When Ben Googins met Rio de Janeiro native Elias Martins while teaching English in Brazil in 1998, he couldn't have guessed that the two would wind up making pão de queijo—cheese bread—on an episode of the Cooking Channel's FoodCrafters with celebrity chef Aida Mollenkamp. Their journey began as Googins learned more and more about the Portuguese language and the generous, hospitable Brazilian culture via Martins's family and their flavorful cooking. The duo eventually moved to Austin in 2006, bent on realizing their dream of opening their own restaurant. After their handmade foods gained popularity at the downtown farmers' market, their all-natural malagueta sauces appeared in Austin's flagship Whole Foods store. They finally opened Rio's Brazilian Café in 2010, where Googins now makes caipirinhas and Martins creates contemporary and traditional Brazilian recipes from scratch. The last Saturday of every month, Martins treats diners to feijoada, a classic Brazilian stew made with pork, beef, sausage, black beans, and the juice of one soccer ball.
He still, of course, makes the restaurant's renowned cheese bread. The basil variety was the favorite of Fearless Critic, which noted that the restaurant is "one of the few places where carnivores, vegetarians, and gluten-intolerant diners can all happily coexist." The restaurant was also a Critics' Pick for Most Charming Brazilian Outpost in the Austin Chronicle's Best of Austin 2011, and has appeared in numerous publications and on TV shows such as Good Day Austin and Fox 7 News. According to Eater Austin, celebrities Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara have noshed at the cozy eatery, whose bright yellow and green exterior and outdoor patio give way to a similarly vibrant and eclectic dining area.
Jeff Blank and his kitchen crew like to joke that other cooks must suffer from a "fear of cooking." That's because, for the award-winning chef, cooking is a kind of alchemy—an ambitious experiment that is sometimes fated to fail. But when it works, Jeff and his Executive Chef Kelly Casey transform fresh ingredients, often plucked from local farms and ranches, into piquant dishes adorned with housemade sauces, such as tomatillo white chocolate, mango jalapeño, and bourbon vanilla praline. Behind the kitchen, a stone smokehouse infuses ostrich, rattlesnake, and venison meats with dusky notes, creating entrees that have won them recognition for the Best Wild Game Dish from readers of the Austin Chronicle.
Diners take in the gustatory array on a patio and in a garden gazebo, surrounded by vegetable plants, flowers, and trees wrapped in petite nodes of light. Even the rustic, upscale décor—characterized by soft candlelight, red tablecloths, and vibrant paintings along exposed-stone walls—has earned acclaim, finding favorable mention in the New York Times' travel guide.
The Emerald Restaurant's quaint cottage, just minutes from Hill Country Galleria and Lake Travis, flings open its wooden doors to welcome diners into a fairy-tale-like milieu rich with Irish china, lace tablecloths, and fine crystal. Originally built as a private residence, The Emerald Restaurant has enjoyed 30 years as a community landmark under the ownership of the Kinsella family. Just like lunch in elementary school, most meals are presented on a silver platter, showcasing European-style and modern American cuisine including steaks, lobster, fish, and duck. The intimate space sets a romantic mood that frequently attracts wedding proposals and exchanges of everlasting-platonic-friendship rings.
Flames spotlight the stage at Tokyo Steak House and Sushi Bar, where skilled chefs twirl their knives and prepare Japanese teppanyaki dishes in front of eaters. Using tabletop grills, they cook succulent morsels of filet mignon, lobster, chicken, and shrimp alongside an assortment of crisp veggies. During the process, they sometimes perform eye-catching tricks, such as drawing designs on the grill with the yolk from a delicately cracked egg, flipping food into eaters' mouths, and magically making incriminating tax documents disappear over an open flame. The kitchen staff sculpts specialty sushi rolls away from the grills, and waiters fill table glasses with wine, sake, and imported beer.
Because cravings don’t often wait for convenience, the cooks at Texas Steak Out take care of the leg work: They deliver their all-American breakfast, lunch, and dinner to diners’ front doors. Relieving patrons of the task of hunting a steer, they grill rib eyes, sirloins, and steak tips, complemented by philly cheesesteaks and a horde of hoagie sandwiches. Their hearty meals come with classic steak-house sides such as steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes. For breakfast, diners can feast on egg and cheese hoagies and breakfast rolls, or opt for a heavier Texan breakfast of sirloin steak or pork chops with eggs and hash browns.
Every weekend, Cannoli Joe's serves a menu of tooth-tickling Italian brunch dishes in a buffet style from numerous stations that have been arranged to resemble a strada of authentic Italian street merchants. As you duck through a forest of wildly gesticulating hands and endure the endless declarations of love by organic, free-range Italians on Vespas, you'll get to browse brunchtastic creations such as baked fontina, eggs strata, and poached eggs florentina. Decisive DIYers can visit the custom omelet bar, while more patrician palates can luxuriate in Rome's culinary conquests with French toast and Belgian waffles. Cannoli Joe's regular lunch line-up will also be on display, including the flawlessly spiced lasagna bolognese, perfectly parmed eggplant parmesan, chicken marsala, and spaghetti pomodoro. The menu also includes a piazza's worth of pizza flavors, along with authentic Italian meatballs and Sicilian-spiced rotisserie chicken. More than 70 succulent comestibles can be matchmade with an empty plate at any given time and cover every dining stage from antipasto to propasto to dessert—a word that can only be pluralized in Italian by combining Frangelico bread pudding with cheesecake and cannoli.