As is the tradition as we near the end of 2021, 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 that 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 one:
What were your regular go-to destinations in 2021? What newcomer on the scene excited you this year?
Raphael Brion, Texas editor, The Infatuation, and former editor of Eater
My regular go-to is the same every year. It’s Bufalina Due. The pizza’s great, the wines are adventurous, the staff are friendly, the soundtrack is always a delight, and outside of peak hours, there’s almost never a wait. It also helps that it’s pretty close to my house.
So many great new spots opened in 2021! The list is so long. Just to name a few, there’s Ramen 512, Saddle Up, Canje, Yeni’s Fusion, Carnitas El Guero on North Lamar, Con Todo, Sammie’s, Favorite Pizza, Lutie’s, Birdie’s, Tsuke Edomae, Distant Relatives, and Abby Jane Bakeshop. It’s sort of difficult to imagine Austin now without any of these places? What a year. But if I had to pick one, the most exciting opening for 2021 has got to be Tiki Tatsu-Ya. It’s a truly magical and immersive experience that’ll leave you grinning for days. What the Tatsu-Ya team and [designers] McCray & Co. have achieved here is nothing short of genius. There is nothing else like it on the planet.
Jane Ko, blogger, A Taste of Koko
Tamale House, El Chilito, Sazan, Fat City Stacks, Qi, Bento Picnic. I was particularly excited for Meanwhile Brewing — there are four different food trucks on the property (Dough Boys, Pueblo Viejo, Distant Relatives, and Besame) and they have a really great sour beer on tap.
Pat Sharpe, executive editor and food writer for Texas Monthly
Every time I meet visitors from out of town, I take them to Summer House on Music Lane at the Hotel Magdalena, which has such a lovely terrace stretching along the side. Another bonus is that it’s on the less-frantic northern part of South Congress Avenue. The whipped feta with tomato jam is such a great shareable starter, and I love the charred eggplant toast with tahini and lovely little pickled raisins.
Birdie’s is the newcomer that has me really excited. It’s high-level dining in a low-key setting on East Twelfth. You line up to order, but once you’re seated, there are servers to tend to your needs. I’ve had fantastic scallops there, with a French pistou, and the most delicious sweet potato with mascarpone and a spunky relish. They’ve got a very impressive list of wines that emphasize organic and natural principles. The co-owners Arjav Ezekiel and Tracy-Malachek-Ezekiel are a young husband-and-wife team (he is manager/sommelier and she is the executive chef) who have impressive credentials, including Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern in NYC.
Lenny Dewi, @eats_n_noods and Eater contributing writer
I have so many to list when it comes to regular go-to destinations but here are a few on the top of my head: Pho Phong Lu’u, Fresh Tofu, Broth and Basil, Twin Panda, Seoulju, SXSE [Food Co.], Musashino, Julie’s Noodles, Ho Ho, Din Ho, Mom’s Taste, House of Three Gorges, and many more.
The newcomer that excites me this year is Ramen 512. I have watched Vinh grow from cooking ramen at his apartment, to working with Ramen Shack, pop-ups, and now his brick-and-mortar. Not only that I am excited to have his ramen, but I have seen his ups and downs and love how his passion still pushed through obstacles and he is where he is now.
Nicolai McCrary, Austin staff writer, The Infatuation, and photographer for Eater Austin
I’m pretty sure I spent more time at Cuantos Tacos than at the gym this year — a feat I’m quite proud of — with each visit further reinforcing my love for their Mexico City-style tacos. Between them and the new resident Sammataro, I could spend a lot of time at the Arbor Food Park.
As far as newcomers, it’s difficult to beat Distant Relatives for managing to bring something new and exciting to the world of barbecue in a part of Texas that’s almost synonymous with smoked meat. But here I am visiting it over and over.
Paula Forbes, cookbook writer and critic, and former editor of Eater Austin
Bufalina, Kome, Amaya’s, and Ramen Tatsu-ya are my forever faves. Justine’s to celebrate. Newcomers I loved this year include Carnitas El Guero and Steamie’s, both of which regularly save my butt when I just canNOT get my act together to cook dinner. Distant Relatives. Bad Larry Burger Club.
Erin Russell, associate editor of Eater Austin
Better Half is my always and forever, and moving to a new neighborhood added Workhorse Bar to the mix. For most exciting, and probably a new go-to, Birdie’s brought me so much joy this year (in the form of pasta and soft serve), and I’m so glad Canje has made its debut.
Nadia Chaudhury, editor of Eater Austin
My go-to Austin restaurants have been well-documented through these annual questionnaires, so as to not be repetitive (ILU always and forever, Veracruz All Natural/Better Half.), I’ll highlight some others that have been added to my stable:
- Nixta Taqueria has grown into the place where I take out-of-town friends for a good meal and perfect wine.
- Cuantos Tacos has become one of my go-to regular taco destinations (the suadero is just dreamy).
- Bento Picnic’s combination of simple yet tasting lunches + excellent wine bottle choices.
- Bummer Burrito has become my “I wanna indulge-slash-I can’t think of what I want to eat” destination more often than I’d like to admit.
- Celebrating takeout Eid with Usta Kababgy was ideal (those kabobs!) and takeout Hanukkah with Jewboy Burgers (latke burgers!).
- Seoulju for steadfast Korean fare.
- Kome for some of the best sushi in town.
And as for newcomers:
- Canje and Birdie’s are breaths of fresh air in the Austin dining scene (those desserts from the former and those pastas from the latter!!!).
- I’m mega-delighted that Comadre Panaderia has a home for now at Nixta. I’m still thinking about those breakfast empanadas and rolls.
- Bad Larry Burger Club’s burgers are so damn good.
- I’m always a big fan of places opening in South Austin, and Distant Relatives’s move to Meanwhile Brewing makes me very happy.
- Tiki Tatsu-ya is a straight-up otherworldly experience that everyone should enjoy at least once in their lifetime.
- The drive out to Dripping Springs is well worth it if you make a stop at Abby Jane Bakeshop.
- The tacos AND food perspective of Con Todo is so crucial.