That issue’s introduction ended with my suggestion that we frequent mom-and-pop shops and open our homes and share meals, quoting Anthony Bourdain about world citizenship and unfriendly bacteria. Turns out it was a global virus, actually, just a few months later that permanently etched both bold food culture writers’ prescient words in the most unimaginable ways. Even in the areas of humanity formerly untouched by widespread community grief; even more so in those all too familiar with it. Amidst the ongoing pandemic, a tsunami with aftershocks as powerful as the first waves, all kinds of essential workers showed up, and continue to show up, to pull us through crises and catastrophes. For our purposes here in this exciting return of our annual food issue, we’re specifically celebrating some – but certainly not all – of our favorite food folx within the Austin city limits.
We poured our hearts into creating this list of 100 brick-and-mortar restaurants, 50 food trailers, and the six new Virginia B. Wood Hall of Fame inductees that join almost 30 honored spots. To “define Austin dining now” has always been about so much more than just ingredients or ambience, but this year it was particularly difficult to whittle down the award recipients. We’d hand out hundreds more First Plates if possible. And we’d salute our neighbor cities’ food scene contributions, honor the many fallen businesses, and heartily welcome newbies that just missed the cut-off. The restaurants and trailers spotlighted in these pages represent a colorful cross-section of the cuisines we’re lucky enough to have in our rapidly changing city, and they offer more than just wonderful food and drinks.
Their fried chicken starred in our socially distanced alfresco picnics, and their margaritas soothed our frazzled nerves. Their friendly curbside waves were sometimes the only in-person exchanges people had in days. They stayed up late creating recipe content to help stave off our boredom, and they inspired our veggie gardens. Some hosted spontaneous soup kitchens, pop-up pantries, and free fridges. Others churned out vats of creamy comfort foods and sealed thousands of to-go containers early in the morning. Despite our collective exhaustion, chefs and line cooks and servers and bussers and farmers and ranchers and small-business owners kept going. They kept us all going.
This issue is one you’ll want to keep around for a while, and it takes a Chron squad to produce, especially remotely. I am grateful to work with this very special group of people. Special shout-outs to our editorial, web, digital strategy, marketing, production, and other teams for keeping this machine running while my heart/soul/brain was under water. This year’s contributing writer team – Lina Fisher, Melanie Haupt, Rod Machen, Alisha McDarris, Katherine McNevins, Eric Puga, Evan Rodriguez, James Scott, Adam Wood, and my life raft, Food Lieutenant Wayne Alan Brenner – alongside our world-class proofing gurus, are the coolest in the business. Thanks to Art Director Zeke Barbaro for the kickass artistic vision and kindness. And to Publisher Nick Barbaro and Editor-in-Chief Kimberley Jones: Thank you for everything, especially your patience.
“Food is life,” Smart-Grosvenor told us. So, despite it all, we’ll still eat. We’ll still find pleasure in whatever the world dishes out, because that’s our human condition. Hopefully this time next year, we’ll have even more to celebrate, and in the meantime, we must continue to support our local restaurants, farmers, ranchers, and artisans. We have to nourish our bodies and our communities to get there. – Jessi Cape