1997 Readers Poll
1997 Critics Picks
Best Baguette

It's been our continuous quest: to find a baguette worthy of its name. Our searching ends at this mammoth South Austin bakery, where slim golden loaves exit the brick oven baked as close to perfection as it comes, with a crisp light crust and a soft dense inside.

Best Breakfast Beyond The Ordinary

When we get a hankering for a breakfast beyond the ubiquitous taco, we head to HighLife Cafe where smoked salmon, steamed eggs, homemade hearth bread, and fresh squeezed juices complement an ebony pot of dense French press coffee.

407 E. Seventh, 474-5338

Best But-it's-good-for-me Smoothie & Best Full Food Pyramid In A Single Dish

You gotcher protein, yer calcium, yer potassium -- this is a cool, creamy meal in cup and it's scrumptious to boot. And it ain't no rabbit food neither. That peanut butter will stick to your ribs clear through to yer midnight snack. It's dessertifiable too -- just ask the Wrapi-staff to douse yers with a little chocolate and voila! you've made your meal into delicious junk food. One caveat, unless implosion is your cup of tea, we don't recommend sucking through the straw.When we need nutrition in a pinch, we cop a fat wrap from this new spot on the Drag. With vegetables, meat and grains rolled into nearly every wrap, all that's left to order is a smoothie for the dairy/fruit quotient, and you've got a meal that would make the US Department of Agriculture proud.

3023 Guadalupe, 476-9727

Best Cheap Food Near Campus

Most people think of the Drag when it comes to campus eats, but go east, young student - great food awaits in the red, white, and green building at I-35 & 26th Street. American cheese (and lots of it) would seem to be an odd ingredient in the cheddar-&-jack-dominated Tex-Mex world, but we're converts now. This previous BoA winner (Best Chorizo Migas, 1994) sends academics back to class stuffed, sleepy, and satisfied.

Enchiladas y Mas
1911 W. Anderson

John Anderson

Best Chicken Salad Sandwich

Chicken salad conjures up images of blue-haired ladies lunching, but the smoky stuff Ruby's slathers on its sandwiches is chicken salad for the Nineties. Spiked with almond slivers, the stuff is the perfect juxtaposition of the creamy and comforting, and smoky and seductive.

Best Cinnamon Roll & Best Proof Of A Supreme Being & Best Bread That Eats Like A Meal

The eating of an Upper Crust cinnamon roll is an art form that can take all morning. Oh, the intrepid, go-getters among us might take the bite-right-in method and achieve a heady commingling of textures for their boldness. But those of us who like to linger in heaven will savor the crisp and sugary crust first, slowly uncoiling this magnificent spiral, bit by sweet and succulent bit. Each divinely cinnamony, increasingly tender bite gets us closer to that moist and toothsome center, until the last soft morsel is gone. If only these rolls weren't so generous and filling, if only we had more time."God leaves them at the door every morning," swears a friend. If they weren't divine, you'd think eating one a sin. And at $1.10 a throw, not even J.R. "Bob" Dobbs can offer salvation so cheaply.Some breads really need a partner. The best can stand alone. The Upper Crust's Ricotta Herb Bread is one of the best. Full of real herb flakes and a nicely baked layer of cheese on the crust with a taste and texture that are a perfect match for a crispy salad or a fresh tomato sauce, this bread is substantial enough to nourish you and your closest friend, even though it may not give you all of your RDAs.

Upper Crust Bakery
4508 Burnet Rd.

photograph by John Anderson   John Anderson

Best Cuisine Theft

A cheesesteak sandwich probably doesn't meet most criteria for cuisine, but the locals do a great knock off of this Philly staple. While many makers in the city of brotherly love (or is that open hostility?) swear that authenticity mandates the use of Cheese Whiz, Texadelphia delivers a stellar sandwich with a less alarming mozzarella and with a handful of sauce choices for variety.

9828 Great Hills Trail #140, 512/338-1338
14010 N. Hwy. 183 #500, 512/249-0249
5400 Brodie, 512/891-6464
5510 S. I-35, Ste. E410, 512/804-0804
501 W. 15th, 512/391-9189
7849 Shoal Creek, 512/454-3334

Best Deliver Me Good & Quick

Oh, lordy are we living in our own! Uh- Private Idaho, that is. We can attest to its "tuberular" goodness. For the first time, many of us here are actually compelled to eat potatoes. Our proofreading department orders on the average of 72 times a week. We can't tell if it is the Keanu Reeves connection or the amazing deals on build-your-own-potatoes or the fact that unlike our last veep, they actually know how to spell "potato," but for whatever reason, their variety of veggie toppings, theme spuds, and yummy sandwiches keep us a'dialing and a'dialing. "Clay, your lunch is in the lobby!"

Best Dinner Skin Show

Commodities traders in Chicago may have a soft spot for pork bellies, but we prefer the softly undulating human belly that accompanies Middle Eastern mezzes Thursday nights at Ararat. Nothing like celebrating the beauty of a full figure while filling your daily calorie count.

Best Drive-thru Ribs

Tired of Quarter Pounders and fries? Take a drive down Airport to Slim's Real Bar-B-Que and get a slice of slow-cooked soul slid straight through your car window. Slim lets smoke, not sauce, do the talkin' on his spicy slabs - served with a smile at $5.25 for a plate with two sides. So if you got a hankerin' for some 'cue, and can handle a greasy steering wheel, slide on down to Slim's for a sack of sloppy satisfaction.

5310 Airport, 302-9595

Best Expansion Of An Eastside Franchise

Surrounded by mostly Latino clientele and waitstaff, you might easily think you're in the heart of the Eastside - especially when you sample the delicious food. There's no predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in the area that we know of, so apparently people who know good Mexican food are coming from all over town to hit this place. It's easy to taste why. Ask for the nopalito tacos.LEE ADD TO THIS!

Taqueria Arandas No. 3
6534 Burnet

Best Food On The Spot, Whichever Spot You Desire

You just stumbled in from the bars. Or maybe you never left the house. Maybe you just sat on the porch and smoked a couple of big ones. Now you are STARVING. Short of swerving the car over to I-Hop or the Magnolia, what is a party boy/girl to do? Ahhhh... Meet Midnight Tacos, Austin's answer to San Francisco's Tacquerias. They have a permanant location on North Loop (across from Ararat and Forbidden Fruit, near Avenue F) but BETTER YET they have the Midnight Taco Trucks that will, no foolin', drive up to your house and prepare you a fresh Mexican Feast on the spot. Non-Commital Fajitas for Two (you only need eat them together, nothing else expected afterwards....), Sheldon's tacos, Vegeritos.... These guys can do no wrong and they're cute AND CHEAP, too. Home delivery on the weeknights from 7pm til 1 am. On the weekends until, dig this, 4 am. And the permanent location is a must-see too. Totally groovy -something between Haight-Ashbury and the Jersey Boardwalk.

100-B North Loop, 453-2200

photograph by John Anderson   John Anderson

Best Free Meal & Grazing & Beer Sale

Don't go grocery shopping while hungry, says conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom, though, must have never gone to CM's weekend (?) samplefests. If you can tough the rabid crowds clustering about the demonstration tables, you can fill your growling tummy with a virtual (and did we mention delicious?) seven-course meal as you fill your shopping basket.After a handful of raisins, six sips of fresh pineapple juice, 2 slices of dinosaur-egg plumcot, 3 white Washington cherries, one snippet of fresh sausage, a tiny plastic spoonful of swordfish, a slug of coffee, Sass on celery, a bite of brown-resistant guacamole, a hunk of Irish soda bread, and cheese cheese cheese, who needs groceries?Like some of the smartest rats, we've figured out the quickest route to reward: ignore the damn maze and enter the store through the Cafe--the special beer display is right next to the cash register. Six packs of Bass or Guinness for $4.99 and of Celis or Pyramid for $3.99 are some of the regular specials, and like some other great sales at Central Market, these last all month long.

Central Market North
4001 N. Lamar

Best Half-price Burgers

Even though hanging at the Parlor sometimes reminds some of us of our misspent youth, it's still one of our favorite places for burgers. The half-price deal on Tuesday nights positively can't be beat. We'll have two big, juicy bacon-1X chili-cheese burgers with a bag of Fritos, please. After 20 years with no fried food, rumor has it they're about to add a fryer. A mess of beer-batter onion rings with those burgers would really hit the spot.

Texas Chili Parlor
1409 Lavaca

Best Holiday Tamalada

What started out three years ago as a small project to involve non-English speaking parents in a cultural exchange at this near South Austin elementary school has grown into an extremely successful fundraiser every December. Families come to school and stay all day, making, cooking, eating and selling tamales for consumption during the upcoming holiday season. It's strengthened the social bonds among parents, teachers and students and raised the level of cultural awareness for everyone. And they make good tamales.

Travis Heights Elementary
2010 Alameda

Best Iced Mocha Latte

Get it with skim milk; your taste buds won't miss the fat when they enter nirvana after the first sip.

503 W. Oltorf, 462-0804

photograph by John Anderson   John Anderson

Best Little Slice Of NY In N. Austin

When the moon-ah hitsa yooo eye like-a bigga pizzzzzzzz-ah-pie, that's Reale's! Resident cranky Chron food guy Robb Walsh gave them the nod in our pizza issue this year. But since his last name is Walsh, we took our own hot roman blood to the family-owned pizzeria way up on 183 to taste for ourselves. Mama mia! It isn't just the hundreds of Chianti bottles that line the walls, it isn't just the Dino and Frank pumped through the PA, it isn't just the buff manager whose real name is Gino that convinces us. It is the amazing attention to detail, replicating experiences hard to come by this side of NY's Little Italy! It is delicate, cruncy crust, slathered with real Italian tomato sauce! It is The Cheese! As they say in the Big Apple: We heart Reale's!

Reale's Pizza & Cafe
13450 Hwy. 183 N.

Best Meatball Sandwich

We had been going here for the pizza, but then discovered the meatball sandwich one fateful lunch. The handmade meatballs, lots of provolone, and really tasty marinara sauce are enough to make this the best meatball sub in Austin, but the bread really puts it over the top of the other good meatball subs in town (i.e., Delaware and Longhorn). They also bring oregano to the table so that you can keep piling it on as you need it. Ah, jeez, indeed.

Best Mom & Pop Neighborhood Bakery

The discovery of this little southwest Austin treasure has been the serious downfall of our diets. We've become addicted to the big, flaky schnecken, studded with walnuts and fat raisins and the cinnamon rolls dusted with crunchy cinnamon sugar. Our newest jones is for the apricot kolaches, we call early on weekend mornings to find out what time Russell Milner and his wife take them out of the oven. Please, help, stop us before we call again.

Russell's Bakery & Coffee Bar
3339 Hancock

Best New Pie Guy

Hitting the Waterloo Ice House during the burger round-up earlier this year, we chanced to notice some very appealing slices of pie in the cooler. We hadn't come for pie, weren't looking for pie, didn't even know we were hungry for pie. But those pies called out to us, whispering, cajoling, seducing. Our resolve faltered, we ate pie and boy, are we glad. Quality pie maker Barry Margeson makes a splendid strawberry-rhubarb pie with a lattice crust, a decadent chocolate pecan pie with Bourbon named for a famous horse race and a Mexican chocolate pie with a delicate touch of cinnamon to name only a few. Margeson's pies are served at Star Seeds, all of the Waterloo Ice Houses, Rocky's Grill, the Backyard and soon, La Zona Rosa.

Best Novelty French Fries

Okay, so the only other novelty fries we know are the sweet-potatoes at Texicalli Grill and the double-dipped ar Hyde Park and those are probably just as good, but these salty cinnamon skin-on wonders are like nothing we've had before. At once aromatic and savory, a basket of these and the highly economical jerk-chicken salad ($4.50) makes an affordable, if unusual, dinner.

1600 S. Congress, 447-5375

Best Place For A Cup O'Joe After The Show

We hesitate to award this citation this year, after last year's winner, Soma, bit the big one. But with all of the theater happening on Congress, we just have to point out that Little City is a great place to have some java, a nice iced tea, or a nosh after watching the latest masterpieces at The Paramount, The >State, or The Public Domain. In daylight, it's also cool just to watch the legislators and computer geeks stream by.

Best Place To Eat Yourself

Will wonders never cease? Take a good photograph down to the Fiest Mart bakery, slap down some cash, and their dye-spewing supercomputers will reproduce the image in full digitized color, smack on the top of a sheetcake. The likeness is almost alarming. You've been good this year: why not get your own smiling mug on top of your birthday cake? Then take it home, stick a candle in your forehead, and engage in some good old-fashioned photoautoerotocannibalism. Fetishism never tasted so good.

3909 N. I-35, 512/406-3900
5510 S. I-35, 512/373-7800

Best Place To Hear 'Let Them Eat Cake'

Weekends in Austin are breakfast heaven. There are so many choices! Problem is, if you're like us and wake up after 11am, by the time you get your lazy, hungry, jonesing-for-something-eggy butt out of the sack, your favorite brunching hot spot is packed. Head north to Austin Java Company's location on 183. Amidst the sprawl and strip maul, there is relief in the form of Java's familiar Eggs Benedict and c'est bon! French Toast, not to mention their comforting array of exotic Joe. What isn't familiar, however, is the fact that you don't have to wait in line for an hour while running into everyone you know.

Austin Java

photograph by John Anderson   John Anderson

Best Proof That Bigger Is Better

One is probably all you'll need of these big boys (in fact, you might want to share). Loaded into glasses only slightly smaller than a bathtub, these tasty lime treats will take the edge of that summer heat, and most of your nerve endings, as you plow into Nuevo Leon's great Tex-Mex.

Best Range Of Cheap And Expensive Texmex

Whether we spend $3.75 for a steak taco, a mushroom taco and a side of beans or $11.50 for a fancy interior specialty like Pescado Veracruzano, we leave fat, happy, and often saddled with leftovers. The innovative salsas and delicious aguas frescas only make us wonder why there aren't more Curra's around town.

Curra's Grill
614 E. Oltorf

Best Replica Of A Seattle Latte

In the caffeine mothership of Seattle, you need only mutter the words "double tall"; the "latte" is default. You'll find this lingo, not to mention a damn fine cup of coffee, at Los Armadillos. Quartered in an easily overlooked shack on West Fifth, owners Joe Lozano and Jerry Goff and the staff roast their beans in-house (ooh, the smell) and serve up authentic lattes that make Northwest expatriates jitter with joy. Now if we could only get some of that rain....

1605 W. Fifth, 322-0280

Best Samosas

New-to-towners don't go through the same withdrawl that many of us old-timers do for Austin's old Ethiopian Restaurant. Well, not only does Wheatsville carry items form the long-lamented area fave, but they also carry an item quickly becoming a deli classic: Samosas by local company, Kala's Kuisine. Associated with India cuisine, these delicate pouches of potato, peas, and spices drizzled with tamarind chutney are light, fluffy, handmade from scratch, and loaded with flavor. Funny, when we called the deli for details on ingredients and the like, Wheatsville was entirely sold-out!!!

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

photo by John Anderson

Best Sandwich Bread Available In Local Groceries

Once, long ago, Austin was devoid of good bread, but those days have changed and the city boasts many bakeries putting out estimable loaves. These go great with dinner and complement all sorts of meals. But if it's lunch and we're feeling like a homemade turkey sandwich, Texas French Bread's Sourdough Whole Wheat is the bread of choice.

Texas French Bread

Best Selection Of Cultivated Capsicums

Farmer Carl Jansen has a very impressive crop of peppers, over 20 different varieties last time he counted. There are your garden variety red, green, and yellow bells, plump jalapenos, dark green bullet-shaped serranos, thin little yellow aji limons, some fiery cayennes, several shades of incendiary habaneros and a profusion of Bolivian rainbows. His big South Austin garden plot is probably chile-head heaven.

2411 Kinney, 454-5554

photo by John Anderson

Best Soup Selection

Comforting in winter, refreshing in summer, we're big fans of soup and few places fill bowls as tastefully as Eastside Cafe. The cafe's fruit-based summer recipes are out-of-this-world, and vegetarians are assured a meat-stock-free version each day as well.

Best Thing To Happen To Carrots

With a cracker and cream cheese or on a hot dog, Hell of a Relish by the Austin-based Two Women Cooking is a piquant condiment that muscles aside puny pickle relish any day of the year. Made with a blend of shredded carrots and jalapeno slices, this orange manna and it's stronger big brother, Hotter than Hell of a Relish, make your teeth stand up and dance.

Two Women Cooking / Hell of a Relish
P.O. Box 162285

Best Tree-Shaded Patio For Alfresco Dining

This newly remodeled restaurant off South Congress has yet to firmly establish its identity but it already has at least one really great asset. The new owners have built a lovely patio around and underneath one of the biggest, most perfectly shaped oak trees in near South Austin. It's the kind of patio that just implores you to eat outside. If these people can cook at all, we predict success.

Best Trip To Ireland Without Leaving Home

Maybe it's the comfortable pub decor with couches in little nooks and crannies or the pints of Guinness on draught or the boxty and imported farmstead cheeses on the menu that made us fall in love with this place the very first night we visited. Those of us with some Irish heritage felt as if we'd been transported directly to the Auld Sod. It could be the decor or the beer but then again, maybe it's the dreamy Irish accents of the staff. Just keep talking, boy-o, and we'll always come back.

photograph by John Anderson   John Anderson

Best Tropical Patio Dining

We favor the tables at this colorful new restaurant because they're insulated from the traffic, shaded from sun, and offer a view on a well-tended courtyard garden. The restaurant's fare adds just the right tropical touch providing a kind of vacation right here in town.

Best Unexpected Southern Breakfast

Known mostly for their great burgers, Dan's also has one of the best breakfasts. The best hash browns in town (order them extra crispy to make \'em even better!), big, gloppy cinnamon rolls for just over a dollar, and pretty darn cheap prices on just about everything else, make for a great breakfast experience. The sausage gravy, as they say on their menu, "The old Southern favorite," is great on top of the big biscuits they serve there.

Dan's Hamburgers
844 Airport, 512/385-2262
4308 Menchaca, 512/443-6131
5602 N. Lamar, 512/312-5361
610 Old San Antonio, Buda, 512/321-5361


Best Use Of Peaches & Cream

Reading either the name or the Hyde Park Bar & Grill's description for this dessert is wayyyy misleading. Two words: yum-my. It's not really a pudding but a thin layer of peaches topped with a moist, cake-like thingy and covered in cream. Again it tastes so much better than that sounds.

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

Best Vegetarian Fare For Non-vegetarians

White Mountain Foods' unfortunately named Veg-Itas are not just vegetarian, they're downright vegan - but fry up some onions and peppers with these slender slabs and soon the most hardened of carnivores will be praising your name. Using wheatroast - a spongy amalgam of wheat gluten, peanut butter, and tamari - White Mountain has whipped up a meat substitue so tasty even Hank Hill would swear by 'em. Maybe. Available at many local groceries.

White Mountain
3301 E. Fifth

Best Way To Ease Into Saturday Morning

Maybe Friday night was rough, maybe not; either way Saturday is a day to be approached slowly and with reverence. We can't think of a better start than coffee and breakfast at the G-M Steakhouse. A seat at the counter provides the best exposure to the immaculate grillside skills and dyspeptic panache of head cook and owner Gus Vayas. Can't find your trusty migas? Try the Olympic Flame Omelette: three eggs, gyro meat, tomatoes, peppers, onions and American cheese. Nice and greasy, goes down easy.

Most Authentic Chocolate Malt

Thick, rich and simply divine. You can try drinking it through the straw, but this malt tends not to cooperate. Opt for the spoon and savor the treat, served in an old style malt shop glass, complete with whipped cream and a cherry on top. Calorie watching or cold December weather won't stop us from indulging in this Hut's favorite.

Critics: Entertainment
Critics: Kids

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