In a city growing as rapidly as Austin, it's no surprise there's been a steady stream of restaurants launching over the past few years. However, this year was one for the books, with stellar openings far surpassing the number of sad or surprising closures. Read on for the 14 most important openings of the year and, if you haven't already visited any of these, get booking for 2017.
After five successful years in an intimate space on South Lamar, chef Bryce Gilmore decided to open up a bigger, better Barley Swine on Burnet Road. Opt for the tasting menu or order dishes à la carte, accompanied by a carefully curated beer and wine list plus garden to glass cocktails.
Must-order: The pig skin noodles, served with shrimp dumplings and hot sauce, became an instant classic from the minute the doors opened.
6555 Burnet Rd. #400; 512-394-8150
Early last year, Kenichi veteran Christin Rowan-Adams opened Nightcap, bringing new life to West Sixth Street, just down the hill from Clarksville. Though the original focus was on desserts, chef Drew Dunston's savory items were such a hit, he expanded the menu to include more of them. Now, the restaurant has become a destination for late-night dining, with service until midnight Tuesday through Saturday.
Must-order: If you miss the chicken-and-everything biscuit special — with housemade hot sauce and pickles — on Wednesday night, you can always snag one on Sunday for brunch.
1401 W. 6th St.; 512-628-0144
From the minute Bufalina opened in a small space on Cesar Chavez in 2013, it was packed to capacity almost nightly. So Austin rejoiced when, early this year, owner Stephen Dilley opened a second (and much larger) space on Burnet Road. Bonus: The restaurant launched lunch this fall!
Must-order: Though you can't go wrong with any of the pizzas, the sizable calzone is also a hit — and even better when prefaced with the roasted vegetable and farro salad.
6555 Burnet Rd. #100; 512-215-8662
We were sad to bid farewell to Congress at the very end of 2015, but we did so knowing that LaCorsha Hospitality had some new projects in the works. This past summer, the spacious, three-level Boiler Nine launched in Seaholm Power Plant, helmed by chef Jason Stude.
Must-order: Fire rules the menu here, so be sure to get one of the flame-kissed signature items, like the Akaushi sirloin with carrot mousse, agrodolce, oyster mushroom and arugula.
800 W. Cesar Chavez St.; 512-220-9990
Gardner was another restaurant we were sad to see close this past year, but savvy business partners Ben Edgerton and Andrew Wiseheart saw the opportunity to open another neighborhood restaurant in the spirit of Contigo, their ranch-to-table concept near Mueller — and their hunch was right. They expertly flipped the space in a matter of weeks, introducing a whole new look and menu to the East Sixth Street restaurant just after South by Southwest.
Must-order: Come with friends and order the large format grilled Dewberry Hills chicken, which comes with grilled green vegetables, romaine hearts, camp bread, buttermilk ranch and chiles.
1914 E. 6th St.; 512-354-1480
In early March, New Waterloo opened Otoko in the chic new Hotel South Congress, already home to Café No Sé, Central Standard and Mañana. Chef Yoshi Tokai is the master of ceremonies, guiding each diner through a 22-course kaiseki-style tasting menu consisting of appetizers, hot pot soup, nigiri, sashimi and much more.
Must order: Just let the chef know your dietary requirements and he'll take it from there. But be sure to arrive early and order a cocktail from Watertrade, the bar open just for guests of the restaurant plus a few extra reservations per night.
1603 S. Congress Ave.; 512-920-6405
This past Memorial Day, ELM Restaurant Group (Easy Tiger, Italic, 24 Diner) launched a new concept on West Sixth Street, bringing classic American dishes and all-day dining to a district lacking many food options. And they don't mess around with the strong, affordable drink options either, so you won't waste any time on your bar crawl when you stop for a bite to eat.
Must-order: Go for the blue plate special, which might be chicken pot pie, King Ranch chicken or pot roast, depending on the day of the week.
506 West Ave.; 512-298-0853
Early this summer, Fiore Tedesco (La Condesa, Franklin Barbecue, Bufalina) opened L'oca D'oro, both his first restaurant venture and the first culinary concept to launch in the Mueller District. And though Austin has plenty of options for Italian these days, this one is in a class of its own, taking inspiration from Fiore's Italian-American grandparents and translating it into original dishes using a variety of culinary techniques.
Must-order: Though all five of the housemade pastas are delicious, the wood-roasted mushroom lasagna is otherworldly. But first begin with an omnivore board, filled with housemade cheeses, charcuterie and fermented vegetables.
1900 Simond Ave.; 737-212-1876
June's All Day
McGuire-Moorman Hospitality (Jeffrey's, Josephine House, Elizabeth St. Cafe, Lamberts, Perla's, Clark's Oyster Bar) is responsible for some of the best restaurants in town. So it should come as no surprise that, as soon as June's All Day quietly opened on South Congress, the spot immediately felt like an institution — one bringing a stellar wine list and three meals a day to the popular shopping district.
Must-order: The shaved jambon sandwich, with sprouts, cornichons and aïoli on country bread, cannot be beat — except maybe with an accompaniment of French onion soup.
1722 S. Congress Ave.; 512-416-1722
When Stubb's Bar-B-Que co-founders John Scott and Eddy Patterson announced their plans to open a fine-dining restaurant on South Lamar, the anticipation started building. Just this fall, the new restaurant launched and it was everything we'd hoped for and more, with a solid menu of reimagined American classics by chef Jim Tripi and eye candy all around thanks to interior designer Mickie Spencer.
Must-order: The Pot of Goodness lives up to its name, with lobster tails, Gulf Coast redfish and shrimp, littleneck clams and wood-roasted vegetables served in a cast iron and simmering in a rich lobster broth.
615 S. Lamar Blvd.; 512-916-9000
Hudson's on the Bend
Chef Jeff Blank opened Hudson's on the Bend in 1984 and the Lake Travis restaurant went on to become one of the city's top fine-dining establishments. This past spring, he sold the restaurant to chef Billy Caruso (III Forks Chicago, Paggi House, Botticelli's, Easy Tiger) and the rest of Prime Thyme Restaurant Group, who redid the space and menu and reopened this fall.
Must-order: The menu pays homage to Blank's game-centric original with inspired dishes like alligator ribs with tomato fresco, aji amarillo aïoli and guajillo salt.
3509 Ranch Rd. 620 N.; 512-266-1369
This fall, owner Adam Jacoby and the rest of his team launched a vibrant new concept right across the street from his first restaurant, Jacoby's. Grizzelda's features stunning interior design by Kris Swift and the menu, by executive chef Albert Gonzalez, features interior Mexican and Tex-Mex favorites, plus plenty of seafood dishes from coastal Mexico.
Must-order: Start with queso, queso fundido (or both!) before moving onto a hearty entree like the poblano chile relleno, filled with pork cheek, plantain, requeson, guajillo cream and pepitas.
105 Tillery St.; 512-366-5908
Just this month, the new SMBG Hospitality launched its first concept, Old Thousand, on East 11th Street. The modern Chinese-American brasserie brings some much-needed Asian influence to the area, plus late-night dining options and takeout.
Must-order: The bright, veggie-studded hot spot showcasing pork belly, Chinese sausage and pulled duck quickly became a signature dish.
1000 E. 11th St.; 737-222-6637
At the beginning of this month, chef Joe Anguiano and his team launched a brand-new concept in Lamar Union, located just a stone's throw from his first venture. And, much like VOX Table, the craft cocktails are deserving of the same attention as the food, which is a fresh and modern take on Tex-Mex.
Must-order: The "Tremendos" fajitas, chock full of lobster, rib-eye and bacon-wrapped shrimp, are unlike any sizzling platters you'll find anywhere else around town.
1100 South Lamar Blvd. #1125; 512-975-2600