Being named Austin’s Restaurant of the Year in 2021 may sound like a dubious honor. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In the past year and change, Austin restaurants have been confronted with unprecedented barriers to success, and sadly, many of our favorite local eateries didn’t survive the pandemic. Those that did have had to navigate a new world of revolving restaurant closures, curbside pickups, and masking rules — not to mention the inevitable staff shortages, supply chain disruptions, and that ever-looming bottom line.
That’s why we are overwhelmingly proud to recognize local restaurants and bars at our annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards.
Read about our picks for Austin Restaurant of the Year below (you have probably been patronizing them for a while now), support them with your appetite and dollars, then join us August 5 at Fair Market, when we’ll announce the winner and look to a brighter future for our beloved local restaurants. Get your tickets now.
Austin is a place where rejuvenation and reinvention thrive. So it’s no wonder a neighborhood restaurant housed inside a hip South Austin hotel that was once a union hall hits the nail on the head for Austin foodies. Bedecked in union banners and plenty of gorgeous wood and brick, Carpenters Hall features a menu of humble, working-class fare elevated with simple yet sophisticated touches that make for some spectacularly satisfying eats. From brunch dishes like the shrimp and grits with delicata squash and leeks to all-day fare like fried chicken with hatch chile fries and chow chow, tasty dishes seemingly come out of the woodwork here. And don’t forget to peruse the well-made classic cocktails; the New York Sazerac is impeccable.
With a small but flavor-packed menu of Mexico City-style street tacos, quesadillas, and other legit drool-inducing Mexican classics, this little yellow E. 12th St. food truck draws so many taco fanatics that it often sells out of food. You can’t go wrong with anything al pastor here, and the Friday torta specials are worth waiting all week for. Adventurous eaters and those with a taste for the authentic should go for the tripa and lengua tacos. In a town with so many taco hot spots that you can’t fling a tortilla into the air without hitting one, Cuantos Tacos stands out for its unpretentious approach and distinctly Mexican fare. When it comes to tacos here, the only question is, “How many?”
Carefully crafted dishes created with regional ingredients, in local culinary traditions, and with a healthy respect for the journey those ingredients make from farm to plate are of paramount importance at Dai Due, the Manor Road butcher shop and supper club that Austinites adore. At the award-winning hyper-local eatery, chef Jesse Griffiths — an expert hunter and butcher — serves up a rotating menu of weekend brunch and dinner specialties that include perfectly prepared steaks, big game, pork chops, and seafood. If you get the chance, start your meal with the cold meat board for a truly Dai Due experience.
This unassuming Rosewood Avenue taco truck applies a “cowboy-wok” cooking technique used for generations in Northern Mexico to Mexico City-style tacos, dishing out some fresh and beautifully bright taquitos that have quickly become an Austin favorite. We’re talking about family recipes that feature meat marinated for 24 hours and tender, slow-cooked veggies that add multiple layers of flavor to every bite. It’s a lot of hard work on chef Xose Velasco’s part, but it makes for one “shell” of a delicious meal.
Hestia, which takes inspiration from the ancient Greek goddess of the hearth — and literal inspiration from a custom 20-foot cooking hearth that anchors the restaurant’s space — is a fiery phenomenon that’s opened Austinites’ eyes to the fact that cooking with an open flame isn’t just for barbecue and burgers. The culinary geniuses behind Hestia have long been wowing local gourmands with their restaurant concepts (Emmer & Rye, TLV, Kalimotxo, Henbit), and Hestia — with its expertly charred dishes and impressive wine program — is well poised to build on that success and remain an Austin darling for years to come.
Okay, real talk: If you haven’t experienced the unparalleled charm and Italian farm-to-table specialties at L’Oca d’Oro, and — let’s be frank — the best tiramisu you’re likely to ever get your lucky mouth around, you may want to rethink your standing as an Austin foodie. This adorable Mueller neighborhood restaurant, aka the golden goose, is chef Fiore Tedesco’s passionate love letter to Austin, an eatery that celebrates community, family, and sustainability in the most delectable ways. Every dish is prepared using sustainable, locally grown produce and meats, and the to-die-for pasta is house-made, so whatever you order is guaranteed to be a winner. But seriously, don’t skimp on the tiramisu.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years (or, you know, holed up in your house since early 2020), we’ll share with you the not-so-secret news that Nixta — the colorful non-traditional taqueria opened in late 2019 on E. 12th St. — is taking Austin by storm. Co-owners chef Edgar Rico and Sara Mardanbigi are known for their corn tortillas, made through a meticulous and laborious process called nixtamalization that originated in Mesoamerica. The result is, as they say at Nixta, “bomb-ass corn tortillas.” But the culinary creativity doesn’t stop with the tortillas, with Rico artfully incorporating ingredients like beet “tartare,” yellowfin tuna, duck confit, and roasted cauliflower, and offering a variety of seasonal specials that are simultaneously challenging and wowing Austin palates.
Old Thousand is known for one magnificent quality: creating dope Chinese food. With two Austin locations (E. 11th St. and Burnet Road), this eclectic eatery riffs on classic American-Chinese cuisine with a modern approach. All your favorites are here, from hot and sour soup to Buddha’s Delight, General Tso’s Chicken, and lots of fried rice. But the most magical dishes are those that are unexpected and whimsical, like the mala fried chicken sandwich that Old Thousand describes as “Nashville hot chicken having an illicit affair with one lucky giant panda,” as well as the chicken and duck-fat waffles, and the five-spice Chinese churro. And that’s the straight dope!
It might not get more Ausitn-y than this East Sixth Street eatery, which serves up fresh Texas ingredients using traditional Mexican cooking techniques. Chef Fermín Nuñez’s menu features painstakingly made, beautiful dishes that create some seriously scrumptious lasting memories. Do yourself a favor and try the brightly flavored raw dishes (hamachi crudo, tiradito, etc.), any of the tacos, and the spectacular dinner entrées, like au poivre a la Mexicana (oak-grilled rib-eye with mezcal chipotle au poivre) and the goat barbacoa. The spirits selection here is as curated as the food menu and features a dizzying lineup of mezcal, tequila, and sotol, as well as other liquor, wine, and shooter options.