Over the past month and a half, we have been celebrating San Antonio’s restaurant and bar scene as part of our 2019 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards. After much deliberation from our expert panel of judges (and a heated reader tournament), the list of nominees has now been slimmed down to the best of the best.
On April 10, emcee and Austin television personality Taylor Ellison revealed the winners during a lavish party at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. Please join us in saluting this year's winners.
Restaurant of the Year: The Cookhouse
There are some who think that historic dishes should be set in amber, prepared with the same techniques and ingredients in endless facsimile. Nothing could honor tradition less. Creole cuisine especially has always been about invention, always open to the diverse flavors of New Orleans' unique cultural mix. Chef Pieter Sypesteyn embodies that rebellious spirit better than anyone in San Antonio. Who cares if dusty cookbooks never list snap peas as an ingredient in jambalaya or suggest topping blackened catfish with saffron cream? The Cookhouse makes one of the foundations of American cuisine more than just a treasured memory.
Chef of the Year: Diego Galicia & Rico Torres, Mixtli
Every 45 days, the dynamic pair behind Mixtli rotates the menu, usually exploring a vast array of Mexican regions and states. In 2019, Diego Galicia and Rico Torres seem to be in celebratory moods. On January 8, the restaurant launched Festivales, a prix fixe devoted to the way indigenous groups ritualize food. What could have been a gimmick is instead a heartfelt homage. Using pre-Hispanic techniques, the chefs arrive at cuisine that’s startlingly contemporary, proving that history doesn’t belong in a museum.
Bar of the Year: The Modernist
This Grayson Street hideaway so effectively captures the vibe of a midcentury cocktail party, that one wants to engage in some All About Eve cosplay just to keep all the details intact. The approach to bar craft feels just as swanky. Instead of asking guests to order off an impersonal menu, owners Olaf Harmel and Gerry Shirley encourage guests to strike up conversation with their hosts. Name a spirit and a flavor profile, and the bartenders will create a bespoke drink as fit for a Hollywood star and an everyday San Antonian.
Favorite Taco: Carnitas Lonja, Carnitas
How does an unassuming spot on Roosevelt Avenue become one of the nation’s most acclaimed restaurants? By sticking to what they do best. Before chef Alex Parades’ pork hits the tortilla, it is slowly cooked for hours, coming out almost preternaturally moist and crisp. There are various toppings available — pico de gallo, guacamole, a pair of sprightly salsas — to add a little oomph. But it is just as good unadorned, wrapped in the cradle of a warm corn tortilla.
Best New Restaurant: The Jerk Shack
Lattoia Massey, a graduate of San Antonio’s Culinary Institute of America, achieves a lot in a very small space. The chef makes jerk chicken, of course, but she also throws her fiery signature spice blend on jackfruit and shrimp topping creamy buttermilk grits. And that’s just the beginning. Guests can also get steamed fish with a sprightly pickled vegetable blend, a greaseless goat curry, and salty fritters. Jamaican has been an underrepresented cuisine in Alamo City, but Massey more than makes up for it.
The top restaurants and bars in Austin were also named at the April 10 event. Join us in congratulating the winners:
- Restaurant of the Year: Olamaie
- Chef of the Year: Michael Fojtasek, Olamaie
- Rising Star Chef of the Year: Amanda Turner, Juniper
- Bar of the Year: The Roosevelt Room
- Bartender of the Year: Caer Ferguson, The Roosevelt Room
- Pastry Chef of the Year: Laura Sawicki, Launderette
- Brewery of the Year: Vista Brewing
- Wine Program of the Year: June's All Day
- Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Better Half Coffee & Cocktails
- Favorite Taco: Vaquero Taquero
- Best New Restaurant: Discada