The Best of Our Favorite New Texas Restaurants

Updated: Jun 27, 2019

We’ve compiled our favorites from the past three years of ”Where to Eat Now” into one handy article.


By Patricia Sharpe

Published on June 20, 2019 by texasmonthly.com


Fried chicken and a pickled quail egg at Pitchfork Pretty in Austin. Photograph by Jessica Attie.

Sit down at a table in any of these restaurants, and you can expect what we like to call a “big-deal meal”—and, in some cases, a real adventure. Across Texas, chefs are serving up thrilling combinations, from beef-tongue tamales to fish-mousse dumplings. To the brave among you: The Flora Street Café’s bone-marrow custard shimmers; Otoko’s jellyfish crunches. Less courageous diners, do not fear. You can appreciate the celery-seed crackers from afar as you feast on more traditional fare. We’ve culled these restaurants from the past three years of my “Where to Eat Now” lists. Whether the venue is minimalist, casual, or hung with ruffled petticoats, you can expect only the highest quality at any of these top spots.


Austin


Intero

Italian is spoken with a modern accent at Intero. No statues of Roman fauns or candles in Chianti bottles here. Instead, you’re ushered into simple white rooms with angular wooden chairs and mysterious, roiling abstract art. In this setting, talented chef and co-owner Ian Thurwachter has reimagined risotto with French and German touches; the mellow rice is swirled with Brie and bolstered with dry-aged beef sausage and a bit of cabbage. His quail, pink of flesh and deeply scored by the grill, comes with fat, sweet squares of butternut squash in a rich mostarda. At the end of the meal, a wee cup of deep, dark sipping chocolate is all the dessert you need. Keeping it in the family, chocolatier Krystal Craig is Thurwachter’s wife.

Opened January 23, 2018. 2612 E. Cesar Chavez. (512-599-4052). D Tue–Sun. B Sun.


Kemuri Tatsu-Ya

What’ll it be? Smoked brisket on ramen? Sticky rice, chorizo, and beef tongue tamales? Tokyo-style grilled corn with yuzu pepper aioli? From the day Kemuri Tatsu-Ya opened, thrill-seeking diners and national food writers have been beating a path to its funky front door. The East Austin hot spot, which is the brainstorm of chef-owners Tatsu Aikawa, age 36, and Takuya “Tako” Matsumoto, age 39, combines two of their favorite institutions: the Texas barbecue joint and the Japanese izakaya (basically a neighborhood brewpub that sells sake and snacks). That “kemuri” is Japanese for “smoke” makes it just perfect.


Opened January 5, 2017. 2713 E. 2nd. (512-893-5561). D Thurs-Sun.


L’Oca d’Oro

In a glass-enclosed space with a convivial counter up front and a deafening dining room at the back, chef and co-owner Fiore Tedesco makes a lasagna like no other. Instead of noodles, tomato sauce, and meat, his revelatory, more northerly version uses delectably crisped pasta sheets to embrace a trove of cheeses and a forest’s worth of mushrooms. The finishing touch is not red sauce but green-onion puree. The tradition tweaking doesn’t stop there. He takes a pork cutlet and snuggles it into the puffiest of fried-batter coats to make an updated milanese that Texans might call Italian chicken-fried steak. He spritzes roasted butternut squash slices with orange juice and then combines them with smoky pecan halves to create a salad that coolly echoes classic prosciutto and melon. Tedesco—who cooked at Manhattan’s Gramercy Tavern—may have come from a restaurant family in upstate New York, but this is not his papa’s trattoria.


Opened June 15, 2016.  1900 Simond Ave. (737-212-1876). D Wed–Sun.

Otoko

Four days a week, a dozen or so lucky souls wend their way to an aerie above South Congress Avenue. Awaiting their arrival are young sushi chef Yoshi Okai and his merry band, ready and eager to slice the best fish in the city. Nothing has been left to chance, not the intimate room with its stunning backlit black and white stripes, not the sense of drama, not the engaging music (well, Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” might not be everybody’s cup of green tea). Two menus are offered: on Wednesdays, globally sourced sushi and sashimi; other nights a mix of fish and meat. You might start with a mini-salad of fried shiitakes paired with the otherworldly crunch of jellyfish. For contrast, Okai offers rare duck, its fatty skin lightly singed and crispy. Twenty bite-size courses—chef’s choice—will run you $150 to $200 a person, not including gratuity or beverage. When’s your birthday?


Opened March 2, 2016. 1603 S. Congress Ave. (512-920-6405). D Wed–Sat.

Pitchfork Pretty

True, the name Pitchfork Pretty is at odds with the restaurant’s polished modern architecture, where dark wooden beams span an airy, angular space and white paper lanterns seem to float overhead. But nobody is thinking about the name once they’ve started eating the highly original and delicious food of 37-year-old chef Max Snyder. He updates fried chicken by using habanero brine on plump pieces and deep-frying them in fluffy chickpea-flour batter. He grills pears for dessert (above). And his teensy quail egg shooter, perched on a bed of frizzy fried leeks, might just be the year’s best single bite.


Opened June 14, 2017. 2708 E. Cesar Chavez. (512-494-4593). D Tue–Sat. B Sun.


Red Ash Italia

Question: Given that there was barely enough room to shoehorn yet another steakhouse into downtown Austin, does anything make Red Ash stand out from the pack? Answer: an Italian accent. And judging by the orders of pappardelle with wild-boar Bolognese flying out of the kitchen, the idea is working very well. It also doesn’t hurt that the decor cleverly combines class (towers of flowers) and sass (a graffiti mural). Executive chef and owner John Carver knows, though, that his customers are first and foremost carnivorous. He keeps them happy with the likes of rosy wood-grilled lamb steaks and red snapper Livornese decked out with kalamata olives, capers, and roasted tomatoes. But what will doubtless prove to be his signature dish is the heavily mushroomed bruschetta with roasted bistecca drippings—a slab of rustic bread glistening under rivulets of steak gravy. The resemblance to Texas toast is neither coincidental nor unwelcome.


Opened October 15, 2016. 303 Colorado. (512-379-2906). D 7 days.

Suerte

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