While Austin still excels at barbecue and Tex-Mex, the city has now a wide variety of cuisines and styles. From interior Mexican to regional Italian to farm-to-table New American, there is something for everyone, and the James Beard Foundation is taking note. Have a look at these eateries from recent JBF award-winning and nominated chefs.
Courtesy of El Naranjo.
After closing her acclaimed restaurant in Oaxaca City, chef Iliana De la Vega and husband Ernesto Torrealba reopened El Naranjo in Austin in 2012, bringing the acclaimed traditional Oaxacan fare with modern touches that earned her the JBF Award for Best Chef - Texas in 2022. The kitchen makes tortillas from scratch from heirloom corn imported from Mexico, and uses the masa for antojitos like tlayudas and gorditas, too. The centerpiece of the menu, however, are her scratch-made moles, including a negro de Oaxaca which takes up to three days to make using at least 30 ingredients. The ample granite top bar is a convivial spot to enjoy signature cocktails, ice cold cerveza, and a good selection of wine and mezcales to pair with your dinner.
Chef Jesse Griffiths, an avid hunter with a pioneering spirit, won the James Beard Foundation Award 2022 for Best Single Subject Book for his The Hog Book: A Chef's Guide to Hunting, Butchering and Cooking Wild Pigs. At Dai Due, his hyper local East Austin restaurant, he only cooks and serves food available in the region, raised or hunted sustainably and ethically. For this reason, the menu is never the same, but you can expect locally foraged, grown, and hunted seasonal ingredients including wild game, as well as local beer, cider and a wine list composed 100% by Texas producers and Texas-grown grapes.
Nixta Taqueria. Credit Arts+Labor.
Chef Edgar Rico nabbed the James Beard Emerging Chef Award 2022 for his popular counter service, non-traditional taqueria in East Austin, which he owns alongside partner Sara Mardanbigi. Nixta Taqueria uses heirloom corn to make the nixtamal for their tortillas - hence the name of the taqueria - and focuses on thoughtfully sourced ingredients from Mexico and Texas. The menu offers many vegetarian and gluten free options to accommodate special diets, such as the beet “tartare” tostada and the cauliflower taco seasoned with romesco sauce, among other seasonal offerings. The bar features low-intervention and natural wines, beer, cider, and sake-based cocktails, as well as traditional non-alcoholic Mexican beverages like tejuino, made from masa de nixtamal, piloncillo, and lime syrup.
Damien Brockway, chef, pitmaster, and owner of this South Austin trailer, earned a 2022 Best Chef: Texas nomination for his ambitious modern African American cuisine concept. Distant Relatives' menu explores the roots of barbecue with an ever-changing seasonal menu that blends traditional Southern flavors and ingredients with inspiration from countries like Mali, Nigeria, and Cameroon through nostalgic and culturally significant dishes from his and his team’s childhoods. Items like a pulled pork sandwich with tamarind-molasses BBQ sauce and collards braised with BBQ broth, spring vegetables and benne seed have graced the plates of his growing legion of followers.
Courtesy of Olamaie.
Housed in a 1920s bungalow near Judges Hill, this award-winning restaurant boasts two 2022 James Beard Award nominees: chef owner Michael Fojtasek was a finalist for Best Chef Texas, and chef de cuisine, Amanda Turner, a semi finalist in the Emerging Chef category. The elegant Southern menu at Olamaie changes daily to showcase ingredient seasonality and market availability, and includes modern takes of classic dishes prepared with heirloom ingredients and recipes. Items like okra, benne seeds, grits, and Carolina Gold rice are often featured in stunningly presented preparations. Reservations are recommended for the dining room, but the bar takes walk-ins for drinks and dinner.
To say chef Kevin Fink has found success in Austin is an understatement. A 2020 nominee for Best Chef: Texas, Fink opened his first restaurant, Emmer & Rye, in 2015. Named after two of the heirloom grains milled in house to craft pastas, breads, and desserts, the locally-driven concept also features whole animal butchery and a fermentation program. Next came Hestia, a modern, globally-inspired grill with a custom 20-ft hearth anchoring the open kitchen. Kalimotxo, a Basque-style social bar, features tapas and a curated Spanish wine list. Other concepts include new age Caribbean fare at Canje, and Tel Aviv meets Texas flavors at EZOV. While the concepts and menus are diverse, all follow Fink’s and business partner Tavel Bristol-Joseph’s commitment to fresh, local, high quality seasonal ingredients and preparations.
Austin's consistently ranking among the best in cuisine. Check out our guide to award winning restaurants for more places to impress your taste buds.
Contributed by Claudia Alarcón
Mexican by birth, Austinite by choice, Claudia has been immersed in the city’s food and beverage scene since her arrival in 1984. After years of working in restaurants she started writing about them in 2000, and has seen the growth transformation of the dining scene from the beginning. In her sparse spare time, she watches futbol, tends her garden, and is an active dog rescue advocate. She lives in South Austin with her fur babies, Benji and Eddie.