In early March, we began rolling out the nominees for the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards 2020. Days later, the world changed. The festive ceremony, originally scheduled for April, was canceled as COVID-19 swept across the country, and our team's focus pivoted to covering the community in the midst of a global pandemic and social justice uprising.
We have since returned to our Tastemakers coverage, revealing the nominees selected by our panel of expert judges back in January. Like everything else, the stories themselves are a bit different — bars are closed, some hospitality pros have been furloughed, and we've included ways to support the restaurants with carryout or delivery options. But the spirit of the Tastemakers remains the same as it always has: a celebration of Austin's hospitality community.
On Thursday, July 23, we revealed the winners of this year's Tastemaker Awards with a special virtual event hosted by Bun B. For those of you who purchased a Tasting Tote, we hope you enjoyed the delicious bites and specialty sips. And now, let's raise a glass to this year's winners.
Restaurant of the Year: Comedor
There are few restaurants that have been bequeathed the kind of attention Comedor has received over the past 15 months — and for good reason. The powerhouse team of chefs Gabe Erales and Philip Speer has created a destination restaurant in Austin, the kind of spot that has magazine editors flying in from New York and foodies adding it to their must-visit lists. Comedor's attention to detail, from the chic, black-box restaurant design to Erales' modern Mexican cuisine and Speer's absolutely inspired dessert menu, is enough to make it on any best-of list. But it's the team's commitment to community, through side projects like Assembly Kitchen and Comedor Run Club, that make it one of those once-in-a-blue moon kind of institutions.
Currently: Comedor is currently open for limited dining, delivery, or pickup.
Chefs of the Year: Sarah Heard and Nathan Lemley, Foreign & Domestic
In 2017, Sarah Heard and Nathan Lemley took over ownership of this North Loop mainstay with a mission to perfect the elevated, farm-to-table bistro fare that made the cozy eatery a local institution. They’ve honored the task, bringing F&D into an era of dining excellence, with a deceptively straightforward a la carte menu and adventurous nose-to-tail tasting menu. In the midst of quarantine, they’ve even succeeded in opening a second restaurant in May, Lockhart’s new Commerce Cafe.
Currently: Foreign & Domestic is open for limited dine-in service every day but Monday. Take out and curbside pick-up options are also available.
Pastry Chef of the Year: Jules Stoddart, Olamaie
Jules Stoddart is a great example of how small the restaurant world truly is. Before taking on the roll of Executive Pastry Chef at Olamaie, she worked with fellow nominee Amanda Rockman in Chicago. Together, the two came to Austin to help open the South Congress Hotel in 2015. Though Olamaie was one of the first to shutter due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant recently reopened as Little Ola’s Biscuits, a takeout-only version of the restaurant where you can sample some of Stoddart’s finest confections to-go.
Rising Star Chef of the Year: Edgar Ulysses Rico, Nixta Taqueria
Nixta jumped onto the Austin scene last fall with much fanfare. Behind the vibrant East Austin taqueria is chef Edgar Ulysses Rico, whose resume includes stints at Los Angeles hot spots Sun of a Gun, Sqirl, and Trois Mec. The "imaginative creations" at Nixta are equal parts fun and traditional, which is why it also scored a Restaurant of the Year nomination.
Currently: Nixta Taqueria is currently open for contact-free pickup.
Bar of the Year: Kinda Tropical
No matter the time of day, it's always time for Kinda Tropical. Tucked away on East Seventh Street, long past the rest of the east side bars, you'll find this hidden oasis. Behind the bar are some of Austin's best, including veterans of Weather Up (RIP) and Yellow Jacket Social Club. The bar's innovative cocktail menu is foiled by a curated wine and beer list. And though this is a bar award, don't pass up the food. What emerges from chef John Clark DiCicco's kitchen is just as good as the drinks.
Currently: Kinda Tropical's patio is currently open with social distancing measures in place. Curbside and takeout is also available.
Bartender of the Year: Laura Maddox, Small Victory
Anyone steeped in Austin’s cocktail culture has likely enjoyed a concoction or two by the talented Laura Maddox. Since Small Victory opened in 2014, Maddox has steadily gained a loyal following among Austin’s most discerning drinkers. Her bench of both classic and new cocktails is deep, but it’s her uncanny ability to improvise a perfect, just-for-you sipper that makes her one of the very best in town.
Currently: Small Victory is currently closed.
Wine Program of the Year: Bufalina
Bufalina owner Steven Dilley, named one of Food & Wine’s 2017 sommeliers of the year, has built a robust list that pairs perfectly with the restaurant's signature pies but is also worthy of its own spotlight. To that end, the restaurant has launched Bufalina Wine. Oenophiles can shop online for a specific bottle or join the wine club, which offers three tiers of packages, ranging from easy drinking "no-brainer bottles" to those that are truly meant to be savored.
Currently: Bufalina is open for takeout only, Wednesday through Sunday.
Brewery of the Year: Jester King
Located on 58 acres in the Texas Hill Country, Jester King is the original farmhouse brewery in the area, specializing in mixed culture and spontaneously fermented beers. The brewers draw from strong European roots to create dozens of innovative and unique styles. In June, they released the Cornbread Kvass, an interpretation of a Baltic-style brew traditionally made with rye bread. Jester King also unveiled the Moderne Dansk Batch 2, a sour ale fortified and re-fermented with Danish Stevnsbær cherry juice.
Currently: Make a reservation to visit Jester King and enjoy a beer in widely spaced outdoor seating. You can also order beer to-go every day.
Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Foreign & Domestic
Nestled in the heart of North Loop, Foreign & Domestic has been a staple of the laid-back neighborhood since it originally opened in 2010. In 2017, Nathan Lemley and Sarah Heard bought the restaurant, reviving the interior and spirit, but holding onto F&D's signature nose-to-tail ethos and mainstays like the savory gruyere and black pepper popovers.
Currently: Foreign & Domestic is open for dine-in dinner service Tuesday through Saturday, as well as Sunday brunch. Pickup and delivery are also available.
Best Queso: Eldorado Cafe
Eldorado Cafe is about as Austin as it gets. Laid back, but with an elevated touch to food and cocktails, this Allandale neighborhood favorite has mastered the queso arts. The Supa Queso is, well, super, and offers a classic queso souped up with pico de gallo, guac, and black beans. Enjoy some to-go any day of the week.
Currently: Open for curbside takeout or delivery via third-party apps.
Best New Restaurant: Rebel Cheese
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.