The 10 Best Things We Ate In 2020

It wasn’t easy, but we made it through the year. And these meals helped - a lot.

Take a deep breath - and now exhale very slowly. We did it. We’ve reached the end of 2020. It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the positives, and here at The Infatuation ATX, those have mostly come in the form of food and drinks. In a year that brought the restaurant industry to a grinding halt, we were still blown away by the quality and creativity of restaurants across the city. From burgers down a chute to breakfast burritos, cheesesteak fries to quesadillas - and just about everything in between - these are the most memorable dishes we ate this year, the food that helped us see, however dim, the light at the end of the tunnel.

The Best Dishes of the Year

Carnitas Tacos

“I like places that only do one thing - they’re focused and tend to do that one thing well. And that’s most definitely the case with Carnitas El Guero, where you can get their carnitas lean, fatty, or mixed, in a taco, torta, or by the pound. That’s it. Carnitas El Guero is a stand inside the Stassney Foodmart/Texaco, and while there’s seating inside, the last time I was there, I opted to eat the tacos outside in the parking lot. 2020 was the year of standing and eating out of the trunk of my car - I keep a roll of paper towels there in case I run out of napkins - and I have a very distinct memory of absolutely inhaling the delicious tacos while trying to not drip salsa all over myself. ” - Raphael Brion, Texas Editor

Cheesesteak Fries

“This summer - on more than one occasion - I found myself replacing the popcorn I’d normally enjoy with a movie with cheesesteak fries. It might seem like a bit of a departure, but the truth is that they both allow you to reach out, grab blindly, and end up with an excellent bite of something - it’s an oddly comforting feeling. And it was that desire for comfort that I found in R&B’s this summer - more specifically, in their cheesesteak fries. It took everything I loved about a cheesesteak and made it messier, with each bite of crinkle-cut fries dripping with Cheez Whiz, white American cheddar, grilled onions, and thinly-sliced Texas ribeye. Because sometimes you just need to forego all social graces and find yourself knuckles-deep in a mountain of potatoes, cheese, steak, and onions.” - Nicolai McCrary, Austin Staff Writer


“I often like to say that 2020 was the year of the burrito in Austin - and it sort of was - but really, 2020 was the year of the smashburger. There were newish spots like Hold Out Brewing and Buddy’s Burger making excellent ones, and even places like Contigo got in the game. And then there were the pop-ups like Golden Castle, Fat City Stacks, and finally, Bad Larry Burger Club with their socially-distanced “burger chute.” The smashburgers from Bad Larry are hard to get - you need to move fast when they randomly go on sale online because they sell out in minutes. But they’re worth the effort, as it was possibly the best burger I had all year. More recently, Bad Larry has been operating out of Bummer Burrito on Mondays, so there is the possibility of a Bad Larry Burrito - perhaps 2020 can be the year of the burrito and the smashburger, both at the same time.” - RB

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Champiñones Quesadilla

“Cuantos Tacos is a recreation of a typical taco stand in Mexico City, but their flawless execution of a small menu with simple ingredients makes it something truly special. They run a tight menu of classics here - like suadero and carnitas - as well as a few less-common options, like buche (pork stomach). Their quesadilla (which I like to get with champiñones) is the only thing you’ll find on a flour tortilla - and possibly my favorite thing on the menu. But don’t take that as any kind of slight on their corn tortillas. They drive them in twice a week from the Colonial Tortilla Factory in San Antonio, where they produce 100% nixtamalized corn tortillas. And they’re perfect. Thin, and barely three inches across - I’d wrap myself in a blanket of these if they were just a little bit bigger. Instead, the meats - finely-diced and cooked in lard - get to experience that luxury. But at least I get to enjoy these tacos whenever I get the craving, and that’s pretty f*cking often.” - NM

Korean Fried Chicken

“I feel like I ate a lot of fried chicken in 2020 - we did, in fact, publish a guide to fried chicken sandwiches and one to chicken wings this year - and the best I had was from this Korean restaurant in North Austin. The chicken is battered and fried in a way that results in a shatteringly crispy coating, even when dressed in a sauce. There are other fried chicken places closer to my house, but I am always happy to go out of my way and drive clear across town to Charm BBQ Chicken instead.” - RB

CPR Wings

“I consider myself a wing guy. I love the classics - Buffalo, lemon pepper, you name it - and I’ve tried lots of other sauces as well, including most of the Hot Ones lineup. So you’ll have to understand my excitement about the CPR wings at Gossip Shack. They aren’t very spicy, and nothing about their Cajun, parmesan, and ranch seasoning blend seems inherently unique, but the combination is excellent and somehow infinitely better than the sum of its parts. Oh, and if you’ve never seen Hot Ones, this episode with Paul Rudd is just the right amount of wholesome to kick things off while you enjoy your own box of CPR wings.” - NM

Pepperoni & Basil Pizza

“Sammataro is a new wood-fired pizza trailer in West Lake that opened very recently. More on the well-done side, the pizza here is spectacular, reminiscent of the kind you’d find at places like Sam’s Restaurant and Lucali in Brooklyn. It’s definitely not a style of pizza you could get in Austin, until now. The pizza travels exceptionally well and reheats nicely in a 500-degree oven for a few minutes, but consider yourself lucky if you live nearby. I’d eat here all the time if I did.” - RB

Quesadilla Especial

“I find myself at Paprika often. And not just because the tacos are good - they’re excellent - but because of how often they change things up. Everything here feels so thought out, from the individual salsas designed to pair with different tacos to how thick they cut their al pastor. But my favorite thing at Paprika - some kind of shining taco at the end of a dark tunnel of self-quarantine - is the quesadilla especial. It‘s served open-face and covered in nopalitos, bistec, salsa roja, refried lentils, cilantro, onion, and, of course, cheese.” - NM

“The breakfast burrito at Ñoño’s is the thing I probably ate the most times this year. It’s called the Grande Burrito, and it’s got eggs, potato, chorizo, bacon, refried beans, pico, and cheese - I like to add avocado - that all gets rolled up in a flour tortilla before getting crisped up on the flattop. It’s a glorious experience. While not as large as the name might imply, it’s almost big enough to share with whichever of your friends also believes it to be the year of the burrito. It’s the kind of meal you need to heal a hangover or the thing you want to eat because you’re going to be doing yard work all day. I did, in fact, do a lot of yard work this year.” - RB

Espicy Chicken Sandwich

“This year I ate more fried chicken sandwiches than at any other point in my life. Sure, we all jumped on the Popeye’s craze late last year (doesn’t that feel like such a simpler time?), but I wanted to find the best one in Austin. And I did, at Pollo Las Abuelas. The style here takes inspiration from the owner’s grandmothers, leading to a mashup of South Texan and Mexican flavors. This means that in addition to a perfectly-fried chicken breast, my sandwich was topped with arbol-garlic oil, queso, roasted serrano crema, and cotija cheese - and it’s one that I won’t soon forget.” - NM

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