2005 Readers Poll
2005 Critics Picks
Best 24-Hour Menu

If it's breakfast you want, they have eggs the way you like, pancakes in multiple flavors, french toast, oatmeal, and breakfast burritos. No? Well how about some chicken and mashed potatoes, a variety of veggie burgers and hamburgers, kettle fries, french fries, BLTs, tacos, or just a delicious slice of apple pie? We all know and love this Austin landmark for its atmosphere and loud music, but for those odd-hour grilled cheese and ice cream cravings or for picky eaters at all hours of the day, noon to midnight, this is the place to be.

Star Seeds Cafe, 3101 N. I-35, 478-7107

Best Biscotti That's Not a Biscotti

Triple Chocolate Almond. Oh, the anticipation. The delicate snap of the bag top. That fresh-baked-good aroma. Chocolate-chocolate-chocolate almond. Slide one out of the bag. The toasted almonds keep your fingers from getting coated with the underlying layer of chocolate that warms to your touch. That first bite: true love. Pavlos Zarkos' Triple Chocolate Almond Paximadi sure looks like a biscotti, tastes like a biscotti, but it is not a biscotti! It is a paximadi from across the way in Greece. Pavlos (Paul) Zarkas' paximadi is a hearty, crunchy feast made right here in Austin, Texas, and available at a number of local gift shops and coffeehouses. His Web site offers eight different flavors, including Traditional Anise Walnut, Nutty Vanilla Cream, and of course Triple Chocolate Almond, as well as Arabica coffee, baklava, and holiday gourmet gift baskets. Just be sure to warn your loved ones: They're addicting!

Pavlos Cookies, 389-2555,

John Anderson

Best Coffeehouse Trifecta

Our fair burg sports its share of good politics, great nosh, and stylish environs, but few dare to dream of the hat trick upstarts Joshua and Sarah Bingaman of Progress Coffee have pulled off: the harmonic convergence of all three. Located in a developing area but conscientiously occupying a revamped warehouse rather than gobbling up any of the neighborhood’s precious housing, Progress serves fair-trade, shade-grown organic coffee; the food – fresh, mostly local, organic – walks a tasty line between deli standards and gourmet innovation; they tirelessly co-sponsor events and projects with local nonprofits; and some of Austin’s best artwork can be found in their carefully curated, superbly lit, gallery-worthy space, which is airy and sophisticated without being pretentious. They’ve recently introduced some early music shows and film events, and there’s no reason to doubt Progress will continue to live up to its definition of “continual betterment,” every day in every way.

Progress Coffee, 500 San Marcos (on Fifth, two blocks east of I-35), 493-0963

Best Dill Pickle Snow Cone

Where does the desperate pregnant woman crazed by her inexplicable craving for bizarre treats go for an easy fix? How about La Paletera, the recently arrived from San Antonio frozen dessert emporium that has outlets popping up all over the place? It offers a wide array of paleta and snow cone flavors to satiate even the most obscure palate. Sure, you can get your typical grape-flavored slushy treat, but when you really want a pickle but just can't stand the chewing, this is the place to get it in dessert form. Mmmm ... salty.

La Paletera
1100 Center Ridge Dr., #360, 512/670-2616

Best Fried Yams & Queso

Take your out-of-towner for a real taste of South Austin. If you're traveling east on Oltorf, the Texicalli can be easy to miss; once you find it though, don't miss their "Yam Good Fries." These mouthwatering fried yams are covered with queso and can be served with or without "Tex Mix," a mixture of pickled onions and we're not sure what else, but it sure tastes good. Don't get too stuffed because you're gonna want to order a Dr. Pepper float or chocolate peanut butter shake to wash down those yummy yams. While busy stuffing your face, there is plenty to gaze upon. Music memorabilia of yore covers floor to ceiling ... literally. Who knows, while there you might even catch a glimpse of the "Unofficial Mayor of South Austin" himself, owner Danny Young.

Best Green Light in a Red Light District

Go Go Gourmet owners Tristan Callaway and Craig Long make no bones about the raciness of its location – between Dreamers and the Crazy Lady on I-35 – but they’re in the business of providing a more wholesome adult pleasure: the sating of the sophisticated palate. Go Go offers a rotation of portable-but-complex entrees – think chicken saltimboca, spinach-stuffed pork cutlets, stuffed portobello mushrooms – along with a variety of fresh veggies and other sides, a salad bar, gourmet pizzas, sandwiches, and more daily innovations. They have ample seating and a healthy Cherrywood clientele, but as the name implies, you can also get your meal swiftly and lovingly packaged if you’re on the road, on the clock, or just hoofing it between, um, entertainments.

Go Go Gourmet
104 E. 31st

Best Grilled Peanut Butter & Jelly Money Can Buy

You lounge and read comic books while Mom sings in the kitchen and cooks your favorite fantasy food. That's almost what you'll get when you order a PB&J at Cafe Azul, the art-filled and friendly cafe on East Caesar Chavez. A PB&J on sourdough, buttered, then grilled golden brown. It's light and soft, crunchy and gooey. So hot it almost makes you want to burn your tongue.

Best Homegrown H2O

Cielo Water is Austin's own purified and oxygenated H2O, bottled and distributed by the Cielo folks – self-described "urban monks" who are dedicated to a "simple life" of 24/7 prayer, work, "hospitality, and reconciliation." Cielo is a nonprofit, and proceeds from the sale of the oxygenated water go to their Austin Prayer House. They'll custom label the water for local businesses and offer home, business, and, for you orienteering nerds, even GPS delivery: They'll hide a cache of their water, give you the GPS points, and send you on a hunt. Cielo's water is as tasty as its national brand counterparts but is much more affordable. Buy local, good stuff!

Cielo Water
2380 Real

John Anderson

Rock Dog   John Anderson

Best Hot Dog Renaissance

Say goodbye to the Dark Ages: The mighty wiener has made a comeback! Dog Almighty's menu features scrumptious, 100% pure-beef hot dogs, steamed buns, slow-stewed sauerkraut, and their own special veggie chili and tofu dogs for the veggies in your crew. But the real fun begins with free ping-pong and foosball. Free ping-pong! Makes us proud to be American. And so does Rock Dog, just north of the Drag – an Austin original with a dining room packed to the gills with local music memorabilia in the spirit of nostalgic haunts like Threadgill's and Texicalli Grill. The Rock features a fantastic array of grilled dogs, including the tangy Buffalo Bleu Dog with blue cheese and hot wing sauce, perfect french fries (especially when topped with their dang-fine, artery-plugging queso), and homemade dessert treats.

Best House Taco

With some of the hottest dang salsa on God's green Earth, it's a good thing that Little Mexico, the homey li'l South First eatery just north of Oltorf, has some superfine agua fresca limonada to wash it all down. Just keep it comin', 'cause you'll need just such a belly washer when you tear into their amazing house taco, Antonio's Taco, a monster of bean, cheese, potato, bacon, and hold on, Nellie, brisket. Ooh, and some of the most tender, tastiest brisket, to boot; you'll think someone slipped you some juicy roast beef or prime rib for good behavior. Take our word for it, if you don't have someone to share it with, you'll wish you ordered an extra tortilla.

Little Mexico Restaurant
2304-A S. First

Best Lean, Green, Eatin' Machine

Time was, drive-through meals were an embarrassing convenience, cloaked in the secrecy of your car. The time-saving element made it too perfect for too many occasions to count. The nutrional content made it a cardiologist's nightmare. The bingo bulb went off in Sharon Mays' head, and drive-through dining is now certifiably healthy. Not to mention delicious. Snapping fresh and abundant salads with numerous homemade vinaigrettes abound. Or have them wrapped in one of six tortillas offered for a fist full of flavor. And no need to shrink behind the wheel with embarrassment!

Best Locally Produced Food Product

Ask any nursing mom about her experiences with whipping out a boob in public, and she’ll regale you with tales of everything from dirty looks to directives to cover up her dirty pillows, even though the health benefits for both baby and mama are immeasurable, not to mention the bond that breastfeeding instills between parent and child. Moms, rightly, have responded with nurse-ins to demonstrate their legal right to public displays of nutrition, especially since they’re helping build a stronger, healthier generation of folks. Mama’s milkshake? It’s way better than yours.

Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin
5925 Dillard Cir.

Best New Kid on the Block

We thought this new addition to Manor Road's Restaurant Row was too good to be true when it opened this year and started serving delicious Mexican take-out breakfast and lunch items, along with aguas frescas, ices, and other goodies. With its walk-up windows and tiny glassed-in kitchen, this offshoot of the larger, sit-down El Chile restaurant up the road has taken a boxy old fast-food edifice and turned it from a vacant eyesore into a friendly neighborhood gathering spot. Brightly colored tables and chairs also allow patrons to sit and eat on El Chilito's outdoor deck. Things just get better and better too, as the restaurant has recently extended its 2pm closing time to 9pm and also put in for a liquor license.

El Chilito Tacos y Cafe
2219 Manor Rd., 512/382-3797
1623 E. Seventh, 512/334-9660

Best New Reason to Grab a Slice

... and a nice cold ice. Slices and Ices is relatively new to the Drag, but it has already created a buzz among students and other campus-area aficionados. Their service is friendly, and you can get a giant slice (of some darn fine NY-style pizza pie) for about $2. Their slushie ... or should we say, ice concoctions come in four great flavors: lemonade, mocha cappuccino, cherry ice, and orange dreamsicle. Go ahead and splurge and try one of their gooey brownies. They're just like Mom ... errr Mama used to make.

John Anderson

Best Noncamping Camping Snack

Nestled in the heart of the Warehouse District with a full bar and cigar store, Halcyon is a coffee shop for adults. Amidst the liquor and fine modern art, however, there exists a certain childhood nostalgia. Fresh marshmallows, fine Hershey's chocolate, and crisp golden graham crackers are served right at the table (roasting fire included). We flock to the shop not simply for the gooey goodness that makes us want some more, nor just for the pyro-fantastic delight of charbroiling something indoors, but because there is no experience quite like bonding over strings of molten marshmallow that trail from the chin.

218 W. Fourth, 512/472-9637
1905 Aldrich #110, 512/400-0445

Best Place to Not Lose Your Tempura

In Japan, restaurants that specialize in tempura are called "Tempura-ya." Although Sushi Japon serves all kinds of Japanese cuisine, their tempura dishes are among the yummiest on the menu. There is tempura sushi such as the Rock & Roll (shrimp tempura), Spider Roll (softshell crab tempura), and Hot Night (shrimp tempura, tuna, avocado, and hot sauce), as well as vegetable tempura. Delicious dessert treats await – cheesecake tempura, banana tempura, and tempura ice cream. Plus you never know what daily specials sushi chef Kevin will come up with. On one particular day, it was a lobster tempura roll with cream cheese wrapped in soy paper. Mmm ...

Sushi Japon
6801 N. I-35

John Anderson

Best Public Service Servant

The ugly reality is that Texas ranks second out of 50 states in the highest percentage of hungry families. Shocking, isn't it? And did you know that Austin continues to have the highest cost of living in the state of Texas, exceeding housing costs in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Fort Worth? Not a pretty picture, but we can thank our lucky stars that we have the Capital Area Food Bank. Founded in 1981, in their first year they recovered, stored, and distributed just under 330,000 pounds of food. Today, they receive, store, and distribute more than 16 million pounds of food and grocery items to more than 370 human-service agencies in 21 Central Texas counties every year. And their above-and-beyond performance during this summer's series of hurricane crises was nothing short of miraculous. It's an awesome job, but someone has to do it ... and, with our help, CAFB does it beautifully.

Central Texas Food Bank
6500 Metropolis Dr.

Best Restaurant to Stumble Toward After Sixth Street

Time was when there were two dining options after a night on Sixth Street: pizza or bratwurst. The drunk palate rarely discriminates, and we like our grease, too, but on a weekend the stands often have intimidatingly long lines filled with less than polite patrons. Imagine our delight when we noticed that Thai Passion – a mere hop, skip, and stumble away from Sixth Street – had extended its hours until 3am. The food ranges from sweet and mild to nostril-clearingly spicy, and the service is speedy. We still don’t get why you have to leave the restaurant to go to the bathroom, but it’s a minor price to pay for getting Tom Kha Gai at two in the morning.

Todd V. Wolfson

Best Return of a Franchise

Back in the Nineties, an outpost of this Portland, Ore.-based franchise existed at Spicewood Springs and Mesa (where the very fine Mirabelle lives now). It quietly closed, and we never did stop missing it. But the Original Pancake House returned to us in July 2004, this time up on Parmer Lane. It's the home of the so-called "World's Most Copied Menu," so you might think at first you've landed in a clone of that "other" major pancake house, but the difference is obvious – excellent recipes and top-notch preparation rule at OPH. Although they're a little low on whole-grain options, OPH still boasts more than 20 varieties of pancakes, waffles, and crepes, including the rarely offered Dutch Baby, a baked pancake served in an individual-sized skillet, which arrives all puffed up (it deflates when it cools). Egg dishes stand out here as well, and perhaps in a nod to local tastes, they offer a great homemade salsa. And we swear they serve the best-tasting bacon and sausage anywhere in town.

Original Pancake House
1700 W. Parmer

Best Way to Sober Up Before Going Home to the Missus/Mister

It's three in the morning. Your nerves are frazzled as your drunken friends have discovered the Broadway tunes on your iPod and are rocking out to Kristen Chenowith in Wicked. The neon sign of Katz's comes into view. Suddenly, your disturbing fantasies of crashing into oncoming traffic are replaced by the image of strawberry cheesy-ness. Once inside, you watch as your fork cuts through the rich topping into the gooey pastry below and feel the happy endorphins pump. How often has this happened to you? Okay, okay. Replace Wicked with Avenue Q. The Tony's did. Whatever your reason, Katz's offers the respite you've been craving on the drive home.

John Anderson

Food Mascot Most Likely to Put the Hurt on "That Red-Headed Clown"

Papa J. better run for the hills. The Colonel is about to be discharged. And the clown prince of pseudo-burgers isn't going to be laughing much longer. With an air of Marlon Brando in Viva Zapata!, El Patrón doesn't need twin pistolas. No, his weapons are far more fearsome in the franchise wars: low prices and wholesome ingredients. Bringing more terror than a guillotine to the burger kings, this little Texas-based business has been steadily gaining ground, especially in the Hispanic communities. He's got an offer you can't refuse: a cheese and one-topping 15-inch pizza for $4.99.

Pizza Patrón, 7112 Ed Bluestein Blvd. #175, 928-9700; and three other locations around Austin

Critics: Entertainment
Critics: Kids

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