Despite Austin’s abundance of fantastic restaurants, most of the critically acclaimed and celebrated eateries in Central Texas are owned and operated by men, have male chefs running the kitchen and, often, are named after the more masculine set. Here, restaurant critic Lisa Malmin divulges her favorite new, local, high-end, unexpected and funky restaurants in town – all of which are owned and led by the fairer sex. These enterprising restaurateurs prove that no matter who you are, preparing food and feeding people is a way of showing love, and that eating is not only an essential part of life, but, done well, it becomes an art form.
Best Local: Quality Seafood
If there is a seafood lover in you, take her out to Quality Seafood. Quality Seafood Market is 70 years old and has been selling fresh seafood for 38 years in a casual and fun atmosphere. Owner Carol Huntsberger expanded the restaurant and transformed the menu to include everything from ruby red trout to margarita cheesecake. You can’t get seafood any fresher without a fishing pole and would be pressed to find a better place for oysters on the half shell. Daily specials like artic char with a sweet and tangy zinfandel-orange-mustard glaze served with jalapeno cornbread and two sides for $10.95 are amazing in taste and value. Try the life- changing macaroni and cheese side. It’s gooey, browned on top and made with spaghetti noodles. Check the website calendar for weekly specials like $2 taco and beer night.
5621 Airport Blvd., 454-5827 www.qualityseafoodmarket.com
Best High-End: Freda’s Seafood Grille
Freda’s is a real family success story. Freda Chang’s mother opened Sisters Chinese Restaurant on Burnet Road in 1969, and her family has introduced Austin to such staples as Chinatown and Oriental Express. Five years ago, Freda opened Freda’s Seafood Grille, serving seafood, steaks, chicken and pasta. The “magic” crabcakes are my favorite. That’s not their name on the menu, but the way the blue crab stays together with no visible means of support or breading is truly magical. If I hadn’t eaten them so fast I might have seen the image of the Virgin Mother right there in the lemon caper beurre blanc sauce. This place also has a variety of homemade desserts including delectable cinnamon ice cream – a heavenly dish reminiscent of apple pie a la mode without the apples. Mmmm!
10903 Pecan Park Blvd., 506-8700 www.fredasseafoodgrille.com
Best Unexpected: Lulu B’s
This place is about as South Austin as it gets. Laura Bayer and Christina Gustavson are serving fabulous food out of a trailer parked under a big oak tree on South Lamar. Sandwiched between Office Depot and a place where you can pimp your ride with chrome wheels, this isn’t where you would expect to find a fabulous Vietnamese sandwich or bubble tea, but I never expected to see Elvis at that bus stop either! The hot-off-the-grill chicken is served on a toasted baguette and garnished with daikon, carrot, cilantro and a crispy, marinated cucumber wedge paired with a fine sliver of fresh jalepeno. The combination is the perfect yen and yang. Sip a smoothie or adrenaline-inducing Vietnamese coffee while watching the locals or call ahead for takeout.
2113 S Lamar Blvd., 921-4828 www.myspace.com/lulubssandwiches
Best Funky: Nueva Onda
Nueva Onda is not your typical Tex-Mex joint. Owner Nora Dodson is serving more than 30 ingredient options for breakfast tacos, offers dinner sides like calabacitas (squash, corn, tomato, onion and cilantro) and fideo (vermicelli noodles), creates her own mole sauce from 25 ingredients and serves a salsa that would be married if it were legal in this state. There are endless options for vegetarians here and the chicken is all-natural, meaning it contains no steroids or additives. Sip champagne or a mimosa with migas on the out- door patio. Nueva Onda is open every day until 3 p.m., and for dinner every second Wednesday of the month for trivia night and every third Wednesday for indie film screenings.
2218 College Ave. (near the intersection of Congress Avenue and Oltorf Street), 447-5063, www.nuevaaustin.com
Best Newbie: Casa Colombia
Emilia Hurtado of Doña Emilia’s has opened Casa Colombia, a laid-back and comfy Colombian eatery. Try the fried empanada (puff pastry filled with shredded meat and soft chunks of seasoned potato) or the aborrajado (sweet fried plantains stuffed with mozzarella cheese). Heat it all up with the classic Colombian aji sauce. The churrasco (a giant grilled top sirloin crowned with a tangy-sweet chimichurri sauce made with cilantro and parsley) is served with fresh green beans, fried yucca and mashed potatoes. This place is Austin casual in a wood- frame building. I went early on a Friday and there were only a few cars in the parking lot, but by the time I left, the place was brimming. This “best hid- den secret in Austin” is quickly becoming muy caliente on the local restaurant scene!
1614 E. Seventh St., 495-9425, www.casa-colombia.com