The Austin Chronicle Restaurant Poll

2009 Critics Picks

Best New Cocktails

La Condesa

Inventive and unique, Junior Merino’s creations feature unusual ingredients, homemade infused salts and spirits, and are expertly prepared by the friendly bar staff.

Best Brunch on Congress

Woodland

For egg lovers, the Morning Wood is the dish to get. Two eggs and four items of your choice from a list of 11, all in a homey, welcoming atmosphere.

Best Brunch on the Lake

Cafe Blue

Open once again, still as a 100% outdoor venue. Gorgeous views and good quality food.

Best Wine Dinners

TIE: TRIO, Mirabelle

TRIO only does a few, but they’re carefully researched works of art. Wine lovers owe Mirabelle a debt of gratitude for its consistently excellent food-and-wine pairings, as well as its huge number of dinners over the years.

Best Frito Pie

Spec's on Hwy 71

Go for the two bagger. Texas comfort food at its best.

Best Nonsecret Use of Jalapeños

Best Secret Use of Jalapeño Peppers

Best Cheap Eats for Two: Continental Class

Aquarelle's Bar Dinner

A light dinner for two and a bottle of wine for $50 – the type of meal you hope for in a Provence bistro on a summer day.

Dim Sum for the True Aficionados

TIE: Shanghai Restaurant, Chinatown

There are now two places in town that are doing authentic, real-deal dim sum, served off the cart (in some circumstances, even cooked on the cart at Chinatown) and from the menu.

Best New York Neighborhood Pizzeria

Niki’s Pizza North (because Niki is there)

You could only find pizza this good at a little hole-in-the-wall, tucked away in one of the Big Apple boroughs. Perfect thin crust, great ingredients, and the proper amount of sauce and cheese.

Best South Indian Street Food Eaten at a Table in North Austin

Bombay Express

You order at the counter from a huge menu of South Indian vegetarian dishes, wait a couple of minutes, and poof! Culinary street-food art, fast and inexpensive, and deliciously divine.

Best Throwback (Way Back) Southern Blueplate Diner

Arkie's Grill

This gem of a joint on the Eastside serves up fresh-cooked, big-taste food like our dear Southern grandmothers used to make. Breakfast and lunch only, with blue-plate specials daily.

Best Exclusive Foodie Splurge

TIE: Uchi, Aquarelle

It’s not often that poor food writers can afford meals like this, but when we can, it doesn’t get any better than these two: The omakase dinner at Uchi and the menu gourmand tasting dinner paired with wines at Aquarelle.

Best Lebanese Street Food

Byblos Falafel & Deli

It’s not a stall in the markets of Beirut, but here, everything is cooked right in front of you and tastes exactly like it should in the old country. Fresh and fantastic.

Best Bowl of Soft Polenta

Asti

Served at lunch. Three choices will meet the needs of most diners. Carnivores love the grilled house-made sausage and tomato-sauce fresca with shavings of Parmesan, but there’s also a vegetarian choice, as well as one with shrimp.

Best Hybrid Sandwich

Whip In's Panaani Sandwiches

The crisp homemade naan (Indian flat bread) makes a perfect panini pocket for eclectic combinations such as curried potatoes and provolone or Gruyere and truffle oil.

Best Pork Product

Smoked Hungarian Pork Loin at Phoenicia Bakery

The best-in-town roast chicken shawarma with oodles of that supergarlicky tzatziki sauce from Malek and the gang.

Totally Texas Thai

Thai Fresh

You don’t have to wonder where your meal came from because virtually everything served at Thai Fresh – seafood, beef, chicken, eggs, vegetables, and herbs – is locally sourced from area farmers, ranchers, and the Gulf of Mexico. The only ingredients that aren’t local come directly from Thailand.

Best and First Restaurant Garden

Eastside Cafe

Elaine Martin and Dorsey Barger planted the first restaurant garden 15 years ago, setting an important trend that many others have followed since.

Best Charcuterie

Enoteca Vespaio

Excellent selection of fine cured meats and in-house made pâté, rillettes, and other beastie delights.

Best Ever-Changing Wine List and Menu

Taste Select Wines

A supercarefully selected list of wines that change pretty much daily and match the seasonal offerings from chef Bill McGrory makes this wine bar worth visiting often.

Best Caesar Cocktail

Perla's

Nobody else makes a Caesar cocktail in town, so kudos to Perla’s mixologist Ben Craven for incorporating this savory classic into his eclectic cocktail menu.

Best Tex-Indianized Chili

Whip In

The real name is Whip Indianized Texas Beef & Beer Chili, but what matters is it’s made with local Independence Bootlegger Brown Ale, Indian spices, and lots of love.

Best Octopus Dish

Tostadas de Pulpo at La Condesa

The savory, crunchy bites of perfectly grilled octopus in Veracruz sauce are delicious and unlike any dish around town.

Best Cookie Fix

Mark Chapman’s build-your-own-cookie concept is the best thing to happen since, well, cookies.

Best Night Club with Brazilian Food

Rio's at Vintage Lounge

Rio’s popular Brazilian salgadinhos, soups, and salads have found a permanent home at this retro-hip Downtown lounge for lunch and dinner.

Best Spicy Sushi

Sushi bomb at Tomodachi

Four pieces of assorted nigiri sushi topped with a green-onion-and-fresh-wasabi relish that will open up your sinuses on the worst allergy day and get your taste buds begging for more.

Best Retail-Restaurant Combination

TIE: Quality Seafood, Asia Market

Quality Seafood is the go-to place for fresh wholesale and retail seafood, but what few people know is that it’s also one of the best seafood cafes in town. And Asia Market prepares some of the most authentic Chinese food in town from the back of an Asian grocery.

Best Excuse to Take Your Kids Out for Dessert

TIE: Hey Cupcake, Sugar Mama's Bakery

Whether you choose the fluffy cake and old-fashioned icing at hey cupcake! or the moist, denser cake topped with heavenly sweet tufts at Sugar Mama’s, indulging your kids and yourself has never seemed sweeter.

Best Meatballs

Albondigas at Malaga

This lean, heavily smoked ham sold from Phoenicia’s refrigerator section is exquisite on sandwiches, in soups, and in stews, imparting that old country accent to just about everything it touches.

Best Thing to Drip All Over the Front of Ed Ward’s (or Anybody’s) Shirt

BBQ That’s REALLY Worth Getting Up Early on Saturday and Driving 50-Miles Each Way

Best Beef That’s Not a Prime-Aged Rib Eye

Best Crawfish

Quality Seafood Market

In the spring/summer season, Quality Seafood is crawfish headquarters both for those inclined to boil their own and those wanting to eat them prepared (Saturdays only). In the fall, Quality makes and freezes countless dozens of yummy crawfish tamales ready for the holiday season. Customers in the know keep up with crawfish availability via the weekly e-mail newsletter sent out by proprietor Carol Huntsberger.

Best Outdoor Dining North of Lady Bird Lake

TRIO at the Four Seasons

TRIO is justly known for its steaks, seafood, wines, and service, but the dining ambience deserves quality points also, especially on the terrace overlooking green rolling grounds down to the lake. It’s pleasant any time of day but especially enchanting at twilight, with river zephyrs wafting through the oak trees.

Best Restaurant Makeover and Outdoor Dining South of Lady Bird Lake

Paggi House CLOSED

The venerable stone structure built in the 1840s on a bluff south of the river and housing a restaurant since the 1970s has undergone an eye-opening, sophisticated face lift. It now encompasses the city’s best open-air courtyard bar, and the old house on the hill wears cascading skirts of terrific outdoor dining rooms with views of Downtown.

Best Bag of Hot Doughnut Holes

parkside

There’s much to love at chef-owner Shawn Cirkiel’s parkside on Sixth Street, but high on the list are the wicked, wonderful doughnut holes ($7), dusted with sugar and cinnamon and served piping hot in a brown paper bag. They’re so perfect that you hardly need the three rich dipping sauces that come alongside.

Best Bowl of Beans

The menu at this family-run taverna just north of the UT campus is chock-full of fresh, flavorful, handmade Greek dishes, and its bean stew is a work of art – a substantial bowl of huge white beans, vegetables, and herbs melting into a tasty broth. A hearty and delectable meal unto itself.

Most Adorable Quail Eggs

Cissi's Market & Wine Bar

We’re enchanted by chef Rebecca Meeker’s All-Day Breakfast Salad – crisp hearts of romaine lettuce and house-cured bacon lardoons tossed in a mustardy vinaigrette with grilled baguette toasts and two tiny, perfect quail eggs, sunny-side up!

Best Porcine Lollipop

Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill

These guys impale a tender chunk of pork loin on a skewer, wrap it in applewood smoked bacon, paint it with a bourbon-maple glaze, and roast it for a mouthwatering party treat.

Most Creative Use of Parts

Olivia

Chef/owner James Holmes wowed diners with his interpretation of a classic James Beard recipe for lamb’s tongue fricassee, describing the dainty offal bites as “South Austin foie gras.”

Most Decadent Use of Bacon

Shuggie's

Shuggie’s offers chicken-fried bacon as a burger enhancement. Enough said.

Best Soup Wizardry

Whisk Handcrafted Cuisine

Chef de cuisine Jacob Zavala’s voluptuous Catalan carrot-and-ginger soup, a blend of roasted carrots and spices thickened with bread in the Spanish tradition, made us shout, “olé!”

Most Comforting Pound Cake

Nothing Bundt Cakes

The appeal of these homey beauties is their fine quality and utter simplicity: pure, affordable, retro comfort.

Best Slice of Buffalo With Designer Spuds

Hudson's on the Bend

Chefs here drape perfect medium-rare slices of buffalo tenderloin over an intriguing mound of Shiner Bock, ancho chile, and garlic mashed potatoes, then nap the whole thing with a tangy lime and Bock “beer blanc” for a positively transcendent take on meat and potatoes.

Best Latte Art

Quack's 43rd Street Bakery

Coffee and hot chocolate lovers gladly wait a few extra seconds for day manager Adam Cotorceanu to create his signature lion’s head on a foam canvas.

Best Farm-to-Table Brunch

Olivia

Dishes made from local pork, chicken, eggs, cheese, and organic produce, complemented by hot biscuits with house-made lemon curd and marmalade. Heavenly!

Best New Food and Coffee Venue in Lakeway

Ate. Cafe

Residents of Lakeway are lucky to have the lovely little Ate Cafe serving locally roasted coffees along with fabulous house-made breakfast pastries, hot sandwiches, salads, savory tarts, and cookies. All are lovingly prepared by chefs Jessica and Rodolfo Buonocore, also proprietors of Ate Foods home-delivery service.

Best 21st-Century Diner

Counter Cafe

Traditional diners absolutely have their place, but Counter Cafe has upped the ante with fresh, beautifully prepared, often locally sourced diner dishes – pimento cheese sandwiches, meat loaf, burgers, and excellent breakfasts all day. It’s teeny, so eating at off-peak times can be more relaxing.

Best Caribbean Basin Delights

TIE: Cafe Mangu, El Zunzal

This one’s a tie between the Cuban lechón pork with a side of mojo sauce at Cafe Mangu and the pork carnitas with fried yucca and curtido slaw at El Zunzal.

Most Regal Cajun Soul Food With a Social Conscience

Nubian Queen Lola's Cajun Soul Food Kitchen

Her Majesty Nubian Queen Lola doles out not only some of the best and most affordable Cajun food in town but equal doses of food-love for those less fortunate.

Best Meal Twixt a Bun

TIE: Tam Deli, Café de Bella

Vietnam’s bahn mi sandwich so solidly kicks the butt of any other sandwich out there, and the two best versions in town are here.

Kao Soi Just Like in Chiang Mai (or Better)

Madam Mam's

Mam’s version of this robust red curry noodle soup solidly tops those famous versions at Samoie Jai and Lamduan Faham, found along Chiang Mai’s Faham Road (aka “Khao Soi Road”).

Most Authentically Chinese

TIE: Asia Cafe, Chen’s Noodle House, Pao’s Mandarin House

All three of these offer food cooked with no thought toward the ubiquitous Chinese-American menu that totally dominates the genre. These are the real deal.

Your Holiday (including Chanukah!) Tamale Headquarters

Curra's Grill

Curra’s tamales are made with masa and pure vegetable oil (not lard), and the list of varieties you can order has expanded to include several that might even be kosher: salmon, crab, chicken with green sauce, black bean, cheese with rajas, pinto bean with jalapeño, and mole have joined the popular pork, chicken, bean, sweet, and veggie varieties.

Best Hot Dog Wagon

This place really makes you understand the affection felt for hot-dog carts in northern cities. The quality of the franks is superb, whether enjoyed Chicago-style or with “chili, cheese, and onions” the Texas way.

Don’t Let the Name Turn You Away

Dog-Friendliest Patio Near Barton Springs

P. Terry's Burger Stand

After taking Fido and Fang to frolic in the spillway on a hot day, there is no better wet-dog-friendly patio than P. Terry’s. The burgers and fries are terrific, the patio shady, and there’s even a fun sandbox for the human kids.

Phoenix Rising From the Ashes Award

Corazon at Castle Hill CLOSED

When Cathe Dailey decided to enlist the help of chef David Dailey and longtime staff to repurpose Castle Hill’s increasingly unaffordable “fine dining” into a superior Mexican food establishment, she was one step ahead of the economic downturn. Her foresight ensures that the splendid “Castle Hill” flavors can still be enjoyed, at prices that suit the times.

Best Place to Film a Depression-era Gangster Movie

The Good Knight

This blind-fronted, brick speakeasy is right outta the movies, from the glass-polishing bartender who bothers to learn your name to the authentic 1920s family photographs on the walls.

Best Urban Campfire

TREAT

This little dessert trailer in the South Austin Trailer Park enclosure has an ever-burning brazier for the creation of artisan s’mores, which can be purchased by the “kit” for $5.99. The unlooked-for ambience created by the fire, the lawn chairs, and the spreading oaks under the stars is pure, priceless Austin.

Most Authentic Seventies Decor

Top Notch Hamburgers

The barbed-wire plaques, roadrunners, and Texas-in-the-Space-Age spiffiness of the Top Notch dining room haven’t changed one bit since 1971. This is not a “retro” tribute or “loving re-creation” of Texas in the Seventies: This is the real thing! Not to mention, some of the best burgers in town.

Best Little Italian Joint in Buda

Nonna Gina's Italian Restaurant

Chef and former professional pasta-maker Reno Lanzilotti has opened a no-frills, family-friendly cafe in old-town Buda that’s serving up casual Italian dishes like nonna used to make. Rustic pizzas, seafood pastas, lasagna, meatballs, and the crispiest calamari, often served directly by the chef. Go hungry.

Best New Craft Cocktail

The great news is that there are so many we couldn't list them. Austin is emerging as a cocktail capital.

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