For weeks, we have been celebrating the bars, restaurants, and people that make Austin one of the most electrifying food scenes in the country as part of our 2018 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards. Now that list, selected by a panel of expert judges, has been narrowed down to the best of the best.
On April 12, emcee and local television personality Taylor Ellison crowned the winners during a blow out party at Fair Market. The diverse crew included both newcomers and industry vets. If you weren’t able to score a ticket, please join us in raising a glass to this year’s cream of the crop.
Restaurant of the Year: L’Oca d’Oro
We could go into length about this restaurant’s commitment to paying its employees a living wage or its pledge of sustainability. We could wax rhapsodic about the eccentric themes of its special occasion meals (like a Valentine’s Day feast inspired by the Sex Pistols and The Carpenters). But the two reasons we keep going back to this Mueller sweetheart are the people who run it: chef Fiore Tedesco and general manager Adam Orman, both of whom make every meal feel like a celebration.
Chef of the Year: Kevin Fink, Emmer & Rye
Kevin Fink is known nationally as a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Southwest and one of Food & Wine’s 2016 Best New Chefs, but locals hardly need all the hubbub to tell them that he has the goods. If you ever get the chance, take a moment to chat with him at Emmer & Rye’s chef’s counter or at his fast-casual concept, Henbit. He always has something to say about a newly foraged ingredient or an exciting local supplier, a passion that is seen in each of his vibrant concepts.
Rising Star Chef of the Year: Zach Hunter, The Brewer’s Table
Zach Hunter may be helming a restaurant that still hasn’t welcomed its first guests, but Austinites already know his work from his stretch as chef de cuisine at downtown Southern eatery Fixe and at the plethora of tasting events like last year's Smokeout Session for the James Beard Foundation's Taste America Tour. His talent is undeniable and is one of the biggest reason’s why The Brewer’s Table is one of the most anticipated openings in 2018.
Pastry Chef of the Year: Tavel Bristol-Joseph, Emmer & Rye
Remember that scene in Ratatouille where Remy sees fireworks tasting a strawberry with cheese? Eating Emmer & Rye’s desserts is a little like that. You might not have known that salted cheddar would bring out the depth of chocolate mousse or that smoked juniper could even be used in ice cream, but you can be assured that Tavel Bristol-Joseph’s incredible palate will leave you feeling enraptured.
Bar of the Year: Nickel City
Austin has been waiting for a bar like Nickel City for a long time. Owners Travis Tober, Zane Hunt, Brandon Hunt, and Craig Primozich saw an opportunity in the former home of Longbranch Inn by (slightly) jazzing up the interior while keeping the dive roots firmly planted. The result is a bar that feels like home from the moment you walk in the door. Order a boilermaker and some wings from attached food truck Delray Cafe. You’ve already made a new friend.
Bartender of the Year: Erin Ashford, Olamaie
If you are waiting for a table at chef Michael Fojtasek’s graceful showcase, grab a seat in the parlor or veranda and order a cup of bar manager Erin Ashford’s daily punch, a sipper as tied to the DNA of the restaurant as those famous flaky biscuits. Her approach to the bar at Olamaie is similar to that of the kitchen: ingredient-driven first and mindful of a rich Southern heritage (notice her use of chicory and Steen’s cane syrup). It’s an essential reason why Olamaie keeps winding up on so many “best-of” lists.
Brewery of the Year: St. Elmo Brewing Co.
If variety is the spice of life, you can do no better than spending a warm summer evening making your way through the constantly changing offerings at St. Elmo. Founders Tim Bullock and Bryan Winslow have created a hub for beer omnivores, offering a lineup that includes kolsches, dry stouts, witbiers, and barleywines. With a lively atmosphere and frequent live music acts, they also have created an essential South Austin hangout.
Wine Program of the Year: Texas French Bread
Wine is a big reason why Texas French Bread continues to wow. Oenophiles from across the city flock here for the selection of natural wines, made with limited chemicals and technological intervention. The restaurant's commitment to the style isn’t a mere gimmick. Natural wines just happen to be some of the tastiest selections available, showcasing a real sense of terroir — perfect for a restaurant that could exist nowhere else but Austin.
Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Texas French Bread
Whether it's for the freshly baked bread or the killer wine program, this charming Austin restaurant continues to draw guests from the nearby West Campus neighborhood and from all over the city. If you haven’t yet, sign up for the newsletter, which features some of the best food writing around from owner Murph Wilcott. His intimate prose captures the essence of the restaurant perfectly, marking it as a spot where community comes first.
Favorite Food Truck: Veracruz All Natural
Austin may be a taco town, but it didn’t know what it was missing until Veracruz owners Reyna and Martitza Vazquez rolled in. The fillings aren’t anything new — cheesy migas, al pastor, grilled tilapia, and chicken mole — but the sisters’ finesse with the seasonings makes each of their versions stand out from the crowded field. No wonder a humble truck on Cesar Chavez Street has expanded into a mini-empire.
Best New Restaurant: Be More Pacific
Like many local favorites, this North Austin eatery started out as a food truck. The Filipino-American fare was so popular, Be More Pacific decided to give a brick-and-mortar a-go. The new space allowed the kitchen to expand the menu and even offer desserts like halo halo, a collaboration with Amy's Ice Cream that features purple yam ice cream, fruit jellies, flan, and a drizzle of evaporated milk. Check out the cocktail menu for some wildly creative drinks. (One even uses a hunk of feta cheese.)
The top restaurants and bars in San Antonio were also named at the April 12 event. Join us in saluting the winners:
- Restaurant of the Year: Battalion
- Chef of the Year: Pieter Sypesteyn of The Cookhouse
- Bar of the Year: Downstairs at the Esquire Tavern
- Favorite Coffee Shop: Bakery Lorraine
- Best New Restaurant: Tenko Ramen