As is the tradition as we near the end of 2023, Eater asked a trusted group of friends, industry types, and local bloggers for their takes on the past culinary year in Austin. 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 2023?
Pat Sharpe, restaurant critic, Texas Monthly
I’m so excited to see what owner and chef Sarah McIntosh is doing at neighborhood favorite Epicerie. I’ve had several excellent meals there this last year. She’s given it a new feeling of energy and innovation. For one thing, she upped the croissant program (I think it’s one of the very best, if not the best, in the city. (On some days, she makes croissants filled with bits of of Franklin brisket and candied jalapeños). On the regular menu, you can expect things like corn gazpacho, batter-free fried okra, and a lovely, light chicken schnitzel. The little converted house is easy-going and chummy (oh, and there are no reservations — just walk ins).
Nicolai McCrary, Austin staff writer, the Infatuation
Two highlights from 2023 — both at extreme ends of the scale — were Fabrik and Camino Alamo BBQ. Fabrik provided an incredible, plant-based fine dining experience where I never felt like I was just eating a bunch of sponges painted to look like steaks, and the super simple Xinjiang skewers at Camino Alamo showcased the combined powers of fire and meat in a setting that felt like a real street food experience.
Ramen del Barrio was a surprise newcomer that blew me away by seamlessly blending Japanese and Mexican flavors — 2013’s ramen burger monstrosity walked so that we could now fly — and it took the top spot on Infatuation’s Best New Restaurants of 2023 list. Between them and places like KG BBQ or Yeni’s, I think we’re in a golden age of fusion cuisine.
Chris Hughes, features editor, Texas Highways
Underdog, with its fried chicken, bulgogi burger, pork belly ssam plate, and oysters. You really want to come with a larger party because the entire menu is so good. Same goes with owner Richard Hargreave’s wine list. It’s too difficult to choose just a glass. Better to split a few bottles with friends so you can experience as much as possible.
Eric Webb, freelance writer and Eater contributing writer
Madeline Hollern, editor-in-chief, Austin Monthly
Underdog: the fried chicken, bulgogi burger, and pork belly ssam are all incredible.
Lenny Dewi, @eats_n_noods
I cannot decide on one but here are some memorable ones, to name a few: Tsuke Edomae, the khao ka moo special at P. Thai’s Khao Man Gai, the grilled pork jowl and moo ping at Ros Niyom Thai, home-style Japanese food at Daichi, pho at Pho Phong Lu’u, and steamed whole fish with chili bean sauce at Hunan Bistro.
Raphael Brion, Texas senior editor, the Infatuation
The sheer delight of going to Bufalina and ordering all three pastas on the menu — only to be told that there was a fourth off-menu pasta available — is hard to beat. And then for dessert: pizza.
Jane Ko, blogger, A Taste of Koko
Soupleaf Hot Pot — I always get the tonkotsu (if you have a friend, get them to order the mala) with angus ribeye, angus toro, and pork belly. Always finish with noodles at the end and drink up that flavorful broth that’s been cooking with everything you added.
Darcie Duttweiler, freelance writer and Eater contributing writer
I went to Japan in the spring and enjoyed several amazing omakases, but my favorite was at Yakitori Ichimatsu, a one-Michelin-star restaurant in Osaka that’s dedicated to highlighting every part of Hinai Jidori chicken in 18 courses. Unlike many huge-egoed chefs, chef Hideto Takeda works quietly behind the grill, covered in a cloud of smoke and hidden behind the vented hood — the only time I saw his face was when he smiled and bowed while saying goodbye. It wasn’t the most expensive or decadent meal I had in Japan, and there was really nothing fancy about it. It was humble, but perfectly executed, and showcased the beauty in its ingredients. The food wasn’t even that “photogenic,” but it was a great reminder that not every meal needs to be plated with tweezers or garnished ornately to be truly spectacular.
Honestly, nothing has come remotely close to the level of details, service, or quality of food since I dined in Japan. I think I’m ruined forever.
Erin Russell, associate editor, Eater Austin
The Nixta Taqueria x Bufalina collab that created duck carnitas pizza. PLEASE MAKE THIS A THING I AM BEGGING YOU.
Also every time I have the fusilli alla vodka from Aiello’s/Birdie’s, it is perfect.
Nadia Chaudhury, editor, Eater Austin
Food in Austin: my birthday dinner at Bufalina; the awe-inspiring bites of Fabrik; the magic of the Deepa Shridhar and Reyna Vazquez’s “El Ritual” collaboration dinner for Dia de los Muertos at Veracruz Fonda; the endless possibilities of Soupleaf Hot Pot; what has become my favorite omakase in the city: Toshokan; the steak frites at Birdie’s Bistro Remy pop-up; and the first time I had the mole tsukemen at Ramen del Barrio.
Food outside of Austin: Jerusalem Chicken in Los Angeles; Valentine in Phoenix; Sandwich Hag in Dallas; Laziz Kitchen in Salt Lake City; Dhamaka in New York City; Lil’ Debs Oasis in Hudson, New York; Kitty’s in Hudson, New York; Ziatun in Beacon, New York; Black Walnut Bakery in Minneapolis; and Nelson’s Cheese and Deli in Saint Paul, Minnesota.