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.
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