New Asian Restaurant Zoé Tong Set to Open on Zilker Strip This Fall

NYC culinary power couple combines the best of Asia and Austin

Simone Tong (Courtesy of BeccaPR)

Emigrés to Austin have contributed to the local food scene for years; Simone Tong and Matthew Hyland bring their culinary star power to town with their upcoming Zilker-area restaurant, Zoé Tong.

The two hail from New York City, where Hyland was born and Tong opened celebrated spots Silver Apricot and Little Tong Noodle Shop. Hyland’s most recent venture is Emily, a modern pizza eatery that has blown up in the Big Apple. A native of Sichuan, China, Tong has also worked in Singapore, Hong Kong, and other locales around the Pacific Rim.

What brings them almost 2,000 miles southwest to our not-so-humble and burgeoning burg? Food, vibes, and heat.

Hyland first visited Austin a decade ago, on his way to Dallas of all places. The memory stuck with him in the following years. He’s also the perfect candidate to move here because he loves the heat. “I want it to be fucking hot. I don't want to be cold. I don't want snow anymore. I came here and just felt like I needed to live here.”

Tong remembers vividly what sold her on Austin. “For me, because he took me to Zilker Park, and there were people walking. There's music going on. There's dogs. I was like, ‘This is really nice.’ We went to the Botanical Garden, and then we went to all these restaurants… they all have outdoor seating!”

Fast forward a few years and the couple has finally moved here along with their two young children, namesakes for the restaurant at 1530 Barton Springs Rd. in the building recently vacated by Austin Eastciders. After trying for months to find a location for this venture, this spot, what they call a “trophy space,” came up and the two jumped on it.

“Last year we went to ACL and we walked past it,” Tong said. “I thought, ‘This kind of place you will never get because we are too late in the game.’” If things go right, Zoé Tong will be open by this year’s music fest. If not, they will still be selling food out in front as the rest of the space gets finished off.

Tong will definitely use Chinese flavors throughout the menu; she believes that American views on that cuisine are too restrictive.

“Our stereotype of Chinese food in America is probably takeouts and American Chinese food, which is inspired by Hunanese, Sichuanese, and Cantonese. It's not all coming out of nowhere, but it was inspired by a generation or two generations ago.”

Tong’s love for her new home inspires her to cook and explore new ways of eating for a group she knows will appreciate it. “This is my dream in life; I love this country. That's why I choose to come here instead of living in Singapore, which has great food. If I come here and I'm Chinese, I want to cook for my fellow Americans. I want to cook for you. For example, I go to 99 Ranch Market, you know what I see? Austinites, everyone, not just Asian people shop. Everyone, like teenagers holding bubble tea.

“You want to try my restaurant? This is a Chinese love story for people in Austin,” she continues. “Now, can people understand that or they will be like, ‘Oh, this is not authentic Chinese.’ But the thing about authentic Chinese is a lazy term.”

What kind of food should diners expect? Look for a lot of Asia and a lot of Austin.

“One example would be quail lacquered with sauce that's kind of like a Peking duck sauce,” Tong said. “And it’s stuffed with sticky rice and Chinese sausage. It will still be quail, but you are eating a bit of Chinese in it.” Other highlights include tomahawk beef with Mongolian sauce, roast duck with homemade tortillas, and charcoal-grilled skewers prepared using the smoker that came with the building.

Tong and Hyland hope Zoé Tong will be the next iconic restaurant on an iconic street, and with a great space and big ideas, it just might.

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