part of the fun. On warm nights, the parking lot becomes a de facto party with folks waiting (usually with a glass of wine in hand) to score a table. Once inside, diners are treated to truly transcendent pies like the Fresca, with prosciutto piccante, arugula, lemon, mozzarella, and Parmesan, or the Calabrese, with tomato, mozzarella, salami, serrano, garlic, and basil. Bufalina also frequently collaborates with places like the famed Roberta's in Brooklyn to bring unique culinary experiences to all Austinites.
With a pedigree that includes Uchi, Jean Luc's Bistro, and St. Philip, is anyone really surprised that chef Philip Speer's Bonhomie is one of the most exciting restaurants in Austin? Probably not. What is more surprising, however, is how this destination restaurant has become an integral part of its Allandale neighborhood. Located on bustling Burnet Road, Speer offers a French-inspired menu that is consistent, delicious, and approachable — exactly what everyone wants in a neighborhood joint.
District Kitchen + Cocktails
Since 2013, this neighborhood joint has proven that a restaurant doesn't need to be centrally located to be relevant. Led by chef Amir Hajimaleki along with his brother Ali Hajimaleki, District Kitchen + Cocktails brings locally sourced, globally inspired cuisine to Circle C Ranch. On chef Hajimaleki's menu, Truffle Prosciutto Naan is at home alongside dishes like the Cowboy Ribeye or the Nawlin's Shrimp and Grits. With an extensive wine list and cocktail menu, District Kitchen + Cocktails is the kind of place that Austinites can expect to sit and stay awhile, no matter what 'hood they call home.
The magical thing about chef Sarah McIntosh's Rosedale cafe is its inviting feel, no matter who you are. Whether you're a lad or lady who lunches, a power player trying to impress a client, or just looking for a delicious meal, there is a space for you at Epicerie's table. Open most days beginning at 8 am, Epicerie offers a wide selection fare ranging from breakfast sandwiches to salads to the cafe's new to-go counter, making it a go-to for neighbors and Austin foodies alike.
Fabi + Rosi
With its cozy, dog-friendly patio, onsite chicken coop, and inviting interiors, Fabi + Rosi is like having dinner at your fabulous friend's house, if that friend also happens to be a world-class chef. Tucked away in a circa 1903 Craftsman house in Tarrytown, Fabi + Rosi is the epitome of a neighborhood gem. Since opening in 2009, this European-inspired restaurant has been lauded for its locally sourced, inventive cuisine — and remained under the radar as well. German-born chef Wolfgang Murbe creates dishes like Hühner-Roulade (Dewberry Farm chicken with summer slaw, garlic potato puree, and pan jus) and Maultaschen (Black Forest mushroom ravioli and herb salad) that recall his homeland while feeling right at home in the heart of Texas.
Foreign & Domestic
A recent regime change put the Foreign & Domestic kitchen into the capable hands of chefs Sarah Heard and Nathan Lemley, and this North Loop neighborhood favorite hasn't skipped a beat. This upscale diner is still serving inventive fare focused on seasonal ingredients served in a warm, inviting space, making it the perfect answer to the question, "Where should we go for dinner?" After all, isn't that what everyone ultimately wants in a neighborhood joint?
It's impossible to stress how much we love this Holly haunt (or how often we see "Launderette" pop up on our monthly credit card statement). From inside this perennially chic space, chef Rene Ortiz dishes out craveable small plates like the charred octopus, while pastry chef Laura Sawicki creates the innovative desserts that continually land her on the James Beard Awards shortlist. Launderette, you never let us down.
Housed in a dark, swanky West Sixth Street bungalow, Nightcap lives up to its name, serving dinner long after other neighborhood restaurants have closed. When pointing to what makes this cafe special, you can note its emphasis on farm-to-table ingredients, its approachable cocktail menu, or even its emphasis on superior service. But here's the truth: It's the dessert. At Nightcap, dessert isn't treated as a mere afterthought. Instead, it's considered the third course, the final component to a complete meal. Now, if that doesn't give you a reason to end your evening at this neighborhood spot, what will?
Olive & June
Part Italian restaurant, part treehouse, Olive & June is one of those restaurants that could really only find a home in Austin. Led by chef Shawn Cirkiel, this Italian restaurant is tucked away in Bryker Woods and was built around a two-century-old Live Oak, so the dining spaces breezily flow from indoors to out. Olive & June's offerings range from classic antipasti like crostini and whipped burrata to comforting housemade pastas like ricotta ravioli with brown butter, mint, English peas, and roasted eggplant.
Texas French Bread
Sure, you can point to the beautiful new patio or the fresh Joe Swec exterior paint job as being the reason behind Texas French Bread's renaissance, but that's not the whole truth. For more than three decades, TFB has been a haven for families looking for a welcoming spot, students looking for a grown-up meal, and neighbors looking for a home away from home. Beginning in the morning when the smell of freshly baked bread wafts through the bright red doors to late at night when the warm glow of the interior spills onto West 29th Street, TFB truly is the heart of the West Campus neighborhood it serves.