Photo courtesy of El Alma Cafe y Cantina

El Alma Cafe y Cantina is going south — even farther into South Austin, that is. Patrons can now enjoy the same authentic Mexican flavors they know and love with the opening of a second location this fall in the Westgate neighborhood.

The new spot is still under renovation and will be located at 4521 West Gate Blvd., Suite B, previously owned by Hyde Park Bar and Grill. Woman-owned and operated, El Alma Cafe y Cantina has been serving Austin for more than a decade now, and the overwhelming support from loyal customers was a key factor in the decision to expand.

“We recognize the fact that we’ve built an incredible community here in Austin," said executive chef and co-founder Alma Alcocer-Thomas in a release. "With this location, we can expand our mission of creating memorable dining experiences that embod[y] both our heritage and vibrant cuisine.”

Chef Alma Alcocer-Thomas at El Alma AustinChef Alma Alcocer-Thomas at the restaurant's Barton Springs location.Photo courtesy of El Alma Cafe y Cantina

Fans of the Barton Springs restaurant know it for its welcoming atmosphere — between the centerpiece staircase and secluded rooftop patio, the whole eatery is a little planty oasis — and its dishes that straddle the line between modern and traditional. EIther way, the flavors are simple, but deep; upscale, but casual; and overall very approachable.

The new location will retain El Alma’s signature colorful contemporary Mexican cuisine, with Chef Alcocer-Thomas remaining involved to continue offering the soulful food inspired by her childhood. What will set this apart from the Barton Springs location is the addition of a full-service coffee bar, as well as a breakfast menu alongside the lunch and brunch menus on weekday and weekends, respectively.

El Alma Austin dishes

Photo courtesy of El Alma Cafe y Cantina

El Alma Cafe y Cantina is opening in South Austin's Westgate neighborhood

There will also be grab-and-go breakfast options and pastries. Local favorite dishes such as chuleta de puerco a la parrilla and codorniz con mole will be offered at the second location, plus Alma’s staple tacos, enchiladas rellenos, and cocktail selections. The existing bar is especially known for its frozen margaritas, which include a tequila-led twist on a piña colada that's one of the best in town.

A similar interior design to the original location — Mexican tradition with a modern twist — will adorn the new space which will also feature an indoor-outdoor concept. The remodeling will be completed in phases as the group behind El Alma wants to ensure that this second location maintains the same level of excellence patrons are used to.

For updates on the Westgate location visit elalmacafe.com

Photo courtesy of Oseyo

Modern Korean eatery carves out new culinary direction with superstar Austin chef

New Korean

As Austin's food scene evolves, it increasingly takes on the ephemeral whims of fashion. Food trends buzz by in a hummingbird's flutter, leaving diners little time to savor the nuances of what has come before. So, it is refreshing when a restaurant allows its creative team space to evolve gently.

Oseyo has never been the most boisterous player in the arena. Its opening menu spoke to a particular immigrant experience; the interior design offered timelessness instead of Instagram flash. Its latest development, while exciting, is no mere stunt.

The addition of Laura Sawicki to the team as culinary director is indeed big news. She is one of Austin's most chronicled chefs, particularly for her work at Launderette. But Oseyo guests will likely be just as energized by a subtle culinary progression involving the entire restaurant team.

Mike Diaz, the executive chef since the restaurant's 2019 inception, is introducing new flavors that bridge the gap between his and owner Lynn Miller's heritage. The specials are conversations focusing on the commonalities between Mexican and Korean cuisine.

"The way we started off, we always wanted to have a base menu," Diaz explains. "For the last three, maybe four years, Lynn and I have developed a relationship where we shared our backgrounds."

"Our vision was always to have an opportunity to be more expressive with specials," Sawicki adds.

The end result is more subtle than, say, the mash-ups of a chef like Roy Choi. A honeycomb tripe posole gets some gusto from a kimchi-guajillo broth. Jalapeño and soju lend punch to PEI mussels. The banchan increasingly uses local produce for site-specific flavor.

Sawicki's new pastry program has followed suit. Though it incorporates her signature whimsical touch ("a little nostalgia and a little savoriness," as Sawicki sums it up), it broadens the chef's vocabulary through East Asian ingredients like the doenjang (an assertive fermented soybean paste) used in a fudgesicle.

Even the cocktail program has gotten into the act. Diaz says chimichurri from the kitchen flavors a smash, and agave spirits like sotol and mezcal have found a permanent home on the drink list. One of Texas' most beloved sippers, the michelada, incorporates soju, rice lager, and kimchi.

Dishes by Oseyo

Photo courtesy of Oseyo

Oseyo's Korean-Mexican fusion is subtle, but whimsical.

Both chefs credit Miller with creating an environment where the entire team has a chance to contribute. Sawicki cites the menu graphics created by staff and the artwork on the walls, made by Miller's husband.

"Lynn really has been instrumental in getting the best out of everybody, [due to] the flexibility and nourishment she gives individuals," Diaz commends.

"She runs her business through compassion, through trust," agrees Sawicki.

The restaurant has had the breathing room to develop organically over time — a rarity in the buzzy capital city. And it's only getting started. The patio and the Oso Room, the restaurant's private dining space, will soon be redesigned to add even more layers.

"The evolution of the restaurant happened because of the relationships and the closeness," Diaz says. "It wasn't planned."

One might even call it serendipity.

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Google soars to No. 3 in prestigious list of Forbes' best employers in Texas, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. From employers to non-hierarchical art, here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. Google soars to No. 3 in prestigious list of Forbes' best employers in Texas. Austin continues to hosts the best of the best employers in Texas, as Google and Apple move into coveted spots on Forbes' list.

2. Country icon Willie Nelson returns to traditional 'hillbilly' inspiration in new album. Nelson's new LP, Bluegrass, is his first album-length tribute to the traditional country genre.

3. Austin art collectives bring work made by 1,000 local hands to Burning Man. 500 Austinites helped dye and tie scraps of fabric in a flowing mosaic that became an unmissable part of the Playa.

4. More closed home sales in Austin show growing homebuyer confidence. The latest data showed the first increase in closed home sales year-over-year since February 2022.

5. Famous Austin furniture store Louis Shanks shutters last remaining locations. The furniture retailer first opened in 1945, and had been operated by the Shanks family for four generations.

Here are all 22 Austin acts to add to your 2023 ACL Fest playlist

homegrown sounds

We're almost there. Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL Fest) is poised to take over Zilker Park across two weekends – October 6-8 and October 13-15 – and while Austinites surely have a running list of all the bigger touring acts that they want to see, they may not be aware of the many great locals on the lineup.

So, here’s a rundown of the 22 Austin-based artists that will be playing during either weekend. Take a look, make some notes, and go show some support! Don't forget to hydrate and get a snack between sets, too!

Asleep At The Wheel (W1)
Kick off weekend one of ACL with a fest tradition: a set from country legends Asleep At TheWheel, who have performed at just about every ACL since the festival’s inception in 2002. They’ll play on Friday, October 6, at 12:55 pm on the Honda Stage.

Die Spitz (W1)
With a raucous live show and their well-received 2023 EP, Teeth, Die Spitz have been one of the most buzzed-about bands out of Austin this year. You can catch the upstart rockers on Saturday, October 7, at 11:45 am on the Tito’s Stage.

Arya (W1)
Pop and R&B fans will find a lot to like when it comes to Arya, an up-and-coming songstress who now calls Austin home after having grown up in Serbia. Her set will take place on Saturday, October 7, at 11:45 am on the T-Mobile Stage.

Shooks (W1)
Fronted by Marlon Sexton (the son of guitarist Charlie Sexton), Shooks will be taking the stage at ACL for the second time since 2021. The band’s versatile indie rock sound can be experienced on Saturday, October 7, at 12:45 pm on the Tito’s Stage.

Calder Allen (W1&2)
Since last year’s release of his debut album, The Game, singer-songwriter Calder Allen has been on a steady ascent through the ranks of local acts. You can see him at both weekends of the fest – for each one he’ll play on Saturday (October 7 & 14) at 2:45 pm on the Tito’s Stage.

Ben Kweller (W1&2)
Celebrated indie rocker Ben Kweller has spent a good bit of the summer on the road with Ed Sheeran, and that will roll into appearances at both weekends of ACL. Look for him on each Saturday (October 7 & 14) at 3 pm on the Miller Lite Stage.

Ellis Bullard (W1)
Get a “true-blue honky tonk” experience via Ellis Bullard, who will be making his ACL debut justas he’s gearing up to release a new album, Honky Tonk Ain’t Noise Pollution!. You can see himon Sunday, October 8, at noon on the Barton Springs Stage.

Wesley Bray And The Disciples of Christ (W1)
Take a break from the noise of ACL and enjoy a spiritual moment with Stubb’s Gospel Brunch regulars Wesley Bray And The Disciples of Christ. They can be experienced on – of course – Sunday, October 8, at noon on the Tito’s stage.

Jane Leo (W1)
Centered around Jane Ellen Bryant and Daniel Leopold (of Leopold And His Fiction), Jane Leo are responsible for some of the catchiest alt-pop tunes you’ll find in Austin these days. Their ACL set is on Sunday, October 8, at 1 pm, on the Tito’s Stage.

Grace Sorensen (W1)
R&B/neo-soul artist Grace Sorenson has previously been a part of ACL as support for other acts, but she’ll make her full debut at the festival during Weekend One. Her performance will happen on Sunday, October 8, at 1:30 pm on the BMI Stage.

Jimmie Vaughan (W2)
Weekend two of ACL will get underway with a performance from guitar afficionado Jimmie Vaughn. Don’t miss his blues-filled performance on Friday, October 13, at 12:55 pm on the Honda Stage.

Font (W2)
Just after wrapping a supporting run with the popular Japanese band CHAI, Font will play their first ever ACL Fest. The post-punk act puts on a dynamic show and shouldn’t be missed on Friday, October 13, at 12:55 pm on the American Express Stage.

Huston-Tillotson University Jazz Collective (W2)
If the Huston-Tillotson University Jazz Collective isn’t on your radar, they should be, as they will be putting out some of the smoothest sounds you’ll find at the fest this year. Catch the urban contemporary jazz ensemble’s set on Friday, October 13, at 1:15 pm on the Tito’s Stage.

We Don’t Ride Llamas (W2)
From a love of the game Rock Band as kids to playing ACL, it’s been a heck of a ride so far for the four siblings behind We Don’t Ride Llamas. If you like bands that offer a little bit of everything sound-wise, then don’t miss their set on Friday, October 13, at 1:40 pm on the Miller Lite Stage.

Nemegata (W2)
Nemegata will be heading into ACL hot on the heels of their sophomore album, Voces, which the band describes as a “transcendent Afro-Indigenous Colombian odyssey.” You can see them on Saturday, October 14, at noon on the Barton Springs Stage.

Rattlesnake Milk (W2)
Country, punk, rock — Rattlesnake Milk is every bit of that and very much worthy of a slot on your “bands to see” list. Their set will go down on Saturday, October 14, at 1:15 pm on the BMI Stage.

Blakchyl (W2)
Just a week before she takes the stage at ACL, hip hop vet Blakchyl will release an anticipated album titled Better Than I Imagined. Hear tracks from it and more on Saturday, October 14, at11:45 am on the Tito’s Stage.

The Moriah Sisters (W2)
If you miss out on Wesley Bray And The Disciples of Christ during weekend one of ACL, you can still get your gospel fix in the next go-round with The Moriah Sisters. Their performance will take place on Sunday, October 15, at noon on the Tito’s Stage.

Kathryn Legendre (W2)
With “Cigarettes,” her brand new single in tow, “singer-songwriter, honky-tonker, and Hill Country gem” Kathryn Legendre will make her ACL debut. You can see her sure-to-be-charming set on Sunday, October 15, at noon on the Baron Springs Stage.

After years in Torino Black, Sisi has begun rolling out solo tunes, including a recent one titled “Lyin’ Cheat.” You can check out the singer-songwriter on Sunday, October 15, at 1 pm on the Tito’s Stage.

Quin NFN(W2)
The oft-buzzed-about rapper Quin NFN will swing into ACL Fest more than ready to show why he’s racked up of millions of streams and a dedicated following. Be sure to catch the spectacle on Sunday, October 15, at 2 pm on the Tito’s Stage.

Caramelo Haze (W2)
Beto Martínez & John Speice (Grupo Fantasma), Alex Chavez (Dos Santos), and Victor "El Guámbito" Cruz (Nemegata) are the minds behind the “electro neo-sōl odyssey” known as Carmelo Haze. They’ll be playing on Sunday, October 15, at 2 pm on the Tito’s Stage.

Austin 'Top Chef' winner emerges after controversy to open upscale Mexican restaurant

New Restaurants

Austin and the village of Bacalar in Southeastern Mexico share a similar ethos — that life revolves around the lake. Overlooking Town Lake, the new upscale Mexican restaurant Bacalar brings the tastes of one famous lake to another, with chef Gabe Erales at the helm.

The restaurant has opened at 44 East Ave. #100, after years of preparation and following controversy surrounding the chef's departure from his last role, at Comedor. A walk-up taco window called Tómalo Taquería is planned for the fall.

Food & Drink
Bacalar is all about duality, from the two lakes that inspired and accompany the food to an especially close collaboration between the chef and real estate and design firm Urbanspace on the interiors.

The menu features globally influenced dishes from the Yucatan region, including Castacan Tacos with pork belly; Squash & Chaya Tamal; and a chef's daily steak cut.

The menu balances on the concept of "comida milpera," or food system interdependence between farmers, suppliers, and chefs, according to the restaurant.

Erales explains, "'La milpa' is a twofold, parallel concept — the 'milpa' being essentially a pre-Hispanic farming system, where you planted complementary vegetables and fruit next to each other, and the byproduct of one is the input of another. [It] allowed people throughout Mexico to have a very flourished farming system with not a lot of water or rich soil. But in parallel to that, it was also thought of as a socio-cultural relationship system."

The restaurant hopes to embody that spirit on the menu, which places special emphasis on food and drink pairings. (Surely executive pastry chef Natalie Gazaui also has something up her sleeve, although the desserts were not explained in detail.)

Bar manager Dragan Milivojevic says he designed the cocktail menu to "follow the kitchen," and Erales points out that some hard-to-find flavors from the Yucatán Peninsula go great in drinks — for instance, cooking pastes called "recados." One of Milivojevic's special flavors comes in the form of a house-made Orgeat syrup derived from mamey sapote, a tropical fruit that many say tastes like sweet potato or pumpkin.

One specific restaurant-bar pairing complements fried octopus aguachile with a corn-infused agave spirit martini. In this pairing, the martini stands in for the more common choice of a corn chip. This also creates another outlet for corn use, as Bacalar purchases surplus grains not grown commercially, in order to support the communities keeping those heirloom varieties alive.

Bacalar also plans to offer weekly pairings of different mezcals with dishes from the kitchen. Milivojevic hopes that the bar will one day have the biggest mezcal program in Texas, and will introduce new people to the spirit.

Bacalar's interior design also aims for a careful balance that is neither too rustic nor too modern.

The team at Urbansapce — which manages famous buildings like The Independent, Seaholm Residences, and Brazos Lofts — points out the importance of the ground-floor location for the restaurant, and aligns itself with a longterm push to make downtown a residential destination as well as a business hub.

Urbanspace principal and interior designer for Bacalar, Merrill Alley, who introduced CEO Kevin Burns to Erales for the collaboration, says the team hopes the restaurant will be an amenity for people living in the residential spaces above at 44 East Ave (both the building's name and address).

Bacalar has been a long time coming for the chef-owner. Erales, who won Top Chef in July 2021, saw his celebration cut short by a very public break with Comedor. His official statement from July of 2021 summarized the situation as follows:

"I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to be a part of Top Chef; however, I must continue to acknowledge my mistakes including the termination from my former job. To clarify, unbeknownst to my wife, I had a consensual relationship with a co-worker and later reduced her work hours, which in combination was a poor judgment call and led to my termination after I filmed Top Chef. ... My personal growth will be a perpetual apology in seeking forgiveness."

A statement by chef Philip Speer, who still helms Comdedor, echoes the story with the addition that the termination came from “repeated violations of our policies and for behavior in conflict with our values.”

Erales had announced his plans for Bacalar after departing Comedor, but before his Top Chef win, which brought major attention to past events.

He declined to comment further for CultureMap.

Bacalar is now open 5-10 pm Sunday-Wednesday, 5-11 pm Thursday-Saturday, and weekend brunch is coming soon, according to the website.