Just when you think you’ve seen it all across this diverse dining landscape, Texas restaurateurs keep serving up hits. It’s not just that a lauded San Antonio chef has brought his cured meat sorcery to Austin, or that a couple of Houston’s best chefs have teamed up to create a compelling new Asian restaurant. It’s also that live-fire ovens are taking center stage to flame-kiss and char everything in sight, while tacos get the 24 karat-gold treatment.
Here are five of the most exciting Texas restaurants to swing wide their doors over the past month.
San Antonio chef and six-time James Beard finalist Steve McHugh (Cured, Landrace) has expanded his reach into Austin with the opening of Luminaire, an all-day restaurant serving seasonal Texas fare with Spanish influences. That translates to plenty of meat — both grilled and cured. Boards are stocked with 24-month-aged jamón, smoked chorizo de Leon, salchichón and cecina; chicken is cooked on the plancha; and bavette steak is served with salsa verde. The menu also featured a section of Delgada chops, which are thin cuts of quickly griddled beef, lamb, pork and boar. Luminaire is situated on the ground floor of the new Hyatt Centric Congress Avenue Austin and is joined by Las Bis, the hotel’s eighth-floor terrace bar. McHugh’s in charge of that menu, too, so you can expect conservas, craft cocktails and biodynamic wines with views of the Austin skyline.
721 Congress Avenue, Austin (map)
Before taking the reins at newly opened Ember, executive chef Nayely Castillo worked in some of Austin’s best restaurants, including Hestia and Birdie’s. Ember promises “live-fire cooking with Latin flair” and is touting a specific piece of equipment to make it happen. The downtown restaurant has anchored its kitchen around a Josper oven, a charcoal-fired device that’s popular for live-fire preparations of meat, seafood and vegetables. The oven is enlisted in dishes like the dry-aged Texas ribeye with birria jus, a pork chop with charred peach mojo and hoja santo, and scallops with smoked corn mousse. Ember opened with a sibling, an agave bar called Subterra that’s located downstairs. There you’ll find a large selection of Latin spirits and cocktails like the Mestizo Negroni, with raicilla, Madeira and amaro.
800 W Cesar Chavez Street, Austin (map)
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Evelyn Garcia and Henry Lu (the duo behind Kin HTX) have teamed up once more for Jūn, which serves what they’re calling “new Asian-American food” in Houston’s Heights neighborhood. Garcia became a household name on Top Chef season 19, while Lu made his mark in New York before coming to Houston. Jūn combines their backgrounds and celebrates diverse flavors, as evidenced by dishes like oysters with fermented mango, pickled butter and mignonette, lamb curry with pickled daikon and pistachio, and fried chicken with shrimp paste, ginger and Thai chili. The cocktail menu is equally thoughtful, with drinks built on aromatized wines and sakes.
420 E 20th Street, suite A, Houston (map)
DFW’s Italian renaissance is still going strong. The latest proof is 61 Osteria from chef Blaine Staniford (Grace, Little Red Wasp), which merges traditional dishes with locally sourced ingredients. Expect wood-grilled blue prawns with salsa verde and charred Meyer lemon, crispy arancini and housemade pastas, like bucatini cacio e pepe, smoked spaghetti carbonara with house guanciale, and tagliatelle bolognese with braised brisket, veal and pork sugo. If it’s steak you’re after, the 28-ounce bistecca Florentina prime porterhouse is crusted with porcini mushrooms and fennel pollen. Fill your table with plates, then pair your dinner with something from the wine list, which favors Italian varietals from Piedmont, Veneto, Tuscany and Sicily.
500 W 7th Street, Fort Worth (map)
La Neta Cocina y Lounge hails from Las Vegas and has picked Dallas’s vibrant Deep Ellum neighborhood for its second location. The restaurant serves modern Mexican food with an over-the-top twist, as seen in dishes like the shareable “Big F*#k’n Tacos” [symbols theirs]. Those include a whole lobster taco, a bone-in short rib taco that channels birria and is served with consomme, and a 24-karat-gold steak taco with truffle fondue and crispy onions. The good-looking space is inspired by Tulum’s lush jungles, and as dining winds down, the lounge turns up, with DJs and drinks until late.
2525 Elm Street, Dallas (map)
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