2003 Readers Poll
2003 Critics Picks
Best Place to Virtually Kick Some Boo-Tay

Ever see so much red after a little tiff with your best bud that it seemed like nothing this side of bloody murder could resolve it? Consider this little form of conflict resolution: Head over to LAN’s Edge in Northcross Mall and resolve your differences in a virtual arena. They supply the hardware, you supply the butt-kicking. Choose from Xbox games played on 50-inch screens or PC games run on T1s. They have over 50 titles to choose from. Winner takes all!

Northcross Mall
LAN's Edge, 2525 W. Anderson Ln., 512/275-0761
2525 W. Anderson, 512/451-7466

Best Sloth

Like some toehr lont-time Austin residents, Sophia spends 16 hours a day sleeping, and the rest of the time hanging out and eating lettuce. Along with her friends alligators, pythons and hairless rats she can be found at Zookeepers.

Zoo Keeper
9012-C Research

Hottest Magician

In his opening performance, Ray Anderson, who can be found at Esther's Follies, selects one lucky lady in the audience to embarrass with his randy robot act. After getting the laughs from the crowd, and a kiss from her, he begins the real magic. In his several magical performances, he combines flawless physicality and illusionist's grace with unflagging charm and comic timing. Despite doing many of the same acts for several years, his renditions do not seem old or over rehearsed, and even much of his on stage banter, which is repeated, sounds fresh and fitting to the unique circumstances of the evening. Plus, he's just plain old hot.

Ray Anderson
Esther's Follies
525 E. Sixth

Best In-Town Alternative to Schlitterbahn

With two big water-park slides for the older kids and a fun pirate ship with a minislide for the little guys, the East Communities YMCA pool area is a real cool-off haven. There are lots of bubbling little fountains, plenty of lifeguards, and a cool tile-and-concrete surface combo that offers great traction. There's a regular pool, too, that never gets deeper than 4 feet 6 inches, with lap lanes for adults. Plenty of floaties and noodles are available. Gigantic umbrellas to shade the whole family. You don't have to be a Y member to enjoy the facility – just buy a summer swim card for 50 bucks. Swim lessons are also available for all ages.

East Communities YMCA Water Play Area
5315 Ed Bluestein

Best Old-Fashioned Fun

Saturdays in some neighborhoods consist of ferrying kids to a series of specialty classes and organized sports. Or endless hours spent staring at a Game Boy. Or vegging out amid a stack of DVDs and CDs. In a tradition that channels the mythical Mayberry, Terra Toys offers a simpler diversion: a good, old-fashioned scavenger hunt. On summer Saturdays, a list is distributed at noon, with thematically arranged items to be collected. Prizes are awarded based on the number of items returned before 6pm. And the awards are worth the search: First place secures a kid a $15 gift certificate to the store. Best of all, everyone gets something just for being a sport and scavenging. Kids eagerly nab the list, hop on their bikes, and make their way around the neighborhood searching for peach pits, business cards, gold foil, a Shakespearean heroine, etc. It's just like in the good old days, even if those days were a fantasy of Hollywood.

Terra Toys
2438 W. Anderson Ste. 1-C

Best Buddy

Imagine a large, brown paper bag full of groceries ... but this one has Mickey Mouse hands, an impish grin, and a couple of big blue eyes with a determined gleam, heading right for you in the condiments aisle. Don't worry, it's not a nightmare. It's H.E.Buddy, the mascot of Texas-based HEB grocery stores. Sporting his own line of snacks and dinners, he's a thrill for the kids and gives parents a good laugh. He even has his own currency: Buddy Bucks, a little bit of "Buddy Money" for the kids to put into prize machines inside each store. The H.E.Buddy, in truth, is some lucky cashier or bagger picked for the job during that particular shift; everybody enjoys suiting up and romping around with the kids. Even parents can get in on the fun by taking a picture with him. So next time you're doing your weekly shopping at HEB and you see a large grocery bag making a beeline for you, don't run; it's just your friendly, neighborhood H.E.Buddy!

Various Austin locations, 459-6513

Best Rafter-Packed Shopping

Say you're one of the unfortunate ones – you never had a pack-rat grandparent. You don't know what it's like to walk into a room packed to the rafters with stuff. Well, Kids 'n Cats is dedicated to the art of collecting stuff. Curious stuff. They have an excellent collection of animal greeting cards, items like the instant boyfriend (just add water), piles of used books, incense, games, puzzles – you know, stuff. Oh, and there's a real, live, big, fat sleeping cat in there, too, in case you like that sort of thing. Can't afford Disney World this year? Okay, so the place doesn't have Mickey Mouse (their cat would eat him) or any rides, but seriously, take your kid in here to look at the bazillions of items – plenty of them in the $1 range – and we promise you can kill plenty of time and have a great time doing it.

5732 Burnet Rd.

Best New Family Fun Center

The debut of Austin's Park ’n Pizza has families buzzing all over Central Texas. Finally, there is a place where you can bring the teens and the tots. Finally, there is a place that features indoor and outdoor attractions that challenge the body (batting cages! driving range!) and numb the mind (over 70 video and carnival games). And with 22 acres, the kids can get lost without getting lost, and parents take it easy for a change. There's also plenty that the whole crew can do together, like, go-carts, bumper boats, laser tag, and minigolf. And like any good family fun center, AP&P offers a plethora of deals for groups big and small, birthday parties, corporate events, live-radio remotes, fundraising programs, and more.

Austin's Park ’n Pizza
16231 N. I-35

Kenny Braun

Best Before-the-Meal Distraction

Like most chain restaurants, these places have those very studied, manufactured interiors; it's as make-believe as Disney World. That's why they are good places to bring kids, however. At Tia's, they up the ante for good distractions by giving the kids a hunk of tortilla dough with a couple of crayons plucked in it to play with at the table. Rockfish has a charming "Fifties fishing lodge at the lake" atmosphere and gives its customers tokens for the jukebox. We picked "In the Summer Time" and ordered the peach iced tea.

Best Theatre for Kids That Treats Kids Like Grownups

In teaching kids how to swim in the great waters of theatre, the Vortex Repertory Company likes to start 'em in the deep end of the pool: full productions of literary masterpieces from Moby Dick and A Tale of Two Cities to such mature works of the stage as Machinal, Rhinoceros, and An Enemy of the People. Vortex's 12-year-old Summer Youth Theatre gives teen thespians credit for being able to handle complex material, casting them in major roles opposite adult artists. Seeing youthful artists fearlessly making their way through such challenging work is exciting. And by treating their young charges as colleagues, Artistic Director Bonnie Cullum and her grownup team develop a sense of common purpose and shared spirit among the company that comes through in every fascinating performance.

Vortex Summer Youth Theatre
2307 Manor Rd.

Best Thanksgiving Weekend Fun

This is such a good thing to do, a really good parade, and it benefits Blue Santa. Gymnasts, belly dancers, musicians, marching bands – including the perennial crowd pleaser, the Hardin-Simmons University Cowboy Band. Children bring toys (unwrapped only) and pile them into trucks that stop along the parade route on Congress Avenue.

Best Way to Get Your Opinions Off, While Wearing Your Opinions On … Your Chest

Really, there aren't too many places in the mall that serve those niche categories of organizations, artists, and crazies who want to make their voices heard. Enter Alan Watts and, a Web site where users can create a store with their own T-shirt designs and sell them to the general public. Some "popular" available slogans: "Make Pixels, Not War," "Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Digital Janitors Local 404," and "Too Many White People." We also found a plethora of images made by pixel artists who spend their time at a microscopic level of computer graphics, rendering the world in 16-bit color.

Kenny Braun

Best Place to Get a Whiff ...

... of diaper, that is. After making the scene in the Eighties and early Nineties with bands such as the Dharma Bums and Grains of Faith, Joe McDermott's former audience now brings its offspring to his performances at school fundraisers, libraries, and the like. Songs like "I Am Baby," "What's Not to Love About a Skunk?," "Let the Dog Go Out," and "I Got Stuck in an Elevator" soon become family favorites. Is that your kid climbing over the other children to get a spot down in front of Joe? Talk about a chip off the block.

Joe McDermott

Best Performance Art for Kids

Chef and Pat have always made music for children. Then Pat got a ticket, and the Telephone Company seriously started playing to clear up some community service. The Telephone Company uses bear heads, king puppets, and spirit-gum mustaches to illustrate their whimsical, strange songs about the trials and tribulations of facial hair, kings and flies, telephones, and babies riding on buses with a large assortment of dirty animals. Instrumentation is a grab-bag assortment of drums, jew's-harp, nose flute, guitar, toy piano, xylophone, and whatever kind of other percussive effects can be made by their overly expressive bodies. Parents get confused, kids get excited, 'cause the Telephone Company are “hardcore baby fans/the Telephone Company is a magical band.”

The Telephone Company

Best Stop to Gamer's Paradise

Racks upon racks of up-to-date games for every system. Televisions blaring Xbox, Gamecube, PlayStation2, and more ... Gamestop offers a vast selection of video games for every console, plus strategy guides for just about every last one of them. It's virtually a gamer's paradise. Even the employees get in on the fun, by going a lap or two in the NASCAR racing sim, or sparring pound for pound in a boxing game.

Various Austin locations, 467-9902

Best Cake-Decorating Supplies

Whether you're an occasional cake decorator honing your skills or a hardcore wedding or kiddie-birthday cake designer, All in One has every conceivable cake-decorating supply you can think of, from dowels to doilies, pans, decorator tips, pastry bags, and great toppers, too. The staff is superknowledgeable and friendly, offering great advice. If you don't have time to make your own cake, they also offer custom-baked and decorated confections. For the more ambitious sugar artists among you, there is a range of decorating classes available from beginning to no-way-you-made-that-yourself?! Plus, they can put you in touch with other decorators in town for that groovy butter-cream bonding experience you've been seeking.

Make It Sweet
9070 Research #203

Kenny Braun

Critics: Food
Critics: Media

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