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A bamboo-lined bar with stools. Behind it are shelves of liquor lit in green.
Tiki Tatsu-ya.
Nicolai McCrary/Eater Austin

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2021’s Most-Read Eater Austin Stories and 11 You Might Have Missed

These 12 stories got a lot of Austinites talking this year

Nadia Chaudhury is the editor of Eater Austin covering food and pop culture, as well as a photographer, writer, and frequent panel moderator and podcast guest.

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.

An outdoor restaurant patio with two small wooden benches in the foreground and tables with umbrellas in the background.

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.

A table of metal trays with hot dog sandwiches, pretzels, and condiment containers.
Food at Koko’s Bavarian.
Mackenzie Smith Kelley

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.

Snowy highway with one side full of trucks.
Icy roads during the winter storm meant there were a lot of accidents and traffic jams.
Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

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.

A line of people wearing aprons.
Contestants of Season 18 of Top Chef.
David Moir/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

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

An empty soccer stadium.
Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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

Welcome to Texas Wine Country

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

Eater Guides

The Best Things Eater Austin Editors Ate This Week: Onigiri and Dive Bar Burgers

Austin Restaurant Closings

Downtown Austin Ping-Pong Bar Has Closed

Restaurant News Brief

A Texas Seafood Boil Restaurant With Lots of Crabs Opens in Austin