1992 Readers Poll
1992 Critics Picks
Best All of Everything

Photographs are a beautiful, lasting way of keeping precious memories alive. So imagine wading through piles of old photos of forgotten family vacations and smelly aunts and feeling the thrill of laughing at people you never even met. Now imagine that you can buy the ugliest shots for not much more than a nickel and show them off to your friends! Add to that an assortment of old broken toys, oddball magazines from the last fifty or sixty years, bizarrely-shaped ashtrays, bottles and vases with bits of nasty gunk still in them, a selection of some of the worst homemade "art" of the "I'm sure Mamaw will love it, dear" variety and you've got the Pirate's Den. There are actual "collectors items" there too, but forget that - the true wonder of this place is to wander through aisle after pile of the kind of junk America is all about. Oh, and if you try to buy something really stupid, there's a chance that J.W. might give it to you free, along with a dirty "What in hell do you want that for?" stare. Cool.

Pirate's Den Flea Market
11704 N. Lamar

Best Alternative To The Galleria

The word to best describe Flipnotics is simply "cool." From the great '40s and '60s decor, to the original jewelry designs and unique sunglasses, it is definitely the cool experience. The clothes they carry are both new and used, and you can usually catch them with a good supply of used 501's. The topper to this great place is that it also houses a revolving artist gallery as well as a coffeehouse.

Best Bookstore Cat

Not so long ago the hands down winner would have been Gus the Cat from Garner and Smith. Unfortunately, folks won't see Gus peering down on them Cheshire-like from a bookcase any more: Gus retired to an employee's home when the store made its move from the drag to its new home on 12th Street. That means Sanny over at Half Price Books on Guadalupe wins by default. According to Christy at HPB, Sanny, who got her name "because it sounded better than Butthead," showed up as a dazed and confused casualty of the December floods. Having recovered, one can now find Sanny bounding among the books keeping a lookout for shoplifters and stray mice.

Half-Price Books
3110 Guadalupe

Best Bulk Tofu

Firm, tasty and cheap ... many people are turned off to tofu because their first experience with it usually involves a bad curd with the consistency of phlegm. Whether this describes you or you are already a fan of the versatile spongy foodstuff, check out Wheatsville. It may convert some of you skeptics.

Wheatsville Food Co-op
3101 Guadalupe, 512/478-2667
4001 S. Lamar, 512/814-2888

photo by John Anderson

Best Childrens' Bookstore

Terrific selection of books, music, and science toys, great environment, and a smart staff add up to one of the most beguiling and checkbook-draining shopping stops around.

Toad Hall
1206 W. 38th, Ste. 1101

Best Childrens' Resale Clothing

The 4 1/2 year old grew 3 1/2 inches this year. That means clothes - lots of them. But I refuse to sucker to the scam of retail shopping - $30 for a pair of pants he'll outgrow in 6 months? Forget it - how about $3 for Girbaud jeans or $8 for a Donna Karan dress (for me!)? This is the place. Rhea Kester, proprietor, takes only fashionable, gently worn items (hard to find in boys clothing), and she loves natural fabrics. Bring your used clothing on Thursdays for in store credit or cash. Shoes, socks, suits, crib toys, books...the Cheshire Cat has some of everything. After you've checked out the kid's room, be sure you head for the women's clothing. Hands down, it's the best in town!

Cheshire Cat
612 W. 34th

Best Coffee Store

We might be a little biased since these folks sold one of us our first !REAL! coffee 20 years ago, but since then we've drunk coffee all over the world and still judge them against Anderson's French roast.

Anderson's Coffee Co.
1601 W. 38th

Best Comic Bookstore

There's been a terrible rash of new funnybook shops springing up, seemingly in every neighborhood, lately. Of course, most of them only offer the tired old "Punishmutant" titles, and often split their store space into halfsies between comics and some other collectible, like baseball cards. Austin Books has no need to worry about losing its edge as the neat-o-est shop in town, carrying just about every type and title of comic you could want to collect (or even read!) along with hardback collections, character t-shirts, movie posters and all that kind of junk.

Austin Books & Comics
5002 N. Lamar

Best Consignment Store

What with the mark-up percentage, most really nice consignment stores are way, way out of our wallet's league, but somehow Next To New seems to have something for everyone - with prices ranging from around $450 for an exquisitely carved antique desk, to the $12 we plunked down on the brand-spanking-new-looking used child's car seat (What angel child used this, that he didn't barf on it at least once?). From furniture to clothing to knicknacks to vintage jewelry to kitchen items to just plain stuff - Next To New has it affordably priced, and in good condition, too!

Next to New
5435 Burnet

Best Family Owned Grocery

Where else can you get the best tamales in town while picking up those always needed good-luck candles, love potions or some of that lovely bat blood? They also serve delicious breakfast tacos (not for vegetarians... lard, lard, lard).

Green & White Grocery
1201 E. Seventh

Best Home Brew Supplies

You've always been able to buy the basic ingredients in Austin, but now thanks to these folks you can get all the exotic stuff you need to really make great beer. So now there's no excuse not to brew your own.

Best Live-in Grocery

Founded in 1906, this tiny Hyde Park shop has been a labor of love for owner Ross Mason since 1984. A reasonable selection of foods, fine homemade sandwiches, and the most personable service in town make this a winner.

Avenue B Grocery
4403 Avenue B

Best Optical Store

Unrivaled in their friendly, personal service, and exceptionally kind and patient with their many elderly patrons. If you don't see what you're looking for, they might have it in the back, at their other location, or will always go to the trouble of ordering as many styles of frames as you want to try. The 34th Street location is new and "hipper" than before. They've had many of their clients for over 35 years, which says something about the loyalty they inspire.

Dickinson Optical
1101 W. 34th, 4203 James Casey

Best Pawn Shop

Scott's wins best pawn shop hands down. Whether you're looking to buy or sell, they have the best and fairest prices in town, with a huge selection of electronics and other goods. Negotiating is easy, and they'll give you a great discount if you pay in cash.

Scott's Pawn Shop
2120 E. Seventh

Best Place To Buy A Stereo

Most people just go to the same discount store where they bought their washing machine, buy their stereo, and accept the way it sounds when they get home. Well, there is better sound. We know you say you can't hear the difference, but you can. Take the time, after all, you're going to be listening to this thing for years, and shop with your ears. It's easy - just grab your favorite CD or album and go to Audio Systems out on Koenig and listen. We did, bought a new stereo, and re-discovered our record collection.

Audio Systems
1102 W. Koenig

Best Place To Buy A X-rated Gift

What a great store! I mean, where else in town can you browse through a great selection of X-rated cards and novelties, buy a dildo or some flavored condoms, plus attend a body piercing clinic and get a safe yet as-exotic-as-you-like ring. For those of you out there who embarrass more easily, the friendly and knowledgeable staff will pack up practically the whole store and bring it to your home - sort of the Avon of your libido. Enjoy.

Best Place To Buy Doc Martens, Rubber Snakes, And A Lava Lamp

Or rubber snakes, Kit Kat Klocks and Iggy Pop t-shirts. Or skull earrings, Betty Page cards and a Wizard of Oz Doll. Or a Super Soaker, glow-in-the-dark stars and rock & roll postcards. Or Nightmare on Elm Street Freddy glove, Japanese robots and Halloween masks. Owner Jim Hughes, aka The Prince, has created this glorious wonderland, as delightful for children as it is for adults. The Prince also bears one of the most remarkable tattoos in the Western World - a "suit" of Japanese movie monsters.

Atomic City
1700 San Antonio

Best Place To Buy Presents For Children

Outstanding selection of challenging innovative toys as well as the more usual models such as cars and wooden trains. The selection is so extensive but tasteful, you can't lose. This is the stuff childhoods are made of.

Terra Toys
2438 W. Anderson Ste. 1-C

Best Place To Buy Protection From Evil Spirits

How's your luck been lately? The Cantus can help you change it. Mrs. Cantu prepares amulets and talismans with coral, bloodstone, four leaf clovers - whatever you need - then Lee Cantu empowers it with them with prayer. Blessed candles, herbs, prayer cards, oils; everything needed to raise your vibration to receive what is rightfully yours can be found at this South Austin herberia. Lee predicted a friend's pregnancy before she knew it. Another won big in Las Vegas. I don't know... I just always feel better after visiting Cantu's.

Cantu's Mexican Imports
1500 S. First

Best Place To Buy The Components Of An Altar

Needed an altar to Legba, god of the crossroads, god of communication. We figured the right sort of altar would get us a story or two in on time or at least improve the quality of excuses. To that end we went to the flea market out on 290, past the goats for sale, past the saddles and way past the blue statues from Mexico on the side of the road. We found a fine portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe made with glitter, sequins and devotion. Got a couple of votive candles pleading for the indulgence of San Jose and El Niño. As the centerpiece, we settled on a statue of a guy we were assured was San Francisco. It seemed like he'd go well with San Jose, but on second look we had our doubts. Like St. Francis, he's dressed like a monk, but this guy has a skull by his foot, not a cute little lamb, there are no birds on his shoulder, he's holding a book, and he's got stigmata. God help us if we've accidentally built an altar to a Jesuit. Anyone with information about this saint should drop a line to the Chronicle and let us know just whose candles we're lighting, and to whom we're making sacrifices. The writers are behaving very strangely but they're still not turning their copy in on time.

La Pulga
Hwy 290 flea market

Best Place To Buy Tortoise Shell Barrettes

We have a thing about tortoiseshell barrettes. We don't know why, because we don't really have a thing about either tortoiseshell or barrettes, but the particular array of tortoise-shell barrettes on the counter at Nau Enfield Drug made a convert of us. Just check out the Fifties-style (prob-ably Fifties vintage, in fact) glass-fronted display case full of clips, clasps and combs mounted on blue velvet. You can't help but realize you're in the presence of an utter fashion classic.

Nau's Enfield Drug, 1115 W. Lynn, 512/476-1221

Best Place To Reconceptualize Your Life

In a town blessed with a number of fine specialty bookstores - Liberty Books, BookWoman, Europa and Austin Books jump to mind - this is probably the best. It's certainly the biggest: a huge selection of new age, health, philosophy, and culture/travel titles make this a truly world-class new age store.

603 N. Lamar

Best Place To Reinvent Your Life

Learn the error of your ways and how to correct them at the greenest store in town. Their earth-friendly stock runs the gamut from cleaning products to compost bins, plus baby diapers, lawn mowers, pet supplies, you name it. Want a watch that runs on water? We know where you'll find one.

Best Reason To Go To A Mall

The England-based Body Shops have been a runaway success in their native land as well as now in America, and for good reason. Their cruelty-free line of cosmetics and toiletries for men and women have a natural slant in its make-up, and each shop is a cornucopia of delightful scents. Especially recommended are their soaps and shampoos, but it's doubtful anyone with a taste for personal care products will leave the store without something. Recently opened at Highland Mall, The Body Shop is a most welcome addition to Austin's shopping scene.

The Body Shop
Highland Mall

Best Record Store For Broadening Your Horizons

"Mexican music is not just a name," says Henry Maldonado, with only the barest trace of irritation. "That's sort of like saying `English music.' It doesn't tell you anything about the music." But just go to Maldonado's store and you'll find out about conjunto, norteño, Tejano, international Hispanic music and much more. And if you're lucky, you'll get a discourse from Henry himself - witty, opiniated and totally dedicated to the music. By the way, the major names there are not the Texas Tornados or Tish Hinojosa - best sellers include Emilio Navarro & the Rio Band and Joe Lopez y Mas.

Maldonado's Record and Video Shop
2207 E. Seventh

Best Rock Shop Experience

Other rock shops may have more minerals and gemstones, and still others may offer more metaphysical attractions, but none of them have Mr. Ed Brown. Whether discussing various types of quartz crystals or where the best places are to find arrow heads, the 80-plus-year-old lifetime Austin native is a rock hound whose love of geology, Austin, history, and Native American culture offers a unique insight into our world.

Skyland Rock Shop
810 W. North Loop

Best Shopping On A Rainy (or Otherwise Quiet) Day

Between a near-limitless selection of sporty wearables and more balls than the UT athletic department has used up in the last dozen years, shoppers can throw darts, shoot baskets, ski, practice their golf swing or rollerblade in specially designated areas throughout the store. You don't have to pay to play - notwithstanding personal guilt - but it's hard to resist a souvenir of the game or games you decide to try out.

Oshman's Super Sport
Northcross Mall; 2525 W. Anderson

Best Toy Store Aisle

Battery-operated, pedal-powered, foot-powered plastic vehicles for your toddlers' pleasure. We go there when it's raining or on boring weeknights when the kid just wants to go somewhere and we feel one more Barney song will send me screaming to a Prozac lab. Warning: you may have to stay in this aisle for at least 30 minutes or you'll have to put up with a lot of wailing or a lot less cash. Thirty minutes on a regular basis, however, is a trip to the park as far as the kid's concerned, so you don't have to lay out the big bucks for a jaunt behind the wheel of a $500 mini-Volkswagen.

Toys R Us
4025 Capital of Texas Hwy.

Best Unadvertised Garage Sale

It's Saturday morning. Your mission is to haul that stupid weight bench, which has been sitting outside unused for two years, to the dump. So you pay a coupla bucks to get into TDS and you heave it into one of their monster dumpsters. You're about to drive away when you notice, a little ways beyond the dumpsters, a sort of mini flea market with all kinds of cool stuff: bicycles, tricycles, lawnmowers, blue jeans, fertilizer, floor lamps, and lumber. Marty, the guy who oversees this part of the operation, sells you some things you can't live without and you drive away, stopping to try some barbecue at Wilhites (open Saturdays only). While you're eating a sausage wrap and musing on your fine purchases, Marty's hauling that weight bench, which only needs a new cover, out of the dumpster.

Creedmoore Redistribution Center
7500 FM1327 (off South 183)

Best Used Book Store

It's not just the selection, it's that you never know what you may encounter old or new among the great selection. Not nearly as huge as it used to be when they literally overflowed with books and inspired bargains abounded, but we take the 2-year-old there all the time and we both find what we're looking for.

Half-Price Books
3110 Guadalupe

Best Used CD Collection

It's probably a matter of the buyers' taste which of these stores offers the most bang for the used CD buck, but each offers an extensive collection to choose from. Technophilia delves more deeply into the edges of alternative music with its offerings, while CD of Austin ranges across more styles into the mainstream. With the major record labels looking to raise the price of new CDs, the used bins in both stores are smart places to shop.

Best Vintage Vinyl

If you're any sort of music buff or collector, the record racks at Music Mania are a treasure trove of wonderful stuff in 12-inch LPs and 45s. With a selection that's as informed as it is tasteful, you can travel through decades of musical memories as you browse. The store also offers a great selection of import box sets (like the stuff from Germany's Bear Family) as well as classic import CDs. If you're into understanding the full language of rock'n'roll, shopping at Music Mania is like finding the Rosetta Stone.

3909 N. I-35

Friendliest Convenience Store

Featuring good beer specials and a pleasant staff that doesn't look at you as if you're about to commit armed robbery, but treats you instead as a human being, this is one place you're happy to return to again and again over the years. Some store clerks may come and go; others have worked there for years - but it's the friendly attitude that carries on and remains the same.

Pronto Food Mart
4301 Duval St.

Friendliest Grocery Store

The first of six Minimax grocery stores to open in Austin, and 39 years later, it's the last. Instead of offering a personal warmth generally found on only the finest of cattle cars, or religious services somewhere on aisle 37, Minimax does things the old-fashioned way, offering simple courtesy and a neighborliness that's usually found only in small towns. All this and S&H green stamps, too! Currently they're remodeling, and though the structure and fixtures may change, it's a sure bet that the folks who make shopping the Minimax such a great experience won't.

Crestview Minimax - IGA
7108 Woodrow

Most Affordable Vintage Clothing Store

The Love Cat proprietor makes regular runs to L.A. and other bustling markets in search of the most unique vintage and new styles. What makes the visit to Love Cat even more exciting is that you can actually afford to buy their stuff. Love Cat also carries shoes, sunglasses and jewelry They even have a real cat, but he's not for sale.

Love Cats
809 W. 12th

Critics: Services
1992 Intro

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