Where to eat in Austin right now: A look at the Tastemaker restaurant nominees
If there’s one thing you can say about Austin’s dining scene, it’s that we have a lot of great restaurants to chose from. And in a wide range of categories as well. This month, our suggestions on where to eat celebrate the five restaurants nominated for the 2013 CultureMap Tastemaker Award.
Our 12 Tastemaker judges nominated a wide range of restaurants who are all well deserving of a Tastemaker honor. (More than a dozen were competitive contenders.) But as we began to work through the nominations, there were a few that rose to the top five for 2013.
The bad news is that a few of our favorites may not have made the cut, but the good news is, Austin’s best restaurants give us something to look forward to for next year!
Named after Chef Bryce Gilmore’s fondness of both pork and beer, Barley Swine is known for its innovative menu using fresh ingredients in creative ways. Acknowledged by Texas Monthly on its "Where To Eat Now" list and GQ as one of the “Best New Restaurants in the Country,” Barley Swine continues to elevate the Austin dining scene with one of the city’s youngest and most talented chefs at the helm.
Barley Swine looks like a place you might drop in after work for a beer — easy-going, community tables, nothing fancy. But what comes out of the kitchen is so unexpected and sophisticated, not to mention delicious, that you go into a mild state of shock. Then you regain your senses and clean your plate. — JudgePatricia Sharpe, Texas Monthly
Though its location on the University of Texas campus can be a little deceiving at first, an evening at The Carillon leaves no doubt that this is a restaurant that takes its food very seriously. Under the direction of Executive Chef Josh Watkins, the farm fresh, seasonally-driven menu reveals the bounty and true flavor of Texas. The Carillon's unique approach to traditional foods and emphasis on using local, sustainable ingredients has earned the restaurant a four-star rating as well as a Rising Star Award for Pastry Chef Plinio Sandalio.
The Carillon is a hidden culinary gem on the University of Texas campus. Chef Josh Watkins lets the fresh flavor of the ingredients sing with his inventive approach to elegantly preparing contemporary dishes. The choice of either three or six fixed courses is perfect for exploring amazing flavors of the well-planned menu items. — Judge Matt McGinnis, CultureMap and WhatAreYouDrinking.net
Congress strives to offer nothing less than the finest culinary experience from start to finish. Featuring a prix-fixe dinner menu inspired daily by fresh, seasonal ingredients, Congress is the only restaurant in Austin to be given five stars by the Austin American-Statesman. Chef David Bull leads the restaurant, which was named as one of the “Best New Restaurants 2011” by Esquire and “Top 10 Best New Restaurants in America” by Bon Appetit.
Congress is my choice for the best dining experience in Austin. With exceptional tasting menus, the ability to add other incredibly tempting bites, and the option to have each dish paired with a carefully selected beer, wine or cocktail, it is quite simply… perfect. They always say to watch out for the quiet ones, and Chef Bull is a mild mannered tour de force in the kitchen. Every dish is carefully crafted so that each and every bite is one you want to always remember. — Judge Marshall Jones, Wine and Food Foundation of Texas
Inspired by the hip, bohemian Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City, La Condesa serves contemporary Mexican cuisine with traditional regional influences. Drawing on the bold flavors and vibrant colors of Mexico City, La Condesa provides an energetic atmosphere with creative, accessible cuisine in Austin’s thriving Second Street District.
La Condesa excels because they don't pander. Rene's pork belly huarache with fish sauce, tequila pears and blue cheese is a great example — pork belly is everywhere, but not prepped like that! They also add grapes to their Brussels, have some of the most complex salsas in town, and serve corn smut (huitlacoche) as an appetizer. In addition to Rene, Pastry Chef Laura Sawicki is a mad scientist — the explanations given of the intricacies of her desserts are sometimes astounding. We shouldn't take them for granted! — Judge Tom Thornton, Austinist
One of the newer restaurants in Austin, Lenoir is the creation of husband-wife team Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher that is known for its casual neighborhood feel and its elevated seasonally-inspired cuisine. (Their backyard happy hour is a must when the weather is nice.) Drawing on culinary influences from warm regions around the world, Lenoir’s unique nightly three-course menu invites diners to taste a variety of different flavors developed from a blend of locally-sourced ingredients.
The first time I went to Lenoir, it reminded me of the small, intimate bistros on Cornelia Street in New York's West Village. I love the jewel box space (and the catbird seat at the end of the bar, the best spot to take in the rich colors and shimmering light fixtures), and the fact that Todd's food, Jessica's clever desserts, and the smart wine list have such a distinct personality and point of view. — Judge Paula Disbrowe, food writer and cookbook author
The 2013 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards take place April 11 at The Driskill.