Each year, CultureMap toasts the top local culinary talent with our annual Tastemaker Awards. This year is extra special, as we celebrate the resiliency of San Antonio’s restaurant and bar scene amid the ongoing pandemic.
Nominees from both San Antonio and Austin, as well as guests from across the region, came together at the 2021 Tastemaker Awards, held August 5 at Fair Market in Austin. After sampling bites and sipping specialty drinks, the evening culminated in our coveted awards ceremony, emceed by Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League.
We toasted all of this year’s nominees, and finally unveiled the winners across categories in both cities.
Meet the 2021 Tastemaker Awards winners from San Antonio below. From a darling neighborhood restaurant to a fusion eatery born out of the pandemic, these are the spots — and the people — defining San Antonio dining right now.
Restaurant of the Year: Clementine
This darling neighborhood restaurant is a seasonally inspired gem that serves up stunning globally influenced fare. It’s also a family affair, with husband-and-wife duo John and Elise Russ bringing their vast culinary expertise to the plate. Don’t let the modest Castle Hills strip mall exterior throw you. Inside, you’ll be welcomed into a cozy and colorful dining environment and offered a glass of wine, or perhaps something from the Bubbs menu to match the sparkling experience. Chef John Russ’ dinner menu features petite bites like fried quail with fermented plum mayo, as well as fresh veggie-forward sideboard selections, and more substantial entrée platters like Gulf red snapper and chamomile-brined spatchcock chicken. If you’re just too hungry to make a decision, go for the “Feed Me” option and chef Russ will create a special seasonal feast just for you. And definitely partake in some of pastry chef Elise Russ’ delicately prepared desserts, like the Clementine Crunch Bar and the lemon souffle tart.
Chef of the Year: Nicola Blaque, The Jerk Shack, Mi Roti
With a mission to elevate and modernize Caribbean food (mission accomplished), Army veteran, Culinary Institute of America grad, and Jamaica native Blaque has been spicing up the San Antonio food scene since opening The Jerk Shack in 2018. Appropriately dubbed “artisan Caribbean cuisine,” The Jerk Shack features a mouthwatering menu of marinated meats (yes, Texas purists, you can get jerk tacos and jerk ribs here) and sharable sides. In 2020, she also opened Caribbean street-food joint Mi Roti, which highlights dishes featuring the humble yet tasty Caribbean flatbread.
Bar of the Year: The Esquire Tavern
The Esquire Tavern pours out a menu of classic drinks that harken back to its 1933 origins. Pair a cocktail with the bar’s comforting fare (deviled eggs, burgers, even a fried seafood platter) for a quintessential evening on the River Walk. This is the attraction’s oldest bar, after all.
Best New Restaurant: Southerleigh Haute South
No matter how cosmopolitan your tastes, sometimes you just want some good, old-fashioned Southern-style comfort food. And at casual eatery Southerleigh Haute South, it’s totally cool to pair fried chicken (some of the tastiest the city has to offer) with a side of freshly shucked oysters and a whole lot of signature honey fried biscuits. From the fried Gulf seafood (fried crab legs!) and other coastal plates to the soul-soothing Southern starters (yep, they’ve got fried mac and cheese) to the excellent sandwiches and even the fried hand pies for dessert, whatever you order here may make your britches feel a bit tighter and will definitely leave you hollerin’ “Bless their hearts!”
Best Ghost Kitchen: Curry Boys
This fusion eatery, housed in a Pink Panther-hued takeaway shack, specializes in the unique combo of Southeast Asian curry and classic Texas barbecue — all in the form of lip-smacking rice bowls. Curry Boys is the invention of Andrew Ho and Sean Wen of Pinch Boil House and Andrew Samia of South BBQ & Kitchen, who started the project during the pandemic and found their barbecue curry bowls were a major hit. Among their fans is lauded Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn, who praises Curry Boys’ “legit barbecue brisket, smoked chicken, and sausage.”
And, a toast to our 2021 Austin Tastemaker Awards winners:
- Restaurant of the Year: Nixta
- Chef of the Year: Fiore Tedesco, L'Oca d'Oro
- Bar of the Year: Garage
- Rising Star Chef of the Year: Damien Brockway, Distant Relatives
- Pastry Chef of the Year: Ariana Quant, Uchi/Uchiko
- Bartender of the Year: Travis Tober, Nickel City/Old Pal
- Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Bouldin Creek Cafe
- Wine Program of the Year: Lolo
- Brewery of the Year: Blue Owl Brewing
- Best New Restaurant: Plank Seafood Provisions
- Best Ghost Kitchen: Mother Klucker
Arden Ward contributed to this story.