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Austin’s Biggest Dining Surprises of 2019

From the best whole hog in Texas to Asian pop-ups

A bowl of ramen from Ramen 512
A bowl of ramen from Ramen 512
Nadia Chaudhury/EATX
Erin Russell is associate editor of Eater Austin, a native Austinite, and a big fan of carbs.

As is the tradition as we near the end of 2019, 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 to best food neighborhoods and disappointing meals. All answers will be revealed as the week rolls on — cut, pasted, (mostly) unedited, and in no particular order. Question number five:

What was the biggest dining surprise of 2019?

Jane Ko, blogger, A Taste of Koko
Vaquero Taquero — I didn’t have high expectations for little taco joint near campus but the quesadilla with Oaxacan cheese is so good. Reminds me of Mexico City.

Raphael Brion, former Eater editor and Texas Editor of The Infatuation
It’s not really a surprise because the Tatsu-ya team is good at what they do, but they’ve become like a Voltron of restaurants and bars. Well, if instead of robotic lions, Voltron was made out of an izakaya, a shabu-shabu restaurant, and ramen joints. Actually, I want a robot like that.

Jolène M. Bouchon, critic at Austin Monthly
The quick omakase at Uroko is an utter delight. It exceeded my expectations. Also, the way the Tatsu-ya team transformed the DipDipDip interior. I live around the corner, so I know what it looked like before. The alteration is absolute. You just feel like you’ve stepped into a whole different world. And it’s a shame that Garrison is hidden away in the back of the circus tent that is the new Fairmont. The food far exceeds its surroundings.

Robert Jacob Lerma, photographer for Eater Austin and others
The whole hog at Banger’s. Up there with the best in the Carolinas and Tennessee, here in Austin. (Disclosure: Banger’s is a photography client of Lerma’s) And the vegan tacos at Nixta. Don’t tell my carnivore friends, but I could live off those tacos and die a happy man.

Pat Sharpe, executive editor and food writer for Texas Monthly
Well, it’s no surprise that traditional upscale so-called white tablecloth restaurants are in decline, even though two of my top choices are “nice restaurants.”

Erin Russell, associate editor of Eater Austin
It was incredible to see Emmer & Rye transform itself into a Caribbean restaurant, diner, and French brasserie during the brunch series. I finally tried the tasting menu at Barley Swine and I think I was expecting it to be a little tired since it’s been around so long, it is out of this world. I thought that milkshake trend from 2015 was over but oh man, it is not.

Nadia Chaudhury, editor of Eater Austin
I know that people often complain about the lack of strong East Asian/Southeast Asian/South Asian restaurants in Austin. But it’s been amazing to see so many Asian food and drink pop-ups this year in Austin, including Roosevelt Room’s Caer Maiko and Sharon Yeung’s cocktail pop-up Daijoubu where they explore Asian-American flavors via drinks; the reinvented Indian-Texas supper club 33 Tigers (née Puli-Ra); and Vinh Thai’s roaming ramen pop-up Ramen 512.