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Austin Dining Experts Pick Their Top Restaurant Newcomers of 2020

It’s the year of the burger, clever pop-ups, and highly creative takeout

A cheeseburger from Buddy’s Burger
A cheeseburger from Buddy’s Burger
Shveta @atx_bites

As is the tradition as we near the end of 2020, Eater asked a trusted group of friends, industry types, and local bloggers for their takes on the past culinary year in Austin. Given the insanity of this year, Eater has adapted the standard survey into one the reflects the new realities of takeout, restaurant shutters, and a shaky industry. All answers will be revealed before the year ends — cut, pasted, (mostly) unedited, and in no particular order. Question number two:

What newcomer on the scene excited you this year?

Sarah Engstrand, contributing writer, Eater Austin
L.E. Meals, because I had never heard of Gullah Geechee cuisine, and I think the chef’s personal story is really powerful.

Katie Friel, editor, CultureMap Austin
Bad Larry Burger Club. Matthew Bolick has turned a burger night for his friends into the city’s must-have culinary ticket, and that’s pretty extraordinary. It’s a testament to his finger-on-the-plus instincts, plus “Larry’s” social media voice is so fun and ridiculous.

Pat Sharpe, executive editor and food writer for Texas Monthly
I really love tiny Gati, which is a pure labor of love from owner Jam Sanitchat, whom many people know from Thai Fresh. Gati is located in a little building on Holly Street with just enough room for vegan, gluten-free pastries, and cookies and a couple dozen coconut-milk-based ice creams. If I had to choose just one, it would be the fantastic Golden Milk, which reminded me of a turmeric latte.

Nicolai McCrary, Austin staff writer, The Infatuation
I’ve been really excited about the rise of the smashburger in the last year. And I know that’s not really a single restaurant, but between places like Buddy’s Burgers, Bad Larry Burger Club, and Golden Castle, there’s just been this massive influx of new spots that I’m welcoming with burger-filled arms. Golden Castle even shot a slider at me from a burger cannon that exploded against the wall behind me.

Robert Jacob Lerma, photographer for Eater Austin and others
La Tunita 512. I love everything they’re doing. The birria and consommé would make any Mexican grandma proud.

Erin Russell, associate editor of Eater Austin
Le Cowboy. Austinites — if you are looking for real-deal Italian food, this is it. Runner-ups: the new tasting room from two of my favorites, Wine for the People and C.L. Butaud; Little Ola’s Biscuits (the world could always use more affordable Olamaie and more biscuit sandwiches); and Abby Jane Bakeshop (I got my first taste at her pizza pop up, and I’m even more excited for her final product at Barton Springs Mill).

Lenny Dewi, @eats_n_noods and Eater contributing writer
Tsuke Honten’s omakase.

Jane Ko, blogger, A Taste of Koko
Aba — even though this Mediterranean concept is from Chicago, I love the spacious patio on South Congress, and the food is really good.

Nadia Chaudhury, editor of Eater Austin
It’s been the year of amazing pop-ups and delivery/pickup services in Austin — the flexibility of working without dine-in spaces/table-service allowed chefs and bakers to really flex and share creative foods with the city. There’s the thoughtful blend of Gullah Geechee and New Orleans Creole fare from chef Alexandria Hollowell of L.E. Meals (I think about the shrimp and grits often); all the pop-up burgers (the Bad Larry Burger Club smashburger is perfection); the month-long Asian-y pop-up mart of Daijoubu (R.I.P. 33 Tigers, but hello Gan Bei Gals); Malaysian food service Pandan Skies (the nasi lemak is so comforting); the short-lived Bufalina Deli; and so on.

It’s also been a particularly wonderful time for baked good delivery services: the indulgent buttery creations of Vivian’s Boulangerie; chewy mochi doughnuts from Bom Bakeshop; terrific babkas and bagels from Dō by CVG; Jewish delights from Top Nosh; Thai sweets from Hhom Dee.

As for bars, I’ve been impressed with my to-go cocktails from High Noon and the frozens from Low Down Lounge.

Before the pandemic: I was mega-excited about Tsuke Honten’s affordable, thrilling, in-person omakases. Also, I went to new natural wine bar and shop LoLo four times during its first month back in February and I miss the convivial vibes greatly. I’m still order takeout bottles, though.

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