An active and exciting year for Austin restaurants followed a couple of down years that witnessed more than a few closures. The year began with the rebirth of some former favorites (Little Thailand and Asia Market); revealed respected chefs in unexpected places (Jester King Brewery); and brought us new concepts from successful operators (Tatsu Aikawa’s shabu-shabu restaurant DipDipDip Tatsu-Ya and chef Todd Duplechan’s Goa-inspired Vixen’s Wedding.
Austin’s modern Mexican movement continued to impress, this year with Comedor and Nixta Taqueria, while TLV at Fareground and Uroko in Springdale General offered possible insights into what restaurant spaces in Austin might look like in the years to come. Even a cuisine as storied in Austin as barbecue proved to be ever-evolving, as witnessed at Interstellar BBQ in Anderson Mill.
These 10 dishes (listed in alphabetical order by restaurant name) represent the best of what each of those places has to offer and serve as proof that Austin is as exciting a destination to eat as it’s been in several years. For more Austin restaurants listed by category, including my top 50 restaurants in the city, visit austin360.com/eats.
Note: Restaurants had to have been open before Nov. 1 to be considered for inclusion.
Szechuan beef noodle soup at Asia Market
The return of the eatery at the back of Asia Market brought me no small amount of joy. Jenny Chen, daughter of Asia Market founder Tina Chen, and her husband revived the small dining room with a massive menu of Szechuan, Hunan and Cantonese specialties. Springy homemade noodles weave their way around tender hunks of beef shanks in a broth tingly with Szechuan peppers and draped with floral cilantro.
8650 Spicewood Springs Road. 512-383-5009, asiamarketeatery.com.
» Related: Asia Market is once again serving some of best Chinese food in town
Double-cut pork chop at Comedor
The one dish that was so good that I can’t stop thinking about it. So good that I bumbled my description of it in my glowing review of the stunning restaurant. Most of the blame for that lies in the truth that sometimes something tastes so good, your brain just short circuits and facts fade behind a wave of pure satisfaction. So, for the record, this hulking double-cut chop at Austin’s best Mexican restaurant is glistening with a tangy, candied finish of fermented honey and chintestle (a paste of garlic and Oaxacan chile pasilla Mixe). Separate the sticky-edged, pre-sliced slabs and drag them through the pineapple-and-pear sweetness of a ruddy manchamanteles ("tablecloth stainer") mole. And then finish the thing off by shaving the meat clinging to the bone.
501 Colorado St. 512-499-0977, comedortx.com.
» Related review: Comedor’s sophistication unmatched in Austin’s Mexican dining scene: review
Baller omakase at DipDipDip Tatsu-Ya
Chef-owner Tatsu Aikawa and his teams have now created three concepts with unique vibes and aesthetics. Ramen Tatsu-Ya and Kemuri Tatsu-Ya were the first two. The latest modernizes the hot pot experience, offering guests luxury items for dipping into well-balanced broths in a handsome and unique space. While almost everything I tried was great, I could have an entire meal comprised solely of the lush A5 Wagyu beef slices and the bright, sweet blue crab and lemon butter dumplings.
7301 Burnet Road, Suite 101. 512-893-5561, dipdipdip-tatsuya.com.
» Related review: DipDipDip? Say YepYepYep to this delicious, interactive dining experience
Smoked scalloped potatoes at Interstellar BBQ
Chefs John Bates and Brandon Martinez of the late Noble Sandwich Co. helped redefine Austin sandwich shops with roasted whole proteins, housemade bread and creative sides. The scratch-based philosophy carried over to their new barbecue restaurant, where they update mundane potato side dishes with a creamy pile of smoked scalloped potatoes topped with a Parmesan crust, bronzed and bubbled by the heat.
12233 FM 620 N, Suite 105. 512-382-6248, facebook.com/interstellarbbq.
» Related review: Interstellar BBQ is among the best barbecue in Austin
Roasted corn and goat cheese pizza at Kitchen at Jester King Brewery
When talented chef Damien Brockway left now-shuttered tasting menu restaurant Counter 357, I knew I’d see him in another kitchen in the near future. But I wouldn’t have guessed it would be at an open-air kitchen on the property of Texas’ coolest brewery, where Brockway makes his own charcuterie and sources from an on-site farm to make thoughtful, rustic dishes like pastrami carrots. The pizzas, charred at their rounded crowns, still serve as the centerpiece at the ever-evolving kitchen, and the sweetness and smoke of roasted corn with creamy goat cheese nicely reflected the season and the kitchen’s mission.
13187 Fitzhugh Road. jesterkingbrewery.com.
» Related: New Jester King Brewery executive chef introduces Supper Club
Pad gra prow at Little Thailand
Chef Kanjanet Thomas — niece of late Little Thailand owner Leland R. "Dick" Simcoe and his wife, Surin — and her husband, Thanet, rebooted the restaurant in January. The eatery just out past the airport is better than ever. Thomas sources herbs from the garden behind the restaurant to develop fresh and deceptively complex dishes, like this pad gra prow packed with the licorice whip of Thai holy basil.
4315 Caldwell Lane, Garfield. 512-551-9930, littlethailandtx.com.
» Related review: Little Thailand, big flavor
Beet tostada at Nixta Taqueria
The modern Mexican movement doesn’t need an expensive build-out to shine. Chef Edgar Rico may cook in a small, modest building in East Austin, but he has outsized talent. The veteran of some of Los Angeles’ top restaurants also makes some of the best vegan dishes in town. He tosses ruby jewels of beets in a nutty salsa macha aioli creamy with nut butter, sets them atop a crackling yellow tostada made with corn nixtamalized in house and showers the whole thing with shaved horseradish and microgreens. Don’t worry, carnivores, the meat dishes are just as good.
2512 E. 12th St. 512-551-3855, nixtataqueria.com.
» Related review: Nixta Taqueria takes craft approach to some of city’s best tacos
Mushroom shawarma at TLV at Fareground
Unadorned by the pop or zip of added ingredients, the uncomplicated and intensely creamy hummus at chef Berty Richter’s Fareground food stall tastes like the essence of chickpeas. The smooth mixture serves as a perfect, uncomplicated backdrop for bold flavors like the roasted mushroom shawarma, redolent with myriad spices like cumin, paprika, cardamom and fenugreek that one usually expects in a beef and lamb dish. The tangy and fierce bite of amba and green schug even mutes usually bossy red onions, while nutty tahini offers the slightest salve.
111 Congress Ave. faregroundaustin.com.
» From 2018: The 10 best things to eat at Austin’s Fareground food hall
Sushi at Uroko
Unassuming temaki (hand rolls) purveyors by day, chefs Takéhiro Asazu (Kome) and longtime Uchi veteran Masazumi Saio take complete control of the space and their guests’ attention in the evening with their 12-course omakase dinners. Trying to pick out a favorite piece is difficult, and not just because the pieces change almost nightly, but if you get a hold of salmon perky with lemon miso, snow crab anointed with miso butter or kelp-cured Japanese seabass set beneath a jiggle of dashi broth jelly, plum paste and a slick of olive oil, you’ll understand why I think this is one of the city’s top sushi destinations.
1023 Springdale Road, Building 1, Suite C. 512-520-4004, urokoaustin.com.
» Related review: Uroko is one of Austin’s best sushi destinations
Crab, butternut squash and pomegranate at Vixen’s Wedding
Diners who may not have a strong familiarity with the flavors of the oceanside Indian state of Goa will be converts after a few bites of this delicate jigsaw block resembling tartare. Sweet blue crab meat is interspersed in a compressed disc with the sweet tang of pickled butternut squash and pomegranate seeds. Set beneath a crunchy layer of toasted poha rice, the refreshing dish delivers a complex array of flavors and textures, a bright and energizing as the restaurant’s aesthetic.
1813A E. Sixth St. 737-242-7555, vixensweddingatx.com.
» Related: Lenoir owners open Indian-inspired restaurant at Arrive East Austin hotel