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2012CriticsFood

Best Baby Hummus
Baby Zach's

This hummus is no baby (it does, however, taste so good it may make you cry like one). The Austin-based brand's quirky and accessible approach to the traditional dish – with flavors ranging from smoked Thai curry to black bean – has grown into a full-blown consumer-packaged food company in two years. Zach Gultz, founder and UT alum, may have a hand in changing the way some meat eaters view vegetarian food options. Think outside the chip and take a dip (or two, or three) into Baby Zach's hummus, available at an H-E-B or Wheatsville (among others) near you.

Baby Zach's Hummus, 512/522-9227, www.babyzachs.com

Best Banana Frappe Dizzle
The Hideout Coffeehouse

This faux-healthy drink is so good – the best $4 we spend waiting for the bus – that Metro drivers will allow it to be taken on the bus, and people on the street will continually demand to have a sip. OK, that is our specific experience, and the mileage you get out of this flavor-laden frothy breakfast bevvy may vary. It's one part banana, two parts chocolate, and four parts love blended together in perfect harmony.

The Hideout Coffeehouse, 617 Congress, 512/443-3688, www.hideouttheatre.com

Best Campus Area Coffeehouse Treats
La Tazza Fresca

College students, try as they might, cannot live on coffee alone. Luckily, La Tazza Fresca boasts an extensive menu of treats that have fueled them through many a marathon study session. Favorites include the samosa-like breakfast burritos (available with and without meat), the samosas themselves, and the chocolate banana smoothies. The real stars of the show, however, are the delicious baked goods like cheesecake and cannolis, made by the owner in her home kitchen. Everything, from the sandwiches to the ice cream sundaes, tastes even better when paired with the broke college student's staple: a bottomless coffee.

La Tazza Fresca, 519 W. 37th, 512/454-1894

Best Coffee Bean
Texas Coffee Traders

The key to a good crema starts with the bean. Home baristas rejoice! Whole beans are roasted daily for superfreshness and come in a myriad of varieties. Whether you have a fancy espresso setup, a hand grinder, or a plunge and press, these are your dealers, you addicts. Hidden back on East Fourth Street, the shop front opens into a gigantic warehouse stacked with burlap sacks of organic fair trade beans waiting to be roasted. You can choose by blend, roast, or country of origin. May we suggest the Lone Star Blend?

Texas Coffee Traders, 1400 E. Fourth, 512/476-2279, www.texascoffeetraders.com

Best Green Acres Without Having To Buy a Farm
Lenoir

With the stress of city living, it's easy to want to pick up and move to greener acres. But few of us really want to get up at rooster's crow to milk a row of Bessies. That's why we have Lenoir. Everything inside the jewel-box eatery is just-picked fresh – from the repurposed farmstead décor to the sweet potato salad. Sit at the community table and order one of everything. At only $35 for three courses, it's cheaper than a drive to the country.

Lenoir, 1807 S. First, 512/215-9778, www.lenoirrestaurant.com

Best King Cake
Bakerman's

Sure, size isn't everything, but the girth of Bakerman's thick and filling King Cake would make at least two out of the three muses blush. And it'll make you smile, especially if you order ahead of the King Cake's big day, Twelfth Night (so-dubbed for its placement 12 days after Christmas), January 6, the official kickoff of the Mardi Gras season. This big ol' melt-in-your-mouth yeasty boy is laden with purple, yellow, and green sanding sugar, beads, and, of course, the baby.

Bakerman's Patisserie and Chocolatier, 120 E. Seventh, 512/476-0060, www.bakermansbakery.com

Best Kombucha
Wunder-Pilz

Mmmm... Fermented fizzy tea! Yes, it's loaded with all kinds of natural health buzzwords: spirulina, goji, gotu kola, yerba maté, mugwort ... wait, mugwort? Wunder-Pilz is local and all over town. You can get it on tap (what up, Cheer Up?) or in a refillable jug from the markets. Heart, Energy, Strength, and Calm: Health-nut hippies have four types to choose from, depending on their mood ring.

Wunder-Pilz, www.wunder-pilz.com

Best Liquid High
ChocoSutra

For those seeking enrichment through chocolate, we have found your El Dorado. Hidden in a food trailer hinterland, ChocoSutra offers up treats to satisfy both the adventurous and the traditional. The Mayans and Aztecs recognized the health benefits of drinking chocolate, and, with the range of supplements ChocoSutra offers in its elixirs, it's impossible to not feel good about this treat.

ChocoSutra, Available at various Farmers Market, 512/902-4546, www.chocosutra.com

Best New Caffeination Station
Cenote

Just east of the highway on Cesar Chavez, this new coffee shop lives up to its name. Like the eponymous spring-fed underground pools in Mexico, Cenote offers revitalizing liquids in an environment that is calm and cool. Housed in a beautifully renovated Victorian painted in cerulean tones inside and out, Cenote offers espresso-based coffees, brunch, and beer and wine. Patrons will find all the trending prerequisites for a progressive Austin business, like fair trade, local sourcing, and an onsite garden. Cenote is a welcome new addition to one of Austin's oldest neighborhoods.

Cenote, 1010 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/524-1311, www.cenoteaustin.com

Best Place To Go If You Want Everyone To Know Your Name
Texas Chili Parlor

It's only been open since 1976, but it sure does seem like it's been there forever. We're talking, of course, about the Texas Chili Parlor, the Capitol-adjacent bar and restaurant that is a favorite among state employees and their elected bosses, judges and cops, bikers, UT students, and filmmakers (including Quentin Tarantino) alike. What is it about TCP that keeps them all coming back, night after night? Perhaps it's the chili. Well, of course, that's partially it. There's also the fact that the staff always remembers a face – and the drink that goes with it – no small feat when you consider the traffic this place gets. Indeed, for those reasons and more, TCP is the quintessential regulars bar, the place to go where everybody (eventually) knows your name.

Texas Chili Parlor, 1409 Lavaca, 512/472-2828, www.txchiliparlor.com

Best Place To Take a First Date
Elizabeth Street Cafe

First dates are tricky. How to appear hip but approachable, casual but not cheap, cultured but not snobby? Safest to take them someplace that has all that covered. Who knows? Maybe it'll rub off. Within walking distance of grayDUCK Gallery and SoCo, and with a menu tastefully blending continental and Asian flavors (flaky French pastries, hearty bánh mì­, and savory pho), Elizabeth Street Cafe has so much unpretentious sophistication to spare that you may find yourself kissing your date bonne nuit. Did we mention it's delicious?

Elizabeth Street Cafe, 1501 S. First, 512/291-2881, www.elizabethstreetcafe.com

Best Sandwich Seemingly Made in Cheese-Lover's Heaven
Apothecary Cafe & Wine Bar

We're not going to talk about the rest of the nomming goodness here, nor even mention the excellent coffee from an on-table French press the size of Zeus's own amphora; we're just going to internally liquefy as we recall Apothecary's Brie, Pear, and Honey Panini with insides sharpened by arugula and anointed with holy truffle oil, with such sublime taste that even a monoglot English speaker's tongue will whimper plaintively for more in French.

Apothecary Cafe & Wine Bar, 4800 Burnet Rd. #450, 512/371-1600, www.apothecaryaustin.com

Best Senegasm
Cazamance

This Cesar Chavez trailer offers homestyle Senegalese cuisine. We get antsy every time we forget their limited hours (Tuesday through Friday, 11am-3pm) and pull up with the full intention of letting their love flow all over us. Actually, that could get messy, because, as creatures of habit, we insist on ordering only their peanut butter stew, a rib-sticking, heart-bursting concoction of peanut butter, sweet potatoes, cabbage, and carrots. Actually (again), scratch that. Smear it all over us. In fact, push us down in that nearby hammock, tie our hands up in the macrame, and put that legumey stew right on our kisser. Then kiss her.

Cazamance, 1102 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/487-7222, www.cazamance.com

Best Slow Food/Fast Food Hybrid
The Flying Carpet

This former South Austin "Moroccan burger" trailer now has a beautifully decorated brick-and-mortar on Oltorf so lovers of their Big Abdu can eat in true Moroccan style. Along with the new look is an expanded special-order menu of halal tajines (stews) that must be reserved 24 hours in advance. Though they spurn the "fast food" label, the burgers still come out pretty damn quick, and every one is worth a much longer wait.

The Flying Carpet, 504 W. Oltorf, 512/744-5651, www.tfctheflyingcarpetaustin.com

Best Vegan Sweeties
TIE: Capital City Bakery, Sweet Ritual

If veganism is an addiction, vegan desserts are the gateway drug. And the purveyors of these fine new Austin establishments are going to get you hooked. Admit it, non-vegans – how many times have you found yourself with a sweet treat that sends you to seventh heaven only to learn it was created without animal products? And how many times did you respond in disbelief: "What? This is vegan?" Well, between the velvety cupcakes that often sell out by the end of business at the little Capital City Bakery trailer in West Campus and the deliriously delicious sundae combos at Sweet Ritual in Hyde Park, no, sweetheart, you're not tweakin': This is vegan. And talk about your glorious concoctions: Cap City's mint chocolate and Sweet Ritual's salted caramel, quite frankly, should be illegal.

Capital City Bakery, 2211 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/666-7437, www.capitalcitybakery.com

Sweet Ritual, 4500 Duval St., www.sweetritual.com

Best Vendor on a Roll
Kolache Creations

Isn't it enough that owner/dough puncher Robert Ahrens offers a veritable sausage fest of savory kolaches and some of the sweetest fruitsplosive squares this side of the Kolache Highway (I-10 between La Grange and Ellinger)? Well, no. He had to go and raise that dough to another level. His Kolache Creations (née Kolache Shoppe) – in an effort to dodge obstacles hurtled by a stagnant economy – is the baker of those lovely buns wrapped around some of Austin's favorite wienies. His standard hot dog roll sidles up against Man Bites Dog's best, while his persnickity pumpernickels buck up against Banger's bangin' bangers on Rainey. Booyah!

Kolache Creations, 7113 Burnet Rd. Suite #112, 512/458-5542, www.kolachecreations.net

Best-Kept Secret Corn Tortilla
The Gardener's Feast

Some corn tortillas are just floppy and flavorless, so you just kind of ignore them and hope the filling is good. Not these. This market booth mainly sells tamales (which are also very good), so you have to ask about their tortillas and get them out of the cooler. Freezer-zipped in a pack of eight, these taste so fresh, handmade from scratch with organic blue corn masa. They have heaps of flavor and make great enchiladas, soaking up any sauce or molé you throw on them – proving they were meant to be cooked with.

The Gardener's Feast, Manor, 512/278-1775, www.thegardenersfeast.com

The Best Gurgle for Your Buck
Barton Springs Soda Company

From deep within the depths of Barton Springs come three unique blends of handcrafted soda sure to satisfy your sweet tooth and environmental sensibilities. Sip on a Root Beer soda, Orange Cream soda, or Zilker Park Cola (just not at Barton Springs Pool, where glass is prohibited), made from 100% pure cane sugar and water from the very springs once used in purification rituals by Native Americans. Proceeds benefit founder Andrew "Drew" Fisher's Barton Springs Foundation.

Barton Springs Soda Company, 2101 E. Saint Elmo #310, 512/296-2532, www.bartonspringssodaco.com

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