Food
2006 Readers Poll
2006 Critics Picks

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Best 24-Hour Cheap Eats

If Delicious Heaven exists, it's La Mexicana Bakery. One step through the automatic doors reveals rows and rows of sugary goodness behind the glass counter — churros, cookies, cupcakes, pastries, ooohh just try one of each, they're affordable, and you won't be sorry. Best of all, La Mexicana is open 24 hours, so no matter what time you get a craving for their deliciously sopping tres leches cake (in regular and chocolate) or a breakfast taco (which will happen, we guarantee), you'll be able to get some.

La Mexicana Bakery
1924 S. First
512/443-6369
www.la-mexicana-bakery.com

Best 24-Hour Coffee Resurrection

The day the 24-hour lights at Mojo’s on the Drag went dim, night owls citywide went limp with the prospect of decaf evenings and unproductive moonlight. Alas, Mojo’s isn’t one to roll over and die. This summer, Joe, Chris, Steve, and Kevin of the former coffeehouse opened doors on North Loop’s Epoch, the only locally owned 24-hour coffee joint left in town. Sure, there’s the 24/7 Starbuck’s on Anderson, but Epoch is blessed with liberal-minded folks, a beautiful – if crowded – patio, and that luscious, refreshingly sweet Iced Mojo of which you dream. Students and graveyard-shifters have been officially saved. And rumor has it grub and beer are coming soon.

Epoch Coffee
221 W. North Loop, 512/454-3762
2700 W. Anderson #409, 512/351-9731
3900 Far West, 512/436-8594
111 Sandra Muraida #101, 512/465-2335
www.epochcoffee.com

Best Corner Revamp

If you haven't driven past the corner of Barton Springs and Lamar in a while, make your way over there already. We insist! What used to be two lonely, empty buildings has been revitalized and revamped and the corner is now bustling with activity almost every night of the week. First came P. Terry's, a new locally owned burger joint that rises above the standards of traditional fast food and is so cute we could just eat it up, and we do. After enjoying the ambiance of the dog-friendly patio and stuffing your belly with their delicious, hormone-free burgers and freshly cut fries, you are going to be so blissfully full, doing anything that requires energy might seem impossible. Not to worry, call some buddies and roll yourself right next door to Barton Springs Saloon. The perfect place to wind down after a hard day at work or cool off with a refreshing ale after a hot afternoon at nearby Zilker Park. We think this is one corner that satisfies all of your food and drink cravings, what more could you want?

Barton Springs Saloon
424 S. Lamar
512/482-9673
www.bartonspringssaloon.com/index.html

P. Terry's Burger Stand
404 S. Lamar
512/473-2217
www.pterrys.com

Best Crepes This Side of France

Oh la la … French kisses, French flicks, French accents, french fries. (Yes, we know they originated in Belgium, just roll with it.) There is just something so decadent and delicious about all things French. No room in your budget for a trip to that fair country across the sea? Well, if it is a crepe you're craving, no worries. We've got our own little taste of France nestled in an Airstream trailer behind what used to be Flashback on South Lamar. The delicacies Flip Happy Crepes delivers are so tasty you'll hardly even notice, much less care whether you're in gay Paris or not. We have yet to reach our goal of sampling every single one of their crepes, both savory and sweet. So far we've found that their creations are enough to satisfy our inner Francophile.

Best Home-Cooked Meal

The "concept" of "home cookin'" in the restaurant scene is a bit of a conundrum. The idea that there is a formal genre around recreating the home-style meat-two-veg paradigm for the general dining public defeats the purpose a bit, doesn't it? Sure, there's plenty of great home cookin' in Austin: Our town is built on piles of mashed potatoes and chicken-fried steak. But most places that offer this cuisine are offering just that: cuisine. It's a concept, and you get dressed up to go and eat it. You might, after all, run into someone you know or want to hang out for the band afterward. Well, sometimes, that's not what we want on the menu. When going out for home cookin' gets to be too much, but you still crave that mom-and-pop touch, head to Tony's Southern Comfort, the last name in comfort food. Tony's delicious dishes may very well qualify as cuisine, but it won't matter. You'll be too busy swooning and grinning at the very low-key atmosphere, the personal service, and the flavors that take you home to notice. (Note: Tony's is as family-style as it gets. So on Sundays, you might want to gussy up a bit.)

Best Hosts With the Most

When you walk into this little eatery off of Highway 71 East, you will be greeted warmly by Dick Simcoe, your guide for the evening. The friendly Army pilot, along with his wife, Surin, has been serving home-cooked Thai food to lucky Texans (including ex-Faces member Ian McLagan, who Dick counts as his No. 1 customer) for more than 20 years. He will recommend certain dishes. Order them. (He's not lying when he says their squid is surprisingly delicious.) Then, while Surin is busy in the kitchen making your Pot Oh La Pah, he will offer you a seat in Dick's Lounge. Do take him up on the offer. There, he will recommend a certain drink. Have a couple. (One, if you're driving.) If you're lucky, Dick will sit next to you at the bar for a drink and a chit-chat until Surin rings the dinner bell, if you don't mind. You won't. Tell your friends.

John Anderson

Best Italian Renaissance

There was a time in this town when a true New York Italian pizza was hard to come by, and even a decent pizza could require a trek across town, as there are so few center-city restaurants devoted to the art of the pie. You wouldn't know it now. With Home Slice, Southside Flying Pizza, Salvation Pizza, East Side Pies, Mandola's, and Mangieri's filling out the map over the past year, just choosing one place to get your fix is an exercise in denial. And somehow (perhaps the 2010 census will shed some light on this?) we've had a similar influx of other Italian specialty stores. With Mandola's Market at the Triangle and enough gelato joints to put the bubble-tea craze to shame (the most recent additions being Mandola's, Paciugo, and the new Gelato's location on the drag) we are sensing a conspiracy bigger than DaVinci. And we like it. Benvenuto, Italianos!

Home Slice Pizza
1415 S. Congress
512/444-7437
www.homeslicepizza.com

Southside Flying Pizza
2206 S. Congress
512/442-4246
www.southsideflyingpizza.com

East Side Pies
1401 Rosewood Ave.
512/524-0933
www.eastsidepies.com

Mandola's Italian Kitchen
4700 W. Guadalupe #12
512/419-9700
www.mandolas.com

Mangieri's Pizza Cafe
5900 W. Slaughter #460
512/301-0063
www.mangieris.com

Salvation Pizza
624 W. 34th
512/535-0076
www.salvationpizza.com

Best Local Authorities on Tea

Growing out of an online company called Tea Treasures (www.teatreasures.com), Tea Embassy set up shop in 2004 at the historic Campbell-Miller house, a figurative Graceland for tea connoisseurs anywhere. With well more than a hundred teas harvested from Texas to England to Kenya to India to China, Tea Embassy feels more like the Renaissance-era Far East than an oddly placed tea house in an Old Austin neighborhood of quiet real estate and law offices. Minus the scurvy and violent spice traders, of course.

Tea Embassy
900 Rio Grande
512/330-9991
www.teaembassy.com

Best Morsels With Mouthfeel

They are decadent. They are perky and sweet. They come in pairs, melt in your mouth, and when you're finished, you're not quite satisfied. Don't worry, it's not just you. Breasteses have that effect on everyone. The melty, chocolatey goodness is the culinary creation of one Lois M. Rodriguez, mistress of the baked goods. Chocolate-covered chocolate cake delectably gives way to a creamy whipped chocolate mousse center. And a sweet perky raspberry to top it off and give it a Breasteses appeal. The treats can occasionally be found in the refrigerated section at Nueva Onda. There's no wrong way to get a mouthful of Breasteses.

Lois M Rodriguez
www.myspace.com/tao_of_lois

Best North Austin Coffeehouse

Genuine Joe has all the basics that make a good coffeehouse: tasty beverages, comfortable seating, homey atmosphere, and quirky art. It has quickly become a neighborhood center, hosting Spanish lessons and several community groups in its meeting room. But Genuine Joe is so great because the staff there is so gosh darn … well, genuine. They serve the diverse Anderson Lane crowd without hipster hegemony or blandness, but with a funky, welcoming smile.

Genuine Joe Coffeehouse
2001 W. Anderson
512/220-1576
www.genuinejoecoffee.com

Best Nostalgic Homage With Great Chow

Whisper the word "Stallion" to some old Austin fogey and you'll witness wistful sighs and grown men cry. The old favorite is honored in the name of this new addition to the Airport road dining dash of decadance, as it brings the best of Southern fare with Southern flair to a strip peppered with working-class cuisine. And the new kid does the old namesake proud. Hands down, our fave of the weekly specials is the smothered chicken, but we can make a meal out of nothing but the sides (sweet cooked carrots, home-style green beans, and corn bread, oh yes).

Best Quick Lunch Downtown

If you're looking for a quick place to grab a healthy, tasty lunch downtown, check out Noodle-ism. Brought to you by Bistro 88's Jeff Liu, Noodle-ism offers food influenced by French, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and Southeast Asian dishes. There's even a Kobe-style hamburger and fries for those picky lunch dates.

John Anderson

Best Taco Lunch

Nestled in two nondescript locations on opposite ends of the city, TacoDeli takes the fine art of the taco to a whole new delectably unique level. Their signature Frontera Fundido is only one of a choice of 20 authentic Interior-Mexican-style tacos that will change your lunch hour as you know it. Try the Taco Blue Plate: a choice of any two tacos with rice, beans, and salad. And add the green Doña salsa if you dare: delicious yet literally spicy enough to "make the toes wiggle."

Tacodeli
1500 Spyglass, 512/732-0303
12001 Burnet Rd., 512/339-1700
4200 N Lamar Blvd., 512/419-1900
www.tacodeli.com

Best Texified Tuna

What is it about Texas? Sometimes it seems like we have to put our mark on everything we touch and make it our own. Maybe it's because we just know how to do things better? Now food, we Texans love our food, especially staples such as chicken-fried steak. Well, the chefs at 219 West mixed it up a bit and have chicken-fried tuna. Brilliant! Served on a bed of wasabi mashed potatoes with hoisin sauce, this mouthwatering, Texified dish is sure to have you shouting, "Yeehaw!"

Best Upscale After Hours Dining

Sure, Magnolia Mud and Kerby Lane pancakes still hit the spot after another night of Tito's shooting and Shiner swilling, but is anyone else having some late-night craving for something different? Like a little upscale French bistro, perhaps? Try Capitol Brasserie, conveniently located in the heart of the Warehouse District and also, conveniently, serving fine yet reasonably priced food until 3am on Friday and Saturday nights. While the escargot may not settle too well after a night of downtown rowdiness, there are few things more delectable then the Steak Frittes or Croque Monsieur after the bars kick you into the rue.

Best Waitron at a Fast Casual/Family Restaurant

Show us a waitron who doesn't roll his or her eyes at the sight of a toddler being plopped into a high chair in their section and we'll introduce you to Diana Lucio, the endlessly cheerful and eminently competent server at Kerbey Lane UT. Lucio has been slinging 'cakes at Kerbey for more than five years, and it shows in her warmth, unflappable professionalism, and deft hand with snobs, drunks, and babes in arms. It will be a loss to diners everywhere when she finally decides to go to grad school.

Diana Lucio
Kerbey Lane Cafe
2606 Guadalupe
www.kerbeylanecafe.com

Best Way to Feed the Whole Team

Let's say you're part of a hungry team that happens to be made up of people like "I Only Eat at Buffets Guy," "I Don't Want to Split the Bill at the End and Pay For All Your Expensive Crap When I Only Ordered a Salad Girl," and "Coach I Love Seahorses." Luckily there's Mongolian B-B-Q. Your finicky pals will enjoy the raw buffet, where they can pick out whatever veggies, meats, and sauces they want before handing them over to the cooks at the grill. The bill is easy to split up at the end since everyone will have the same thing. Oh, and Coach will find the seahorse aquariums inside utterly delightful.

Best Yes, It Is Meant to Be On-the-Bone

The scent and color of real Indian food is turmeric. It's that heady perfume and the yellow that stains your fingers when you bite into a tender, oven-baked slab of tandoori chicken. At $3.99 for a two-entrée plate, with pilau rice and a fresh, unleavened naan, Student Biryani's homemade Indian and Pakistani cuisine is fast food at its least corporate and most tasty.

Student Biryani Indian Cuisine
2021 Guadalupe (Dobie Mall, second floor)
512/708-1699
www.shopdobie.com

Best You Are Paying for It, So You May as Well Eat There

Which members of the Lege are getting schmoozed by corporate interests over tacos? Are our mortal enemies doing some bipartisan socializing at the deli counter? And what state reps can't eat a burger without dripping ketchup on their red, white, and blue ties? For answers, politico-watchers can observe state hacks in their natural habitat, the Capitol Grill. It's the works canteen for the state's movers and shakers that frequent our town. Tucked away in the State House underground extension, its breakfast and lunch menus are diverse, day-fresh, and cheap enough to get you grousing about political perks. It's a great way to impress out-of-town visitors who want a behind-the-napkin view of the corridors of Texas power.

Texas State Capitol Grill
Room E1.002, 1100 Congress
512/305-8400
www.austincapitolgrill.com/

Most Kickass Caterer

We could go on and on about the "Interior Mexican" this or the "poblano" that; we could yak for days about the nuttiest rice and the smoothest black beans ever, but really it all comes down to the Flautas Cancun. A staple at many a Chronicle party, these delicate, crispy rolls of sweet and tangy yum are just the right party food. And we can vouch for the fact that unless we get in that serving line early, it is one of the first items to disappear from our buffet. Every. Single. Time. Dammit.

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

Most Revolutionary Juice Maestros

In two words: compostable cups. Yes, the sweet, organic juices pumped by the gallons by Daily Juice hotties are now handed over the counter in cups made of earthy love. They look like plastic but are a teensie bit … silkier. Not plastic. Not petroleum. Corn. What better way to celebrate your health than by visiting a cutting-edge green business in Austin and getting a takeout green drink in a cup you can toss in the flower bed? Your body will be happy and so will your garden.

Yummiest UT Tribute

Ever since our beloved Longhorns won the national championship this year, it seems as though burnt orange and other Bevo-esque items are in even greater abundance than usual. However, we know one particularly yummy UT tribute that has been pleasing sushi and football fans alike for years, the Longhorn Roll at Kyoto. This combination of deep-fried sushi rolls served in the shape of the aforementioned steer and covered in their special orange sauce is definitely one taste-bud-tickling salute to greatness. Now, we're not quite sure what they put in that mysterious sauce – it's a secret to even the waitstaff – but whatever it is, it's addictive.

Yummiest Vegan and Veg Cuisine

A meal at this Tarrytown cafe is an all-out sensory joyride. From the first step in, past the display case loaded with a variety of exotic teas (their extensive array of natural bevvies take up an entire menu), the first impression is mauve and otherworldly. The staff says the decor is based on a dream. Which makes sense as the almost rococo ambience, subdued by the formality of linens and the gentle quiet that permeates the place, is a great atmosphere for enjoying the delicate and exciting array of flavors in dishes like the Sesame Seitan and Malaysian Roti Prata. For the vegetarian beginner (or resister) there is plenty, such as the delicious and decadent Scallion Mango Pita or the Nu Age Veggie Burger, served with yam and yucca fries which strangely approximates the American burger experience without one animal product.

 
Critics: Entertainment
Critics: Kids

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