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Photo courtesy of Mando Rayo

If there is one thing that Texans are guaranteed to be opinionated about, it’s tacos. But few have the fervor of Austin’s Mando Rayo. For almost two decades, he has chronicled the beloved food in obsessive detail, first as a blogger and now as a multimedia storyteller.

Now, through the third season of his Tacos of Texas podcast, he’s exploring the subject like never before.

The 13-episode arc hears from Latino voices across the state, including the Rio Grande Valley, Central Texas, and the Gulf Coast. With new episodes appropriately dropping every Taco Tuesday, the new season gives Rayo a chance to explore a wide variety of angles, from vegan taqueros to the process of archiving food history.

“One of the main reasons I think I’m so driven to engage people in this conversation around taco culture is to get people to know the stories and the people behind that are cooking the food,” shares Rayo. “Yes, it’s important that food taste great, but it’s equally important that people understand where the food comes from, whether it’s migrant workers, to new immigrants, to second generation Mexican chefs.”

Rayo is particularly interested in the multifold identities of taco culture. A late episode does a deep dive into Encuentro, an initiative of the Texas Indigenous Food Project exploring the Native American roots of Texas Mexican food. Rayo spends two installments tracing the foodways of Black Seminoles and Mexicans.

“I believe it’s important to know and understand the intersectionalities of people, whether it’s Mexicans, Indigenous, or Blacks, not only in Texas but in Mexico too,” says Rayo. “I think telling these kinds of stories and going deep into the storytelling is important to help people understand where we come from and where we’ve been."

That’s not to say that the podcast is all academic. Rayo incorporates pop culture into the conversation and more than a little food bit of fun. In one of the highlights of the third season, Rayo teams up with influencer Stephanie Guerra (Puro Pinche), Nydia Huizar and Richard Diaz from BarbacoApparel, and Jaime Macias from Jaime’s Place to determine the victor in a San Antonio Bean and Cheese Battle Royale.

“If you know anything about San Antonio, you know they love their bean and cheese tacos. And I love how the San Antonio community comes together around something that is so unpretentious yet deep rooted in the culture,” explains Rayo of the idea.

The podcast strikes the same balance, making complex subjects easily digestible (no pun intended). Listen to it online at KUT and KUTX Studios — preferably while driving to a taqueria.

Photo courtesy of MUTTS Canine Cantina® Austin

11 things to know in Austin food right now: Combo bar, grill, and dog park is off-leash soon

News You Can Eat

Editor’s note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of Austin’s restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.

Openings

Austin is a great place to live if you like to bring your dog to lunch, but our furry friends are sometimes still more tolerated than invited. Things are different at MUTTS Canine Cantina. The dog park, bar, and grill franchise expands into Austin at 9825 N. Lake Creek Pkwy. in mid-June. Anyone can sit down for a meal or a drink — common outdoor grill selections like burgers, chicken tenders, and margaritas — but only members have access to the 1.6-acre dog park. There dogs enjoy a splash pad and being off-leash, while humans benefit from fire pits, bottle service, and staff to clean up after the dogs and make sure they're playing nice.

Freebirds World Burrito has been working through a huge expansion since 2021 and hasn't showed any signs of stopping. The newest location, opening May 30, will be in Kyle's Dry River District at 19220 IH 35 Frontage Rd., Suite 100. Although it's a little far from Austin, this halfway point to San Antonio means road trips will be a breeze. The counter service restaurant aims to get food to customers quickly without sacrificing "natural" ingredients. As usual, the first 25 guests in line for the opening day party (starting at 10:30 am) will receive a free burrito every week for a year.

Other news and notes

In the past few weeks, Austin restaurants have been in a flurry of new menus and leaders. TenTen, a sushi restaurant on West 6th announced new plant-based options with star ingredients like beet, eggplant, and asparagus. Geraldine's, at Hotel Van Zandt, is debuting a new menu that sticks to its Texas roots with strong Latin and Asian influences. It also announced a new guest chef series. The Roosevelt Room, one of Austin's top cocktail bars, welcomes Kyle Mulligan as its new executive chef, and shows off a new menu with small and large plates, plus desserts. Punch Bowl Social celebrates a new menu, while Z'Tejas introduces a new chef and directors, and The Carillon sips on a new wine program.

There's a new tequila coming out of Austin that can be enjoyed in 39 states in-store and online. Although La Caza, the company, is based in Austin, the tequila — in the three expected varieties of blanco, reposado, and añejo — is made in Jalisco by fifth-generation farmers. This spirit can't get much fancier after it is played Mozart during the distillation process and poured into hand-blown glass bottles. Guess you'll have to see if you can taste the difference.

The downside, if there is one, of Antonelli's Cheese Shop being so wildly popular is that the tasting events are often sold out. One on May 25 at The Driskill hotel still has plenty of spots left — for now. The guided tasting will introduce 75 guests to seven cheeses from around the world, all "responsibly sourced" according to the shop. They will be paired with charcuterie, pickles, chocolate, and wine, for two hours of interesting, varied bites from 7-9 pm. Reserve ($100) on Tock.

Gin Bar, a downtown cocktail bar featuring one spirit in particular, wants to get Austinites more acquainted with that juniper-based drink. It is kicking off a free gin education and tasting series starting on June 1 at 7 pm. Sipsmith Gin will join in to help celebrate National Olive Day. The rooftop gin bar on 6th Street is quietly tucked away, but features weekly events with neighbor restaurants, like Industry Night and a "Next Door B.O.G.O.," plus a daily happy hour. RSVP via Eventbrite.

Photo by Annie Ray Photography

Austin industry veterans turn to regional Mexican cuisine at new South Lamar taqueria

Even Más

In 2023, we’re not accepting anything but handmade tacos, from the tortilla up. One anticipated opening blazing into the new year is Masa y Más, a taqueria in the Zilker neighborhood that combines personal experience with the business acumen of industry pros. Service starts on January 6.

Those pros, Larry Perdido and Chuck Smith, founded two Austin staples — Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill and Hopdoddy Burger Bar — and watched them grow over 20 and 13 years, respectively. Both focus on Southern American traditions, but Masa y Más pushes it south still to Central Mexico. Chef and operating partner Roberto Campos, executive chef at Moonshine for the past 19 years, leads the culinary journey.

“At a young age I started supporting my family’s carros ambulantes (food carts) in Guanajuato, Mexico, kneading masa for my grandmother’s gorditas and chopping vegetables for my mom’s pico de gallo,” said Campos in a press release. “The recipes and ingredients you’ll find at Masa y Más represent not only my culture and roots but also my family’s deep traditions. My goal is for everyone who steps foot in my restaurant to experience a piece of my home.”

Austinites will have to decide for themselves which tastes the most like home; the tacos, tortas, papas rellenas, bowls, margaritas, and more all come from different regions throughout the country. The restaurant previews some meaty dishes along with their respective regions, like barbacoa from Guerrero, suadero as it would be in Mexico City, and birria that embraces its Jalisco origin. The humble hero and namesake, tortillas made of yellow and blue corn (and even flour), are made as Campos’ grandmother taught her family. His mother keeps an eye on the business through a mural by Austin-based Peruvian artist Niz.

Dishes by Masa y M\u00e1s

Photo by Annie Ray Photography

The taqueria serves dishes from regions throughout Mexico, including plenty of non-taco treats.

The bright and modern restaurant at 1817 South Lamar Boulevard updates a lot formerly occupied by Austin’s Pizza, on a crowded portion of road near residences and businesses like Bouldin Acres and Snooze. The counter service setup will likely be necessary to move waves of visitors through on busy days, who can also enjoy the food and cocktails on the porch, highlighting mezcal, tequila, rum, and beers imported from Mexico.

Masa y Más opens January 6 for service Tuesday through Thursday from 11 am to10 pm; Friday and Saturday until midnight; and Sunday from 8 am to 1 pm. More information including a link to apply is available at masaustin.com.

Photo courtesy of Juliet's Italian Kitchen

5 delectable Austin food and drink events to kick off the new year

News You Can Eat

Editor’s note: In this special edition of our weekly food news roundup, we're focusing on some delicious events you can attend the first week of 2023 — and can keep coming back to throughout the year. Consider these your first resolutions, smashed as soon as you hit that RSVP.

Trivia Night at Butterfly Bar — January 3
The last thing most of us want when cutting back alcohol is to hang back from social events. Attached to The Vortex, which hosts some of the best fringe shows in Austin, Butterfly Bar serves creative cocktails with and without alcohol. (Plus, the Patrizi’s truck is onsite every day serving pasta.) The first weekly trivia night of the year is on January 3, sandwiched between jazz, indie, and other musical shows for the rest of the week. Check the calendar at butterflybaraustin.com.

Sharpen Your Knife Skills at Central Market — JJanuary 4
Getting into a committed foodie lifestyle can be daunting and expensive, but Central Market is saving the day once again, with lots of accessible classes coming up. On January 4, Sharpen Your Knife Skills at Central Market covers one of the most important facets of home cooking, whether you’re making sushi or chopping up veggies for pizza (both available among other classes this month). It’s still an investment, but less expensive than most similar classes. Tickets ($65) available on Eventbrite.

Mezcal Tasting at Bar 508 Mezcalerita with Pelon's Tex-Mex — January 4
Some of us need to burn 2022 out of ourselves (no judgment), and mezcal can get that job done. Head over to Red River Cultural District neighbors Bar 508 Mezcalerita and Pelon’s Tex-Mex on January 4 to try six mezcals while learning about production, taste, and cultural context. That’s the only event slated right now for those two businesses, but finding Mezcal tastings in Austin is like finding a blues guitarist on South Congress. Tickets ($55) available on Eventbrite.

Social Series: An Evening Out at Antonelli's Cheese — January 5
It’s always a good time to learn about cheese, especially thanks to Antonelli’s packing its calendar with opportunities — outings, cheese-centric tastings that aren’t just boards, and a fun way to brush up on cheese knowledge. One upcoming event on January 5, Social Series: An Evening Out at Antonelli's Cheese, shares information about the “seven styles of cheese” and fun pairings including chocolate and pickles, with time to chat and make friends. Tickets ($45) and information on other events available at antonellischeese.com. Book early; many fill up fast.

Open Mic Night at Kick Butt Coffee — January 8
Getting together for drinks and snacks is a great starter plan, but 2023 calls for really putting yourself out there. Kick Butt Coffee hosts one of the city’s most popular open mic nights every Sunday at 7 pm, including January 8, and comedy open mics on Wednesdays. The long-running venue is also known for having lots of vegetarian options alongside its coffee and cocktails. This spot is atmosphere all the way, day or night. Check the calendar at kickbuttcoffee.com.

Photo courtesy of the Ruderman Family Foundation

Original TV series Jewish Foodie explores Austin in 2 episodes

Howdy & L'chaim

It’s not exactly Brooklyn down here, but Texas has a few claims to Jewish food fame. An original TV series, Jewish Foodie, explores some of those Southwestern-Semitic phenomena in a two-episode arc dedicated just to Texas.

The 10-episode series by the Ruderman Family Foundation — with dual missions to advocate for disabled Jews and connect all Jewish community members with their Isreali cultural heritage — was made to be viewed bidirectionally. While American Jews learn about their roots, Israelis are encouraged to learn about less-discussed Jewish communities in the United States. Hosted by Israeli actor and comedian Ori Laizerouvich, it promises “a colorful tour from shakshuka to breakfast tacos to burgers.”

Both episodes are dedicated to Jewish life in Austin, one of which dedicates all its screen time to “Jewish Cowboy” Jonathan Hochman, an ex-professional bull rider who teaches Laizerouvich to make shakshuka-style huevos rancheros. Hochman makes a subtle shift to vegetable oil from olive oil to mellow the Mediterranean taste and make it work in a Tex-Mex style.

The other episode does more exploring, led by Rabbi Neil Blumofe, senior rabbi of Congregation Agudas Achim in Austin. He and Laizerouvich travel to Biderman’s Deli, known for its bagels and sandwiches, for breakfast tacos with pastrami served by owner Zach Biderman. Then they make perhaps the most obvious stop, JewBoy Burgers, for burgers topped with latkes, and a talk about stereotypes with owner Mo Pittle. He explains the somewhat controversial name as having more in line with the nickname “homeboy” than an anti-Semitic slur.

“‘This is my story. You don’t have to like it, but I ask that you respect my opinion and my story,’” Pittle says in the show. “‘Communication is everything. Food, culture — the more we talk, the better things will be.’”

The series makes a point — or several — to discuss the diversity of “American Jewry,” never more evident than in Austin, where its examples reflected not just Texas, but further cultural overlap with the East Coast and Mexico.

“I know that a lot of people, a lot of Israelis, don’t think about Austin other than maybe the music,” quotes the press release of Rabbi Blumofe. “But there’s a really thriving Jewish community here as well. … People ask me why I stay in Austin. It’s because it’s a really wonderful family and a great place to continue to grow and dream.”

The multilingual series, subtitled in English, also makes stops in Arkansas, New York, Tennessee, and Wyoming. It is available to watch for free on YouTube.

Photo courtesy of The Cathedral and Ventana Ballet

10 ways to make your community proud this Hispanic Heritage Month

Everybody y su madre

Unlike many months of celebration, National Hispanic American Heritage Month is not tied to one calendar month. It starts on September 15, a sort of super-Independence Day, encompassing celebrations for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, followed by Mexico on September 16, and Chile on September 18. It then runs through the second Monday in October for Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, and ends October 15.

Redubbed Latinx Heritage Month by some celebrators, in both cases it honors both personal and communal histories, and contributions to life in the United States year-round. Texans are accustomed to many Mexican traditions and cultural fusions, but this month also stretches to family ties in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, making for an endlessly diverse opportunity to get to know Austin businesses, artists, and community members.

These 10 recommended events cover traditional Mexican and Tejano music and dance; as many accordions as possible; contemporary theater; Austin community leaders and their work; tireless food trucks from across the cultural gamut; and more. Ride a bike to learn about history, or get moving with some social dancing. The best part is, most of these are happening on different days and times, so there should be plenty of time to explore what Hispanic Heritage Month means to you.

"Cultivating Community through Art: Sam Coronado's Series Project and its Continuing Legacy" opening reception
The late Sam Coronado, a former Austin Community College professor whose pioneering Chicano art movement works are celebrated by the Smithsonian, advocated for cultural diversity through screen printing. This retrospective display draws attention to other artists Coronado taught or inspired, both in Austin and farther removed. An opening reception on September 15 from 6 pm to 8 pm gives a free first look at the exhibit, which runs through December 8. No RSVP required.

Austin Latino Heritage Bike Ride
This September 17 bike tour is modeled after the Black History Bike Ride, making 15 stops over 7 miles of Latino community markers. The event description specifies “counter narratives,” suggesting that this tour may include familiar landmarks in a different context, taught in a series of history lessons as the group progresses. The group stops first at A.B. Cantu Pan American Recreation Center, and finishes up at ESB-MACC's 15th Annual Viva México: A Quinceañera! Celebration. The organizer is posting updates on Instagram and Facebook.

"Salsa for the Soul!" fundraiser for Latinitas, AVANCE, and Con Mi Madre
Three major Austin organizations for women, girls, and families — Latinitas, Avance, and Con Mi Madre — are teaming up on September 17 to throw a salsa-centric fundraiser at the Latinitas headquarters. Corazon Latino Dance Studio will teach a dance lesson to get visitors up to speed for a live set by DJ Kickit. Tito's Handmade Vodka and Maudie's Tex Mex have food and beverages handled. Also joining the party are local vendors, and some guests will win raffle prizes. Tickets ($35 or less) available on Eventbrite.

ESB-MACC's 15th Annual "Viva México: A Quinceañera! Celebration"
The Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center is 15 years old, so it’s quinceañera time. This will be the last onsite event before the MACC undergoes construction. The annual event is pulling out all the stops on September 17 with a range of live music from traditional performers to a DJ collective, panels about identity and community, an artisan market, and a lowrider car show. The free event runs from 5 pm to 10 pm, with food trucks on hand. Register on Eventbrite.

“Night Birds — An Intimate Celebration of Art + Dance”
Reprising a popular 2021 event, The Cathedral and Ventana Ballet are teaming up once again for Night Birds, a 360-degree dance performance. The scores are by Hispanic composers, representing (originally or retrospectively) nocturnal birds on September 22 and 23. The Cathedral is also completely re-curating its display for the first time since opening in 2019, featuring works from local Hispanic women and nonbinary visual artists, for the entire month. Tickets (starting at $45) available on Eventbrite.

Teatro Vivo and Austin Public Library's Victory
The Little Walnut Creek Library really is little, but it’s big on community. In the heavily Hispanic Rundberg neighborhood (head to this H-E-B for specialty items), it’s hosting bilingual theater company Teatro Vivo on September 24 from 10:30 am to 11:30 am. It’s a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, but it’s also a way to start a conversation about Victory, the after-school tutoring program in collaboration with AISD. Admission is free and snacks are provided. This event is for all ages.

Squeeze Box Market Day
A short drive from Austin into Kyle will be worth it for this event for squeeze box lovers — that’s the accordion, for traditionalists. On September 24, from 10 am to 6 pm, Mary Kyle Hartson City Square Park will be filled with accordionists playing Tejano music and anything else that might suit the instrument. This is a special Hispanic Heritage Month edition of Kyle Market Days, with all the same local vendors as usual. Guests are invited to bring lawn chairs and coolers. No RSVP required.

Makuyeika Colectivo Teatral: "Andares"
A conversation about heritage would not be complete without Indigenous voices. Makuyeika Colectivo Teatral, a theater collective that focuses on Mexico’s Indigenous stories, shares a multilingual piece on September 24. The stories told by one live musician and three actors will be in Spanish and Indigenous languages with English supertitles on the stage, representing everyday Mexico and scenes from its “remote corners.” Tickets available at texasperformingarts.org.

Mariachi Herencia de México
One mariachi performer is especially interesting during this month of heritage; famous ranchera singer Pedro Infante’s granddaughter, Lupita Infante. The younger singer and her huge band of 14 musicians from the United States and Mexico promise “a vibrant celebration of Mexican music and culture” at the Long Center on October 13 at 8 pm. The group is based in Chicago, but employs some Texans making a homecoming on this tour stop. Tickets ($29-64) available at thelongcenter.org.

Sazon Latin Food Festival
Restaurants all over Austin are offering specials for this month, but they’re hard to track down. The Sazon Latin Food Festival is eliminating the guesswork, bringing together a dozen food vendors together from Caribbean, Central and South American cuisines to close out Hispanic Heritage Month on October 15. This fiesta will take place at Ani's Day & Night, a relatively small venue for so many vendors, so visitors are encouraged to register now on Eventbrite and arrive early for the 5:30 pm to 9 pm food market.

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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.

Sisi(W2)
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.

Design
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).

Context
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.

Nebraska Furniture Mart to bring massive new store and 700 jobs to Austin suburb

Moving in

Nebraska Furniture Mart is moving into Cedar Park. The Austin suburb will be the site of NFM's fifth U.S. store, the retailer has revealed.

According to a release, Nebraska-based NFM will anchor a development that will include a 250-room hotel and 30,000-square-foot convention center, at 750 E. New Hope Dr., near U.S. Highway 183A. It's a $400 million+ complex that's being called a "once-in-a-generation" project by local officials.

The project will break ground "as early as 2024," NFM says, and be completed in late 2026.

The Omaha, Nebraska-based company says the Cedar Park store — including retail and warehouse spaces — will encompass 1.2 million square feet and will employ 700 workers. Positions will include managers, sales professionals, customer service specialists, interior designers, and warehouse personnel.

(For scale, the average Ikea is about 300,000 square feet, according to How Stuff Works.)

It will be NFM's second store in Texas behind one in The Colony, north of Dallas, which opened in 2015. (The only other NFMs around the country are in Omaha, Des Moines, and Kansas City, Kansas.)

“The city of Cedar Park and its surrounding communities have a great quality of life, and we are thrilled to be a part of it,” says Tony Boldt, NFM president and CEO, in the release.

NFM is a family-run, fifth-generation company that touts itself as "a one-stop shop for the home," offering furniture, flooring, appliances, and electronics, as well as interior design services, delivery, and installation. Nationwide, NFM employs 4,800 people.

"NFM places a priority on giving back to the community and staff are provided with 40 hours of paid volunteer time off each year," says the release. "In their 86-year history, NFM hasn’t had a single layoff, and they were named a Best Place to Work by Furniture Today in 2021 and 2022."

Cedar Park major Jim Penniman-Morin says NFM carefully researched communities across the nation before landing on the city 19 miles northwest of downtown Austin.

"I was very impressed by the thoughtful way that their existing development in north Texas blends the truly local and the truly global into a seamless retail experience," he says, "and I really look forward to seeing how NFM is able to build something just as vibrant and unique here in Cedar Park.”

It's been a big week for Austin-area furniture store news. The NFM announcement comes on the heels of the sad news that famous Austin furniture brand Louis Shanks is going out of business and closing its remaining stores after 80 years in business. A liquidation sale started Thursday, September 21.