Adios, El Mercado! Banzai, Uchi L.A.! Bonsoir, 1417! And Oysters and Spam and Beef and Barbecue and More …

All the news that’s fit to get your taste buds quivering

Here's what's happening in Austin's culinary scene, as wrangled from numerous PR releases, words on the digital street, and even the occasional (verified) IRL eavesdroppings.

Mmmm, the tasty things you’ll eat when you visit the new 1417 on South First

Yes, it’s your Food News Buffet for the last week of March, as the years-long pandemic situation continues to unharshen, more or less, here in the money-riddled metrop of Austin, Texas.

So, South By’s come and gone, and it was a success, and we all seem to have survived – seem to, in fact, have emerged all the better because of it. Lot of excellent food-focused programming at the festival, lot of sudden profits being made by local bars and restaurants, hallelujah, and now – onward!

Sad to relate that the longtime El Mercado Tex-Mex restaurant on Lavaca has closed – due to the usual suspects: COVID-19, labor shortages, product shortages, higher food and labor costs, and property taxes. Announcing the closure on Facebook, Tony Villegas, who co-owned the venue with Gerald Stone, noted that the other El Mercados (1302 S. First and 7414 Burnet Rd.) will remain in business. “I want to thank all our great customers for a fun 29 years here,” wrote Villegas, “and to my loyal and AWESOME staff who will be moving to our other stores!”

The French-inspired elegance of 1417 (at 1417 S. First, where Sway once … held sway) continues its program of smooth service and succulent feasting – and is now open seven days a week (yes, for seating on the back deck, too) and is supercharging the first Sunday of each month with a wine dinner personally presented by James Flowers. A wine dinner from the star chef who’s elevated the noms at Hopfields all these years? Yeah, that’s a welcome event, alright … but, you know, 1417’s usual tasting menu, and that gorgeous new bar of theirs: Any time is good …

Westward the course of empire takes its way, you may have heard, and so has local sushi apotheosis Uchi taken its way to open a sixth location – in Los Angeles, no less. Yes, the California Los Angeles. And, what with that state’s Sushi | Bar and Pasta | Bar and ’em having taken up residence in the ATX recently, we almost seem to be reiterating some macro-culinary version of a Krebs cycle. No wonder a bit of citrus is often featured …

If last week’s mention of National Corn Dog Day increased your heart rate just a little, citizen, reckon you’ll be totes stoked to know that the beloved Spamarama festival will soon return – Sat., April 2! – with its annual celebration of those prefab lozenges of pinked-up pork products and live music and much collateral tomfoolery at the Sagebrush (5500 S. Congress)…

Because, yeah, we're beef-loving Texans, too

Otherwise, if the potted porcine track isn’t your favorite edible meatpath to follow, the beef-loving Texans of Texas Beef Council have just announced that the third season of the popular BBQuest video series will stream to your favorite screen this summer – featuring Austin’s own Micklethwait Craft Meats, Loro Asian Smokehouse, Interstellar BBQ, and Briscuits among the ‘cue-tastic company of glory …

The next installment of Bob Somsith’s SXSE Food Co Chef’s Table at 4th Tap Brewing Co-op (10615 Metric) is coming up in April, and these dinners usually sell out quickly – because chef’s Laotian-inflected food is so damn good – and this imminent one will probably sell out even quicker – because the theme is BBQ – so we’re suggesting you look into tickets now

We have few reservations about eating at Lutie’s, ah-ha-ha – but one does need to make reservations there, right? Au contraire! Lutie’s Garden Restaurant, nestled in the Commodore Perry Estate across from Hancock Center, is now offering limited walk-ins. Beginning on Thu., March 24, you can enjoy the new bar menu at the grand oak bar (or the dinner menu in the dining room or patio) based on table availability. Note: The bar menu will be served only at the bar and will include seasonal dishes like grilled cheese, grilled east coast oysters, and other such tasty fare. The dinner menu is exclusive to the dining room or patio …

There used to be Manet oysters, but not so much now

Oh, speaking of oysters? Hundreds of commercial oystermen from across the Gulf Coast region came to Austin this morning (that’s Wed., March 23) to stage a public protest over the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s proposed permanent closure of Ayers, Mesquite, and Carlos Bays for oystering. TPWD has already closed reefs in Galveston Bay, Matagorda Bay, San Antonio Bay, and Aransas Bay, “effectively ending commercial oyster fishing in Texas.” (Hmmmmm. It’s almost as if humans live within a closed ecosystem and can have a deleterious effect on their own environment, y’think?) But, ah, who’s gonna tell the Walrus and the Carpenter?

We were recently impressed by the beer and food at the much-ballyhoo’d Koko’s Bavarian – tbh, we were surprised at how good the eats were, especially the roasted half chicken and those rabbit-and-rattlesnake(!) sausages – and are glad to have another (guten tag, Scholz Garten) bastion of brew-flexing Germanic cuisine in this burg; but, listen, if you wanna get a little ways out of town and nom something similar at the same time? Just gonna mention that Krause’s Cafe in New Braunfels will set you up so good and proper that you’ll feel like sacking Rome – and, bonus, Krause’s is hosting armadillo races on April 3 and May 1

Meanwhile, Z’Tejas on W. Sixth has added a build-your-own Bloody Mary option to its (hella delicious) breakfast menu; and Freebirds World Burrito has brought back hickory-smoked brisket as a potential addition to any entrée, burrito, bowl, salad, or whatever, at all 57 locations across Texas, while supplies last. And – apropos of nothing but the local and growing burger chain’s inherent, multivalent goodness – we’ll just say the name “Hopdoddy” and you can take it from there …

And, let's see, what else? Red Beans & Ricely Yours continues its delicious philanthropy throughout the city … the Indie Chefs' Road to COMMUNE is galvanizing the culinary scene this week … there's a Cousins Maine Lobster pop-up at Still Austin this Sunday … and, at least as of press time, the current global superpowers haven't nuked us all into radioactive rubble …

Now eat as well as you can, tip like it’s going out of style, and maybe don’t ditch those COVID masks just yet.

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