Courtesy of Clark's

Yes, dinner recommendations are almost always better from locals. But one platform has some of the broadest sample populations in the entire restaurant industry, and it has analyzed that data to find "some of the most in-demand restaurants" in America.

OpenTable, used for booking restaurants, bars, and other culinary experiences, named five Austin restaurants on its 2023 "Top 100 Restaurants in America" list — and none others in Texas.

The platform used more than 12 million verified diner reviews, plus diner ratings, advance reservations, and number of five-star reviews to determine its spots. That means it's not OpenTable's opinion that favors Austin, but part of its dominance may just be that people around here are more generous with reviews than others in Texas.

The five restaurants chosen in Texas, all with 4.8 stars or higher, are:

  • Clark’s Oyster Bar – This Austin eatery combines upscale dining with a laid-back, but not divey ambiance. It's not surprising that it charms visitors without alienating those who haven't visited yet.
  • J Carver’s – Another upscale seafood restaurant, but this time much moodier — this steakhouse and oyster bar is in a great location for tourists, who want a 6th Street experience without being too in the thick of it.
  • Jeffrey’s Restaurant – This meat-forward, French-American restaurant is about as fancy as it gets in Austin, and it's been serving the public since 1975. When beauty is a dining priority, Jeffrey's delivers.
  • Red Ash Italia – By the same owner as J Carver's, this industrial restaurant has never been overly romantic about its Italian cuisine. It is Texas, after all. Red Ash was seemingly booked all the time before a fire indefinitely closed it for repairs.
  • Uchi Austin – To no one's surprise, one of Austin's most famous restaurants is here on the list. Uchi put Austin on the map for sushi, nationally, and it stays consistent while adding other restaurants to its empire.

OpenTable did not share ratings for each restaurant, so we're not sure which restaurant stood out the most in Austin. Although it did not offer any local insight, it did come to some conclusions about the state of dining out, nationally.

It noticed that from last year people were going out roughly the same amount, but more of those excursions were on "special occasions," on which people also spent more money. "Interest" in Valentine's Day grew 9 percent since last year, according to a release about the report.

Then it must be surprising that, despite the ceremonial implications of more special-occasion dining, solo dining saw the most growth since last year — only by 4 percent, though.

Anecdotally, there have been lots of new Asian restaurants in Austin recently, but the report names three top growing cuisines: West African, African and Lebanese. Of the three, West African cuisine saw the biggest growth by a long shot, at 72 percent, compared to general African at 23 percent and Lebanese at 18.

Perhaps it is obvious that Texas, represented by one city, did not do as well as some other states, but it didn't do poorly. California and Florida led the pack with 14 and seven restaurants, respectively.

If the report has any bearing on what's coming in Texas' future, our top dining days are still ahead of us this year: we certainly have some special occasions coming up, and December held three of the top five dining days in 2022.

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Photo credit Jessica Attie Photography & Case Daniel

New Austin café by Intero duo bakes Italian hospitality into its all-day menu

The Poetry of Food

Krystal Craig and Ian Thurwachter, the local, award-winning chef duo behind downtown restaurant Intero, are further refining the art of hospitable dining with their newest concept, Poeta. The all-day Italian café is located within The Frances Modern Inn and opens to the public on Friday, November 24.

Poeta, meaning ‘poet’ in Italian, leans heavily into the romance and warmth of the dining experience, sourcing inspiration from both classic Italian hospitality and the country’s quintessentially charming café aesthetic to deliver a meal worthy of a sonnet.

It’s also (according to a press release) the only Italian restaurant in Austin that will provide dining service from breakfast to dinner and beyond, to nightcaps and indulgent evening desserts.

“Although East Austin is home to a few Italian spots presently, there are no all-day options in the area, and we look forward to providing this,” Krystal Craig, general manager, and pastry chef tells CultureMap. “Plus, there's a particularly special feeling associated with dining at a restaurant within a hotel. That familiar feeling seems possible here, which adds to the whole experience.”

The new restaurant’s all-day service is made possible with the help of its crop of menus from Executive Chef Ian Thurwachter and Chef de Cuisine Kevin Donovan.

Guests who prefer morning mealtimes can expect fresh takes on breakfast and brunch dishes like eggs benedict and crab cakes. Lighter fare, like specialty salads and fried chicken picatta, is available on the midday menu for patrons who prefer a late start. Poeta’s dinner options include gnocchi, grilled octopus, polenta, and more. A seasonal rotating gelato menu and antipasti service of housemade mozzarella, giardiniera (pickled vegetables), and marinated olives is also available.

Other menu offerings include specialty coffee, bespoke cocktails, an extensive wine list and amaro collection, and pastries. Most notably, Poeta offers a “Waffogato”: a waffle served with gelato and espresso, for a playful and poetic take on some of Italian cuisine’s most precious staples. Aside from the inviting cuisine itself, guests can also expect private dinners, monthly musical guest performances, and other special events served up on Poeta’s social calendar.

“A weekly “flight night” is planned to feature tastes in wine, amari, or spirits,” Craig says. “The hotel offers various event spaces as well, which we plan to use for friendly neighborhood happenings such as a summer gelato social, and collaborative chef-inspired experiences.”

In true Italian-inspired decadence, Poeta’s interior evokes an intimate lounge ambiance designed to encourage patrons to linger and even dine solo.

“Personally, I love to dine solo and appreciate places that feel comfortable to do so,” Craig tells CultureMap. “We aim to provide that built-in sense of community so everyone feels comfortable coming back again and again, whether dining on your own or as a group.”

Vintage decor, modern design touches, and traditional café elements provide an elevated dining experience from the first cup of coffee to the last glass of dessert wine. The cozy space by Kim Lewis Designs seats 100 guests both indoors and outdoors, and includes a full bar. Private dining areas are also available for extra-special occasions.

Poeta is located in The Frances Modern Inn at 1123 East 11th St. Restaurant hours are Monday through Thursday from 8 am to 9 pm; Friday from 8 am to 10 pm; Saturday from 10 am to 10 pm; and Sunday from 10 am to 9 pm. Happy hour and antipasti specials are available daily from 3-5 pm. Brunch is served on weekends from 10 am to 3 pm.

Poeta Austin interior

Chase Daniel in association with Kim Lewis Designs

Poeta is located in The Frances Modern Inn at 1132 East 11th St. and opens on Friday, November 25.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

This Texas city is among the 50 best places to travel in 2024, says Travel + Leisure

Bring on the tourists

Austinites may want to forgo their out-of-state travel plans next year and opt for a little weekend vacation to Fort Worth. A new Travel + Leisure report has named Fort Worth one of the The 50 Best Places to Travel in 2024, specifically highlighting the region for its "big-city thrills."

Fort Worth was the only Texas city to makeTravel + Leisure's prestigious list, and one of just a handful of U.S. cities (including Cleveland, Ohio and Kansas City, Missouri). It's keeping good company with the likes of international destinations such as Paris, Istanbul, and Bangkok.

The annual report was compiled by more than 20 Travel + Leisure staffers who picked the cities based on their own travel experiences. The chosen places were divided into seven categories, for: cultural immersion, food and drinks, big-city thrills, moments on the water, nature lovers, beach vibes, and adventurous travelers.

"These are the destinations that have captured our imaginations, the spots where T+L editors want to spend their own time in the year ahead," the report's authors wrote.

Fort Worth's booming tourism industry raked in $3 billion in revenue just in 2022, the report says. From several highly-anticipated hotel openings (including one that's enticed a famed Food Network chef) to fun attractions like cattle drives and stock shows, the authors note, there's plenty to explore across the city.

Fort Worth's museums are another major magnet drawing people to the city, the report says. Tourists can explore the history of aviation at the Fort Worth History of Science and History, or spend some time appreciating beautiful paintings at the Kimbell Art Museum.

The report also references a new museum exhibit coming next year, and a long-awaited new museum celebrating Black history that's expected in 2025.

"The National Cowgirl Museum...will run a 2024 exhibit honoring the Mexican female horseback riding tradition of escaramuza charra," said Mariah Tyler, Travel + Leisure's associate visuals director. "Looking ahead, the National Juneteenth Museum is scheduled to open in the city’s Historic Southside neighborhood in 2025."

Other cities that are the best places to travel in 2024 "for the big-city thrills" are:

  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Louisville, Kentucky
  • Montreal, Canada
  • Paris, France
The full report can be found on travelandleisure.com.

Lessening millennial migration leads Austin's 5 most-read headlines this week

hot headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. From moving millennials to old businesses staying put, here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. Austin is no longer the No. 1 magnet for millennials on the move, report says. For the past two years, Austin has been the No. 1 destination for millennials making the move to a new city. But that's no longer the case.

2. East Austin barbecue family holds strong against neighborhood developers. The owner of Sam's, Brian Mays, remembers what it was like when his father first bought the restaurant from his friend, Sam, in 1957.

3. Worldly restaurant with fancy plating and views floats to Austin lakefront. Quince LakeHouse will offer menu items inspired by all types of international cuisines, pulling flavors from Peru, Mexico, New Orleans, and more.

4. Court sentences Kaitlin Armstrong in famous Austin trial for cyclist's murder. Armstrong was sentenced to 90 years in prison after being convicted of murder. She faced a maximum of 99 years.

5. Iconic Texas beer cracks open first-ever non-alcoholic brew. It all starts with one beer: Rodeo Golden Brew, which according to a news release, will still taste like a Shiner beer even without the alcoholic kick.

Austin is among the 20 most 'house rich' cities in U.S., report says

hopes for homeownership

With high interest rates and home prices making daily headlines, houses in Texas' current real estate market may seem out of reach for many potential homebuyers. But that isn't the case in Austin. A new study has revealed that Austin is the No. 16 most "house rich" major city in the nation.

To define the term "house rich," home services provider All Star Home examined data from the U.S. Census Bureau regarding the median value of owner-occupied homes and the median household income across the 25 most populous American cities. A home-value-to-income ratio was established for each city based on the Census data, and rankings were determined based on whether a city had a low home-value-to-income ratio and high homeownership rate.

The study found that 44.70 percent of all housing in Austin is owner-occupied. The median home value of a home in the city is $593,000, according to the Census data, which also pegs the median household income at an estimated $89,415 per year.

Using those financial factors, All Star Home determined Austin has a home-value-to-income ratio of 4.83.

Austin's median home value is significantly higher than the median prices of homes for sale in the city. Median home prices dropped to $435,000 in October, according to the latest real estate report from the Austin Board of Realtors.

Elsewhere in Central Texas, San Antonio far outpaced Austin in the report, ranking 10 spots higher as the fifth most "house rich" city in the nation. San Antonio has a homeownership rate of 52.30 percent, and the median value of a home in the city is $335,200.

El Paso took the No. 1 spot in the report, leading over all other major American cities with the highest homeownership rate (59.80 percent) and a home-value-to-income ratio of 2.68. Houston (No. 12) and Dallas (No. 15) also earned spots in the report.

The top 10 most house rich major cities in the U.S. are:

  • No. 1 – El Paso, Texas
  • No. 2 – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • No. 3 – Indianapolis, Indiana
  • No. 4 – Fort Worth, Texas
  • No. 5 – San Antonio, Texas
  • No. 6 – Jacksonville, Florida
  • No. 7 – Columbus, Ohio
  • No. 8 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • No. 9 – Charlotte, North Carolina
  • No. 10 – Phoenix, Arizona

All Star Home also analyzed the most house rich states in America, but Texas appeared at the bottom of the study's category for the least house rich states, ranking No. 21. (Which really only makes it a middling score.)

The full report can be found on allstarhome.com.