1997 Readers Poll
1997 Critics Picks
Best 'Uptown' HEB

Unlike center city HEBs, the Arboretum HEB was conceived as a superstore from the get-go and built to order. Outside, you'll find adequate parking. Inside, you're greeted by a high-ceilinged, brightly lit interior architecturally characterised by flowing volumes of space and horizontal planes reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright. A spacious traffic aisle surrounds this center area and the theme of spaciousness in the aisles elsewhere in the store makes for a relaxed and pleasant shopping experience. The staff is as relaxed and pleasant as the surroundings and you'll look forward to your weekly pilgramge to this temple of Free Enterprise.

10710 Research, 794-8221

Best 3am Grocery Shopping

When the late night need arises for Dickies work pants, Bimbo brand toast, or an exotic, bizarrely shaped squash, Fiesta is the only choice. Add the glorious people-watching opportunities (because Fiesta's stock of international groceries intended for people actually from those countries), and the store's weird-at-any-hour ambience, and you have an extremely poignant wee-hours consumer experience.

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

Best Band Shirt

Unveiled just in time for '97's SXSW, the yellow-and-black Wannabes shirt was as direct as you could want it: "Wannabes" and "Austin, Texas" on the front, and "Don't Move Here" on the back. What a lovely way to tell the assembled throng, "Thanks for visiting," with the emphasis on visiting.

Best Book Deal

Once a year, the University of Texas Press has a giant book sale of overstocked, out-of-print and damaged books often for a fraction of the list price. Despite monsoon-like conditions, this year's sale featured lines of book laden buyers, 20 people deep at the four cash registers for most of the day.

2100 Comal, 471-4032,

Best Down-Home Flea Market

The nefarious creep of global capitalism sure seems to have infected the entire planet. Other than perhaps jumping a bus and heading for some small town market in Mexico, there seem to be few shopping experiences left in North America which aren't darkened by the shadow of some corporate logo or linked by some chain franchise. At the Flea Market on Airport, a concentrated dose of Austin Eastside fun and down-home consumerism takes place every weekend on Airport Boulevard, ironically right next to a McDonald's. Like those streetside markets in Mexico, this mercado de pulga is an oasis of real people selling real cheap stuff in a desert of corporate franchises. You'll find great bargains on tools, housewares, and Tejano and conjunto music cassettes, and more than enough opportunities to brush up on your Spanish, if it's not your native language. If you are interested in renting space as a dealer, see Joe in the big, blue Chevy pick-up truck. He'll set you up.

Fridays, Saturdays, & Sundays, 12th & Airport, just north of the McDonald's

Best Good Neighbor

Are you putting up doors or laying down floors? Installing tubs or searching for rugs? Maybe you're just looking for a place to donate those old attic vents. Or, just looking for ideas. With 40,000 s.f. of donated building supplies to pick through, the fun never ends at the Re-Store. Staffed primarily by volunteers, this city gem uses its proceeds to help fund the building aspect of the organization and has been doing so for five years.

Austin Habitat for Humanity
500 W. Ben White

photograph by John Carrico   John Carrico

Best Guitar Shop For Wacky Sixties Jap Guitars And Cheap Old No-name Gits

Looking for a cool looking, good playing guitar for under $200? Dale Allen's guitar shop on Burnet is just the place. There is a wide assortment of Japanese guitars and old Americana department store guitars. Dale has them fixed up, sounding good, playing fine, and looking great. He buys, sells, and trades on most vintage music instruments and equipment.

5535 Burnet, 458-6505

Best Neighborhood Health Store Name

Life and health, what more could you ask for in a store selling vitamins, herbal preparations, tonics, skin and hair care products? This cheerful little tienda is located in a stretch of S. First Street that is humming with creative small business activity.

Vida y Salud
1708 S. First

Best Old Fashioned Gift Gallery

Slow down! You might miss this mecca of real Texas folk art. And we mean real, not trendy, not priced out of sanity range by some art connoisseur. Our Old Bakery & Emporium is the federal government's Older American Act in action. This Parks & Rec project sells handicrafts made by local seniors. Part tourist-souvenir stand and part lunch counter, this lovely landmark is a perfect breather after taking Aunt Bessie or Uncle Roy to the Capitol. It's a great escape into quaint old Austin, without leaving Congress. You'll find gorgeous and reasonably priced handmade quilts, funny Texas A& M barbs (Aggie Briefcase = a pair of underwear on a handle), granny-made flounce skirts for cheap, postcards, fridge magnets, and crocheted everything! Lunch specials (cheap and made with love) feature sandwiches and soups; this seems like a great place to duck the crowds. Open year round, Mon-Fri, 9am-4pm. We only wish they were open weekends.

Old Bakery & Emporium
1006 Congress

Best Place For Cheap, Prepaid Phonecards

Like any other "everything for a dollar" discount store, you get what you pay for. But in the case of Dollar Deal$, that phrase has a positive connotation. We love their odd selection of posters, party favors, invitations, and decorations, their great deals on personal hygiene products and household cleansers, their knock-off faux Hercules, Xena, and Power Rangers toys, and goofy plastic cups bearing the American Gladiators' logo. But our favorite thing is that they carry really cheap pre-paid phone cards which actually work. If that doesn't sound like much to you, then you've obviously never had your international long distance phone service cut off.

Family Dollar Store
2765 E. Seventh, 512/472-3526
728 W. Stassney Ln., 512/912-9487
5738 Menchaca, 512/448-9600

Best Place For New and Old Bohemians

Yo! Mofo! Whether you're new to the whole pomo boho hobo thing or you were boho before boho was boffo, the lads and lassies at New Bohemia will outfit you up right. Damn! At any given time, the north store (New Boho, Sr.) offers the consigned goods of 6-8 dealers, all expressing a range of wiggy tastes and sensibilities. Go here for furniture, especially. We love our aqua couch! You can find sanely priced bookshelves (to show off all those Naked Lunches you've never gotten through) and endtables (to display your latest cocktail strainer or Las Vegas novelty ashtray, even if you neither drink nor smoke). Plus, they do cool upholstering reduxes too — check their line of Electrolux vacuum lamps. The newly opened south store (Newer Boho, Jr.) specializes in cheeky babelicious fashions and knick-knacks, with entire shelves devoted to Owls and Pussycats, respectively. And don't worry, these aren't hipper-than-yo-mama establishments. The clerks are way nice, even to dorks like us.

5015 Duval, 323-2278; 1714 S. Congress, 326-1238

Best Place To Get Roasted Coffee

Mainly, these folks sell to commercial businesses. But they will sell to the public, and sometimes even offer a complimentary latte while you wait. And dig this: they refuse to sell you too many pounds of beans at a time cause they want to make sure you will always have that fresh bean experience. They are good coffee people.

411 W. Monroe, 326-4333

Best Place To Get The Willies

There's always something looking over your shoulder at the Corner Shoppe Mall - and those eyes don't blink. The shoppe is the place to get stuffed bobcat, muskrat, polecat, racoon, wallaby, hedgehog, warthog, leopard, antelope, buffalo, billygoat, and enough birds to make an impressive (although very dead) aviary. You want skulls? Choose from alligator, elephant, or rhinoceros. Furniture? How about a zebra leg lamp or an elephant foot-stool. There are even a few of the fabled Texas jackalopes and a stuffed deer's ass to boot.

5900 N. Lamar, 451-7633

Best Place To Go Bloomin' Crazy

Love roses and flowers but cringe at the prices? Hie thee to the Flower Market, niftily redesigned in the old Texaco station on 38th Street near Randalls. There, you can choose your very own assortment of roses and other exotic blooms and foliage by stepping into the refrigerated area; the fragrance alone is enough to makes the senses reel. Fortunately, your "centses" won't reel, though - The Flower Market does not do the actual arranging but the array of choices at reasonable prices can bring out the florist in all us. I'll have take two of the silver-purple roses, please....

Flower Market
8820 Burnet

photograph by John Carrico   John Carrico

Best Place To Set Your Mouth On Fire

You could possibly try to sample all of the Louisiana-style hot sauces available at Sambet's hot sauce bar during one visit. But trying to experience the fire power of the 100+ hot sauce bar too quickly could lead to spontaneous combustion, mouth first! Don't risk it. Make one trip for a custom gift basket, make another for that cool Cajun cookbook. Go back during Mardi Gras and get your mask and beads. Didja forget gramma's souvenir last time you went to New Orleans? Correct the oversight with some authentic Louisianan little rubber alligators or shotglasses. Chomp.

8650 Spicewood Springs, 258-6410

Best Place To Wait For A Taco & Buy Tchotchkes

You just know that any chance we have to say "Tamale House #3" will be taken loudly and frequently. So it is with great pleasure that we offer this "Best of" to the little sister shop, Front Page News, next to the venerable Temple of Tacos. In what used to be the space where Tamale House kept their seasonal cascarones, Front Page News has opened to quell that itch in between ordering and picking up. As the name suggests, they carry periodicals. But their mainstay is religious icons: scapulars, prayer cards, prayer medals, and saint homages. They also carry a curious supply of collectible Coca-Cola bottles and Wheaties boxes — go figure. It's a great place to spend a few bucks while waiting for that salivating phrase, "Number 51, your order is ready!"

5005 Airport, 458-6397

Best Power Tool Emporium

When you hear "Milwaukee" what pops into mind? If you said power tools, then Austin Tool is your place. No aisles here to induce impulse shopping, just tools galore and a knowledgeable sales staff, more than happy to offer their professional advice. Tools repaired, too. In this small but well stocked store, one gets the feeling this is what service was originally intended to be.

4303 Willow Springs, 447-4905

Best Selection Of Juices/Sodas

Convenience stores may be convenient, but sometimes their selection stinks. The big behemoths rarely stock regional or local vendors, so you're usually stuck with the top-selling brands for choice. Ick. When we are thirstier than we wanna be, we head over to Manor Road where not one, but two, glorious convenient stores reign. Both Kwik Food Mart and Malik's carry a dizzying array of sodas and juices, including caffeine-free and cherry-flavored versions of the big boys, Topo Chico, Jumex, Mistic, Orbitz, Arizona, Jarritos, and our fave, Josta (Okay, it's a Pepsi product, but hardly anybody stocks it!). The Kwik Food Mart also carries Mexican Coca-Colas. If you don't know why that is a good thing, you have been north of the border too long, ese. Malik's carries a great choice of high-end beer and has the distinction of being a drive-thru, too.

Malik's Food Mart
2101 Manor

Kwik Food Mart
1425 E. 12th

Best Source For Cheap, Crappy CDs

Wrapped in anonymous newspaper, priced to move at $3 a pop: Fred's Fun Packs are awfully tempting, and we think Fred knows it. Each pack contains three mystery CDs - choose from Rock, Rap/R&B, Classical, Jazz, and more. Last time, we tried World Music and the results were horrid. Absolute dreck. It was wonderful.

4631 Airport, 454-1212

Best Souvenir Stand

We've said it before, and we'll say it again: You don't have to drive out to a roadside Stuckey's to get great Texas Tack. And we don't mean like feed and tack; we mean tacky tack. Texas everything is available — postcards, T-shirts, pens & pencils, knick-knacks, keychains — just a few leaps and bounds south from our Capitol Building. We especially dig their fridge magnet selection. And yep, they've got all that cheesy cedar and pewter souvenir stuff that will make Aunt Gladys swoon. We've Gone to Texas, Ma! And we ain't never comin' back!

Congress Avenue Card & Gift Shop
615 Congress

Best Spiritual Peach Picking

Pick your own fuzzy fruits at Barsana Dham, home of the Divine Orchard of One Thousand Trees. The variety of different peach trees planted here provides staggered harvests from early June to August.

Radha Madhav Dham
400 Barsana Rd.

Best Target Marketing & Selection Of Hard To Find Xena And Comets Stuff

Oh Susan. Blessed be Susan: The fates smile brightly on you for your service to the local sisters. Sure, we love those volumes of femanisfestos and woman-authored bits of goddess goodness. But Susan, we gotta tell you, the idea to stock all of that wicked hard to come by Xena and Houston Comets women's pro basketball gear just sends us to Venus!

5501 N. Lamar #105

Best Toy-Encrusted Structure

When we were on a quest for an authentic Lone Ranger doll, the Toy Soldier alone possessed our exhaustively sought treasure, and at such a reasonable price! Tucked away at the far edge of North Austin, this modest little building would escape notice entirely except for its facade which is liberally festooned with toys. Big, ugly toys; little, lovely toys; fanciful toys; war toys; working toys and even forlorn long-dead toys. An arrow made from an assortment of tiny cars points the way to the parking lot. Sometimes, late at night when the moon is high and the raccoons howl, we sneak out to The Toy Soldier and play with the See-and-Says stuck to the exterior. The duck says... Moooooooooo.

13226 Pond Springs, 257-2399

Best Use Of Space

Using the approximate space of an efficiency apt., owner Hank has managed to pack in 75,000 varieties of beer, and everything else you can possibly imagine from pipe cleaners to water pistols to food products to toiletries. And the guys that work the counter are poetry in motion - the perfect mix of standoffish band dudes, smart-ass geniuses, cute longhairs, and Noam Chomsky experts. It's more than a six-pack; it's an adventure.

4300 Duval, 452-7974

photograph by John Carrico   John Carrico

Best Way To Say We're Open

With it's neon YES sign playing usher, Emerald's welcomes you inside to behold a fabulous array of cadeaux, bric-brac, and bijoux. Gifts such as Magnetic Poetry 2: The Sequel, and Amber & Campagne Body Splashes are just a smidgeon of their rich offerings, many of which are curly or wavy in nature. From frames to jewlery to shoes that make a grown woman weep, Emeralds has got it goin' on. Yesssss.

Best Wrapping Paper

A chorus of colors and textures: from modern to ones feeling almost papyrusy, including Van Gogh's Irises, Fat Toddler on Rollerskates- or for those of a material nature, good ole' Greenbacks. Couple that with some of fun stickers, ribbon, or 15 different colors of raffia, and you've got a perfect wrappage ensemble.

Sparks Cards & Gifts
1014 W. Sixth

Critics: Services
1997 Intro

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