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2013CriticsFood

Best Affordable Fajitas
Taquerias Arandinas

Strangely, in a town bursting at the belly with Tex-Mex cuisine, the two most important criteria for optimal fajita enjoyment are rarely found in the same place at the same time. Most restaurants have fajitas, but often the best ones strain the wallet, while the cheap ones cause indigestion. The exception is Taquerias Arandinas, which in addition to supplying South Austin with authentic corn tortillas, balances the concerns of both stomach and pocketbook when serving up their fajitas. They’re excellent with lechuga y tomate, and top ‘em off with a few spoons of salsa. Also, practice your Spanish with the patient staff.

Taquerias Arandinas, 700 W. William Cannon, 512/693-0206, www.arandinas.com

Best Between-Class Munchies
Rancho Rio Eatery

Plopped amidst the raucousness undergrad haven of West Campus is one of Austin’s newest food truck collectives, Rancho Rio Eatery. The spot revived favorites like Mighty Cone and Wurst Tex after their uprooting from the legendary SoCo spot, and included newcomers like Thai of the Town and Cow Tipping Creamery. Battling the lunch-rush parking pandemonium may not be worth it unless you're already in the area, but the amenable hours and plentiful seating make it a great evening spot.

Rio Rancho Eatery, 2512 Rio Grande, 512/320-0077

Best Comfort Cuisine
Hyde Park Bar & Grill

Sometimes it's hard to remember that we were not always a foodie town, that the current array of tastebud-boggling options was not always on our social menu. So it's easy for old favorites to get lost in the din of dinnertime dilemmas. Strolling in and sitting down at one of Austin's two Hyde Park Bar & Grills after not being there for a while and ordering one of their perfect meat-and-two-veg standards, like their pan-roasted chicken with green beans and mashers in a delicate tarragon jus, is much like that first holiday back home after being away at school: The experience is not just nourishing, it's visceral, packed with mouthfeel memory and the revelation that while we may not have always been a foodie town, we've always had someone and somewhere saving us a seat at the table and pointing us in the right direction.

Hyde Park Bar & Grill, 4206 Duval, 512/458-3168, www.hpbng.com

Hyde Park Bar & Grill, 4521 Westgate Blvd., 512/899-2700, www.hpbng.com

Best Excuse to String Us Along
Gourmet Texas Pasta

Austin-based Gourmet Texas Pasta knows life can be messy, especially when trying to eat pasta by twirling it around a fork. They stock 25 varieties (artichoke, Szechuan orange, Cajun, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.) of whole wheat, all-natural pasta made from whole vegetables, herbs, spices, and olive oil. When pasta tastes this good on its own, the method of getting it from plate to mouth is a moot point.

Gourmet Texas Pasta, 1100 Sam Bass, Round Rock, 512/487-8241, www.gourmettexaspasta.com

Best Family Feast
Korea House

Need a break from pizza and casseroles for a big family dinner? Put down those newspaper coupons, and make your way over to Korea House for an exceptionally tasty and hearty meal. And if you find yourself sitting at the table and an argument breaks out over Uncle Chuy ruining the ending of Breaking Bad with spoilers, or Aunt Sumiko starts in on who re-gifted Christmas presents last year, fret not. The savvy servers can quash any family fracas with one wave of their delightfully distracting appetizer menu, featuring mesmerizing mandu gui and hypnotizing haemul pajun. Now, don’t let the fam go too crazy on the starter dishes: You know how Pee-Paw gets when he's too full by the time the barbecue short ribs come out.

Korea House, 2700 W. Anderson, 512/458-2477

Best Food Truck With a Mohawk
Guac N Roll

Don’t be surprised if you see a bright chartreuse truck with a spiky black Mohawk idling next to you in traffic. Instead, find out where they’re headed so that you can treat yourself to the freshest, non-GMOiest, most creative guacamole in these parts. Recently gone mobile after trying out a few permanent parking places, Guac N Roll offers vegetarian and clean-eating diners an assortment of made-to-order guacs, as well as salsas, tamales, granitas, and other punk rock delights. Follow @Guac_N_Roll to locate your next lunch.

Guac N Roll, 512/660-0234, www.guacnrollaustin.com

Best Frozen Treat for Bobcats
Rhea's Ice Cream

Allow your taste buds to go on an exotic vacation at Rhea's Ice Cream, located off the Square in San Marcos. The Texas State University alumna's avocado-coconut ice cream can also put your mind at ease – avocados and coconuts contain multiple vitamins, right? So, what we're saying is that this ice cream equals balance of the mind, body, and soul. It's that good. But don't take our word for it, just ask Rhea herself, who's usually seen working solo behind the freezer. And be sure to wish the 2009 Austin Ice Cream Festival second-place winner a happy third anniversary.

Rhea's Ice Cream, 318 N. LBJ, San Marcos, 512/667-7598, www.fb.com

Best Fundraising Bake Sale (Crisis Edition)
Austin Bakes for West

First, Austin Baked for Japan following the devastating tsunami in 2011. Then, Austin Baked for Bastrop just a few months later to soothe the burn of the worst wildfires in Texas history. Then, after the deadly explosion of a fertilizer plant leveled a chunk of the town of West, Texas, an intrepid team of Austin food bloggers, restaurateurs, and good-hearted citizens banded together for a citywide fundraising bake sale. Organized by Kathryn Hutchison, Austin Food Blogger Alliance president and head of "Sproutreach" at Greenling, the bake sale raised more than $18,000 for AmeriCares' relief efforts for our neighbors to the north.

Austin Bakes, www.austinbakes.com

Best Fundraising Bake Sale (Non-Crisis Edition)
Foreign & Domestic

Started in May 2012 by pastry chef Jodi Elliott, these bake sales were originally intended to raise funds to upgrade Foreign & Domestic's outdated and undersized ovens. Having reached her initial goal in record time, Elliott made the bake sales a going concern and donates 20% of quarterly proceeds to local charities that align with a progressive ethos. Past recipients of Elliott's largesse include Planned Parenthood, Mother's Milk Bank, and Foster Angels of Central Texas. Three Saturdays a month, locals line up, rain or shine, for Elliott's tasty and inventive pastries in service to both happy tummies and social justice.

Foreign & Domestic, 306 E. 53rd, 512/459-1010, www.fndaustin.com

Best Healthy Takeout
Snap Kitchen

If you expect a fresh, all-natural Scottish salmon dish to be available at a convenient chain location, we might have said you were insane – before Snap. With six locations around town, Snap Kitchen is serving up some fine butter-free, premade meals, just as they’ve been doing for over three years now. And it’s good food. Damn good. Try the Bison Quinoa Hash or the Chicken and Butternut Squash dishes if you don’t believe us. Sure, the prices are a bit higher than your average fast food joint, but the service is just as swift. Considering the quality of the food, at Snap, you get your money's worth.

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

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

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

4 more locations

Best How Many Licks Does It Take ...
Lick

We never said we were mathematicians, but the coconut, peanut butter, and chocolate swirl ice cream at Lick has made us believe in the infinite (and delectable) possibilities of vegan food. Co-founders Anthony Sobotik and Chad Palmatier opened Lick in the fall of 2011 in an effort to bring the homemade ice creams (of the vegan and nonvegan varieties) of their rural Texas youth to Austin. Honesty is the best policy at Lick, where ingredients come from local artisans and farmers, like Mill-King Market & Creamery, Round Rock Honey, and Delysia Chocolotair, among many tasty and wholesome others.

Lick Honest Ice Creams, 2032 S. Lamar, 512/363-5622, www.ilikelick.com

Lick Honest Ice Creams, 6555 Burnet Rd., 512/609-8029

Best Neighbor Comeback
Go Go Gourmet

Back in 2005, we gave Craig Long and crew a "BOA" for their little kitchen on the I-35 access road between a strip joint and an adult video store ("Best Green Light in a Red Light District"). Well, here we are, eight years later, with a less titillating title and a new location that feels more like home, tucked in the old Fricano's Deli location just a few blocks north of campus. Longhorn lunchers and neighborhood noshers alike know what fun it is to watch Craig and his now grown-up son Edgar once again sling the best casseroles, lasagnas, beet- and other to-die-for salads, entrées and sides for every diet, and desserts for days. Go in for a meal, and remember their names, because it will only take one visit, and they'll remember yours.

Go Go Gourmet, 104 E. 31st, 512/589-6063, www.facebook.com

Best Non-Awkward First Date
The Goodnight

You still haven’t decided where to take your crush on a date?! Wipe off those sweaty palms, swallow that breath strip, and put away your small-talk cheat sheet: The Goodnight’s here to rescue you from Faceplantville, pop. 1. Offering great daily drink specials, fancy pizzas, and a truffle oil Five Cheese Mac that will make your intended weak at the knees, the gentle yet gregarious Goodnight guarantees that you and your future boo will feel right at home. And if you find yourself in the first-date convo rut, stuck talking about the weather or what type of canned tuna you had for lunch, mosey over to the bowling alley and let some friendly competition fan the flames of "like."

The Goodnight, 2700 W. Anderson, 512/459-5000, www.thegoodnightaustin.com

Best Out-of-This-World Kombucha Flavors
Kosmic Kombucha

Kombucha lovers will argue until their next homebrew batch ferments about which local ‘bucha is best. Some for breakfast, some for hangovers, all delicious. The creative concoctions of Kosmic Kombucha are handcrafted locally and boast fresh, nutritious ingredients. All the recipes are based with organic oolong and green teas, and the 14 (and counting) flavors vary by location. Some of the faves are Mint Julep (organic white grape juice, fresh squeezed orange and lemon juice, fresh mint), Texas Blues (organic blueberries, fresh basil, lime, and agave), and Black Magic (organic blackberries and raspberries, organic ginger, spirulina, and agave). Otherworldly.

kosmickombucha, www.kosmickombucha.com/

Best PFG Milkshake
The Alamo's Chocolate Chip Cookies Shake

You may want to replace that beer with something a little bit more G-rated. I'm sorry, did I break your concentration? I didn't mean to do that. Please, continue, you were saying something about best intentions? Hear us out. This is some serious gourmet shit. The chocolate chip cookies shake at the Alamo Drafthouse is more than a little PFG. It's a little bit chocolate, a little bit cookie, and a whole lotta shake and makes us rethink our G-rated categorization at the beginning of this blurb. OK, let's call it a day at NC-17 – for language, gratuitous violence, and the unassailable urge to dance like Uma.

Alamo Drafthouse Village, 2700 W. Anderson, 512/861-7030, drafthouse.com

Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, 1120 S. Lamar, 512/861-7040, drafthouse.com

Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz, 320 E. Sixth, 512/861-7020, drafthouse.com

2 more locations

Best Place for Breakfast and a Show
Counter Cafe

Sure, there are other breakfast spots in town known for plate-sized pancake goodness, but Counter Cafe is a fierce contender in any breakfast roundup. This tiny eatery – housed in the location of the last surviving GM Steakhouse – also whips up incredible chicken burgers, quail, and home fries that'll have you in tears of joy, Home Fry. And thanks to the tight floor plan, you can watch your meal take shape in the capable hands of the chefs. But even in watching their every move, you won't figure out how they get everything to taste so perfect (our working theory is clarified butter and magic).

Counter Cafe, 626 N. Lamar, 512/708-8800, www.countercafe.com

Counter Cafe, 1914-A E. Sixth, 512/351-9961, www.countercafe.com

Best Taco Window
Taco-Mex

Just when we thought that there was nothing new to love about tacos. At Taco-Mex's (should be patented) taco window, you put a li'l money in, hot tacos come out, you cover them with salsa, and you stuff them in your mouth. That's all there is, that's all you need. Now with an additional brand-spanking-new sit-down location on East 12th, it's even easier to enjoy tacos for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Thank you, Taco-Mex.

Taco-Mex, 2944 E. 12th, 512/524-1880

Taco-Mex, 2611 Manor Rd., 512/524-0860

Best Unexpectedly Real Coffeehouse
Velveteen Coffee House

You might not expect to find a real coffeehouse in a food trailer, but thoughtful owners Uri and Esther Ondras make you feel right at home. In addition to using Texas Coffee Traders organic fair trade to brew their brew, the Ondras chat you up and stock board games and offer specials like Toddler Tuesdays (kids get free hot cocoa, 9-11am) to make you feel comfy and cuddly. You can grab 'n' go, but we recommend sticking around, as the Velveteen is more of a sit-down-and-stay-a-while kinda place. And once a coffeehouse becomes real, it can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.

Velveteen Coffeehouse, 2512 Rio Grande, 512/401-7425, www.facebook.com

Best Vegan Burrito
The Vegan Yacht's Freeto Burrito

While it's possible to enjoy vegan versions of Frito Pie, it's even better to enjoy it as imagined by the enterprising plant-based punks at the Vegan Yacht. The husband-and-wife duo of Mike and Danielle Wood elevate the deeply Texan foodstuff by pairing tempeh chili with the signature corn chips, smooshing it into a giant tortilla (add avocado or vegan cheese for a nominal fee). They then grill it, wrap it, and serve it with a little cup of Cholula hot sauce. Pair it with a cupcake from the neighboring Capital City Bakery (2012 "Best of Austin" Best Vegan Sweeties winners) and you've got the perfect vegan lunch.

The Vegan Yacht, 2908 Fruth, www.theveganyacht.com

Best Way to Eat Your Brussels Sprouts
Uchiko's Lemon Chili Brussels Sprouts

Tiny green balls of leafy nutrition are only moderately appealing, until you eat them at Uchiko. A staple agemono menu item, these tasty beauties have become equally popular to anything else on the superior menu, and with good reason. Crispy-fried brussels sprouts drenched in a complex lemon chili sauce hit every taste bud in savory, sweet, spicy, tangy glory. The first time you savor the now-famous dish, you will be drooling for the recipe, now available online. But there ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.

Uchiko, 4200 N. Lamar #140, 512/916-4808, www.uchiaustin.com/uchiko

Best Way to Indulge Your Need for Cheese
Vegan Queso by Food For Lovers

Chili con queso may be an Austin Tex-Mex staple, but it's also fattening. Full of calories. Did we mention artery clogging? Oh, and, to boot – for the vegans among us – made from milk! So what's a dedicated cheesehead to do in the era of fit living and healthy dining? With Food for Lovers' Vegan Queso, the answer is: keep on eating! This jar of tasty goodness will make you forget you ever loved Velveeta, or even real cheese. Who knew that water and nutritional yeast when blended together with the right amount of spice could taste so cheesy – and more to the point, so damn good! Austinites Chris and Crystal Tate, the masterminds behind this creamy delight, have hit the big time: With zero fat and just 20 calories per serving, it's Tex-Mex with all the taste and none of the guilt.

Food for Lovers, 5350 Burnet Rd. #305, 512/909-6157, www.foodforlovers.com

Best-Kept Secret on Burnet
Pars Mediterranean Supermarket & Deli

Tucked away in the Crossroads Shopping Center, surrounded by the flashy blur of grab-and-gos and chain restaurants, lies this tiny, unassuming gem, a diamond in the rough, a delicate fig tenderly ripening in the shade amid a jungle of barbaric fast-casual weeds. If this sounds too poetic, you clearly have not yet tried the zereshk polo, which will have you reciting ruba'i, ghazal, and mathnawi like a boss. Yes, Pars is classified as "Greek/Mediterranean," and yes, they have falafel and hummus and gyros, but the star here is the solidly Persian cuisine: juicy chicken kabobs, sumptuous eggplant khoresht, inimitable pomegranate soup, and the aforementioned zereshk polo - tender chicken swimming in spiced broth to pour on a platter of rice fortified with sauteed onion, dried barberries, crushed pistachio, and slivered almond. Oh, sweet, sweet Suite 502 - the best-kept secret on Burnet - you are lyrics to our lips.

Pars Mediterranean Supermarket & Deli, 8820 Burnet Rd. #502, 512/452-4888, www.austinparsdeli.com

Critics: Entertainment
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