Four Texas restaurants are basking in the national spotlight. Esquire magazine named them to its list of America's 40 best new restaurants.
- Hestia: chef Kevin Fink's live fire restaurant in Austin (fourth)
- March: a Mediterranean-inspired tasting menu restaurant in Houston (sixth)
- Degust: a Spanish and Mexican-inspired tasting menu restaurant in Houston (17th)
- Roots Southern Table: Top Chef alum Tiffany Derry's restaurant devoted to Black southern cooking in Dallas (19)
Four writers — Omar Mamoon, Joshua David Stein, former Esquire food and drink editor Jeff Gordinier, and culture and lifestyle director Kevin Sintumuang — created the list by traveling the county. What did they find?
"The transportive power of food, the soul-stirring nature of hospitality—real things, too," Sintumuang writes. "This is all to say that in these not normal times, we need both the normalcy and the escape of restaurants now more than ever."
Later in the essay, he list some of the specific styles represented on the list, including "food made with raw, elemental fire and charcoal," "nonpreachy vegan meals," and tasting menus. "In the hands of the right team, they can still be a sublime, luxe experience rather than the pricey, interminable drag they oftentimes veer into," he writes.
Both of Houston's representatives on the list represent this new breed of tasting menu restaurant. Stein hails March for its menus that take inspiration from different regions of the Mediterranean. "March, as the name implies, is a steady movement toward the avant-garde," he states.
March's current menu devoted to Andalusia and Murcia will run through Saturday, January 8. The restaurant will reopen on February 10 with a new menu inspired by the French region of Occitania, which offers a blend of both Mediterranean and Atlantic ingredients such as salted fish, olive oil, shellfish, duck, and butter, according to a release.
Moving on, Stein finds similar thrills at Degust, where two chefs put a playful spin on Spanish and Mexican-inspired dishes like double-fried octopus. "At first the tasting menu at Javier 'Javi' Becerra and Erico 'Rico' Mackins’s place might look like a Worship Thy Chef ordeal, but it is just the right type of weird."
Turning to Austin, Stein praises the cooking that Fink does on Hestia's 20-foot, wood-fired hearth where temperatures can reach 1,200 degrees. "Hard to believe that the same fire that tenderly cooks the halibut — kept three feet above the flame and served with an iridescent mirror glaze of a brown-butter sauce — is responsible for the ferocious char on the dry-aged Wagyu bavette, with its sunset-red center, accompanied by lacquered layers of potato and butter coiled into a tight, croissant-like bun."
Finally, Stein praises Derry's work at Dallas's Roots Southern Table for dishes like duck fat fried chicken and a version of shrimp and grits presented as Italian-style arancini. "Roots is plangent proof that Black southern cooking from the Creole coast, incorporating as it does elements of French, Spanish, African, and Caribbean traditions, alchemizing as it does migrations forced and otherwise, is both the country’s greatest culinary patrimony and its path ahead."