La Paloma, a whimsical dessert at the Commons Club, in Dallas.
Photograph by Brittany Conerly
Almost a year ago at this time, I was panicking about the future of restaurants in Texas. The pandemic was carving a path of economic destruction that would lead to the demise of more than 10,000 of the state’s dining establishments by December. If it could kill off so many, including stalwarts that had seemed rock-solid only months before, what chance would the new ones have? Thank goodness the worst of my fears were overblown. Owners, chefs, and employees worked round the clock dealing with disrupted supply chains, changing government regulations, and the constant threat of disease and, by some miracle, managed to open new places all year long. Yes, there were fewer than usual. But they did open.
Because of this tireless work, we are proud to publish the twentieth edition of the magazine’s annual roundup of the best new restaurants in Texas. This time, instead of limiting it to my top ten places of the previous year, Where to Eat Now focuses on favorite dishes (as well as some drinks, which we really needed this year) so that we can spread the love even more, to seven major cities and regions around the state. The result is a smorgasbord of more than thirty specialties, organized by category, from starters to sweets. It was a group effort this year, with some of the magazine’s longtime freelance contributors dining on patios and taking meals to go.
Although the package looks very different this year, the rules haven’t changed for Where to Eat Now. To be eligible, a restaurant must have opened between December 1, 2019, and December 1, 2020 (there’s a grace period for latecomers we missed the previous year). All of these places offer takeout, so please check them out, tip generously, and keep your fingers crossed that they’re alive and cooking this time next year.
Additional reporting by Tina Danze, June Naylor, Robin Barr Sussman, and Texas Monthly Dining Guide reviewers.
Tavel Bristol-Joseph prepares his Basque cheesecake at Kalimotxo.
Photograph by Mackenzie Smith Kelley
The pintxos board of Basque-style small snacks at Kalimotxo, in Austin.
Kalimotxo (kah-lee-mo-cho), noun: 1. a drink consisting of red wine and cola over ice, inordinately popular with the cocktail crowd in Spain’s Basque country. 2. a restaurant and bar in downtown Austin. For such a tiny place, Kalimotxo (see definition 2) has plenty going on, including a comfy patio overlooking Shoal Creek. It opened in late 2019 as a cocktail / snack bar attached to Hestia, a dark and sophisticated restaurant with a live-fire kitchen. Three months later, the pandemic hit and, long story short, Hestia is now doing tasting menus in-house only while Kalimotxo has morphed into an easygoing bistro that also offers food to go. Spanish dishes set the tone, including a fine potato-and-egg tortilla española and a pintxos board of Basque-style small snacks (pictured). The most popular dish may well be the excellent wagyu burger sporting a tangy layer of Spain’s Mahón cheese, but the restaurant’s signature is its Basque cheesecake, the ebony exterior looking burnt but actually just super-caramelized. The chef-owners behind both ventures are Kevin Fink and Tavel Bristol-Joseph, who also run Emmer & Rye. And to answer the inevitable question, yes, you can order a kalimotxo. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Opened December 7, 2019. 607 W. 3rd, Austin, 512-333-0737, kalimotxoatx.com
Executive chef Aaron Bludorn uses the French culinary skills honed during his years as executive chef at New York’s famed Café Boulud to weave together flavors from his Pacific Northwest upbringing and from Houston’s international palate. Anchored by a thick redfish filet crowned with lump crabmeat, his cioppino flaunts steamed clams, mussels, and shrimp; a moat of sea-fresh tomato broth is poured tableside and garnished with a sliver of buttery crostini. Short-rib ravioli with figs and blue cheese is another melting-pot indulgence; ditto the bacon-wrapped quail with rosemary and quince—each technically exact in flavor and aesthetically pleasing. There’s also a lobster potpie and a dry-aged-beef burger. Desserts by pastry chef Alejandra Salas, an alum of the French Laundry, in Napa Valley, are jewel-like, including a delicately sculpted baked Alaska (pictured). The former Pass and Provisions space has been refashioned with a smart dining room, tucked-away bar, and multilevel patio. Special design accents, especially the mural by a local artist of magnolia groves in East Houston, give it a modern sense of place. It’s sophisticated dining sans preciousness. Opened August 21, 2020. 807 Taft, Houston, 713-999-0146, bludornrestaurant.com
Morning sunlight dapples the flagstone patio of Jardín, the San Antonio Botanical Garden’s five-month-old cafe, with its shady trees and umbrella tables. Soon the place will be filled with visitors drinking endless cups of coffee and Rising Suns (gin with cooling cucumber and a splash of saffron syrup). In a bit they will head out to admire the plants and greenhouses. Then they will return to explore the restaurant’s contemporary Eastern Mediterranean menu, with mezze plates, creative hummus combos, and focaccia pizzas galore. Perhaps the perfect starter is golden gazpacho, a velvety mix of beets and tomatoes. An order of the bright, fresh hummus should be next, perhaps with a topping of crispy pork belly and a drizzle of harissa oil (pictured). Happily, it comes with the menu’s signature puffy naan pita, sprinkled with za’atar. Serious appetites are sated by dishes such as pan-seared salmon with apricot puree, available at both lunch and dinner. Frivolous desires are fulfilled by the likes of olive oil cake with almond nougat crumble. The chefs in charge are the Dady brothers, Jason and Jake, who also run Tre Trattoria at the San Antonio Museum of Art. Public places seem to be their new niche. Opened September 13, 2020. 555 Funston Place, San Antonio, 210-338-5100, jardinsatx.com
Among the East End restaurant’s Gulf Coast and Creole dishes, jumbo lump crab cakes triumph with a crispy tanned crust, fresh white crabmeat, and tangy rémoulade. The splendid patio is ideal for sipping potent New Orleans cocktails. Opened October 20, 2020. 2929 Navigation Blvd, 713-432-9651, acadiancoast.com
A bowl of smoked chicken, yellow Thai curry, plump rice, and fried shallots is a highlight at this takeout joint housed in a small, flamingo-pink building. Here, Southeast Asian flavors team up with South Texas barbecue, a marriage made in heaven, nirvana, or your preferred version of the afterlife. Opened October 23, 2020. 2334 N. St. Mary’s, 210-320-0555, curryboysbbq.com
Chef Graham Dodds brings farmhouse flair to the Kimpton Pittman Hotel’s restaurant. From locally sourced produce to heritage pork and grains, quality ingredients shape the menu. Cocktails such as the Traveling Man—a Manhattan riff—segue nicely to grilled Berkshire pork riblets with chimichurri sauce and preserved figs (a starter that could stand as an entrée). Vegetables get special attention, including umami-rich brussels sprouts with bacon, while charred okra flecks the hush puppies. Opened August 12, 2020. 2551 Elm, 469-498-2525, elmandgood.com
The wildly popular Houston Taco rides on rustic grilled homemade tortillas filled with tender 44 Farms beef barbacoa, pickled onions, herbs, and a rich, earthy epazote aioli. What began as a food truck is now a petite cafe with a sunny patio offering eye-opening breakfast tacos, inventive pastries, an elevated seasonal dinner menu, and a list of all-natural wines. Opened January 4, 2020. 6119 Edloe, 832-795-7251, topohtx.com
Lavished with basil pesto and Parmesan, a bowl of properly tenderized kale undergirds a salad that makes a lovely light lunch; it’s amped up with chunks of crispy sweet potato, chickpeas, and a perfectly soft-cooked egg. Paperboy started out as a food truck and in 2020 graduated to full-restaurant status, with a new building, outdoor seating, and a rooftop deck. Opened July 11, 2020. 1203 E. 11th, Austin, 512-910-3010, paperboyaustin.com
Dorotea, you’re not in Austin anymore. This Cali-Mex taqueria gives a distinctive spin to familiar Mexican staples. A trio of snack-size banh mi tacos features crisp “tortillas” of jicama topped with juicy, lightly charred rectangles of pork belly. Slivers of raw carrot and cilantro and coral-colored sriracha mayo garnish a truly international creation. Opened February 14, 2020. 1700 E. 2nd, Austin, 512-455-8226, reunion19atx.com
Who knew eggplant toast could be magical? Meticulous little purple-skinned cubes come arrayed on thick slabs of grilled bread set off by pickled golden raisins and fluffy, nutty tahini. Follow it with an entrée of grilled brown-butter prawns. For a sweet finish, try the darling fruit galettes with burnt-honey ice cream. Running the show at this restaurant at the new Hotel Magdalena is chef Jeffrey Hundelt, whose menu is new American with Mexican and Mediterranean accents. Austinites and hotel guests linger for hours on the restaurant’s plant-filled terrace. Opened November 6, 2020. 1101 Music Lane, Austin, 512-442-5341, summerhouseonmusiclane.com
In chef Christian Lehrmann’s Mexico City–inspired kitchen, rotisserie chicken and snapper aguachile achieve heavenly status. But the biggest wow factor may be the veggie sides, so often an afterthought at other places. Magnificent proof is found in the zanahorias, a plate of al dente roasted carrots sitting atop a pillow of garlicky crema and beneath a blanket of carrot-top chimichurri. They are equaled by hen-of-the-woods mushrooms adorned with chipotle aioli and crunchy pepitas. Wash down the garden goods with a High Plains Drifter, made with sotol, amaro, and vermouth, and admire the elegantly renovated century-old industrial building on Fort Worth’s Southside. Opened March 10, 2020. 113 S. Main, 682-255-5425, tiniesfw.com
With its pickled red onions, Calabrian-chile aioli, and arugula, this crunchy sandwich, served on a toasted sesame bun, blazes trails at Southtown’s campsite-inspired casual eatery. Enjoy it outdoors at a picnic table (one by the firepit is nice if the weather is a bit nippy). Opened September 29, 2020. 1811 S. Alamo, 210-942-4690, eatatcamp.com
Thick house-smoked pastrami, crisp kraut, seedy mustard, and two slices of good Swiss on rye make this all a sandwich should be. Touting itself as a “new-school version of an old-school diner,” meaning it’s somewhere between a Jewish deli and a neighborhood joint, the Hayden has spiffed up its venue, next to the Witte Museum, with mid-century decor. It’s also making fine use of the Boardwalk retail center’s welcoming outdoor space. Opened October 21, 2020. 4025 Broadway, 210-437-4306, thehaydensa.com
Fans line up at the patio window for the spicy fried chicken breast stacked high on a toasted bun with coleslaw, pickles, and Mico’s sauce. Opened March 25, 2020. 1603 N. Durham Dr, 713-548-6081, micoshotchicken.com
Chef-owner Nick Badovinus has given the staid New England lobster roll a rowdy Texas makeover. In his version, the lobster nuggets are battered and fried, topped with an herbed buttermilk dressing and bacon bits, and served on griddled brioche. The final touch? Diced jalapeño, of course. Opened November 3, 2020. 33 B Highland Park Village, 214-559-4245, yolobster.com
The color of the sauce is deep and rich; the flavor rustic, even profound. Pasilla and arbol chiles are clearly at work in the sauce that covers these just-right tortillas filled with tender chicken, bringing to mind the enchiladas served on an oilcloth-covered counter in a central Mexican market. Other authentic fare, including crispy crickets, as well as potent drinks (think jalapeño shooters and a variety of mezcals), are also on tap at this new concept from the owners of Toro Kitchen + Bar (they opened two Cuishe Cocinas, each near a Toro Kitchen). Opened October 6, 2020. 115 N. Loop 1604, 210-960-8935; smaller location at 119 Heiman; cuishemx.com
Combine Lanny Lancarte II’s Tex-Mex legacy (famed restaurateur Joe T. Garcia was his bisabuelo) with his classical training and you have a chef who transforms the usual ho-hum fajita platter into a work of art. The grilled strips of sirloin are silky, the flour tortillas supple, the guacamole fresh and chunky. Eat Fajitas is a ghost kitchen—meaning it’s delivery and pickup only—operating out of Lancarte’s Righteous Foods cafe. Round out your fajita order with a margarita pack. Opened March 20, 2020. Order at eatfajitas.com
True Kitchen’s soul food and DJ-fueled scene have earned it an enthusiastic following; reservations are hard to come by, but delivery is available. Start with a cognac peach frosé and chase it with an order of the crispy fried chicken with Asian Hennessy sauce. Opened August 21, 2020. 1933 Elm, truekitchenkocktails.com
At chef Regino “Gino” Rojas’s new taco tasting room at Revolver Taco Lounge, freshly griddled tortillas—made from heirloom Mexican corn, nixtamalized in-house—hold exquisite fillings: wood-grilled meats, mushrooms, baby vegetables; guisados and moles; and all manner of seafood. With gourmet flourishes, this rotating cast of refined tacos straddles the Mexican pueblo and Rojas’s imagination. The tender arrachera (grilled skirt steak) may be the best version you’ve ever had. Atop silky refried mayocoba beans, it’s sparked with charred cambray onion, blistered chile, and salsa you’ll be tempted to drink. Opened June 17, 2020. 2701 Main, 214-272-7163, revolvertacolounge.com
Contemporary Mediterranean aromas waft from the wood-fired grill and oven in the gleaming exhibition kitchen, part of the Montrose restaurant’s California-fresh interior, complete with an orangerie-style greenhouse room (there’s also a charming patio). Among the most fragrant dishes: the juicy roasted half chicken with grilled lemon and salsa verde, lush with scents of tarragon, mint, and garlic—inspired by chef-owner Travis McShane’s work with super-chef Jonathan Waxman. Jumbo wood-fired harissa shrimp also tempt with succulent smokiness and garlic-packed aioli, while the shaved cauliflower salad takes it easy with pistachios and sweet golden raisins. Opened September 25, 2020. 2032 Dunlavy, 713-324-9288, ostiahou.com
Globally trained chef Kevin Ashade once won the Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay with his coq au vin; now he’s beating the odds, with a handsome, sprawling restaurant (with two patios) that’s thriving in the middle of a pandemic. A Texan born to Nigerians, he brings multiethnic influences to a vast menu that’s heavy on steakhouse fare and Southern classics (think grits, gumbo, and collard greens). Jamaican flavors shine in the tender lamb shank marinated in a house-made jerk blend. Opened January 24, 2020. 6309 President George Bush Hwy, Garland, 214-703-2222, pangeadallas.com
Husky, meaty crustaceans, spiked with herbs and Middle Eastern chile peppers, sit atop a generous bed of saffron-kissed rice. Pickled vegetables and hummus come alongside this standout dish at the Turkish- and Israeli-inspired restaurant from McGuire Moorman Hospitality (Perla’s, Elizabeth Street Café), located on the ground floor of the stylish Austin Proper Hotel. Opened December 20, 2019. 600 W. 2nd, 512-628-1410, properhotel.com/Austin
Proprietor-chef Marcus Paslay (Clay Pigeon and Piattello Italian Kitchen) has opened his most alluring venture yet. Claiming a prime two-story space in the renovated Mule Alley, in the Historic Stockyards District, Paslay upgrades comfort dishes, starting with his deftly grilled rainbow trout. Served with charred lemon, it sits astride a bed of fluffy rice mingling with firm black-eyed peas, tomato, and jalapeño. Opened July 4, 2020. 122 E. Exchange Ave, 817-782-9170, provenderhall.com
Michelin-star Scottish chef Graham Campbell, a contestant on Netflix’s The Final Table, has set up shop in McAllen. Locals can feel like celebrities at the chef’s table as Campbell serves them his ten-course tasting menu, which can also be enjoyed (along with the full menu) on the outdoor patio. Highlights range from seared diver scallops with corn bisque to a deconstructed key lime parfait. Or, order à la carte and zero in on the feast’s star attraction: on a recent visit, it was succulent pork cheek gently cooked sous vide in apple juice and thyme and finished with drunken mushrooms and a crunchy bit of puffed rice. Opened November 15, 2020. 1600 N. 10th, 956-627-2308, rosmanirestaurant.com
Operating out of the Third Ward’s Blodgett Food Hall, Saigon Hustle offers signature rolls and healthful Vietnamese fare for pickup and delivery only; it was founded by Cassie Ghaffar, who also owns new Ginger Kale, a lakeside cafe in Hermann Park. The barbecue ribeye rice bowl is an architectural wonder layered with jasmine rice, daikon, pickled carrots, green scallion oil, chargrilled ribeye, and fish sauce vinaigrette. Opened September 20, 2020. 2616 Blodgett, thesaigonhustle.com
Famous for hand-pulled Henan-style noodles, this restaurant relocated to Plano from New York, where it earned a Michelin Guide nod for good value. Silky “dial oil” wide noodles, seasoned with chile and garlic, are the signature dish. But don’t miss the dragon eggplant, battered and crisp-fried, in a tangy sweet and sour sauce. The slender servings come arranged in serpentine curves, like Chinese New Year dancing dragons. Opened January 6, 2020.8200 Preston Rd, Plano, 469-929-6622, unclezhou.com
A homestyle meal at this family-owned restaurant calls for an indulgent dessert such as boozy banana pudding. Heavily laced with banana rum and banana liqueur, this velvety mascarpone concoction begs for a strong cup of joe alongside. Opened February 16, 2020. 1116 Pennsylvania Ave, Fort Worth, 682-499-8630, carpscafe.net
The zany vibe of the centerpiece restaurant at the Virgin Hotels Dallas extends to this teaser of a dessert, which looks like a Ruby Red grapefruit. The painterly orange sphere nests in a tequila-grapefruit compote; break it open and spoon up a carnival of flavors: fluffy citrus chiffon mousse, melt-in-the-mouth white chocolate shards, and juicy bursts of fresh grapefruit. Opened December 15, 2019. 1445 Turtle Creek Blvd, 469-436-7150, virginhotels.com/dallas/dine-and-drink/the-commons-club
Out of her gluten-free and mostly vegan bakeshop on the east side, Jam Sanichat, the chef-owner of beloved Thai Fresh, makes about forty rotating varieties of coconut milk ice cream, inspired by the street vendors in her native Thailand. A spoonful of the bracing Thai coffee flavor is a real wake-up call. Opened October 12, 2020. 1512 Holly, 512-220-1077, gatiicecream.com
These small bites come wrapped in a deliciously flaky crust with tidy crimped edges. Savory choices include pork chorizo with cheese, and shrimp with chipotle sauce, but the standout is a dessert offering: the tropical Piñadelphia, with caramelized pineapple and cream cheese. Opened October 20, 2020. 5380 N. Mesa, 915-275-5460. facebook.com/laempanaderiaelp
These brioche babies go where no doughnut has gone before. We can’t resist the one that is hand-rolled, covered with a spiced-chai glaze, and topped with a dark-chocolate-dipped macaron. Another favorite: the Glitter Fritter, basically a dolled-up cruller, in flavors including strawberries and champagne. Open Friday–Sunday (preorders are advised), this takeout window is from Olivia Guerra O’Neal, owner of Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop. Opened October 3, 2020. 2406 Manor Rd, Austin, lolasdonutsatx.com
These half-moon-shaped fried pies—pecan, apple, peach—deserve high marks for their flaky pastry and not-too-sweet fillings (if you have to choose just one, go for the plump peach slices). This is assuming you have room after a generous bucket of fried chicken and biscuits or a fry-up of cornmeal-dredged flounder or oysters. The high-ceilinged new outpost of Southerleigh’s flagship at the Pearl is casual and new but otherwise not radically different. Opened September 30, 2020. 5822 Worth Pkwy in the Rim, 210-236-8556, southerleighhautesouth.com
Dreams of true New York–style cheesecake come true at this upbeat brewery, which offers a Cheesecake of the Week. Rich with vanilla bean paste and Meyer lemon, and never too sweet, each version features a distinctive topping. The one graced with bourbon–coffee bean ganache, toasted coconut, and smoked salt might be the best yet. Opened March 21, 2020. 6473 Camp Bowie Blvd, 817-353-2074, wildacrebrewing.com
With a large, inviting patio, this Vietnamese restaurant helmed by chefs Christine Hà (of the Blind Goat) and Tony Nguyen is full of surprises. One of them is Not Our Ma’s Eggrolls, while another is lemongrass-buttermilk fried chicken with gloriously puffy Sidewinder Fries. But the most astonishing is the dessert lauded by celeb-chef Gordon Ramsay when Hà won MasterChef in 2012. Despite the tongue-in-cheek name, Rubbish Pie is anything but. This brilliant Asian take on apple pie is spiced with star anise and ginger and finished with caramel fish sauce drizzled over ice cream. Opened September 16, 2020. 2310 Decatur, 832-740-4888, xinchaohtx.com
A spectacular city view deserves a classy toast: try La Perla, an inspired blend of reposado tequila, sherry, and pear liqueur. It’s the signature sip at Tim Love’s sexy tapas bar atop a Marriott hotel in the Stockyards. Should you want a nibble, check out the crispy patatas bravas in ranchero aioli or the sophisticated tacos of ibérico ham, caviar, and gold flakes. Opened January 17, 2020. 2315 N. Main, 682-255-5112, aticoftworth.com
You can start the day as well as end it at City Coffee, near the west-side Kern Place neighborhood. For a cheerful breakfast, try a cortado with a waffle. At night, the venue’s red chandelier and white leather chairs set a sultry mood for cocktails, especially the espresso martini (Kahlua, vodka, and a dash of cinnamon). Opened November 1, 2020.3737 N. Mesa, 915-319-0898. facebook.com/thecitycoffeebar
It’s worth a pop into this palatial Instagram-worthy Galleria restaurant (or its upstairs terrace) just for a cocktail. The Adraki Sutra features turmeric-tinged vodka, lemon juice, orange bitters, and a candied ginger skewer. Add an order of luscious Mithu’s Coriander Prawns—fragrant with coconut and curry leaf atop brioche—for an Indian culinary escape. Opened May 18, 2020. 5115 Westheimer Rd, 713-242-8087, musaaferhouston.com
In Spanish, “pausa” means pause, recess, or break—something we could all use one year into this pandemic. Order an El Cantante, three types of citrus kicked up with a choice of reposada tequila or smoky mezcal. It’s even better accompanied by Pausa’s lush huitlacoche risotto, featuring Mexico’s ancient, earthy corn fungus. Opened November 21, 2020. 920 N. Main, 956-627-6018, pausacocinadeautor.com
This story has been updated to reflect the new name of Kitchen + Kocktails. The article originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Where to Eat Now.” Subscribe today