It’s been a challenging time for restaurants, food trucks, and bars, but that hasn’t stopped Austin establishments from opening, pivoting, popping up, and finding more ways to support their communities. In one way or another, they’re all doing something new - and we’re excited for you to discover them.
Supporting these spots is more important than ever, which is why we’ve brought back The Hit List - our guide to the best new food and drink experiences in Austin. We track new openings across the city, and then visit as many as we can. While the Hit List is by no means an exhaustive list of every good new spot, one thing you can always rely on is that we’ll only include places that we have genuinely checked out.
Our goal is for this list to be as diverse as the city itself - inclusive of a wide range of cuisines, price points, neighborhoods, chefs and owners of all backgrounds, and the multifaceted communities within the industry. If you think we missed a great new place, we want to hear about it. Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you’re interested in The Best Things We Ate This Week, well, we’ve got that, too.
Hold Out Brewing in Clarksville has juicy IPAs, the extremely popular Ol’ Gil Euro Pils, dry-hopped porters, and small-batch experimental brews that I am powerless to resist. But I keep coming back because of their food: there’s the best-in-class chicken wings, an al pastor hot dog, a cobb salad with miso ranch and a jammy egg, the broccoli “CuBun” sandwich (it’s a Cubano with broccoli and a mojo verde), and just an excellent burger. They also sell individual cans of their beer to go - kind of a rarity for a brewery - so you’ll find me juggling as many cans I can handle on the way out. - Raphael Brion, Texas Editor
Austinites have long been familiar with Olamaie’s highly-coveted, off-menu biscuits. One time I even traded a friend three of my leftover biscuits for a really nice kayak paddle. So when Olamaie temporarily closed their dining room just south of campus, they pivoted to a biscuit-based takeout concept called Little Ola’s. And it’s not just limited to regular ol’ biscuits - though you can, and should, get some of those. Little Ola’s dreamed up a whole new menu of biscuit-based sandwiches, stuffed with things like country ham and cheese, or deep-fried chicken thighs. Now, my favorite element of the Olamaie experience - previously reserved for anniversaries, birthdays, and kayak paddle trades - can transform even the most average of weekends into a great one. - Nicolai McCrary, Austin Staff Writer
The pizza at Sammataro is spectacular, reminiscent of the kind you’d find at places like Sam’s Restaurant and Lucali in Brooklyn. Wood-fired and more on the well-done side, 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 in West Lake. I’d eat here all the time if I did. -RB
Kemuri Tatsu-ya’s menu is equal parts Japanese izakaya and Texas barbecue, and it’s the best (and probably only) place to find smoked brisket, ramen, and yakitori under one roof in Austin. When the world fell apart, they took a pause, and briefly reopened as a takeout sandwich shop. But they really found (re-found?) their groove in the fall, when they closed their dining room, doubled the size of their patio, and created a new outdoor omakase experience that channeled the restaurant’s izakaya/barbecue roots beautifully. One of the dishes came packed in a little wooden box - which made the entire meal feel like opening presents. It was filled with brisket burnt ends, fermented hot sauce, nori, and an array of pickles for DIY hand rolls, and it still might be the best thing anyone gave me all last year. - NM
Kemuri Tatsu-ya has been open longer than the other spots on this list, but launched their omakase experience in October 2020.
Salty Cargo describes their food as Hawaiian staples with an Asian twist, so on the menu you’ll find things like heihei moa chicken wings with kimchi, garlic butter firecracker shrimp, Hawaiian-style pork ribs, and the large-format O’Hana Style fried fish. While there are more subdued dishes like the tori katsu sando and the very good poke with brown sugar-marinated bluefin tuna, what I like about Salty Cargo is that the food often leans headlong into funky and spicy flavors - with liberal use of ingredients like fish sauce, kimchi, pork fat soy sauce, or sweet chili sauce. It’s intense, but there’s nothing else like it in town. Find them in the Hana World Market food court in North Austin. -RB
Austin isn’t exactly a seafood city. We’re at least three hours from the nearest beach, and last I checked, there weren’t a whole lot of snow crabs in the Gulf. But none of that seemed to matter when I took my first bite at Kasian Boil - the shrimp were giant and the crab tasted like it could have been dancing across the ocean floor that morning. But if the crab was my lure, my hook was certainly the butters. Their signature “Blasian” sauce - a sweet, spicy, garlicky butter sauce - is reminiscent of the increasingly popular Viet-Cajun style that’s been quickly spreading across the state. And the accompanying potatoes in the boil acted like some kind of tasty sponge that just soak it all up. It’s really helped me re-kindle (or maybe just kindle) my love for potatoes. They have two locations in the Austin area - one near Wells Branch, and the other near Anderson Mill. - NM
The smashburgers from Bad Larry Burger Club can be hard to get - you need to move fast when they randomly go on sale online because they sell out in minutes. Yes, the burgers are that good. More recently, Bad Larry has been regularly operating out of Bummer Burrito on Mondays, so it’s become slightly easier to get your hands on these phenomenal burgers (but still, be quick about ordering them online). And although you might have to brave Rainey Street, Bad Larry Burger Club’s “burger chute” is probably the most novel and socially-distanced way you’ll be getting your food during the pandemic. If only there was a Bad Larry French Fry club, too. -RB
Lolo is like that effortlessly cool friend of yours that’s always hosting hip dinner parties, collects records, and probably brews their own beer or something. This natural wine shop on the East Side has guided me through the pandemic, providing the majority of my libations with expert recommendations to pair with my roller coaster of emotions over the last few months. They first opened up in February and quickly became the spot for a couple of weeks before, well, you know. And after a seven-month stint as a curbside bottle shop, they reopened their patio to guests in late October. And while they primarily operate as a spot to enjoy natural wine, they have a small, but well-curated selection of snacks, including a baguette with some of the best butter - Rodolphe le Meunier - that I’ve ever had. - NM
Dough Boys, the new wood-fired Neapolitan pizza truck in Arbor Food Park in East Austin, makes some truly excellent pizza. The dough is hearty, made with flour from Barton Springs Mill, and it’s fermented for 36 hours for a chewy, puffy, and tangy crust. My favorite pizza here is the Green-Go, with garlic cream, smoked mozzarella, spicy pork sausage, a “secret” green sauce. Be on the lookout for their collaboration pizzas too - in the past they’ve made confit brisket pizza with La Tunita’s consome for dunking, as well as pizza with al pastor from Cuantos Tacos. When they announce those collaborations, move fast because they tend to sell out quick. -RB
If you had told me that one of the best Mediterranean meals I would eat this year would be at a restaurant attached to a downtown hotel, well, I’d be a little surprised. But the fact that a lamb meatball tajine managed to make as much of an impression on me as it did kind of puts 2020 in a new perspective - had the pandemic simply made me crave something new, or was it the power of the meatball? I like to think it’s the power of the meatball - well-spiced (but not spicy), with barberries, pine nuts, and just a hint of gamey lamb flavor. Everything here - from the Mediterranean-inspired art and the wood-burning oven, to the food and drinks - just feels incredibly thought out. Which isn’t a huge surprise, considering the restaurant group behind The Peacock has over a dozen popular spots under their belt, including local favorites like Jeffrey’s, Clark’s, and Lambert’s. - NM
Qi is a modern “food-focused and farm-driven” Chinese restaurant downtown from the people behind Lin Asian Bar + Dim Sum in Clarksville. This place has a slightly higher-end menu and features ingredients like truffles and caviar. Just like Lin, a big part of Qi’s lunch and dinner menu is dim sum (on weekends there’s a full-on dim sum brunch). Everything I’ve had here has been exceptional - whether it’s the shrimp har kaw, the lobster dumplings, the pork and shrimp sui mai, or the Shanghai soup dumplings - they’re almost as beautiful to look at as they are tasty to eat. If you’re at all a fan of dim sum - or just curious - you really should get to Qi. -RB
If you’ve never had a cheeseburger topped with a Hatch chile-and-cheddar latke, well, you’re probably in the majority. But you can change that pretty quickly with a visit to JewBoy Burgers, the popular food truck that turned into a brick-and-mortar over the summer. The owner is one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, which somehow makes the burgers taste even better? Either that or they’re just great burgers. And while the focus has always been on burgers and latkes, the move to a bigger space has given them the opportunity to expand the menu. So now you can get an El Paso-style burrito complete with - you guessed it - latkes. - NM
Rogue Radish is a trailer in East Austin from the former chef of Pitchfork Pretty serving seasonal grain bowls. I get it, “seasonal grain bowls” is the sort of phrase that might make you run in the opposite direction, but what Rogue Radish is doing is nothing short of revolutionary when it comes to what food can do in a bowl. The bowls feature a whole bunch of regularly-changing - and yes, seasonal - grains and vegetables. You can tell that each component is thoughtfully considered and prepared (especially the roasted sweet potato glazed in tangerine juice, soy, mirin, and garam masala oil). At the base level, the bowls are 100% vegan, but you can add things like a tamari-marinated egg and grilled goat loin. My only complaint is that the bowls are slightly too large and packed with perhaps too many ingredients, but that just means a tasty snack for another time. -RB
It almost feels like heresy to include a Cali-style Mexican restaurant on a list of the best restaurants in a city known for its Tex-Mex, but the past year hasn’t exactly been what we thought it would be, has it? At Reunion 19, they’re not taking any shortcuts. The tortillas - flour and corn - are made from scratch. They have a trompo, slow-cooking al pastor in the back. The barbacoa is made from lamb shoulder that’s been slow-braised for eight hours. And the tuna tostada here was so good that I briefly forgot where I was. I could talk all day about the merits of Texas-style Mexican vs California-style Mexican, but in the end, good food is good food. And Reunion 19 makes just that. - NM
In contrast to Bad Larry Burger Club, the smashburgers at Buddy’s Burger in East Austin are much easier to acquire - just pull up into their drive-thru. The smashburgers are caramelized and juicy, and the menu is simple: single, single with cheese, spicy with cheese, or double with cheese. I recommend getting a double, the seasoned fries, and one of the hand-spun milkshakes. Do note that if you get a combo meal, you will receive a soda in a comically large styrofoam cup that will most likely not fit in your car’s cup holder. -RB