No. 7 Sway

There are plenty of Thai restaurants in Austin where culinary purity and penny-wise prices prevail. Sway is not one of them. With a dining room defined by massive communal tables, this hip newcomer plays fast and loose with tradition. It sends forth from its busy open kitchen a stream of dishes inspired by the famously controversial modern Thai cooking of Sydney, Australia. How to sum up Sway?

No. 6 The Pass

The show begins when the massive steel door rolls open and you enter the stark dining room. Directly ahead, visible from floor to ceiling, is the busy, brightly lit kitchen. You sit down at a white-draped table, select either the five- or eight-course tasting menu, and wait. In a few minutes, a line cook—or maybe even one of the two chef-owners, Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan—steps forward with a platter in hand, and you’re off on a magic carpet ride.

No. 5 Arro

“Gargantuan” hardly begins to describe the amphibians that have selflessly given their all to fill the platters of buttery, supersized fried frogs’ legs at Arro. Open eight months, this airy, sun-drenched downtown Austin restaurant has been beguiling longtime Francophiles and novices alike with its modern interpretations of French bistro classics.

No. 4 CBD Provisions

There is a down-the-rabbit-hole aspect to CBD Provisions. If you step from the arty, modern Joule Hotel lobby into this cleverly designed dining room, you may think you’ve wandered into a secret chamber that was boarded up decades ago and only recently rediscovered. Dish-towel napkins, old buff-brick walls, and reclaimed-wood floors speak to farmhouse aesthetics.

No. 3 Osteria Mazzantini

No chef needs a reason to open an Italian restaurant, but John Sheely has a good excuse: he’s Italian on his mother’s side. This fact gives his newest venture, six-month-old Osteria Mazzantini, a homey vibe, despite the fact that the swellegant modern space in the Galleria area is as different as it could possibly be from the small, cozy rooms of his popular, long-established Mockingbird Bistro. The menu at Mazzantini draws from sources old and new.

No. 2 Casa Rubia

Inspired by the tidal wave of creativity pouring out of Spain over the past decade, chef Omar Flores has taken that country’s abundance of ingredients and ideas and given them a radical yet reverential twist. The results are electrifying, with flavors so complex that you find yourself pausing mid-bite to ponder what is going on. One such dish is his crispy fried artichokes topped with thin-sliced salt-cured tuna.

The Lemon Wedge

A gem among the boutique restaurants of a reinvigorated downtown Bryan, the Lemon Wedge has taken great strides to transform its original tearoom atmosphere to one more welcoming to the male persuasion. The tasteful decor complements an attractive menu, with options ranging from a Canadian bacon, Brie, and asparagus sandwich at lunchtime to heartier selections of lamb, Muscovy duck, and Prime beef for dinner.

Chic-Choc Old-Fashioned

While the Alamo and the Tower of the Americas are two of the more famous San Antonio attractions, the Tipsy Texan is drawn to another of that city’s architectural wonders: the tilting bar that stands (miraculously, it seems) at the corner of Josephine and Avenue A. One of the oldest bar buildings in town, it was built in the 1890’s as a dry-goods store and saloon.

Sea Change

I am sitting at Caracol—distracted by the lively buzz of conversation and the blur of servers hustling past—pondering a weighty question: Could this Houston dining establishment have existed before now? Twenty-five years ago, a seafood restaurant with dishes from the interior of Mexico would have catered to homesick exiles and a few fanatical purists in a strip center in southwest Houston.

Steak

When it comes to the art of selecting and cooking a good steak, it seems as if you need an advanced degree from A&M in order to confidently ruminate on such complexities as marbling scores, grass-fed beef versus grain-fed, and dry aging versus wet. Your best bet? Consult your butcher, bring home the nicest piece of meat your wallet will allow, and introduce it to a little salt and pepper and an open flame.

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