Seven Austin restaurants land on Eater’s 38 Essential restaurants in Texas

Eater National’s roving critic Bill Addison recently spent quite a bit of time traversing the great state of Texas for the Texas 38, a list of the “Essential” restaurants in the state and a play on the Essential 38 lists run in each of Eater’s cities and several regions around the country.

Franklin Barbecue. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

In the words of Addison, the list includes “singular steakhouses, barbecue standard-bearers, Tex-Mex strongholds, and cafes serving outstanding burgers, breakfast tacos, and kolaches: the foods that make Texas defy trendiness,” as well as restaurants that “reflect the rich multiculturalism of its metropolises.”

Austin had seven entrants make the cut. They are (with the parenthetical numbers showing the restaurant’s list in our annual Austin360 Dining Guide: Contigo (Critic’s Pick), Emmer & Rye (#5), Franklin Barbecue (#10), Kemuri Tatsu-Ya (#9), Odd Duck (#4), Tamale House East (n/a) and Veracruz All-Natural (Critic’s Pick). That list of Austin restaurants checks a lot of boxes: rustic, farm-to-table, Japanese, barbecue and tacos. The biggest surprises on omissions would probably be Olamaie (#1), Dai Due (#3), Lenoir (#2) and Barley Swine (#7, though sister restaurant Odd Duck did make it in).

Addison was joined in compiling the list by Eater Austin editor Nadia Chaudhury, Texas Monthly Barbecue Editor Daniel Vaughn, who tackled the barbecue restaurants around the state, and others. Houston, not surprisingly, had the most entrants on the list with 10.

To read the complete Eater Texas 38 click here.

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Open Table says Austin is the second-most romantic city in Texas

Looking to have a romantic dinner for two in the state of Texas? Maybe not if you live in Dallas or Houston. San Antonio on the other hand …. dim the lights.

Macarons at Elizabeth Street Cafe. (Credit: McGuire Moorman Hospitality)

Reservation website OpenTable.com came up with a system to rank the Most Romantic Cities in America. San Antonio was the highest-ranked city in Texas (coming in at #14), while Austin snuck in at #19. Fort Worth was right behind Texas at #20.

So, how do they rank such a subjective idea?

OpenTable Most Romantic Cities Index was calculated using three variables: the percentage of restaurants rated “romantic” according to OpenTable diner reviews; the percentage of tables seated for two; and the percentage of people who dined out for Valentine’s Day in 2017.

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10 of the best dishes we ate outside of Texas this year

The drunken noodles with smoked duck at Sandwich Me in Krabi, Thailand was one of the best dishes I ate outside of Texas this year.

I remember sunsets and monuments, evocative music and spectacular architecture. But what I most regularly recall from my travels are the meals. A great dish leaves its imprint on you. And it’s not just the components on the plate. It’s what the dish says about a place and about the people there. It’s a harmonic sense memory that blends smell, taste, sound and sight, lingering with you for months and sometimes years, always luring you back. These are some of the best dishes at some of the most memorable places I ate during my travels in 2017. (Follow me on Instagram for more tasty food photos and recs.)

The General Muir in Atlanta. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Atlanta

Avenue A at General Muir

The restaurant envy was real on the first day of 2017. Austin is in need of a Jewish deli, a home to kettle boiled bagels balanced with gloss and chew, along with smoked fish, like the velvety salmon that layered this open-faced sandwich dotted with avocado, grapefruit, cucumber and onion and layered with wisps of dill.

Los Claros near Todos Santos, Mexico. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Baja California Sur, Mexico

Smoked marlin and torito tacos at Los Claros

Nothing beats a stop at a roadside taco stand after a hunger-building dip in the ocean. The salsa bar at this open-air spot marked by a sign of a cartoon shrimp and marlin shaking hands rivals any taqueria in Austin. I could have visited this small outpost located between San Cristóbal and Cerritos daily for its meaty smoked marlin, enlivened with brilliant salsas and escabeche, or for the torito, a yellow pepper stuffed with shrimp and cheese, the taco sweet and crunchy with a mellow vegetal tang.

Nahm in Bangkok. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Bangkok

Ma hor at Nahm

David Thompson’s Michelin-starred restaurant is not considered traditional Thai, but it still exhibits layers of depth and flavors that electrify and seduce your palate. Lunch here started with ma hor, a wedge of pineapple (the pineapple in Thailand fortunately lacks the fruit’s trademark acidic sting back home) carrying toasty and sticky balls of palm-sugar-sweetened minced pork, chicken and prawns studded with peanuts and brightened with coriander.

Roister in Chicago. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Chicago

Whole chicken at Roister

A slightly contained pandemonium vibrates through both the kitchen and dining room at Alinea’s kid brother in Fulton Market. Live fire cooking and roasted birds have been all the rage at American restaurants over the past couple of years, and the unique preparation by executive chef Andrew Brochu has few equals. The whole bird is used in a trio of ways. The supple poached breast, brined in chamomile sweet tea, is seared on the grill for a dark, lacquered finish, the heat caramelizing the sugars from the tea, and the buttermilk fried thighs are so airy they almost rise from the plate.

Sandwich Me in Krabi, Thailand. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Krabi, Thailand

Drunken noodles at Sandwich Me

Ask a server in Thailand what his favorite dish is and he’ll almost always just point you to the hottest option on the menu. But, more temperate palates like mine can ask for a milder kick, allowing the ability to savor the complex cornucopia of this dish that I loved so much I rented a scooter and went and picked up a to-go version on my final night in town. The stir-fried flat rice noodles wobbled with an elastic bounciness, twirling around medallions of rosy smoked duck breast. Tangled up in the mix, clustered baubles of fierce green peppercorns, fragrant hot basil, and, of course, the hallmark chilis.

Shaya in New Orleans. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

New Orleans

Maitake hummus at Shaya

As of press time, the excellent chef Alon Shaya was suing the embattled Besh Restaurant Group, its former leader accused of running an operation poisoned by a culture of sexual harassment. While he had given up trying to buy back his namesake restaurant, Shaya still wants to wrest back the use of his name. I hope the Israeli-born chef prevails. That name was built on the strength of dishes like his incredibly smooth hummus; this variation sways from the earth of roasted maitake mushrooms to the piquant rise of spicy chilies, with sunflower seeds adding crunch to the creamy affair. I’m positive we still have much more to hear and taste from Mr. Alon Shaya.

RELATED: Big fun in the Big Easy

Le Coucou in New York City. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

New York City

Pike quenelle in lobster sauce at Le Coucou

Grand and intimate. Rich but lithe. Mannered yet fun. Sophisticated but not stuffy. The perfect dining experience. One of my groomsmen used my description of Le Coucou during a toast at my bachelor party in an attempt to shame me for my overwrought Instagram captioning. But I’ve got no shame when it comes to the best meal I ate in America all year. Chef Daniel Rose transforms pike, cream and eggs into a cloudlike delicacy surrounded by a rich but not oppressive lobster sauce Américaine. The dish epitomizes all of the reasons to love this throwback French gem.

Il Corvo in Seattle. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Seattle

Pastas at Il Corvo

Sometimes you fly halfway across the country to find yourself enjoying an experience that feels completely foreign and yet totally familiar. Such was the case as I stood on a hilly street in Seattle waiting and chatting with strangers almost an hour before Il Corvo opened. It was like the carb-friendly version of Franklin Barbecue. The shoebox-size restaurant’s tiny menu focuses on a trio of seasonal pastas, each priced around $10, with the stalwart being the pappardelle alla Bolognese. The star on my visit: bits of pattypan squash that clung to the ribbed lining of firm rigatoni sheened with lemon and butter, proving that summer can be both sunny and sumptuous, and worth the wait.

Shisen Hanten in Singapore. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Singapore

Scallops with pickled chili pepper sauce at Shinsen Hanten

Imagine the massive multifloored dim sum halls in New York City’s Chinatown wedded with the gilded dining rooms of a casino in Las Vegas and then set it on the high floor of a hotel overlooking Singapore and you’ve got an idea of what Singapore’s most revered Chinese restaurant is all about. The menu here is boundless in the best way possible, with entire sections dedicated to barbecued dishes, abalone and live seafood. The plump and lightly seared Hokkaido scallops hide beneath a colorful confetti of a pickled chili pepper sauce that lights up the plate and palate.

Din Tai Fung in Taipei. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Taipei

Spicy shrimp and pork wontons at Din Tai Fung

I don’t care if I just have an overnight layover in a city, I am going to get a taste of the place. I wrote a story about two years ago asking chefs and food professionals what Austin’s dining scene was missing. More than one person responded with Din Tai Fung, the xiaolongbao (steamed dumplings) specialists that opened their first restaurant in Taiwan in 1972. Peruse the lengthy menu while you wait and form a game plan at this casual restaurant that also feels part dumpling warehouse, a team of cooks and chefs in a windowed kitchen turning out dishes at an alarming pace. The dumplings may get top billing, but these were the best wontons I’ve ever eaten: the rippled and pinched folds glistening with a toasty chili sauce and just translucent enough to reveal the plump, pink shrimp inside. I now understand the craze that has extended to locations in California and Washington and remain hopeful maybe Texas will get its own someday.

Here are Austin’s three best new restaurants of 2017 — and 9 of our favorite stand-bys

As the year in dining (and everything else wraps up), publications and individual writers like to take a look back at the year, often in list form. Eater Austin is collecting highlights and lowlights from critics, reporters, editors and bloggers. I contributed my thoughts this year, and while Eater is slowly rolling them out (beginning with a list of top stand-by restaurants here), you can see my complete list below. Follow the restaurant links to my thoughts on them from the Austin360 Dining Guide.

Ruby trout poached in olive oil with roasted tomatoes, fennel and breadcrumbs at Pitchfork Pretty 2708 E Cesar Chavez, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. (Stephen Spillman/FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

What were your top restaurant standbys of 2017?  In alphabetical order: Emmer & Rye, Fresa’s, Home Slice Pizza, Luke’s Inside Out, Mezze Me, Odd Duck, Olamaie, P. Terry’s and Veracruz All Natural

What were the top restaurant newcomers of 2017?  Kemuri Tatsu-Ya, Pitchfork Pretty, Bonhomie

Sum up the 2017 restaurant world in one word. Fraught.

What was the best dining neighborhood of 2017?  East Austin had of my Top 5 of my Top 11 in my Austin360.com/eats Dining GuideDai Due (#3), Juniper (#6), Kemuri Tatsu-Ya (#9), Franklin Barbecue (#10) and Pitchfork Pretty (#11), so I’ll say broadly say “East Austin.” (And L’Oca d’Oro, #8, and Kyoten Sushiko, #14, are kind of in East Austin, despite being in Mueller neighborhood.)

What was the biggest dining surprise of 2017? Pitchfork Pretty. I was worried that “Hill Country Cuisine” was marketing jargon run amok. I was wrong to worry.

What was your biggest dining grievance of 2017? Overpriced mediocrity.

What was your best restaurant meal of 2017? Dinner at Olamaie.

What are your headline predictions for 2018? Rebound year for Austin.

Where is the best bánh mì in Austin?

What makes a great bánh mì? You need a baguette with a shattering crunch and soft, flossy interior. The mayonnaise should be tangy, homemade and cover the entire surface of the bread. You want creamy pâté with depth of flavor and fresh, crisp vegetables. I recently visited about 20 shops, restaurants and trailers in search of the best bánh mì in Austin. You can read the full results here, but below I give you a taste of the top three.

Tebi Nguyen is owner of the food trailer Saigon le Vendeur on E. 7th St., making his signature banh mi sandwiches and other delights. Nguyen uses a hibachi to grill pork for a popular banh mi.
RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

1. Saigon le Vendeur. 2404 E. Seventh St. 512-351-6916, saigon7th.com. Chef Tebi Nguyen grew up next to a bánh mì shop in Saigon before moving with his family to San Antonio, where he graduated high school and worked at a hibachi restaurant. While the charcoal-cooking will have to wait until Nguyen can move from a trailer to a brick-and-mortar restaurant, he applies the quick kiss of the torch to char pan-seared juicy grilled pork ($6.95) that’s marinated in fish sauce, garlic, red shallots and a touch of honey, to aid in the caramelization. The savory meat is contrasted by tangy housemade mayonnaise made daily and the crunch of hot jalapenos and cool cucumber and the snap of carrots and daikon.

Nguyen finishes the O.G. ($6.95) — layered with firm and fatty head cheese, thin-sliced pork belly, springy and mildly sweet steamed pork roll, and fragrant housemade pate — with a splash of Maggi sauce, the salty secret ingredient of many great bánh mì. The Daruma Ramen veteran may not make his own bread from scratch, but he does bake the imports twice daily, so whether you go at lunch or dinner, you will get a baguette with crunchy exterior and delicate pull inside.

Best banh mi

2. Baguette et Chocolat. 12101 FM 2244, Building 6. 512-263-8388, baguetteetchocolat.com. Chef Chi Minh Pham Ding is the embodiment of the multiculturalism of the bánh mì ($7.99) he makes at his Bee Caves bakery, which recently celebrated its seventh birthday. He was raised in Versailles, and his sandwich pays tribute to the recipe of his Vietnamese grandfather, a journalist who fled Southeast Asia for the safety of France. I was shocked that there was no pâté on the sandwich, so rich was the razor-thin roasted pork that marinates for 24 hours in a bath of secret ingredients. Or maybe it was the housemade mayonnaise. There are some twists here — a grip of lettuce, sweet diced onions and no jalapenos — but the meat, a splash of Maggi, and the best baguette of this bunch combine for a stellar sandwich. Pro tip: Order an eclair (or anything) for dessert.

PhoPlease is located off East Riverside. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

3. Pho Please. 1920 E. Riverside Drive. 512-354-9779, phopleaseaustin.com. This counter-service restaurant, opened in January 2016 by Tien Do and her husband, Anh Nguyen, is a slick, modern update on the many Austin Vietnamese cafes Nguyen has worked in over the years. Charcoal leaves its tasty marks on grilled beef ($7) served in a soy sauce dressing that turns this sandwich into something that reminds me of a Philly cheesesteak, sub minor swipes of pâté and mayonnaise for cheese. The grilled pork ($7) hums with a five spice buzz, and while they don’t make their own bread, the soft, flaky baguette overflowing with pickled vegetables and jalapeño slices has a satisfying crunch. This sandwich is a case of me having trouble pinpointing exactly what I love, but the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts.

READ THE FULL LIST HERE. 

Brisket wars: Salt Lick ranked higher than Franklin on list of best barbecue joints

You’ve heard the Franklin hype. It’s been lauded by the New York Times, NPR, the New York Times again and countless tourists claiming it’s the best barbecue they’ve ever had. The owner, Aaron Franklin, is even launching his own festival this year. People have gotten married in the famous long line. Bill Murray stopped by, and former President Barack Obama and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay even got to skip the line (sorry, Kanye). But as internet commenters will be quick to tell you, it’s widely disputed as the best barbecue in Austin.

(Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman)

READ: Forget the Franklin Barbecue hype, here’s the facts

Southern Living’s “South’s best” rankings were released last week, and the famed Austin barbecue landed the No. 8 spot on the magazine’s list of the best barbecue joints in the South—two spots below Salt Lick BBQ. The barbecue joint in Driftwood isn’t without its famous friends, either—Neil Patrick Harris is fond of the restaurant.

But there’s no need to argue about which is the best in Austin, or even Texas: The real question here is why barbecue joints from Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee were ranked higher on the list than Texas—those are fighting words.

RELATED: Central Texas’ Best Barbecue from the 2016 Austin360 Dining Guide

 

USA Today’s curious list of Austin’s 10 best restaurants

King trumpet mushroom pappardelle with grilled sweet corn, at Vox Table. (Ricardo B. Brazziell AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
King trumpet mushroom pappardelle with grilled sweet corn, at Vox Table. (Ricardo B. Brazziell AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

When you want to know about Austin dining, where better to turn than USA Today, which named the best restaurants in Austin as part of its 10 Best series. It’s not clear when the list published, but it includes a restaurant that opened this year, so it is fairly recent.

The list was written by local freelancer Shelley Seale and includes some curious choices (and a few very defensible ones). Two hotel restaurants, at Goodall’s at Hotel Ella and the Stella SanJac at the downtown Westin, made the list, as did solid but not exceptional choices like Buenos Aires Cafe and Andiamo. Topping the list? Vox Table. Rounding out the list? Parkside, though the credit/caption reads Moonshine. Read the complete list here, and for my list of the Top 25 restaurants in Austin, as well as 50 other critic’s picks, visit austin360.com/eats.

 

Five Austin burgers land on Daily Meal’s list of Best Burgers in America

The burger at Second Bar + Kitchen made Daily Meal's list of the best burgers in the country. (Credit: Laura Skelding AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
The burger at Second Bar + Kitchen made Daily Meal’s list of the best burgers in the country. (Credit: Laura Skelding AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Food-centric website the Daily Meal has released its annual list of the best burgers in the United States, and Austin claims five of the 101 spots. The list was compiled by a panel of 70 experts from around the country. Coming in at #1 was the Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern in New York City. Austin restaurants took the following places on the list:

88. Classic Burger at Hopdoddy

77. Double with Cheese at P. Terry’s

74. Hut’s Favorite at Hut’s

61. Cheeseburger at Parkside

34. Congress Burger at Second Bar + Kitchen

Two of those made my Top 12 burgers in Austin two years ago. See which ones here. And, for those who might take exception with that list, fret not, I am reworking it this summer.