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2010CriticsFood

Best 24-Hour Buzz
Bennu Coffee

It's only been open a little more than a year, but you wouldn't know it by the crowds of caffeinated fans that pack this 24/7 Eastside coffeehouse. Owners Stephanie and Steve Williams have created a nice lounge space with one-of-a-kind beverages – including a menu of choice mocha delights named for classic novels – and a tasty selection of items for noshing, including noms from Torchy's Tacos, Hoboken Pies, and Russell's Bakery (to name just a few). With a gazillion places to plug in, Bennu has quickly become a favorite with students (it's the closest 24-hour joint to the UT campus, the Williamses note), techies, and Twitterers alike.

Bennu Coffee, 2001 E. MLK, 512/478-4700, www.bennucoffee.com

Best Affordable Delectable Burger
Cherrywood Coffeehouse

To say the menu at Cherrywood Coffeehouse is extensive is an understatement – as is calling this Eastside restaurant just a coffeehouse. Seriously, what coffeehouse boasts such great grub? Sure, some might feature tasty tidbits rolled in and reheated from other great Austin food haunts, but Cherrywood – led by chef Kevin Jackson (the Woodland, Shaggy's) and owner Ryan Marks, a Louisiana boy – fires it up fresh to order. This burger is heavenly, juicy, and grilled to your specs, wrapped in a sweet bun and covered with all the trimmings, plus the options of grilled onions, mushrooms, etc., should you so desire. Plates naturally come with fries, the crispy outsides dusted with rocky salt.

Cherrywood Coffeehouse, 1400 E. 38 1/2, 512/538-1991, www.cherrywoodcoffeehouse.com

Best Combined Force of Radical Politics and Bluth Family Homage
Bananarchy

Arrested Development went to the TV sitcom graveyard years ago, but its dream of a frozen banana stand still lives on. Actually, Bananarchy's prime motivator, it seems, is in uplifting the neglected banana's profile in the ongoing dessert wars (the website raises a fist at the "Cakeists" and the "Ice Cream Echelon"). So, to recap: fomenting revolution, one frozen banana at a time. It's a new world order … and we'd like ours with sprinkles on top.

Bananarchy, 603 W Live Oak St, 512/522-9316, www.bananarchy.net/

Best Cupcake Baker Without a Bakery
Maritza M. Lujan of Four Pink Dragonflies

Cupcakes may be all the rage again this year, and there are some clever vendors out there that would have you believe they have the tastiest cupcakes of them all. But we'd like to submit the cupcakes whipped up by Maritza Lujan of Four Pink Dragonflies for your consideration, because she's totally sold us. The dreamations from Lujan's kitchen will have you believing that she stirred some secret potion into her little treasures. And as if delicious were not enough, she also has an eye for color and decoration that will make you squeal before you faint at first bite with that luscious rush that feels like falling in love. Alas, Four Pink Dragonflies has no place to hang her shingle (yet), but you can order her tasty goodies by phone or e-mail. You're welcome.

Four Pink Dragonflies, 512/584-4718, www.fourpinkdragonflies.com

Best Cure for the Nuclear Heat
GoodPop's Watermelon Agave Popsicle

Sure, Austin has had a relatively mild summer. A mild Austin summer is still ludicrously hot. GoodPop to the rescue! Using all natural ingredients, evaporated organic cane juice, and agave nectar as a sweetener, these paletas aren't your average hot-day cure. Mango chile and El Cucuy (lime, cucumber, and chile) are amazing flavors for sure, but require an ice-cold beer to be enjoyed to the fullest. The real treasure is the watermelon agave. So crisp it crackles in the back of your throat, this popsicle beats even the most serious of Austin temperatures. Catch them at Barton Springs, or let them come to the rescue at one of our city's many music festivals.

GoodPop CLOSED, 1003 Barton Springs Rd., 512/539-0182, www.goodpops.com

Best East Austin Roots, Literally
East Austin Urban Farm Tour

Four family farms in Central East Austin and Farmhouse Delivery's Elizabeth Winslow organized this tour, harking back to the days when their neighborhood was well-tended and productive agricultural property. Several hundred people paid to tour Boggy Creek Farm, HausBar Farms, Rain Lily Farm, and Springdale Farm, tasting dishes made from farm produce and sipping local brews. Guests reconnected with Austin's agrarian past while embracing our delicious present and hope for a bountiful future. Eight thousand dollars in proceeds benefited the crucial work of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance.

Springdale Farm, 755 Springdale, 512/386-8899, www.springdalefarmaustin.com

Rain Lily Farm, 914 Shady, 512/636-4430, www.rainlilydesign.com

HausBar Farms, 3300 Govalle, 512/476-5858, www.hausbarfarms.com

Boggy Creek Farm, 3414 Lyons, 512/926-4650, www.boggycreekfarm.com

Best Example of Turning Lemons Into Lemonade
Farmers' Market Fracas

Count us among those who were very surprised when the Sunset Valley Farmers' Market up and moved to a prime location in the Barton Creek Square mall parking lot on a week's notice in the early spring. Instead of signaling the end of a popular market in Sunset Valley, the internal squabbles that caused the move actually gave birth to three vibrant area markets. The Sustainable Food Center stepped in to re-create a market in Sunset Valley, the renamed Barton Creek Farmers' Market (née Sunset Valley) is flourishing in its new scenic hilltop location, and the new market in Cedar Park is so successful it recently moved to the parking lot at Lakeline Mall. Farmers' market shoppers all over the Austin metro area are the winners every Saturday, 9am-1pm.

Barton Creek Farmers Market, 2901 South Capital of TX Hwy, 512/280-1976, www.bartoncreekfarmersmarket.org

Cedar Park Farmers' Market, 11200 Lakeline Mall Dr., 512/363-5700, www.texasfarmersmarket.org

SFC Farmers' Market at Sunset Valley, 3200 Jones, 512/236-0074, www.austinfarmersmarket.org

3 more locations

Best Local Food Trend
Artisanal Butchering

Whether these meat products are called charcuterie (French), salumi (Italian), or artisan sausages (American), we are so down with this tasty retro trend in the craft of butchering and preserving meat. The chefs at these local companies are mastering the art of preserving meats, turning pork, beef, lamb, and seafood into delectable dishes that can be purchased at farmers' markets around the city. Locavore chef Jesse Griffiths hot-smokes meats that are sustainably raised in Central Texas. Chef Lawrence Kocurek uses time-honored French techniques to create sausages with everything from local pork to Gulf seafood. Salt & Time's Ben Runkle is the new kid on the block, curing meats in the Italian tradition. We salute their work and are hungry for more.

Kocurek Family Artisanal Charcuterie, 512/291-4461, www.kocurekfamilycharcuterie.com

Salt & Time Butcher Shop & Salumeria, 1912 E. Seventh, 512/524-1383, www.saltandtime.com

Best Lunch Refuge for Downtown Masses
Messhall Cafe

Were the Goddess of Liberty to jump down from her perch atop the Capitol dome and set up shop at the corner of 11th & Brazos, at some point, she'd probably enjoy a nice, "cents"ible lunch at this delightfully utilitarian Downtown diner. After one of the revolving Messhall daily specials (such as lasagna, chicken-fried steak, or barbecue ribs), you might catch her smacking her lips and rubbing her belly. Then she'd probably utter (in the spirit of her NYC sister): "Give me your time-crunched, your working poor, your hungry masses yearning to eat, pretense-free!" The only wretched refuse will be the plate you lick clean and the napkin that catches your glee.

Messhall Cafe, 1019 Brazos, 512/322-9625, www.messhallcafe.com

Best New York Bagel Short of Actually Going to New York
Wholy Bagel

So it's the weekend, and you've got big plans ahead that could be impaired by a brunch of mimosas and eggs Benedict and lord knows what else. It's time for the perfect bagel. Crusty on the outside, lofty, dignified dough on the inside: This is what you've been waiting for in Austin for years. Plus, you get to feel virtuous for picking up a Texas dozen of 14 to keep you in breakfast for a week, especially because you got up early before all the good flavors sold out.

Wholy Bagel, 4404-P W. William Cannon, 512/899-0200, www.wholybagelatx.com/

Best Next-Best Thing To Hiring a Personal Chef
TIE: Mel's Meals; My Fit Foods; Snap Kitchen

Wish you could eat tasty, healthy meals every day without all the shopping, chopping, cooking, and cleaning involved? Of course you do and now you can, because the fairy godmother of busy, hungry, fit (or aspiring to be) people has finally waved her wand over Austin, making all these magical places appear where you can just walk in, grab fresh, calorie-controlled meals from the cooler (or even several days' worth, including snacks), and eat like a movie star with a personal chef any time you want. No time for the walking-in part? Check out these take-out trendsetters' websites for delivery details, along with vegan, gluten-free, and other options as well.

Mel's Meals, 706 N. Lamar, 512/428-5007, www.melsmealsaustin.com

My Fit Foods, 4200 N. Lamar, 512/323-2738, www.myfitfoods.com

Snap Kitchen, 4616 Triangle Ave. #200, 512/459-9000, www.snapkitchen.com

My Fit Foods, 3201 Bee Caves Rd. #105, 512/329-0003, www.myfitfoods.com

My Fit Foods, 4301 W. William Cannon Bldg. G, #300, 512/358-0123, www.myfitfoods.com

My Fit Foods, 10740 Research, 512/372-8323, www.myfitfoods.com

Snap Kitchen, 1014 W. Sixth, 512/479-5959, www.snapkitchen.com

Snap Kitchen, 10001 Research, 512/346-5959, www.snapkitchen.com

Snap Kitchen, 10526 W. Parmer, 512/687-1700, www.snapkitchen.com

Snap Kitchen, 3563 Far West, 512/372-3900, www.snapkitchen.com

Snap Kitchen, 6317 Bee Caves Rd., 512/326-8600, www.snapkitchen.com

Snap Kitchen, 1830 Sidmond, www.snapkitchen.com

Best Pies on the Edge
Pies Galore and More

The almost salty snap of the shortbready crust provides the perfect foil for the one-two sugar punch of the meringue and rich wall of chocolate. Judy and Amber Chandler know how to make a pie, and their chocolate cream is just the tip of the sweet tooth. The tiny shop, located next to the U.S. Post Office on Main Street in Bastrop, is as down-home as their Apple Crunch Pie, a bit of a riff on the traditional favorite, with hearty oatmeal, caramel, and pecan topping. They also bake tangy Southern fruit pies, custard pies to make your momma cry, and a fudge pecan wonder that will have you pricking your fingers to check for sugar shock. A short scenic drive (if you indulge and take the lovely winding FM 969 east) will land you in this pie-porium and give you the chance to explore our small-town neighbor across the edge of the county line.

Pies Galore and More, 1110-B Main St., Bastrop, 512/308-0400, www.piesgaloreandmore.com

Best Potato Cake
New India Cuisine

Somehow filling yet refreshing at the same time, this staple snack of Maharashtra, India, is made with love and consistency by New India Cuisine owner Annu Shinde to guarantee that each perfectly crispy, turmeric-yellow bite, cooled with your choice of mint or tamarind-date sauce, will be just as mind-blowing as the last. We highly suggest a fresh ginger soda to wash down all that exotic comfort food goodness.

New India Cuisine, 2304 S. Congress, 512/445-9727, www.newindia.us

Best Sauce for a Po'boy
MoJoe Sauce

This sassy and classy upscale urban club in Lincoln Village serves up some serious cuisine. Just order the po'boy. It's one of the yummiest in town. Tender, lightly battered whole shrimp or hunks of catfish, hearty, chewy roll, spring greens, juicy tomato, and … hold up! What's this? They call it MoJoe, and it packs some serious mojo – perhaps aioli, but definitely aaaaaaiii! The MoJoe Room's take on a Louisiana rémoulade is simple, but spread across a sandwich or used as a condiment for hush puppies and fries, adds an effective kick that sends these already generous concoctions into Superdome TD territory.

MoJoe Room Bar & Grill, 6406 N. I-35 #1600, 512/206-4110, www.mojoeroom.com

Best Secret Recipe
Pacha Latté

Just take a seat at one of Pacha's homey wooden tables surrounded by Andean art, and it will come as no surprise that this coffeehouse is the keeper of a major secret: the Pacha Latte. Delightfully cozy when warm and refreshingly perfect when cold, this latte has it all. It's sweet and richly subtle, and after many thwarted attempts at trying to figure out what makes up this holy latte, all we know is that Pacha has one of the best-kept secrets in town.

Pacha, 4618 Burnet Rd., 512/800-7309, www.pachatx.com

Best Stuffed Hamburger
Bam's Roadhouse Grill

What sets Bam's apart is that the ingredients have been stuffed inside the burgers. The kitchen staff starts with hickory-smoked, 100% pure beef patties, then fills them with the freshest ingredients around, and the flavors just explode. Like it kinda spicy? Try the Hatch Chile Burger with cheddar cheese, bacon, and, of course, Hatch chiles. Bam's also makes a decent chicken-fried steak, as well as a number of other dishes. It's a laid-back place with a nice biergarten, live music, and great service. Well worth the drive.

Bam's Roadhouse Grill, 6115 Lohmans Ford Rd., Lago Vista, 512/267-9001, www.bamsroadhousegrill.com

Best Tippler Teach-ins
Tipsy Tech at Twin Liquors Marketplace

This 12-week intensive course offers an in-depth study of the history and practice of cocktail mixology – everything from the knowledge of individual spirits to classic cocktail recipes. To graduate, students must fill in a cocktail passport at various locations around the city, pass a 100-question written test, and successfully make three cocktails (out of a possible 25) for a panel of judges in the practical exam. Presented by instructors David Alan and Lara Nixon, the courses are offered spring and fall, with special summer short courses thrown in for good measure. Advanced and professional courses will be added to the curriculum soon. Better cocktails all over town? We'll drink to that!

Tipsy Texan, www.tipsytexan.com

Twin Liquors, 1000 E. 41st, 512/451-7400, www.twinliquors.com

Twin Liquors, 519 E. Seventh, 512/476-9982, www.twinliquors.com

7 more locations

Best Unexpected (and Affordable!) Cupcake
Tamale House

While so much of our beloved slacker mecca insists that pouring some cake mix into a fluted piece of paper is worth that dig into your pocket for this month's last Abe Lincoln, Tamale House has your back through this nutty cupcake trend. In the spirit of its beloved 85¢ taco come these hand-decorated delights in an array of neopolitania: white frosting on chocolate cake, strawberry on yellow, strawberry on chocolate, chocolate on strawberry – the combos seem limitless (you'll find there are actually nine possible flavor combinations if you passed third-grade math) and each only costs one dollar. Even after your eyes bug out at the cheap lunch, you can add one of these beauties and still have a few presidents left 'til payday.

Tamale House CLOSED, 5003 Airport, 512/453-9842, www.myspace.com

Best Unexpected Chocolate Chip Cookies
Pitchforks & Tablespoons

It's always worth a stumble over to the small gift shop on the grounds of Austin's venerable Eastside Cafe. Why not knock out some shopping for some adorable corn-cob holders in the shape of wiener dogs or some pads for your knees for "gardening" while cautiously holding back the drool, awaiting your artichoke manicotti or Elaine's Blue Plate special? Just watch out. Those sneaky lasses at the Eastside have planted samples of their harrowingly addictive chocolate chip cookies on the counter. Yup, the same counter where they sell the insanely delicious devils, each individually wrapped in wax bags. Damn it! The first hit is always free!

Pitchforks & Tablespoons, 2113 Manor Rd., 512/476-5858, www.eastsidecafeaustin.com

Best Vegetarian Meal for Less Than $2.50
Nuevo León

You know it happens. You're hungry, Downtown, and only have a couple of bucks left in your pocket. You don't want a hot dog or a burger cuz you don't want to contribute to global warming, deforestation, or factory farming, but you need a solid meal to help you bounce the night away. Nuevo León has just the thing. A delicious side of black beans and a side of yellow rice together make a generous portion that serves as a whole meal. It totals less than $2.50 and will keep your sassypants dance energy going for hours and hours. The place has been family-owned and -operated for almost three decades, so you're not only totally environmentally conscious and budget-minded, you're also keeping it local.

Nuevo León CLOSED, 1501 E. Sixth, 512/479-0097, www.nuevoleoninaustin.com

Humblest Use of Scare Quotes
Jim-Jim's "Famous" Water-Ice

Jim-Jim's is a little slice of icy heaven, an Austin institution that purveys the ultimate frozen treat. If a frozen virgin margarita and a fruit smoothie could reproduce, they might create something close to this oxymoronically named "water ice." If it's not really famous, it should be. Do yourself a favor and try the strawberry lemonade; it will seriously put a dent in your sno-cone loyalty.

Jim-Jim's Water-Ice, 615-A E. Sixth, 512/708-8285, www.jimjimswaterice.com

Most Sensual Sushi
Tomodachi

With a menu this intimate, you might want to first shower and powder up your parts. Tomodachi has a playful menu with rolls like 4 play, xXx, and Say My Name!. The Volcano, with the simple description: "wow!!!! U will love it!!!" is the most fun to eat as it comes out on a flaming plate. Every night, Tomodachi has a list of specials ranging from fresh Ginger Tuna to Naked in the Bathroom (an exquisite three-fish roll wrapped in wasabi-dipped cucumber). Don't be shy, we all secretly want to try that Screaming Orgasm!

Tomodachi, 4101-E W. Parmer, 512/821-9472, www.tomosushiaustin.com

Most Successful Spin-off Restaurant
Tarka Indian Kitchen

For those of us too broke, impatient, and badly dressed to sit through one of Austin's many fine Indian dining experiences, there's Tarka, Clay Pit's hot-younger-sister restaurant. Choose-your-spice-level curries, crispy naan, huge biryani bowls, fragrant rice, and thick lassis are prepared fast and consumed even faster. Oh, and everything on the menu is less than $10.

Tarka Indian Kitchen, 201 University Oaks #580, Round Rock, 512/246-1922, www.tarkaindiankitchen.com

Tarka Indian Kitchen, 5207 Brodie #120, 512/892-2008, www.tarkaindiankitchen.com

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