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Significant Austin restaurants that closed in 2021

Matthew Odam
Austin American-Statesman
Austin classic Chez Nous closes after 39 years of business.

The pandemic, rising rents and development of an ever-evolving city precipitated change in the Austin restaurant world. 

Several staples of the dining scene of the last decade were plucked from the city, with some restaurants closing to make way for bulldozers and cranes and other properties shifting hands. 

A look back at 12 restaurants that closed during 2021 tells us about the restaurant community and city as it once was and points to what the future might hold. 

Bufalina. Austin certainly had a couple of great pizza options before Steven Dilley opened his restaurant in the summer of 2013, but the arrival of the Neapolitan pizzeria, with its wood-burning oven, minimalist art gallery warehouse vibes and stellar wine list, changed the face of the pizza scene in Austin. The restaurant landed in the Austin360 Dining Guide's Top 50 every year and spun off a Bufalina Due in North Austin in 2016. Dilley and his team have plans for Bufalina to make a return to East Austin in 2022. 

Cane Rosso. For a few years, Cane Rosso pulled off one of the hardest cultural feats imaginable in this town: The pizzeria got Austinites to love something about Dallas. It helped that the Metroplex import made some of the best Neapolitan pizza in town and offered ample space for the families of Southwest Austin to roam.

More:15 of the best dishes at new Austin restaurants in 2021

Chez Nous. Cosmic cowboy music culture, wide-open spaces and freedom drew Pascal Regimbeau and Sybil Reinhart to Austin in 1979. Chez Nous kept them here. The couple and their partner, Robert Paprota, opened the restaurant in a near-deserted part of eastern downtown in 1982. They filled it with conviviality and the sights and flavors of home.

Not only did Chez Nous become a home for multigenerational families of regulars, many of whom probably first encountered French cuisine at the Austin restaurant, it operated as a de facto French ex pat community meeting point and incubator, with the co-founders of Justine's and Vespaio both working at the Neches Street haunt for years. 

Contigo closes for good late in 2021.

Contigo. “Ten years ago I wandered through a field past a small lake, across a street, and onto an empty lot in East Austin. A metal pole barn was situated in the corner, and a beautiful cedar elm tree was poking through the asphalt. I quickly showed it to my friend Andrew. This was the beginning of Contigo Austin." 

Upon the notice of Contigo's closing, restaurant co-founder Ben Edgerton wrote those words about the genesis of his and chef Andrew Wiseheart’s trailblazing restaurant in East Austin that was guided by the hospitable hand of partner Dana Curley.

Edgerton and Wiseheart had the vision to blend sophistication and rusticity at a restaurant that helped give shape to the Golden Age of Austin’s dining scene, with the restaurant showcasing craftsmanship from the kitchen’s pâtés and pickles and the bar’s classic cocktails to the handsome wood and iron aesthetic elements. It presented all of that in a wide-open, family-friendly environment in a part of town not yet dotted with condos and patio homes. 

More:5 classic Austin restaurants inducted into our new Austin360 Restaurant Hall of Fame

El Chilito. The El Chile Group cited diminished commuter traffic and the absence of downtown workers and business lunch catering due to the pandemic for the closure of the East Seventh Street location of the taqueria that opened in 2014. 

G’Raj Mahal. A good number of folks living in Austin today probably don’t remember when, in 2009, an Indian food truck overtook an old car parking lot. Back then, Rainey Street was only home to a couple of bars. It's now a nightlife destination teeming with crowds, and one that is missing one of its top dining options, as G’Raj Mahal, which relocated to a brick-and-mortar space on Rainey about a half dozen years ago, has closed. 

Maiko Sushi Lounge. Sixteen years is almost two lifetimes for a restaurant. Maiko was making sushi in a hip urban space long before most of the current restaurants crafting nigiri got into the game, back when the Frost Tower opening felt like an event. The restaurant closed to make way for a demolition ball that will precede a 60-story apartment and office complex. 

New Fortune Chinese. The cancellation of events and big group meals during the pandemic hastened the end of one of Austin’s most popular dim sum restaurants. Ted Liu, who was a partner in the restaurant with William Wong and Cao Nguyen, told the American-Statesman that New Fortune, one of the city's largest Chinese restaurants, was down more than 50% in business in the first year of the pandemic, with many of the restaurant's Chinese customers reluctant to return to indoor dining. 

Reunión 19. The California-style taqueria that was a collaboration between Los Angeles chef Esdras Ochoa, who came to the national attention of food lovers on the Netflix cooking competition “The Final Table,” and local chef Christopher Haydostian had some bad timing. It opened weeks before the pandemic began and survived about 18 months in the East Austin space that has also housed fellow short-lived concepts Gotham and Al Fico. Haydostian has since opened a similar concept, R19 Taqueria, in Lakeway. 

Ski Shores Cafe. Restaurateur Rick Engel converted the space that he ran as Austin Java for 15 years into a location of the iconic Ski Shores Cafe, but the restaurant that opened during the pandemic could not stay afloat. McGuire Moorman Lambert Hospitality will turn the property into a second location of Lou’s in 2022 and is revamping the original Ski Shores Cafe location on Lake Austin that opened in 1954. 

South Congress Cafe was one of the longest-running restaurants on Austin's well-known avenue.

South Congress Cafe. South Congress Avenue lost one of its longest-standing restaurant tenants in 2021, when South Congress Cafe, which opened in 2003, closed. The restaurant was part of the Trudy’s restaurant group, which was purchased out of bankruptcy in 2020. The new owners turned the popular South Austin brunch spot into Trudy’s Del Mar, a coastal Tex-Mex restaurant. 

Sway. The gorgeous South Austin Thai restaurant ushered in a new era of modern Asian restaurants when it opened in 2012. The restaurant closed at the beginning of the pandemic, but owners New Waterloo did not make the news official until 2021. The building's new owners converted the restaurant space into modern American bistro 1417. New Waterloo continues to operate Sway in Westlake but has shifted the majority of its hospitality focus to the hotel world.