After taking a pause in 2020 due to everything, it is now time to celebrate the best new restaurants and people who have made the biggest impacts on Austin’s dining scene again. We’re extremely excited to announce the winners of the returning 2021 Eater Awards.
These awardees represent the best of the best in Austin, the chefs and businesses that have continued to support the community and serve excellent food despite encountering all the trials and tribulations of the past 22 months. This year’s winners shaped the distinct and exciting Austin culinary culture. Everyone below will each receive the traditional Eater tomato can trophy.
Please join us in celebrating this year’s group of winners. Without further ado, here they are.
Best New Restaurant of the Past Two Years
Throughout the pandemic, Nixta Taqueria co-owners chef Edgar Rico and Sara Mardanbigi have been resilient. They opened their tiny counter-service restaurant in October 2019, and in the time since then, much changed for the East Austin establishment, but still, its core identity remains an ideal Austin restaurant with thoughtful tacos, a kick-ass natural wine list, and fun atmosphere.
But the restaurant is clearly not just about food for the couple; it’s about contributing to their community and elevating their colleagues. Nixta serves its community, from hosting the city’s first free fridge courtesy of ATX Free Fridge Project to straight-up cooking food for people without power and water during the horrific winter storm earlier this year. Rico and Mardanbigi also work with and learn their fellow taco slingers (Discada, Cuantos Tacos, Veracruz All Natural).
And the food, the food is so wonderful. The vegetable dishes are exquisite takes like the lovely beet tartare tostada, the meat ones are luscious, such as the hearty duck carnitas tacos. The fresh corn tortillas are perfection. We’d be remiss in not highlighting the sholeh zard, a delightful Persian rice pudding. Combine that with the excellent wine choices (ask a staffer for a recommendation, they’re always right). The physical restaurant even flourished during those dark months, growing from a tiny dining room into not one but two additional patio areas, allowing for more festive spaces.
Truth be told, Nixta would’ve won the restaurant of the year title in 2020 if we had held the awards that year, and, day after day, Rico and Mardanbigi continued to reaffirm that pronouncement daily. —Nadia Chaudhury
2512 East 12th Street, Chestnut; Official Site
Best New Barbecue Food Truck
Naturally, one of Eater National’s best new restaurants in America this year is also one of the best ones in Austin. The Southeast Austin food truck is part ridiculously great barbecue spot and part exploration into the interconnected roots of African American barbecue embarked by owner and pitmaster Damien Brockway and his skilled team.
The barbecue menu is a true reflection of the African-American diaspora and Brockway himself — the former fine-dining chef uncovered his own family history, where it turns out his ancestors were brought to North America as slaves by way of West Africa. This all results in a delicious array of meats — oh-so-juicy chicken, tender brisket, soft pulled pork — and sides highlighting African ingredients and techniques. It’s the latter that truly best exemplifies the truck’s whole mission: there are lima beans paired with a smoked pork butter, grits with okra, and burnt ends mixed with black-eyed peas.
The newer location at Austin brewery Meanwhile Brewing is great for proximity to great beers and coffee for all of your smoked meats needs. —NC
Meanwhile Brewing, 3901 Promontory Point Drive, McKinney; Official Site
Best New Neighborhood Wine Bar
Visiting the counter-service East Austin wine restaurant is like dropping into the backyard party of your cool neighbors (husband and wife team Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel and Arjav Ezekiel) who know how to cook and have a fun wine collection. The patio is casual and welcoming, and the food is simple but impressive.
Malechek-Ezekiel’s New American menu is full of hits, from standbys like the beef tartare or the panisse served with black pepper and a shower of pecorino to frequently rotating house-made pasta to the soft serve with citrus-tinged olive oil, which is well on its way to becoming an iconic Austin dessert. Then, there’s the selection of wine, vermouth, and more, kept ever-exciting by Ezekiel. There may be a wait to get into Birdie’s, but it’s worth it. —Erin Russell
2944 East 12th Street, Unit A, Chestnut; Official Site
Best New Bakery Pop-Up
Austin is a lucky town since owner and bakery Mariela Camacho moved her pandemic-born bakery pop-up from San Antonio into Austin. The pop-up started off as a delivery service when people couldn’t be together in real life, offering people a way to connect with thoughtful baked goods during lonely times.
The baked goods variety allows her to explore her Xicana roots through local ingredients and really delicious flavors. There are light conchas in amazing flavors (like raspberry-coconut or chocolate), prickly pear cookies, cardamom orejas, and, seriously, anything stuffed with guava is a must.
It makes sense that the pop-ups are currently held at fellow Eater Award winner Nixta Taqueria. Camacho often gives back, encouraging people to donate foods to free fridges or donating to groups supporting indigenous and native people during Thanksgiving.—NC
Nixta Taqueria, 2512 East 12th Street, Chestnut; Official Site
Best Pandemic Pivot Turned Permanent Shop
Little Ola’s Biscuits
Heralded as one of the greatest pandemic pivots, fancy Southern restaurant Olamaie’s off-menu biscuits finally get the spotlight they deserve with fast-casual shop Little Ola’s. The restaurant stays true to chef Michael Fotajek’s Olamaie’s roots with exquisite Southern food through dishes that are more affordable for the everyday.
Order the soft, buttery biscuits — made under the skillful watch of culinary director Jules Stoddart — with housemade jam or in sandwiches with pimento cheese or Tasso ham. However, biscuits are not the only tricks up Little Ola’s sleeve. The shop also serves picnic-perfect sides like chicken salad with Duke’s mayo and Crystal hot sauce, kale salad with benne seed and sorghum, and sweets like hand pies or biscuit cinnamon rolls.. —ER
14735 Bratton Lane, Suite 310, Wells Branch; Official Site
Best Fun, Aggressive, and Socially Conscious Burger Pop-Up
Bad Larry Burger Club
As much as Matthew Bolick, aka “Bad Larry,” would hate this sentence, Bad Larry Burger Club is less about the burgers and more about “the brand.” The burgers themselves are simple and effective: double patty smash burgers from a flat top with American cheese, ketchup, mustard, pickles, and enough grease to sop up whatever ails you on a Martin’s potato bun.
However, Bad Larry’s brash all-caps social media posts mocking Joe Rogan and Elon Musk, the political PAC Save Austin Now, and most of all, themselves, have resonated with young Austinites, to the point that snagging a burger at Bad Larry’s has become a badge of honor that requires patience akin to braving the Franklin Barbecue line. (One might even call Bolick an influencer.) Fortunately, a different kind of line camaraderie emerges, as Bolick often hires punk bands to play for those waiting in line.
Basically, Bad Larry is here to remind us that food doesn’t have to be so serious all the time, and sometimes a beer and a burger is a perfect meal. —ER
Roaming; Official Site