Indie Chefs Week returns in March with 20+ chefs, an additional location and cheaper tickets

Indie Chefs Week started in 2013 at Foreign & Domestic. (Contributed by Grover Smith)
Indie Chefs Week started in 2013 at Foreign & Domestic. (Contributed by Grover Smith)

Indie Chefs Week, the brainchild of Foreign & Domestic chef-owner Ned Elliott, returns for its fifth iteration March 15-18. In addition to the dinners at Foreign & Domestic, Spicewood fine dining restaurant Apis will also be hosting one of the dinners. The event is comprised of collaborative dinners featuring food from nine chefs over each of the first three nights, with more than 20 chefs coming together for the grand finale.

The event grew out of Elliott’s desire to give a platform to chefs from around the country, many not buttressed by major public relations budgets, and bring together an array of talent that usually only has the opportunity to admire one another from afar or on social media. The series of dinners has introduced local audiences to chefs from across North America, including talents like Carlos Salgado of Taco Maria in Southern California and  David Barzelay of Lazy Bear in San Francisco, who have gone on to achieve tremendous acclaim in recent years.

This year’s impressive roster of local and visiting talent includes Kendall Melton (Chicon and Contigo), Jonathan Peters (Clark’s Oyster Bar), Kristine Kittrell (Weather Up), Ryan Santos (Please in Cincinnati), Christine Rivera (Galaxy Taco in La  Jolla), Page Pressley (Emmer & Rye), Sterling Ridings (of the forthcoming Guild and formerly of Uchiko), Adam Brick (Apis and Pizzeria Sorellina), Tim Archuleta (Ichi Sushi in San Francisco) and many more.

This year’s series starts on March 15 at Apis, with a nine-course meal prepared by 10 chefs, with tickets starting at $100. The next two nights at Foreign & Domestic follow a similar format, with tickets starting at $125. Tickets for the grand finale, which features all participating chefs cooking one giant meal, start at $175.  Wine pairings cost $35, and bottles of wine will also be available for purchase. Tickets can be purchased at

In addition to the Austin dinners, the series will expand this year to include events in Houston, Los Angeles and New York.


Justin Elliott leaves the Townsend to become general manager of Juniper

Justin Elliott is leaving the Townsend and returning to East Austin. (Credit: Ralph Barrera AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Justin Elliott is leaving the Townsend and returning to East Austin. (Credit: Ralph Barrera AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

After helping breathe life into the downtown Austin cocktail scene as the general manager of the Townsend, Justin Elliott has departed the upscale bar to take on the role of general manager at Italian fine dining destination Juniper. The move marks a return to East Austin for Elliott, who ran the bar program at Qui  until 2015 and  was the general manager at Volstead and Hotel Vegas from 2011-2013.

Elliott worked with Juniper chef-partner Nic Yanes when the Italian restaurant held some early pop-ups at Qui, and when he heard the restaurant was looking for a new GM, he got back in touch with the chef and Uchi veteran.

“We had a really fun, long conversation about restaurants, management theory, menu narrative and semiotics,” said Elliott, who is taking on a GM role in a restaurant for the first time. “Things were good at the Townsend, but I just had this feeling like there was something else out there I needed to do. I desperately missed true restaurants service.”

With Elliott’s departure, Brian Bounds, whom Elliott trained for the last nine months, will take the reins at Townsend,

“Some of my cocktails will remain on the menu, and I hope and trust a lot of my systems and standards will remain. I’ve got a lot of faith in Brian to carry it along,” Elliott said.


Austin360 Dining Guide: Juniper (#9) | The Townsend (#24)

Kesos Taco House closing South Congress location next week

The same day beloved taco joint Maria’s Taco Xpress announced an impending closure, another South Austin favorite also announced it’s closing its doors.

The original Kesos Taco House on South Congress will close Friday, March 3, the restaurant announced on Instagram.

Grilled shrimp tacos from Kesos Taco House.  Photo by @austin.afire
Grilled shrimp tacos from Kesos Taco House. Photo by @austin.afire

The restaurant was unable to extend its lease at the 4720 South Congress Ave. location, according to the message from Chief Executive Officer Jhonatan Aldama.

The Kesos Taco House at 600 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. will remain open, and the restaurant will shift its focus to that location, which has been in business for more than a year. The restaurant will soon be selling beer and liquor and is working to extend its hours.

The restaurant thanked its customers for their support during the South Congress location’s three years in business:

“Thank you so much for all the love and support you have given us since we opened our doors back in 2014. Every single one of you has made our journey amazing, and we hope to continue seeing all of y’all at our other location, and at our future locations to come. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause for any of you taco loves, but rest assure Kesos Taco House will continue to grow, and we hope to relocate this original location in the near future. Also, stay tuned for other exciting news we have in store.”


Maria’s Taco Xpress on South Lamar is closing

Longtime South Austin favorite Maria’s Taco Xpress will close in the coming months. Owner Maria Corbalan is under contract with an unnamed buyer to sell the property at 2529 S. Lamar Blvd.

Corbalan cites high property taxes and a slowing of business in recent years as reasons for shutting down. The taxes were about $50,000 last year, according to the Travis Central Appraisal District, with the property appraised at more than $2.2 million in 2016, up from about $760,000 in 2012.

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“All of my employees make quite a great salary,” said Corbalan, who added that she has not been able to pay herself a salary since April of last year. “Every day that I am open costs me money. The water is to my neck.”

Mauri McAlister, a third-generation Austinite, visited Maria's Taco Xpress on South Lamar after learning the restaurant will close in the coming months. (Tamir Kalifa/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Mauri McAlister, a third-generation Austinite, visited Maria’s Taco Xpress on South Lamar after learning the restaurant will close in the coming months. (Tamir Kalifa/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Corbalan says that while she doesn’t know the new owner’s plans, she is not selling the business she established in 1996, instead choosing to allow her employees, some of whom who have been with her for more than 15 years, to possibly carry on under the same name in a new and unannounced location.

SEE THE PHOTOS: Maria’s Taco Xpress through the years

“I’m not selling the name because perhaps my employees will be able to continue the business. That would be my gift to them,” Corbalan said. “I could not have done this without my guys. I keep a tight relationship with all of my guys, and I am really going to miss them.”

Though the unannounced sale price will far exceed the $250,000 Corbalan paid for the property in 2006, the gregarious owner, who affectionately calls many of her customers “honey,” would prefer not to sell.

Mauri McAlister, a third-generation Austinite, visited Maria's Taco Xpress, known for its migas and artsy charm, after learning the restaurant will close in the coming months. (Tamir Kalifa/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Mauri McAlister, a third-generation Austinite, visited Maria’s Taco Xpress, known for its migas and artsy charm, after learning the restaurant will close in the coming months. (Tamir Kalifa/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)


“I’m sad. I don’t want to say goodbye to my baby,” Corbalan said. “The appreciation for my guys and customers, and the sadness are beyond belief.”

Corbalan said that she is eyeing a potential April 1 closure and that, in true Taco Xpress fashion, the restaurant will throw a huge party with live music following South by Southwest.

“We’re not just going to go away and close the doors,” Corbalan said.

Maria’s has always been more than a taco stand, serving as something of a de facto community center, a home for fundraisers, live music, political meet-ups and the groovy, music-filled “Hippie Church” on Sundays. Corbalan told the Statesman’s John Kelso in 2014 that her business had slowed considerably that year, pushing her to add live music at nights and extend weekend hours.

BEST QUESO IN TOWN?: Read ‘Queso the Mondays’ every week 

The restaurant is one of the few remaining pieces of “Old South Austin” (along with businesses like Saxon Pub, Matt’s El Rancho and the Broken Spoke), and it drew the support of the community when a wave of change hit South Lamar a decade ago. Corbalan closed the original Taco Xpress in 2005 to make way for a Walgreen’s, but the pharmacy ponied up for a new space, allowing Taco Xpress to move about 100 feet to its current building in 2006.

The art-loving restaurant, known for its migas, eccentric style and personable owner, features a massive statue of Corbalan that was constructed by local artist Michael Peschka. The statue of Corbalan was vandalized in 2005, drawing the ire of the community and Statesman columnist Kelso.

Given Corbalan’s stature in the community and Taco Xpress’ role in nurturing an Old Austin culture that seems to be disappearing from that part of South Lamar, there is little doubt that there will be many sad to see Corbalan shutter her funky restaurant.  The feeling is mutual.

“I want to thank everybody for this beautiful 20 years,” said Corbalan, who intends to continue her artwork while pursuing her next career as an interior designer.



Event: Live Fire moves into town, welcomes Aaron Franklin, John Tesar and 21 more chefs

Erisbel Gonzalo, a chef at Whole Foods, prepares Argentinian style beef short ribs at Live Fire! at the Salt Lick Pavilion in Driftwood on Thursday April 25, 2013. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Erisbel Gonzalo, a chef at Whole Foods, prepares Argentinian style beef short ribs at Live Fire! at the Salt Lick Pavilion in Driftwood on Thursday April 25, 2013. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Live Fire, the Austin Food and Wine Alliance’s centerpiece annual fundraiser, returns on April 6 with new faces and a new location. The event, which features a roster of almost two dozen celebrated Texas chefs cooking meat over open flames, has long been held on the edge of town, but this year will take place at Camp Mabry, a 375-acre military installation just a few miles from downtown, making transportation options much more plentiful for local residents.

The seventh annual event has a Global Flare theme, meaning chefs like Aaron Franklin (Franklin Barbecue), Rene Ortiz & Laura Sawicki of Fresa’s Al Carbon and Launderette, and “Top Chef” competitor and popular (if controversial) Dallas John Tesar of Knife, Kevin Fink of Emmer & Rye, Michael Fojtasek of Olamaie, Ryan Shields of Bullfight, Diego Galicia & Rico Torres of Mixtli in San Antonio, Reina Morris of Buenos Aires Café, Jeff Martinez of Alcomar and others will put a global spin on live-fire cooking. In addition to all the meat you can eat, there will also be plenty of wines, craft beers, premium spirits tastings, and live music.

Tickets went on sale today at, with the first 150 tickets sold at a discounted price of $75. After those are sold, tickets will increase to $85.  A limited number of VIP tickets, which will include a “Rosé Row,” with more than a dozen premium rosés from around the world, are being sold for $125.

Live Fire benefits the AFWA’s grant program, which to date has distributed almost $150,000 to local chefs, farmers, artisan producers, and nonprofits by funding projects focused on culinary innovation.

Correction: Aaron Franklin and John Tesar have participated in Live Fire previously.








Slab BBQ and a new sushi restaurant will join Pluckers Wing Bar in Oak Hill


Residents of Oak Hill are about to get some more dining options. Pluckers WIng Bar, Slab BBQ and EurAsia Sushi Bar and Seafood have all signed leases to occupy the Oak Hill Plaza near the intersection of Texas 71 and US 290, the Statesman’s Gary Dinges reports. The strip mall will also house a new pet hotel and a family-friendly events and activity space called Epic Fun.




Aaron Franklin and José Andrés team at SXSW for collaborative dinner

The past few years have seen a new group of stars enter the South by Southwest orbit: chefs. The festival has welcomed David Chang, Roy Choi and others in recent years, and this year will be no different. Famed chef José Andrés will team with Aaron Franklin, Chicon and Contigo executive chef Andrew Wiseheart and the ThinkFoodGroup for a SouthBites collaborative dinner at Chicon.

Aaron Franklin at the 2015 Texas Book Festival. (Credit: Ralph Barrera AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Aaron Franklin at the 2015 Texas Book Festival. (Credit: Ralph Barrera AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The March 11 dinner will feature paella from Andrés, barbecue from Franklin and more. Tickets for the dinner cost $200 and are available online.

Austin360 Dining Guide Instagram contest: Snap of Dai Due burger wins $50 Cafe No Se gift card

Jimmy Ho (@thesmokingho on Instagram) won the Austin360 Dining Guide contest for January with his glorious snap of the dry-aged Wagyu cheeseburger at Dai Due. The picture gives a good sense of the sheen and texture of the sesame seed bun, and I love the way the melting Stryk cheddar cheese clings to the thick patty that is colored with the restaurant’s “sauce especial.” The burger is available only on Tuesday nights at chef Jesse Griffith’s restaurant. For his win, Ho takes home a $50 gift card to Cafe No Se.

Want to win your own gift card to one of Austin’s best restaurants? Here’s the deal:

  1. Dine out at any of the 100 restaurants in the Austin360 Dining Guide (, either from the Top 25 or one of my 75 critic’s picks.
  2. Snap a photo one of your favorite dishes, tag the restaurant location and use the hashtag #austin360diningguide
  3. At the end of each month, I will select my favorite pick from the month. One monthly winner will receive a $50 gift card to eateries like Odd Duck, Cafe No Se,  Tacodeli and more.

That’s all there is to it.

Credit: Ralph Barrera AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Credit: Ralph Barrera AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A Day Without Immigrants: Maudie’s Tex-Mex issues statement regarding controversial letter


I heard grumblings early last week in the restaurant world that Maudie’s Tex-Mex would be paying double-time to employees who chose to work on Thursday, a day of protest and unity labeled “A Day Without Immigrants.” The Austin-based Tex-Mex restaurant launched by Joe Draker in 1992 stayed true to those rumors, but Maudie’s received backlash on the Internet when an internal memo addressing the protest surfaced. The unauthorized communique, which many found condescending and disrespectful, eventually made its way to Reddit and led to negative comments on Facebook and elsewhere.

An internal memo posted without Maudie's ownership's approval caused a stir last week.
An internal memo posted without Maudie’s ownership’s approval caused a stir last week.

While Maudie’s chose not to address the letter or verify its authenticity late last week, Draker issued a statement today addressing the restaurant’s original intent and the ensuing controversy over the memo (seen on the right). That statement is below. Maudie’s has also said that no employee has been terminated as a result of the internal memo.

“We haven’t been concerned with where the source came from, but with spending our energy raising our consciousness about and learning from the situation,” Maudie’s ownership added via email.

“Our team at Maudie’s is like a family to us and sometimes, even in the best of families, people make mistakes, especially when it comes to communication.

We are truly sorry for the internal message sent to our stores regarding the ‘A Day without Immigrants’ protest.  In retrospect, we see that the language in the letter misrepresented not only our intentions, but also what was verbally communicated to our employees about this event, and unfortunately, the core values of Maudie’s.

Prior to the event, our management, including our HR Director, held numerous face-to-face meetings with employees (in both Spanish and English). In those conversations, we shared that each individual, without fear of repercussion, could decide for themselves whether or not to come to work that day.

Being open was in no way meant to slight the demonstrations. Simply, those in our employee family who wanted to work on that day had the opportunity to do so.

At Maudie’s, we have always valued our employees, and will continue to do so. We consider each other family.  We empathize with the plight of the immigrant community, and will keep advocating for key efforts in this movement. Our leadership is committed to respecting all of our employees, and we pledge to more thoughtfully show that respect in all that we do moving forward.”


Coming soon: Green Pastures returns as Mattie’s in March

One of Austin’s most recognizable fine dining establishments has received a facelift. After purchasing Green Pastures last year with a group of investors, La Corsha Hospitality Group (Second Bar + Kitchen, Boiler Nine Bar + Grill) will reintroduce the South Austin restaurant on March 1 under the banner Mattie’s.

The rebranded restaurant pays homage to one of the Victorian estate’s original owners, Martha “Mattie” Miner Faulk, mother of Mary Faulk Koock, who first opened Green Pastures in 1946.

Helmed by executive chef Joshua Thomas, a veteran of New York City restaurants Le Bernardin and Devi NYC and the former proprietor of an Indian food truck in Austin called Chaat Shop, the kitchen will focus on American classics, with nods to Texas and the American South.

Mattie's at Green Pastures opens to the public on March 1. (Credit: Annie Gunn)
Mattie’s at Green Pastures opens to the public on March 1. (Credit: Annie Gunn)

Appetizers on the opening menu include Southern fixtures like pimento cheese, buttermilk biscuits and crispy okra chips, while the entrees, which average about $29 in price, include roasted chicken, pan-seared trout and flank steak. The cocktail menu, directed by Jason Stevens, will feature Southern-inspired cocktails and punches, including the beloved milk punch made with Koock’s original recipe.

Mattie’s also offers several areas for private dining and events, and the property, long home to weddings and other special occasions, will be expanded in the coming years to include a 99-room boutique hotel, the Faulk, set to open in 2018. And, yes, the famed peacocks still walk the grounds. (