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Best of ATX 2021: Food & Drink

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Bakery: Abby Jane Bakeshop

At Abby Jane Love’s eponymous new bakery in Dripping Springs, everything from her naturally leavened sourdough breads to the wood-fired “Roman-inspired” pizzas and superlative pastries—like the Queen “P,” a Texas twist on a kouign amann with sticky pecan caramel—are all made with flour that’s milled just a few yards away at Barton Springs Mill. 

 

All the breads, pastries, and pizzas at Abby Jane Bakeshop are made from flour from on-site partner Barton Springs Mill. Photo courtesy Abby Jane Bakeshop.

 

Breakfast Taco: Tacos Guerrero

Known as “the abuelita in the orange taco truck,” owner Yolanda Guerrero has won over East Austinites with her infectious smile and spectacular breakfast tacos. The migas tacos (with still-crispy tortilla strips and a layer of refried beans) are some of the best you’ll find, especially when splashed with Guerrero’s roasted red molcajete salsa.

 

Burgers: Buddy’s Burger

The menu is short but sweet at this new family-owned joint on Cameron Road: single or double patty smash burgers made with perfectly caramelized, 100 percent Angus with an option to ramp up the heat (jalapeños and Buddy’s Spicy Smack Sauce). Alongside one of its Mexican vanilla milkshakes, it’ll test your restraint to not devour everything on the drive home. 

 

Coffee Shop: Try Hard Coffee Roasters

Where to even begin with this pitch-perfect East Side shop from veteran baristas Raechel Hurd, Gabrielle Rose, and Jon French? Maybe it’s the house-roasted beans that lead to an always-flawless cappuccino; their unforgettable empanada stuffed with biscuits and gravy; or Rose’s crackly “pillows,” puff pastries folded with fillings like cardamom cream. 

 

Collaborator: Nixta Taqueria

To keep things “playful”—as well as give back to community organizers—co-owners Sara Mardanbigi and Edgar Rico spent the last year collaborating with a number of peers on one-off specials like A5 wagyu birria tacos with La Tunita 512 during an anniversary week that featured four of the brightest taqueros in town. 

 

Culinary Trend: Birria

Birria arepas (Arepa Dealers), birria rolled into kimbap (Tejas Birria), and birria piled into cups of Tapatío ramen (Jamie’s Barbecue And Mini Tacos). What was once a taqueria rarity has grown into a full-on phenomenon, especially with taco trucks like La Tunita 512 concentrating on birria de res, a slow-braised brisket version that’s dipped and served with consommé.

 

Dim Sum: Qi

Chef Ling Qi Wu of Lin Asian Bar pushes her dim sum skills even further at a chic new downtown spot. Pull the lid off of a bamboo steamer, and you might find scallop shumai dotted with caviar or pot stickers weighted down with Akaushi beef. And for longtime fans of the chef, there’s no need to worry, as her famous Shanghai soup dumplings are available all day. 

 

Doughnuts: Lola’s Donuts

For three sweet days a week, Austin becomes a doughnut town, as Olivia O’Neal elevates a less-saccharine brioche base into a vehicle for praline bacon, strawberry cereal milk glaze, and other mouthwatering garnishes. 

 

Fries: R&B’s Steak and Fries

Brothers Arman and Kristan Elliott, along with childhood friend Viet Nguyen, take everything you love about a classic Philly cheesesteak—here, shaved Texas ribeye, Cheez Whiz, and a drizzle of melted American cheddar cheese—and pile it high on crinkle-cut fries. Be polite and use a fork, or just get elbow-deep. 

 

Hot Dogs: Red Rocket Wiener Wagon

Made with 12 different types of spices and topped with house-pickled kimchi and brisket chili, this red-hued side project from la Barbecue pitmasters LeAnn Mueller and Ali Clem is helping to fuel the surprising deluge of gourmet hot dogs seen around town. 

 

Red Rocket hot dogs from the la Barbecue crew. Photo by Jody Domingue.

 

Ice Cream: Gati

The secret is out, as chef Jam Sanitchat has broadened the scope of her coconut milk–based ice cream program inside Thai Fresh in Bouldin Creek to a star turn in its own East Austin shop. Dairy-free has never tasted so good with more than 40 rotating flavors featuring seasonal produce (Texas grapefruit, pandan leaf) and gluten-free baked goods swirled inside. 

 

Middle Eastern: Usta Kababgy

Yes, this North Lamar spot has solid standards such as hummus and shawarma. But what really makes it stand out is their excellent skewers, like the ground lamb and beef Iraqi kebabs that arrive tender and smoky from having spent time sizzling on a charcoal grill. The crisp, pizza-like flatbreads—including one loaded with za’atar and feta cheese—are also outstanding. 

 

New Brewery: Meanwhile Brewing

Portland, Oregon’s loss is our gain, as Will Jaquiss and Nao Ohdera of Breakside Brewing headed south to open their own brewery in Austin. Situated on a sprawling 3.7-acre campus, it features three food trucks and an extraordinary range of beers, including region-specific IPAs that go far beyond the hazy craze. 

 

Noodles: Julie’s Noodles

The thick and chewy Northern Chinese–style hand-pulled noodles here are the perfect complement for ingredients like tender slivers of lamb, tofu, wood ear mushrooms, and the variety of rich broths seen on their wide-ranging soup menu. For the full tingly mala experience, make sure to order a side of its homemade chili oil. 

 

Subs: Banger’s Sausage House

After displaying his talents with smoked and cured meats at places like Cochon in New Orleans, chef Thomas Maltz gets his opportunity to further showcase his pedigree on Banger’s new sandwich menu, which includes the city’s finest Italian hero, made with house-made coppa, bologna, and pistachio mortadella piled high on a Leidenheimer roll. 

 

Sushi: Uroko

Komé chef Takehiro Asazu and longtime Uchi vet Masazumi Saio pivoted to a takeout-only model last year that’s headlined by the greatest value in omakase: 12 pieces of nigiri, such as house-cured Norwegian mackerel lacquered in white truffle oil and Japanese hamachi brushed with wasabi butter, all for $45

 

Tex-Mex: Texsueño

Brandon Martin has always been a huge fan of Tex-Mex, but he thought the category was becoming “a bit stagnant,” so the former Odd Duck chef made it the focus of his first solo concept. Freshly nixtamalized corn tortillas serve as the basis of exquisite enchiladas and old-school crispy tacos stuffed with beef simmered in a braise of green chile pork fat, garlic, and onion. 

 

Wine Shop: Salt & Time Wine Shop

The term “natural wine” has become such a confusing catchall, so at this impeccably curated shop headed by Erika Widmann, they get granular: small-production, low-intervention wines made with native yeasts. European selections from importers like Jenny & François dominate the shelves, meaning you can’t go wrong with any bottle, at any price point. 

 

Wings: Hold Out Brewing

Brined for 24 hours minimum, baked, and then flash-fried, these always-crispy wings are further enhanced with chef Rich Reimbolt’s “gassed-up Frank’s RedHot” (Worcestershire, chili powder, and lots of butter) and an umami-rich ranch sauce laden with miso—an addition inspired by his time at powerhouse Asian restaurants like Uchiko and  Momofuku in New York. 

 

Food Truck All-Stars

Pizza: Dough Boys

With his handlebar mustache, chef Tony Curet not only looks the part of a crack pizzaiolo, he backs it up with his smoky Neapolitan pies (all baked in a 900-degree brick oven) like the Italian Vato that’s draped with salami and Hatch green chiles. 

 

Plant-Based: Rogue Radish

Make no mistake, this isn’t the kind of food you’d get at a choose-your-own-adventure fast-casual chain or hippie co-op. Here, chef Max Snyder carefully jigsaws together daily veggie-forward inspirations that just-so-happen to take place in a bowl, like glazed sweet potatoes shrouded in broccoli leaf pesto and turmeric-spiced seeds. 

 

Queso: Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ

Miguel Vidal says the key to his silky, never-gloppy queso is that it’s “hecho con amor.” What does that mean? Oh, just the pitmaster’s mesquite-smoked brisket, a dollop of fresh guac, and two types of salsa swimming in a pool of melted queso blanco. 

 

Tacos: Cuantos Tacos

People are powerless not to line up for Luis “Beto” Robledo’s superb Mexico City–style tacos on house-made corn tortillas, what with the Saturday-only al pastor, carved off the trompo along with roasted pineapple, and the off-menu campechana fragrant with anise and clove.

 

Cuantos Tacos chef-owner Luis “Beto” Robledo. Photo by Robert Gomez.

 

The truck’s tromp displays some Saturday-only al pastor. Photo by Robert Gomez.

 

Thai: Talad

Pad Thai often gets a bad rap because of its sweet, one-note ubiquity. But not at this East Side food truck, where the wok-charred noodles are tossed in a medley of tangy, funky, fiery flavors. Also, leave room for the flaky roti served with a turmeric curry sauce. 

 

Socially Distanced Dining

Cocktail Kits: Small Victory

One of Austin’s most intimate bars, this clandestine speakeasy has been forced to completely shake up their model since the start of the pandemic. Fortunately, their curbside offerings are just as deft as their normal service, with a wide range of house-made mixers and classic to-go cocktails—each paired with a bag of appropriately shaped ice. 

 

DIY Dinner Kit: Korea House

This three-plus-decade staple on West Anderson Lane has upped their takeout game with chef EJ Kim’s budae-jjigae spread: A massive portion of four-day beef bone broth, sausage, kimchi, gochujang, tofu, sweet potato noodles, rice cakes, and an array of different banchan. At $29, it might be the biggest steal in town.

 

Most Creative Restaurant in a Crisis: Olamaie

From others in the restaurant industry, chef Michael Fojtasek kept hearing the same message: “Adapt or die.” So he did, transforming his highly decorated eatery into a laid-back biscuit shop. Not only did it save Olamaie, but the Little Ola’s Biscuits spinoff has now become its own concept in North Austin. 

 

To weather the pandemic, Olamaie chef Michael Fojtasek turned his restaurant into a casual biscuit concept. Photo by Sara Marie D’Eugenio.

 

Photo by Sara Marie D’Eugenio.

From coffee shops and ice cream to dim sum and queso, here’s where to go for anything dining-related in Austin.

 

Outdoor Getaway: Vista Brewing

It’s a breeze to maintain your personal space at Kent and Karen Killough’s 21-acre Driftwood brewery. Just choose a shady spot under a live oak, scan a QR code to order a charcuterie board, and prepare to be wowed by all of their terroir-driven farmhouse ales. 

 

Restaurant Patio: Kemuri Tatsu-ya

In addition to expanding his covered patio and further spacing out tables to a minimum of 6 feet, chef Tatsu Aikawa reassessed his menu, introducing three multi-course omakase services (vegetarian, pescatarian, and smoked meat–focused) that have helped cut down on food waste.

 

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