Food
1995 Readers Poll
1995 Critics Picks
Best Authentic Cantonese

With the opening of our newest, non-buffet, Cantonese restaurant, Austinites can now experience Chinatown cuisine without having to travel to southwest Houston. Rainbow's weekend Dim Sum brunch mixes traditional Cantonese - Roast Duck with Plum Sauce, Shu Mai, Fresh Shrimp Cheung-fun, Duck or Chicken Feet, Rice Congee with 1,000-year-old eggs, Snowballs, etc. - with nouveau offerings like Deep Fried or Panfried Chicken Dumpling, and Baked Barbecued Pork Buns. The dinner menu offers a variety of authentic noodle dishes, Cantonese soups, and entrées in addition to the more familiar dishes available locally. Bonus points for being one of the few places in town where you can get dishes with soft tofu. Rainbow is a magnet for the Asian community celebrating family banquets, so you may find the restaurant only serving take-out orders, but they take reservations for as few as two.

Best Beef Eater's Paradise

Not to be confused with the Dallas chain that has set up shop out on the interstate, this pleasant downtown beefery is a favorite place for the carnivores among us. Chef/owner Chris Mertens doesn't bother with faux boots and saddles; he just puts a great meal on the table. Judging by the crowds during the recent legislative session, Mertens will be serving up beef in Austin for years to come.

Austin Land & Cattle Company
1205 N. Lamar
512/472-1813
alcsteaks.com

Best Cheap Breakfast Come-Back

Here's the perfect spot to get away from the usual crowd - as long as you can settle for just one flavor of coffee. For a while there, it looked like the Frisco was going the route of its parent company, the Nighthawk - to the land of legend, of mere memory. Earning its place among Austin landmarks, the historic Frisco was one of the first restaurants to serve an integrated clientele and hire an integrated staff. Its comeback this year has us all a-twitter. Serving some of the best milkshakes in town, Frisco Shop is the king of diner fare, with great burgers; affordable steak, chicken, and fish dinners - and yes, even grits. Some of the original staff still work at the old joint and they have the beehives to prove it.

The Frisco
6801 Burnet Rd.
512/459-6279
www.thefriscoaustin.com

Best Chef Line-Up

Where else could you chat with the best chefs in town (Stewart Scruggs, Charles Mayes, Mike Ravago, David Garrido, Jeff Blank, to name only a few), the best chefs in the state (Jay McCarthy of Cascabel in San Antonio, Stephan Pyles of Star Canyon in Dallas), and the top cookbook authors in the country (Martha Rose Shulman, Aglaia Kremezi, Lora Brody, Patricia Quintana, Tommy Tang) in such a comfortable and educational atmosphere? Kudos to Director Rene Thomas, Executive Chef Ron Brannon, and J.P. Hayes for a terrific job. We love it!

Central Market North Cooking School
4001 N. Lamar
512/206-1014
www.centralmarket.com

Best Chocolate Desserts

We've eaten desserts all over town in the past year and it just comes down to a tie between these two popular spots. On Valentine's Day, Zoot pastry chef Craig Bushey blew us away with an exquisite heart-shaped creation of sponge cake, chocolate mousse cake, ganache, fresh berries, and whipped cream topped with a solid chocolate heart decorated with elegant, edible flowers. It was almost too lovely to eat. On the other hand, we're equally delighted and amazed by the splendid Chocolate Bag filled with Amy's Ice Cream and fresh fruit that chef Stephen McInerney and his staff serve up regularly at Granite Cafe. We should be faced with decisions like this every day.

Zoot
11715 Bee Caves Rd.
512/477-6535
www.zootrestaurant.com

Best Cookie Success Story

We salute super cookie baker Penny McClain for the success of her new East Austin wholesale cookie plant. Her scrumptious pastries are flying off the counters and shelves in local markets, and bags of her chocolate chip cookies are regular snacks on the flights of Southwest Airlines.

Penny's Pastries
512/302-3663

Best Croutons

"A crouton is a crouton is a crouton" does not apply here. Freshly made with baked bread, olive oil, and a hint of garlic by the Central Market kitchen staff, these generous-sized morsels are then toasted to the highest crouton perfection: a delectable crunchy square of heaven. You'll never go back to Pepperidge Farms again!

Central Market
Central Market North, 4001 N. Lamar, 512/206-1000
Central Market South, 4477 S. Lamar, 512/899-4300
www.centralmarket.com

Best Exotic Cafe

A swank variation on the neighborhood ice cream parlour, this fashionable Hyde Park gelato and espresso bar is the perfect after-dinner cafe. Dolce Vita offers Italian-style coffees and other imported beverages, desserts, wines, and a large selection of aperitifs including Remy Martin V.S.O.P, Chambord, and Macallan 12-year-old scotch. Treat yourself to a decadent creme brulée or one of the cafe's many flavors of gelato (a rich Italian ice cream). If you're watching your waistline, you won't be left longing; they serve a righteous chocolate sorbetto and a sparkling San Pellegrino to sip.

Best Farm Stand

This really is where the culinary elite meet to greet and eat. Every Wednesday and Saturday, 9am-2pm, you can buy TDA-certified organic produce at the farm where it is grown. Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle are the current stewards of this beautiful East Austin property that has been growing vegetables for Austinites for more than 150 years.

Boggy Creek Farm
3414 Lyons
512/926-4650
www.boggycreekfarm.com

Best Finger Food

You may have seen these delicious filled pockets in deli cases and in stranger places all over town, but did you know they now have a home of their own? This quaint little downtown restaurant serves lots of goodies you can eat with your hands, including sandwiches, hummus, and those famous empanadas - both fruit flavors and savories (meats and vegetables). The homemade soups and salads are tasty as well, but we recommend utensils for these.

Best Food Mystery

Chron staffers addicted to Flo's rib-sticking lunches were shocked when they drove up to the site of her serving trailer and found only a vacant slab! But lo and behold! Flo's is risen with her old favorites in a new location. Pick an entrée and three veggies, plunker down a coupla bucks and have a home-cooked epiphany! New Location!

Best Food Scientist

Part chef, part engineer, and part Ph.D. food scientist, local restaurateur Foo Swasdee created one of Austin's most popular Asian restaurants, Satay, as a test site for her stellar line of Thai sauces and condiments. We are all lucky that she did. While she's busy testing recipes and developing new markets, we'll just keep eating at Satay and making stir-fries at home with Satay sauces. That's Dr. Foo, to you.

Best Kept Secret

We wonder if filmmaker Richard Rodriguez envisioned this joint when he was shooting El Mariachi. You can rent your choice of Spanish-language videos and then belly up to the counter for some of the best comida casera (home cookin') on the Eastside. Try the soft, homemade gorditas stuffed with carne guisada and a fresh cantaloupe liquado for a true taste of Mexico. Look for Acapulco Video on East Seventh street for peliculas Mexicanas, and you can't miss the taqueria inside.

Best Kolaches

Though not technically in Austin, Blue Ribbon's ethereal pillows of yeast dough, with fillings made from scratch, are worth the short, scenic drive to the nearby Caldwell County hamlet of Prairie Lea. The sign above the small white frame building says "Your wife called and said to bring home Kolaches." There you have it.

Best Little Pho House In Texas

The cozy Vietnamese place at Koenig and Lamar not only slings a mean noodle, it also offers a number of cheap frills. Treat yourself to an iced French roast coffee with sweetened condensed milk, a fat shrimp spring roll, or an ice-cold Snowflake, China's best export beer.

Best Mainline To White Sugar OD

Traveling? Prepare yourself. Pink Cake is not available everywhere. Sure, New York has better bagels, but where's the Pink Cake??? And we'll wager that the pizza they brag about in Chicago is tastier, but bet they don't have Pink Cake. Granted, Seattle did the coffee-house thing before we did... but do they have Pink Cake? Hell No! So tell those snobby, grungy, humid, long-haired java-junkies to jump off a space needle if they dare to even breathe a comparison of True Culture and Cuisine! Pure and simple: Pink Cake rules. Available at many fine restaurants and bakeries, but the best is at: La Mexicana.

La Mexicana Bakery
1924 S. First
512/443-6369
www.la-mexicana-bakery.com

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Best Neighborhood Grocery

There are many things to love about the Green & White: the ambiance, the delicious tamales, the lucky candles. But where else in town can you buy a giant bottle of La Vencedora brand Mexican vanilla without coumarin or preservatives? It's the most wonderful vanilla flavor we've ever tasted.

Green & White Grocery
1201 E. Seventh
512/472-0675

Best New Barbeque Joint In Heaven

If it's heaven, there must be good barbecue. As of last month, the legendary Stubbs is serving up his special brand of smoked meats to the likes of Lubbock native Buddy Holly and being reunited with Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Stubb's
801 Red River
512/480-8341
www.stubbsaustin.com

photo by Sandy Carson

Best New Reason To Go Downtown

It seems there is a great new eatery, coffeehouse, or watering hole on the Avenue every time we go downtown. Regulars on the scene note that the atmosphere is not nearly so rowdy as on Sixth Street and not quite as chi-chi as the quickly developing west downtown district. Just good food, good drinks, and wonderful coffees on a leisurely stroll down the Avenue.

Best Of Show

Judges at the recent Fancy Food Show in New York just validated what we have known for years: that Timpone's smoky Salsa Muy Rica, chock full of garlic cloves, is true salsa nirvana. Our congratulations to Patrick Timpone and his hardworking salsa staff.

Best One-Two Cholesterol Punch

Every so often, our resolve to eat things that will prolong life - green, leafy vegetables, fresh fruit, bran - is swept away in a flood of craving for food that's really tasty and really bad: salt, sugar, fat. When this Dining Death Wish hits, we enrapture our taste buds while plugging up our arteries like the Dutch boy's dike at the spot on Guadalupe that's home to both Mangia Pizza and Amy's Ice Cream. After downing some extravagantly cheesy pie and a scoop of Belgian chocolate, we're ecstatic enough to be beyond this mortal plane, anyhow.

Amy's Ice Creams
10000 Research #140
512/345-1006
www.amysicecreams.com

Best Pasta Shop

Central: Pasta & Co. Mary Lou Morales has been making excellent pasta in this busy shop on Austin's quaintest shopping street for more than 12 years. In addition to fresh pasta, there are take-out lunch specials, frozen entrées, eggplant parmesan, and risotto, plus fabulous homemade breadsticks and biscotti. 3502 Kerbey Lane, 453-0633 South: Bottega de la Pasta It's a measure of how much Austin has grown and changed that this wonderful little pasta factory prospers in South Austin. Stop in to see Rino Lanzalotti for pasta; fresh or dried, stuffed or die cut, sauced or not. Andiamo!

Best Picnic Provisions

Whether you're out to simply pack the fixins for sandwiches or desire a fancier spread of ready-made gourmet fare, these connected businesses supply a portable summertime feast. The neighborhood Fresh Plus is the cream of the crop, with its sumptuous snacks, ample beer selection, and imported comestibles. Cook's Night Out offers a large selection of wines and a deli case full of fresh entrées, salads, breads, and baked goods too delicious to leave out of your basket.

Fresh Plus
1221 West Lynn
512/477-5574
www.freshplusaustin.com

Best Place To Meet A Dallas Cowboy

Rumor has it that this eatery's proximity to the Cowboy's training camp is making it the place to Blue Star gaze. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner into the wee hours, Magnolia can apparently satisfy even the biggest appetites. We're always happy to hang out on the patio - even if Emmitt doesn't join us at our table.

Magnolia Cafe
1920 S. Congress
512/445-0000
www.magnoliacafeaustin.com

Best Place To Run Into Everyone You Know & Figure Out Who They Took Home Friday Night

Scene-watcher's alert! You can't live on gossip alone, so you might as well stuff yourself with some muy bueno, cheap-a-rino breakfast tacos, to boot.

Best Possibility

Rumors abound that Threadgill's founder Eddie Wilson is about to close a deal to open Threadgill's World Headquarters at the former Wyatt's location on Riverside. That would be mere footsteps from the hallowed ground of another Wilson venture, the legendary Armadillo World Headquarters. See you there.

Threadgill's
Threadgill's North, 6416 N. Lamar, 512/451-5440
www.threadgills.com

Best Restaurant Fundraising Idea

The Sfuzzi folks raised over $1,000 for the victims of the Oklahoma City bomb tragedy by inviting extremely well-heeled, well-dressed, and well-fed people to blow smoke. What a concept.

Best Return To Form

These two classic Austin bakeries are celebrating their respective 20th and 15th anniversaries. This year, both businesses have returned to their former glory with excellent lines of naturally leavened artisan breads. Local bread- and pastry-lovers revel in new flavors and textures served up among the old favorites.

Sweetish Hill Bakery & Cafe
1120 W. Sixth
512/472-1347
www.sweetishhill.com

Best Romantic Dining Spot

Chef Jean-Louis DeHoux and his talented staff have created a charming, comfortable little get-away that is the perfect restaurant in which to fall in love, get engaged, and celebrate an anniversary, according to good friends of ours who have done it all there. Maybe it's the relaxed atmosphere of a European country restaurant, the red roses presented to ladies at the end of each dinner, or the Belgian chocolate truffles that arrive with the after-dinner coffee. Whatever it is, our friends assure us, it works.

Best Sushi

We can't get enough of Musashino's fresh, reasonably priced sushi or their exemplary service - the waitstaff carefully explains every piece of sushi, sashimi, or roll they bring to the table. The regular plate comes with seven pieces of sushi, three pieces of a roll, miso soup, and a salad; if you want to splurge, order the Sushi Tokujo, which is a best-of-the-day special assortment. Hard-core fans will enjoy Unagi and traditional rolls like Tekka Maki, while beginners might choose from the "Rolls Born in the U.S.A." section of the menu. The sushi-squeamish can order their sushi cooked.

Musashino Sushi Dokoro
2905 San Gabriel St, Ste 200
512/795-8593
www.musashinosushi.com

Best Sweet / Salt Satiate

They're crunchy! They're salty! And they're wallowing in whichever variety of the doctor's chocolate you order - white, milk, or dark. You say you have a worthy contestant to sate this salt/sweet craving? Well, pardon our skepticism. Bring enough for everyone in the office and we'll get back to you....

Best Trekkie Dining Experience

Saturday is "Italian night," and every few weeks, for reasons unknown, the staff dresses in Star Trek uniforms.

Best Urban Farm

If you've enjoyed the summer bounty of fresh, homegrown tomatoes at Kerbey Lane Cafe, then you are acquainted with Austin farmers Cora and Bob Lamar. For years now, the Lamars have been growing produce specifically for the three Kerbey Lane restaurants at their farms in and around Austin. You can't get any fresher than that.

Best Wishes For Another 100 Years

The Faulk, Koock, and Buslett families are very busy at Green Pastures this summer. The venerable Grande Dame of Austin restaurants is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the house and the 50th anniversary of the restaurant in August of 1995. Congratulations!

photo by John Anderson

 
Critics: Entertainment
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