1996 Readers Poll
1996 Critics Picks
Best 3-cups

Just thinking about Pao's 3-Cup Chicken makes us salivate! Everything about this dish is addictive: the smell, the taste, the way its presented, the way it sizzles when its served... Just like the home restaurants in Beijing, Pao's has perfected this Chinese dish of chicken, mushrooms, cilantro, and ginger in a flavorful sauce. It's truly authentic, and their other dishes are excellent, too!

Pao's Mandarin House
2300 Lohmans Spur #134

Best Airline Snacks

As the prices of airline tickets escalate skyward, companies have grounded meal service, replacing lunch and dinner with a more economical "snack." American Airlines has the best, in the form of Austin's Michael Angelo's Smoked Turkey & Cheese Calzone. Michael Angelo's, an Austin-based frozen-food company, makes tasty, microwaveable products which can be found in the frozen food sections of most local groceries. So far, though, you can only taste the Smoked Turkey & Cheese calzone while thousands of feet off the ground, on an American flight.

Best Breakfast Taco

The potato and egg breakfast tacos at Mi Madres are something to look forward to -- fresh scrambled eggs and perfectly grilled, bite-sized potato chunks on a steamy flour tortilla. The odd shape of the small enclosed dining area (there's a larger, restaurant-style patio out back at the Manor Road location) are reminiscent of the dulcerias (candy stores) and tacquerias one might encounter during a weekend in Monterrey. Mi Madres serves a full interior-style menu after breakfast and through lunch and, of course, they serve bacon, chorizo, cheese and any combination thereof on their tacos.

Mi Madre's
2201 Manor Rd.

Best Brooklyn Family Style

Perhaps it's no John's on Washington Avenue, but this little out-of-the-way eatery would make our Godfather proud (at least if he were visiting Texas). We've searched high and low for anything even close to a decent meatball or a real antipasto, and this quirky place has it. Located downtown on Eighth Street between Lavaca and Colorado for many years, the restaurant moved far north during the Eighties. Dinners include salad, minestrone soup, an individual pizza, and a satisfying main course (we like eggplant parmagiana and spaghetti with Italian sausage). Last time we dined to the croons of Frank Sinatra, and Pavarotti accompanied our dessert of fabulous homemade cheesecake. The only thing missing are the guns and the cannoli.

Best Buns

We've ogled the noodles of just about every Vietnamese restaurant in town, but when it comes to that traditional dish of rice vermicelli topped with charcoal-grilled meat, shrimp, or golden tofu and shredded vegetables -- theirs is the bun we keep reaching for. And we certainly don't mean to call them cheap, but along with super-friendly family service and a quality of ingredients that'd make the competition turn the other cheek, Fortune's low prices are definitely one of the things that keep us coming back for more.

Best Capisicum Kick

At Evita's, devouring chips and salsa is a religious experience. With every basket of crisp chips, the restaurant serves six heavenly bowls of homemade liquid fire. The smooth chipotle is a revelation; the mild, black bean-based sauce divine. But the weak of palate ought be forewarned: Evita's potent melange of chile piquin and chile arbol is entirely unforgiving!

Best Caterer

Partners Rebecca Wallace and Leslie Moore are still at the top of their game after many years as Austin's busiest caterers. Regular customers commend the excellent food, the skillful service, and artful presentations. Other contenders here would include Megan Bowman of the Articulate Hand, Prairie Rock Catering, and wedding reliables Assorted Affairs.

Word of Mouth
2501 N. Lamar

Best Cheap Dinner & Movie Combo

Headed to the $1 theatres? Plan your movie around a trip to the Holiday House on Airport Blvd. Though they switched to a heavy barbecue menu this year, you can still snag their chicken-fried steak dinner for $2.95. That's dinner for two and the movies for under $10 with tax. Top that!

Holiday House
908 E. Fourth, Lampassas

photograph by John Anderson   John Anderson

Best Dependable Comfort Food

By day, we talk a good game, all in the know about the latest in haute cuisine. But when the lights go down and the jet-set are out for an evening of fine china and whine lists, some of us slink off in search for something a little more, er... reasonable. Sometimes we just want to go to a place where we are not compelled to count the wait staff's piercings -- a place Uncle Carl and Aunt Mae would've taken us as a kid, to slide the tray on the friendly rails picking up nice hunks of baked fish and sweet slaw and golly-day the most normal tasting macaroni & cheese you ever did eat, and one of those yummy cornsticks shaped like a real gosh-darned ear of the stuff -- where you won't run into everyone and your ex-lover, so you can just wash it down with a coupla cartons of chocolate moo. God bless the Marimont.

Best Eastside Food Delivery

As those of us who reside east of I-35 can attest, options are pretty slim where dinner delivery is concerned. The shining light in the neighborhood is La Pizza Loca. The pies, especially the Carnitas pizza, are delicious and reasonably priced. The service is relatively speedy.

photograph by John Anderson   John Anderson

Best Enchiladas Rojas

This ordinary Mexican plate is far from common at El Sol y La Luna, the chile ancho sauce is just about the best we've tasted over enchiladas. The pleasant little Mexican cafe serves all our other Tex-Mex favorites (especially breakfasts) with an authentic flair, under the sun... and well into the moonlight.

Best Falafel

We're wild about these tasty, hand-held middle Eastern morsels that are sold in all our favorite grocery stores and deli cases. Creators Sarge and Victor are at work 'til the wee hours every day, filling and wrapping both the mild original and chile pepper-enhanced turbo varieties. Look for them at Wheatsville, Whole Foods, Central Market, Randall's, HEB's, Sun Harvest... just about everywhere.

Best Flying Nuts

Okay, we'll try to avoid the obvious puns here: Southwest Airlines chose AustiNuts as their official supplier of airborne legumes. We think that's just ducky, especially since Southwest's fares are peanuts. D'oh!

Best Fresh Juice

If you let it, Central Market's Apple Lemon Ginger Juice will trifle with your taste buds. Oh, it starts innocently enough. A tart flirtation of lemon and zest, and after the tiniest of pauses, a sweet, easy, honeyed kiss... But, uh-oh, what's this? The inevitable burn. The slow, searing, gingery end. You want to forget, to move on, but what the hell. One more swallow.

Central Market North
4001 N. Lamar

Best Game

South Austin's Skyline Grill brings game dining to the common man by stuffing venison into tender raviolis, serving it as a chicken fried steak, and blending it with raisins and avocado in a unique, chile-relleno inspired dish. We never knew venison could be so addictive. Enter game farmers John and Sidney Jones of J*One*S Ranch in Driftwood, whose European fallow deer are raised according to a tradition that dates from the Egyptian Pharaohs. The couple's herd has free range of 430 acres along Onion Creek, and the J*One*S venison supplied to restaurants and groceries is always shipped fresh, never frozen, meaning you're treated to tender, mild-tasting game even the most doubting of carnivores can appreciate.

Best Gender-bending Caffiene Kick

Forget joe, and head to this cool new coffeehouse for a mean cup a jane. We love the name, the vintage strip-mall location, and the Euro-chic decor at this purple and celadon cafe. Wide bistro armchairs, copper-topped tables, neo-retro light fixtures, and breezy drapery produce the perfect haven for java sipping. Live music is part of the scene at night, and empanadas and sandwiches can satisfy a craving for solids.

Best Genuine French Atmosphere

Maybe it's the authentic decor, the cheerful cafe curtains and the flower-filled Pastis bottles on the tables that get to us. Then again, it could be the French country aromas and Francois' dreamy accent as he shows us to a table and makes an informed wine suggestion. Whatever it is, we are transported to France every time we dine here.

Best Gnocchi

Our lives are too fast-paced and complicated to make pasta, so we let Rino Lanzalotti do it for us. We're addicted to the hand-rolled Northern Italian potato dumplings that are one of his specialties. We love to eat them with bolognese sauce and parmesan right there in the shop, and sometimes we even discipline ourselves to buy them and cook them at home.

Best Homegrown Away From Home

Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle tend to their TDA-certified organic garden at Boggy Creek with care, and allow Austinites to reap the benefits. Wednesday and Saturday markets (9am-2pm) at the historical farmstead are always a cornucopia. We love the sweet green eggplant and tender mesclun. At Eastside Cafe, the harvest is smaller, but the upshot is that someone else cooks it for you. Check the chalkboards at this unassuming neighborhood cafe to know what's in season, then enjoy a post-dinner stroll through the rows of plenty.

Boggy Creek Farm
3414 Lyons

Best Ice Cream Soda

A few squirts of flavored syrup, three scoops of Blue Bell mixed in, and a just enough fizzy water to fill the glass. This soda-fountain sculpture stands just under a foot high, complete with whipped cream and crowned with a gloriously unnatural Maraschino cherry. Nau's serves the best of the old-school fountain favorites and the only truly acceptable pink drink in town (cherry flavor only).

Best Inland Shrimp

Fresh seafood takes on a whole new connotation at this commercial indoor shrimp farm just south of the city in Buda. The farming practices eliminate the possibility of contaminants or pollutants affecting the 10,000 pounds of Pacific white shrimp they can produce weekly. Penbur farm-raised shrimp have a sweet, mild flavor, no vein to clean, and they are available at Central Market and Whole Foods.

Best Joint Venture

We have to commend Schlotzsky's mogul John Wooley for the vision which melded his sandwich empire with one of the nation's premiere artisan bakeries and produced such a winner. The franchise training facility/deli/bakery with the wood-burning European brick oven was one of this year's biggest local hits. It quickly became one of our favorite places for people-watching on the lovely decks while we enjoy breakfast pastries and very good coffee.

2545 W. Anderson, 512/419-0031
1915 Guadalupe, 512/457-1129
111 W. William Cannon #202, 512/462-2222
5105 Balcones Woods Dr., 512/338-9494
13201 FM 620, 512/257-2112
500 Canyon Ridge Dr., Bldg. G, 512/873-8700
ABIA: Schlotzsky's, 3600 Presidential, 512/530-2242
6301 W. Parmer, 512/918-2867

Best Mass-produced Brownie

While most mass-market attempts at approximating the Holy Grail of Chocolate Baked Goods taste like the plastic they come in, these little tempting treats in tin have all the earmarks of homemade: gooey center, firm, hardened edges, and flakey top. And at less than two measly bucks, this plate full of chocolate chew can please a whole troop of those little scouts along with whom they share a name.

7015 Village Center Dr., 512/502-8445
2400 S. Congress, 512/442-2354
2701 E. Seventh, 512/478-7328
10710 Research #200, 512/794-8221
6900 Brodie, 512/891-8900
11521 FM 620 N., 512/249-0558
2508 E. Riverside, 512/448-3544
201 FM 685 N., Pflugerville, 512/251-0002
1080 E. 290, Elgin, 512/285-4168
500 Canyon Ridge Dr., 512/973-8143
5808 Burnet, 512/453-8864
7112 Ed Bluestein #125, 512/926-1491
9414 N Lamar, 512/835-5400
600 W. William Cannon, 512/447-5544
6001 W. Parmer, 512/249-0400
5800 W. Slaughter, 512/301-9770

Best Movie Star Food

Film director Nora Ephron held area-wide pie auditions for a coveted role in her feature film, Michael. The unanimous winner: Threadgill's kitchen jefe Sam Castro's lattice crust Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, a sweet-tangy filling encased in a tender, flaky crust. The pie evidently plays a pivotal role in the film which also starred John Travolta, Andie McDowell and William Hurt. We're happy to report that the Movie Star pie is now a regular part of Threadgill's cast, starring on the dessert menu daily.

Best Neighborhood Biergarten

All who live in the French Place/Cherrywood/Maplewood area east of the highway know that the spokes on which they reside ultimately converge on the hub that is Pato's Tacos. Sunday morning hangover relief is just a short walk away with good, greasy migas, and cool evening breezes make their biergarten a relaxing place for a cold one, a plate of enchiladas, and good music. And you'll probably see the neighbors there, too.

Best No-Attitude Turtle Soup

When you eat lunch at Quality Seafood, always ask about the soups first. They're not posted in plain view, but they feature some of the finest food ever served in a bowl. About every other Friday, the crew at Quality makes up a batch of spiritual turtle soup, with tasty chunks of (yes) farm-raised turtle in stock thick with herbs and liberally spiked with sherry. Regulars have wised up and have started taking quarts to go, so learn the schedule, then eat early and often.

Quality Seafood Market
5621 Airport

photo by John Anderson

Best Pizza & Strudel

A regular contender in the Austin Pizza Wars, Nick's name comes up when weary new-to-towners ask "Who's got the best thin crust?" This flaky crunch is capped with a tangy sauce and chewy, gooey Mozzarella to complement your choice of topping. But don't leave the place until you top it all off with one of Nick's sugary, fruity strüdels. A must on your jaunts out to the lake. Heaven on the way to... well, heaven!

Best Place To Eat To Live Music

Maybe it's just the unpretentious border-style Mexican food plates, their hot liquid salsa and fresh chips, or the sounds of Don Walser on Tuesday nights, but we think Jovita's totally rules. Another Dos Equis, please.

Best Place To Tea-se Your Brain And Appease Your Whistle

After temporarily relocating from their downtown location to Planet Theatre, partners Phil and Cindy have found a new home for the beloved High Time Tea Bar and Brain Gym in South Austin (78704, it's not just a zip code, it's a double latte). They took the tiniest of buildings and somehow managed to make it seem a whole lot bigger than it once was. With a lovely outdoor patio (refuge for you smokers and heat seekers) and a cozy indoors, the place is downright homey. Happy hour with non-alcoholic drink specials daily. And a hearty, healthy menu, too. Welcome to South Austin, guys. What took you so long?

Best Pocket Propogation

These delicious meat and fruit-filled hors d'oeuvres have infiltrated just about every deli counter and coffee shop we've visited recently. And while empanada varieties appear to be increasing in number, so are they in scope -- we even found empanada emissaries all the way in San Antonio at the Mad Hatters Tea café.

Best Reason To Order Kerbey's Quesadillas

The chipotle sauce at Kerbey Lane Cafe sends us into seventh heaven, and we couldn't be more thrilled that Eat Out In has added it as a condiment on their delivery menu. It's creamy, hot, garlicky, smoky, and absolutely mouth-watering. Order a side at the restaurant and slather it on the quesadillas. Or the smoked chicken enchiladas. Or just dip the chips in it. Who said ambrosia was the food of the gods?

Kerbey Lane Cafe
3704 Kerbey, 512/451-1436
13435 Hwy. 183 N. #415, 512/258-7757
2606 Guadalupe, 512/477-5717
4301 W. William Cannon, 512/899-1500
3003 S. Lamar, 512/445-4451
2120 N. Mays St., Round Rock, 512/879-2827
701 Capital of TX Hwy. S., 512/879-2820
2200 Aldrich #100, 512/879-2818

Best Rebound From The Cyclospora Scare

We didn't realize that there was an up side to contaminated produce until we tasted the chocolated-covered grapes at Lammes. Introduced for Father's Day as a last minute substitute for their traditional chocolate covered strawberries (the summer fruit was thought to be the carrier of the bacteria) the unusual candies were an instant hit, tasting a bit like a chocolate raisin, but with a burst of tangy juice. All boxes brought back to the office disappeared within moments; everyone who tried one wanted more, more, more, please. We fervently hope that the succulent grapes are a regular addition to the Lammes line.

Lammes Candies
5330 Airport, 512/453-2899
110 N. I-35, Round Rock, 512/388-1885
2927 W. Anderson Ste. A, 512/645-2960

photo by Sandy Carson

Best Resurrection

Lubbock native John Scott and his partners honored their friend, legendary BBQ king C.B. Stubblefield, by opening a restaurant and music venue that bears his name. In the process, they resurrected the sight of a landmark nightclub (the One Knite) and cleaned up one of downtown's most notorious crack dens to boot. The food is pretty good, too.

801 Red River

Best Salad Dressing

Fresh, green-leaf lettuce, feta cheese, red onions and real Greek olives -- all good ingredients, but it's the dressing that makes the Greek salad at Milto's. With a creamy texture, but a terrific, tart kick, it is accented by true Grecian oregano and fragrant olive oil. Great with greens, but we end up putting it on everything -- crusty bread, raw or cooked veggies, and grilled chicken. Buy it at the restaurant, keep it on hand at home.


Best Sandwich Like Mom Used To Make

Actually, even mom didn't make 'em this good. Hyde Park's favorite neighborhood haunt blends two cheeses with aromatic herbs and generously piles the compact spread high atop dark sandwich bread. Add an order of the restaurant's famous fries, and you've ordered a lunch sure to stick to your ribs.

Hyde Park Bar & Grill
4206 Duval, 512/458-3168
4521 Westgate Blvd., 512/899-2700

Best Save Of An Austin Tradition

For over 27 years, the Dart Bowl Steakhouse near the corner of Burnet and Anderson welcomed hungry bowlers and non-bowlers alike. Tops on the menu were the famous enchiladas covered with chili con carne and two eggs sunny side up. Rising real estate values and operating costs shut the old bowling alley down last year, but the restaurant found a new home at the Capital Bowl location. Butch Martinets, who also owns the cafés at Westgate and Highland bowling alleys, should also be in the running for Best Boss in Austin. Three of his 25 employees have been with him for over 24 years, and several others have worked in his small chain of bowling alley cafes for over 10 years. All of the employees from the old location moved with him.

photo by David Brendan Hall

Best Seafood Cocktails

Austin is a little land-locked for our seafood lovin' tastes, but each of these joints serves up a long, cool Mexican-style coctel that truly satisfies our coastal cravings. Marisco Grill has a larger selection of seafood on the menu, featuring vuelve a la vida (return to life), a blend of sea-fare that usually includes oysters, shrimp, octopus and sometimes conch. Los Comales, which is a traditonal Norteño taqueria, serves a substantial coctel de camarones (shrimp cocktail) that has no problem holding its own on the menu heavy with meats of the four-legged variety.

Los Comales
2136 E. Seventh

Best Staff Of Life

Sink your teeth into this dense, earthy loaf just once, and you'll swear man can live by bread alone. The folks at Whole Foods have suspended production of the heavy round for several months now, but promise it will be back in the bakery come Fall. We hope so!

Whole Foods Market
Whole Foods Market Gateway, 9607 Research #300, 512/345-5003
Whole Foods Market Downtown, 525 N. Lamar, 512/476-1206
Whole Foods Market Arbor Trails, 4301 W. William Cannon, 512/358-2460
Whole Foods Market Bee Cave, 12601 Hill Country Blvd, Bee Cave, 512/206-2730
Whole Foods Market Domain, 11920 Domain Dr., 512/831-3981

courtesy of Musashino Sushi Dokoro

Best Sushi

There's nothing fishy going on; we picked this place last year and after diving into the burgeoning sushi sea-n, Musashino still sails to the top of our list. Just what is it that floats our boat? Most likely it's their fresh selection of high-quality meats, the friendly, informative staff, and the traditional floor show of skilled sushi chefs artfully wielding their knives on our Tekamaki.

Musashino Sushi Dokoro
2905 San Gabriel St. #200

Best Tortilla Substitute

Even in the middle of the Tejas Tortilla Belt, there's always room for another fresh-baked flatbread. Phoenicia sells six-packs of perfect pita made from your choice of white or wheat flour. Peruse the aisles and deli cases for appropriate imported stuffin's -- and buy an extra bag for the drive home.

Phoenicia Bakery & Deli
2912 S. Lamar, 512/447-4444
4701-A Burnet Rd., 512/323-6770

Best Urban Farmer's Market

In a big effort to support area organic growers, Austin's homegrown health food grocery store chain presents a Farmers' Market in front of the downtown store on Wednesday afternoons and at Gateway on Saturday mornings. Farmers pay a fee of 6% of their sales to rent a space, and the produce is freshly picked and sometimes cheaper than what you'll find in the store.

Whole Foods Market
Whole Foods Market Gateway, 9607 Research #300, 512/345-5003
Whole Foods Market Downtown, 525 N. Lamar, 512/476-1206
Whole Foods Market Arbor Trails, 4301 W. William Cannon, 512/358-2460
Whole Foods Market Bee Cave, 12601 Hill Country Blvd, Bee Cave, 512/206-2730
Whole Foods Market Domain, 11920 Domain Dr., 512/831-3981

Best Vegetarian Dish

It's filling, it's flavorful, and it's far from the uninspired mess we're tired of picking away at half-heartedly. In this dish, tempeh takes to the tastes of Thailand like a fish does to water. We pair it with a smoothie and walk away from this Austin Institution -- Martin Bros. was the original deli inside the first Whole Foods Market -- feeling fat and happy.

photograph by John Anderson   John Anderson

Best Way To Fake A Home-Cooked Meal

Any fool can hit the salad bar and come away with a serviceable feed. But when you crave something substantial, something homey, something downright Mom-like, here's the drill. Grab some baking spuds from the produce section, then snag a warm roast chicken and a container of pre-fab green beans provençal over at the deli case. You can set the table while the potatoes are nuking (toss the beans in next to them for the last three minutes). Score extra points if you remembered wine and dinner rolls. Even without them, Mom would be proud.

Central Market North
4001 N. Lamar

Sweetest Tea

The local custom of pouring unsweetened iced tea confuses transplants from the Deep South, where tea recipes call for as much sugar as water. "Sweet tea" just isn't an option here. Sallies' Eastside kitchen makes up for this neglect by mixing up tea sweet enough to trigger a full insulin coma. Have a tall cup and wait for the sugar crystals to form on your forehead.

Critics: Entertainment
Critics: Kids

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