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Photo by Ashley Gongora

In addition to the beautiful bites and tasty treats offered up at this year's Tastemaker Awards, hundreds of guests got to sip on specialty cocktails designed just for the food and beverage industry's big night.

Sponsors Maestro Dobel Tequila and Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey made sure there was always a line at the bar with the Dobel Ranch Water, Black Diamond Margarita, and Stranahan's Fireside Old Fashioned — three drinks that can make any time of the year feel like a party.

But since it's summer, here are a few Austin hot spots where you can imbibe your own Dobel drinks:

At Gloria's Latin Cuisine, you'll want to go top-shelf. Order a margarita made with Maestro Dobel Diamante Tequila, Cointreau, freshly squeezed lime juice, and agave nectar.

Same goes at Matt’s El Rancho, where the Martinez Margarita delivers Maestro Dobel Diamante Tequila, Cointreau, and fresh lime juice.

Get a little adventurous at ATX Cocina with a Miguel Hidalgo: Maestro Dobel ATX Anejo private barrel tequila, Knob Creek Rye, Dulce de Piloncillo, bitters, and grapefruit oil.

Order up tropical vibes at Lonesome Dove with a Longhorn, made with Dobel Diamante Tequila, mango puree, Topo Chico, chamoy, Tajin, and citrus.

And so you can know more about what you're drinking, here's a bit more about both spirits:

Maestro Dobel Tequila
There are seven unique variants of this single-estate tequila, each with a distinct flavor profile and crafted from 100-percent blue agave.

Dobel is short for Juan Domingo Beckmann Legorreta, the 11th generation of tequila producers. Maestro Dobel tequila is his legacy, and he personally oversees every step of its production. The signature of Juan "Dobel" is found on every bottle — a symbol of his deep respect for craft and connoisseurship.

The tequila is double-distilled, matured in Eastern European new white oak barrels and filtered for exceptional smoothness and clarity.

The world’s first Cristalino, Maestro Dobel Diamante is unique in its category; it has been formulated using a blend of extra anejo, anejo, and reposodo tequilas. Despite classification as reposado, Diamante's expression is crystal-clear due to a proprietary filtration process.

Maestro Dobel is also the official tequila of the PGA tour, including the Houston Open that's coming up November 11-14 at Memorial Park Golf Course.

Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey
Colorado's first legal whiskey since Prohibition and the pioneer and leader of the American single malt category, this Rocky Mountain single malt is handcrafted from grain to bottle in Denver, Colorado.

There are four ways to enjoy premium Stranahan’s Whiskey: Original, Blue Peak, Diamond Peak, and Sherry Cask.

When volunteer firefighter Jess Graber responded to a neighbor’s barn fire, he never imagined that any good would come of it. But the barn he made an effort to save belonged to George Stranahan. When the fire settled, the two discovered a shared passion for the Colorado outdoors and a good pour of fine whiskey. The pair developed a recipe for a distinctively smooth and flavorful American single malt whiskey using their mountain surroundings to their advantage.

Stranahan’s Original Whiskey is double-distilled using a proprietary blend of four barleys, then aged for a minimum of four years in virgin charred American white oak barrels.

Blue Peak is an American single malt distilled at high altitude, aged in new American oak barrels and Solera finished, a maturation process typically used in wine that results in a rich and mellow whiskey. Named for a 1,300-foot peak in Aspen and inspired by the alpine scenery of the Rocky Mountains, Blue Peak is built around a small batch of single malt whiskey that has been hand-crafted at a high altitude and aged for four years in 53-gallon, new American oak barrels with a #3 char, imbuing a warm, toasted flavor.

The profile of the aged expression is expanded through the time-honored Solera process, accentuating the liquid with fruit and butterscotch characteristics. Enjoy neat, on the rocks, or in your favorite classic whiskey cocktail.

From grain to glass, Stranahan’s Blue Peak is distilled and bottled at its Colorado distillery, the state’s first legal distillery after Prohibition.

The Black Diamond Margarita was a hit at the Tastemaker Awards.

Photo by Ashley Gongora
The Black Diamond Margarita was a hit at the Tastemaker Awards.
Photo by Ashley Gongora

The Tastemaker Awards toasts the best in Texas dining for 2022

A taste of Texas

CultureMap trekked across Texas this spring to toast the Tastemakers during our annual culinary awards program — and this year was bigger than ever. In addition to our longstanding events in Austin, Dallas, and Houston, we brought the party to San Antonio and Fort Worth for the very first time.

The series began April 26 with our inaugural San Antonio event before returning to Austin's Fair Market on April 28. The Texas culinary tour then headed to Cowtown for our Fort Worth debut on May 10, followed by an evening at Dallas' Fashion Industry Gallery on May 12. The foodie fun wrapped up May 25 in Houston with another sold-out night at Silver Street Studios.

The 2022 Tastemaker Awards served as a Texas-sized celebration of the culinary scenes they honored, with guests savoring bites from participating nominees, sipping signature cocktails alongside culinary stars, and raising a glass to the winners during our live awards ceremonies.

Nominees were selected by local panels of industry experts, including past Tastemaker winners and CultureMap editors. The panels then selected all winners, except for Best New Restaurant, which was determined by readers in our online tournament.

Meet all of the 2022 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards winners, listed by city, below.

San Antonio:

  • Restaurant of the Year: 2M Smokehouse
  • Chef of the Year: Jason Dady, Jardín
  • Bar of the Year: Bar 1919
  • Best New Restaurant: Dashi Sichuan Kitchen & Bar
  • Best Brewery: Dorćol Distilling & Brewing Co.

Austin:

  • Restaurant of the Year: Cuantos Tacos
  • Chef of the Year: Edgar Rico, Nixta Taqueria
  • Bar of the Year: Tiki Tatsu-Ya
  • Best New Restaurant: Wax Myrtle's
  • Rising Star Chef of the Year: Amanda Turner, Olamaie
  • Pastry Chef of the Year: Susana Querejazu, Lutie's
  • Bartender of the Year: Cory Starr, Tiki Tatsu-Ya
  • Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Better Half Coffee & Cocktails
  • Wine Program of the Year: Birdie's
  • Brewery of the Year: Meanwhile Brewing Co.
  • Best Vegan Restaurant: Counter Culture

Fort Worth:

  • Restaurant of the Year: Belenty's Love Vegan Mexican Restaurant
  • Chef of the Year: Jenny Castor, Luckybee Kitchen
  • Bar of the Year: The Lobby Bar at Hotel Dryce
  • Best New Restaurant: Dusty Biscuit Beignets
  • Best Breakfast: Ol' South Pancake House

Dallas:

  • Restaurant of the Year: Meridian
  • Chef of the Year: Ji Kang, Sloane's Corner
  • Bar of the Year: Rattlesnake Bar
  • Best New Restaurant: Hawkers Asian Street Food
  • Rising Star Chef of the Year: Aldo Lugo, Jose
  • Pastry Chef of the Year: Amy La Rue, Carte Blanche
  • Bartender of the Year: Reid Lewis, Atlas
  • Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Hillside Tavern
  • Brewery of the Year: Vector Brewing
  • Wine Program of the Year: Monarch
  • Best New Pizza: 400 Gradi

Houston:

  • Restaurant of the Year: Street to Kitchen
  • Chef of the Year: Aaron Bludorn, Bludorn
  • Bar of the Year: Tongue-cut Sparrow
  • Best New Restaurant: d’Alba Craft Kitchen & Cocktails
  • Rising Star Chef of the Year: Benchawan Painter, Street to Kitchen
  • Pastry Chef of the Year: Christina Au, Blacksmith
  • Bartender of the Year: Sarah Crowl, Better Luck Tomorrow
  • Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Click Virtual Food Hall
  • Wine Program of the Year: Tiny Champions
  • Best Pop-up: Luis Mercado and Paolo Justo, Neo

Luckybee Kitchen's Jenny Castor was named Fort Worth's Chef of the Year.

Photo by Ashley Gongora
Luckybee Kitchen's Jenny Castor was named Fort Worth's Chef of the Year.
Photo by Alison Narro

Austinites gather to toast, taste, and crown top culinary talent at the Tastemakers

A Delicious Celebration

On April 28, more than 800 Austinites gathered with CultureMap for a night of celebrations, cocktails, and delicious food at our 2022 Tastemaker Awards, hosted at Fair Market.

During an exclusive VIP hour, guests toasted the nominees and our nonprofit beneficiary, the Central Texas Food Bank, while sipping beer from Real Ale Brewing and Co. and specialty drinks from Maestro Dobel Tequila and Stranahan’s Rocky Mountain Single Malt Whiskey.

When the doors officially opened, Austin foodies flooded the market, eager to sample morsels prepared by this year's participating nominees and representing the city's top culinary talent. The long list of booths was understandably overwhelming, including the famous pork meatballs from Uncle Nicky’s, mango chile ceviche from Trudy’s Del Mar, and Sour Duck’s aptly named “Mommy Packed Ya A Big Ol’ Sando Today!” — a meat-lover’s dream that necessitated a stop at the Topo Chico stand for a sip of Texas’ favorite bubbly palate cleanser.

Some smart guests opted for dessert first, scooping up sweet bites and handmade chocolates from Intero and pastries from Paper Route Bakery.

Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League reprised his role as emcee for the evening and revealed all the deserving Tastemaker winners — see them all here.

Those at hand to accept their awards included Edgar Rico of Nixta Taqueria, Austin’s Chef of the Year; Luis Robledo of Cuantos Tacos, Restaurant of the Year; Cory Starr of Tiki-Tatsu-Ya, honored for both Bar of the Year and Bartender of the Year; the team from Wax Myrtle’s, crowned Austin's Best New Restaurant; the Meanwhile Brewery crew, named the city's Brewery of the Year.

The Tastemaker Awards once again proved to be a celebratory evening filled with unforgettable bites from the city’s favorite eateries — we’re already looking forward to celebrating with you at next year's party.

Three Tastemakers winners, Matthew Bolick (Better Half Coffee & Cocktails), Luis Robledo (Cuantos Tacos), and Edgar Rico (Nixta Taqueria).

Photo by Alison Narro
Three Tastemakers winners, Matthew Bolick (Better Half Coffee & Cocktails), Luis Robledo (Cuantos Tacos), and Edgar Rico (Nixta Taqueria).
Cuantos Tacos/Instagram

Austin's best restaurant and top chef revealed at 2022 Tastemaker Awards

Toast the Tastemakers

Each year, we have the honor of celebrating Austin's dynamic culinary scene at our annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards.

Throughout the spring, we've introduced you to our talented group of 2022 nominees, who were selected by industry experts and past winners, and who represent the best of the city's restaurant and bar offerings right now. After weeks of anticipation (and a heated Best New Restaurant tournament), it's time to unveil this year's winners.

On April 28, we gathered with nominees, industry experts, and the Austin community for the 2022 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards at Fair Market. Guests savored specialty bites from participating nominees, sipped an array of delicious drinks, and then tuned in for the coveted awards ceremony where Alamo Drafthouse legend Tim League revealed this year's winners.

Join us in raising a toast to the 2022 CultureMap Austin Tastemaker Awards winners. Meet them below.

Restaurant of the Year: Cuantos Tacos
There are few things Austinites cherish more than a simple, scrumptious taco — and this eye-catching yellow food truck parked on the east side is definitely delivering the goods. With a mouthwatering menu of Mexico City-style street tacos, Cuantos Tacos doesn’t hold back when it comes to exacting seasoning, meaty ingredients, and classic Mexican flavors. Popular favorites like barbacoa, brisket, and carnitas tacos are must-haves, but many a local taco connoisseur has found themselves seduced by Cuantos Tacos’ perhaps unfamiliar yet tantalizing tacos featuring delicacies like pork stomach (buche), Mexican chorizo (longaniza), and beef cheek (cachete), and rightfully so. Every dish on this small but delightful menu is worth devouring.

Chef of the Year: Edgar Rico, Nixta Taqueria
If there’s been one chef’s name on Austinites’ lips for the past couple years, it’s definitely Edgar Rico. With the opening of his essential east side taqueria, Nixta, in 2019, the Culinary Institute of America-trained chef introduced this taco-obsessed town to the ancient corn-tortilla-making process of nixtamalization (which has since become all the rage at many a Capital City taco house) and made an immediate splash in a city that was already home to dozens of taquerias. He says Nixta is the culmination of what food means to him: “imaginative creations that are steeped in technique, history, tradition, and finesse.” Those finessed creations have not gone unnoticed by Austin taco lovers or extolled culinary institutions, including the James Beard Foundation, which recently named Rico a James Beard Award finalist in the Emerging Chef category.

Bar of the Year: Tiki Tatsu-Ya
If the island life is your jam and you embrace the life’s-a-beach mentality, there’s no need to swim against the tide, as Austin is home to what we’ll deem the best tiki bar this side of Polynesia. But what else would you expect from the innovative culinary pros behind the universally loved Tatsu-Ya restaurant group? Delight in some rum-forward concoctions, or dive right on in to the kitschy tiki cocktails, like the Slurping Bastard — served in a fantastic chalice that bears a striking resemblance to any Ramen Tatsu-Ya customer in mid ramen slurp — or the Stranded on Saturn gin cocktail, the Cobra Kai, or the banana-forward Forbidden Grog. Or make the whole table happy with a Banzai Boat of shooters.

Rising Star Chef of the Year: Amanda Turner, Olamaie
If you’ve dined out in this town in the past decade or so, you’ve likely had the pleasure of devouring any number of chef Amanda Turner’s exquisite dishes. A maestro of a variety of cuisines, from Italian, modern American, and even Japanese (she interned at restaurants in Japan for several months), Turner cut her teeth at celebrated Austin establishments like Juniper, Odd Duck, Uchi and Uchiko, and Jester King. But it is her position as chef de cuisine at lauded eatery Olamaie that has catapulted her into a new culinary realm. She was even recently named a James Beard Award semifinalist in the Emerging Chef category for her work at Olamaie. With the restaurant’s seasonal menu of gorgeously presented New American fare, Turner is in her culinary element — and will no doubt continue to accumulate more accolades — and Austin diners get to reap the delicious rewards.

Pastry Chef of the Year: Susana Querejazu, Lutie's
One of Eater’s former Young Guns, Susana Querejazu has certainly shot forward among the ranks of pastry chefs in Austin. The executive pastry chef at the Commodore Perry Estate and its garden restaurant, Lutie’s, has contributed to some of the city’s most influential restaurants: Enoteca Vespaio and Vespaio Ristorante, Uchi and Uchiko, Odd Duck and Barley Swine. Querejazu left Austin in 2017 on a brief hiatus with her husband, executive chef Bradley Nicholson, to branch out creatively in the kitchen. As Nicholson changed jobs, so too did the multitalented Querejazu, who worked as an assistant sommelier and pastry sous chef (including some time at Michelin-starred restaurant Saison in San Francisco). No matter where she is, Querejazu is an authority on the perfect lamination of croissants, and she loves applying that knowledge to good causes by organizing charity bake sales.

Bartender of the Year: Cory Starr, Tiki Tatsu-Ya
When Tiki Tatsu-Ya arrived in Austin last October, this theme park of a bar created its own niche. Our Bar of the Year winner in its first year, it never misses an opportunity to dazzle in the campiest way possible. Beverage manager Cory Starr dove straight into that excess with 200 bottles of rum, reported the Austin Chronicle. Tackling perhaps the most widely recognized (and heavy handed) genre in mixology, Starr’s strong sense of tiki whimsy is balanced by impeccable recipe-making skills honed over five years in Hualalai.

Best New Restaurant: Wax Myrtle's
Wax Myrtle’s, the new indoor-outdoor restaurant and bar at Austin's Thompson Hotel property, offers everything a summer pool lounger requires: covered cabanas, an oversized fireplace, monthly programming, a menu of contemporary American cuisine, and plenty of curated cocktails. The Wax Myrtle’s menu includes perfect pool snacks (we’re looking at you, charred octopus skewer), as well as heartier fare like burgers, pork chops, and beef ribs. And with an extensive menu of cocktails, beer, and wine, Wax Myrtle’s supplies everything you need to while away an afternoon by the pool.

Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Better Half Coffee & Cocktails
Parked squarely amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Austin, this West Fifth Street hot spot could have easily faded into its noisy surroundings and become just another flash in the pan. Luckily, for neighborhood locals who appreciate both a lively morning meal and a lip-smacking evening burger with a side of pastrami-loaded queso and a few stiff cocktails, this all-day cafe is here to stay. This neighborhood joint recently updated its menu, rolling out tempting new dishes like crispy pork belly with refried black-eyed peas, and shrimp and crab-finger orzotto, a must-have risotto-style plate. Of course, we won’t fault you if you opt for the classic jalapeño-honey-butter-drenched chicken biscuit.

Wine Program of the Year: Birdie's
This new East Austin cafe and natural wine bar has had locals buzzing since it opened in the summer of 2021, thanks in part to its impressive wine list, which includes a blend of classics and new producers with an emphasis on “mindful farming and minimal intervention in the cellar.” Designed to evolve with chef Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel’s European-inspired food menu, the wine list runs the gamut from sparkling wines and Champagnes to an array of whites, oranges, rosés, and tons of luscious reds. This family-run neighborhood spot also serves up an abundance of off-list wine gems featuring hard-to-find bottles, so be sure to engage the enlightened staff about the many available choices.

Brewery of the Year: Meanwhile Brewing Co.
This community-oriented South Austin brewery and taproom debuted in the Capital City in late 2020, and despite having its roots in the Portland beer realm, Meanwhile has entrenched itself in the Austin scene, becoming a go-to spot for locals seeking a world-class beer to swig among a sweeping outdoor space that includes a stage and events venue, a soccer field, and plenty of shady spots to kick back with a few friends and a pint. Indeed, the Meanwhile taproom features a selection of 20 rotating beers, wines, and low-proof cocktails, so there’s always the chance to check out a new favorite. Meanwhile’s coffee and bites from several onsite food trucks add to the allure. Fair warning: It’s extraordinarily easy to while away an afternoon here, so cancel your evening plans and stay awhile.

Best Vegan Restaurant: Counter Culture
One of Austin’s most talked-about vegan restaurants earned its reputation over more than a decade in business, starting as a food truck and settling in its iconic retro turquoise haven curated by owner and DJ Sue Purr. Counter Culture uses produce from local farmers and inspires lots of grateful raving about vegetarians' and vegans’ place in barbecue, thanks to their jackfruit offerings. The cashew cheesecakes also draw in both practiced vegans and omnivores considering cutting back. There’s a long drink list of smoothies, juices, beers, and wines, making Counter Culture a great place to spend an entire afternoon.

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Chantal Rice and Brianna Caleri contributed to this story.

Restaurant of the Year: Cuantos Tacos.

Cuantos Tacos/Instagram
Restaurant of the Year: Cuantos Tacos.
Photo courtesy of Nixta Taqueria

8 top Austin chefs cooking with passion and feeding the city's soul

MEET THE TASTEMAKERS

A good chef understands how to craft an exceptional meal with locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. A great chef understands how to craft an exceptional meal with those ingredients in a way that entices specific patrons’ palates.

A premier chef in Austin in 2022 must accomplish all this and more, consistently creating new dishes, innovating, problem-solving, and evolving, all with the intent of impressing local diners’ discerning tastes.

While Austin is lucky to be overflowing with expert chefs who toil relentlessly to feed this city with the fruits of their labor, these eight local culinary artists, all of whom are no strangers to accolades and renown, are the cream of the crop, dependably yielding the best meals in town and rising to the myriad challenges of Austin’s dynamic food realm.

We’ll celebrate these commanding chefs at our upcoming CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, which honors the best of Austin’s food and beverage scene.

Read about this year’s Tastemaker nominees for Chef of the Year below, then join us to revel in their culinary success at our signature tasting event and awards program, the 2022 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, on Thursday, April 28 at Fair Market. Tickets are available now!

Tavel Bristol-Joseph, Canje
Once known particularly for his sweeter side (indeed, Food & Wine magazine recently referred to him as a “pastry savant”), Tavel Bristol-Joseph has proven to Austin that he’s far more than a one-trick pony. With the recent opening of Canje, the “new age Caribbean restaurant” from the prolific Emmer & Rye restaurant group, in which Bristol-Joseph is a partner, the executive chef is helming perhaps his most personal project yet. With the goal of paying tribute to his Caribbean roots and honoring his Guyana heritage, Canje affords Bristol-Joseph the opportunity to immerse himself and Austin diners in the effervescent flavors and techniques unique to the Caribbean. From imaginative dishes Austinites can relate to but that include a riff on ingredients (red snapper ceviche with sour orange, peanuts, sweet peppers, and taro chips) to perfectly seasoned traditional dishes (jerk chicken with charred tomato), and, of course, luscious desserts, Bristol-Joseph is ushering Austin’s restaurant scene into a new era of flavor vibrancy.

Damien Brockway, Distant Relatives
While many a Texan is unabashedly dedicated to the art of barbecue, they may not possess a keen understanding of how history has affected the craft. That’s far from the case for Damien Brockway, whose Distant Relatives barbecue food truck serves “modern African American fare” and draws inspiration from the “textures, flavors, heritage, and narrative of the African diaspora within the United States,” particularly as this relates to hardwood smoke, spices, preservation techniques, and true nose-to-tail cooking. While he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and honed his skills at a variety of fine-dining establishments throughout the country, it is this chef’s mastery of all things ’cue, combined with his inherent drive to foster creativity, collaboration, and community, that have contributed to Brockway’s escalating prevalence in Austin. There’s no doubt he’ll continue to garner some smokin’ praise as one of the best chefs in town.

Kevin Fink, Emmer & Rye
For yet another year, Emmer & Rye’s steadfast captain, chef Kevin Fink — a partner in the local restaurant group and the guiding light at the farm-focused local culinary destination that is Emmer & Rye — gets some well-deserved kudos from CultureMap as one of Austin’s best chefs. This world traveler and culinary pioneer grew his expertise at acclaimed eateries throughout the country and the world, including working stints at restaurants in Italy and Denmark, as well as laboring for a stretch at America’s quintessential dining establishment, chef Thomas Keller’s esteemed French Laundry in California. And although during his career he’s assembled an impressive variety of honors from the best culinary organizations and publications far and wide, it is Fink’s commitment to proffering a regularly changing menu of farm-fresh, seasonal fare, and his insistence on extensive in-house crafting of local ingredients that keep Austinites coming back to Emmer & Rye again and again. We can’t wait to see what he cooks up next.

Michael Fojtasek, Olamaie
Executive chef Michael Fojtasek has been an Austin favorite for years. And it’s no wonder. With a Texas upbringing, an early introduction to spectacular Southern cooking, an imposing resume, and a fresh approach to creating elegant, perfectly indulgent Southern fare, Fojtasek is well-suited to steer Austin’s culinary community. Fojtasek takes his charge seriously, almost as much as he cherishes his family’s Southern roots. In fact, his crown jewel restaurant, Olamaie, was named after his mother and three generations of Olamaies before her, as well as his daughter, who carries on the family name tradition. And while his unparalleled Olamaie menu of tantalizing Southern dishes continues to excite Austin diners, it is perhaps his continual evolution as a chef and restaurateur that most impresses Austinites. In addition to his wildly popular pandemic-spawned Little Ola’s Biscuits, Fojtasek recently announced the May 1 opening of his new South Congress Hotel steakhouse, Maie Day, which promises to be “a daily festival of food and community.” We’re ready to feast!

Kristen Kish, Arlo Grey
One of Austin’s most lauded female chefs excels at preparing brilliant dishes influenced by French and Italian culinary traditions mixed with nostalgic and whimsical inspirations from her Midwest upbringing. And while diners at her downtown lakeside restaurant Arlo Grey are eating it up, they may not realize chef Kristen Kish’s rise in the Austin culinary scene is but her latest triumph. The chef, who was born in South Korea and raised in Michigan, took to cooking at a young age. After attending Le Cordon Blue, she propelled her culinary prowess into an admirable career that has included gigs at Michelin-starred restaurants and work under some of the country’s most acclaimed cooks. Of course, it was her coveted win on season 10 of Bravo’s Top Chef that made her a household name and enabled her to build on her chef-testant fame as the host of several food-focused TV programs and the author of her first cookbook. But it was her move to the Capital City in 2018 and the subsequent opening of her first restaurant, Arlo Grey, that has made Kish an Austin icon.

Fermin Nunez, Suerte
While the name of this beloved east side Mexican restaurant is Spanish for “luck,” there’s zero luck involved in how Suerte has become a dominating force in the Austin restaurant scene since opening in 2018. It’s owing to the accomplished culinary artistry and clever yet humble approach to food that executive chef Fermin Nunez utilizes in crafting a curated menu of flavorful Mexican dishes with local ingredients. A Mexico native, Nunez cut his teeth at lionized Austin eateries like Launderette, La Condesa, and Uchiko before opening his Suerte gem. And he’s not stopping with the perfect Mexican restaurant; later this summer, Nunez and Suerte partner Sam Hellman-Mass will open Este, a Mexican seafood restaurant that will sprout in the long-loved East Austin locale that once housed Eastside Cafe. Heralded among top culinary organizations as an industry leader — including a recent honor from Food & Wine, which named him Best New Chef 2021 — Nunez could build his first-rate culinary empire anywhere. We’re just lucky he chose Austin.

Zechariah Perez, Sour Duck Market
Born and raised in Texas, it’s no surprise chef Zechariah Perez got his start in the restaurant biz at a barbecue hot spot several decades ago. Never mind that he worked not as a pitmaster or chef, but as a modest dishwasher. Hard work and dedication to his culinary education soon advanced him to line cook and prep cook positions. Later, after attending culinary school, Perez continued to hone his craft at a variety of Texas hotels, country clubs, and eateries before opening his popular Austin breakfast trailer, Paperboy, and joining the much-loved Bryce Gilmore restaurant group in Austin, where he has spent the majority of his career and has gained cooking acclaim in his own right. As the executive chef of Gilmore’s neighborhood bakery, café, and cocktail garden, Sour Duck Market, Perez continues to entrance Austin eaters with his scratch-made offerings, which range from decadent breakfast pastries and tacos to bratwurst and one heck of a spectacular double cheeseburger.

Edgar Rico, Nixta Taqueria
If there’s been one chef’s name on Austinites’ lips for the past couple years, it’s definitely Edgar Rico. With the opening of his essential east side taqueria, Nixta, in 2019, the Culinary Institute of America-trained chef introduced this taco-obsessed town to the ancient corn-tortilla-making process of nixtamalization (which has since become all the rage at many a Capital City taco house) and made an immediate splash in a city that was already home to dozens of taquerias. Rico comes by his passion for and talent in creating craveable fare naturally. And though his culinary background is extensive, he says he first fell in love with food at the age of 10, when he cooked his family’s Thanksgiving meal. He claims Nixta is the culmination of what food means to him: “imaginative creations that are steeped in technique, history, tradition, and finesse.” Those finessed creations have not gone unnoticed by Austin taco lovers or extolled culinary institutions, including the James Beard Foundation, which recently named Rico a James Beard Award finalist in the Emerging Chef category. Now that’s something to taco ’bout!

Edgar Rico, Nixta Taqueria.

Photo courtesy of Nixta Taqueria
Edgar Rico, Nixta Taqueria.
Photo courtesy of Intero

5 best Austin restaurants for 2022 rise to the top of the food chain

MEET THE TASTEMAKERS

Never before have Austin’s restaurants been faced with such profound challenges. While the height of the pandemic provoked local eateries to walk the line between keeping staff safe and providing an essential service to the community, subsequent supply-chain shortages, staffing scarcity, and the escalating cost of food and goods have only compounded the problem.

Yet, amid such tumultuous opposition, the Austin restaurant scene has remained resilient, with restaurateurs perpetually pivoting and developing new ways to conduct business, take care of employees, and feed this growing metropolis with equanimity and a coolheaded approach that’s truly inspiring.

That’s why more than ever, these heroes of Austin’s restaurant industry deserve to be acknowledged and saluted for their adaptability, their resolve, and their mettle.

We’ll celebrate these local epicurean stalwarts at our upcoming CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, which honors the best of Austin’s food and beverage scene.

We're less than a week away from the big event, so it's time to toast the Tastemaker nominees for Restaurant of the Year. Read about them below, then join us to commemorate these Austin restaurants at our signature tasting event and awards program on Thursday, April 28 at Fair Market. Tickets are available now!

Cuantos Tacos
There are few things Austinites cherish more than a simple, scrumptious taco — and this eye-catching yellow food truck parked on the east side is definitely delivering the goods. With a mouthwatering menu of Mexico City-style street tacos (the ideal size for gobbling in two or three bites), Cuantos Tacos doesn’t hold back when it comes to exacting seasoning, meaty ingredients, and classic Mexican flavors. Popular favorites like barbacoa, brisket, and carnitas tacos are must-haves, but many a local taco connoisseur has found themselves seduced by Cuantos Tacos’ perhaps unfamiliar yet tantalizing tacos featuring delicacies like pork stomach (buche), Mexican chorizo (longaniza), and beef cheek (cachete), and rightfully so. Every dish on this small but delightful menu (which also includes excellent quesadillas and traditional nixtamalized corn tortillas) is worth devouring.

Hestia
Any foodie who’s lived in Austin for more than a minute is likely familiar with the omnipresent Emmer & Rye restaurant group, which includes concepts that range in offerings from farm-to-table and feel-good cuisine to Israeli street food, Caribbean fare, and Basque-influenced chow. At Hestia, the Greek goddess of the hearth presides over all live-fire dishes, which are prepared on an awe-inspiring, custom 20-foot hearth by chefs who are obviously passionate about how fire can transform food. From craveable snacks (milhojas with goat brie, chives, kaluga caviar) and small plates (sunchokes with sunchoke velouté and kombu) to a fiery selection of entrees (the dry-aged 8-ounce Texas wagyu New York strip with honeynut squash, ash-aged chèvre, and fig agrodolce is kind of life-changing), and a dessert menu worth saving room for, Hestia is consistently cooking food with spirit. A visit would not be complete without a few sips from Hestia’s vast 250-bottle wine list.

Intero
In the pantheon of Austin Italian restaurants, locals have been pretty spoiled with eccellente options, but there’s always room for one more sweetheart spot, especially one that takes sustainability and farm-to-table cuisine seriously. Native Austinites and highly skilled chef-owners Ian Thurwachter and Krystal Craig named their perfectly moody and enchanting restaurant Intero, located on East Cesar Chavez Street in a converted motorcycle shop, in honor of snout-to-tail cooking. Translating to “whole” in Italian, Intero emphasizes whole, locally sources ingredients, traditional Italian techniques, and innovative dishes aimed at captivating Austin palates. Though the menu changes regularly to highlight seasonal ingredients, you can always count on gorgeous small plates and snacks, handmade pastas, Texas-sourced meat and fish dishes, and a wonderful wine selection. Pro tip: Dessert is nonnegotiable here, as pastry chef Craig’s sweet treats are quite transformative. And just because you dine on a divine dessert doesn’t mean you can’t grab a few artisan chocolate truffles for later. You’re welcome!

Olamaie
Amid the meteoric rise of Austin’s restaurant scene, this local darling has remained true to its soulful Southern roots, even as owner and acclaimed executive chef Michael Fojtasek has continued to expand his food empire with new concepts. While Olamaie’s fare is nothing if not comforting, its offerings are far from the greasy, deep-fried bites often associated with Southern cooking. Here, tradition frolics with contemporary culinary techniques in a dance that produces stunning dishes that seduce the eyes as well as the taste buds. Dig into some turnips and ham, then follow that up with some braised beef cheeks or the grilled pork chop and some heavenly brown butter sweet potatoes. Before you dive headfirst into executive pastry chef Jules Stoddart’s sublime desserts, sip on an incredibly satisfying hand-crafted cocktail and nosh some of those exquisite must-have biscuits with salted honey butter for a true Olamaie experience.

Suerte
For four delicious years, Austin has been lucky enough to dine at this beloved east side eatery that specializes in blending traditional Mexican cooking with Texas ingredients and is propelled by a passion for masa, that all-important Mexican ingredient. And with executive chef Fermin Nunez — a Food & Wine Best New Chef 2021 — at the helm, Suerte goes above and beyond in its refined offerings, from surprising chip-and-dip choices to an alluring selection of cold and raw dishes (the ceviche is mind-blowingly good) to all things masa, heftier dishes like goat barbacoa and wagyu New York strip prepared a la Mexicana, and a diminutive but intriguing menu of veggies that are so flavorful they could make a delicious meal of their own. Indeed, Suerte is the place to go when you want your taste buds to get lucky. Pop by for happy hour, aka lucky hour, for marvelous deals on cocktails, beer, wine, and spirits like sotol and mezcal, and check out brunch for a delightful Suerte experience and some of the best chilaquiles in town.

Intero.

Photo courtesy of Intero
Intero.
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H-E-B unveils merch for super fans, plus more hot Austin headlines

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. H-E-B unveils merchandise for brand super fans, available exclusively at one store. Kerrville was chosen to launch the company's new line of H-E-B-branded merchandise in celebration of its 117th anniversary.

2. Austin bar transforms into a magical winter wonderland this holiday season. Don your favorite elf socks and meet the lovely citizens of “Tinseltown.”

3. Draft 'Vision Plan' for Zilker Park unveils land bridge and more possibilities. Austinites are invited to comment on a vision plan that will inform the future of Zilker Park.

4. Austin ranks among world’s 100 best cities in prestigious new report. Austin is the No. 43 best city in the world, according to a new study. (And yes, we beat Dallas.)

5. Austin airport launches new SkySquad travel assistants in time for the holiday rush. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is keeping lines moving during a period of heavy travel with a new team of airport assistants.

Steven Spielberg opens up personal history in The Fabelmans

Movie Review

For over 40 years, director Steven Spielberg has been delivering some of the most popular blockbuster movies of all time as well as a bevy of Oscar-quality dramas, a combination that’s unique to him. For his latest, The Fabelmans, he’s decided to go more personal than ever, telling a thinly-veiled version of his own childhood.

Sammy (played mostly by Gabriel LaBelle) is one of four children – and the only son – of Mitzi (Michelle Williams), a concert pianist, and Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano), a computer engineer. From an early age, Sammy is enthralled by the art of filmmaking, first remaking a train crash sequence from The Greatest Show on Earth, and gradually moving on to more adventurous stories.

Burt’s advancing career, which moves the family from New Jersey to Arizona to California, causes stress for various members of the family, most notably Sammy and Mitzi. Sammy must deal with anti-Semitic bullies, while Mitzi falls deeper into a mental health crisis. Sammy’s movies continually offer a respite for the family, though, giving him a creative outlet and the rest of them a chance to forget their troubles for a while.

Written by Spielberg – his first writing effort since 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence – and Tony Kushner, the film is heavy on emotions but presented in a way that those feelings don’t always translate. Spielberg is no stranger to depicting fraught family situations in his long career, but in showing ones from his own family, it feels like he pulled back, not wanting the scenes to be overwrought or schmaltzy.

The result is a story that isn’t as universal as some of his other films. As the film is told from Sammy’s perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in his pursuits and various discoveries as he gets older. The mindsets of the rest of the family are less clear, even though his parents and sisters are ever-present. Mitzi’s state of mind is a concern from the start, but it’s not always treated as such by other important characters.

Just as Sammy’s movies are an escape for his family, so too are they some of the best parts of the film. Sammy figuring out the process and secrets of filmmaking is informative and often thrilling, especially if you’re a cinephile. Spielberg has been considered a master for so long that watching him revisit the days when he was learning as he went is catnip for movie lovers.

In addition to being a dead ringer for a teenage Spielberg, LaBelle is a fantastic actor. It’s no easy feat to carry a movie on your shoulders, and LaBelle makes the assignment look easy. Williams’ performance will likely be more polarizing; she employs a very mannered speech pattern that works in some situations, but not all. The film also includes memorable short appearances by Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, and David Lynch.

Spielberg has provided the moviegoing public with such pleasure over the years that he deserves to have a movie that’s mostly for him. The initial viewing of The Fabelmans left this critic wanting, but perhaps it will gain more traction on a second screening.

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The Fabelmans is now playing in theaters.

Photo by Merie Weismuller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Gabriel LaBelle in The Fabelmans

Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta acquires award-winning California resort

tilman goes laguna

Fans of Tilman Fertitta's nationwide hospitality brands are in for a treat. The Billion Dollar Buyer has just secured an award-winning, 30-acre resort in sunny Southern California.

Fertitta has purchased the acclaimed Montage Laguna Beach Resort Hotel, a premier beachfront property in the sunny SoCal getaway destination. Notably, the Montage Laguna Beach Resort Hotel is one of only six hotels in the U.S. to score the Forbes Triple Five-Star hotel status. The Montage has also been included among Travel + Leisure’s Top Hotels in the World.

Image courtesy of Montage Laguna Beach

Fertitta's newest purchase overlooks the ocean in Laguna Beach.

“I am truly thrilled to acquire this world-renowned property and add one of America’s most iconic trophy resorts to our luxury hotel portfolio,” Fertitta noted in a statement. “I have been traveling to Laguna Beach for over 30 years. It is one of my favorite places to visit and one of the most beautiful areas in the world. The Montage is a stunning oceanfront property and one of the premier hotel brands in the world.”

Press materials didn't list the property purchase price, but Law360 reports that the deal is in excess of $660 million.

The Craftsman-style resort sits on a coastal bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Impressive amenities are highlighted by the 20,000-square-foot Spa Montage, which offers eucalyptus steam rooms, dry redwood saunas, ocean air whirlpools, fireplace lounges, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a movement studio, and a lap pool.

More outdoor fun includes two pools and direct beach access, a museum-quality fine art collection, and more than 20,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, per press materials.

Every resident space — the 260 guestrooms, including 60 suites, beach bungalow-style rooms, and multi-bedroom villas — boast stunning views of the Pacific.

Dining destinations offer chef-driven interpretations of coastal California flavors inspired by region. The property is designated and included in the distinctive Legend Collection of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

“We are thrilled that Tilman is the new owner of this one-of-a-kind property and welcome him into the Montage family,” said Alan Fuerstman, founder, CEO, and chairman of Montage International. Mary Rogers, the Montage's GM added, “The staff is thrilled to be working with Tilman. Everyone here at the property is tremendously excited about his purchase and look forward to continuing to provide a world-class experience to all of our guests."

Aside from his palatial Post Oak Hotel in Houston, Fertitta also owns 14 other hotel properties around the country, including the award-winning San Luis Resort in Galveston, plus five popular Golden Nugget casino and hotel locations.

Another feather in Fertitta’s luxury portfolio cap is the iconic Huntting Inn, one of the most charming and historic locales in East Hampton, New York.

No stranger to California, Fertitta's presence there includes Catch Seafood and Catch Steak, Mastro’s Ocean Club and Mastro’s Steakhouse, Morton’s The Steakhouse, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, The Palm, and more — all part of his 60 brands and more than 600 concepts nationwide.