Photo courtesy of Zoé Tong

A new fusion restaurant in Barton Springs is hoping to warm up Austinites’ hearts this fall. Zoé Tong opens November 8, bringing modern Chinese cuisine and Texan fare to the table.

A married pair of former New York chefs now living in Austin are behind this debut: Simone Tong of Little Tong Noodle Shop and Silver Apricot, and Matt Hyland of Pizza Loves Emily and Emmy Squared. This new concept digs deep into their roots; Not only is the restaurant adorably named after Tong and Hyland’s children, but it also pays homage to Tong’s Asian background and Austin itself.

The New York Times even mentioned Tong in 2023 as "the city’s most compelling modern interpreter of Chinese cuisine," via her work at Silver Apricot. The upcoming Austin eatery is also gathering buzz in the culinary world as the restaurant has been included in lists of America’s most anticipated restaurant openings this fall by both Bon Appétit and Robb Report.

"Zoé Tong is inspired by the city we now call home and our love for Chinese food," writes Tong in an email to CultureMap. "I was born in Sichuan and grew up eating Sichuanese, Cantonese, and Singaporean food, and Matt grew up in NYC, frequently eating Cantonese and Shanghainese food in Chinatown. At Zoé Tong, we draw from classics and reinvent them, offering our own personal takes using local produce."

This multicultural approach appears in dishes such as smoked ribs with char siu sauce, a whole quail stuffed with sticky rice and Chinese sausage, and flaky scallion tortillas, among many others. The menu will also feature noodle dishes, and it focuses on using seasonal and local ingredients. Along with the above menu items, which are meant to be shared, the restaurant gets comfy with creative cocktails.

"We serve modern, creative take on classics, using techniques learnt from both Asian and American cooking," writes Tong. "For example, using locally grown peppers to make chili oil and using confit for duck leg while curing it in classic spices found in Cantonese and Peking roast duck. We also did our version of General Tsao, Orange and Sesame Chicken using Blood orange juice and bone broth for the sauce with Guajillo peppers and fresh cherries."

The upcoming restaurant had a successful pop-up during the Austin City Limits Music Festival, where festival-goers had a preview of the menu featuring chilled sesame noodles, Cantonese barbecue ribs, sweet-and-spicy grilled corn, black sesame soft serve, and a boozy sake slushy.

"We had fun getting to know locals and visitors for ACL," Tong writes. "It was hectic and quite an experience, and we look forward to offering those dishes on our opening menu."

Zoé Tong opens to the public on Wednesday, November 8. Reservations can be now made via Resy. Hours of operation are Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday, and Monday from 5-10 pm, and Friday and Saturday from 5-10:30 pm.

Photo by Daniel Cavazos

Austin's festival season kicks off with fresh 'fits at ACL Fest 2023

Festival Flair

Editor's note: Most teens are not walking around festivals thinking about their dads' fashion sense, but photographer Ryder Cavazos has — and we don't say this lightly — a cool dad.

Daniel Cavazos has been shooting ACL Fest for a long time, and this year his style gallery includes a few highlights from his daughter's lens. From custom glitz to low-maintenance finds, here's some outfit inspiration as festival season kicks into high gear.

This is the last of our ACL Fest 2023 recaps — if you haven't updated your playlists yet, check for more highlights here. We can't wait to see you at the next event!

ACL Fest 2023 styleBrady RaggioPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleSoul and AngelPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleJulia NullPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleBethPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleCarmen and SamPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleMaksim Eckhart, Tye Schrieber, Nikolai EckhartPhoto by Ryder Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleAshley Galvan Photo by Ryder Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleDaniel from Jane LeoPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleBelle RedwinePhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleChelsea FreedPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleUT and Austin FC fanPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleZach KornblauPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleTabitha FordPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleWimbledon CrewPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleCorey, Matt, and Scottie BowlsbyPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleJane from Jane LeoPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleKathryn LegendrePhoto by Ryder Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleThe BossPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleDanielle RichardsPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleAndre UruenaPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleEllie from Die SpitzPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 style Aaron and KeithPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleJane Leo fanPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleAudrey and FriendPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 styleMelissa T. Photo by Daniel Cavazos

Photo by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 in photos: Dramatic and emotional moments of Weekend Two

See ya

ACL Fest 2023 came and went as quickly as a solar eclipse, but we're already clamoring for more.

Weekend two started off warm but by Saturday, picture perfect temperatures were felt by the thousands of attendees in Zilker Park. We compiled our highlights list and have playlists ready for days — and even some new ongoing obsessions.

From big jumps to big bands, here's our photo wrap-up of the final weekend of ACL 2023.

ACL Fest 2023The iconic fest flags shot by Ryder Cavazos, Daniel's teen daughterPhoto by Ryder Cavazos

Yeah Yeah Yeahs at ACL Fest 2023Yeah Yeah YeahsPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

Festival-goers at ACL Fest 2023Festival-goersPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

Thirty Seconds to Mars at ACL Fest 2023Thirty Seconds to MarsPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

Tanya TuckerTanya TuckerPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

Suki Waterhouse at ACL Fest 2023Suki WaterhousePhoto by Daniel Cavazos

M83 at ACL Fest 2023M83Photo by Daniel Cavazos

Cigarettes After Sex at ACL Fest 2023Cigarettes After SexPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

Zilker Park during ACL Fest 2023Festival groundsPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

Sudan Archives at ACL Fest 2023Sudan ArchivesPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

El Arroyo sign at ACL Fest 2023Could bePhoto by Daniel Cavazos

Jessie Ware at ACL Fest 2023Jessie WarePhoto by Daniel Cavazos

Ivan Cornejo at ACL Fest 2023Ivan CornejoPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

Ben Kweller at ACL Fest 2023Ben KwellerPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

Festival-goers at ACL Fest 2023Festival-goersPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

Madison Cunningham at ACL Fest 2023Madison CunninghamPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

Festival-goers at ACL Fest 2023Festival-goersPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

Kathryn Legendre at ACL Fest 2023Kathryn LegendrePhoto by Daniel Cavazos

Festival-goers at ACL Fest 2023Festival-goersPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

Festival-goers at ACL Fest 2023Festival-goersPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023 signA popular selfie spot before the crowds comePhoto by Daniel Cavazos

New West at ACL Fest 2023New WestPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

Festival-goers at ACL Fest 2023Festival-goersPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

A festival-goer at ACL Fest 2023A festival-goerPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ODESZA at ACL Fest 2023ODESZAPhoto by Daniel Cavazos

ACL Fest 2023Sundown at ACL Fest 2023Photo by Daniel Cavazos

Photo by Jongsun Lee on Unsplash

These are the best places to watch Saturday's solar eclipse in Central Texas, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. From natural wonders to manmade victories, here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. These are the best places to watch Saturday's solar eclipse in Central Texas. If you haven't had time to travel, there are still some places close to Austin — just make sure you bring legitimate eye protection.

2. First tiny home village in Austin suburb sees big demand. A Round Rock developer built a first-of-its-kind community to tackle affordability; It's called Mustard Seed Village.

3. Austin's Elon Musk is America's richest person for 2023, Forbes says. Surprise. Elon Musk is still rich. According to Forbes, Musk's net worth in 2023 is estimated at $251 billion.

4. Urban Texas palace on 9 acres stuns in new list of most expensive homes in U.S. The spacious property boasts a 22,000-square-foot main house, complete with six bedrooms and eight bathrooms.

5. Austin earns top 10 ranking for the best foodie cities in the U.S., new report says. Hot on the heels of Austin's designation as a Top 10 city for vegans and vegetarians, it's making waves as the No. 9 best for foodies.

Photo courtesy of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey

Here are the top 7 things to do in Austin this weekend

Weekend Event Guide

Festival moments, comedy shows, and a spooky shindig are getting top priority on our agenda over the next four days. Catch the second weekend of Austin City Limits Music Festival, or celebrate Friday The 13th with friends at the Austin Central Library after dark. Check out the top seven things to do in Austin this weekend. For a complete list of events, go to our calendar.

Thursday, October 12

Big Laugh Comedy presents Jeff Arcuri
Viral comedian Jeff Arcuri brings his stand-up talents to the Vulcan Gas Company stage for a series of live performances throughout the weekend. He’s best known for his relatable and real-time takes inspired by the audience participation at his shows, as evidenced by his nickname the “Joke Machine.” Get ticket details at blcomedy.com.

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey present "Restless Leg" Tour
Comedic powerhouses Amy Poehler and Tina Fey team up and come to Austin for five live shows. The duo stops at Bass Concert Hall in support of their co-headlining "Restless Leg" Tour. Both Poehler and Fey are known for their career-launching stints on Saturday Night Live and their subsequent success on the projects Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock, respectively. Get tickets on at texasperformingarts.evenue.net.

Friday, October 13

APL After Dark: Creature Feature
The Austin Central Library keeps its doors open for after-hours thrills and cinema-inspired chills in celebration of spooky season. Highlights of this horror movie-themed night include SFX makeup workshops, a photo booth, music, drinks, an appearance by the Austin Reptile Show, a holographic effects activation, and more. This event is for adults aged 21 and up only. Get tickets and more information on Eventbrite.

Austin City Limits Music Festival
The second weekend of Austin City Limits Music Festival kicks off at Zilker Park with more performances from some of the biggest stars in music. Headliners include Foo Fighters, Kendrick Lamar, Maggie Rogers, The 1975, Alanis Morissette, Labyrinth, and more. Select day tickets and weekend wristband offerings are still available. Visit aclfestival.com for more information and a full schedule of events. Check out some of the best moments from the first weekend of ACL in our recap.

Saturday, October 14

Hello Kitty Cafe Truck
Cat-themed cuteness rolls into The Domain with a free Hello Kitty mobile pop-up for fans old and new. Guests can shop exclusive collectibles and unique best-selling merch, and snap photos with the super-pink minibus, which will be located on Century Oaks Terrace & Rogers Road. Admission is free and open to the public. Get more details at sanrio.com.

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey

Photo courtesy of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey present the "Restless Leg" Tour.

Austin Camerata presents RocktoberFest
Music and booze blend together as part of this special concert event hosted at Celis Brewery. Visitors can enjoy two live music sets featuring a selection of classic rock hits performed by a live string quartet. Celis will also release a special beer, Celis Black Lager, as part of the evening’s entertainment. RocktoberFest admission is free and open to the public. Go to Eventbrite for more information.

Bonnie Raitt in concert
Legendary vocalist Bonnie Raitt performs live in concert at ACL Live. The voice behind top hits such as “Angel from Montgomery” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me” comes to Austin in support of her 2022 album, Just Like That.... Soul music artist Sunny War will also join Raitt as a special guest performer. Get tickets at acllive.com.

Photo by Daniel Cavazos

Our top 10 non-headlining moments from Weekend One of ACL Fest 2023

A-C-Hell Yeah

Hey, did you know Kendrick Lamar was late to his set? Of course you did. We were getting X (née Twitter) updates before we even saw the announcements on the big screen. The headliners are exciting, but that's not all that goes on at the annual festival.

Bands traveled from everywhere — including many from their homes across town — to share inspiration and good vibes with tens of thousands of music lovers. As with any festival, ACL offered us well-planned moments that'll still be just as fresh for next week's visitors, as well as ephemeral greatness that may never be seen again.

Whether you're checking up on your favorite bands or looking for some Weekend Two inspiration, we hope you enjoy our favorite moments from the kick-off. Our favorite photos from the weekend are also on display now.

Less sweating
After a summer of brutal heat, the beautifully cool weekend weather made for a fantastic first festival experience. This past Saturday was, by far, the closest Austin has gotten to fall this season — and it really showed in the way people treated each other in the crowds. It felt like Friday festival-goers were all on edge to get through the evening with temperatures in the mid-80s, but Saturday’s mid-70s weather was a breeze, punctuated by consistent wind. There were more encounters with polite visitors willing to engage in casual conversation than on any other day. Sunday fell somewhere in between, with many three-day wristband wearers definitely looking a little worse for wear after the long weekend. Let’s hope weekend two is just as nice as Saturday, and don’t forget to hydrate either way. — Amber Heckler, Network Writer

Dave Grohl and Brené Brown get down to classic pop songs
Look — I know we said no headliners, but this happened on a side stage and flew under a lot of folks’ radars at the time. Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, who is nearly universally liked for his natural balance of true grunge and affable persona, somehow snuck onto the schedule (literally in the small print) on the intimate Bonus Tracks stage. The similarly widely liked researcher Brené Brown conducted something between an interview and a singalong, which quickly became a greatest hits recap of Grohl’s best interview moments: his Christopher Walken impression, the story of the Foos trolling Westboro Baptist Church protestors, and a reading of new writing that sounds a lot like his excellent memoir. Brown even got an impromptu air drum solo over Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” and some a capella singing (the opening lines of “Best Of You”) out of the iconic performer. — Brianna Caleri, Austin Editor

Declan McKenna shows talent beyond his age
Declan McKenna might only be 24-years-old, but he’s been a rising star in the music world for quite some time. His spirited performance on Saturday afternoon felt like something you would expect from a much older, well-seasoned musician. His politically-charged setlist consisted of songs that criticized right-wing media (“Isombard”) to FIFA (“Brazil”), and even his own British government (“British Bombs”). A lighthearted quirk heard during the performance was McKenna referring to Austin as “Austin City.” — AH

Tash Sultana's menagerie of instruments
There’s been a lot of buzz recently about Tash Sultana, and it’s very well-earned. The multi-instrumentalist could have held it down all alone, and she did for a bit — looping guitar, percussion, synths, trumpet, saxophone, and even Native American flute, which are just a fraction of what she plays. But when the band came in, she was able to settle into longer jams. ACL Fest sees lots of talented artists, but the easy feeling of improvisation (however rehearsed it was or wasn’t) is always a special treat. — BC

Niall Horan sets a boy band milestone
Irish singer-songwriter Niall Horan exceeded expectations as the first former One Direction member to grace the stage at the festival. Horan greeted his Austin audience with "Nice To Meet Ya," the lead single from his sophomore album Heartbreak Weather. Following some classically European comments regarding the warm Texas sun (and about his less-than-breathable outfit), Horan took a deep dive into his set, surprising this casual listener with his easy command of the stage. 1D fans were enamored with Horan’s rendition of "Story of My Life" from the boyband’s 2013 album Midnight Memories, and any older folks in the crowd were surely satisfied with his cover of Tears for Fears’ "Everybody Wants to Rule The World." — AH

Standout concert tees by a local printer
It’s always fun to see people in each year’s ACL merch, but one Austin vendor brought some even cooler band tees that upped the ante. Feels So Good, a local screen printer and record label, set up shop in a tent packed to the brim with stylish and unique merch, as well as some more crude and generic hits. Whether ironic or surprisingly beautiful, these elevated band-tee fashion from a recognizable logo to a wearable piece of art — very 70s of them. We also saw lots of couples (presumably) in matching outfits, so if you’re going to Weekend Two, it’s time to start convincing your significant other to get on your style wavelength. — BC

Fantastic Flags
Well-prepared groups often delight in creating a foolproof way to keep track of each other’s whereabouts, and this year there were plenty of conversation-starting identifiers. Flags are the most obvious. One It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia-inspired flag read, "The Gang Goes To ACL"; another simplified, bright yellow flag read, "Aquí P*ndejo," printed in an unassuming font. Even Hozier couldn’t help himself from reading out a flag that said, "I heart DILFs." Other fun festival totems included a six-foot-long fishing pole with a plush toy fish attached at the end and filled with LED lights, and a drunk Kermit the Frog flag. Photographer Daniel Cavazos is sharing a gallery of his favorites here mid-week. — AH

Half Alive's elaborate dance routine
It can be a little demoralizing lining up to see artists get swallowed up by huge stages, but Half Alive worked every inch of the T-Mobile stage on Friday, kicking things off with a performance straight out of art school. Fans of the funky indie group have likely seen frontman Josh Taylor grooving to the music in the creative video for “Still Feel,” and he brought back some of those moves and more onstage with two dancers. It’s always fun to see choreography, but it’s something else entirely to see choreography that breaks out of the common pop mold. — BC

Hozier in the sunset
Another Irishman, Hozier, blew away his audience immediately with his raw, heartfelt vocals on "De Selby (Part 2)" from his most recent album, Unreal Unearth. Other special moments included his acoustic performance of "Cherry Wine" and his impressive falsetto on "Eat Your Young." Hozier’s sentiments about the Saturday sun echoed Niall Horan’s earlier remarks, but he looked effortlessly cool at golden hour behind his dark sunglasses as he continued belting his way through to the end, finishing his set with his biggest hit: "Take Me To Church." — AH

Sunrose making old music new again
There are two equal and opposite beauties in music festivals: first, nullifying hard-to-get tickets by booking en masse, and second, accidentally learning something from smaller acts. One of those acts was Sunrose, a Los Angeles rock band playing some of the weekend’s heavier music. These visitors made their ACL debut with vigor, drawing a growing crowd of more alternative looking folks. The band closed out the set by reprising a cover from earlier: “War Pigs.” In what looked like an unadulterated display of mansplaining, someone told a younger woman, “This rock band called Black Sabbath — they released that song in 1970 and they just covered it.” She nodded in pleasant contemplation. Music history is moving along. — BC

See you back there for more next weekend — once we recover. And watch every Dave Grohl and Hozier video on YouTube.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Get immersed in Hallmark Channel Christmas at this Texas hotel holiday suite

like a hallmark movie

It's that time of year again, when the airwaves are flooded with that holiday staple known as the Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.

Legions of fans know the plots by heart. Big-city gal returns to her small town, finds love and saves Christmas. Or the family business. Or a lost kitten. Two colleagues who can't stand each other discover they have more in common than ever imagined and find love. And save Christmas. Or the family business. Or a lost kitten. Three generations of family at loggerheads re-connect after finding themselves stranded in a cozy cabin in the woods. And save Christmas. Or the family business. Or a lost kitten.

Hilton-Americas Houston

Photo by Christy Radecic

Stay inside a Hallmark holiday movie.

Now, fans who love the genre for its uplifting messages and smiles-through-tears can experience the movies in a whole new way. The Hilton Americas-Houston is offering a limited-time Hallmark Channel “Countdown to Christmas” Holiday Suite by Hilton, available starting November 1 and running through January 1, 2024. The hotel is one of only three Hilton properties across the country to offer this one-of-a-kind festive dreamscape.

In H-Town, guests can book the Hilton Americas-Houston's "Haul Out the Holly" suite, which offers a cascade of seasonal cheer, and is based on the all-new, original Hallmark holiday movie of the same name. Look for jaw-dropping holiday designs and light treatments throughout the suite, including enchanting light pillows, a light-up holiday village that will dazzle the world’s biggest Christmas enthusiasts, a custom holiday light decorating station, a gingerbread bar, and more.

Expect special surprise-and-delight moments like a festive oversized game, a custom Hallmark Channel light-up marquee, and even a twinkling Christmas light ceiling. This exceptional stay will allow guests to embrace the essence of the sequel film, starring beloved Hallmark star Lacey Chabert and centering on the iconic residents and ongoing HOA decorating competitions — and infamous citations — of the ever-festive Evergreen Lane.

"We're thrilled to partner with Hallmark for a collaboration that embodies the joy of the holiday season and brings to life the light and warmth of hospitality we show our guests every day,” said Matt Schuyler, chief brand officer, Hilton in a press release announcing the initiative. “This is a great representation of Hilton’s commitment to delivering immersive and unforgettable experiences during every stay. Our collaboration with Hallmark allows us to leverage timeless storytelling to bring an added level of excitement during the holidays.”

The "Haul Out the Holly" suite, like its counterparts the “Hallmark’s Holiday Sweetest Suite” at the Hilton New York Times Square and the “Santa Summit” at the Hilton Chicago, includes a custom-decorated Christmas tree and complimentary hot cocoa station.

To keep the holiday cheer going all season long, each of these special guest suites also include Hallmark Channel-branded takeaways that guests can enjoy with their loved ones during or after their holiday stay. Think Hallmark Channel Wine, Bissinger’s cocoa mix and hot cocoa bombs, Republic of Tea products, wine glasses, mugs, and more.

Rates start at $1,050 per night. Reservations can be made online.

Austin's Wildflower Center goes elemental for immersive holiday light walk

how the wildflowers glow

Most cities will not spend the holidays frolicking through wildflowers — actually, even for Austin that's a bit of a stretch. But the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has applied its conservationist and gardening sensibilities to another seasonal walk through nature this winter.

Luminations, a nearly two-mile stroll through the arboretum, has returned in an entirely new form, with all new light installations to bring some immersive magic to the darker nights.

Unlike most of the other light-led destinations this holiday season, this one doesn't rest on specific holiday themes, opting instead for more abstract explorations. This year's theme is the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. One installation illuminates falling water in interesting patterns, while others create larger-than life fluttering wings and faux bioluminescent plants.

Although the seasonal installations are new, visitors will likely recognize the oversized tire swing-like chairs that have been featured in many a nighttime selfie at other installations. (In fact, it looks like you can buy these popular LED seats online, but may just want to visit the Wildflower Center to save $500 and avoid a drop shipping nightmare.)

Other photos show a lantern-lit path that calls to mind the Mexican and Southwestern luminaria tradition, which highlights the unique masonry around the "Great Hall."

Although it is open to all ages, this glowing stroll will be one of the more adult activations thanks to the abstraction. A release touts "a rotating cast of local food trucks" including Craig-O’s, Asian Express and Ike-N-Aves. There will also be hot chocolate (that can be spiked) and a full bar with specialty cocktails.

Luminations opened November 24, 2023, and will run through January 6, 2024, with some blackout dates around Christmas and New Year's Eve. Tickets ($28 for adults, $18 for youth, plus member discounts) are available at wildflower.org.

National restaurant magazine meticulously chooses Austin's best rising chefs

Another week in Austin, another opportunity to celebrate chefs. But this time, it's insider praise, and there will be bites to try during a two-week celebration.

Restaurant industry magazine StarChefs has named its 2023 Austin-San Antonio Rising Stars, which will appear in a print issue coming out in December. It promises "recipes, industry trends, business intel, beverage knowledge, new techniques, and a fresh dose of culinary inspiration," and features a frame-worthy Texas-themed cover.

To celebrate, it is also hosting Rising Stars Restaurant Week from December 1-15. 23 food and beverage professionals are among this year's winners: the third class in Austin and San Antonio, and the 84th class nationally. Restaurant Weeks participants who order a featured dish and post on social media may win a $100 gift certificate.

If this sounds familiar, perhaps it's because CultureMap has a category of the same name in our annual Tastemaker Awards. CultureMap's Rising Star Chefs are usually sous and executive chefs who don't yet own their own restaurant but might soon; for StarChefs, it seems more like a blanket term for chefs who are very active in any stage of their careers. Kareem El-Ghayesh made both lists, but the rest are unique.

To ensure a careful choice, these awards are based less on StarChefs staff's memory of their cooking, but in a series of tastings and interviews with more than 100 professionals. The judges also take characteristics like food philosophy and leadership in the industry into account.

“In both Austin and San Antonio, we saw cities experiencing immense growth—with food and beverage professionals hustling to keep pace, matching the new energy with eagerness and innovation," said StarChefs managing partner Will Blunt in a press release. "And, more importantly, the Central Texas hospitality [industry] seems to be managing to ride the wave of rapid evolution while staying anchored in the community and true to the best version of itself.”

StarChefs coverThe print issue features cute grackles enjoying a plate of Texas barbecue.starchefs.com

The winners are divided into several categories. The primary category is "Chefs," dominated by Austin chefs: Kareem El-Ghayesh of KG BBQ, Geoff Ellis of Mum Foods Smokehouse and Delicatessen, Rich Reimbolt of Better Half Coffee & Cocktails, Keith Rzepecki of Hestia, and Amanda Turner of Olamaie. San Antonio was represented by a single winner: Emil Oliva of Leche de Tigre.

Arjav Ezekiel and Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel of Birdie’s (in Austin) are frequently included in best-of lists, and this time is no different. The couple was selected as "Game Changers," presented by S.Pellegrino, meaning that their efforts have an innovative twist. Here's what the click-through bio says on the official winners list:

"Their relaxed counter service model, along with the caliber of their wine program — and the execution and hyper-fixation on seasonality in the food program — serves as a bastion for a new way of thinking about elevated service. Tracy and Arjav are able to offer their employees [livable] wages, extensive paid time off, and a number of other benefits due to their commitment to their reimagined business model."

San Antonio turned the tides in the "Restaurateurs" category, presented by Jade Range. All three winners were from San Antonio: Nicola Blaque of The Jerk Shack and Mi Roti; and Andrew Ho and Sean Wen of Curry Boys BBQ, Pinch Boil House, and Wurst Behavior. Individual chefs can't be two places at once, but these powerful players have demonstrated that their ideas will keep contributing to the local scene as they build them out.

Both cities shared the spotlight in the "Community" category, presented by Resy. According to the release, it "Recognizes professionals who are deeply connected to the local hospitality community, dedicate their time to community outreach, and are ultimately catalysts for involving members of the culinary community in important initiatives." Dustin Baker of Roadmap Brewing Co., and Edgar Rico of Nixta Taqueria.

The rest of the categories contained only Austin professionals:

  • Concept: Brian Batch and Ryan McElroy of Bird Bird Biscuit
  • Pastry Chefs: Derrick Flynn of Este and Suerte; and Casandra Perez-Martinez of Comedor
  • Bartender: Erin Ashford of Holiday
  • Sommeliers: Alex Wheatley Bell of Aviary Wine & Kitchen; and Rania Zayyat of Bufalina
  • Artisans: Ben and Phoebe Hollander of Casper Fermentables; and Will Jaquiss of Meanwhile Brewing Co.

One more Austin chef received unique acclaim in the "Mentor" category. The other winners voted in this category to choose someone who supports young chefs and helps them grow their skills: Fiore Tedesco of L'Oca D'Oro.

As part of Rising Stars Restaurant Week, East Coast restaurant supply company Singer M.Tucker and Austin pastry chef Jules Stoddart of Little Ola’s Biscuits will be helping to raise funds for local youth and food equity nonprofit Urban Roots. StarChefs will donate $3 for every spiced apple kolache Little Ola’s sells during the festivities. There will also be a fan-voted plating competition between award winners.

Even if a restaurant is not on your list to visit, it's worth it to check out the interactive winners list for recipes. Find those and order the 2023 Austin-San Antonio print issue at starchefs.com.