The eight nominees for the CultureMap Tastemaker Award for Restaurant of the Year probably don’t need an introduction. Each shows up regularly on best-of lists and across Instagram feeds, and there’s a good chance that readers will eat at one of them tonight.
So forgive us for joining in on the congratulation chorus. Together, these eateries tell the story of where Austin is today and point to its promising future — and are no small part of our city pride.
But only one can take home the ultimate bragging rights at our annual Tastemaker Awards party. Join us in giving one more round of kudos below before we unveil the winner April 10 at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
The Brewer’s Table
Yes, this east side hangout is a brewery and a restaurant, but it operates more like a salon. In constant conversation, founder Jake Maddux, head brewer Drew Durish, and the chefs (last year’s Tastemaker Rising Star Chef of the Year Zach Hunter recently left the eatery) explore the possibilities of wheat, yeast, and malt in dishes like chicken paprikash with beer grain spaetzle and beers like the sweet sipping Idee Fixe. Still, it’s a credit to the operation that nothing feels academic. Bringing an uncommon joy to the experience, The Brewer’s Table puts words into action.
The dishes at this new-school diner may feel familiar, but they are far from being bland. Its cheeky allusions to punk rock grit and religious iconography may even inspire a few raised eyebrows. But once guests are hit with the zap of green chili on the absurdly decadent Trash Fries or break the crusty shell of the chicken pot pie, those tightened foreheads are guaranteed to relax. In a dietary age increasingly marked by subtraction, owner and chef Callie Speer gleefully adds. We can’t get enough of her wide-eyed maximalism.
LeRoy & Lewis Barbecue
As with all heritage foodways, tradition can sometimes stymie innovation in barbecue. Not that a properly barked brisket isn’t eternal, but co-owner Evan LeRoy’s has too much wanderlust to just stick to the holy trinity of Texas smoked meats. Some ingredients, like the fragrant Citra hops used in a pork sausage, weren’t even being cultivated when Czech and German settlers first made barbecue joints a thing. Instead, like all of the pitmaster’s thoughtful experiments, it is history in the making.
For all the “aw shucks” affectations of some of its most visible personalities (ahem, Paula Deen), elegance is at the core of Southern food. The cultural traditions and make-do spirit that forged America’s most vibrant cuisine are about far more than the copious use of butter. Olamaie chef Michael Fojtasek doesn’t shy away from fat (see: those famous biscuits), but his food relies more on the generosity of the Southern lexicon — the salt thwack of country ham, the earthy aromas of Carolina Gold rice, and the promised bounty of black eyed peas and collard greens.
It’s tempting to just describe Otherside as having the best pastrami in town and leave it at that. Of course, that would be wildly reductive. The crowd-pleasing subs and wispy latkes are just as important to the equation, as are the prices, which make a convincing argument for eating there every week. Good delis are a rarity in Austin, but this spot almost makes up for the famine. And yes, they have the best pastrami in town.
When dining at this East Austin stunner, it’s next to impossible not to have David Bowie’s “Oh! You Pretty Things” stuck in your head. It’s not just the rustic-chic surrounds or the presence of its soigné guests. Everything on the plate dazzles, from the “Korean-ish” banchan served on Monday nights to the simple salads made with just-harvested greens. All of it is backed up by chef Max Snyder’s inquisitive palate, which draws unexpected connections between Asian and Texas Hill Country cuisine. Oh, Pitchfork Pretty, don’t you know you’re driving your mamas and papas insane?
When word got out in early April that this beloved food truck moved from La Holly to a new home at Radio Coffee & Beer, one could practically hear the howls from East Austinites. That’s a testament to how its rustic Thai cuisine has worked its way into people’s lives. Still, owners Justin and Lakana Trubiana shouldn’t waste one minute worrying about lost fans. The truth is that dishes like the soothing om gai, the incendiary som tom issan papaya salad, and a new rotisserie chicken will bring the lines wherever they decide to park.
For those unfamiliar with some of the dishes Suerte offers, here’s a handy tip: order anything that starts with a “T.” That takes guests through a tour of some of the best contemporary Mexican cuisine in the city, like a squash tamal sharpened by chile vinegar and a carnitas tlacoyo anchored by refried beans, before taking to the sea with a crispy tuna taco. True, one would miss the herbal twist on goat barbacoa or the deeply developed mole negro on duck breast. On second thought, just ask for the alphabet — and sit a spell.