Photo by Mary Whitten

It's finally here, Austin: The eagerly-awaited restaurant from San Antonio chef Steve McHugh has officially opened its doors. In welcome news this dreary weather week, McHugh's Luminaire opened February 1 at the new Hyatt Centric Congress Avenue Austin, along with a second concept, Las Bis.

Located at 721 Congress Avenue, details of the new hotel and its restaurants were released in fall 2022, sparking excitement from Austinites already familiar with McHugh's work at San Antonio's Cured and Landrace. For the initial announcement, CultureMap connected with the six-time James Beard finalist to hear what Austinites can expect, while an updated announcement this week revealed that McHugh has enlisted chef Greg Driver as executive chef at the new concepts.

“We’re thrilled to finally lift the curtain and bring in guests to dine with us,” says Chef Steve McHugh in a release. “Chef Driver and I work really well together, and I have no doubt that Luminaire and Las Bis will shine under his leadership.”

Previously the interim executive chef at Westwood Country Club in Austin, Driver will carry out McHugh's vision at the restaurants. Both new concepts and the hotel itself are a welcome addition to the heart of downtown, padding out the list of pre- and post-theatre dining options for entertainment at the Paramount and State theatres right next door.

Luminaire occupies the entire ground floor of the hotel, including an expansive patio stretching both sides of the corner along Congress Avenue and 8th Street. Much like its San Antonio counterparts, the full-service restaurant will feature the seasonal, local Texas fare and charcuterie well-known (and well-loved) by McHugh devotees. Along with specially curated meat boards (hello, 24-month jamon), the menu will also showcase a heavy Spanish influence, featuring a variety of delicious breakfast empanadas, chicken a la plancha, the Angus beef Luminaire burger, and more.

The all-day restaurant will be an ideal pre-curtain-time destination, while the upstairs Las Bis will take over for post-show nightcaps. Located on the eighth floor of the hotel, the terrace bar and lounge shares space with the hotel’s lobby and will feature craft cocktails, natural and biodynamic wines. Snacks will include an assortment of playfully plated conservas, both domestic and imported, which McHugh shared the story behind in our previous coverage.

“Our team put many thoughtful hours into the menu creation for Luminaire and Las Bis, blending familiar flavors with plenty of discovery,” says McHugh in this week's latest release. “And for those without much experience in cured meats and conservas, we made sure to include plenty of must-try items to introduce folks the right way.”

In addition to the two new concepts, McHugh’s team and executive chef Driver will provide room service for guests, as well as catering for the hotel’s four meeting and event spaces. Starting February 1, Luminaire will be open Monday through Sunday from 6 am to 11 pm, while Las Bis will open Sunday through Thursday, 4 pm to midnight, and noon to midnight on Friday and Saturday.


Photo by Mary Whitten

The menu will feature McHugh's signature cured meats.


Classics, newcomers, and pop-ups: Our editors share their favorite Austin meals of 2022

Top Meals of 2022

We at CultureMap love sending readers to events before they happen, but sometimes we miss out on telling y’all how we really feel once we’ve seen them, too. We spent 2022 enjoying meals all over Austin — from public openings, to private events, to our everyday favorites that aren’t necessarily making news — and we’ll remember some of them for years to come.

The Austin food scene offers lots of variety not just in cuisine, but in service style, price, formality, and wisdom imparted. Some meals say something; others are just designed to be enjoyed. That our top 10 meals run the gamut means Austin is doing all of it well — and we want to make sure those wins are celebrated.

Here are the 10 meals we thought most about in 2022.

Classic: Juniper
With new restaurants opening almost every week, some Austin diners never settle on their select few favorites. But as the pandemic so painfully taught us, we also have to consistently support the restaurants we want to survive. Juniper is one that will always make my list. First, there isn’t a bad seat in the house, thanks to interior design from architect Chris Sanders. But unlike some more recent ‘Instagrammable’ spots, the menu is even better than the view. Chef Nic Yanes’ puffy potatoes are a must, paired with the Chef’s Negroni and my favorite cacio e pepe in town. These are just a few reasons why my husband and I chose Juniper for our small February wedding last year, but we’ve loved that absolute steal of a tasting menu for years. — Hannah J. Frías, Editor: Austin and San Antonio

Out-of-the-box: A Fun(gi) Night with Smallhold
When I told my friend I was growing mushrooms in my laundry room, he was horrified. Luckily (this was important context I forgot to add), I’d just spent an unreasonably fun night at Doc's Drive In Theatre and its neighbor, a mushroom farm called Smallhold, out in Buda. We got to tour the chilly, sterile farm; pick our own ‘shrooms and bring home the substrate blocks; and head over to Doc’s for snacks and a mycological presentation on the big screen. We tried mushroom shawarma and a very stealthily vegetarian frito pie (with mushrooms rather than beef) made at the concession stand. My lion’s mane mushies grew beautifully with little to no intervention, and I know I can always check Smallhold’s recipe collection for inspiration. —Brianna Caleri, Associate Editor

Sushi: Sushi | Bar (a tie with Uchi)
This speakeasy sushi spot has been one of the most coveted reservations in town since it started as a pop-up during the pandemic: One couple we shared the 10-person seating with had driven all the way from Temple just for the night. (They planned to drive back, but I am not convinced they didn’t find a last-minute Austin hotel after all that sake). Sushi | Bar is probably one of the most intimate and unique dining experiences I have ever had, so I’d say it’s well worth the hype (and the price), but I would nonetheless consider it a tie with Uchi for my best sushi of 2022. I risked my life driving there for happy hour during that crazy August flood, but pastry chef Ariana Quant’s desserts were honestly worth it. — HJF

Ramen: Preview dinner at Marufuku
I had to wait almost a month between publishing news of Marufuku (a well-loved San Francisco ramen restaurant) opening in Austin and the actual opening, and I thought about it the whole time. I’m a Tatsu-ya girl all the way — chewy yellow noodles and the black pepper at the bottom of the lighter assari broth in the ‘Ol’ Skool’ can’t be beat — but sometimes I need the world’s cloudiest tonkotsu broth. I was excited to have any new ramen joint, and I stayed excited because I couldn’t see anything beyond a millimeter of Marufuku’s tonkotsu, as opaque as Michi’s. The next day I took a congealed block of collagen out of my fridge. It’s also the only place I know of in Austin since Daruma closed that serves chicken slices instead of pork in some bowls, and the toppings are super generous. — BC

Best Views: Nido
Austin’s rapid development definitely drives a hot debate: Are we getting better or are we just getting bigger? Nido is a new spot that walks a fine line in that regard, nestled as it is in a new luxury condo and hotel overlooking Lady Bird Lake. But even longtime Austinites who decry the decreasing number of protected views of the Texas State Capitol (hi, Mom!) would have to admit that Nido’s patio views are pretty matchless. As for the dining experience, our highlights were the Murder Point oysters (which we now seek out wherever we can find them) and the delightfully fresh cocktails. Be prepared to spend a pretty penny here, but the views did already lure us back, and I definitely plan to return in 2023. — HJF

Most camp: Tiki Tatsu-ya x Howler Brothers Launch Luau
We don’t have theme parks in Austin (and if we did, I wouldn’t wait in line), so Tiki Tatsu-ya’s island oasis is especially exciting stuff. I included this luau in our weekly food news column but lassoed a friend into paying full price with me, with little difficulty. We ate fancy spam (novel and exciting!), fried rice, and delicious tropical jams in the dimly-lit upper deck, where early afternoon does not exist. The star(s) of the show were the cocktails in fun tiki mugs and shot glasses served in rounds on model ships, with an immersive side of stormy lights and rumbling thunder. Tiki Tatsu-ya did something other serious bars often shy away from, serving us seriously over-the-top, sweet, and playful cocktails without anything understated to hide behind. — BC

Rebrand: 1417 French Bistro
Originally opened in 2021 as 1417 Bistro, this little South First Street spot rebranded to 1417 French Bistro in 2022 to reflect its more zeroed-in focus on French cuisine. In August, I sampled their fresh takes on French classics like escargot, French onion soup, and poisson meunière. Each dish shined in its simplicity, striking a savory balance without going overboard — and isn’t that really the beauty of French cuisine? That is certainly the goal chef Kyle Mulligan shared with us at our first visit, and while we haven’t made it back yet, I am sure he is only continuing to improve upon that foundation with each seasonal rotation. Bonus: Romantic date night atmosphere where you can actually enjoy an intimate conversation without shouting. — HJF

Reliable: Plow Burger
Sometimes, as a food writer, you assume your next meal will be a no-brainer. You check your calendar — nothing. You didn’t buy groceries. So you head to your favorite burger joint that absolves you of meat-guilt, Plow Burger. The trucks at Hyde Park Market and the Buzz Mill saved my day countless times in 2022, while simultaneously giving me excuses to visit great neighborhood spots. The Hyde Park truck sadly closed, but the other two Austin locations (including the brick-and-mortar on East 7th) are still happily slinging Beyond Meat patties, amazing vegan American cheese, beefy fries, and crispy “chicken” nuggets. I wish I could tell you what the specials are like, but I can’t convince myself to sacrifice a Campfire Burger for it. — BC

Homemade: Chicken Pozole Verde from The Big Texas Cookbook by Texas Monthly
Food writers might hate to admit it, but we do sometimes eat at home, so it was a delightful surprise to receive an extensive guide to Texas’ most iconic foods right on my doorstep in early fall. For their impressive roundup of Lone Star State staples, Texas Monthly surveyed both award-winning chefs and longtime Texans for homemade recipes from across the state. Even if you don’t try a single recipe, the book is a treasure trove of Texas culinary history. But experiment, I did, making the chicken pozole verde (p. 86) for my El-Paso born husband, which delighted him so much, we added it to our Christmas menu for his family’s holiday visit. Many thanks to Texas Monthly for a new staple in our home — and to Dallas chef Anastacia Quinones-Pittman for helping me hit a home run with the in-laws. — HJF

Communal: Chef Andrew Zimmern’s South by Southwest dinner at Malverde
Some press dinners are run like dinner parties, and no one throws a dinner party like Chef Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods. Chef Zimmern, a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations World Food Programme in a Grateful Dead apron, was celebrating the filming of Hope In The Water, a docuseries about sustainably sourcing “blue foods” (i.e. anything that comes from the water). My favorite parts of the four-course dinner were Chef Ann Kim’s poke-like “bibim” bowl with farmed trout and Chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph’s very famous Basque cheesecake with salty sea grapes. It was interesting to learn about overfishing solutions besides not consuming fish, but I would have been happy just snacking on Easy Tiger’s bread and kelp butter, too. — BC



The cool color palette matches Juniper's namesake tree.

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NASCAR driver Ross Chastain aims for 3rd career win at Circuit of the Americas


After his first-ever Cup victory at Circuit of the Americas in 2022, this eighth generation Central Florida watermelon farmer turned NASCAR driver is looking to nab his third career win at the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix in Austin on March 26.

Trackhouse Racing star Ross Chastain is currently third in the points heading into the race weekend; just four points behind Christopher Bell (second), and five behind Joey Logano (current leader). Chastain finished second behind Logano in the 2022 Cup Series Championship.

The tight standings make for a thrilling weekend at COTA, where Chastain earned his first career win just last year. He says driving on the 3.41-mile road course feels “opposite” to him than what he’s used to with a typical 1.5-mile oval track. He's been making left-only turns since he was 12 years old, and even on his Florida farm he would navigate the grids of watermelons and turn left at the end of every row. Learning to navigate a road course meant seeking help from others who might have better experience.

“I went to driving schools [and] I went to older and other drivers to teach me and give me advice on the simple art of driving a race car at its limit to the right, and COTA’s no different,” he tells CultureMap. “It’s – to me – very ironic that we got our first Cup Series win at a road course.”

Many race car drivers have raised concerns about the bumpy surface of the track, even after parts of it were resurfaced in 2022. For Chastain, he thinks there’s a couple different perspectives a driver can take when it comes to blemished track surfaces. On the one hand, part of him loves the idea of a perfectly smooth track with "symmetrical corners" for him to put down a perfect lap. But the “racing purist” in him also wants to drive on the “worst track possible.”

“I want bumps and cracks, different corners. I want to turn left and right...and just have variety, and COTA is getting that more and more," he says. "Our cars, they bottom out [and] slide...that’s what makes our racing so great is that we are out of control a lot."

Unlike F1 drivers, who tend to be more precise on track, NASCAR drivers use anything and everything to their advantage to get a win, much like Chastain’s straight-from-a-video-game wall-ride move that subsequently got banned at the beginning of January.

COTA might not have a wall to ride, but it does have a 133-foot first turn elevation change. While it can be a challenge for some, it isn’t for Chastain. The high elevation allows him to charge into the corner hard, let gravity slow him down while going uphill, then let the car slide down while heading into turn two.

“I love it. I wish more tracks had more elevation change like [COTA]. It makes the racing more dynamic, and being behind the wheel in the driver’s seat makes it more fun,” he says.

When considering the momentum it will take to score another win, Chastain admits it will be the biggest challenge he’s ever faced, but he’s confident in his ability to carry over that drive and motivation after his 2022 second-place Cup Series finish.

In line with the car’s continuing evolution, as he puts it, a recent aerodynamics change is expected to shake up who ends up at the top of the leaderboard. But his calm demeanor shows he isn’t phased by the changes.

“As simple as it sounds, we race in circles on Sunday afternoons, and this sport is a big circle of teams [and drivers] cycling up, cycling down,” says Chastain. “We’ll have to work harder than ever to try and stay at the top here.”

To kick off the race weekend and initiate some good luck for his Sunday race, Chastain (ever-connected to his roots) will drop watermelons off COTA’s illustrious 251-foot observation tower on Friday, March 24 at 2 pm.

The EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas will run from 2:30-6 pm on Sunday, March 26. More information about the race can be found at circuitoftheamericas.com, and tickets can be purchased at nascaratcota.com.

Former UT football star turns another page in AISD library renovations

Still defending the dream

There’s always more to discover in the world of books, and former Longhorns linebacker Derrick Johnson is making sure there are new places for it, too. The football star, who went on to play for the Chiefs, later created a foundation which has just installed its second “Discovery Den” in Austin at Langford Elementary School, unveiling it on March 23.

Johnson’s Discovery Dens are minor library renovations that include furniture for kids who would like to read together or independently, plus “750 new age-appropriate and culturally relevant books.” Photos also show wall decals of Johnson and encouraging words such as “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.”

“I’m thrilled to continue our work in Austin and transform Langford Elementary’s library into a space that inspires kids to open a book and their minds for a brighter future,” said Derrick Johnson.

Defend the Dream Foundation — now 11 years old, almost as long as Johnson’s 14-year NFL career — prioritizes low-income and inner city youth in Title I schools to encourage success both in and out of school. Kendra Scott, a well-known Austin-based jewelry designer with frequent philanthropic endeavors, matched the foundation’s contribution to the Langford project as a co-funder.

“Education is a key component of our philanthropy pillar at Kendra Scott, and we’re proud to provide ongoing support for the Defend the Dream Foundation and all the good they do” said Kendra Scott CEO Tom Nolan. “The new library at Langford Elementary will provide the right resources to continue to inspire the future leaders of tomorrow.”

It is also thanks to Austin Ed Fund, a nonprofit education foundation through Austin Independent School District (Austin ISD), that the Dens can be created. The first Austin Discovery Den opened at Oak Springs Elementary School in September of 2022. There are 17 Dens in total across the United States, with multiple in the Chiefs' home of Kansas City.

“We are so grateful to DJ and his foundation for caring about our students and impacting schools in our community,” said Austin Ed Fund executive director Michelle Wallis. “We’ve already seen the positive impact that the Discovery Den has made in Oak Springs Elementary School, and we know that students at Langford Elementary will experience the same excitement in having new books to read in their new library space.”

More information about Defend the Dream Foundation is available at visit derrickjohnsonfoundation.org.

5 noteworthy Austin concerts to catch in the SXSW comedown

Music Notes

South by Southwest's domination of Austin may be done, but that doesn’t mean the music has stopped. See here for a handful of noteworthy shows with local artists that are happening over the next couple of weeks.

Aries Zodiac Party at the Far Out Lounge – Friday, March 24
The Aries Zodiac Party, which is exactly what you think it is, will go down at the Far Out Lounge this Friday, March 24. The event will feature performances by Nolan Potter’s Nightmare Band, Shooks, Sleep Well, and DJ Astral Violet, plus the Austin Witches Market. Tickets are $10, but if you’re an Aries, they’re only $5.

Deer Fellow at Radio Coffee & Beer – Saturday, March 25
Unraveling is the title of Deer Fellow’s new EP, and the indie folk-pop duo will be throwing a release show for it at Radio Coffee & Beer this Saturday, March 25. Support for the evening includes Redbud (solo), Aubrey Hays, and Elijah Delgado. This is a free show.

Futon Blonde at Chess Club – Thursday, March 30
Swing by Chess Club on Thursday, March 30, to help indie rockers Futon Blonde ring in the arrival of their new EP, Something That We’ve All Experienced Together Before. San Gabriel and Trumpeter Swan round out the bill. Tickets for the show are $10.

Glasshealer & Felt Out at Hotel Vegas – Friday, March 31
Hotel Vegas is set to host a double release show on Friday, March 31, as both Glasshealer and Felt Out will be celebrating having just put out brand new singles. God Shell will open for the co-headlining alternative acts. Tickets for the show are $10.

Lord Friday The 13th at Feels So Good – Saturday, April 1
Dust off your cassette player and head to Feels So Good on Saturday, April 1 for trash-glam-punk band Lord Friday the 13th’s tape release party for their Disaster Piece EP. Favor and Grocery Bag will kick off the show. Tickets for the show are $8 in advance, $10 the day of.