THERE WERE TIMES DURING THE LAST YEAR when the Austin restaurant scene felt like a giant, iridescent soap bubble. Good restaurants, some sure to make it onto our First Plates list, were closing at an unprecedented rate. It seemed like I was always mentally reorganizing my Top 10 list as first Congress and laV, and then Gardner closed. It was scary for a while. It seemed like everything was about to pop. ... MORE
Turns out those fears were for nothing. The men and women who drive Austin's hospitality industry are too passionate, too driven, and too talented for that to happen. Our dining culture isn't deflating; it's just changing. We are developing our own vernacular – casual like the city – that shows in our commitment to local farms and ranches, the warmth of our service, and even the relaxed elegance of where we choose to put fork to mouth. An influx of out-of-towners are rushing to experience what we have, but that doesn't dilute our commitment to keeping it local. It just makes sure that the definition of local is always dynamic – now moving well beyond our city limits. Now you can find great food in Cedar Park, Round Rock, and the surrounding Hill Country, and we have expanded our map to reflect that. We might have taken a few liberties with what is "west" or "north," but we wanted to recognize that local cuisine is not defined by borders.
This issue, as always, was a team effort. The difficult task of coming up with the definitive 100 was handled with aplomb by Dan Gentile, Eric Puga, Amira Jensen*, Adrienne Whitehorse, Jessi Cape, Rachel Feit, Melody Fury, and Emily Beyda – all talented food and beverage writers that I am honored to get to work with. I am equally honored to work with our proofing team – Danielle White, Kat McNevins, Joe Mayfield, and Whitehorse – who made short work out of a mountain of copy. Thanks also to Virginia B. Wood, the namesake of our inaugural Hall of Fame. Although retired, her spirit and vision will always be a part of the Chronicle Food section.
The look of First Plates was a team effort, too. Creative director Jason Stout, production manager Chris Linnen, and graphic designers Zeke Barbaro and Carrie Lewis outdid themselves this year. Kudos to John Anderson, our ever-capable staff photographer, who worked double-time capturing this year's new crop of restaurants. Frequent Chronicle contributor Sandy Carson is responsible for shooting our charming cover. Thank you to Sarah Jacober, the staff of Geraldine's, and especially LeeAnn Kahlor, Dave Junker, and their lovely family for making our two cover ideas a reality.
Behind the scenes, marketing director Sarah Wolf and digital coordinator Tamar Price were essential to making First Plates a success. And you might notice also that this issue coincides with the launch of a brand-new restaurant guide – the patient work of web director Brian Barry. Lastly, thank you to Austin's food community – the restaurateurs, front-of-house professionals, chefs, writers, and diners who leave ego behind to build something that feels less like a scene and more like a family. I have never been prouder to be a part of it.
– Brandon Watson
*Full disclosure: Jensen started working for New Waterloo, the hospitality company behind a few winners, after joining our First Plates crew. She recused herself from writing about/nominating any New Waterloo restaurants.