Food
2002 Readers Poll
2002 Critics Picks
Best Cheap Date

Dinner at the Hickory Street with free tickets to a movie at the Paramount Theater for desert.

Best Coffee Hangout in the Burbs

On the square in Round Rock. Eclectic, homemade fudge, live music, Amy's ice cream, excellent coffee drinks.

Best Consistently Friendly Fast Food Service

134 E. Riverside

Sonic
various locations
www.sonicdrivein.com

Best Freakin' Migas

Cisco's bakery was forever Rudy Cisnero's place-- it wasn't just that the migas were fantastic but the ambience seemed wholly reliant on the presence of the eccentric (to put it lightly) proprietor. When Rudy departed for that big Mexican restaurant in the sky, it was a sad day for regulars. But some consolation came when it became apparent that Cisco's, now in its 50th year, has maintained its fantastic migas and its funky feel.

Cisco's
1511 E. Sixth
512/478-2420
www.facebook.com/CiscosRestaurant

Best Innovative Use of Mahi Mahi

Chango's has the smooth design, the smooth t-shirts, the smooth monkey icons differentiating the men's and women's restrooms. Chango's has agua fresca that is thirst-quenching just to look at. And the made-on-the-spot tortillas are about the best in town. But above all, what Chango's does with Mahi-Mahi is to be commended via repeat business. You can get it a number of ways but we recommend the burrito called Maximo with grilled Mahi-Mahi, black beans, and the ass-kickin' foghato hot sauce.

Changos Taqueria
3023 Guadalupe
512/480-8226
www.changos.com

Best Little Tucked Away Cafe Down by the Tracks

There's a crazy little shack, beyond the track ... (sugar shack ...) Okay, okay, now that that song's stuck in your head, don't hold it against the good folks at Cafe Mundi's. It was our idea to get silly with the tuneage there. But seriously folks, Mundi is this beau coup magnifique tres mucho bien little coffee house just east down the holler and over by the tracks. With ongoing regular entertainment like Monday Movie Madness and songwriter circles with the likes of Matt the Electrician and Lee Barber, there is -- pardon the cliche, but it's true -- a lil something for everyone here. With a decent little menu including a NUMBER of styles of MILK (for crying out loud) and Big-Ass Waffles, too.

Best Lunch Specials and Strawberry Muffins

La Cocinita
4140 E. 12th
512/927-9066

Best Mediterianan Deli

This place is just the best. They have all different kinds of tasty foods from all over the world.

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

Best Place to Get Your Hemingway On
Best Place to Pretend You're in a Big City

Pango Tea Bar is the "one of these things is not like the others" storefront near the northernmost end of Congress Avenue -- our own version of the Hollywood Blvd./Times Square renovation projects -- sandwiched as it is between bank buildings, jewelry stores, fast food joints and theaters. There surely is some good ol' down-home eatin' on Congress Avenue north -- NoCo -- but Pango's has a big city feel without the big city prices or big city pretense. Artfully appointed with high ceilings and a somewhat austerely zen interior, Pango's has, simply put, excellent feng shui. Good vibes. It seems carefully designed and executed. The eye is drawn up and back, and one feels warmly welcomed upon arrival. Classy dames and gentlemen dine at nearby tables, alongside the rowdier hipster set who suck down their cosmopolitans and their pearly tea balls through giant straws with abandon, while bamboo and other plants give off oxygen. Great first date place, plus the wait staff is friendly and unperturbed. Oh, and have we mentioned the food? A dream. All the delicious, fresh sushi and other delights you can eat without having to take out a loan.

Silhouette
718 Congress
512/478-8899
www.silhouette718.com

Best Place To Pretend You're In Berkeley

With it's oldwood, almost-all-windows interior and enormous outdoor deck on the lake, it's no wonder that Mozart’s is populated by writerly and professorly looking folk with laptops. Located off Lake Austin Blvd. at the foot of one of our fair city’s tonier Baby Boomer enclaves, Mozart’s serves up fresher-than-fresh caffeine with its classical music. Despite the middle-class air, and its unfortunate proximity to loud party animals at Hula Hut, Mozart's is a great place to hang out, with an almost elegant, cerebral vibe of "work gets done here." The view is incredible, especially during the day, when most of the aging hippies and hipsters w/o desk jobs come to telecommute, design their web sites, write their poetry, and gaze out the window while sipping their bottomless lattes.

Mozart's Coffee Roasters
3825 Lake Austin Blvd.
512/477-2900
www.mozartscoffee.com

photo by John Anderson

Best Place to Stay Out Til Two A.M. and Meet Freaks Without Getting Drunk

Do we ever get tired of hearing about Linklater connections in this town? No, we don't. He catapulted the original (now-closed) Quack's on the Drag to infamy in his early work. With Waking Life we got to see the newish location of Quack's, on 43rd Street, in vivid Rotoscope. It's a cool bakery, unpretentious, open real late, and you, yeah you, are welcome, too.

Quack's 43rd Street Bakery
411 E. 43rd
512/453-3399
www.quacksbakery.com

Best Salty Burger

Nothing like that old fashioned, drive-in burger shack burger. We've searched high and low for a burger that tasted like home, and here we have it. Posse East's hamburgers are fresh, made to your specifications, and just a little bit more than slightly salty. "Duval Road, take me home, to the place, I belong..."

Posse East Bar & Grill
2900 Duval St.
512/477-2111
www.posse-east.com

photo by John Anderson

Best Taste of New Orleans

The key to a good New Orleans PoBoy is a perfectly baked French baguette with equal amounts of chewiness and crispness. Operating since 2000 in the heart of East Austin, Gene's delivers the genuine article. The Smoked Sausage PoBoy is a standout, and vegetarians can go off the menu and try a French Fry PoBoy for kicks. Gene's also serves Southern-style breakfast and a stellar assortment of daily soul food plates, such as Thursday's $7.95 combo of smothered pork chops, collard greens, sweet potatoes and cornbread.

Best Thing the Aggies Ever Gave Austin

You know, the whole place is cool. The workers are cool. The bigger-than-your-freakin'-head burritos are cool. The Statue of Liberty bursting through the wall on a Harley is cool. And even the little signs workers leave for each other (but you can see if you look hard, on the back wall) are cool, such as: Never Ever Ever Shake a Burrito. Imported from College Station, Freebirds is something the Aggies finally done got right.

Freebirds World Burrito
1000 E. 41st #260, 512/451-5514
1100 Center Ridge, 512/251-9701
515 S. Congress, 512/462-3512
www.freebirds.com

Best Use of Sundried Tomatoes

Sundried tomatoes in bloody marys, who would have thought that a tasty combination? The fine folks at Opal Divine's soak their sundried tomatoes in vodka and then float them in their tasty house bloody marys. If you're feeling a little hung over on a Sunday head over to Opal Divine's, sit out on the patio and have yourself a sundried tomato bloody mary. You'll feel better in no time flat.

Opal Divine's
Opal Divine's Marina, 12709 MoPac N., 512/733-5353
12709 N. MoPac, 512/369-3709
www.opaldivines.com

Best Way to Pretend You're Back In College For the Duration of a Meal

You know the "runaway fantasy"? Where you're sitting at your desk and it's been 10 a.m. for the last three hours and you just wish you were independently wealthy and living in Hawaii or at least back in college when things weren't so grinding and maybe somebody else was footing the bill? Well, a trip to Red River Cafe won't solve your longterm job disgruntlement, but it is a nice, egg-laden stroll down memory lane. Even if you didn't go to UT, Red River Cafe has that every-college-town feel and appeal.

Red River Cafe
2912 Medical Arts
512/472-0385

Most Romantic Point of Light

If the glow from the star bright Starlite Cafe is the first star you see at night, trust us, it won't be your last. The atmosphere -- not to mention the luscious libations and delicately Asian-tinged cuisine -- is intoxicating, perfect for that intimate aura to lure in the one you love. You'll swoon, as we do, over the wilted spinach tossed with tender cubes of grilled potato appetizer. It's the sort of foreplay that sets the stage for the rest of the dizzyingly array of delicacies. And now, they even have a Sunday Brunch (11am-3pm) for those of you afternoon delighters who just can't get enough at night.

John Anderson

Most Unlikely Margarita

Avocado Margarita. Creamy & smooth, made with avocado and cilantro. (But no lettuce, of course) This novelty drink is worth ordering just to watch your friends' faces-- the Avocado Margarita looks exactly like guacamole in a margarita glass. We don't recommend dipping your chips, no matter how tempting.

Curra's Grill
614 E. Oltorf
512/444-0012
www.currasgrill.com

Sultriest Spot to Spend A Hot Night
Where to Go When You Lose Your Dot-Com Job and Need Some Comfort Food

Hoover's Cooking
2002 Manor Rd.
512/479-5006
www.hooverscooking.com

photo by John Anderson

John Anderson

Best Expansion

When you've got the best pizza and Italian food in town ?- even if it's waaaaaay up north in a strip mall on 183 -- word will spread like garlic butter, baby. That's what happened to Reale's, and the once-cozy, Chianti-bottle-adorned mom-and-pop restaurant found itself lacking in the elbow room department. So they knocked out the wall to the south and grew into the space next door. Now, with plenty of seating and a full bar, there's room for everyone to enjoy a glass of wine, their tantalizing pies, and molto bene manicotti.

Reale's Pizza & Cafe
13450 Hwy. 183 N.
512/335-5115
www.realespizza.com

Best Russian Tea Room

Hot Jumbo Bagel by day ... Cleopatra Nights in the gloaming. Cleopatra Nights inspires opening lines like, "It's another night at the shisha bar, and the man with the ink black eyes has come with his lute." Come dance and make merriment until the wee small hours to Lebanese, Algerian, and Moroccan music. So what if you don't know how to dance like that ... they'll play that confangled lute and you'll dance. Trust us, cheri ...

John Anderson

Best Place to Get Work Done in the Wee Hours (Out of the House)

Granted, its hours were once "always to always" and have now been reduced to 6:30am-2:30am, but 503 still holds a place in our overcaffeinated, palpitating hearts. From the outside it looks like a party house with a cool mural, a hut always full of people. But the inside? Well-lit and just cluttered enough to be inviting, yet modular and roomy in its own right. Good coffee, good tea, good beer, good music piping through the speakers. Quiet if you want it to be. Friendly. The perfect place to be busy.

Best Seoul Food

A realtive newcomer to the Korean food/sushi scene, Kimchi offers exceptionally flavored traditionals like Bul Go Gi and Bi Bim Bab with family-style service and smiles. We're especially fond of the Hwe Doub Bab -- a big bowl of rice topped with veggies and a variety of the freshest raw fish bites. Load on the Korean BBQ sauce, and prepare for a lip-burning delicacy!

Most Authentic Comfort Food

With no disrespect intended toward our town's reigning kings of Southern comfort food, this unassuming West Lake cafe just has pure, unaffected "home" cooking. Burgers, chicken-fried steak, and fried catfish make up much of the regular menu; items such as chicken & dumplings, spaghetti & meatballs, and liver & onions appear as daily specials. We love to order the house salad, which comes topped with grated Swiss cheese and creamy Italian dressing. The food is very simple but well-prepared, making C-5 a good place for families. And trust us, you'll want to stay for a grandma-worthy dessert, such as coconut cream pie or chocolate cake.

C-5 Steakhouse
3736 Bee Caves Rd. #6
512/328-4633

Best Dining on UT Campus

As the saving grace of university dining, O?s Campus Cafe offers Orange Olive Oil Muffins, fancy sandwiches like Cilantro Tuna Salad and Cucumber, Avocado, Sprouts & Olives, and our favorite, Roasted Veggie with Basil Pesto Pizza. It beats a stale peanut butter & jelly sandwich with an apple and a pint of milk any day. And your elementary school never had connections to one of the town's finest restaurants, Jeffrey's, like O's does.

O's Campus Cafe
201 E. 24th
512/232-9061
www.oscampuscafe.com

John Anderson

John Anderson

Best $5 Steak

Nothing like a gay cowboy club to get you feelin' like a Texan. And on Thursday nights, that Texas feeling gets a little closer to the source as some fine slabs of moooooooo are offered up (or chicken for our red-meat-avoiding friends). Dinner at a bar? Well, for some folks, it's just second nature, but we're not talking about that old standby, the "liquid lunch." Nope, for the denizens of RCC's Thursday Steak Nights, this particular dinner at a bar is like a special Saturday night barbecue. Steak is served up with love from resident griller Margie, who knows her medium from her well and will not do you wrong. Where else can you get this sort of love (did we mention the baked potatoes and salad?) all for only $5?

Best Neighborhood Deli

One of the most charming perks of life in the Crestview neighborhood is picking up lunch at the Little Deli, easily the closest place Austin has to a New York-style corner deli. Owners Lucretia and Jonathan Doyer know most customers by name, and their tasty, jaw-stretching deli sandwiches are well worth going out of the way for. Their Roast Beef & Cheddar on a Kaiser Roll is sensational, but the Club, Italian Wedge, and Vegetarian sandwiches also have their faithful constituents.

Little Deli & Pizzeria
7101-A Woodrow
512/467-7402
www.littledeliandpizza.com

photo by John Anderson

Best Frozen Velvet

There's no shortage of water ice/snowball/shaved ice options in this town. And everyone has their own reason for loving their own favorite. But Jim-Jim's ice is distinct, with the real fruit juice flavors frozen into the ice, not just glopped on top, creating a unique flavor/texture/heaven-sent quality of its own. Plus, Jim-Jim is this incredibly nice guy, and he'll sell his tasty concoctions to you by the bucket. (Great gigantic fortune cookies, too!)

Jim-Jim's Water-Ice
615-A E. Sixth
512/708-8285
www.jimjimswaterice.com

Best Taqueria That Used to Be a Dunkin' Donuts

With all of the mom-and-pop stores falling prey to skyrocketing rent affordable only to Starbucks and the Gap, it's refreshing to step inside of La Tapatia, housed in a building that used to be home to a Dunkin' Donuts. La Tapatia offers everything you would expect from a quality neighborhood taqueria, whether you have a craving for a tasty glass of horchata and some huevos rancheros or maybe an ice cold beer served with a beef brain or beef tongue burrito. Their other location used to be a Dairy Queen.

Best Nuts

Why are these nuts better than all the rest? Because the native Hungarian and Israeli owners have been making them their entire lives, by dry roasting each seed in their own special ovens, and not adding preservatives. Nuts range from the common peanut, almond, pecan, and delicious macadamia, to the more obscure Israeli sunflower seed and watermelon seed, which we are told is popular in Turkey and Jordan. If you're gonna snack, you might as well stay healthy at the same time. Gift bags/baskets available as well as in-town delivery.

AustiNuts
2900 W. Anderson
512/323-6887
www.austinuts.com

Best French Fries

Sure, the merest nip, or seven, from their stores of single malt Scotch might be enough to get a body all out of focus, but you could be stone-cold sober and know for a fact that Opal Divine's golden-brown lengths of pommes frites, spiced to a delicate perfection and of just the right thickness, are unmatched in the River City.

Opal Divine's
Opal Divine's Marina, 12709 MoPac N., 512/733-5353
12709 N. MoPac, 512/369-3709
www.opaldivines.com

Best Desserts on a Summer Afternoon

We love their delicious panini and go ga-ga over their scrumptious capellini. We adore Emmitt and Lisa Fox’s prompt and knowledgeable waitstaff, but it’s all a ruse -- we’re really there for the dessert menu. One day it was a crispy sweet cannolli, the next a divinely inspired brioche with fresh peach topping. With Dolce Vita's grand gelati and Italian pastries nearby, this venerable Hyde Park corner is a veritable Scylla and Charybdis for those with a sweet tooth. Damn the diets! We’ll take dessert for all four courses!

Asti
408-C E. 43rd
512/451-1218
www.astiaustin.com

Best Remaining Vestige of Old Austin

There was a time when folks in cowboy hats looked normal in Austin, and haute cuisine meant a good chicken-fried steak. That Austin is almost gone, but a real, non-ironic, living example still exists on Burnet Road.

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

Best Ham Sandwiches

Though it may appear to the untrained eye as a mere spiral sliced ham shop, Hickory Honey Hams also serves some of the heartiest, tastiest sub sandwiches in town. Their sweetly cured ham sandwich is the obvious go-to choice, but the smoked turkey sub is no less impressive. Be sure to try the ham-chocked baked beans as a side item, too. True mavens of porcine goodness should try Hickory Honey Hams for lunch on Tuesday, when a ham sandwich, baked beans, and a drink can be had all for the modest sum of $6.45.

Best Rainwater

Travel on 290 West past Dripping Springs to this little place known as Tanktown. Turn down Rainwater Lane and go past a large replica of one of the Rainwater bottles with the catch phrase, "Fresh squeezed cloud juice." After smiling at the tanks painted like various animals (ladybug, turtle, etc.), continue up the rock path until you come to a little building with a nearby storage shed. The chickens in the front yard cluck and cock-a-doodle-doo a hello, and if you're lucky, the friendly mayor of Tank Town, Richard Heinichen himself, might just step out to welcome and lead you on a tour of the facilities. There you can purchase systems for your own home or just get your rainwater directly from Tank Town in cases of 16-oz. or liter bottles. These containers guarantee that this water is "Made Between Heaven and Dripping Springs, TX." One taste and you'll be a believer.

Tank Town
2770 Hwy. 290 W.
Dripping Springs
512/894-0861
www.rainwatercollection.com

Best Takeout Pizza Deal (With Free Fries)

Wouldn't it be great if everything from new shoes to college diplomas came with free french fries? That dream comes true whenever you order fried mushrooms or cheese sticks at Texas Pizza, Pasta & More. All appetizers -- from chicken strips to mini-calzones -- come with free fries. And their superior, budget-conscious pizza is a fine alternative to the national chains, too.

Best BLT

Walking over to the Avenue B Grocery, nestled in among houses in historic Hyde Park, is an adventure in itself. And going inside the grocery, which has been in operation for over 92 years, is a history lesson. But wandering past the bottles of Coke and bars of ice cream to the deli counter and asking Ross Mason to make you up a BLT may be the smartest thing we do all week. Some people will swear by the vegetarian Queen Bee sandwich, but we’re all about bacon. We take a seat at one of the picnic tables, open the waxy paper, and dig in. There’s no skimping at the Avenue B; three slices of bread are toasted and piled high, tomatoes are sliced thin, and there’s plenty of bacon to keep you going on the walk home.

Avenue B Grocery
4403 Avenue B
512/453-3921
www.avenuebgrocery.com

Best Downhome Special

Actually, every day at Gene's is a very good day -- but on Thursday, they bring out the smothered pork chops, sweet potatoes, and cornbread to die for, with some iced tea just to clear your palate for the next heavenly bite. The food is so good you forget your boss, your job, and the worst of your no-'count relatives on the road to extreme gustatory satisfaction. We'd write more ... but we've gone to lunch.

Best Bird and a Bottle

Sometimes you wanna go where the meal is fast. Sometimes you wanna go where it's an event. Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. Sometimes, it's gotta be a bird and bottle. Nothing fancy, but something soul satisfying, just some good roast chicken and some wine. Something that you and your friends can linger over. That's when it's time to head to Lambert's, where chef Louis Lambert serves up an exemplary roast chicken and the wine is served in tumblers. You sit with some friends, you partake of sensational food, you're always glad you came.

John Anderson

Best Lunch Room Revival

Relive the days of cattle barons with classic recipes originally prepared by the Heritage Society in this legendary socializing parlor off the main lobby of the historic Driskill Hotel. The menu is casual with a distinctive Texas flavor, like eggs Benedict spiced with jalapeños and steak. Indulge your sweet tooth with Texas Pecan Sticky Buns, cinnamon rolls, and cakes, or try one of the pasta dishes, a sandwich, chili, or a pizza.

1886 Cafe & Bakery
604 Brazos
512/391-7066
www.1886cafeandbakery.com

Best Squeeze

A most deserving Austin success story -- nothing beats fresh-squeezed fruit juice, and no one squeezes it better than Goodflow. They're pretty darn smart at squeezing honey out of bees, too.

Goodflow Honey & Juice Co.
2601 E. Cesar Chavez
512/472-6714

 
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