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2008CriticsFood

Best All-Day Mexican Breakfast
Curra's South

This South Austin neighborhood favorite is well-known for it's authentic Interior Mexican fare. All day, every day, Curra's offers 12 different Mexican breakfasts, including migas, huevos motulenos, huevos sucios, chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, and breakfast tacos. When you add in their robust, vanilla-kissed blend of Oaxacan coffee, full bar, and fresh juices, Curra's Mexican breakfast can't be beat.

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

Best Asian Street-Style Food
Lulu B's

Lulu B’s does the Vietnamese equivalent of the taco truck. Sister co-owners have brought Vietnamese flavors from the West Coast and onto the south side of town, alleviating the taste buds of patrons who are tired of driving to the north side for a decent bowl of vermicelli noodles. Lulu B’s is known mostly for its bánh mì thit – Vietnamese sandwiches served on crusty French baguettes – but also offers those succulent aforementioned noodle bowls and fresh summer rolls (with choices of meat, tofu, or avocado). In true trailer tradition, it's cash only, as well.

Lulu B's Vietnamese Sandwiches, 2113 S. Lamar, 512/921-4828, www.myspace.com/lulubssandwiches

Best Cheap Tacos Out of a Window
Taqueria Alayna's

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Manor Road has some great choices for tacos to go. Some of the most underrated, tastiest, and undeniably cheapest are available at Alayna's unassuming little window next to the R&C Laundrymat in a small strip center just east and up the street from other flashier taquerias. Here, breakfast tacos, including migas and chorizo, are just $1.75. Lunch tacos, featuring picadillo, barbacoa, and chicharon, a mere $2. Burritos are only $4 and plates $7. You get the idea. They only serve food, delicious food, so the proximity of the nearby convenience store loaded with a variety of imbibables is a handy asset.

Taqueria Alayna, 2611 Manor Rd., 512/524-0860

Best Community Asset Chef (Female)
Quincy Erickson of Fête Accompli

In addition to raising a family, running a business, and donating countless hours and hors d’oeuvres to charity, chef Quincy Adams Erickson is a founding member of the local chapter of women’s culinary service organization Les Dames d’ Escoffier. This past executive board member of the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival not only donates her presence and her sophisticated, French-inspired comestibles to local benefits; she’s also been known to throw fundraising dinners in her own home (Project Transitions) or to put together successful benefits in the homes of clients (Ann Richards School birthday benefit at Lowell Lebermann’s).

Fête Accompli, 917 W. 12th, 512/478-3383, www.feteaustin.com

Best Community Asset Chef (Male)
Jack Gilmore of Z'Tejas

Whether this Z’Tejas founding chef is spearheading the Operation Turkey Day event that serves up a sumptuous Thanksgiving meal to 400 Fort Hood soldiers and their families or rounding up fellow chefs to participate in the annual Share Our Strength gala to fight hunger, Jack Gilmore’s a guy who regularly puts his cooking and organizational skills to work to better our community. Our favorite Gilmore story, however, has to be the one about how he took a cross-country road trip to Alabama to fry fish at the homecoming party of a former Fort Hood soldier and big Z’Tejas fan. The soldier’s wife wrote Z’Tejas asking for its zesty Z’Jalapeno Tartar Sauce recipe to serve at the party – what she got instead was the working chef, the tartar sauce, and Gilmore’s gratitude for her husband’s service in Afghanistan.

Z'Tejas, 1110 W. Sixth, 512/478-5355, www.ztejas.com

Z'Tejas, 9400-A Arboretum Blvd., 512/346-3506, www.ztejas.com

Z'Tejas, 10525 W. Parmer, 512/388-7772, www.ztejas.com

Z'Tejas, 10525 W. Parmer Lane, 512/388-7772, www.ztejas.com

Best Culinary Sisterhood
Les Dames d' Escoffier

The Austin chapter of this international women’s culinary service organization boasts the membership of the crème de la crème of entrepreneurs, chefs, pastry chefs, winery owners, chef educators, public relations experts, and food writers – working together for a better Austin and providing scholarships and mentors for young women to follow in their footsteps. Whether they are preparing meals for ailing members of their own group, donating their time and talents to myriad charity events, mentoring students, or coordinating food donations for a church homeless outreach program, these gifted sisters are doing it for the whole community, all in a day’s work.

Les Dames d' Escoffier International, 512/328-3935, www.ldei.org

Best Filling, Healthy Salads
Leaf

At Leaf, the quickest salad-tong-wielding employees in the South will mix a bevy of fresh, local ingredients into a massive bowl of green goodness. Inside, think Subway, only a stratosphere healthier. Choose from more than 30 farmers' market ingredients to create your own salad to be assembled by your very own "saladsmith" – whom we can only assume will unionize as we go greener in the near future. The sheer size of the salads at Leaf is rumored to have forced grown men to ask for to-go boxes. But have no fear! – there is no Styrofoam here. The containers are as green as their contents, and even the forks are made from potato starch.

leaf, 419 W. Second, 512/474-5323, www.leafsalad.com

Best Fusion of Tea and Chocolatey Goodness
Stortini

Oh! The deep and creamy cocoa dances a cold, cold tango with the faintest traces of the Earl's most excellent brew to bring this level of tongue heaven to your mouth. Doesn't matter what sort of meal you've preceded it with, Eastside Italian eatery Stortini's homemade Earl Grey-and-dark-chocolate gelato will quiver your taste buds with a gustatory orgasm that would break the Richter scale.

Stortini Ristorante Italiano, 1917 Manor Rd., 512/391-9500, www.stortini-austin.com

Best Hangover Preventative
Kebabalicious

photo by Sandy Carson

Sure, you could scarf down a slice of pizza or a greasy brat in a drunken 2:15am haze, but you're just gonna be hungry in an hour when you stumble into your darkened house fumbling for the bong. There, in the dead zone of Seventh, between Trinity and Neches, sits the blue van known as Kebabalicious. They offer "Turkish-style wraps" filled with beef/lamb and chicken, but it's the fresh-made falafel (with spinach-artichoke hummus, please) that really soaks up the sauce. (Don't worry, Kebabalicious tastes good when you're sober, too.) They're open Wednesday-Saturday until 3am, so ya better ask for a punch card, you boozehound you.

Kebabalicious, 1720 Barton Springs Rd., 512/394-6562, www.kebabalicious.com

Kebabalicious, 1311 E. Seventh, 512/394-6562, www.kebabalicious.com

Best Healthy Grub Downtown
WeFuse

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Eating Downtown during the day can be like working Downtown during the day: monotonous. The options for 9-to-5ers have been as droney as the hum of the computers we stare at day in and day out. Then a glimmer. Tucked under the glacier-esque Frost Tower, WeFuse has come to revitalize our spirits with fresh Asian fusion fare. Build your savory bento box with seared ahi, grilled shrimp, roasted salmon, chicken, or tofu and an array of tasty sides such as a roasted yellow-pepper-and-leek salad with avocado or a tomato-and-goat-cheese salad. And can we talk about the vegetarian dumplings? Surely they are stuffed with cure-alls for the soul-sucking caused from working the grind.

WeFuse, 120 E. Fourth, 512/236-1011, www.wefuse.net

Best Hoes
Hoover's Hoecakes

It's said that the origin of the name "hoecake" is from the field-hand method of pouring cornmeal-heavy hotcake batter onto the blade of a hoe and cooking it over a fire. We just know that we are total ho's for the hoecakes at Hoover's Cooking, celebrating 10 years in their popular Manor Road location. Like so many things Southern, chef Hoover Alexander knows his hoes: The perfect balance of sweet and savory, smooth and grit, these crispy-edged, tender treats sop up syrup and make bacon a sidekick like nothing else.

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

Best Homegrown Remedy for Wartime Gas Prices
BioGardener's Home Food Gardens

A tomato bought at the local supermarket is likely to have traveled more than 1,000 miles by airplane or truck. A tomato grown in our own yard will travel just the distance to our salad. BioGardener helps homeowners design, build, and sustain food gardens in their own yards. Eat better, inspire neighbors, drive less, and save money! Lawns are so last year.

BioGardener, PO Box 6253, www.bio-gardener.com

Best Local Corner Store
Live Oak Market

Live Oak Market's laid-back style and welcoming staff make any patrons feel like they are part of the neighborhood. The former 7-Eleven now contains a wealth of corner-store foodie goodness. Its shelves are stocked with local drinks and snack products from goat-milk ice cream to homemade kombucha, gourmet sandwiches, and an excellent selection of international beer. Grab and go, or sit back and enjoy the free Wi-Fi.

Live Oak Market, 4410 Manchaca, 512/416-0300

Best Saviors of Local Dining Landmarks
Bob Cole & Partners

When we were researching a story on Austin’s landmark restaurants recently, an interesting coincidence emerged. Three of the 19 restaurants featured in the story had been reborn (Hill’s Cafe), revitalized (the Tavern), or successfully relocated (the Frisco Shop) because of the intervention of local radio personality Bob Cole and his fellow investment partners. Cole and his friends recognize a good opportunity, appreciate Austin’s history, and are doing their part to preserve it.

The Tavern, 922 W. 12th, 512/320-8377, www.tavernaustin.com

Hill's Cafe, 4700 S. Congress, 512/851-9300, www.hillscafe.com

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

Best Texas Team at the Smithsonian
Dawn Orsak & Pat Jasper

Pat Jasper and Dawn Orsak honed their chops for years putting on events together for the local nonprofit Texas Folklife Resources. Dawn’s passion is for Texas food ways, while Pat tends to specialize in the many forms of Texas music. Together, they made the perfect team to curate the monthlong "Texas: A Celebration of Music, Food, and Wine" exhibit at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., this past summer. Jasper and Orsak invested almost a year assembling a program to showcase the diverse and fascinating aspects of Texas music, food, and wine, and their exhibit attracted capacity crowds of tourists visiting the nation’s capital. These ladies put on a show that made Texas look great – and we applaud them for it.

Smithsonian Folklife Festival, PO Box 37012 MRC 520, Washington, D.C., 202/633-6440, www.folklife.si.edu/festival/2008/Texas/index.html

Freshest Bubble Tea Brew
Momoko

Poor decision-makers beware: This Japanese tearoom-cum-gift shop might blow your mind. The menu, full of teas flowery, fruity, black, spicy, and otherwise, is so extensive it’s housed in a binder. And you must also choose embellishments of fruit, tapioca pearls, or milk. But once that tea is brewed and sweetened to perfection, you’ll take one sip and confess your love for the taste of a Junky Raccoon or a Coco Baby or a Sunburnt Zebra.

Momoko, 705-A W. 24th, 512/469-0232, www.momoko-gifts.com

Healthiest Base for Local Frozen Treats
White Mountain Yogurt

Late Austin health-food entrepreneur Reed Murray bought White Mountain Foods in the early Eighties and used it as the foundation for a very successful artisan food company that produces yogurt, tofu, tofu products, and seitan. White Mountain yogurt has long been acknowledged as the best yogurt on the market, and now it is the base for some of the healthiest and most delicious frozen treats for sale in Austin. Try the natural, low-fat frozen yogurts at Piccomolo Ice Cream and Mambo Berry, and congratulate yourself for making such a healthy refreshment choice.

White Mountain, 3301 E. Fifth, 512/385-4711, www.whitemountainfoods.com

Most Ridiculously Friendly Staff
Emerald City Press

photo by Sandy Carson

A visit to Emerald City Press is not unlike walking into a bar full of friends that are just so happy to see you. "Hey, how was your weekend?" "Girl, that dress is cute! Where'd you get it?" "Ugh. I had a date from hell last night." The line between customer and server is indeed blurred at this hoppin' North Lamar joint, which only adds to its laid-back Austin charm. At just 7 months old, the drive-through/walk-up coffee shop/newsstand offers an ever-growing menu of top-notch drinks (try the agave lemonade and their famous soft serve with a shot of espresso), pastries, and tacos, as well as fresh flowers and gifts, but the staff is the heart, and it's all made with love.

Emerald City Press, 915 N. Lamar, 512/472-6660, www.emeraldcitypress.com

Most Satisfying Ice
Golden Chick on Airport

For a devoted ice aficionado (or fiend or addict – call us what you will), the frozen water at Golden Chick is superior. This ice crumbles like a gently broken Grecian column. It's tubular, not cubed, and chomps easily into smaller crystals with no dental trauma. A 64-ounce cup can last half a day in the triple-digit temperatures of summer and feels like chewing on freshly fallen frosty snow.

Golden Chick, 2510 S. Congress, 512/416-1134, www.goldenchick.com

Golden Chick Airport, 1144 E. Airport Blvd., 512/927-1000, www.goldenchick.com

Most Seductive Queso
Torchy's Tacos

Austin is committed to queso. We love a late-night seduction after a night of dancing and carousing. We love a reason to get out of bed on a lazy Sunday. Queso! Our insatiable queso-craze has spawned a competitive playing field of melty goodness clamoring for our taste buds. Torchy's green-chile queso has captured the desire of crispy tortilla chips far and wide. The roasted, smoky undertones of New Mexican green chiles are enough to elicit swoons. And when those little devils at Torchy's decided to top the whole affair off with generous amounts of guacamole, queso fresco, and their fiery habanero Diablo sauce, what could we do but to become addicted … er, fall in love?

Torchy's Tacos, 2809 S. First, 512/444-0300, www.torchystacos.com

Torchy's Tacos, 2801 Guadalupe, 512/494-8226, www.torchystacos.com

Torchy's Tacos, 4301 W. William Cannon, 512/514-0767, www.torchystacos.com

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