Updated: Saturday, 29 Dec 2012, 10:05 AM CST
Published : Saturday, 29 Dec 2012, 9:19 AM CST
AUSTIN (KXAN) - We had Andrea Grimes, editor of Eater Austin, in studio on Saturday morning to talk about the five hottest restaurants that opened in Austin in 2012.
Here are her quick reviews of her five picks:
Freedmen's Bar - From the folks behind Cuatro's and the Longbranch Inn comes Freedmen's Bar, a cocktail-focused barbecue bar smack dab in the heart of West Campus, where upscale joints fear to tread. But pitmaster Evan Leroy, who comes from a barbecue-competition family and spent time as pitmaster at the New York City's Hill Country Barbecue, a favorite of Texas expatriates, is smoking some incredible meats, side dishes and desserts. (As in yes, he's actually smoking desserts. Banana pudding, specifically.) Freedmen's has been open less than a month, but if the last few weeks are any indication, they're going to give some established pits a run for their money (or a stiff drink, of which Freedmen's has plenty).
Ramen Tatsu-Ya - The food trend of the year in Austin is most definitely ramen, largely thanks to the efforts of Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya "Tako" Matsumoto, who opened Ramen Tatsu-Ya in early fall. Think of it as the Franklin Barbecue of noodle soup: folks line up early, before the restaurant even opens to serve their one meal (dinner, in this case) at 5 p.m. every day. The soup has been painstakingly developed over months and months of working with broth and specialty noodle makers; it's as authentic as ramen gets anywhere outside of Japan.
East Side King at Hole In The Wall - The ramen doesn't stop at the front door of Ramen Tatsu-Ya: Top Chef winner Paul Qui's first-ever brick-and-mortar location of his beloved East Side King food truck is serving edgy takes on classic ramen at the campus-area dive bar and music venue--bacon ramen topped with beer foam, a tortilla soup ramen and a squid ink curry ramen. It's a renaissance moment for the bar, which has had trouble keeping reliable food service for years, and a really great place to sample the non-sushi work of Qui, arguably one of the biggest chefs in Austin right now, and his partner Moto Utsonomiya, without having to wait for a reservation at Uchi or Uchiko. The ESK @ HITW features a "greatest hits" menu from all the ESK trucks, including brussels sprouts salad, Tori Meshi and fried beets.
Lenoir - Since the teeny-tiny Lenoir opened on South First Street early in 2012, it's been almost impossible to get a table--mostly because the space seats just over 30 people, but also because husband-and-wife team chef Todd Duplechan and pastry chef Jessica Maher are walking the walk when it comes to buzzwords many restaurants just pay lip service to: farm-to-table, locavore, seasonal, community-supported. Dinner is always a three-course prix-fixe for $35, which is an incredible deal for the quality of food Lenoir serves (Duplechan was formerly the chef at TRIO at the Four Seasons). The menu changes seasonally, even weekly, and the space itself is simply stunning, with a beautifully lit interior and gorgeous back yard garden.
Sway - Chef Rene Ortiz made his name in town at La Condesa, and while his Mexican food is phenomenal, he says he thinks his Thai food is even better, and many, many folks will be inclined to agree after visiting Sway, another gem on South First Street, which is swiftly becoming Austin's best dining destination. Jesse Herman is a heck of a restaurant owner, and has created a remarkable vibe at Sway, with communal tables and an open kitchen where diners can watch all the action (and there's plenty of it).