As is tradition since the end of 2016 is near, Eater asked a trusted group of friends, industry types, and local bloggers for their takes on the past culinary year in Austin. The annual survey spans eight questions, from dining surprises, saddest closures, to disappointing meals. All answers will be revealed as the week rolls on — cut, pasted, (mostly) unedited, and in no particular order. Readers, add your answers in the comments below. Third up:
What was the biggest dining surprise of 2016?
Brandon Watson, food editor of Austin Chronicle
I'm not sure the 2016 Austin dining scene really has the capacity to surprise. It's no surprise that there was a contraction in the dining scene this year, with less openings and more closings. It's no surprise that many upscale concepts are having trouble filling seats. It's no surprise that the food media scene seems bloated and uninspired this year or that restaurateurs are playing it exceedingly safe on menus or that we are losing some of our talent to more inspiring and affordable cities. I guess the only surprise is that this didn't happen in 2015.
Tom Thornton, freelance food writer and contributor at Eater Austin
Perhaps it isn't a surprise, but it was interesting to see restaurant concepts lean safe this year by and large after a number of high-end shutters of more eclectic spots like Gardner and LaV.
Patricia Sharpe, executive editor and food writer for Texas Monthly
That Hudson’s on the Bend came back! It was at the pinnacle of Austin dining in the eighties. It might well be in the top tier again.
Jane Ko, blogger at A Taste of Koko
Taqueria La Esperanza (3612 South Congress) — this tiny trailer parked off of South Congress serves up the best barbacoa gorditas.
Melody Fury, freelance food writer, blogger at Gourmet Fury, and contributor at Eater Austin
Seeing the trend of restaurants relaunching with completely new concepts, some without much notice, including: Gardner to Chicon, Eastside Showroom to Ah Sing Den, Mettle to Ophelia to Trackside, Olivia to Lucy’s Fried Chicken, and Qui revamping as Kuneho.
Jolène M. Bouchon, critic for Austin Monthly
The number of closures. The market's really saturated and rents are nuts, so some of that was inevitable. But 2016 seemed to see more than its fair share of restaurant shutters.
Nadia Chaudhury, editor of Eater Austin
That people really crave the familiar and comfort, so much so that there aren’t as many fine(r) dining establishments in Austin anymore. And the mega-popularity of the Domain Northside and Rock Rose district for restaurants, bars, and customers.