Much like and yet very different from 2020, this year has been a hell of a rollercoaster ride, and Eater Austin’s most-read stories of 2021 reflect that strange, ongoing journey. The Austin restaurant industry has gone through so much this year, starting off with record-high COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in January leading into the devastating winter storm in February and on into a convoluted and confusing vaccination rollout. That was followed by a promising summer that quickly turned grim due to the delta variant and now, uncertainty with how the new omicron variant will impact the city. Despite all of this, there were good things that happened this year, from fun openings to celebrations of the local food scene.
From the exciting opening of an immersive tiki bar to the controversy surrounding the Austin winner of Top Chef to much COVID-19 news, these are the 12 stories that caught the eyes of Eater Austin readers this year, plus, 11 additional stories that you might’ve missed this year that are worth reading.
12. Revered South Texas Chain Taco Palenque Opens All-Hours Drive-Thru in Round Rock
South Texas restaurant chain Taco Palenque came closer to Austin when it opened its first Round Rock location in October. The all-hours drive-thru slings those beloved pirata tacos along with other tacos, burritos, parrilladas, and much more.
11. 10-Year-Old Austin Patio Restaurant Contigo Is Closing
In mid-December, longtime New Texan patio restaurant Contigo announced that it was closing. “After 10 years of serving our community,” wrote co-owners Ben Edgerton, chef Andrew Wiseheart, and Dana Curley in the email newsletter, “Andrew, Dana, and I feel it is time for us to let Contigo rest.” Its final day of service will be on Thursday, December 30.
10. Who Received the Largest Pandemic Restaurant Relief Grants in the Austin Area?
In the summer, Eater broke down which Austin restaurants received COVID-19 relief funding from the Restaurant Revitalization Act. The largest amount was given to Texas Restaurant Group, which is a franchisee of Panera Bread. On the actual local level, other businesses and restaurants included McGuire Moorman, New Waterloo, and the Peached Tortilla.
9. Austin Public Health Urges Everyone — Vaccinated and Unvaccinated — Wear Masks While Indoors
Despite COVID-19 vaccinations becoming more accessible, the delta variant caused another surge of cases and hospitalizations in the city last July. In response, Austin Public Health recommended that vaccinated, unvaccinated, and partially vaccinated people wear masks in all indoor scenarios.
8. An Actual Bavarian Prince Is Opening a German Restaurant in East Austin
Yes, Eater Austin confirmed that someone with ties to Bavarian royalty opened a new beer garden and German restaurant in December.
7. Take a Tour of Tiki Tatsu-Ya’s Imagined Island World
The restaurant team behind Ramen/Kemuri/DipDipDip Tatsu-yas finally opened their wonderfully immersive tiki bar on South Lamar in September.
6. ‘Texas Monthly’ Says Three Austin Restaurants Are Making Some of the Best Barbecue in Texas
The magazine’s hotly awaited barbecue list was published in October, and while the number one slot didn’t go to a Central Texas joint (the honor went to Fort Worth’s Goldee’s), three Austin restaurants made the top 10.
5. How to Help Feed People in Need During Austin’s Winter Weather Crisis
The Texas winter storm in February was an unprecedented weather crisis where deep freezes caused power outages and broke water lines, leaving many in the Austin area without heat and drinkable water as well as forcing restaurants, bars, and trucks to close. As ever, the local restaurant community rallied to do what it does best: keep people fed, hydrated, and warm.
4. Texas Governor Lifts Statewide Restaurant Indoor Dining Capacity Limits and Mask Mandate
A year into the pandemic in March 2021, the state of Texas was one of the first in the country to completely lift all COVID-19-related safety measures, despite the fact that, at the time, less than 10 percent of the state’s population had been vaccinated.
3. Austin Restaurants Temporarily Close Due to a Possible Surge in COVID-19 Cases
The new COVID-19 variant omicron is in Austin causing another surge of cases. In light of this news, restaurants have temporarily closed this week and/or for the rest of the year either to preemptively mitigate the spread of the virus or because staffers have tested positive for the virus.
2. Texas Barbecue Legend John Mueller Dies at 52
John Mueller was a legendary pitmaster who died in December in Frisco, Texas at the age of 52. He was known for cooking excellent smoked meats, such as simple-yet-great brisket and big smoked beef ribs. He had cooked in various restaurants and trucks in the Central Texas region, and most recently had been at Frisco barbecue restaurant Hutchins BBQ.
1. Top Chef’s New Winner Was Fired From Restaurant Job in December for ‘Harassment’ of an Employee
Austin chef Gabe Erales won this season of the popular cooking competition series as rumors circled online about why he had been fired from his position at Mexican restaurant Comedor. It turns out that he was fired from his position because of alleged sexual harassment, as reported by Statesman.
Other Stories You Might Have Missed
January 5, 2021
How the State of Texas Worked to Block Austin’s New Year’s Dine-In Curfew
January 28, 2021
How Birria Finally Took Off in One of America’s Best Taco Cities
February 10, 2021
During the Pandemic, Restaurants Lose Even More When You No-Show Your Reservation
March 26, 2021
Austin’s Restaurant Workers Feel Left Out of the Vaccination Rollout in Texas
April 16, 2021
Ghost Kitchens Have Totally Eclipsed Austin. What Does That Mean for the Local Food Scene?
May 12, 2021
To-Go Alcohol Is Now Officially Legal in Texas, Permanently
June 16, 2021
A Guide to Eating and Drinking at Austin FC’s New Soccer Stadium, Q2
August 12, 2021
Two Austin Restaurants’ Liquor Licenses Threatened After They Required Proof of Vaccination
September 21, 2021
October 5, 2021
Fair Wages Are a Start, But the JuiceLand Strikers Continue to Fight for Industry-Wide Change
December 1, 2021
Yelp Is Doing More to Help Winterize Restaurants Than the State of Texas