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Best Blue Hues Renewed
Mueller Air Traffic Control Tower

photo by Shelley Hiam

Her flared top makes us think of Cybill Shepherd in the late Sixties, on her back at a slumber party, kicking up a bell-bottomed leg to Jack LaLanne on TV. The Robert Mueller Airport Air Traffic Control Tower is nothing if not nostalgic. Christened along with the rest of the then-updated terminal in 1961 by one LBJ himself, the tower earned accolades from architectural Mad Men-types of the era. We're tickled teal and turquoise to learn that the Mueller Development powers-that-be intend to preserve the old gal and even restore her to the multihued range of blues of her first unveiling. What will she become? No decision has yet been made. But as far as we're concerned, "treasured landmark" is a great place to start.

Robert Mueller Airport, 3600 Manor Rd., 512/530-4000,

Catellus Austin, 4550 Mueller Blvd., 512/703-9200,

Best Double-Decker Clash Reference

photo by John Anderson

Where else but in East Austin could you find not only a double-decker bus converted into a food eatery, but also one proudly emblazoned with the scowly mug of the late, lamented punk rock godhead Joe Strummer? Bus owner Tim Lasater serves up mammoth cheesesteaks and assorted Austinlicious pub grub, but it's the stenciled Strummer and the Clash quote beside it that make this a photo-op destination as well as a helluva place to fill up before running riot. Don't be crude and feckless. You been drinking brew for breakfast? Either way, Rudie, (and you) can't fail.

#19, 1112 E. Sixth,

Best Mural Savers
Gallery Black Lagoon

photo by John Anderson

When the Movie Store closed earlier this year, there was double sadness. First, because another mom-and-pop video store had gone, but second, because this could have spelled doom for an iconic mural. A mash-up of every sci-fi classic film, from Flash Gordon to Gojira, the fear was that it would fall prey to itinerant taggers or just a can of whitewash. Yet who could be better guardians of the intergalactic glory than an art gallery named after a vintage 3-D monster flick?

Black Lagoon, 4301-A Guadalupe, 512/534-6719,

Best New Condo Tower

Like a fabled ivory tower, Spring is located in yet still removed from Downtown. Tall and narrow, not eating up too much skyline, a building like Spring is a rarity in the U.S. It is what is called a "point tower," with one central elevator core. Virtually a world unto its own, Spring is a lush and luxe oasis just steps from one of Austin's busiest intersections (Fifth & Lamar). From the development team of Perry Lorenz and Larry Warshaw (Nokonah, the Pedernales, Saltillo Lofts, etc.), Spring's stylishly designed units all offer a spectacular view of the city – some of them appear to give complete panoramas that send the senses soaring into the stratosphere.

Spring Condominiums, 300 Bowie, 512/472-8118,

Best New Roof Over Our Heads
5604 Manor

Architects are fond of the principle, "First we shape our buildings, then our buildings shape us." That's as true of public places as it is of homesteads, and when we don't have welcoming places to come together, the spirit of community frays around the edges – of households, neighborhoods, and cities. The folks who founded 5604 Manor – Workers Defense Project, Third Coast Activist Resource Center, and Third Coast Workers for Cooperation – are specialists in collaboration, and they know that activist fish are only so alive as the water they swim in. The building houses WDP, its allies, and a meeting/performance space (complete with kitchen), and the grounds feature a family playscape and (eventually) a community garden. Indeed, 5604 embodies its reason for being: "Community is an experience, not just an idea."

5604 Manor, 5604 Manor Rd., 512/786-1513,

Best Place To Hide in Plain Sight
Women in Construction Pavilion

photo by Jana Birchum

Ever wanted to have the Lady Bird Lake Trail all to yourself? Well, there's at least one way to feel like the lakeside is there for you and you alone: Just east of Lamar Beach sits a large gazebo draped in the spring with wisteria. Dedicated in 1970 by Women in Construction, the pavilion was part of the initial Town Lake Park (now Butler Park) beautification project back in the day. According to Parks and Recreation, it is due for a bit of a face-lift within the next year. Didn't even know it was there? Don't worry, you're not alone. That's what makes this spot the perfect place to relax by the lake and watch the hustle and bustle – and all those runners – go by.

Butler Park, 1000 Barton Springs Rd., 512/974-6700,

Best Place To Table-Dance at a Family Reunion
Austin Open Room

photo by Jana Birchum

Relational Aesthetics is that nebulous, highly intellectual, international art movement that makes art out of meals, chance meetings, and art world elite glad-handing. Relational Aesthetics has come to Austin, sans obtuseness. Commissioned by Austin's Art in Public Places, Open Room Austin by R&R Studios (Miami artist team Rosario Marquardt and Roberto Behar), is a large metal picnic-style table, complete with a laser-cut "lace" tablecloth, surrounded by a group of treelike lamps. It's meant to be used for meet-ups, dinners, family reunions, and impromptu table dances to the latest Robyn single (what?!). In truth, it's more like an adult-friendly design playground. In other words, this "social sculpture" is fun. Fun! Art! Imagine. We look forward to the artworks and events that are inspired by this new addition to Sand Beach Park. Fuck the 360 Bridge and Mount Bonnell – with a view of the lake and the defunct power plant, we suggest this as the location of your next hot date. It worked for us.

Open Room, Sand Beach Park, 512/974-9314,

Best Respite on the 40 Acres
The Malcolm X Lounge

photo by Shelley Hiam

When their unofficial campus gathering space of the 1980s and ’90s was shut down, black UT students demonstrated and protested publicly. Out of this contested history, the Malcolm X Lounge emerged. Dedicated to providing resources for black students as well as a place to relax and commune, the lounge may be the most radical room on the 40 Acres. It's located in a far corner of the Jester Center, under the Warfield Center for African & African American Studies and past some laconic cafeterias and fast-food joints. A respite for people of color, the lounge is open to all students. Respect: By any means necessary, y'all.

Jester Center, Center for African & African American Studies, University of Texas,

Best Tall Drink of Water
Reclaimed Water Tower at 51st Street

photo by Shelley Hiam

The Austin skyline's changing rapidly, but who'd have thought the water tower at 51st Street would be joining its ranks? The tower, part of Austin Water's reclaimed-water effort, is an unlikely landmark, but when flying into Austin-Bergstrom at night, its ring of red lights at the top is one of the city's first visible icons. Airborne, you have a better view of the 48 photovoltaic panels powering the 170-million gallon tower, not to mention its scaffoldinglike design and the tank's slo-mo swoosh. Designed to deliver reclaimed water to Mueller, UT, and beyond for irrigation, cooling and more, it's 99% complete and will plug into campus at the first of the year – but it's already making an impact.

Austin Water, 625 E. 10th St., 512/972-0101,

Best Use of a Puffy Water Slide
Social Cycling's Landing at the Scoot

You've just been on an hour-and-a-half ride through East Austin in the middle of summer. You're sweaty, stinky, and surrounded by fellow bicyclists in a similar predicament. What's the solution? Well, how about a giant inflatable water slide set amid East Fifth's Scoot Inn & Biergarten that looks part bouncing tent, part water park, and all fun? Welcome to Social Cycling Austin. Whether it's the Monday Night Heavy Metal Ride, the Thursday Night Social Ride – with trips to Barton Springs, water balloon fights, and lots of beer – or any of their other impromptu events, this group of two-wheeled crazies always puts on a good show.

Social Cycling Austin,

The Scoot Inn, 1308 E. Fourth, 512/478-6200,

Best Art Fundraiser
Body of Art – Spring Gala

The Women & Their Work gallery attracts deeply talented and accomplished women (and the men who worship them) from all over Austin. Despite dazzling and incredibly successful exhibitions, panels, tours, and other fundraisers, this annual Spring Gala offers a bit of an edge. Held at the homes of its board members and supporters (all of whom have fabulous art collections of their own), the gala truly defines the perfect high-glam fundraiser, bringing together artists, art lovers, and fashionistas.

Women & Their Work, 1710 Lavaca, 512/477-1064,

Best Couple of Clowns in the City
Schave & Reilly

The husband-and-wife team of Ben Schave and Caitlin Reilly are like a living piece of vaudeville in the midst of Twitter times, plying their baggy-pants trade – stilt-walking, juggling, fire-eating, and (above all) slapstick comedy – with the clown college-educated professional poise that's earned them multiple awards and fans all over the globe. As their website asks, "Have you ever seen a rubber chicken duel that you didn't like?"

Best Funny First Steps
Cap City Comedy Club Open Mic

Margie Coyle at Cap City Comedy Club   photo by John Anderson

It takes not only great, original material to be a comedian in the making but also some serious cojones to brave a stage and wear your dementia on your sleeve. It also takes the loving embrace of a community and a club that is Austin's funny bone to coddle and encourage those who just want to make the masses laugh. That place is Cap City Comedy Club.

Cap City Comedy Club, 8120 Research #100, 512/467-2333,

Best New Collaborative Art and Volunteer Space

photo by Bret Brookshire

Knowledge of Space12 spreads predominantly by word of mouth. This Eastside compound houses many organizations and nonprofits, such as Inside Books Project and Skillshare Austin, and hosts numerous events, including the Round, a 360-degree immersion in local musical, visual, and spoken-word performance. Comfy couches, clean work surfaces, foosball, ping-pong tables, free wi-fi, and more appoint the "co-working space" that is open to anyone in need.

Space12, 3121 E. 12th, 512/524-7128,

Best Undiscovered Event Venue
Hummingbird House

photo by Bret Brookshire

Just 10 miles from Downtown in deep South Austin (aka Manchaca) sits Hummingbird House, a spacious indoor/outdoor venue for weddings, fundraisers, birthdays, and more. These beautifully manicured 5 1/2 acres beckon with lush greenery, flowers constantly in bloom, and hummingbirds, of course, in season. There is a 40-by-80-foot covered pavilion fed by lovely walkways and a secret vine-covered arbor for the bride to make her appearance. Overlooking Onion Creek, the complex features a very green, grassy outdoor amphitheatre and a sparkling pool accented with rock and verdant plantings. Owner Tom Tinguely – also of South Congress' Great Outdoors – apparently has the Midas touch: He turns green into gold.

Hummingbird House, 12805 Arroyo Doble Dr., Manchaca, 512/934-0201,

Best Advocates of Drinking and Fact-Checking
Encyclopedia Show

Chicago transplants Mike Graupmann and Ralph Hardesty are no doubt masters of the nerdly arts, but they've harnessed their powers for good with the monthly Encyclopedia Show. Raging against the shadowy Institute of Human Knowledge and Hygiene, the series aims to crack wise on various topics like mythological beasts and vice presidents and has gone through several volumes at the ND at 501 Studios, gathering writers, comedians, poets, musicians, and other bons vivants in an environment where you can still knock back a few. Smarty pants optional. Eggheads welcome.

Best Approximation of the Fall of the Roman Empire
TIE: La Dolce Vita; 'The 24 Hour Roman Reconstruction Project'

Although it took hundreds of years for the Roman Empire to decline and fall, Austinites only needed two nights. The first was the Austin Museum of Art's annual Food and Wine Festival, where Austinites tasted "the sweet life" from more than 50 restaurateurs and liquor purveyors, all on the gorge grounds of Laguna Gloria, prompting visitors to exclaim (we hope), "The whole of Austin is my triclinium!" Look it up, friend. Anyone who can bring art world types, cosplayers, schoolkids, engineers, and historians together is our personal hero, and that's exactly what artist Liz Glynn did with the local iteration of her internationally renowned performance/participation piece The 24 Hour Roman Reconstruction Project at Arthouse last September. A year out and we still remember the father-daughter team studiously building a Roman villa out of cardboard, a group of engineering students ripping apart leaves of drywall, and a prominent historian giving a tour of this ticky-tacky Rome in miniature. Of course, everyone worked hard knowing that come midnight, hundreds of participants would file in to kick, stomp, and tear it all to bits, transforming everyday Austinites into vicious Visigoths and razing the old Arthouse to rubble so that it could be reborn in 2010 – look out, "BOA" 2011!

The Contemporary Austin at Laguna Gloria, 3809 W. 35th, 512/458-8191,

The Contemporary Austin, 700 Congress, 512/453-5312,

Best Baby Girl

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

You may have never heard of Alicia Sedwick, but she is a one-woman Eastside institution. And so is her uncle's bar, T.C.'s Lounge. You might catch Sedwick shakin' it to her favorite song, or she might catch you first and lure you out onto the floor. You might even hear her cheering for her favorite acts from the back: "That's all right! That's all right!" Dubbed a juke joint by some and a curious mélange of white college kids and black neighbors by others (indicative, perhaps, of East Austin's gentrifying growing pains), T.C.'s is holding it down, plugging away in these hard times, and offering a cozy home to R&B east of the highway – a place to dance, cut loose, and nestle in the groove. You might know Ms. Sedwick better as "BabyGirl," the fiercely friendly door woman who seems to run the show and can sense newbies and make them feel at ease in a heartbeat. You don't? Well, sweetheart, you should go introduce yourself right now.

TC's Lounge, 1413 Webberville Rd., 512/926-2200,

Best Brewery
Live Oak Brewing Company

The fact that we can even give this award is a sign that Austin’s brewing scene has arrived: There are now enough breweries in town (nine, if you count brewpubs and Blanco’s Real Ale) that we can actually haggle over which one is best. Even more exciting is that the decision was difficult – there’s a lot of good brew in Austin right now. However, we lean toward Live Oak – every time we spot their handmade wooden tap handles behind the bar, we start drooling.

Live Oak Brewing Company, 1615 Crozier, 512/385-2299,

Best Emblematic Hangout or Don Draper Bowl-a-rama
The HighBall

Every generation of Austinites has an emblematic local hangout that defines the heyday of their carefree youth in River City, such as Barton Springs Pool, the Armadillo World Headquarters, Liberty Lunch, etc. Judging from the crowds that have packed the HighBall since it opened last fall, Tim and Karrie League's ultra hip and quirky pleasure palace is likely to figure prominently in the cherished memories of a whole generation of Austin residents. Someday, they'll reminisce about playing the vintage bowling lanes or attending crazy parties in the themed karaoke lounges, lapping up delectable cocktails and feasting on chef Trish Eichelberger's local-focused food. Ah, these are the days.

The HighBall, 1120 S. Lamar, 512/383-8309,

Best First Date Bar
The Tigress

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Finally mustered up the courage to talk to that friend of a friend (possibly even of a friend) but unsure of what to do after you get the all-important phone number? Suggest a date at the Tigress. It won't have the potential for long-form dinner awkwardness, and you'll be able to hear your date talk. The cocktails are made with precision at this one-woman bar that's pleasantly reminiscent of an airy English club.

The Tigress Pub and Cocktails, 100 W. North Loop, 512/600-3232,

Best Free Course in Film Appreciation
'Film Score Focus'

Sure, movies are a feast for the eyes, but don't forget the ears. Brian Satterwhite sure doesn't. A respected film composer in his own right (including the score for Austin comedy Artois the Goat), Satterwhite hosts KMFA's weekly program Film Score Focus, hitting just the right note with new and classic sounds, from spaghetti Westerns to Vegas glitz and the tunes accompanying classic Tex Avery 'toons. We're all ears. 8pm, Fridays; 7pm, Sundays.

Film Score Focus, 3001 N. Lamar #100, 512/476-5632,

Best New Gay Destination
M Two

For having such a thriving gay scene, Austin has surprisingly few designated gay destinations. Now we have one more. M Two offers a relaxed loungelike atmosphere for food, cocktails, and camaraderie. And it's pleasantly affordable, too. The brainchild of Joe Reynolds (M Bar, Hollywood), M Two's menu features innovative, light American fare – such as the delicately fried squash blossoms with roasted garlic puree and charred lemon, beet chips with olive dust, roasted Texas peaches with Round Rock honey and crème fraîche, and the pulled lamb sandwich with Dijon mustard. Interesting and reasonably priced wines and cocktails round out the selection.

M Two, 208 W. Fourth, 512/478-7222,

Best New Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection
Anarchy Championship Wrestling

"You got wrestling in my music venue!" "You got your hipster cred in my wrestling ring!" The preeminent pro-wrestling promotion in Central Texas found the perfect tag-team partner when it moved out of the gym and suplexed its way into Red River's buzz club for all things alt and noise as its regular Austin venue. Now with Mohawk operators Transmission Entertainment bringing the ACW ring to Fun Fun Fun Fest, it's a power-bombing mosh pit of high-impact pleasure.

Mohawk, 912 Red River, 512/666-0877,

Best Reason To Shake Whatcha Momma Gave Ya
Texas Burlesque Festival

A hint of sin, a flash of flesh, a whiff of perfume, and a sly wink under the spotlight: Since 2007, the Texas Burlesque Festival has played host to dazzling debutantes, vivacious veterans, and pulchritudinous performers of all strip(e)s and put Austin’s tantalizing troupes and seductive soloists on a national stage. Just keep yer pasties well-secured, ladies. After all, this is a family show.

Texas Burlesque Festival,

Coolest Local Drink Trend
Skilled Mixologists

When considering this award, we realized there wasn't one specific place deserving of recognition but rather a select group of restaurant bars and cocktail lounges staffed by innovative mixologists turning out spectacular libations. Some of these talented folks have represented Austin in national and international bartender competitions and are part of the ever-growing Austin delegation making the summer pilgrimage to New Orleans to further their cocktail education at the annual Tales of the Cocktail festival. Their creations are the antithesis of sweet sludge in shot bars or DayGlo swill masquerading as margarita mixes. We salute the talented guys and gals who respectfully prepare classic cocktails, create their own garden-to-bar herbal infusions, and make syrups and flavorings from scratch in order to satisfy discerning drinkers.

Most Glam Gay Party
aGLIFF's Oscar Party

The Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival waved its magic wand, and the mezzanine at the Driskill Hotel became the Austin version of the Vanity Fair Oscars Party. Emceed by the inimitable Rebecca Havemeyer and Mocha Jean Herrup, the red carpet was awash with the gorgeous glitterati of Austin in jeweled gowns, furs, tailcoats, and top hats. The seated dinner was seasoned with delicious repartee in a variety of separate dining rooms while guests viewed the Academy Awards ceremony on multiple large screens. Proceeds benefited the festival as well as the Paul Kirby Emergency Fund at AIDS Services of Austin.

Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival, 1107 S. Eighth, 512/275-6227,

Most Luxurious Movie Theatre
Gold Class Cinemas

photo by Bret Brookshire

It's like an ultra-spacious first-class cabin on the swankest airplane to destination: Luxury. There's a cocktail lounge to relax in before being escorted to your incredibly comfortable, fully reclining seat with a small lighted table and offered complete food and drink service at the touch of a button from professional, attentive servers. A full-size screen dominates the viewing room, which, though designed for 150 traditional seats, only seats 40 or fewer due to the posh recliners. Again, a touch of a button brings you a blanket or pillow or, seemingly, whatever your heart desires.

iPic Theaters Austin, 3225 Amy Donovan Plaza, 512/568-3400,

Best 24-Hour Buzz
Bennu Coffee

It's only been open a little more than a year, but you wouldn't know it by the crowds of caffeinated fans that pack this 24/7 Eastside coffeehouse. Owners Stephanie and Steve Williams have created a nice lounge space with one-of-a-kind beverages – including a menu of choice mocha delights named for classic novels – and a tasty selection of items for noshing, including noms from Torchy's Tacos, Hoboken Pies, and Russell's Bakery (to name just a few). With a gazillion places to plug in, Bennu has quickly become a favorite with students (it's the closest 24-hour joint to the UT campus, the Williamses note), techies, and Twitterers alike.

Bennu Coffee, 2001 E. MLK, 512/478-4700,

Best Affordable Delectable Burger
Cherrywood Coffeehouse

To say the menu at Cherrywood Coffeehouse is extensive is an understatement – as is calling this Eastside restaurant just a coffeehouse. Seriously, what coffeehouse boasts such great grub? Sure, some might feature tasty tidbits rolled in and reheated from other great Austin food haunts, but Cherrywood – led by chef Kevin Jackson (the Woodland, Shaggy's) and owner Ryan Marks, a Louisiana boy – fires it up fresh to order. This burger is heavenly, juicy, and grilled to your specs, wrapped in a sweet bun and covered with all the trimmings, plus the options of grilled onions, mushrooms, etc., should you so desire. Plates naturally come with fries, the crispy outsides dusted with rocky salt.

Cherrywood Coffeehouse, 1400 E. 38th1⁄2, 512/538-1991,

Best Combined Force of Radical Politics and Bluth Family Homage

Arrested Development went to the TV sitcom graveyard years ago, but its dream of a frozen banana stand still lives on. Actually, Bananarchy's prime motivator, it seems, is in uplifting the neglected banana's profile in the ongoing dessert wars (the website raises a fist at the "Cakeists" and the "Ice Cream Echelon"). So, to recap: fomenting revolution, one frozen banana at a time. It's a new world order … and we'd like ours with sprinkles on top.

Bananarchy, 603 W Live Oak St, 512/522-9316,

Best Cupcake Baker Without a Bakery
Maritza M. Lujan of Four Pink Dragonflies

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Cupcakes may be all the rage again this year, and there are some clever vendors out there that would have you believe they have the tastiest cupcakes of them all. But we'd like to submit the cupcakes whipped up by Maritza Lujan of Four Pink Dragonflies for your consideration, because she's totally sold us. The dreamations from Lujan's kitchen will have you believing that she stirred some secret potion into her little treasures. And as if delicious were not enough, she also has an eye for color and decoration that will make you squeal before you faint at first bite with that luscious rush that feels like falling in love. Alas, Four Pink Dragonflies has no place to hang her shingle (yet), but you can order her tasty goodies by phone or e-mail. You're welcome.

Four Pink Dragonflies, 512/584-4718,

Best Cure for the Nuclear Heat
GoodPop's Watermelon Agave Popsicle

Sure, Austin has had a relatively mild summer. A mild Austin summer is still ludicrously hot. GoodPop to the rescue! Using all natural ingredients, evaporated organic cane juice, and agave nectar as a sweetener, these paletas aren't your average hot-day cure. Mango chile and El Cucuy (lime, cucumber, and chile) are amazing flavors for sure, but require an ice-cold beer to be enjoyed to the fullest. The real treasure is the watermelon agave. So crisp it crackles in the back of your throat, this popsicle beats even the most serious of Austin temperatures. Catch them at Barton Springs, or let them come to the rescue at one of our city's many music festivals.

GoodPop CLOSED, 1003 Barton Springs Rd., 512/539-0182,

Best East Austin Roots, Literally
East Austin Urban Farm Tour

Four family farms in Central East Austin and Farmhouse Delivery's Elizabeth Winslow organized this tour, harking back to the days when their neighborhood was well-tended and productive agricultural property. Several hundred people paid to tour Boggy Creek Farm, HausBar Farms, Rain Lily Farm, and Springdale Farm, tasting dishes made from farm produce and sipping local brews. Guests reconnected with Austin's agrarian past while embracing our delicious present and hope for a bountiful future. Eight thousand dollars in proceeds benefited the crucial work of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance.

Springdale Farm, 755 Springdale, 512/386-8899,

Rain Lily Farm, 914 Shady, 512/636-4430,

HausBar Farms, 3300 Govalle, 512/476-5858,

Boggy Creek Farm, 3414 Lyons, 512/926-4650,

Best Example of Turning Lemons Into Lemonade
Farmers' Market Fracas

Barton Creek Farmers Market   photo by Jana Birchum

Count us among those who were very surprised when the Sunset Valley Farmers' Market up and moved to a prime location in the Barton Creek Square mall parking lot on a week's notice in the early spring. Instead of signaling the end of a popular market in Sunset Valley, the internal squabbles that caused the move actually gave birth to three vibrant area markets. The Sustainable Food Center stepped in to re-create a market in Sunset Valley, the renamed Barton Creek Farmers' Market (née Sunset Valley) is flourishing in its new scenic hilltop location, and the new market in Cedar Park is so successful it recently moved to the parking lot at Lakeline Mall. Farmers' market shoppers all over the Austin metro area are the winners every Saturday, 9am-1pm.

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

Cedar Park Farmers' Market, 11200 Lakeline Mall Dr., 512/363-5700,

SFC Farmers' Market at Sunset Valley, 3200 Jones, 512/236-0074,

3 more locations

Best Local Food Trend
Artisanal Butchering

Whether these meat products are called charcuterie (French), salumi (Italian), or artisan sausages (American), we are so down with this tasty retro trend in the craft of butchering and preserving meat. The chefs at these local companies are mastering the art of preserving meats, turning pork, beef, lamb, and seafood into delectable dishes that can be purchased at farmers' markets around the city. Locavore chef Jesse Griffiths hot-smokes meats that are sustainably raised in Central Texas. Chef Lawrence Kocurek uses time-honored French techniques to create sausages with everything from local pork to Gulf seafood. Salt & Time's Ben Runkle is the new kid on the block, curing meats in the Italian tradition. We salute their work and are hungry for more.

Kocurek Family Artisanal Charcuterie, 512/291-4461,

Salt & Time Butcher Shop & Salumeria, 1912 E. Seventh, 512/524-1383,

Best Lunch Refuge for Downtown Masses
Messhall Cafe

Were the Goddess of Liberty to jump down from her perch atop the Capitol dome and set up shop at the corner of 11th & Brazos, at some point, she'd probably enjoy a nice, "cents"ible lunch at this delightfully utilitarian Downtown diner. After one of the revolving Messhall daily specials (such as lasagna, chicken-fried steak, or barbecue ribs), you might catch her smacking her lips and rubbing her belly. Then she'd probably utter (in the spirit of her NYC sister): "Give me your time-crunched, your working poor, your hungry masses yearning to eat, pretense-free!" The only wretched refuse will be the plate you lick clean and the napkin that catches your glee.

Messhall Cafe, 1019 Brazos, 512/322-9625,

Best New York Bagel Short of Actually Going to New York
Wholy Bagel

So it's the weekend, and you've got big plans ahead that could be impaired by a brunch of mimosas and eggs Benedict and lord knows what else. It's time for the perfect bagel. Crusty on the outside, lofty, dignified dough on the inside: This is what you've been waiting for in Austin for years. Plus, you get to feel virtuous for picking up a Texas dozen of 14 to keep you in breakfast for a week, especially because you got up early before all the good flavors sold out.

Wholy Bagel, 4404-P W. William Cannon, 512/899-0200,

Best Next-Best Thing To Hiring a Personal Chef
TIE: Mel's Meals; My Fit Foods; Snap Kitchen

My Fit Foods (top left), Snap Kitchen (bottom left), Mel's Meals   photo by John Anderson

Wish you could eat tasty, healthy meals every day without all the shopping, chopping, cooking, and cleaning involved? Of course you do and now you can, because the fairy godmother of busy, hungry, fit (or aspiring to be) people has finally waved her wand over Austin, making all these magical places appear where you can just walk in, grab fresh, calorie-controlled meals from the cooler (or even several days' worth, including snacks), and eat like a movie star with a personal chef any time you want. No time for the walking-in part? Check out these take-out trendsetters' websites for delivery details, along with vegan, gluten-free, and other options as well.

Mel's Meals, 706 N. Lamar, 512/428-5007,

My Fit Foods, 4200 N. Lamar, 512/323-2738,

Snap Kitchen, 4616 Triangle Ave. #200, 512/459-9000,

My Fit Foods, 3201 Bee Caves Rd. #105, 512/329-0003,

My Fit Foods, 4301 W. William Cannon Bldg. G, #300, 512/358-0123,

My Fit Foods, 10740 Research, 512/372-8323,

Snap Kitchen, 1014 W. Sixth, 512/479-5959,

Snap Kitchen, 10001 Research, 512/346-5959,

Snap Kitchen, 10526 W. Parmer, 512/687-1700,

Snap Kitchen, 3563 Far West, 512/372-3900,

Snap Kitchen, 6317 Bee Caves Rd., 512/326-8600,

Snap Kitchen, 1830 Sidmond,

Best Pies on the Edge
Pies Galore and More

photo by Bret Brookshire

The almost salty snap of the shortbready crust provides the perfect foil for the one-two sugar punch of the meringue and rich wall of chocolate. Judy and Amber Chandler know how to make a pie, and their chocolate cream is just the tip of the sweet tooth. The tiny shop, located next to the U.S. Post Office on Main Street in Bastrop, is as down-home as their Apple Crunch Pie, a bit of a riff on the traditional favorite, with hearty oatmeal, caramel, and pecan topping. They also bake tangy Southern fruit pies, custard pies to make your momma cry, and a fudge pecan wonder that will have you pricking your fingers to check for sugar shock. A short scenic drive (if you indulge and take the lovely winding FM 969 east) will land you in this pie-porium and give you the chance to explore our small-town neighbor across the edge of the county line.

Pies Galore and More, 1110-B Main St., Bastrop, 512/308-0400,

Best Potato Cake
New India Cuisine

Somehow filling yet refreshing at the same time, this staple snack of Maharashtra, India, is made with love and consistency by New India Cuisine owner Annu Shinde to guarantee that each perfectly crispy, turmeric-yellow bite, cooled with your choice of mint or tamarind-date sauce, will be just as mind-blowing as the last. We highly suggest a fresh ginger soda to wash down all that exotic comfort food goodness.

New India Cuisine, 2304 S. Congress, 512/445-9727,

Best Sauce for a Po'boy
MoJoe Sauce

photo by John Anderson

This sassy and classy upscale urban club in Lincoln Village serves up some serious cuisine. Just order the po'boy. It's one of the yummiest in town. Tender, lightly battered whole shrimp or hunks of catfish, hearty, chewy roll, spring greens, juicy tomato, and … hold up! What's this? They call it MoJoe, and it packs some serious mojo – perhaps aioli, but definitely aaaaaaiii! The MoJoe Room's take on a Louisiana rémoulade is simple, but spread across a sandwich or used as a condiment for hush puppies and fries, adds an effective kick that sends these already generous concoctions into Superdome TD territory.

MoJoe Room Bar & Grill, 6406 N. I-35 #1600, 512/206-4110,

Best Secret Recipe
Pacha Latté

Just take a seat at one of Pacha's homey wooden tables surrounded by Andean art, and it will come as no surprise that this coffeehouse is the keeper of a major secret: the Pacha Latte. Delightfully cozy when warm and refreshingly perfect when cold, this latte has it all. It's sweet and richly subtle, and after many thwarted attempts at trying to figure out what makes up this holy latte, all we know is that Pacha has one of the best-kept secrets in town.

Pacha, 4618 Burnet Rd., 512/800-7309,

Best Stuffed Hamburger
Bam's Roadhouse Grill

What sets Bam's apart is that the ingredients have been stuffed inside the burgers. The kitchen staff starts with hickory-smoked, 100% pure beef patties, then fills them with the freshest ingredients around, and the flavors just explode. Like it kinda spicy? Try the Hatch Chile Burger with cheddar cheese, bacon, and, of course, Hatch chiles. Bam's also makes a decent chicken-fried steak, as well as a number of other dishes. It's a laid-back place with a nice biergarten, live music, and great service. Well worth the drive.

Bam's Roadhouse Grill, 6115 Lohmans Ford Rd., Lago Vista, 512/267-9001,

Best Tippler Teach-ins
Tipsy Tech at Twin Liquors Marketplace

This 12-week intensive course offers an in-depth study of the history and practice of cocktail mixology – everything from the knowledge of individual spirits to classic cocktail recipes. To graduate, students must fill in a cocktail passport at various locations around the city, pass a 100-question written test, and successfully make three cocktails (out of a possible 25) for a panel of judges in the practical exam. Presented by instructors David Alan and Lara Nixon, the courses are offered spring and fall, with special summer short courses thrown in for good measure. Advanced and professional courses will be added to the curriculum soon. Better cocktails all over town? We'll drink to that!

Tipsy Texan,

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

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

7 more locations

Best Unexpected (and Affordable!) Cupcake
Tamale House

While so much of our beloved slacker mecca insists that pouring some cake mix into a fluted piece of paper is worth that dig into your pocket for this month's last Abe Lincoln, Tamale House has your back through this nutty cupcake trend. In the spirit of its beloved 85¢ taco come these hand-decorated delights in an array of neopolitania: white frosting on chocolate cake, strawberry on yellow, strawberry on chocolate, chocolate on strawberry – the combos seem limitless (you'll find there are actually nine possible flavor combinations if you passed third-grade math) and each only costs one dollar. Even after your eyes bug out at the cheap lunch, you can add one of these beauties and still have a few presidents left 'til payday.

Tamale House CLOSED, 5003 Airport, 512/453-9842,

Best Unexpected Chocolate Chip Cookies
Pitchforks & Tablespoons

It's always worth a stumble over to the small gift shop on the grounds of Austin's venerable Eastside Cafe. Why not knock out some shopping for some adorable corn-cob holders in the shape of wiener dogs or some pads for your knees for "gardening" while cautiously holding back the drool, awaiting your artichoke manicotti or Elaine's Blue Plate special? Just watch out. Those sneaky lasses at the Eastside have planted samples of their harrowingly addictive chocolate chip cookies on the counter. Yup, the same counter where they sell the insanely delicious devils, each individually wrapped in wax bags. Damn it! The first hit is always free!

Pitchforks & Tablespoons, 2113 Manor Rd., 512/476-5858,

Best Vegetarian Meal for Less Than $2.50
Nuevo León

You know it happens. You're hungry, Downtown, and only have a couple of bucks left in your pocket. You don't want a hot dog or a burger cuz you don't want to contribute to global warming, deforestation, or factory farming, but you need a solid meal to help you bounce the night away. Nuevo León has just the thing. A delicious side of black beans and a side of yellow rice together make a generous portion that serves as a whole meal. It totals less than $2.50 and will keep your sassypants dance energy going for hours and hours. The place has been family-owned and -operated for almost three decades, so you're not only totally environmentally conscious and budget-minded, you're also keeping it local.

Nuevo León CLOSED, 1501 E. Sixth, 512/479-0097,

Humblest Use of Scare Quotes
Jim-Jim's "Famous" Water-Ice

Jim-Jim's is a little slice of icy heaven, an Austin institution that purveys the ultimate frozen treat. If a frozen virgin margarita and a fruit smoothie could reproduce, they might create something close to this oxymoronically named "water ice." If it's not really famous, it should be. Do yourself a favor and try the strawberry lemonade; it will seriously put a dent in your sno-cone loyalty.

Jim-Jim's Water-Ice, 615-A E. Sixth, 512/708-8285,

Most Sensual Sushi

With a menu this intimate, you might want to first shower and powder up your parts. Tomodachi has a playful menu with rolls like 4 play, xXx, and Say My Name!. The Volcano, with the simple description: "wow!!!! U will love it!!!" is the most fun to eat as it comes out on a flaming plate. Every night, Tomodachi has a list of specials ranging from fresh Ginger Tuna to Naked in the Bathroom (an exquisite three-fish roll wrapped in wasabi-dipped cucumber). Don't be shy, we all secretly want to try that Screaming Orgasm!

Tomodachi, 4101-E W. Parmer, 512/821-9472,

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