Four Texas restaurants — including one Austin establishment from a beloved and prolific hospitality group — are basking in the national spotlight. Esquire magazine named them to its list of America’s 40 best new restaurants.
- Hestia: the live-fire Austin restaurant from chef Kevin Fink and the Emmer & Rye group (fourth)
- March: a Mediterranean-inspired tasting-menu restaurant in Houston (sixth)
- Degust: a Spanish- and Mexican-inspired tasting menu restaurant in Houston (17th)
- Roots Southern Table: Top Chef alum Tiffany Derry’s restaurant devoted to Black Southern cooking in Dallas (19th)
Four writers — Omar Mamoon, Joshua David Stein, former Esquire food and drink editor Jeff Gordinier, and culture and lifestyle director Kevin Sintumuang — created the list by traveling the country to identify the best eateries dishing out the best fare. What did they find?
“The transportive power of food, the soul-stirring nature of hospitality — real things, too,” Sintumuang writes. “This is all to say that in these not normal times, we need both the normalcy and the escape of restaurants now more than ever.”
He details some of the specific styles represented on the list, including “food made with raw, elemental fire and charcoal” — a clear shoutout to Hestia — as well as “non-preachy vegan meals.”
Stein praises the cooking that Fink does on Hestia’s 20-foot, wood-fired hearth, where temperatures can reach 1,200 degrees.
“Hard to believe that the same fire that tenderly cooks the halibut — kept 3 feet above the flame and served with an iridescent mirror glaze of a brown-butter sauce — is responsible for the ferocious char on the dry-aged wagyu bavette, with its sunset-red center, accompanied by lacquered layers of potato and butter coiled into a tight, croissant-like bun.”
Sintumuang also commends the modern tasting menus gaining popularity in the restaurant industry.
“In the hands of the right team, they can still be a sublime, luxe experience rather than the pricey, interminable drag they oftentimes veer into,” he writes.
Both of the Houston restaurants on the list represent this new breed of tasting-menu restaurant. Stein hails March for its menus that take inspiration from different regions of the Mediterranean, and finds similar thrills at Degust, where two chefs put a playful spin on Spanish- and Mexican-inspired dishes like double-fried octopus.
Finally, Stein praises Derry’s work at Dallas’ Roots Southern Table for dishes like duck-fat fried chicken and a version of shrimp and grits presented as Italian-style arancini.
“Roots is plangent proof that Black Southern cooking from the Creole coast — incorporating as it does elements of French, Spanish, African, and Caribbean traditions, alchemizing as it does migrations forced and otherwise — is both the country’s greatest culinary patrimony and its path ahead.”