Let’s not limit discovery to just local music — Austin has way too many great eateries to ignore this pillar of the city’s culture.
Of course, good restaurants come and go for a variety of reasons, and keeping up with notable new spots is a full-time job. (Seriously, Austin’s food critics stay busy. We know because we read their reviews dutifully.)
So in the spirit of discovery, we’ve put together a list of 22 new restaurants in town we think are worth checking out.
Our primary selection criteria:
• Doors opened no earlier than January 1, 2014.
• Reboots of old classics and permanent homes for food trailers are fair game.
• Input from critics and patrons (via Yelp! and other such review platforms) were given roughly equal weight.
This is not a ranked list; we wouldn’t feel comfortable calling one restaurant better than another. But for easier browsing, we at least alphabetized the entries.
Let us know if you think we left some place off the list!
Up in Spicewood along the Pedernales River, Apis features a welcoming interior, 20 beehives, and all the delicious honey you could ever want. The whole concept — from the bees to the menu to the decor — represents a lifelong dream of owner Taylor Hall, last seen working as the head chef at Supper Underground.
Matthew Odam from the Austin-American Statesman ranked Chef Mark Schmidt’s Blackbird & Henry No. 17 on his list of best restaurants in Austin at the end of 2014. “[Schmidt’s] campus-area restaurant features Texas cuisine like fried quail with creamy white corn grits, and the British influence — and India’s effect on that country — can be tasted across the menu, from cocktails (a Calcuta Ritta with a curry-salted rim) to entrees (a mild curried prawn kedgeree with fried lentils and fluffy couscous) and dessert (a strawberry and cream Eton Mess),” Odam wrote.
The beloved butcher shop and supper club on Manor Road opened as a full-on restaurant in 2014, now serving breakfast and lunch. The emphasis as always is local, seasonal ingredients — so much so that the supper and day menus have to be filtered with a calendar.
El Sapo took over the Flat Top Burgers spot on Manor Road last summer and picks up where the former burger joint left off. “The real fun starts when you venture out across the menu and try some of their specialty burgers and sandwiches,” writes Full and Content’s Lisa Rawlinson. “The Lamburgesa, with a thick slice of grilled queso panela, cucumber slices and lemon-serrano aioli, is a tasty alternative, and El Pascador will satisfy fans of a good fish sandwich, with its perfectly flakey buttermilk-battered Texas black drum.”
French-Vietnamese colonial fusion cafes are the kind of places where if you find a good one you will stick with it forever. Elizabeth Street Cafe, however, takes it up a notch by somehow combining the charm of the best bistros in Austin and Paris with excellent Vietnamese flavors. Said Austinot’s Erin May, “It is the dedication to carefully constructed, hearty meals that will keep me and so many others coming back.”
Upscale Southern food restaurant Fixe definitely wins the award for best family meal in Austin: Just look at that sea of jalapeño cornbread pictured above! Bonus points for the special grits section on the menu and the barrel-aged cocktails.
Fork and Taco is like one big love letter to Austin’s food scene. “The day we moved to Austin it was 70 degrees and sunny…and it was December,” owners Jeff and Susan McCoy write. “Within hours of being here, a taco truck pulled up and three neighbors stopped by to say hello and helped us move in.” To return the favor, they grabbed Chef Casey Fannin, formerly of Uchi, and started making some of the city’s absolute best and most innovative tacos.
After four years of building up a loyal following in a food trailer, Sidney Roberts and her husband, Anthony, found a cozy brick-and-mortar home for G’Raj Mahal on Rainey in 2014. “We have rebuilt and custom-designed an old house into a funky, beautiful space featuring: a large, gorgeous wooden deck in the back patio, a lovely stone front yard, comfortable indoor café seating, and a premium wine and beer bar,” the owners write.
The team from Contigo — Andrew Wiseheart and Ben Edgerton — have opened a new place to much fanfare, and with an emphasis on vegetables. This is your best bet in town for a plate of celery root and black truffles that will blow your mind.
This family-run restaurant in East Austin sources all of its meat from the family’s ranch in Melvin. Owner Adam Jacoby says that he draws much of his inspiration from growing up in Melvin, where his parents ran a feed store and cafe in addition to raising four children.
Chefs Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki opened this East Austin neighborhood cafe (converted from an old laundromat) in February 2015 after months of anticipation. So far, their casual-yet-innovative approach to the cuisine has won people over. “The approachable menu draws from an eclectic mix of influences, accented with flavors such as anchovy, togarashi and scotch bonnet,” CultureMap’s Melody Fury wrote in February.
It’s not easy for a Tex-Mex place to stand out in Austin, but Austin Monthly’s Lynne Margolis and Veronica Meewes argue that Licha’s Cantina, opened in January 2014, does just that. “With hospitality and homestyle food served in an intimate setting, Licha’s truly makes you feel like their casa is your casa,” they write.”
The food trailer that serves some of the best, most authentic food from southern Italy opened a brick-and-mortar location on West 5th Street in early February. “Don’t worry,” the owners write, “the trailer location will continue to serve puccias, but if it’s pizza, salad, beer and wine that you want then come visit our new location.”
Chef Shane Stark & Roberto San Miguel got together in 2014 and created a restaurant / wholesale seafood market that promises some of the freshest fish and shrimp from the Texas Gulf. The restaurant’s menu is seasonal, and there is also an awesome raw bar featuring oysters, shrimp and crab.
After four years of inspiring pilgrimages up north, Noble Sandwiches opened a central location in spring 2014. Meanwhile, accolades keep rolling in for Noble Sandwiches, including Men’s Journal putting the seared beef tongue sandwich on its list of 50 best sandwiches in America.
The Austin Chronicle’s Virginia B. Wood wrote a sparkling review of Olamaie when it opened in August. Special praise was reserved for the biscuits, which the chefs had tried to keep as a secret, but now they’re mentioned in every review of this place. Oops.
For some people, eating from the The Peached Tortilla’s truck was a borderline religious experience. Now that the team has opened a restaurant on Burnet Road, those folks finally have a proper place of worship.
Purveyors of the city’s finest New Haven-style pizzas, Salvation opened up a second location on Rainey Street in February.
Just downriver from Jacoby’s, this Cajun and Creole diner is doing a lot of things right: $5 happy hour cocktails, legit po’ boys, hurricanes on tap, and astroturf out on the patio.
The Scarlet Rabbit opened up in Round Rock summer 2014 to provide a “culinary rabbit hole” for adventurous eaters to venture down. That’s no joke. Check out some of the menu items: quail flatbread, fried oyster nachos, and Texas Bouillabaisse.
Here is a repeatable model for success: Take the team behind a proven hotspot (Uchi), focus their efforts on making great pizzas and baked goods, then just for the fun of it put s’mores pancakes on the brunch menu.
A reboot of a classic hangout from the ‘70s, Taco Flats earned rave reviews from Thrillist Austin: “True to old-school Austin, their menu runs the gamut from carnitas tortas to hemp seed burgers and ‘hippie tacos’ with grilled Oaxaca cheese, refried black beans, and house pickled escabeche — all on delicate, house-made tortillas, of course.”
Alan / Flickr
Other images courtesy of the restaurants’ web pages or Facebook pages.