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Food

Best Austin-Area Kolache
Kolache Shoppe

You don't have to drive to La Grange or West for an authentic kolache. Instead, take a short jaunt to the Kolache Shoppe in Taylor. The purple house in a residential neighborhood has been open for more than 90 years. Irene Bucanek bought the joint 20-plus years ago after working there for two more decades. Kolaches are prepared in a huge, century-old Master-Baker oven using Bucanek's Czech grandmother's recipes. The resulting kolaches are sweet and slightly buttery and topped with cherry, cottage cheese, or peach, or filled with poppy seeds. And if those hunks of sweet yum are not enough, Bucanek loves the King and has filled the place with hunks of Elvis memorabilia love.

Kolache Shoppe, 919 W. Fourth, Taylor, 512/352-5364

Best Big Pancake Dare
Perla's

Perla's Big Blue Banana & Bacon (served for Saturday and Sunday brunch) is a pancake so big that Perla supposedly will give you an award if you actually finish it. Waiters say they've never seen anyone do it. While it digs into your wallet at 20 bucks a pop, it is, hands down, the best pancake in town. The buttermilk mixture is a secret. It's not too sweet and has real chunks of fresh bananas in it, topped with warmed wild blueberries, whipped cream, crème fraîche, and maple syrup. It also comes with a hefty side of house bacon.

Perla's, 1400 S. Congress, 512/291-7300, www.perlasaustin.com

Best Breakfast Dish for the Vegetarian Outlier
Dai Due Breakfast, Dai Due

Veg-centric folks can be foodies, too, and even though Dai Due is a butcher shop as well as a restaurant, it doesn’t turn a cold shoulder to meat abstainers – especially from 10am to 3pm. The hearty Dai Due Breakfast layers brown rice, kimchi, a fried egg, and greens to form a satisfying meal that far exceeds other restaurants’ perfunctory meat-free offerings. No matter how you identify when it comes to food habits, you won’t be sorry to see this go-to dish appear before you first thing in the morning.

Dai Due Butcher Shop & Supper Club, 2406 Manor Rd., 512/524-0688, www.daidue.com

Best Cheap (and Fresh) Eats
Baguette House & Cafe

Nestled in Chinatown Center in North Austin, Baguette House is the holy amalgamation of cheap, fresh, and delicious. What really shines here is their bánh mì, made with bread that's baked fresh daily. With many sandwiches priced at under five bucks, Baguette House is the perfect place for the thrifty and hungry. And lest you miss out on the "French" portion of this French-Vietnamese restaurant, be sure to nab a fresh pastry on your way out the door.

Baguette House, 10901 N. Lamar, 512/837-9100, www.pho.com/austin-tx/baguette-house

Best Dessert for People Who Don't Like Dessert
Tres Leches at Licha's Cantina

photo by John Anderson

Some folks have a salt tooth instead of a sweet tooth – they don't really do dessert. To end a meal, instead of a slice of pie, they might choose a wedge of aged cheddar. But every now and then, the last course arrives at the table for sharing family-style, and the server has brought a spoon for everyone, including the diner who eschews sugar. To be polite, they try a small bite. Then another. And another. Licha's Cantina's take on tres leches cake – denser than the traditional style and bathing in a pool of sweet cream – is decadent. And just savory enough to convert even the staunchest sweet-treat skeptic.

Licha's Cantina, 1306 E. Sixth, 512/480-5960, www.lichascantina.com

Best Fancy Friday Feast
Perry's Famous Pork Chop Friday Lunch

photo by Shelley Hiam

Weekends tend to start on Thursday nights around this town, and come Friday, we need fuel to keep us going. Soak up the fun from the night before with the mouthwatering pork chop lunch special at Perry’s Steakhouse. The huge hand-selected, roasted, slow-smoked, caramelized prime cut is a recipe three decades old. Your slab features eyelash, loin, and ribs, and it is served with whipped potatoes and homemade applesauce. Save your leftovers for good eatin’ and refueling through the rest of your party-party weekend.

Perry's Steakhouse & Grille, 114 W. Seventh, 512/474-6300, www.perryssteakhouse.com

Best Hangover Cure
El Chilito

It's the day after that crazy party and you need … help. Where can you run that's fast, fresh, delicious, and open early for business? How about starting off with that Cherrywood Plate ready to order at your neighborhood El Chilito, where you are greeted wholeheartedly by a friendly face at the window, in which they kindly ask your name. Don't forget to order that Ojo Rojo – you're going to need it; you're going to love it. El Chilito, FTC (for the cure).

El Chilito Tacos y Cafe, 2219 Manor Rd., 512/382-3797, www.elchilito.com

El Chilito Tacos y Cafe, 1623 E. Seventh, 512/334-9660, www.elchilito.com

Best Husband & Wife Business Owner Duo
Gail & Fred Warren

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Gail and Fred Warren of Southern Hospitality, a restaurant that serves up the most straight-forwardly delicious and affordable home cooking made from scratch, is the pair that does not stop. Gail greets you at the door, gets you a drink, seats you, and tells you what’s on the menu. She checks up on you consistently, all while running the front of the house almost entirely by herself. It seems that Fred’s domain is in the kitchen, and he can be found restocking the buffet with delicious black-eyed peas, mac and cheese, catfish, etc. It’s obvious that Gail and Fred Warren have got a lot on their plate, but that doesn’t stop them from putting hot, delicious food on ours. Always with smiles on their faces, the Warrens leave you feeling full, happy, and a part of the family. What a duo!

Gail & Fred Warren, Southern Hospitality Catering & Dining, 6700 Middle Fiskville #405, www.sohosfoods.us

Best Indian Fare From a Doughnut Shop
Samosas at Ken's Donuts

Behind the counter at Ken's lies a sprawling array of sugary sweets, but our favorite treats at this family-owned doughnut shop are the spicy vegetarian samosas in the small display case next to the register. Flaky fried pastry envelops perfectly spiced curried potatoes and peas – don't forget the mint chutney. Open 24 hours, seven days a week, Ken's has crafted a winning combo of sweet and savory to satisfy morning, afternoon, and late-night cravings alike.

Ken's Donuts, 2820 Guadalupe, 512/320-8484, www.kensdonutsaustin.com

Best New Digs
The Omelettry on Airport

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

The Omelettry has long added to Austin's celebrated diner-culture, with standards Kerbey Lane and Magnolia. Unlike the others' expansion to locations all over the city, the Omelettry stayed put in its small shack off Burnet. But this year, the owners picked up and moved to a bright and shiny new spot off Airport. The Seussian murals reflect the whimsy the owners have always brought, and the restaurant seems set to fill Austin tummies for decades yet.

The Omelettry, 4631 Airport, 512/453-5062, www.theomelettry.com

Best Reunited and It Tastes So Good
Tacos at La Peña

Cynthia and Lidia (Libby) Pérez, sister-proprietresses of three-decade community hub and art gallery La Peña and the late, lamented Las Manitas Cafe, sell tacos. La Peña sells tacos. We did not know this. Las Manitas, a shotgun shack of a cafe, where you had to walk through the kitchen to get to the restrooms, where Austin's high- and lowbrows congregated over steaming plates of Migas Especial con Hongos, was very special. It closed in 2008 due to Austin's ongoing one-sided love affair with developers. (Has anyone pulled Austin aside and told her: "Hey, honey: They just aren't that into you …"?) Matters not. The Pérez sisters sell tacos! For $1.40! That buck and change is a very real symbol of the sisters' fierce insistence that food = community and that as a community, we don't have to lose everything we love.

La Peña, 227 Congress #300, 512/236-0610

La Peña, 227 Congress, 512/477-6007, www.lapena-austin.org

Best Sampling Room
Cornucopia Popcorn

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

With over 30 different flavors of popcorn to taste for free, all we can say is that happy vibes permeate from this clean, spacious room. The friendly staff member here greets each patron with, "Feel free to sample as much as you like!" We sure will. No judging glares from the staff as they stay behind the small counter while we fill our little cups with the seasoned, candied, and chocolate-flavored popcorn. The pops of color from their merchandise coupled with stools and a water station makes this a popping paradise!

Cornucopia Popcorn Creations, 3211 Red River, 512/477-2676, www.cornucopiapopcorn.com

Best Texas-Sized Burger
Roaring Fork

Roaring Fork chef Adrian Giovanelli is upholding the world-famous Texas-sized tradition of the Big Ass Burger. Not only is it fun to say "Big Ass Burger," it is served with delicious kettle french fries. The one-pound patty is stacked with poblano peppers, cheddar, smoked pepper bacon, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and pickles. The fact that you can make a reservation to eat one makes it all the more appealing. The Big Ass Burger is served at both the Downtown and Stonelake locations, and is on the happy hour menu for the budget-conscious.

Roaring Fork, 701 Congress, 512/583-0000, www.roaringfork.com

Roaring Fork, 10850 Stonelake, 512/342-2700, www.roaringfork.com

Best Vegan Dessert World Domination
Skull & Cakebones

photo by Celesta Danger

Skull & Cakebones started out practically on a whim a few years back, when Sascha Biesi and her partner, Yauss Berenji, decided to go pro with Biesi's vegan cupcake skills. First, they pitched Whole Foods. Then came Wheatsville, Royal Blue, Violet Crown Cinema, and most recently, Central Market. You can't swing a blood glucose meter in this town without hitting one of these cruelty-free treats. The secret to their success, apart from consistently delicious desserts? A growing stable of partnerships with other locally grown purveyors, from Cuvée Coffee to Buddha's Brew Kombucha to Treaty Oak Distilling and beyond.

Skull & Cakebones, www.skullandcakebones.com

Best Whimsical Japanese Coffee Shop
Sa-Tén

Unassumingly perched amongst the studios of Canopy, this peaceful little coffee shop offers a charming, unique menu of Japanese-fusion dishes. Light entrées and sides like the Nori Tama toast, kale salad, and the curry rice plates (you can choose chicken katsu or grilled vegetables) reveal deep flavors and tidy elegance. The ambience is playful but serene (check out the squirrel-patterned wallpaper and pile of board games in the corner), the staff is friendly, and the Casa Brasil coffee is spot-on. Stylish, warm, and comfortable, Sa-Tén’s creative spirit brings an extra lift to this artsy corner of Austin.

Sa-Tén Coffee, 916 Springdale, Bldg. 3, #101, 512/524-1544, www.sa-ten.com/

Best Who Can Turn the Wall On With a Smile?
Mary's Pop Shop

Smiles come easy at Mary's, opened this year by Philly transplant Ken Gambone. The unique menu – Liège waffles embedded with tiny caramelized chunks of sugar, fried-egg sandwiches, grilled paninis, and of course, the "pop" in the pop shop, handmade gelato ’sicles – can turn any frown upside down. Gambone's dedication to sourcing local with Third Coast coffee and Texas French Bread certainly earns grins. But the biggest smiles of all are reserved for Mary, Gambone's mom for whom the shop is named, and the entire wall of famous women who share the moniker: Mary J. Blige, Mary Kay Place, Mary Hart, Peter, Paul & Mary, Mary Steenburgen, Run-DMC's "Mary, Mary," la Virgen, and of course, Mary Tyler Moore.

Mary's Pop Shop, 3209 Red River, 512/334-9460, www.maryspopshop.com

Best Wings, Frings, and Things
Hill-Bert's

photo by John Anderson

The musical chairs shuffle of this cherished Austin chain – the home of Hilbert Maldonado's famous burgers since 1973 – has left some of us hangry. How could they get us so hooked on their fries, onion rings, and tangy, perfectly dressed Dallas Wings (their name for what yankees call Buffalo wings), then up and close their Capital Plaza location for renovations – that took years? You can't imagine the bright-orange tears of hot, spicy joy that streamed down our cheeks when we saw them near completion of the project. The sad news was that their 35th Street and Burnet Road locations would close forever. The great news, on the other hand, was that the Capitol Plaza location is now open. Welcome back, Hill-Bert's. Get in our belly, Dallas Wings. We have no doubt it will have been worth the wait.

Hill-Bert's Burgers, 5340 Cameron, 512/371-3717, www.hill-bertsburgers.com

Most Missed and Best Find
Players on MLK and Players Golf Course Snack Bars

There are those who say, "The Armadillo is the most missed business in Austin!" and they were right on the money … two decades ago, as Austin changed from sleepy town to city. However, as each year passes, another landmark closes, marking our reluctant shift from city to metropolis. One heartbreaking loss this year was Players, a place emblematic of the grimy, aw-shucks Texan charm – burgers, fries, shakes, drive-through, open super-late – that once could be found all over Austin (and around UT). Nowadays, you really have to look for that charm. It wasn't a pretty building, but it was an institution. Guess what? While the ambience isn't campus-dive, Players is still in business, and their beloved burger-and-fries combos can be found at three of the five Austin Public Links golf courses around the city. You don't even have to tee off to grab a bite at one of these snack bars.

Players, 300 W. MLK, 512/478-9299, www.austinplayers.com

Player's at Austin Public Links, www.austintexas.gov

Best Bakery
Upper Crust

It's that little bakery around the corner you go to on your lunch break every Thursday with your best pal to chat about movies and your crush, and the weather, and plans for the weekend while you munch on scones, cookies, iced coffee, and cake. The place is cute and snuggly and brimming with nice, happy people who love bread, aka the best kind of people. It’s basically paradise disguised as a bakery … or maybe it’s a bakery disguised as paradise? We don’t know for sure, but we do know that their egg salad sandwich on sourdough bread with a side of cheddar soup is better than life itself.

Upper Crust Bakery, 4508 Burnet Rd., 512/467-0102, www.theuppercrustbakery.com

Best Barbecue
Franklin Barbecue

Austin proudly boasts the most famous barbecue joint in the country, hands down. It's a small place with a line so long and well-established it has its own video feed, lawn chair vendor, and rules of engagement. Brisket whisperer Aaron Franklin has his own cookbook, an eponymous PBS cooking show, and James Beard Foundation Award for "Best Chef Southwest 2015" – the first pitmaster to win one of those babies. Can the brisket really be that good, incredulous folks ask? Why, yes, it certainly can.

Franklin Barbecue, 900 E. 11th, 512/653-1187, www.franklinbarbecue.com

Best Burger
Hopdoddy

We recognized homegrown Hopdoddy as the prototype for an upscale chain right off the bat in 2010, and that was fine with us. We're perfectly happy to share the fine Premium Gold Angus burgers (fresh-ground in-house hormone- and antibiotic-free), luxurious shop-churned shakes, and innovative specials with folks in Round Rock, Dallas, Colorado, and Arizona. There are plenty of Llano Poblano burgers and cheese fries for everyone.

Hopdoddy Burger Bar, 1400 S. Congress, 512/243-7505, www.hopdoddy.com

Hopdoddy Burger Bar, 2438-A W. Anderson, 512/467-2337, www.hopdoddy.com

Best Coffee
Houndstooth

Human cannot live on bread (muffin, scone) alone, so Houndstooth carries Tacodeli breakfast tacos. (Or, in the case of the North Lamar location, is situated right next to them.) But, truly, it's all about the coffee. And "Best of Austin"-winning good coffee at that. They've got all the regular artisan pours and then some: French press, Chemex, a cortado. The baristas are knowledgeable, the wooden decor pleasant, and the playlist on point (Nineties and Aughts classic hip-hop). You won't even care you're in a Portlandia sketch. Just be warned: The mornings are packed.

Houndstooth Coffee, 4200 N. Lamar #120, 512/531-9417, www.houndstoothcoffee.com

Houndstooth Coffee Downtown, 401 Congress Ste. 100-C, 512/394-6051, www.houndstoothcoffee.com

Best Cure for the Munchies
P. Terry's

The overwhelming consensus for the winner of the "Best Cure for the Munchies" award was actually some variation of "my fridge," but since we can't give out awards to all of your refrigerators, we went with the next popular vote, P. Terry's. If only your fridge was stocked full of P. Terry's, though. It's is the perfect place to go when you've got the munchies because the cheeseburgers and fries are delicious, but also incredibly cheap; you can get a burger, fries, drink, and shake for under $10. And if the munchies are still kickin' after all that, and you're too embarrassed to go back and order more, you can just visit a different P. Terry's location and start all over again!

P. Terry's Burger Stand, 3303 N. Lamar, 512/371-9975, www.pterrys.com

P. Terry's Burger Stand, 404 S. Lamar, 512/473-2217, www.pterrys.com

P. Terry's Burger Stand, 4228 W. William Cannon, 512/358-0380, www.pterrys.com

7 more locations

Best Date Restaurant
TIE: Uchiko; Justine's

Austin offers so many ways to dine and date. For those looking to romance, Justine’s delights all senses – from their steak tartare, Sazerac, and Side Car, to their enchanted garden patio, to their notoriously debaucherous galas and super-secret secret house. Offering more cheek than a French maid, this brasserie is sure to heat up any night out. Across town, Uchiko presents a more modern take on wooing, perfect for the heart set to impress. This more reserved (read: quieter) sibling of internationally recognized Uchi employs mood lighting warm enough to melt butter, and their shared plates tantalize taste buds and lovers alike. No matter the first date or the 99th, these spots will set the tone.

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

Justine's Brasserie, 4710 E. Fifth, 512/385-2900, www.justines1937.com

Justine's Secret House, 1303 E. Seventh, www.justines1937.com

Best Food Delivery
Favor

The world is your oyster! Or burger! Or tamale! Or … you get the point. Unlike other food delivery services, you can order anything via Favor, from any restaurant or store in the delivery area. The app is super user-friendly and updates you as your runner places the order, reaches the store, and finally arrives at your location. With delivery until 3am, Favor is perfect for late-night munchies or those days you can’t leave work or are already tucked in for the night.

Favor Food Delivery, Favor Food Delivery, www.favordelivery.com

Best Food Trailer
East Side King

Those wacky kids have done it again! Although they continue to grow into brick-and-mortar locations, the popularity of their late-night trailers has not waned a bit. At Liberty Bar you can still enjoy all the classics – brussels sprouts, beet fries, chicken karaage – while sister Thai-Kun at Whisler's dishes out some mighty fine Thai cuisine to pair with craft cocktails. With convenient locations planted across Austin's entertainment districts, there's no need to go home hungry after a night of revelry.

East Side King at the Liberty, 1618 E. Sixth, www.eskaustin.com

East Side King, 2310 S. Lamar #101, 512/383-8382, www.eskaustin.com

Best Ice Cream/Gelato
Amy's Ice Creams

You might think vanilla is a boring flavor, but when done right, it hits all the pleasure receptors without being too sweet. Amy's takes this baseline flavor one step further, offering Mexican vanilla. Precious and few ice cream shops venture so deeply into the territory of el bean. It's the vanilla you've never thought possible. Now multiply that times all the other amazing flavors that come and go from the menu: Celis Raspberry, Butter Brick, Boston Cream Pie …. If ice cream were a person, Amy's would get a hug.

Amy's Ice Creams, 1301 S. Congress, 512/440-7488, www.amysicecreams.com

Amy's Ice Creams, 1012 W. Sixth, 512/480-0673, www.amysicecreams.com

Amy's Ice Creams, 3500 Guadalupe, 512/458-6895, www.amysicecreams.com

10 more locations

Best Late Night Dining
Kerbey Lane Cafe

Open 24/7, Kerbey Lane is there when you need it. With options ranging from vegan to gluten-free, Kerbey ensures that everyone will find something to satisfy that dire 3am need for solid food. They've specialized in seasonal ingredients for ages: There's a time for tomatoes and a time for pumpkin spice pancakes. When craving something filling and delicioso, try out the seasonal dessert. Sounds vague, but worth the ask.

Kerbey Lane Cafe, 3704 Kerbey, 512/451-1436, www.kerbeylanecafe.com

Kerbey Lane Cafe, 13435 Hwy. 183 N. #415, 512/258-7757, www.kerbeylanecafe.com

Kerbey Lane Cafe, 2606 Guadalupe, 512/477-5717, www.kerbeylanecafe.com

4 more locations

Best New Restaurant
Launderette

photo by John Anderson

It used to be that deciding where to eat brunch was an arduous task requiring group texts, Facebook messages, and the occasional (gasp!) phone call. Now, thanks to Laura Sawicki and Rene Ortiz, that question only has one answer – Launderette. Go for the Duck Hash (which, because of the brussels sprouts, cons you into thinking it's healthy) or the Pork & Grits. Even if the Eastside hot spot didn't have great plates (clearly, it does), we would still think it was the best. Finally, all our friends agree on something.

Launderette, 2115 Holly, 512/382-1599, www.launderetteaustin.com

Best Noodles/Ramen
Ramen Tatsu-Ya

It’s no slurprise that Ramen Tatsu-Ya made "Best of Austin" for the third time. This noodle joint, which recently opened a second location on South Lamar, is well worth the wait. Plus, you can enjoy an array of beers or sake while in line, so it ain’t so bad. The pork broth will have you drinking from your bowl with shameless abandon, and you’ll definitely want to order an extra ajitama egg (or five).

Ramen Tatsu-Ya, 8557 Research #126, www.ramen-tatsuya.com

Ramen Tatsu-Ya, 1234 S. Lamar, www.ramen-tatsuya.com

Best Outdoor Dining
Contigo

photo by John Anderson

Contigo's patio, which is to say the entire restaurant, is the Sam Elliott of Austin dining. It's a little bit rustic, looks great in a cowboy getup, and gets better and better with age. There's been some renovation, but not much has changed about the rancho deluxe setting, the easy-sipping cocktails, or the accessible menu. That kind of star power never needs fixing.

Contigo, 2027 Anchor, 512/614-2260, www.contigotexas.com/austin

Best Pizza
TIE: Via 313; Home Slice

photo by John Anderson

Home Slice's lock on Best Pizza lists has been hard-earned and well-deserved. There is no other place in Central Texas that's mastered the marriage of sauce and cheese into such a luscious blanket of East Coast POW!, a direct nonstop flight for the taste buds to NYC. Across town, the trajectory diverges – straight up the heartland to Detroit. It's an entirely different pizza planet at Via 313. Less pie than slab of pure stretchy, gooey, tomato-y, rectangular, caramelized bliss, this muscular representation of Via's homeland is the Dodge Challenger to Home Slice's hansom cab. In both cases, it's not so much the destination as the delicious journey itself.

Home Slice Pizza, 1415 S. Congress, 512/444-7437, www.homeslicepizza.com

More Home Slice, 1421 S. Congress, 512/444-7437, www.homeslice.com

Via 313, 1111 E. Sixth, 512/939-1927, via313.com

Via 313, 61 Rainey, 512/609-9405, via313.com

Via 313, 6705 Hwy. 290 #503, 512/584-8084, www.via313.com

Via 313, 3016 Guadalupe #100, 512/358-6193, www.via313.com

Best Prepared Grab-and-Go
Snap Kitchen

Gluten-free enchiladas, grass-fed lamb lasagna, chicken butternut squash macaroni? Do not fear the organic fusion foods of Snap Kitchen. If you need healthy food that respects an allergy or dietary lifestyle, Snap has it in a ready-to-go form of yum that won't make your wallet cry. There's a reason this isn't their first "Best of" rodeo.

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 Restaurant Design/Interior
Sway

Let's face it. Some of the hottest dining spots in town look like Design Within Reach showrooms. That's fine, but even in a town as mid-century-modern obsessed as ours, the eye needs to come in from the cold. Michael Hsu's design for Sway is the opposite of that. There's a warmth and timelessness that matches the agelessness of the kitchen. Our readers keep voting for it precisely because it already feels like home.

Sway, 1417 S. First, 512/326-1999, www.swayaustin.com

Best Seafood
TIE: Quality Seafood; Perla's

photo by John Anderson

A tie between these two highly regarded purveyors of expertly prepared seafood would seem to indicate that sometimes we're in the mood for the casual atmosphere of dining with one of our favorite local fishmongers, while other times, we prefer the beach-like ambience and shady deck of a more upscale eatery. It just depends on our budget and whether we're hungry for a dozen oysters and some Cajun-inspired dishes washed down with an ice cold beer (Quality Seafood), or a sophisticated seafood brunch of New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp and stone-ground organic grits, lobster mac & cheese, or breakfast bouillabaisse topped with a fried egg, paired with a custom cocktail (Perla's). Either way, the seafood will be first-rate, and we're always happy.

Quality Seafood Market, 5621 Airport, 512/452-3820, www.qualityseafood.wordpress.com

Perla's, 1400 S. Congress, 512/291-7300, www.perlasaustin.com

Best Tacos
Torchy's Tacos

Everyone talks about the Dirty Sanchez taco (har har, boys), but we love the Jamaican jerk(iness) of the Brushfire taco. We're just gonna put that out there. Still, the story of Torchy's – up from humble beginnings (one of the early birds in the food cart phenomenon), this "damn good" taco chain now has franchises all over Texas, and one in Colorado. That horny little devil gets around! But "damn good" food doesn't mean design is thrown by the wayside. The new Mueller Torchy's (and several other locations) have been outfitted by Jamie Chioco of Chioco Design. So it may surprise no one that we've been thinking about moving in, but we'd likely wake up with diablo hot sauce in all the wrong places. Or all the right places, depending on who you ask.

Torchy's Tacos, 2801 Guadalupe, 512/494-8226, www.torchystacos.com

Torchy's Tacos, 2809 S. First, 512/444-0300, www.torchystacos.com

Torchy's Tacos, 4301 W. William Cannon, 512/514-0767, www.torchystacos.com

10 more locations

Best Vegan/Vegetarian Cafe
Counter Culture

photo by Devaki Knowles

In an ever-upscaling and -homogenizing Eastside, Counter Culture maintains a certain Austin charm. Did you know that CC founder/owner/chef Sue Davis is also a noted local vinyl DJ? DJ Sue Purr's curatorial expertise in sound – selecting, sorting, juxtaposing, blending, and contextualizing – is similar to what she brings to her restaurant menu's flavor palette. Apparently, that palette hits our readers' palate like music to the mouth. In song, she specializes in Sixties garage, Seventies power-pop, and Eighties punk. In food she makes magic with elements like jackfruit, cashew cream, cashew cheeze, chickpea chorizo, beatballs, and (in the words of one band whose music we bet she's spun before): Seitan! Seitan! Seitan!

Counter Culture, 2337 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/524-1540, www.countercultureaustin.com

Best "Head" on a Plate
Oh Kimchi

The "Oh" name is a tribute to owner Abbi Lunde's grandmother, but we like to think of it as OMG. Oh Kimchi adds a kick to everything from eggs to pancakes. Pour some of the juices in a Bloody Mary, and you'll be saying, "Ohhhh yeah."

Oh Kimchi, www.ohkimchiaustin.com

Best Artisanal Rendition of an Old Favorite
Draft Pick American Grill

Austin is a burger town. As much as we're known for breakfast tacos and barbecue, we still drool for a well-executed hamburger at a reasonable price. Let the drooling commence. This convenient Riverside sports bar offers a daily lunch special resembling the classic Whataburger as reimagined by a gourmet chef. Nestled in the ground floor of the AMLI South Shore development east of I-35, and part of the Texican and 1626 Cafe family, Draft Pick's burger's bakery-style bun and high-quality, fresh ingredients is "what a burger should be." Order without cheese for the full effect.

Draft Pick American Grill, 1620 E. Riverside, www.draftpickaustin.com

Best Caffeinated Cut-Ups
Bennu's Knucks, Amie, and Philip

photo by Devaki Knowles

Here are four very good reasons to get your coffee from Bennu in the morning:
1) Amie Moffett
2) Knuckles
3) Philip Reeder
4) You can actually find a seat.
Actually, we can't guarantee no. 4, but we endorse wholeheartedly the morning bliss of simply being in the presence of no.s 1-3. The morning crew at Bennu are by turns tender and tough, matching the energy you bring to the counter. If you're a regular (and we are) they may dedicate a song to you, encourage you to try a new concoction, and ask about how that novel/script/dissertation is going. In short, they know what it is you need: Coffee. But, really, you need more than coffee. And they know that, too.

Bennu Coffee, 2001 E. MLK, 512/478-4700, www.bennucoffee.com

Best Caffeine & Booze Fix
Wright Bros. Brew & Brew

Coffee or beer? One's an upper, one's a downer. At Wright Bros. Brew & Brew, we can have both. Nestled between old Austin and new, the Brew & Brew offers 39 rotating taps, with a focus on local brews. The industrial decor is warm and inviting vs. frosty and austere. And the wrap-around patio is perfect for people watching. But if you can't stay, bottles, cans, and growlers can be taken to go. Now you're ready for take off, Wilbur.

Wright Bros. Brew & Brew, 500 San Marcos St. #105, 512/493-0963, www.thebrewandbrew.com

Best Chop
Citywide 86'd

A live competition – much like that foodie reality show Chopped – that features Austin chefs battling mano-a-spatula for supremacy in a contest judged by their most talented peers? What's not to love, especially when the audience is treated to a relentless array of wine and beer and samples from the menus of the finest restaurants in town, while the culinary gladiators slice and dice and grill and bake their way to the sort of victory claimed, this year, by Uchiko's Ben Schwartz.

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

Best Cup of Ambition
The Juice Well's Dolly Parton

When you work 9 to 5, it's easy to get caught up in the daily grind. That's why we sometimes trade our morning iced coffee for something that really gets our blood pumpin'. The Juice Well's vegan Dolly Parton smoothie is a hydrating blast of coconut water, pineapple, agave, and, of course, watermelon. It's just enough to drive you crazy if you let it.

The Juice Well, 1309 Rosewood, 512/568-6243

Best Event to Reveal Your Inner Cake Artist
That Takes the Cake Sugar Art Show & Cake Competition

photo by John Anderson

You know Austin's cake decorating subculture is alive and thriving when the showcase event outgrows venues every couple of years with local and regional cake artists eager to strut their stuff to the attention of enthusiastic crowds. This 11-year-old event is a labor of love hosted by the Capital Confectioners Cake Club and Make It Sweet, the local retailer for all your sugar-art needs. In addition to a meticulously judged competition, the weekend always offers informative classes and demonstrations and attracts vendors dealing in every manner of decorating supply imaginable. Attracting top-notch judges and instructors and drawing from a rich supply of local talent, That Takes the Cake is becoming one of the most prestigious sugar-art shows in the country.

Capital Confectioners, www.capitalconfectioners.com

Best Heed This Delicious Call
Sherlon Jackson (aka "The Pizza Lady") at San Marcos H-E-B

photo by Samantha Armbruster

PIIIIIIIIZZZZZZZZZZAAAAAAAAAAA! Thus goes the siren call of Sherlon Jackson, known simply and sweetly to San Marcos H-E-B shoppers as "The Pizza Lady." Most sample queens demurely wait for snackers to tentatively reach for little cups of sloppy joe (ew?) or a small wheat thin to be dipped in the latest, unfortunately named jalapeño jam. But Ms. Jackson (she is for reaaaal) is not most sample queens. Initially hired to demo pizza part-time, her, ah, boisterous battle cry ensures everyone in the dang store knows there's pizza samples to be had. And that's sans amplification, translating to more pizzas sold (since 2009, the store holds the H-E-B record for pizza sales), and a full-time gig for Jackson.

HEB #243, 641 E. Hopkins, San Marcos, 512/396-8880, www.heb.com

Best Interior Mexican Brunch Bargain
El Mesón

We've been fans of chef Marisela Godinez' cooking since Chronicle contributor Claudia Alarcón turned us on to the original El Mesón on Burleson Road way back in 2002. These days, we hit the S. Lamar location whenever possible, but our favorite meal there has to be the bountiful Sunday brunch buffet. Tables are laden with a culinary tour of perfectly executed dishes from Mexico's Interior: chilaquiles, carne guisado, and other breakfast items, handmade tortillas and tamales, appetizers, creative salads such as quinoa with sweet potato, sophisticated entrées such as duck crêpes in fiery pipian verde, decadent desserts, and refreshing aguas frescas – all-you-can-eat for a remarkably reasonable $18.

El Mesón, 2038 S. Lamar, 512/442-4441, www.elmesonaustin.wordpress.com

El Mesón Taquería, 5808 Burleson, 512/416-0749, www.elmesonaustin.wordpress.com

Best Italian Noodles
Patrizi's Italian Restaurant

Pasta lovers, rejoice! Situated behind Butterfly Bar at the Vortex Theatre, Patrizi's trailer space opened last year, and Manor Road has been all aflutter with noodly goodness. But don't mistake them for newbs on the hipster block. Their roots run deep: Owners Matt and Nic Patrizi take their recipes from the restaurant their grandparents opened in Forties Beaumont, Texas. With homemade pasta, mouthwatering sauces made from scratch, and meatballs the size of your head (all made from family recipes, of course), Patrizi's gives Austin the pasta it deserves.

Patrizi's, 2307 Manor Rd., 512/522-4834, www.patrizis.com

Best New Cold Brew (And We Ain't Talkin' About Booze)
Coffer Cold Brew Coffee

While there are plenty of cold brews in Austin to suit our fancy, Coffer may very well be the world's first carbonated coffee beverage (they're certainly boasting as such on their website). Refreshing and crisp, the bevvie lends new meaning to the idiom "grab me a cold one." Still a small-batch operation, but savvy sabor-istas can find Coffer at Houndstooth Coffee, East 1st Grocery, or Sunrise Mini Mart. The snazzy bottle design is just the icing on the (coffee)cake.

Coffer Cold Brew Coffee, 512/270-8880, www.drinkcoffer.com

Best Pancakes on the Move
The Omelettry

Since Kenny Carpenter found the spot for his breakfast joint and opened in 1978, he's been slinging the best fresh food around. Before farm-to-table became the rage, the Omelettry always offered fresh fruit and vegetables alongside their famous breakfast fare. Gingerbread pancakes bigger than a dinner plate, thick and gloppy queso, crispy bacon, and bottomless coffee cups are just a few of our memories. Trusty legend has it that Doug Sahm feigned annoyance every morning when he arrived to find his oatmeal not hot and ready. The move from the homey spot we've come to love to a newer, larger location on Airport Blvd. may take some getting used to, but home is where the heart is. And with more space – and shorter waits on weekends – we think this is a moveable feast.

The Omelettry, 4631 Airport, 512/453-5062, www.theomelettry.com

Best Pollo Asado
El Pollo Rico

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

That smoky smell wafting down South First Street leads to a swift pollo asado drive-up. In mere minutes, a bag of the grilled, hot, steaming goodness passes through the window, complete with all the fixin's: rice, beans, tortillas, salsa y limón. Three locations churn out authentic Monterrey cuisine, presenting their specialty: the whole or half pollo asado, and a slew of other goodies for a reasonable price. But South First has the drive-through.

El Pollo Rico, 730 W. Stassney, 512/445-7474, www.pollosricos.com

El Pollo Rico, 9435 N. I-35, 512/339-7325, www.pollosricos.com

El Pollo Rico, 9717 N. Lamar, B-7, 512/997-7300, www.pollosricos.com

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