In these extraordinary times, the way we dine out has changed, possibly forever. But the pandemic has not changed one thing: Austin's entrepreneurial culinary scene. As our reality shifted, many of these new restaurants shifted right along with it, offering to-go orders, delivery, and even opening their kitchens to help feed those in need.
Before the pandemic hit, our team of judges selected 16 of the best new restaurants to open in 2019 and early 2020. These standout stars range from budget-friendly taco trucks to fast-casual cafes to high-end downtown restaurants, and all have fought through their first year — a hard feat in normal times — with grit.
Now, we pass it along to our readers to determine who is the winner of the 2020 CultureMap Tastemaker Award for Best New Restaurant. Vote for your favorites here, and then tune in on Thursday, July 23, at 7 pm as we reveal the winner during our first-ever Tastemaker Awards — Virtual Edition, hosted by Bun B. It's our way of celebrating the extraordinary spirit of the Austin restaurant and bar scene during this challenging time. Tickets to the virtual event are on sale now and include a Tasting Tote featuring bites, sips, and more to enjoy at home.
Superstar San Antonio chef Jason Dady makes his Capital City debut with Chispas, a downtown taco spot with plenty of flair. In true Dady style, the menu is deceptively simple, with made-to-order guacamole, a zippy ancho chile tortilla soup, and tacos range from traditional carne asada to a vegan tofu al pastor. Don't forget the margaritas, which are equally delicious.
Currently: Chispas' downtown dining room is closed and reopening November 1. In his hometown of San Antonio, Jason Dady has been working with HospitALLity House to cook and provide free meals to hospitality workers who have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.
You know those food trucks you dream about? The hidden gems that dish tacos so superb you have sit down right on the curb to eat them? Cuantos Tacos is that place. This bright yellow truck offers Mexico City-style street tacos and quesadillas made with 100 percent nixtamal tortillas, and even sells full taco kits so you can bring the party home. Make sure to check Instagram to see if the kitchen's sold out before you head over.
Currently: Cuantos Tacos food truck is open and taking call-in orders at 512-905-0533.
Austin foodies likely know the latest concept from Emmer & Rye/Henbit/TLV chefs Kevin Fink and Tavel Bristol-Joseph is named after the Greek goddess of the hearth, which is a nod to the restaurant's open-flame kitchen. And, like the goddess it's named after, Hestia's food is divine, and the restaurant is a welcome addition to the downtown dining scene. What you may not know, however, is how the team has pivoted during the pandemic, opening its Henbit kitchen to help provide meals to AISD students and caregivers.
Currently: Hestia is open, operating at limited capacity with reduced seating.
Interstellar BBQ takes the kind of simple approach to barbecue that resonates with Texans (read: barbecue snobs). Led by Ray Hernandez, the Interstellar team sources only top-notch ingredients, including the post oak wood for smoking. Pitmasters John Bates and Warren McDonald then use an offset smoker for their low-and-slow method. At Interstellar, shortcuts are a sin and the meat is out of this world.
Currently: Interstellar is open for takeout and delivery via third-party apps.
Julie Myrtille Bakery
A longtime farmers market favorite, Julie Myrtille Bakery now has a permanent home in East Austin. With French farmhouse flair, the space showcases Myrtille's delicious take on the classics: croissants, cannelés, madeleines, quiche Lorraine, pain Suisse, and brioche. Her mastery of all things French should come as no surprise; in 2017, Myrtille garnered the high honor of being inducted into the Academie Culinaire de France — the youngest female chef to do so.
Currently: Julie Myrtille Bakery is open for takeout and delivery.
La Tunita 512
This family-owned spot in Southeast Austin is bringing a bit of crunch to the Capital City in the form of Tijuana-style birria tacos. Diners recommend dipping the crunchy, cheesy tacos in the house-made consommé, made with beef broth, cilantro, lime, and chili. One taste of the homemade tortillas and you'll be wondering why you've been eating soft tacos all these years.
Currently: La Tunita 512's truck on Burleson Road is open. Before you head out, make sure to check Instagram, as it can sell out fast.
A former South Congress convenience store transformed into a bicycle shop/cafe/pizza joint — and it works. The seasonally rotating menu offers pizzas, fresh salads, bowls, cheese boards, and more, while the drinks range from coffee to craft beer. Come for a flat tire fix, but stay for the Roman-style pizza and curated wine list.
Currently: Both the cafe and bike shop are open.
Owner Lynn Miller opened this East Austin spot with a menu that gets its influence from her Korean mother's home cooking — and Austin is eating it up. Executive chef Mike Diaz leads the kitchen, where he seasonally rotates the menu with chef-inspired options such as a Korean fried chicken sammie (a swoon-worthy new addition), build-your-own bibimbap, and more.
Currently: Oseyo is open for lunch and dinner takeout and delivery via third-party apps only.
Rebel Cheese Vegan Deli & Wine shop is a sandwich shop with a twist. Everything is 100 percent plant based — right down to a selection of artisan cheeses. Unlike some plant-based cheeses, the team uses techniques usually found in dairy cheese production, including aging. A variety of craft sandwiches, soups, and salads are also offered.
Currently: Rebel Cheese is offering curbside to-go and delivery.
Spread & Co.
This morning cafe offers breakfast and lunch, but serves cheese all dang day, which means it's carved a big, gouda-sized hole in our little heart. Though it was originally launched as a charcuterie delivery service, the brick-and-mortar offers much more, such as the Croque Oui Oui with raclette cheese, a rosti plate with créme fraîche, and brioche doughnuts served with house jam and cultured butter.
Currently: Spread and & Co. is open, operating at limited capacity and reduced seating.
Sugar Pine is a charming, eclectic eatery that opened in 2019 and has already become a popular neighborhood hangout. The specialty of the house is ice cream in unexpected flavors like black sesame, taro root, and watermelon Thai basil that can be topped with granola, lime meringue dots, or crystallized ginger. The onigiri — triangular rice balls stuffed with spicy tuna, pickles, tofu, and more — are also flying out the door.
Currently: Sugar Pine is open for takeout.
This longtime Clarksville staple was reimagined by McGuire Moorman Hospitality, who gave it a slight name change and a more refined direction when it opened last year. Part bakery, part cafe, the West Sixth spot offers treats, including bagels, croissants, cookies, and tarts, from its to-go cases. Those looking for more savory options will find artisan bread sandwiches, such as hot pastrami, smoked turkey, and tuna; smoked fish and caviar; and a selection of cured meats and pate. And don't forget the bottle of ice-cold rose as you head out the door.
Currently: Swedish Hill is open for dining and also offering curbside to-go.
Another taco truck on the list? But of course! Taco Bronco, located in the back of Batch Kolache & Beer, combines famed pitmaster Tom Micklethwait’s barbecue acumen with Austin’s favorite food — tacos. The menu is fairly minimal, but the variety of tacos offers something for every palate alongside torta and sandwich options.
Currently: Taco Bronco is currently closed, but barbecue trailer Micklethwait Craft Meats is open.
This restaurant anchors Arrive East Hotel and is composed of a truly all-star Austin culinary team. Lenoir's Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher join beverage director Lindsay Drew and executive pastry chef Sarah Prieto Listrom to create flavorful food inspired from the cuisines of Goa, Portugal, and India. The food is as captivating as the interiors, and they blend together to create one memorable dining experience.
Currently: Vixen's Wedding is open Thursday-Sunday for dinner with limited seating.
One of the truly delightful surprises of 2019, East Austin's Uroko is both laid-back and utterly innovative in its cuisine. It's a sort of choose-your-own-adventure, with diners selecting from temaki (large sushi hand rolls) or omakasé, where the chef(s) choose a dozen bites to be eaten in a sort of culinary crescendo.
Currently: Uroko is open for takeout and delivery. Preorder a temaki set or select the omakasé menu for takeout/delivery.
Reporting contributed by Brandon Watson.