Quantcast
Juniper/Facebook

We at CultureMap love sending readers to events before they happen, but sometimes we miss out on telling y’all how we really feel once we’ve seen them, too. We spent 2022 enjoying meals all over Austin — from public openings, to private events, to our everyday favorites that aren’t necessarily making news — and we’ll remember some of them for years to come.

The Austin food scene offers lots of variety not just in cuisine, but in service style, price, formality, and wisdom imparted. Some meals say something; others are just designed to be enjoyed. That our top 10 meals run the gamut means Austin is doing all of it well — and we want to make sure those wins are celebrated.

Here are the 10 meals we thought most about in 2022.

Classic: Juniper
With new restaurants opening almost every week, some Austin diners never settle on their select few favorites. But as the pandemic so painfully taught us, we also have to consistently support the restaurants we want to survive. Juniper is one that will always make my list. First, there isn’t a bad seat in the house, thanks to interior design from architect Chris Sanders. But unlike some more recent ‘Instagrammable’ spots, the menu is even better than the view. Chef Nic Yanes’ puffy potatoes are a must, paired with the Chef’s Negroni and my favorite cacio e pepe in town. These are just a few reasons why my husband and I chose Juniper for our small February wedding last year, but we’ve loved that absolute steal of a tasting menu for years. — Hannah J. Frías, Editor: Austin and San Antonio

Out-of-the-box: A Fun(gi) Night with Smallhold
When I told my friend I was growing mushrooms in my laundry room, he was horrified. Luckily (this was important context I forgot to add), I’d just spent an unreasonably fun night at Doc's Drive In Theatre and its neighbor, a mushroom farm called Smallhold, out in Buda. We got to tour the chilly, sterile farm; pick our own ‘shrooms and bring home the substrate blocks; and head over to Doc’s for snacks and a mycological presentation on the big screen. We tried mushroom shawarma and a very stealthily vegetarian frito pie (with mushrooms rather than beef) made at the concession stand. My lion’s mane mushies grew beautifully with little to no intervention, and I know I can always check Smallhold’s recipe collection for inspiration. —Brianna Caleri, Associate Editor

Sushi: Sushi | Bar (a tie with Uchi)
This speakeasy sushi spot has been one of the most coveted reservations in town since it started as a pop-up during the pandemic: One couple we shared the 10-person seating with had driven all the way from Temple just for the night. (They planned to drive back, but I am not convinced they didn’t find a last-minute Austin hotel after all that sake). Sushi | Bar is probably one of the most intimate and unique dining experiences I have ever had, so I’d say it’s well worth the hype (and the price), but I would nonetheless consider it a tie with Uchi for my best sushi of 2022. I risked my life driving there for happy hour during that crazy August flood, but pastry chef Ariana Quant’s desserts were honestly worth it. — HJF

Ramen: Preview dinner at Marufuku
I had to wait almost a month between publishing news of Marufuku (a well-loved San Francisco ramen restaurant) opening in Austin and the actual opening, and I thought about it the whole time. I’m a Tatsu-ya girl all the way — chewy yellow noodles and the black pepper at the bottom of the lighter assari broth in the ‘Ol’ Skool’ can’t be beat — but sometimes I need the world’s cloudiest tonkotsu broth. I was excited to have any new ramen joint, and I stayed excited because I couldn’t see anything beyond a millimeter of Marufuku’s tonkotsu, as opaque as Michi’s. The next day I took a congealed block of collagen out of my fridge. It’s also the only place I know of in Austin since Daruma closed that serves chicken slices instead of pork in some bowls, and the toppings are super generous. — BC

Best Views: Nido
Austin’s rapid development definitely drives a hot debate: Are we getting better or are we just getting bigger? Nido is a new spot that walks a fine line in that regard, nestled as it is in a new luxury condo and hotel overlooking Lady Bird Lake. But even longtime Austinites who decry the decreasing number of protected views of the Texas State Capitol (hi, Mom!) would have to admit that Nido’s patio views are pretty matchless. As for the dining experience, our highlights were the Murder Point oysters (which we now seek out wherever we can find them) and the delightfully fresh cocktails. Be prepared to spend a pretty penny here, but the views did already lure us back, and I definitely plan to return in 2023. — HJF

Most camp: Tiki Tatsu-ya x Howler Brothers Launch Luau
We don’t have theme parks in Austin (and if we did, I wouldn’t wait in line), so Tiki Tatsu-ya’s island oasis is especially exciting stuff. I included this luau in our weekly food news column but lassoed a friend into paying full price with me, with little difficulty. We ate fancy spam (novel and exciting!), fried rice, and delicious tropical jams in the dimly-lit upper deck, where early afternoon does not exist. The star(s) of the show were the cocktails in fun tiki mugs and shot glasses served in rounds on model ships, with an immersive side of stormy lights and rumbling thunder. Tiki Tatsu-ya did something other serious bars often shy away from, serving us seriously over-the-top, sweet, and playful cocktails without anything understated to hide behind. — BC

Rebrand: 1417 French Bistro
Originally opened in 2021 as 1417 Bistro, this little South First Street spot rebranded to 1417 French Bistro in 2022 to reflect its more zeroed-in focus on French cuisine. In August, I sampled their fresh takes on French classics like escargot, French onion soup, and poisson meunière. Each dish shined in its simplicity, striking a savory balance without going overboard — and isn’t that really the beauty of French cuisine? That is certainly the goal chef Kyle Mulligan shared with us at our first visit, and while we haven’t made it back yet, I am sure he is only continuing to improve upon that foundation with each seasonal rotation. Bonus: Romantic date night atmosphere where you can actually enjoy an intimate conversation without shouting. — HJF

Reliable: Plow Burger
Sometimes, as a food writer, you assume your next meal will be a no-brainer. You check your calendar — nothing. You didn’t buy groceries. So you head to your favorite burger joint that absolves you of meat-guilt, Plow Burger. The trucks at Hyde Park Market and the Buzz Mill saved my day countless times in 2022, while simultaneously giving me excuses to visit great neighborhood spots. The Hyde Park truck sadly closed, but the other two Austin locations (including the brick-and-mortar on East 7th) are still happily slinging Beyond Meat patties, amazing vegan American cheese, beefy fries, and crispy “chicken” nuggets. I wish I could tell you what the specials are like, but I can’t convince myself to sacrifice a Campfire Burger for it. — BC

Homemade: Chicken Pozole Verde from The Big Texas Cookbook by Texas Monthly
Food writers might hate to admit it, but we do sometimes eat at home, so it was a delightful surprise to receive an extensive guide to Texas’ most iconic foods right on my doorstep in early fall. For their impressive roundup of Lone Star State staples, Texas Monthly surveyed both award-winning chefs and longtime Texans for homemade recipes from across the state. Even if you don’t try a single recipe, the book is a treasure trove of Texas culinary history. But experiment, I did, making the chicken pozole verde (p. 86) for my El-Paso born husband, which delighted him so much, we added it to our Christmas menu for his family’s holiday visit. Many thanks to Texas Monthly for a new staple in our home — and to Dallas chef Anastacia Quinones-Pittman for helping me hit a home run with the in-laws. — HJF

Communal: Chef Andrew Zimmern’s South by Southwest dinner at Malverde
Some press dinners are run like dinner parties, and no one throws a dinner party like Chef Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods. Chef Zimmern, a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations World Food Programme in a Grateful Dead apron, was celebrating the filming of Hope In The Water, a docuseries about sustainably sourcing “blue foods” (i.e. anything that comes from the water). My favorite parts of the four-course dinner were Chef Ann Kim’s poke-like “bibim” bowl with farmed trout and Chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph’s very famous Basque cheesecake with salty sea grapes. It was interesting to learn about overfishing solutions besides not consuming fish, but I would have been happy just snacking on Easy Tiger’s bread and kelp butter, too. — BC

Juniper

Juniper/Facebook

The cool color palette matches Juniper's namesake tree.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

This is how far a $100k salary goes in Austin, according to new study

Make that paper

Many people daydream about making six figures in their career before they enter the workforce. But the rising cost of living certainly throws a wrench in the works. Luckily for Texans, a six-figure salary still goes pretty far in the state.

In a new report from SmartAsset, a $100,000 salary in Austin is worth an average of $73,777 after taxes and adjusted for the cost of living. The financial technology company analyzed income in 76 United States cities, and adjusted them for the cost of living in each location. Austin ranked No. 24 on the list.

Seven Texan cities appear in the study’s top 10 where a six-figure salary goes the furthest. Houston ranked No. 6 as the fourth Texas city on the list, after El Paso (No. 2), Corpus Christi (No. 4), and Lubbock (No. 5). A Houstonian's six-figure salary is reduced to $74,515 after taxes, but is technically worth $81,350 when adjusted for the cost of living.

In a three-way tie with San Antonio for No. 7, a person who makes $100,000 a year in Fort Worth and Arlington takes home about $74,515 after taxes. When adjusted for the cost of living, which is seven percent lower than the national average, that money is worth $80,124.

Dallas appears at No. 34 on the list, with the average six-figure earner bringing home $72,345 after taxes. That salary shrinks in the northern Dallas suburb of Plano (No. 59), where the worker brings home $59,422.

The place where $100,000 goes the furthest is Memphis, Tennessee. Much like Texas, Tennessee doesn’t have a state income tax and has a lower cost of living in comparison to the national average.

After Memphis is El Paso, followed by Oklahoma City (No. 3), then Corpus Christi, Lubbock, and Houston. After the Texan three-way tie for No. 7, St. Louis, Missouri rounds out the top 10.

The 10 total Texas cities that appear in SmartAsset’s study include:

  • No. 2 – El Paso
  • No. 4 – Corpus Christi
  • No. 5 – Lubbock
  • No. 6 – Houston
  • No. 7 – Fort Worth, Arlington, San Antonio (tied)
  • No. 24 – Austin
  • No. 34 – Dallas
  • No. 59 – Plano

The report and its methodology can be found on SmartAsset’s website.

New Hill Country wine school teaches Texans how to become aficionados

TASTING NOTES

Texan wine enthusiasts and beginners wanting to test their skills or develop them further can now do so at a new Hill Country wine school led by an award-winning winery out in Hye, Texas.

William Chris Wine Co. (WCWC) has opened their William Chris Wine School with Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) classes and a one-of-a-kind ambassador certification course beginning in April. The school is offering these courses not only to educate fellow Texans about the intricacies of wine, but also to provide inspirational experiences that help ignite their passion for it.

“WSET courses are designed to inspire and empower anyone looking to develop their wine knowledge—regardless of prior experience, and from enthusiasts to professionals,” said Director of Education Kelsey Kramer in a press release. “So, we encourage anyone to sign up for our WSET courses no matter their current level of wine knowledge.”

WCWC is the first Texas winery to provide these educational courses to industry peers and enthusiasts. They’ll offer two WSET level tracks with multiple classes; their beginner-level WSET Level 1 classes are open for registration for April 15 and May 15. The WSET Level 2 Award in Wines courses are for more experienced aficionados, and are centered around trying new wines from all over the world while also educating on wine theory, grape-growing techniques, and more. The level two classes are scheduled for May, June, and July.

Kramer added that over half of the William Chris team have successfully passed the WSET Level 2 Award in Wines courses.

“Our ultimate goal, as always, is to increase the standard of knowledge for those in the Texas wine industry,” she said. “Anyone who participates in a course with us supports this goal and the future success of the industry as a whole.”

Though Texas wine is not included in the WSET curriculum, the wine school has their own solution for that. They are offering an exclusive Texas Wine Ambassador Certification program that focuses solely on wine-making and grape-growing in our own state. Their first certification class is scheduled for April 22.

More information about the William Chris Wine School and its classes can be found on their website.

Goofiness keeps Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves light on its feet

Movie Review

In the franchise world in which we now live, movie studios are always looking for the next big thing that will ensure fans come flocking to the theater. The role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons has gotten a pop cultural boost in recent years thanks to the Netflix show Stranger Things, and now – just shy of its 50th anniversary – it's getting its own blockbuster movie, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.

The film premiered at South by Southwest (SXSW) as the festival's opening pick. The somewhat complex story centers on two of the titular thieves, Edgin (Chris Pine) and Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), who lead a group of rogues who make a living by stealing, but only from those who deserve it. One such altruistic mission, a relic that can bring back the dead, leads to the pair getting caught and put in jail, separating Edgin from his daughter, Kira (Chloe Coleman).

Michelle Rodriguez and Chris Pine in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Michelle Rodriguez and Chris Pine in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Fellow thief Forge (Hugh Grant) agrees to look after her, but after a daring escape, Edgin and Holga discover that Forge is even more of a scoundrel than they thought, rising to the title of Lord in their absence with the help of the sorceress Sofina (Daisy Head), and poisoning Kira’s mind against them. They must gather the rest of the team, including Simon (Justice Smith) and Doric (Sophia Lillis), to try to take him down and recover the relic once and for all.

Written and directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, with help from co-writer Michael Gilio, the film has the unenviable task of turning the famously dense game into something that pleases both fanatics and those unfamiliar with its many characters, creatures, and locations. It’s clear the filmmakers are trying to strike a balance between the two, loading the story with terms they barely attempt to explain while at the same time making the movie as goofy as possible.

Only the second of those two approaches truly works. The problem the filmmakers run into is that this is an introductory film that barely seems to care about introducing its characters. A lengthy speech by Edgin at the beginning attempts to do that, but is staged in such a way that the humor of sequence takes precedence over the details of the people. The only reason the characters wind up likable is because of the sheer amount of time spent with them and the actors’ performances.

Well, that and the comedy sprinkled throughout the film. If Daley, Goldstein, and Gilio do anything right, it’s not taking the material too seriously. The world has already seen Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, so adding in funny elements like the wise-cracking Edgin, a supremely fat dragon, and more keeps the film from getting lost in its own minutiae. Not all the jokes land, but 75-80 percent of them do, which is enough to keep the film buoyant.

Pine, as he’s shown in the recent Star Trek and Wonder Woman films, has charm to spare. He occupies this particular role extremely well, and so even if you can’t remember his character’s name, his performance carries the film. Rodriguez is an acquired taste, but her surly demeanor and physical prowess works for her here. The supporting actors shine at times, but the film doesn’t showcase them enough to make them stand out.

While miles better than the reviled 2000 Dungeons & Dragons, Honor Among Thieves is a merely okay beginning for a possible new franchise. There’s some excitement to be had and it stays light on its feet thanks to the comedy, but more attention paid to the story is warranted if they decide to make sequels.

---

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves opens in theaters on March 31.