Did you know that Texas Monthly adds and updates approximately sixty restaurant listings for our Dining Guide each month? There’s limited space in the print issue, but the entire searchable guide to the best of Texas cuisine is at your fingertips online.
Here are a few highlights from the new restaurants reviewed this month. (Restaurant critic Patricia Sharpe’s pick can be found here.) Click through on the links for more detail:
Go to Loro. Now. In three years, this place will be so embedded in the Austin psyche it will seem like it’s existed forever. You want to be able to brag, “Aw, man, I remember when that place was new.” Open since March, this brilliant mash-up of pan-Asian flavors and Texas barbecue occupies a new but very believable facsimile of a big old Texas dance hall in a grove of live oaks on South Lamar. Outside, picnic tables fill up the deck as people mill around, hoping to claim an empty swing; inside, they gather at long tables and blond wood booths, chatting and watching sports on a smattering of TVs over the bar. There are five ordering stations, so the lines move right along (one recent Tuesday at 7:30 we waited twenty minutes—but it can easily be longer). As most locals know, Loro is a collaboration between two of the most famous chefs in Texas: Tyson Cole, chef-owner of the modern-Japanese Uchi group, and Aaron Franklin, chef and founder of Franklin Barbecue. The result is an Asian-tinged smokehouse where judiciously chosen sweet/salty/sour condiments counterbalance the deep, earthy flavors of smoked meats. If you’re looking for something to share around the table as an opener, consider the Indonesian batter-fried corn patties called perkedel jagung, accompanied by sriracha aioli. For something a little less sweet, there are oak-grilled sugar snap peas with a kimchi dipping sauce. Both of these are perfect with Loro’s two signature drinks: sake slushies and frozen gin and tonics. Properly fortified, you can get serious with brisket (available after 5 p.m.), stupendously tender, deeply crusted slices that owe much to the efforts of on-site pitmaster Bram Tripp. A chile-tinged sweet-sour sauce gives it character. Feeling piggish? Try the satisfying rice bowl with lovely roasted and grilled pork shoulder char siew seasoned with Loro’s house hoisin sauce. (A lot of the Asian dishes and treatments come courtesy of chefs Jack Yoss and James Dumapit, who migrated over from Uchi’s parent company.) There’s only one fish dish on the menu, but it’s terrific: smoked salmon with cucumber-yuzu broth. In fact, the whole menu is short—22 dishes in all, not counting dessert. But that’s more than enough.
When chef Johnny Hernandez takes hold of an idea, he swims with it, here in turquoise and curlicues. The chef de cuisine is from Veracruz, as is most of the menu: ceviches fresh and vibrant (ginger-soy is an Asian take); delicate, crisped soft-shell crab tacos; and a spectacular octopus undulating out of its nest of moros y cristianos (black beans and rice). Sharing a kitchen, bar, and paletería with Hernandez’s Burgerteca, next door, there’s a nice sidewalk dining area (not quite rivaling the portales of Veracruz, but our waiter told us that the staff was diligently practicing the gravity-defying pouring of cafe con leche characteristic of that port city). Other notable dishes include grilled salmon with a mango-and-citrus reduction, cooked en pointe; rice tumbada, a rice-and-seafood island surrounded by a rich, mildly spicy broth; and, of course, a delicate fish filet a la veracruzana, with plenty of capers.
Houston’s smart set is positively smitten with this beauty, featuring soaring windows, coveted patio seating, a roomy bar center stage, and lush touches throughout. Billed as a neighborhood trattoria, Emmaline is succeeding with fresh takes on American favorites. Case in point: the so-called wedge salad is a pretty presentation of grilled romaine garnished with radicchio strips, creamy Gorgonzola, pecans, and a ribbon of celery. Seared sea scallops pair nicely with sorrel-tinged mushrooms, sided by crispy black rice, vivid purslane, and garlic aioli. Our carnivore begrudgingly shared a morsel of his hanger steak, seared outside, buttery rare inside, drizzled with oregano pesto (which seemed more like a first cousin of chimichurri), with the requisite side of just-right skinny fries. A promising dish of scampi garganelli, wonderful scrolls of pasta with cipollini onions, cherry tomatoes, and snow peas, was marred by soft shrimp. The eclectic menu also features good-looking thin-crust pizzas and enticing appetizers, like oysters and caviar.
Rio Grande Valley
The Aguilar brothers, from Ace’s BBQ, in Mission, have brought the mesquite-kissed meat they’re known for to a new outpost in Weslaco. We were impressed by the gentle smoke flavor on the brisket, pulled pork, and ribs. The brisket had a rosy red smoke ring with well-rendered fat, and the pulled pork was silky and flavorful. We are hoping the menu here will soon include the Tex-Mex-barbecue dishes that we love at their Mission location, such as the smoked brisket enchiladas.
This intimate restaurant, a mile east of downtown, had a following the minute it opened. A glamorous deco bar, palm-leaf wallpaper, gold curtains, and cozy banquettes frame the space nicely; mod pendants lend more retro pizzazz. We arrived five minutes before opening, so the host parked us on the covered patio while the team meeting took place. The charming space nearly enticed us to eat outdoors. Inside, the stunning bar is a focal point of the tiny dining room. Seduced by the hip, clubby vibe, we ordered a tart gimlet and tuna tartare: finely diced bits of tuna and cucumber bound in a lemony aioli, served with taro chips. Curried crab dip was hot and tasty, but the spicy yellow curry threatened to overwhelm the flavor of the delicate shellfish; it came with thick house-made shrimp crackers that half of our table liked. Brussels sprouts aren’t Asian, but glazed in oyster sauce, roasted to a crisp, and sprinkled with sesame seeds, they make a fantastic fusion dish. The sweet-and-soy-glazed salmon filet was beautifully cooked and served with a novel wasabi-spiced edamame puree topped with roasted cauliflower florets. The cake on the dessert menu was from a local bakery, so we opted for house-made mango sorbet, creamy and impressively intense.