Austin’s dining scene is unstoppable, growing by leaps and bounds, defined by the spirit of constant renewal. Bat City’s latest batch of restaurants mirrors its fast-growing population, including a hotel chophouse by a James Beard Award nominee and a swanky, Italian-accented steakhouse. A couple of Mexican spots that offer lesser-seen regional fare, inspired by the chefs’ travels to Oaxaca and beyond, plus a casual Hill Country smokehouse from a successful Houston transplant round out the selection. Prepare to be impressed by these six promising newcomers, reflecting the best of Austin right now.
Maie Day (Bouldin Creek)
A community chophouse in the South Congress Hotel, Maie Day opened in May and is the newest project from three-time James Beard nominee, chef Michael Fojtasek. The reimagined space, previously the bar and grill Central Standard, now bursts with color and character, with a big marble-top bar, ample outdoor space, and tables that can accommodate large groups. The steakhouse-style menu includes appetizers such as smoked fish dip and peel ‘n eat shrimp; mains feature a daily grilled whole fish, grass-fed rib-eye, a butcher’s steak, and prime rib. The bar serves cocktails, beer, and wine in a bustling atmosphere.
Hildee’s Dine-Inn (Wimberley)
Former Houston chef Ryan Hildebrand, whose past projects include gastropub FM Kitchen and Bar, recently opened this casual smokehouse in Wimberley, offering imaginative Hill Country and southern dishes for lunch, dinner, and brunch. Think pork ribs with beet BBQ sauce, chicken-fried venison, cornmeal-crusted catfish, and peach cobbler cheesecake, in a rustic, convivial space to match. A full bar serves craft cocktails and a global wine list with a focus on Texas bottles. Hildee’s physical space includes indoor and outdoor seating, as well as a covered terrace and lounge seating along the creek and lawn. To reserve, call the restaurant directly.
Chapulín Cantina (Downtown)
A newcomer to the busy South Congress strip, this colorful cantina that opened in August, is the vibrant sibling to Austin’s Italian go-to, Vespaio. The menu features elegant, regional Mexican dishes, inspired by the many trips to Oaxaca that chef/owners Ryan Samson and Daniel Brooks took to blueprint the concept. Expect an ample selection of mezcales and agave spirits to sip or enjoy in creative cocktails. Appetizers include roasted bone marrow with avocado salsa, seafood cocktails, and Oaxacan antojitos such as tlayudas (oval-shaped, crisp corn tortillas topped with a variety of foods) and memelas (griddled corn cakes, usually layered with refried beans and crumbled queso fresco). Don’t miss the house-made moles, served as a sampler or with chicken, duck, pork, or vegetables.
Pecan Square Cafe (Downtown)
In the former space of the much-lamented Café Josie, this Clarksville newcomer serves simple, seasonal food with an evolving roster of dishes. The menu offers globally inspired cuisine prepared with locally sourced ingredients for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. Grab a three-course prix fixe lunch for $50 and feast on entrees such as pork schnitzel with string bean remoulade and spicy mustard. The bar delivers variations on classic cocktails, with a short but sweet wine list and happy hour from 3 pm to 5 pm Monday through Friday.
Dean’s Italian Steakhouse (Downtown)
A classic American steakhouse with an Italian accent, Dean’s opened in August and is one of the newest additions to downtown Austin. The swanky space serves up expertly sourced prime cuts of beef including Texas and Japanese A5 wagyu, paired with modern sides including the billionaire’s potato—a twice-baked classic topped with shaved truffles. The menu also includes house-made pastas, market-fresh seafood, and a raw bar with caviar service. The Veranda at Dean’s, an adjacent open-air space with patio seating, serves an excellent weekday happy hour from 5 pm to 6:30 pm, including $7 select glasses of wine, $8 signature cocktails, and $9 shareable small plates such as oysters Rockefeller, steak tartare, and more.
The newest project from chef and owner Kevin Taylor and the team behind the popular ATX Cocina, Bulevar opens in September in the Arboretum area. The space is a handsome expanse with tall ceilings, large windows, and a huge patio with great views of Austin and its spectacular sunsets. Anchored by a massive, wood-fired grill the kitchen prepares modern dishes inspired by Taylor’s travels across Mexico, with gluten-free and vegetarian options. From wood-grilled antojitos to prime cuts, creative aguachiles, and stellar mains, the menu promises to be a crowd pleaser. The high-energy bar serves classic margaritas and unique agave creations, plus a vast selection of agave distillates.
Claudia Alarcón is a Mexico City-born writer based in Austin, Texas covering dining, drinking, and travel since 1999.
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