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 two:
What was your best restaurant meal of 2021?
Raphael Brion, Texas editor, The Infatuation, and former editor of Eater
I don’t think I had a definitive best meal, but 2021 was all about moving fast (or staying up late) to score the hard-to-get reservations online, like Tsuke Edomae, SXSE’s Chef’s Table, Bad Larry Burger Club, Otoko, and Tiki Tatsu-Ya. Each required work and a fair bit of luck, and each was spectacular in its own way.
Pat Sharpe, executive editor and food writer for Texas Monthly
Lutie’s hit all the marks — lovely, garden ambiance overlooking a 10-acre former Austin estate and an imaginative, vegetable-focused menu. The husband-and-wife chefs, Bradley Nicholson and Susana Querejazu previously worked respectively at Benu and Saison in San Francisco and have translated their skills into dishes like garnet-hued beets simmered for hours with black garlic, shallots, and butter, and black cod on buttery Delta Blues heirloom rice. Beeswax crème caramel redefines the word decadent.
Nicolai McCrary, Austin staff writer, The Infatuation, and photographer for Eater Austin
My best bite goes to the carnitas revueltas at Carnitas El Guero. It’s nothing fancy, but that savory blend of pork shoulder, skin, stomach, and loin all wrapped up in a warm tortilla was enough to make me momentarily forget that I was sitting in the front seat of my car in a gas station parking lot. But for an overall experience, it’s pretty difficult to beat the immersive escape that is Tiki Tatsu-Ya. It’s like Disneyworld for tiki fans, with just enough of that distinct Tatsu-Ya flair to keep things fun.
Paula Forbes, cookbook writer and critic, and former editor of Eater Austin
Tie between my first-ever trip to the exquisite Otoko and the over-the-top dream of Tiki Tatsu-ya. How lucky are we to live in a city that has both of these spectacular restaurants?
Erin Russell, associate editor of Eater Austin
Recency bias is playing a role here, but I recently attended a Midnight in the Garden dinner cooked by Grae Nonas, who, all the attendees determined, ruined pasta anywhere else for us. The combination of his perfectly chewy pastas, the fascinating wines from the Canary Islands, and the general ambiance and company made for an exceptional evening.
Nadia Chaudhury, editor of Eater Austin
- A ridiculously fantastic omakase at Tsuke Edomae.
- I know that Vivian’s Boulangerie is on hiatus right now (with a plan to reopen for two days in January 2022) but I think about this ridiculous niçoise croissant sandwich on a daily basis.
- Everything at Comadre Panaderia is amazing, but I am particularly taken with the breakfast empanadas, especially if you pour the house-made salsa into said empanada with every bite.
- A newer standby meal for me has been tinned fish and wine, and the option at LoLo is perfection.
- The textures and flavors of the dreamy quiche at Abby Jane Bakeshop is another one of those dishes I think about a lot.
- I could eat a ton of the rich lima beans from Distant Relatives and never get sick of ‘em.
- The salty-savory-crunchy nasi lemak from pop-up Penang Shack.
- Plump lil momos from Lali Son Fast Food.
- That very spicy fried chicken sandwich from the Fiery Talon.
- Doubles from Shirley’s Trini Cuisine.
- Alllllll the birria tacos.