2010 Critics Picks
Best Fried Pie & Ice Cream Combo
TIE: Lambert’s Downtown Barbecue, Monument Café
Toothsome apple slices encased in impossibly flaky pastry paired with burnt sugar caramel ice cream at the former and a hot, juicy blackberry turnover topped with a luxurious scoop of vanilla custard at the later are both sheer perfection.
Most Amazing Meat and Potatoes
The kitchen here turns out fork-tender bison tenderloin paired with heavenly Shiner Bock/ancho chile mashed potatoes under a tangy Shiner aioli, elevating simple meat and potatoes to the stratosphere of great flavor.
Fried Chicken Worth Pulling Out of Traffic to Eat
The inviting aroma of Mama Haddad’s take-out fried chicken – tender and spicy under a crisp mahogany crust - makes you want to pull over and eat it right now!
Most Comforting Locavore Winter Bistro Meal
Texas French Bread
We started with a Salad Lyonnaise of fresh, local greens, house croutons, and lardoons topped with a glorious farm egg and finished with braised Thunderheart bison and winter root vegetables in a buttery crust, completely comforted.
Best Chicken-Fried Rib-eye
The huge, tender Richardson’s Farm rib-eye encased in a golden, crackly crust and napped with peppery cream gravy is my favorite brunch dish.
Best Fresh-Squeezed Lemonade/Limeade
Tall, frosty glasses of these sweet-tart beverages delivered with a glistening bar shaker refill are the ultimate in liquid refreshment.
Best Use of Sugar and Spice
While others swoon over doughnuts slathered with custard, maple syrup, or chocolate, I go for the Naughty & Nice crusted with cinnamon sugar - simple, satisfying, and to the point.
Best Sweet Spicy Dessert
The signature Tabasco Cheesecake here is subtle and delicate with a tantalizing chile tingle that tickles the tongue.
Most Amazing Flavors of Summer
Creamed corn off the cob and simple grilled asparagus managed to outshine even the best seafood here on a summer visit.
Best Farmers’ Market Breakfast
Restaurant I’ll Miss the Most
Best Jazz & Juice
Their Tuesday night Kat Edmonson shows were a wine and jazz lover’s bliss. (Bye bye Kat and come home soon!)
Best Lobster Grits
With velvety texture, alarming wonderful aromas and sumptuous flavors, it’s the perfect dish.
Most Critical Thinking About Drinking
Where liquor counts
Best Happy Hour Deal
Discover great food and a masterful wine list in a comfortable setting, all at half price; Monday-Saturday 5-8pm.
Most Beautiful New View at the Lake
The food’s a bit pricey but the view is breathtaking. Take someone you love.
Favorite Indian Street Food
TIE: Teji, Bombay Express
Start at Teji’s for the mixed vegetable pakoda, samosa chaat, and pani puri, then take a short drive south to Bombay Express for the excellent khasta kachori, fried idli, and the spicy paneer roll.
Most Succulent Chinese BBQ Roasted Meats
Moist and succulent char siu pork, non-greasy roast ducks, the best juicy marinated chicken, crispy-skinned Peking ducks, and delightful little quails in special salt.
Best Spanish (meaning Spain) Sandwich
Longhorn Po-Boys & Falafel
The magnificent “Puerco Manchego”, made with roasted and pulled pork tenderloin, jamón serrano, Manchego cheese, green-apple slices, paprika aioli, sautéed shallots, and mesclun greens.
Favorite Reason to Slaughter a Pig
The barbecued pork from from Kerry and Tootsie at Snow’s BBQ in Lexington. It’s the best thing to get there, and it flies smooth under the radar of the brisket-eaters (although their brisket is nothing to sneeze at either).
Bahn Mi to Beat All Bahn Mi
Lots of places try but none of their competition can touch Tâm and Tran’s bahm mi (Vietnamese sandwiches), especially the one filled with rich, grilled lemongrass beef. Many other versions available also.
Transport Me to a Borough Pizza
Walk into Niki’s North blindfolded, take the blindfold off, and the look, the aromas, the menu, and especially the delicious thin crust pizza will make you think you’ve been hijacked to Brooklyn.
Best (and Only) Hand-Shaved Noodles
Fantastic as either the stir fried pork and veggie noodles, or the noodles with pork and black beans made with George’s dao xiao mian, or “knife-cut” noodles. Bump it up higher with a bowl of the lamb soup with thick noodles and some excellent scallion cakes.
Best Use of a Restaurant Garden
Because most of the stuff that Sap and Mam grow in the vegetable and herb garden cannot be bought here (a cornucopia of Thai eggplants and chiles, herbs and spices like 5 different types of Thai basils, chaplu, and fresh galangal) the food tastes that much more authentic.
Best Locovore Experience
Attend any of the delicious and adventurous dinners staged by Jesse Griffiths and Tamara Mayfield of Dai Due Supper Club to find out what can be prepared with truly fresh and pristine local ingredients.
Best Way to Silence the Unctuous Lambs
Dimassi's Mediterranean Buffet
All-you-can-eat lamb shanks at DiMassi's – sure, it's a buffet, but there are piles of unctuous marrow-laden lamb shanks waiting to be scarfed. Lamb shanks, people!
Most Laid Back Italian Dining
Reno and Julie have created an inviting cocoon to envelop you in Buda, with authentic, delicious Italian food to match. It’s like dinner at your Italian aunt’s, if you had one.
Most Amazing Jingle Bell Pork
Pork in chile cazcabel sauce at Sazón; tender cubes of porcine goodness bathed in a rich, complex sauce made from cazcabel (or jingle-bell) chiles, nestled in a handmade corn tortilla. Hard to beat.
The Chinese Dish I Never Thought I’d Like
Best Under-the-Radar Hamburger
The Blue Cheese and Bacon Burger here is a winner. Everything about this burger is perfection, all of the ingredients are first class, it’s big enough for a big-boy appetite, and for a dollar more it comes with excellent tater tots, o-rings, fries, or curly fries.
These tamales taste like they are whipped with helium-infused lard, so good they melt in your mouth. Huge, but you’ll have room for excellent pupusas, delish yucca frita, and the world’s best fried plantain plate.
Favorite Snack on a Hot Afternoon
Spicy Peel and Eat Shrimp with Escabeche at Perla's
I love these jumbo shrimp tossed with homemade crunchy vegetable escabeche, washed down with a pint of beer, a glass of rosé, or the daily sparkling cocktail.
Favorite Hot and Crispy Snack
Dal Pups at Whip-In
Chandan "Mom" Topiwala won my heart with these addicting spicy patties of garbanzo, lentil, and select Whip-Indianized spices served with a tamarind-date-chili dipping sauce. Also great with a pint of beer or glass of rosé.
Summeriest Happy Hour Snack
Scallop carpaccio at Aquarelle
Chef Leonard Reese came up with this beauty: paper-thin slices of sea scallop perched atop homemade orange granité, Thai chili slices, and chili oil. Ohhhhh.
Best Place for Your Bacon Fix
From a crispy stirring stick in a bacon-infused vodka Bloody Mary to a chocolate-covered garnish on dessert, Frank can dish out the bacon like no place else.
Most Succulent Pork Dish
The Carillon's crisp pork belly
Crisp on the outside, falling-apart juicy on the inside, with a sweet-spicy "Diablo" glaze and a crunchy Asian pear salad to balance it all out. Serious swine!
Best Nouvelle Torta
Pulled Pork Torta at Izzoz Tacos
Sloooow roasted carnita-style pork, seasoned with ancho chile, served in a toasted bolillo with pickled slaw, red onions and chipotle aioli...oh, and those hand cut garlic fries!
Favorite Place to Hold Up the Bar
The friendly smile and killer cocktails by Olivier Calmant, the eclectic vinyl spins by owner Pierre Pelegrin, and tasty bistro fare make me happy. Please stay off my bar stool.
Favorite Non-Traditional Hot Dog
Buffalo Hottie at Man Bites Dog
Vienna beef frank with blue cheese crumbles, buffalo wing sauce & green onions, lovingly set in a kolache-style bun...make that two, please!
Dish I Will Miss Forever
Picadinho de porco at Sampaio's
I miss so much about Sampaio's, but thinking about the picadinho makes me cry. Chef Johnny: send me the recipe, please!
Best Use of Chilis in a Cocktail
TIE: Good Knight, Paggi House
Muddled pear and fresh jalapeño, pear brandy, mescal and sparkling wine make the Endless Summer; The Redbud features muddled mariachi peppers and sea salt, Tito's vodka, grapefruit bitters, house-made grenadine, and lime juice.
The Gibson Lounge
The Trailer burger at the Gibson rocks with a 1/4 pound patty topped with bacon and American or Swiss cheese sandwiched between Round Rock donuts. I kid you not!
The Roasted Banana and Brown Sugar milkshake at 24 Diner
It is Bananas Foster in a glass, topped with whipped cream, and yes, it will stun your brain, gloriously.
Best Greenbelt View
The breezy balcony at Red’s Porch offers a breezy, soothing view of the Greenbelt (including the roar of the Falls), but is tastefully far enough away to preserve the privacy of the hikers, bathers, and other nature-lovers below.
Best Post-Modern Retro Throwback Dessert Experience
The Flambe Cart at The HighBall
When they wheel the Flambe Cart out, in all its polished wooden glory, you will feel like you are eating at a Vegas Casino in 1962. When the chef lights the brandy, your table is the center of the room; and the Highball’s Cherry Jubilee Bread Pudding is even better than the build-up.
Best Argument So Far for Living Foods
While the idea of Living Foods is exciting, the reality can often be a jaw-exhausting pile of raw vegetables. Not so at BEETS, where the all-raw cuisine is delicious, memorable, and a pleasure to eat.
Best Classic French Pastries
La Boite was perceptive enough to grab Pastry Chef Extraordinaire Barrie Cullinan to provide their pastries. Cullinan takes Croissants, Pain au Chocolate, and Brioche to new levels of flaky perfection that must be experienced to be believed.
Best Place to Build Your Own Sandwich
No matter how misguided your ingredient selection, the Fricano’s family will be able to assemble your sandwich creation with such flair that it will be rendered, not just edible, but worthy of being named after you and added to the menu.
The Chef is a Genius, the Ambiance is Perfect, But Have I Mentioned the Hassle-Free, Non-Valet Parking?
At the Carillion, just inside UT campus on MLK, renowned Chef Josh Watkins has created a triumphant menu that combines the best of tradition and innovation: it’s the perfect place to take the Folks. But there’s more: no looking for a parking space or handing the keys to a stranger, even though the area is a parking desert. You drive into the underground garage, park, and take the elevator up into the restaurant. Elegant, low-stress, and free.
Best Eastern Mediterranean Dessert
It’s likely that minuscule Flying Falafel near campus is the only restaurant in town whose menu is a mashup of Jordanian dishes and New Orleans’ classics. It’s all fresh and flavorful, but one standout is the succulent pan-Eastern Mediterranean dessert called kanafeh, made from mild white cheese and crispy shredded phyllo, sprinkled with pistachios and soaked in sweet syrup. Heaven.
Best Housemade Frozen Custard
Monument Café specializes in southern comfort food, not least of which is silken frozen custard made from scratch. Classic vanilla evokes memories of Texas childhood summers, the chocolate version is a satisfying combination of bitter and sweet, but strawberry ushers a new world order into the frozen custard universe. It’s brilliant.
Outdoor Bar Space
Michael Paggi, the Italian entrepreneur who first brought ice to Austin in the 1870s, is probably smiling down on the open-air bar in the courtyard of what was once his family home. Paggi House has been a restaurant since 1970, but the courtyard bar, revamped in 200?, is an incredibly pleasant venue under the stars, complete with trickling water sculpture over the old cistern. Oh, and the drinks are good, too.
Best New Regional Mexican Food (Trailer)
Holy mole, chefs Iliana de la Vega and Ernesto Torrealba are elevating Mexican cooking in Austin to a new plane. Transported to Austin from their world-renowned restaurant of the same name in Oaxaca, these talented authorities on Mexican cuisines offer different dishes on different days, including subtly complex moles, softly steamed tamales from different regions, stuffed masa appetizers called molotes, tacos and tostadas with fillings like nopales, tinga verde, and chileajo.
Most Satisfying Bowl of Polenta
Asti’s creamy soft polenta begins life as heirloom flint corn from Anson Mills in South Carolina. Perfectly cooked, it’s served in a big bowl and topped with a fat, grilled, homemade sausage, lashed with fresh tomato sauce, and blessed with Parmesan shavings. One of the most satisfying lunches ever. Ever.
Best Urban Grocery
With a to-go counter selling hot food and sandwiches, weekly wine tastings, and a terrific selection of local specialty items, the Royal Blue has tapped into the downtown condo scene in a big way. There are two locations downtown, and they deliver.
Best Spicy Fish
House special crispy fish at Asia Cafe
If you haven’t been to the Café at Asia Market yet, just go. Order the House special crispy fish-- chunks of crispy white fish in a fiery garlic and chili broth, atop lightly steamed bok choy—and you won’t be disappointed.
Best Place to See Your Food
Thai Fresh owner, Jam Santichat serves authentic food the way they do it in Thailand- from a display case at the front of the restaurant (only there are no flies). Everything looks (and is) so mouthwateringly delicious, you’ll have a tough time choosing.
Shrimp chilaquiles at Garrido's
These chilaquiles are made with thick, homemade strips of tortilla, plenty of tender shrimp, then smothered with a tangy, creamy chili sauce. Original, yet oh so comforting.
Best Taqueria You've Never Heard of
Whenever I drive south on US 183 I try to stop at this tiny taqueria across from the airport. Everything is made from scratch and tastes delicious. Their green salsa is practically drinkable.
Best Coconut Cream Pie
Crisp pie crust, Light and airy coconut filling piled high with meringue; just like grandma used to make.
Best Place to be Seen
Stylish, urban hangout seeks mod clientele. Must love absinthe cocktails, local food, silent films and accordion music in a bustling, crowded setting.
Best Recycling of an Arby’s Sign
Best Shaved Ice
The Mangonada at the Snow Cone
The ‘Mangonada’ is a mix of mango ice, fresh squeezed lime, tangy chamoy, and chile salt. It’s tongue-clacking and highly addictive.
Though Schnitzel has been handed down (after a fashion) to the modern-day Texan as our beloved Chicken-Fried Steak, the original German version of breaded cutlets is a culinary triumph of its own. European Bistro serves up the quintessential version of, not only Weinerschnitzel, but Chicken Schnitzel, Pork Schnitzel, and the heavenly Jaagerschnitzel, which comes to the table drowned in fresh mushroom gravy.
Curbside Cuisine Goes Big in Austin
Due to an unforgiving economy, the food trailer scene in Austin has exploded (in a good way)
The Eastside is finally coming into its own as a destination for diners
Central and South America Arrive
Ceviche may very well be the new sushi
Sushi Takes Over Austin
In a town dominated by Tex-Mex and barbecue, something fishy is happening
Cocktails: Drink Fresh
The new brand of cocktail is neither cheap nor fast, but for many, it's the only way to go