Austin's top restaurant, chef, bar, and more revealed at 2023 Tastemaker Awards
Toast the Tastemakers
It’s that time of year again, when we take stock of our best hometown restaurants and industry players at the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards.
As always, we started with a group of editorial staff and past winners, our judges, and selected our favorite restaurants, chefs, beverage pros, and more. The resulting nominations all reflect the amazing accomplishments in the Austin culinary scene since our 2022 Tastemaker Awards. We looked to Austinites to choose their favorite new restaurant in a bracket-style competition, and selected the rest via a vote among the industry judges. Now, it’s time to let everyone in on the results.
On May 11, we gathered with foodies of all persuasions for the 2023 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards at Fair Market. Guests got to try bites by nominees they’ve never visited before as well as old favorites, sipped cocktails, and watched a live burger competition before the ceremony. Then, Alamo Drafthouse founder and local restaurant supporter Tim League returned to reprise his role as emcee, revealing this year’s winners.
Join us in raising a toast to the 2023 CultureMap Austin Tastemaker Awards winners. Meet them below.
Restaurant of the Year: Birdie’s
After the cultural comeuppance of molecular gastronomy — its coffin nailed long before The Menu made it multiplex farce — nothing seems as current as a baguette smeared with washed-rind cheese. In post-pandemic Austin, the success of Birdie's casual model helped the entire culinary scene to reset. Why fuss with establishing restaurants as fiefdoms with chefs as their plundering lords? There's nothing more aspirational than serving orecchiette dressed in Parmesan, breadcrumbs, and dandelion greens.
Chef of the Year: Amanda Turner, Olamaie
If there's a list of chefs — participants in a food festival or a fundraiser, honorees in an award ceremony — Amanda Turner's name is on it. In fact, before she made this list, she made the class of Rising Star Chefs in 2019 (with Juniper) and in 2022, winning both and proving some awesome foresight from those judges. As chef de cuisine at Restaurant of the Year nominee Olamaie, she somehow finds time while helping to define Southern cuisine — from the complicated position of a Black woman chef, she sometimes points out — to be one of the most public-facing chefs in Austin. About a year and a half into this new position, she's clearly hit her stride, and showing no signs of stopping.
Rising Star Chef of the Year: Joaquin Ceballos, Este
Joaquin Ceballos has always been international, and it's his "love for multicultural environments" that he says sets him apart. Born in Laredo, Texas, and raised across the border in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, he now represents the latter country at Este, the upscale seafood restaurant in East Austin. If he'd never left, however, he'd never had a chance to return to those roots, so thank Parisian bistro Racines NY for holding on to him in between.
Pastry Chef of the Year: Mariela Camacho, Comadre Panadería
A first-generation American and daughter of Mexican immigrants, Mariela Camacho creates high-quality bread and pastries inspired by her experience growing up Xicana in America. Comadre Panadería started as a pop-up in Seattle in 2017 before moving back to Camacho’s home state of Texas, where she recently expanded into a space next to Nixta Taqueria.
Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Nixta Taqueria
Owners Edgar Rico and Sara Mardanbigi bootstrapped this East Austin taqueria to James Beard acclaim, and one gets the sense that they take nothing for granted. Building on early triumphs like the sensuous duck carnitas taco, the joint keeps expanding its scope to antojitos like Yucatan Sikil P'aak and endearingly tasty goofs like the Space Glizzy crispy dog.
Bar of the Year: Nickel City
When this East Austin bar arrived, Capital City nightlife was under the thrall of mustachioed mixologists. The Nickel City team took the piss out with a frozen Irish coffee in a Styrofoam cup. It's not that the cocktails here require a less exacting palate (a current selection employs shiitake mushrooms and seaweed), it just turns out that barcraft with a sense of humor is a hell of a lot more fun.
Bartender of the Year: Erin Ashford, Olamaie
Erin Ashford spent seven years as bar manager, wine buyer, and assistant general manager at Restaurant of the Year nominee and former winner Olamaie. With all that practice, she's moved on to become the co-owner of brand-new cocktail bar Holiday with Rising Star nominee Peter Klein. It's a different venue but with Erin, it still feels like the same party — her favorite part of the job.
Wine Program of the Year: Bufalina
This acclaimed pizza joint has always put as much work into its wine list as its Neapolitan pies. In the early days, it miraculously squeezed 400 bottles into its tiny former East Austin space. These days, it brings wine to the masses through its monthly wine club, whose members get special discounts, pizza pairings, and witty tasting notes from wine director Rania Zayyat.
Brewery of the Year: Lazarus Brewing Co.
Owned by a Presbyterian pastor, the two locations of Lazarus wink to Christianity throughout with apocalyptic stained-glass installations and beer names like Walks on Water. Secular Austin still can't get enough of the boozy, most European brews — including rarer styles like Kellerbier and Belgian Dubbel.
Best New Restaurant:
Helmed by Olamaie founder and executive chef Michael Fojtasek, Maie Day took over for Central Standard at South Congress Hotel last May. With playful takes on a classic steakhouse menu, highlights include ribeye, a butcher’s steak, and a plethora of hearty sides.
Best Burger: Dai Due
Best to clear your afternoon before diving into the Dai Due burger, which is sure to induce a nice REM cycle with its double patty, ground with Dai Due bacon. Multiple James Beard Award winner chef Jesse Griffiths remains a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement, sourcing ingredients from Texas and primarily in the Austin region — and the burger is no exception. A sesame cemita bun sandwiches Stryk cheddar cheese, house-made dill pickles and onions, and the whole heavenly ensemble comes with a side of french fries and unbelievable beet ketchup.
Hannah J. Frías, Brianna Caleri, and Brandon Watson contributed to this article.