Starting in 2002, I have eaten my weight in lamb chops, roasted beets, pork belly, and micro-cilantro every year to come up with Texas Monthly’s annual list of the most innovative, exciting, and delicious new Texas restaurants. For 2012, our feature “Where to Eat Now” runs the gamut from a glittering, high-style dining room in downtown Austin to a causal sushi-and-sake bar in Fort Worth. The full story can be found in the March issue and online. The top ten and runners-up are below.
The number one slot was captured by Congress, a secluded enclave on the first floor of the swank Austonian condo tower. Since it opened on New Year’s Eve 2010, outfitted in icy crystal lights and cushy booths, Congress has become the city’s default location for special occasions of all types. (Tip: Congress is also an excellent choice if you forgot to send candy and flowers on Valentine’s.) Austinites will remember executive chef David Bull when he was a rookie making a name for himself at the Driskill Hotel a few years ago. Now (after a sojourn in Dallas) he’s back in town, at the top of his game. The year just passed is notable for bringing several dining trends into sharper focus. Chief among them is what I call the offal truth, a.k.a. nose-to-tail eating. Locally sourced ingredients are also the rule these days. Pigs are big, which is observation about both their size and their popularity on menus. Casual and small-plate dining are more prevalent than ever (several of the top ten choices have beer gardens and community tables). But fine dining is hardly on the way out (three spots are formal with a vengeance). As for culinary style, it’s all over the map: four of
the top places are American melting pot, two are classic French, two are Italian, one Indian, and one Japanese. Here is the list, in order: 1. Congress, Austin. 2. Barley Swine, Austin. 3. Marquee, Dallas. 4. Coppa, Houston. 5. Philippe, Houston. 6. The Monterey, San Antonio. 7. Contigo, Austin. 8. Lucia, Dallas. 9. Pondicheri, Houston. 10. Shinjuku Station, Fort Worth. The five runners-up (listed alphabetically by city) are Mesa Veracruz Coastal Cuisine, Dallas; Private Social, Dallas. Revolver Taco Lounge, Fort Worth. Feast, San Antonio; Restaurant Gwendolyn, San Antonio. The restaurants in this year’s story opened between November 1, 2010, and November 1, 2011.