The Austin Chronicle Restaurant Poll

2012 Critics Picks

Best Crème Brulee

Best Chocolate Pudding

Little Mason jars of heaven in the dessert case. OMG. Virginia B. Wood

Best Consistently Delicious Sip & Stroll Event Party Dishes

TIE: La Condesa, Ranch 616

Whether it’s Rene Ortiz’ tasty tacos in tiny, luxurious bacon fat tortillas or Antonio Vidal’s fiery venison chili served over a bag of Fritos, we can always count on these guys to turn out scrumptious party fare. Virginia B. Wood

Best Beef Tongue Dishes

Ned Elliot at Foreign & Domestic

I’d probably only eaten beef tongue twice in my life before I met this guy. Now, if Ned’s cooking it, I’m eating it. Virginia B. Wood

Pastry Chefs to Watch This Year

Laura Sawacki at La Condesa, Janina O’Leary at Trace at the W, Callie Speer at Swift’s Attic, Jodi Elliot at Foreign & Domestic, Alex Manley at Elizabeth Street Café, and Kendall Melton at Contigo.

Virginia B. Wood

Best Brisket Enchiladas


Chef Paul Petersen’s skills as a pit master are evident when you sink your teeth into a plate of his delectable brisket enchiladas. It’s the best plate of updated, authentic Tex-Mex food we’ve encountered in many years. Virginia B. Wood

Best Barbecue Side Dishes

Opie's Barbecue

Though we’ve devoted fans of all the quality meats here, the excellent side dishes: spicy creamed corn, rich butter beans, decadent tater tot casserole, and toothsome pinto beans are now our favorite barbecue side dishes, bar none. Virginia B. Wood

Best Golden Eggs

Walton's Fancy and Staple

These nutmeg-scented, buttery little cakes are baked in oval shapes and rolled in cinnamon-sugar. They are sinfully good with coffee. Virginia B. Wood

Best Northwest Neighborhood Hang-out

Cat Mountain Grill

Though we missed this place during our upscale, sit-down burger feature, we’ve since discovered the friendly joint has great burgers and a welcoming atmosphere beloved by business suits, construction workers, little leaguers, and soccer Moms alike. Virginia B. Wood

Best Swamp Romp Outside the Swamp

Evangeline Cafe

Framed photos of musicians and concert flyers cover the walls of this cramped, down-home café serving authentic, heart-stopping Cajun cuisine. Live zydeco music just about every night of the week makes it the place to go when you need a lil’ taste of Acadiana. Rachel Feit

Best Catfish Sandwich

No such thing as giving the Pig too much love. From bread to bacon, everything is house-made, and they consistently turn out the best sandwiches around town. But the thing I love the most there has nothing to do with swine. The catfish sandwich is amazing. Rachel Feit

Best Fifth Grade Afterschool Hangout

Russell's Bakery & Coffee Bar

My son and his friends go to Russell’s bakery every Friday after school,5 and it has become something of a weekly rave. The kids love the cinnamon rolls and the other sweets. Russell’s puts up with the onslaught of 11-year olds admirably. Rachel Feit

Best Shrimp & Grits


Buttery, bacony shrimp over gooey grits. This is southern cooking at its most decadent. Rachel Feit

Best Lake Mex

Santa Catarina Restaurant

Serving flavorful, artistic Mexican fare, this lake area gem rivals central Austin culinary shrines like Fonda San Miguel and Manuel’s, but at half the price. Do try the cochinita pibil, seafood stuffed poblano, and chili-based tortilla soup. Rachel Feit

Best Place to Buy Fresh Salsa & Chips

Tortilleria Rio Grande

In addition to homemade corn and flour tortillas, this no-frills tortilleria and café fries up robust, flaky corn chips daily. I can’t get enough of their fresh tomatillo salsa or their blood-red chipotle salsa, available for take home from their refrigerator case. Rachel Feit

Best Foodie Way to Get To Know Your City

Austin Eats Food Tours

Offering both cycling and walking tours, Austin Eats introduces you to some of Austin’s best hidden (and not so hidden) culinary destinations. Put yourselves in the friendly, capable hands of Andy Potter and his crew who whisk you away to hipster hangouts, funky diners, food trailers, pastry shops, or Whole Foods Market for a memorable morning (or afternoon) of snacking and sightseeing. Rachel Feit

Best Shaking Beef

Elizabeth Street Cafe

A dish made famous by the renowned Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco, it can now be enjoyed right here in Austin, made with grass fed beef and locally grown tomatoes. Crisp and slightly charred on the outside, deep red on the inside, served piping hot on top of a bed of chilled lettuce and tomatoes, it is a dish of magnificent contrasts. Kate Thornberry

Boffo Combo Real Meal Deal Packs Lunch Punch!


The Teishoku (combination) lunch specials at Kome are one of the best deals going: a bowl of savory clear noodle soup, a (literally) farm-fresh salad with ginger dressing, a bowl of soft steamed rice, a bowl of home made Japanese pickles, and an entrée all for $8-$12. Healthy and delicious, it will make you feel like a million. Kate Thornberry

Best (and Possibly Only) Food Trailer with an Adjoining Air-conditioned Dining Room

Luke's Inside Out

Chef Luke Bibby, one of Austin’s best and most innovative chefs, has his own food trailer right next to the Gibson bar on South Lamar, where the two businesses achieve a marvelous symbiosis: bar patrons can get food at the trailer, and trailer diners can eat in the air-conditioned bar (or on the patio!) Luke’s cuisine is amazing and the deal is a win for everyone involved. Kate Thornberry

Best Vegan Breakfast

Bouldin Creek Cafe

Any egg dish on their extensive menu can be made with their special Tofu Scrambler, made locally by White Mountain Foods. That means vegan omelettes, vegan breakfast plates, even vegan Eggs Benedict and vegan Migas! Bouldin Street also offers Tofu “bacon” and vegan “hollandaise.” Kate Thornberry

Best Old-Fashioned Coconut Cake

34th Street Cafe

Olivia Madrigal’s cake is the stuff of legend--or maybe I mean fantasy? Moist, light, and rich, the cake is layered with coconut cream custard, and iced with a house made, marshmallow-like “7-Minute” frosting, adorned with fluffy grated white coconut. Kate Thornberry

Best Place to Get Authentic Thai Street Food

Thai Fresh

Thai Fresh had finally completed the change from cold-case deli to made-to-order, menu-item restaurant, and the menu features a greatest hits list of Thai street vendor dishes. The quality is spectacular, and the noodle dishes in particular really come to life under the new regime. Kate Thornberry

Best Vegan Doughnuts

Red Rabbit Cooperative Bakery

Worker-owned, cruelty-free, and community minded while also being the perfect accompaniment to your morning coffee. What’s not to love? Melanie Haupt

Best Place to Drop a Bill on Dinner without Blinking an Eye

Justine's Brasserie

From the French 75s to the steak frites to the crème brulee, it’s worth every penny and then some. Melanie Haupt

Best Place to Celebrate Anything with All Your Friends


It’s happy, neighborly chaos, like a backyard block party with cocktails and crispy fried green beans. Melanie Haupt

Best Damn Cup of Coffee, Period

Houndstooth Coffee

Sure, it may seem fussy when your barista grinds your beans, sets them carefully in a funnel, painstakingly pours hot water on top of the grounds, and sets a timer for them to brew. But the resulting piping-hot, crazy-fragrant cup of joe will ruin you for any other java, guaranteed. Melanie Haupt

Best Way to Treat Yo Self

Sweet Ritual

This vegan ice cream shop inside Hyde Park’s Daily Juice Café may be the city’s best-kept secret. From the creative weekly flavors – including salted caramel and the cinnamon-coffee Cubano – to the architectural sundaes and homemade waffle cones, any sweet tooth is sure to find satisfaction. Melanie Haupt

Restaurant We’re Glad Is Finally Open

Best Food Show in Town

Foreign & Domestic

Forget food TV; sitting at the counter at Foreign & Domestic provides excellent entertainment and instruction as the cooks efficiently prepare your meal under the watchful eye of Chef Ned Elliott. It’s a joy to watch this team work their collective magic, and then--unlike television--you get to eat their handiwork. M.M. Pack

Best Polish Prize Purses

Hill Country Pierogi

Takes Polish sautéed dumplings where they’ve never been, filling them with such ingredients as kimchi/short ribs, chorizo, and apples with dulce de leche. However, their classic potato and cheese sautéed with onion in butter would make a Polish grandma proud. M.M. Pack

Restaurant We Still Can’t Wait to See Open

Best Drive-by Vietnamese

Saigon Street

Saigon Street is Austin’s cutest food trailer in a used car lot (Airport and 53rd) and their pho, spring rolls, bahn mi and char-grilled pork dishes are expertly prepared to order by a mother/daughter team. The terrific iced coffee (cafe sua da) hits all the right spots on a hot day. M.M. Pack

Best Japanese Lunch


While we’d all like to dine at Uchi/Uchiko on a regular basis, the newish trailer-to-resto Komé provides an economic, mid-day alternative for getting our Japanese on. There’s a reason lunchtime is packed every day; beautifully prepared sushi, rice bowls, vegetable dishes, ramen and udon soups all satisfy the craving without emptying the wallet. M.M. Pack

Meatloaf Orgasm

3 Little Pigs

The orgasm of all meatloafs: stuffed with pork cracklins and bacon-wrapped, it comes with cheesy grits and collard greens. Whether Chef Raymond Tatum is cooking fancypants food or down-home comfort, you know it’s gonna be mouth-watering. Mick Vann

Barbacoa That’s Heads Above All Others

Burgers to Battle – Make That Crush – the Popular Joints

Fried Catfish, Hushpuppies, Dirty Rice, and Boudin Balls Good Enough to Make a Cajun Drool


Reggie Welton’s fare hails back to his Beaumont roots, where he grew up cooking with his preacher daddy. Reggie learned well; the best catfish in town, bar none, and the soul food is nothing to sneeze at. Mick Vann

Best Way to Start a Chinese Meal

China Dynasty

Hot and sour soup is superb, and it’s all about the balance between the very rich pork stock, the vinegar, and the chile oil (plus it has succulent pork meat, unlike most). Pair it with their crispy, flaky, meaty eggrolls, and their dynamite potstickers, and it’s a triumvirate of amazing starters. Mick Vann

Cuban Sandwich Smackdown

Cuban Sandwich Café & Bakery vs. Mi Kefcito vs. Chago’s Caribbean Café

The edge for the Cubano or Ropa Vieja sandwich might go to Mi Kefcito, but the Cubano burger and the pan con lechón pork sandwich at Cuban Sandwich dominate completely. The Cubano at Chago’s is no slouch! The three best Cubano’s in town. Mick Vann

BBQ Worth Staying in Town For

TIE: Franklin Barbecue, JMueller BBQ, Live Oak Barbecue, Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew

No longer do you have to drive a half hour or longer along the BBQ belt for the best barbecue, there’s plenty right here at the buckle since these very good joints opened in the last year or so. P.S.: don’t tell anybody! Mick Vann

Krishna Smiles on ATX

Nepalese Grub at Indian Spicy Kitchen

We are one with the hefty chicken and spinach momo dumplings and the scintillating taas dry goat curry with popped rice, and it sure doesn’t hurt that they also make the best Indian food in town: keema naan, aloo bhojpuri, and malai kofta worthy of the gods. Mick Vann

So Much More Than Tacos

Taco More

We cannot resist the rich meaty goat soup with garbanzos, beef shank tacos oozing marrow, the best rice in town, a fantastic poblano relleno, and the bathtub-sized bowl of porkalicious red chile-laden posole. Big menu, no duds, and skinny prices! Mick Vann

Sichuan Smackdown

TIE: Asia Cafe, A+A Sichuan China

Both are superb and we go to each for different favorite dishes. For Asia, it’s beef shank with daikon, chicken with beech mushroom, pork elbow with spicy sauce, spicy fish fillet. For A+A it’s ma po dofu, beef with cumin, pork belly with green chiles and black beans, lamb with chiles. Both spots are authentic and great. Mick Vann

Best Oldie but Goodies

TIE: Vespaio, Enoteca Vespaio

Just because they’ve been here for years doesn’t mean they’re not as good as ever: outstanding entrees, superb lemon panna cotta, professional staff, laid back atmosphere. Lidia Bastianich agrees. Claudia Alarcon

Coolest New Bar Experience

Midnight Cowboy

The “secret” bar from Alamo Drafthouse is the coolest bar scene in town, and the cocktails by Bill Norris and Brian Dressel are legit and delicious. Claudia Alarcon

Best Place to Fall in Love


Whether you fall in love with the food, the wines or the romantic atmosphere, this delightful spot should be on your list to take that special someone for a special night. Claudia Alarcon

Newest Restaurant Dream Team

Swift's Attic

Austin restaurant veterans C.K. Chin, Mat Clouser, Zack Northcutt and Callie Speer have formed an alliance not unlike the Justice League, dishing top notch food, wine, cocktails and hospitality. Claudia Alarcon

Most creative use of salumi

Chef Josh Watkins

The Carillon’s chef and his team created a six-course dinner –including an awesome dessert- using Columbus salumi in creative, unexpected ways. It is not just for antipasti anymore! Claudia Alarcon

Best Place to Score a Cool Wine from the South of France with a Hot Chana Masala

Whip In

The wine collection focuses on tasty old world wines that are ideal matches for their Indian-style food. Wes Marshall

Best Place for an Ice-cold Rosé

So Many Excellent Bartenders, So Little Time


There was a time we could get most of the serious, creative mixologists in one picture (see Austin Chronicle “Drink Upscale” 12/31/2010), but that’s changed. Austin is now jammed with talent from the fancy joints like Congress’s Jason Stevens down to the little Bar 96’s Anne Vaughan. Talent is everywhere. Hooray! Wes Marshall

Best Turkish Delight

Little Country Diner

Tucked away in Spicewood, this little diner has a secret weapon: the Turkish family that owns it. If you call and make reservations in advance and promise to bring ten people, they will make you a feast like you would find during a holiday at grandmas. We still dream about the incredible Lamb Kebobs and Royal Ottoman Pilaf. Wes Marshall

Destination for African Lamb Burgers


The trailer, not the café, is the home of the Dakar Boy Lamb Burger Wrap. Somehow this drip-down-your-arm synthesis of African and American cuisine feels like it’s healthy. The Dakar Boy is perfect with an ice cold beer from the neighboring Bar 96. Wes Marshall

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