Barley Swine Facebook

One of the threads that keep an ever-shifting Austin from unraveling is its neighborhood businesses. Whether it's the dive bars in East Austin, the design shops near Clarksville, or the funkier boutiques down South, each area's institutions offer continuity while the skyline morphs.

That goes double for restaurants, which allow us to slow down amidst the hectic pace. It's a much-needed service we celebrate every year with the Tastemaker Award for Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year. The 2023 nominees range from a homey taqueria to a trendy European-inspired café. Still, patrons can always rely on all of them to provide gracious hospitality and a delicious meal.

Join us in honoring them at the highly anticipated Tastemaker Awards on May 18 at Fair Market, where we will announce the winner. And then spend a little time getting to know your neighborhood gem. Find your tickets here.

Barley Swine
A paean to seasonal, local ingredients, chef Bryce Gilmore's signature restaurant was showered with praise right out of the gate. Almost 15 years later, it has settled into being one of North Central Austin's favorite neighborhood haunts. The prix fixe menu still makes room for innovation, finding startling connections between protein and produce. But the vibe remains as worn-in as the reclaimed wood cladding the bar.

Though certainly upscale, this East Austin eatery doesn't buy into the fuss of fine dining. Dogs sniff around on the gravel patio, there are no white tablecloths to catch errant crumbs, and customers happily queue up to order from the counter. That doesn't mean that the food is relaxed. Married owners Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel and Arjav Ezekiel pair an evocative wine list with stunning French-Italian plates that reserve the crispness for technique, not napkins.

Dai Due
Few restaurants have as much of a sense of place as this Manor Road classic. A typical dinner travels through Central Texas' manifold foodways, stopping to consider German cuisine with an antelope hotlink or Mexican fare with carnitas flautas in a habanero broth. As bright as it is, it never seems academic. Instead, its homespun wisdom warms over like a campfire chat.

As the name implies, this Holly neighborhood staple revels in the midcentury era, when "third places" were essential to American life. And it's no small feat to get folks to put down TikTok and embrace the chatty conviviality of weekend brunch. Still, the food remains contemporary — using international preparations like sambal and dukkah to appeal to a curious palate. Never has comfort food had such a spark.

L'Oca d'Oro
This Mueller neighborhood eatery was a trailblazer in paying staff a fair wage, charging a hospitality fee instead of making its servers rely on tips. It's rare for a neighborhood restaurant to be, well, so neighborly. Italian food demands a shared table, of course. This one happens to be topped with exquisite handmade pasta and pioneering vegetable dishes.

This Lamar Boulevard concept merges the powers of Uchi chef Tyson Cole and Franklin Barbecue proprietor Aaron Franklin, but it's not precisely fusion. The smoked meats never feel squashed together like an early 2000s mashup. Instead, they add heft to a vibrant blast of accompaniments like shishito salsa verde, yellow curry-yuzu vinaigrette, and chili gastrique.

Nixta Taqueria
Owners Edgar Rico and Sara Mardanbigi bootstrapped this East Austin taqueria to James Beard acclaim, and one gets the sense that they take nothing for granted. Building on early triumphs like the sensuous duck carnitas taco, the joint keeps expanding its scope to antojitos like Yucatan Sikil P'aak and endearingly tasty goofs like the Space Glizzy crispy dog.

Odd Duck
For an iconic Austin date night, head to this South Lamar hot spot before taking in a show at the nearby Alamo Crafthouse. We promise the fair will be as cinematic as anything on the screen. Like its erudite sibling restaurant, the focus here is on sustainable and seasonal fare. Unlike Barley Swine, Odd Duck occasionally shakes it at the club.

Sour Duck Market
The third Bryce Gilmore restaurant on the nominee's list, this counter-service cafe is also the most casual. Instead of composed small plates, diners can nosh on simple chopped salads, a vegan schnitzel sandwich, or a double cheeseburger unfussily using American cheese. It's a departure for the chef, sure, but look closer. The market uses the same thoughtful sourcing as the rest of the brood.

Barley Swine bar
Barley Swine Facebook

Neighborhood restaurant of the year: Barley Swine

Photo by Merrick Ales

Swanky Austin restaurant competes for title of best restroom in the U.S.

Prized plumbing

A South Austin restaurant hopes to flush the competition in the pursuit of the 2022 title of the best restroom in the U.S.

Eberly, which serves contemporary American cuisine, is one of 10 finalists vying for this year’s America’s Best Restroom crown, which will be bestowed by Cintas Corp. Cincinnati-based Cintas supplies corporate uniforms, along with related products and services.

Eberly, which opened in 2016 at 615 S. Lamar Blvd., is the only Texas finalist. Voting in the contest ends August 31.

In a news release announcing the finalists, Cintas emphasizes Eberly’s centerpiece — the Cedar Tavern bar, rescued from New York City’s Greenwich Village — and notes the restroom’s “nod to the bygone era when those bars were in vogue.”

“Each stall has an illuminated old-school New York tavern vacancy light outside the door that turns off when you lock it. The restroom includes images from Grammy-winning music photographer Alan Messer,” Cintas says.

The winner of the 2022 edition of the America’s Best Restroom contest will receive a Cintas UltraClean deep-cleaning service for its award-winning restroom, along with $2,500 worth of facility services or restroom cleaning.

“The public holds higher standards for the cleanliness and technology used in public restrooms, which is why we’re proud to recognize these businesses that maintain clean and exceptional facilities,” says Julia Messinger, marketing manager at Cintas.

If Eberly slams the stall door on its competition, it won’t be eatery’s only claim to fame this year. The restaurant’s former executive chef, Jo Chan, competed in the Houston-set 19th season of Top Chef but was eliminated in the seventh episode. That episode aired in April, the same month that Chan left Eberly.

In 2016, CultureMap anointed the bar at Eberly as one of the year’s 14 best new bars in Austin. The business is named after Angelina Eberly, an Austin innkeeper who stood up to Texas President Sam Houston and his Texas Rangers by firing a cannon in 1846 to hold off a rebellion and preserve Austin as the state capital.

Photo by Johanesen Photography

South Austin neighborhood bistro boasts all-new look, name, chef, and menu

Bistro my heart

One of South Austin’s newest neighborhood staples has refreshed, rebranded, and revealed both new leadership and new menus. Goodbye, 1417 Bistro; hello, 1417 French Bistro — because who doesn’t love a bit of added French flare?

Opened by Allison Welsh in July 2021, the Bouldin Creek bistro is an exploration of French-inspired cuisine. Launching the rebranded concept and new menu items on August 1, Welsh welcomes new executive chef Kyle Mulligan (formerly of Salty Sow, Trio at Four Seasons Hotel, Cipollina, and Kemuri Tatsu hya) to the team.

While refocusing to reflect traditional French bistro fare, Mulligan’s new menu will still feature 1417 favorites like the duck confit crepes, with added items such as a hearty jambon sandwich, escargot, French onion soup, and many more starting on August 1. He is particularly excited about the chilled scallop salad, where preserved lemon vinaigrette pairs with the sweetness of the scallops and carrot while bright and slightly bitter greens add a delightful crunch.

The restaurant works with local urban farms Hausbar and Joe’s Organics for microgreens and edible flowers.

Also refreshed on the menu are the pastries, with new items by Amy Moore and a bread program led by Maggie Fleuger. Classic French cocktails also join the already well-curated beverage menu, which will now include a French 75, Sidecar, and Vieux Carre.

But the bistro’s glow-up is not confined to the kitchen: Welsh also updated the interior décor, curating an equal parts elevated and inviting feel for diners with modern artwork, midcentury furniture, and plenty of greenery.

Open weekdays from 4 pm to 10 pm, happy hour is available Monday through Thursday from 4 pm to 6:30 pm. On weekends, the bistro serves brunch between 10 am and 3 pm and reopens for dinner from 5 pm to 11 pm (Saturdays) or 10 pm (Sundays).

1417 French Bistro features both refreshed interiors and menus.

1417 French Bistro
Photo by Johanesen Photography
1417 French Bistro features both refreshed interiors and menus.
Rendering courtesy of Clayton Korte

Austin-themed mini golf experience putts into The Domain with star chef

Putt Putt Cocktails

Get your putters ready, Austin. A new mini golf experience is coming to The Domain later this year, with fantastic food from one of the city's favorite culinary teams to flavor the deal.

Scheduled to open in fall 2022, Dirdie Birdie will be Austin's first indoor course and feature 12 one-of-a-kind Austin themed mini golf holes. A restaurant and full bar directed by Chef Nicholas Yanes and his Excelsior management group (the team behind Juniper, Uncle Nicky's, and Verbena) will be on hand to keep you refreshed between rounds.

Situated in 9,500 square feet of indoor and outdoor space, the concept is the brainchild of Austin couple Vik and Lina Khasat.

“We are so thrilled to bring this concept to Austin,” said Vik and Lina. “The Dirdie Birdie combines all of our favorite things, elevated food and drink mixed with an amazing interactive experience. We are creating the ideal gathering place for families, date night, friends and everything in between.”

Award-winning local architects Clayton Korte are designing the colorful space, incorporating new age design with vintage golf elements. The 12-hole course will feature several Austin-inspired holes recreated after iconic buildings and landmarks from around the city.

Chef Nicholas Yanes of Excelsior Hospitality told CultureMap that he's a long-time fan of mini golf. This new restaurant at Dirdie Birdie will offer guests a full-service restaurant and bar featuring an elevated menu with a mix of small bites and entrees.

“This is such an exciting project for us,” says Yanes in a release. “We will be creating a menu focused on local and regional ingredients that connects with the guests in a cheeky and fun way.”

Located at 10910 Domain Drive, the Dirdie Birdie is sure to be a hole-in-one for families, foodies, design aficionados, mini golf champions, and everyone in between. Head to dirdiebirdieatx.com or follow @thedirdiebirdie on Instagram for updates on the grand opening.

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Queer Eye star Bobby Berk dishes on his favorite places in Austin

An eye for nice things

Queer Eye decor guru Bobby Berk has spent more time in Austin than many visitors do. Off and on, he and the rest of the Queer Eye cast stayed in Austin for a number of months to film the sixth season of the Netflix lifestyle and fashion makeover show.

Armed with his insider-like knowledge of Austin, Berk has compiled a new list of his favorite spots for eating, drinking, shopping, recreating, and resting your head. The list appears on Flipboard; Berk is guest curator of Flipboard’s travel newsletter, Wanderlust.

With this list, "I’m giving you a peek into all the things I absolutely adore about Austin,” Houston-born Berk says.

Here’s a rundown of Berk’s picks for grabbing a drink or a bite to eat in Austin, along with his commentary about each place.

El Arroyo
This Tex-Mex institution is most well known for its witty signs (where the Fab Five and I posed for pics). But you also need to try the amazing food — and probably loosen your belt when you’re done."

The Roosevelt Room
For a special cocktail, head to the Roosevelt Room. This elegant speakeasy has stylish interiors and even better drinks (and also offers options to go)."

Café No Sé
A bright and beautiful all-day café with something for everyone (including some mouth-watering desserts)."

Container Bar (now permanently closed)
One of the most unique bars I’ve ever seen, it’s constructed entirely of shipping containers. A great spot to unwind after a long day of work — or, you know, transforming the homes of heroes."

Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon
You’ll find amazing, fresh, and flavorful Mexican at Fresa’s. The Achiote and Citrus chicken is truly the stuff of food fantasies!"

Berk’s shopping selections are:

  • Four Hands Home, a home furnishings retailer
  • Nannie Inez (now online-only), a home goods store
  • Room Service Vintage, a retailer of vintage furniture, lamps, jewelry, clothing, and home décor
  • Stag Provisions, a men’s clothing shop
  • Daughters, a women’s clothing shop

Berk’s recreation picks are:

  • B Cycle, a bike rental service
  • Icosa Collective, an artist-run nonprofit gallery
  • Zilker Park
  • Barton Springs Pool

Berk’s lodging choices are:

  • The Proper Austin
  • Hotel Magdalena
  • Hotel San José
  • AC Hotel
  • The Carpenter Hotel
Photo by Paul Bardagy

Iconic Austin restaurant Fonda San Miguel unveils innovative chef duo

Fonda News

Today may mark the 160th anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, but Austin’s iconic interior Mexican restaurant Fonda San Miguel is celebrating more than Cinco de Mayo. Ahead of its 47th anniversary, the legendary staple of authentic Mexican cuisine has announced two co-chefs now at the helm of the historic restaurant.

Co-founded in 1975 by Tom Gilliland and late chef Miguel Ravago, Fonda San Miguel was the first Austin restaurant to focus on authentic cuisine from interior Mexico. Ravago’s recipes were inspired by his grandmother’s kitchen, and he was known as a master of authentic Mexican food and a giant in the Texas culinary industry. He passed away in June 2017 following a battle with lung cancer, and the two new co-chefs will be the first to fill his post at Fonda San Miguel.

“No one could ever replace Miguel,” says Gilliland in a release. “He wore many hats and filled multiple kitchen roles in a way only he was capable of. It felt right to hire not one, but two skilled chefs to carry on his legacy.”

The two new chefs are Mexico City native Carlos Monroy and sourcing expert Blanca Zesati. Formally trained at the Colegio Superior de Gastronomia, Monroy boasts a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts with a specialization in regional Mexican cuisine. He most recently served as executive chef of Servido, a Mexico City catering company known for servicing celebrity clients such as Shakira, Dua Lipa, and Paul McCartney.

“I want to continue showing the world that Mexican food is more than tacos, burritos, and quesadillas,” Monroy says. “Fonda San Miguel is the perfect place to do that. What Tom and Miguel built almost 50 years ago has stood the test of time and will continue to live on. Our customers are already familiar with the beauty of Mexican cooking, and I am humbled to carry on the tradition.”

Although born and raised in Chicago, Zesati likewise boasts Mexican roots. Her most recent post was as executive sous chef at Austin’s renowned Miraval Resort & Spa, where she spent eight years creating inventive menus for guests with dietary restrictions. Zesati spearheaded a fully organic menu program that changed nightly and provided complete nutritional information to guests. Her extensive experience with procuring unique ingredients has made her an expert ingredient curator and a frequent partner of niche producers throughout the city.

“I’m excited to learn more about my own culture through food,” Zesati says. “My dad is from Mexico, so we visited often growing up. I want to see how I can incorporate what I’ve learned over the course of my career with what I know about my family’s heritage, and hopefully bring Austin some healthier, plant-based Mexican food along the way.”

Gilliland attributes Fonda San Miguel’s longevity to its ability to adapt and evolve while staying true to its core identity, which is part of the motivation behind hiring these two innovative new chefs. He is equally excited about Monroy’s mastery of Mexican breads such as pan dulce as he is about Zesati’s experience crafting creative, organic menus.

“Over the last decade, I’ve noticed a marked increase in guests with dietary restrictions,” says Gilliland, “Vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free — and what those people might not know is that those options already exist. Authentic Mexican cooking is largely plant-based, so that’s what Blanca’s focus will be; researching, sourcing, and incorporating those dishes into Fonda San Miguel’s menu.”

Ultimately, Gilliland tasked both Zesati and Monroy with expanding the existing Fonda San Miguel menu while retaining the restaurant’s core offerings.

“The new items aren’t replacing anything,” he says. “But I’m confident adding them will help us be more approachable to more people. I’ve been around long enough to know that the best way to create an enduring legacy is to continue evolving, continue pushing the envelope and consistently make everyone feel welcome, seen and loved.”

The news comes just in time for Cinco de Mayo celebrations, and Fonda San Miguel invites patrons old and new to sample the expanded menu with a ‘Numero Uno’ margarita (or two) on May 5 as part of the festivities. Fonda San Miguel is located at 2330 W. North Loop Blvd. Guests can visit fondasanmiguel.com to make reservations.

The legendary Mexican restaurant announced new co-chefs and an expanded menu.

Fonda San Miguel
Photo by Paul Bardagy
The legendary Mexican restaurant announced new co-chefs and an expanded menu.
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Breathtaking Hill Country hideaway is one of Vrbo's top 10 vacation homes in the country


A magnificently hidden home located just an hour away from Austin has been chosen as one of Vrbo's "Vacation Homes of the Year" for 2023. It was the only Texas home chosen out hundreds of thousands of private residences on the vacation rental site.

The Vacation Homes of the Year showcases several popular homes throughout the country (with the occasional international spot) that range from "idyllic lakeside escapes to cozy mountain retreats and desert paradises." In all, two homes are based in California, and one each in Arizona, North Carolina, Oregon, New York, Florida, South Carolina, Idaho, Colorado, and Mexico.

Texas' Hill Country Riverfront Hideaway is tucked away on five acres of land bordering the Pedernales River in Dripping Springs. The home spans 2,150 square feet with an open-concept living area, three spacious bedrooms, two lavish bathrooms, a modern chef's kitchen, fireplace, and a breathtaking wrap-around terrace.

Floor-to-ceiling windows complete the space, allowing guests to take in all of the tranquility the Hill Country has to offer. With the home's 430 feet of river access, visitors can enjoy escaping the city and relax into the views of the vast canyon below.

Dripping Springs Riverfront HideawayImagine a getaway to this Hill Country paradise. Photo courtesy of Vrbo

The property is within a half hour drive to many of the finest wineries, breweries, and must-see outdoor recreation spots in nearby Dripping Springs. Fredericksburg is only an hour's drive west for those wanting to put a greater distance between them and downtown Austin.

The average nightly cost for the riverfront oasis is $475, making it an ideal destination for small groups, a family trip, or a couple's getaway.

Dripping Springs Riverfront Hideaway

Photo courtesy of Vrbo

The Hill Country Riverfront Hideaway was the only Texas home chosen on Vrbo's list.

Expedia Brands president Jon Gieselman shared in a press release that there were plenty of eye-catching homes to wade through for the report.

"This year’s Vacation Homes of the Year range from an urban oasis and a cozy ranch home under $400 a night to a beachfront estate that can sleep the whole family and more," said Gieselman. "Every single Vacation Home of the Year has a beautiful view, and combined boast seven private pools and fire pits, eight hot tubs and even five putting greens."

The full list of Vrbo's 2023 Vacation Homes of the Year are:

  • No. 1 – The Oasis Estate in Palm Springs, California
  • No. 2 – The Happy Roadrunner in Phoenix, Arizona
  • No. 3 – The Chasestone in Lake Norman, North Carolina
  • No. 4 – The Contemporary Gem in Manzanita, Oregon
  • No. 5 – Ocean View Oasis in Montauk, New York
  • No. 6 – The Riverfront Hideaway in Dripping Springs, Texas
  • No. 7 – 30A My Way in Rosemary Beach, Florida
  • No. 8 – Port of Call in Isle of Palms, South Carolina
  • No. 9 – Salmonfly Lodge in Victor, Idaho
  • No. 10 – Trestle House in Winter Park, Colorado
  • No. 11 – Villa Luna Nueva in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
More information about Vrbo's 2023 Vacation Homes of the Year can be found on their website.

Whataburger weighs in as healthiest cheeseburger in the nation


With its love of greasy enchiladas, gluttonous fried steaks, and fat-speckled brisket, Texas isn’t always known as a healthy eating mecca. But it turns out that one locally beloved dish isn’t as unhealthy as one might think.

Inspired by February’s American Heart Month (albeit belatedly), Gambling.com decided to dig deep into which fast-food burger was best for the ticker and the body overall. What that has to do with online slots is anyone’s guess, but perhaps open-heart surgeries are not conducive to risk-taking.

Surprise, surprise, surprise! Local favorite/ food cult Whataburger took the top slot, earning honors with its standby cheeseburger. Assumably, the gambling site considered the mustard-slathered original, eschewing calorie bombs like bacon slices and creamy pepper sauce. Where’s the fun of Whataburger if you can’t get it just like you like it?

To arrive at the rankings, Gambling.com analyzed each burger for sugar, fat, salt, and calorie content per ounce. Each metric was given a one to ten score that factored into the final report card shared with content-hungry food journalists everywhere.

Coming in a close second was In-N-Out’s cheeseburger, a comforting fact for Texans who enjoy complaining about Californians. Rounding out the top five were Checker’s Checkerburger with Cheese, Culver’s ButterBurger Cheese, and Del Taco’s del Cheese Burger.

For those trying to make better eating choices, that list should give some pause. Yes, Whataburger beats out other fast-food faves, but it was competing against a chain that literally toasts all their buns in churned cream. Health is a relative concept.

Elsewhere on the list was another Texas darling, the No. 6 ranked Dairy Queen. Apparently, all that “hungr” is being busted by a hefty dose of sodium. Yes, we will take fries with that.

Texas ranks No. 2 best state to start a small business in new report


Texas regularly ranks highly among business-friendly states, earning the No. 1 spot in Chief Executive magazine's recent annual report and the No. 5 spot in a February study of the best states for female entrepreneurs. Now, new research shows the Lone Star State stands out as one of the best places to start a small business, specifically.

Business credit card experts Capital on Tap determined Texas is the second best state to start a small business, right after Florida. They retrieved their data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics based on several factors, including new firm survival rates, corporate tax rates, the number of entrepreneurs per state, and more.

Texas has very friendly tax frameworks when it comes to small businesses; it is one of five total states that don’t impose any income tax. Furthermore, all Texas businesses that make less than $1.08 million in revenue don’t owe any franchise tax. That also includes all businesses that have less than $1,000 in tax liability.

If a small business owner in Texas needed to take out a loan, they’d be able to secure $4,811 per employee, which is the fifth-highest average loan amount in a calculation of all 50 states.

Capital on Tap COO Damian Brychcy says in a release that the decision to start a small business involves assessing several factors and risks, but he hopes his team’s research can provide future guidance for businesses and entrepreneurs no matter where they reside.

“Entrepreneurship is driven by the desire for independence,” he says. “This includes the freedom to pursue your passion, choose your workplace and working hours, and foster personal growth.”

Florida earned its top spot in the report due to its strong support of local economies with the highest number of jobs created by start-ups per 1,000 residents in the state. However, unlike Texas, Florida small businesses have to pay a 5.5 percent corporate tax rate.

The top states that are the best places to start a small business include:

  • No. 1 – Florida
  • No. 2 – Texas
  • No. 3 – Idaho
  • No. 4 – Nevada
  • No. 5 – North Carolina
  • No. 6 – Colorado
  • No. 7 – Washington
  • No. 8 – Georgia
  • No. 9 – California and Montana (tied)
  • No. 10 – Utah