Best Brazilian This Side of the Border
Jessica at Milk + Honey

For the brave daring to go fully bare, down there, it's off to the oft-feared Brazilian waxer. Thankfully, with Jessica at Milk + Honey, the pain is (as much as it can be) fleeting, the professionalism stellar, and the fear the 3-2-1 count is soothed by her calmness and the serenity of the day spa surroundings. Quick and knowledgeable, patient and to those in-the-know, the best esthetician in Austin.

Milk + Honey, 100-A Guadalupe, 512/236-1115,

Milk + Honey, 12901 Hill Country Blvd., Bldg. D-1-110, 512/236-1115,

Best Breath of Fresh Air
Texas Green Air

Lots of life-forms thrive in the silver ducts of central air-conditioning systems: dust and dander, mold and microbes. Texas Green Air sucks 'em all up with a giant snaking vacuum cleaner, washes down the interior of the air handlers, kills mold spores, and cleans out your dryer vents for good measure. This young mom-and-pop company is run by the Naim family, who offers fast, friendly, infant- and pet-safe services to make everybody's lungs happy.

Texas Green Air, 512/779-2913,

Best Cut & Dye
Salon Intuitions

We've named Salon Intuitions, the hip hairdo joint at the Triangle, Best Cut as an homage to their oh-so-talented staff, former Toni&Guy hairdressers who dared to dream and decided to cut ties with the mall chain to manifest their own vision. Salon Intuitions reflects everything these daring folks imagined having in their own salon, and that realized concept is something clients no doubt appreciate. So what about the Dye part in this award? Well, in addition to giving fabulous 'dos, they're just really damn good at coloring hair.

Salon Intuitions, 4616 Triangle Ave. #401, 512/323-0880,

Best Effort to Close the Austin Health-Care Gap
Project Access

We can earn 200% of the federal poverty guidelines and still be poor … but not poor enough for Medicaid. That's where Project Access steps in. No more trips to the emergency room with a false name and address to get health care. No more staying at a crappy job just in case you get a health plan one day. Project Access links up generous doctors who donate their services to the uninsured working people of Austin. What a visionary way to help bridge the health-care gap!

Project Access, PO Box 4679, 512/206-1164,

Best Farm-to-Table Initiative
Johnson's Backyard Garden

We all know that locally grown, organic, in-season produce is the best kind to grace our tables. How about the added benefit of directly supporting a local farmer to boot? That's what community-supported agriculture is all about, and Johnson's Backyard Garden shines brightly among the lot. With convenient neighborhood pickups located all around this fair city and weekly or biweekly options, it's a surefire way to get your greens, save some green, and keep a local farming family working their land.

Johnson's Backyard Garden, 9515 Hergotz, 512/386-5273,

Best High Tech Co-op

Remember how being your own boss looked cool until your home office became more office than home? Don’t feel like shushing that coffeehouse poetry slam just because you’ve got a client calling? Where other business service centers just have rules and cubicles, this pet-friendly commercial hothouse brings small entrepreneurs together in both physical space and online community to flourish and cooperate.

Conjunctured, 1309 E. Seventh, 512/524-4296,

Best Hungry Lawn Guy
Starving Artist Lawn Care, Jason Benford

For most creative-class types, there's a pretty clear distinction between making a living and living one's dreams. In Austin, the line gets a bit thinner, as so many folks in this town are invested in our creative culture. So when a local musician names his yard-mowing biz Starving Artist Lawn Care, it strikes a chord. And in the interest of allowing local guitarist, saxman, and vocalist Jason Benford to make enough dough so he can continue to "strike chords" in the clubs at night: Hire him. He's enterprising, efficient, and inexpensive. Why not support local music while you pretty up your hood?

Starving Artist Lawn Care & Landscaping, 512/751-6198,

Best Neighborhood Cleaners
Cathy's Cleaners & Alterations

Keeping pleats pressed and buttoned-up wearables starched, this neighborhood dry cleaners is family-owned and -operated and well-steeped in the Downtown tradition of friendly, fast efficiency. Coupons, frequent-patron cards, and an honest smile every time are what keep the regulars happy. Quick turnarounds and quality service are what make newcomers stay.

Cathy's Cleaners & Alterations, 231 W. Third, 512/320-8111,

Best New Eastside Evolution
Soma Vida

Soma Vida is the brianchild of three visionary single mothers who transformed a beautiful old Eastside house into a wellness center and hub of community energy. With yoga, acupuncture, psychotherapy, herbal medicine, child care, massage, coaching, a community gardening project, a co-working space, and various classes, Soma Vida offers an ideal place to contemplate balance, health, and purpose.

Soma Vida, 2324 E Cesar Chavez, 512/628-1580,

Best Pet Whisperer
Dr. Kathryn Van Winkle

Dr. Kathryn Van Winkle, one half of the two-vet team that is the Barton Creek Animal Clinic, may be the closest thing to a dog whisperer that Austin has. And that's a great thing when your pooch or puss ain't feelin' so good. Van Winkle and her team are smart, kind, and gentle. Whether your pet needs annual shots or just a weekly acupuncture session, Van Winkle's got you covered.

Barton Creek Animal Clinic, 4201 Westbank Dr., 512/327-8300

Best Place to Cure Your Road Rash
Bumper Scuffs Plus

We dinged our baby – bad. A cannonball-sized dent in the back of its shiny red bumper. First three places turned us down flat; fourth one wanted to replace the whole shebang for more than $1,000. Then we found Bumpers Scuffs Plus. Matt explained our options then worked his magic while we waited. Forty minutes and a mere $95 later, our bumper was gorgeous again (and not in the landfill). Fast, honest, cheap, locally owned … what better place to cure your road rash?

Bumper Scuffs Plus, 8308 Research, 512/454-3330,

Best Reason Not to Drive
Capital Metro

As gas prices skyrocket, eco-awareness rises, and traffic congestion becomes a total drag, a lot more Austinites (including Chronicle staffers) have been hopping on the bus at 3,000 stops around town. With positive 2008 changes such as the upcoming MetroRail, new buses, expanded service, simplified 'Dillo routes, and new regional partnerships, Cap Metro deserves kudos this year (even factoring in the reasonable fare hikes). Making a big, positive difference for regional planning are Doug Allen, the new executive vice president and chief development officer, and Todd Hemingson, vice president of strategic planning and development. Reading, Web-surfing, or napping while commuting – it sure beats swearing at idiot drivers.

Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 2910 E. Fifth, 512/389-7400,

Best Reason Not to Frame It Yourself
Contessa Art Gallery & Frame

Kerbey Lane's oldest business is also perhaps its most inconspicuous. Ex-Marine reservist and East Austin native Alex Calderon bought the little white house across from the all-night eatery in 1969 and set out across Texas to find moldings ranging from vintage Vatican to metallic pink. His three boys, Alex Jr., Ray, and Mark, inherited their father's magic eye for locking in an image, whether it be a framed Lance Armstrong jersey, a note from Lady Bird Johnson, or all those rock & roll posters so popular in the live music capital. Ay carumba!

Contessa Art Gallery & Frame, 3705 Kerbey, 512/454-5119

Best Reasons to Spread 'Em
TIE: Montana at Montana and Jessica at Milk + Honey and Esty

For the brave, daring to go fully bare, down there, it's off to the oft-feared Brazilian waxer. Thankfully, Jessica at Milk + Honey and Esty and Montana at Montana skin-care studio have perfected the craft of making you feel comfortable in the most uncomfortable positions. The pain is (as much as it can be) fleeting, their professionalism stellar, and the fear of the 3-2-1 count is soothed by the calmness and the serenity of the day-spa surroundings. In addition to hair removal, both salons can help you with your skin, nails, or stress. Want a pick me up? Leave it to these top-notch glamour gals.

Montana Skin, 1211 Parkway, 512/535-1475,

Milk + Honey, 100-A Guadalupe, 512/236-1115,

Esty, 1919 S. First, 512/903-8225,

Milk + Honey, 12901 Hill Country Blvd., Bldg. D-1-110, 512/236-1115,

Best Response in a Crisis
Central Texas Red Cross, Capital Area Food Bank

It's not their job. That's the first fact that everyone should remember when thinking about how the volunteers with these two charities stepped up to help the Hurricane Ike evacuees. It was the Red Cross that staffed shelters and the Capital Area Food Bank that handed out emergency supplies to those that had fled the coast. This award is not so much for the institutions but for the people that sacrificed their time and energy to help those in need – and will again.

American Red Cross of Central Texas, 2218 Pershing, 512/928-4271,

Central Texas Food Bank, 6500 Metropolis, 512/282-2111,

Best Reunited Barbers
Phyllis and Pete at Gaitan's

It was a sad day when Phyllis Nunez left Gaitan's Barber Shop. We even commemorated her new location with a "Best of Austin" back in 2006, just so loyal fans from the landmark Hyde Park shop could find her. The very week the issue came out, however, Phyllis excitedly called to tell us she had moved back to Pop's shop on Duval Street. Now the tried-and-true team is reunited, and it feels so good: buzzing razors, sharing the latest gossip, and taking a little off the back, just the way it should be.

Gaitan's Barber Shop, 4224 Duval St., 512/453-9855,

Best Small Imprint Broker
Rocket Science Realty

Cynthia Riley Loera is improving Austin one house at a time. She believes strongly that the way we live makes or breaks communities. Her goal as a Realtor/broker is to support clients through life's changes while steering them toward the best option for the environment, Austin's neighborhoods, and one's stress threshold. Her company, Rocket Science Realty, specializes in small-imprint living. If you are looking for a house bigger than 3,000 square feet, she's not your gal. She's a straight shooter and a breath of fresh air in Austin's housing-market madness.

Rocket Science Realty, LLC, 4414 Jinx, 512/415-5616,

Best South South Austin Computer Repair
That Computer Store

So why would you look way out Manchaca Road for computer repair? Because it's so affordable waaaaaay south in the county. Owner Dave Davis keeps his in-store crew busy with reputable repair services and legit, registered program installations. Plus, as the sign says, no city sales tax!

That Computer Store, 11629 Manchaca Ste. D, 512/441-8100,

Best Stress-Free April 15
Foundation Communities' Free Tax Centers

Foundation Communities offers relief from tax-preparation anxiety in the form of this free program that runs mid-January to mid-April. Nine different locations, staffed by countless volunteers, make it more than convenient. Instead of dropping a bill at large corporate tax centers, taxpayers earning within certain limits can take care of their yearly pain through this local nonprofit.

Foundation Communities Tax Centers, 3036 S. First #200, 512/447-2026,

Best Stylist for Curly Hair
Ron King at Bô Salon

We love curly hair – but don't always love the responsibility of it. Fortunately, there are masters who are trained to tame, and when it comes to curly hair, Bô Salon's founder, Ron King, has some of the best hands in the business. From the catwalks of New York to the pages of Vanity Fair, Ron's take on beauty and styling is definitely not for the faint of pocketbook … but service from a top-notch pro rarely is.

Bô Salon, 2004 S. Congress, 512/448-0060,

Best Sultan and Sultress of Sugar
Better Batter Bakery

Sweet butter cream; luxurious fillings; springy, scrumptious sponge cake decorated in flowers and frosting and towering like a creamy castle – it's a creation almost too glorious to cut into. Almost. It takes just one bite to be transported to sugar-coated heaven. Two to be resurrected. And three to fall hopelessly in love. Groom cakes, wedding cakes, birthday cakes – Gregg and Melody Parsons' Better Batter Bakery has the perfect recipe to mix your vision into cake perfection. Let us eat cake!

Better Batter Bakery, 512/301-0722,

Most Austintatious Outdoor Commode
Austin Outhouse

Whether or not these mobile handy cans are named for the defunct music venue of the same name, Austin Outhouses ain't your poppa's porta-potties. Colored eye-popping pinks and blues, built with a little extra elbow room, and even coming with optional hand-washing stations, these convenient latrines make construction sites and outdoor festivals a little more comfortable.

Austin Outhouse, 5910 Johnny Morris Rd., 512/448-2699,

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