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2009CriticsFood

Best 3am Grocery Shopping, 1997
Fiesta Mart

When the late-night need arises for Dickies work pants, Bimbo brand toast, or an exotic, bizarrely shaped squash, Fiesta is the only choice. Add the glorious people-watching opportunities (because of Fiesta's stock of international groceries intended for people actually from those countries) and the store's weird-at-any-hour ambiance, and you have an extremely poignant wee-hours consumer experience.

Fiesta, 3909 N. I-35, 512/406-3900, www.fiestamart.com

Fiesta, 5510 S. I-35, 512/373-7800, www.fiestamart.com

Best Cart of Vegan Luv
Cheer Up Charlie's

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

While the hipster influx of East Sixth brings with it some welcome new attention to the old avenue, the overarching affect teeters on the precious, not to mention the precariously gentrificarious. Cheer Up Charlie's, however, a fabulous vegan food cart situated on a lot that you'd swear was someone's backyard, is just so homespun, so funkalicious, so darned Austin, and so defiantly nonformulaic that it transcends the convention of neighborhood and race politics. Discovering affordable treasures like the hummus chalupa, nonchicken chicken, and chocolatey good Go-Oohs (dark-chocolate cups filled with goji) is as populist as finding the golden ticket.

Cheer Up Charlies, 900 Red River, 512/431-2133, www.cheerupcharlies.com

Best Catered Sunday Brunch at a Bar
Traveling Bistro

The husband-and-wife cooking duo of Beau and Beth Been bring out the best on a Sunday morning – even yours after a night of drinking. A mere $13 covers the unlimited brunchy goodness. Serving up a different theme every Sunday at 11am at Nomad, the Beens deliver an amazing spread: bagels and lox, biscuits and gravy, made-to-order omelets and eggs, made-while-you-wait pancakes or waffles (served in specialty flavors such as peanut butter or black pepper and bacon, depending on the theme), and more. Don't forget about the $10 bottomless mimosas.

Traveling Bistro, 512/587-5097, www.travelingbistroaustin.com

Nomad, 1213 Corona, 512/628-4288, www.nomadbar.com

Best Cherry Lemonade, 1999
Long Beach Eggrolls

Who isn't impressed with dazzling innovations in liquid refreshment like banana-mango-lime-kiwi smoothies, high-carb blue-colored sports drinks, and honey-spirulina-orange-pineapple juice? But on a scorching afternoon with only a half-dollar in our pockets, we love to give our change to the nice lady at the cart in exchange for a plastic cup of ice. Then we can pour our own sweetly simple drink from the cooler marked "Cherry Lemonade" as the bees buzz about the spout.

Best Chick
The Nada Chicken at ThunderCloud Subs

Let's be honest: We know ThunderCloud didn't invent the meatless chicken product that anchors the Nada Chicken Parmesan, but daaaaaaaamn is it ridiculously good! The vegetarian meat product is so thoroughly convincing we swear there's at least a little chicken fat in it. Magical. We're so thrilled that it is now on the menu and that we no longer have to special-order it. We bet they're a pain to make – all that heating and cutting of faux gristle and marinara – so we're always sure to tip our hip and happy sandwich performance-artists plenty. Think of all those chickens you're saving from the guillotine, and scarf one down for us. Better yet, just bring a few dozen to the Chronicle offices, and we'll take care of them.

ThunderCloud Subs, 6501 Hwy. 290 E., 512/451-5830, www.thundercloud.com

ThunderCloud Subs #10, 903 W. 12th, 512/322-0154, www.thundercloud.com

ThunderCloud Subs #1, 1608 Lavaca, 512/478-3281, www.thundercloud.com

17 more locations

Best Drowning Flautas
The Screaming Goat

photo by John Anderson

As if the flauta itself isn't already the perfect blend of crispy, crunchy, gooey, and yummy, the fine folks at the Screaming Goat drench the darned things in a piping hot, screamingly good, brothy red sauce. The style is called "ahogada" (drowned), and its version is fit for goatherds and kings alike. What could be better? How about 75-cent (?!) flautas on Thursdays and Sundays, daily beer specials, and an adorable, old house atmosphere? And fret not, your meal will never be interrupted by horrific bleating: Goat is not even on the menu.

The Screaming Goat, 900 W. 10th, 512/477-4628, www.thescreaminggoat.com

Best Eastside Juiciness
Veracruz All Natural

Don’t let the nondescript trailer fool you. Inside this Eastside wheeled wonder, a cornucopia of fresh fruit stands ready to be whizzed into the juiciest blended beverages, made-to-order smoothies, fresh fruit salads, milkshakes, and the hands-down, very best agua de sandia (sweetened watermelon juice) in all of Austin. Owned by two sisters – La Doñas – this neighborhood juice bar opens early and stays up late to keep us healthily hydrated.

Veracruz All Natural, 1704 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/981-1760, www.veracruztacos.com

Veracruz All Natural, 1403 E. Seventh, 512/318-1830

Veracruz All Natural, 4208 Manchaca, 512/629-8238, www.veracruztacos.com

Best Farmers' Market Maestra
Suzanne Santos of the Sustainable Food Center

Regular shoppers at the two Austin Farmers’ Market locations may not know market director Suzanne Santos by name, but they surely recognize the omnipresent woman with the straw hat festooned with Central Texas fruits and vegetables. As a longtime employee of the Sustainable Food Center, Santos has guided the market from its humble beginnings in 2003 to the flourishing status it enjoys today. You’ll find the hardworking Santos in her signature hat, setting up the market every Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon come rain or shine, recruiting and managing volunteers, answering shoppers' questions, visiting farms, tending to mountains of paperwork, and marketing the enterprise for all she’s worth! Her commitment pays off for everyone who cares about fresh, local food.

Sustainable Food Center, 2921-C E. 17th, 512/236-0074, www.sustainablefoodcenter.org

Best Locavore Chef/Butcher
Chef Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due

Although several Austin chefs support the emerging farm-to-table movement to one degree or another, no chef we’ve ever met takes cooking entirely from the Central Texas terroir quite as seriously as Jesse Griffiths, chef/owner of Dai Due Supper Club & Butcher Shop. Griffiths’ mission to cultivate “a more conscious food culture” is reflected in his seasonal menus, which feature only locally sourced, sustainably raised produce, meats, and dairy products. His multiple-course, roving farm dinners and seasonal feasts sell out quickly, as do his fall hog-butchering classes and fishing trips that include instruction in cooking the catch. His newest venture is an online butcher shop, offering charcuterie derived from local meats with selections that change weekly. When we’re hungry for the true flavor of Austin, Jesse Griffiths is on the range.

Best New Place to Get Porked
Frank

photo by John Anderson

Housed in the former Starlite cafe building (next door to what was the original Alamo Drafthouse), Frank's lip-smacking-good menu of artisan sausage and neo-funktastic hot doggery is the closest most of us will ever get to hog heaven. Libation tip of your lifetime: the Red Headed Stranger, Frank's version of a Bloody Mary. It's the real swine king!

Frank, 407 Colorado, 512/494-6916, www.hotdogscoldbeer.com

Best Outdoor Seating
New Decks at Flipnotics

The new owners of this iconic coffeehouse added three new decks last year that stair-step up the side of the cliff overlooking Barton Springs Road. The tree-shaded space adds to the back-porch feel, whether you're having coffee with a friend, drinking a beer while listening to live music in the evenings, or just reading your friendly neighborhood alternative newsweekly with your morning bagel.

Flipnotics Coffeespace CLOSED, 1601 Barton Springs Rd., 512/480-8646, www.flipnotics.com

Best Outdoor Seating, 2004
Cafe Mundi

Never mind the yerba maté, the bigass weekend waffles, and Italian sodas. Never mind the comfy couch, the wi-fi, and low lights. That's all inside, within the embrace of one of Austin's most beloved and intimate coffeehouses. Outside is the cafe's life-mate, the compatible counterpart: Under a canopy of crape myrtles, various flora, and thatch, the dawn disappears into day and day disappears into dusk as poets chisel into notebooks, lovers process, and the mantis resides, humble in prayer. This Eastside adobe is our temple of the temporal, an earthly overstuffed chair, a respite from all that distracts. It's impossible to not breathe easy here.

Cafe Mundi CLOSED, 801 Tillery, www.myspace.com/cafemundi

Best Recycling Role Model
Dorsey Barger, Eastside Cafe & Art City Austin

photo by John Anderson

Eastside Cafe co-owner Dorsey Barger describes herself as a fanatic when it comes to recycling. She sees to it that her staff recycles or composts everything possible: food trimmings, used cooking oil, plastic containers, boxes, cans, bottles, even used office paper. She knows that convincing her fellow restaurateurs to invest more money in recycling programs is likely to be a tough sell during this recession, but she’s leading by example and willing to share her know-how and contacts with anyone who asks. For example, when Art Alliance Austin realized the incredible popularity of its Art City Austin annual spring weekend art show and sale was causing an increase in the amount of garbage the event generated every year, its solution was to put Barger in charge of the event’s new Green Team. The team came up with the Eastside Cafe Recycling Challenge: Throughout the three-day event, six teams of volunteers from local nonprofits manned water refill and recycling stations for the opportunity to lessen the event’s environmental impact on the city while competing for cash prizes. The volunteer teams collected and sorted all the garbage and kept well over two tons of refuse from being sent to the landfill by the time the three-day party was over. Now that's a role model for fanaticism we can really get behind!

Eastside Cafe, 2113 Manor Rd., 512/476-5858, www.eastsidecafeaustin.com

Art Alliance Austin, 816 Congress #1140, 512/609-8587, www.artallianceaustin.org

Best Rotisserie Chicken
Country Grill at the Farmers' Markets

The slow-roasted rotisserie chickens sold from the familiar Country Grill trucks at our area farmers' markets are not only tender and juicy, but are also natural, free-range birds raised on a local farm in Nixon, Texas. Country Grill's chickens are fresh, never frozen, and rubbed with a special Bavarian spice mix, making them as delicious and wholesome as all the other local produce in your marketing basket.

Barton Creek Farmers Market, 2901 South Capital of TX Hwy, 512/280-1976, www.bartoncreekfarmersmarket.org

SFC Farmers' Market at the Triangle, 4600 Guadalupe, 512/236-0074, www.austinfarmersmarket.org

Barton Creek Farmers Market, 2323 S Lamar, 512/280-1976

2 more locations

Best Seasonal Taste of the Hill Country
Fredericksburg Peach and Mint Ice Cream at Thai Fresh

You couldn't ask for a mouthful of pure Texas Hill Country more evocative than Jam Sanischat's Fredericksburg Peach and Mint Ice Cream. Made with cream, sour cream, Texas peaches, mint, sugar, vanilla, and lemon juice, and frozen in a home ice-cream maker, every refreshing bite is a needed reminder of what we do love about the Texas summer. Because Thai Fresh is passionate about using locally sourced ingredients, autumn and winter will bring their own seasonal Texas flavors as well.

Thai Fresh, 909 W. Mary, 512/494-6436, www.thai-fresh.com

Best Sweets
Quack's

The home of the legendary big-as-your-face eclair also boasts this town's finest key lime and Toll House pies (in our humble opinions), was on the cupcake tip way before cupcakes were cool, and has the confidence in the majesty of its vegan goodies to put them right there, smack-dab next to the dairy-laden succulence of the rest of the case. We confidently assert that humble Quack's will be on the cutting edge of future baked-good trends for years to come (it's been all over royal icing cookies for ages).

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

Best Tasting Hostess
Antoinette at Twin Liquors

courtesy of Twin Liquors

Antoinette could be your mother, your grandmother, your auntie, or your sister, and like all great ladies, she's known by first name only. The Twin Liquors hostess has been helping customers get the very best out of their liquor for decades. Her commitment to social justice is inspiring: When no one would sell to the gay clubs in Austin in the 1970s, Antoinette and the gang at Twin Liquors did. Arrive at the tasting stand at Twin Liquors, and you'll be greeted with her radiant smile and a laugh, and she'll tell you what's good. She knows good. Everything she's served to us has been perfect, and the conversation is delightful without fail. After five minutes you'll wish she was related to you so you'd have more reason (than being a borderline alcoholic) to see her.

Twin Liquors, 1000 E. 41st, 512/451-7400, www.twinliquors.com

Twin Liquors, 519 E. Seventh, 512/476-9982, www.twinliquors.com

Twin Liquors, 8030 Mesa, 512/346-1861, www.twinliquors.com

6 more locations

Nuttiest Austinites
AustiNuts

photo by John Anderson

AustiNuts' dry-roasted goodies can be found in many Austin-area groceries, but there's nothing like visiting its original store on West Anderson to take in the glorious aroma and peruse the impressive array of bulk legumes, seeds, achenes, kernels, and just plain nuts, not to mention handy gift packs and shippable, themed gift baskets of every nutty combination imaginable. All the in-house roasted products are kosher (Chanukah gifts anyone?), and the Hungarian/Israeli owners wouldn't have it any other way. That makes us all the more cuckoo for AustiNuts.

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

Tastiest Riff on Nawlins, Vegan-Style
Wheatsville's Popcorn Tofu Po'boy

Actual resemblance to an authentic New Orleans po'boy is minimal – for one, prolonged exposure to Wheatsville's vegan version isn't likely to induce a heart attack – but we love WV's popcorn tofu po'boy precisely for its antitraditionalist whimsy. The deli starts with the classic chewy French roll, then gets creative with perfectly seasoned and textured fried tofu, fresh veggies like cucumbers and carrots and sprouts, and, finally, WV's divine homemade cashew-tamari dressing. Bon temps, indeed.

Wheatsville Food Co-op, 3101 Guadalupe, 512/478-2667, www.wheatsville.coop

Wheatsville Food Co-op, 4001 S. Lamar, 512/814-2888

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