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Best Affordable Housing Intervention
Foundation Communities

An affordable roof and four walls is a good start to getting out of poverty. TLC helps, too. Foundation Communities creates housing for low-income folks through a holistic philosophy that includes literacy training, financial coaching, afterschool care, and counseling. This whole supportive web of services helps families stabilize, survive, and kiss the bad times goodbye. The new M Station next to the MLK MetroRail station is a beautiful example of green-built compassion in action.

Foundation Communities, 3036 S. First #200, 512/447-2026,

Best Corridor
Texas Capitol to UT Tower, AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center

photo by Jana Birchum

A step through the lobby and loggia of UT's delectable on-site hotel leads the weary business traveler, visiting educational consultant, and Longhorn pop alike into a world of exquisitely crafted, Zen-like respite featuring sculpture fountains, paths, and pavers to set the soul to quiet. Central Texas-based landscape architects Coleman & Associates are the outdoor artisans to credit, and in addition to much of the hotel and conference center's planted and planned beauty, the firm is also responsible for an often overlooked bonus just to the east of the building. While many an Austin Capitol corridor sight line has been sacrificed in the name of urban progress, one has remained available to the people: the one between the rosy dome and the UT Tower. Long neglected (to hell in a burnt-orange handbasket), the corridor was gussied up a few years ago when the AT&T claimed its space. The design is spartan and clean, with a ribbon of hedges outlining the median of University Avenue. Finally, a median worthy of the view.

AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, 1900 University Dr., 512/404-1900,

Coleman & Associates, 9890 Silver Mountain, 512/476-2090,

Best Don't Let It Suck (Please)

photo by John Carrico

An open letter, an impelling to the development team behind the Seaholm project:

Dear developer types,
We Austinites have been promised the moon when it comes to urban "progress." Sometimes, this has worked out to be quite lovely (we'd go so far as to offer nods to City Hall, the Moody Theater, the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, and one or two of those gigantor skyscrapers). Sometimes, however, the moon is just that: A big, glaring, pulled-down pants salute. Now we don't wish to name names, but seriously, how many more "oooh … condos and ground-floor retail" spots can we gag down our gullets? How many winding streets to nowhere or empty offices can one town take? Seaholm, the very precious treasure you hold in your mitts, has enjoyed an inspirited transitional year as purported "dead space," having teased with her potential as host venue to some amazing cultural fetes: Blue Lapis Light, Art Erotica, Fusebox Festival, Austin City Limits Must Festival and South by Southwest afterparties, Psych Fest, ThrillerFest, Ellen Fulman & that Long String thing. Austin is running out of historically significant, aesthetically ass-kicking, huge, monumental structures that are still adaptable. So we are kindly asking that you not fuck this up. Ah, is it disingenuous for us to couch our request in the negative? Hmmm, let's try that again: You have been entrusted with an Austin icon. The world is your oyster, the sky's the limit, and in the (somewhat supplemented) words of Buzz Lightyear:

"To infinity and (hopefully not Bed Bath &) beyond!"

Seaholm Power LLC, 214 West,

Best Hip-Hop Sign
Rabbits Are Back!

For decades, the sign for Long Horn Meat Co. has given Eastside neighbors a landmark by which to give Westsiders directions. And this is especially true when the neighborhood meat market is advertising the return of its hippity-hoppity delicacy, rabbit: "Rabbits Are Back!" screams the sign. Even when the sign is advertising some other meat – pork rinds, for example, or Vince Young sausage – many neighbors along the MLK corridor near the market will offer directions by invoking the sign: "Oh, I live two blocks east of Rabbits Are Back, and you?" Drop by for a sausage … or simply the signage.

Long Horn Meat Co., 2411 E. MLK, 512/476-5223

Best Mustache Rides
Mustache Seesaw

Part of the Pay Phone Revival Project, the installation of a mustache seesaw at El Chilito was an upper-lip bristle that made so many of us laugh out loud (and not bristle). Passing by on any given day, drivers were treated to old, young, and hipster in-betweens bobbing up and down on the bespectacled teeter-totter affixed to the taco shop's sign on the corner of Manor Road and Chestnut Avenue. The project, built and installed by Austin art collective ¡el grupo! has now gone the way of the phone booth, but we hold out the same hope we hold for phone booths – that it might, one day, return.

¡el grupo!,

Best Naming of a Library
Ana Sisnett Library at the UT Gender and Sexuality Center

We are happy whenever a public space is named after a woman, person of color, or queer. Aside from being a trifecta, Ana Sisnett was a celebrated author, educator, tech goddess, artist, and activist, and the Gender and Sexuality Center at UT has dedicated the Ana Sisnett Library in honor of her contributions to our community through her many works, including her role in the growth of queer people of color group ALLGO and digital-divide bridge Austin Free-Net. We can think of no better name for this space of learning. As we said about her back in 2006: "Ana Sisnett has always been there for us." That's still true today.

UT Gender and Sexuality Center, Student Activity Center, 2201 Speedway, SAC 2.112, UT campus, 512/232-1831,

Best Old School South of the River
Fulmore Middle School

The mother falcon of South Austin schools celebrated her 125th anniversary in September, and we can't think of a more fittingly regal home for what is now Austin ISD's law and humanities magnet program. How many schools can turn out such alumni as author John Henry Faulk and Mayor Lee Leffingwell? And how many schools can claim former Gov. Ann Richards as a former faculty member? That's the Falcon spirit for you.

Fulmore Middle School, 201 E. Mary, 512/414-3207,

Best Peace, Quiet, and Chill
Texas State Law Library

If the hectic pace of your day and the gripping heat of the afternoon have got you down, don't worry; there's a great getaway Downtown that is a place of sanctuary, silence, and really good air conditioning and can take you to your happy place – the Texas State Law Library. Conveniently located near the Texas Supreme Court, the library – aside from preserving the priceless holdings of Texas' legal history (having recently survived the funding chopping block) – is a place full of nice nooks to relax, read a book, and beat the heat. It is a public law library that is home to historic legal documents and the nicest and most helpful librarians you'll ever meet.

Texas State Law Library, Tom C. Clark Building, 205 W. 14th, Rm. G01, 512/463-1722,

Best Place To Re-Create 'Cabaret'
East Side Show Room

The periscope winking at you from the bar is your first sign. Indeed, walking into the mother-and-daughter-owned East Side Show Room is a welcome submersion into the bar culture and design of 1920s/1930s Europe – wrought-iron fixtures, penny-covered tables, and exposed-brick walls. There are definitely Austin fingerprints all over though, from a Texas-grown menu to the weekly live music, and the top-notch cocktails will get you sassier than Sally Bowles. (Don't worry; the lighting's low.)

East Side Show Room, 1100 E. Sixth, 512/467-4280,

Best Purdy View From an Automobile
Highway 290 East to I-35 Flyover

photo by Jana Birchum

Not that we recommend taking your eyes off the road, but as you leapfrog your way from Highway 290 East to I-35 heading north, look left and you'll see either a glimmering testament to Austin's growth or a towering reminder of how our little city has grown up, whether we wanted it to or not. It's the same tall buildings either way. Just a matter of perspective. But, really, if you're driving, watch the road.

Texas Department of Transportation, 125 E. 11th, 512/463-8588,

Best Retro Staycation
Lakeway Resort and Spa

Around since the 1960s, this lakeside lodge is instilled in the childhood memories of many Austinites. But with new management and much improved service and food, the Lakeway Resort and Spa deserves another look. Our favorite features are the separate pools, one with water rides for kids, the other a swim-up bar and hot tub for adults only. Enjoying a cocktail overlooking the lake from the cascading pool or indulging in one of many spa treatments and then sleeping on a cozy, oversized bed after dinner will make you forget you live only 30 minutes away.

Lakeway Resort and Spa, 101 Lakeway Dr., Lakeway, 512/261-6600,

Best Tolls for Thee
David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church

photo by Jana Birchum

For years you could tell time, literally, in East Austin's Chestnut neighborhood by the bells in the tower at David Chapel. Music filled the sky at 9am, noon, 3pm, 6pm, and 9pm – like clockwork. But those sounds are now gone. Why? We're not sure, but man, we miss those midday melodies – songs that make each day go by more gently and sweetly. After all, this is a music city, and there's no better way to make it so than for music to rain from the heavens – even on sunny afternoons. Bring back the bells!

David Chapel Baptist Church, 2211 E. MLK, 512/472-9748,

Best Zócalo
Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center

photo by Jana Birchum

Clean, curvaceous, and modern, the Mexican American Cultural Center takes the crown for most beautiful open space to gather. The zócalo, or plaza, is a bold, sweeping semicircle of white stone cradling a wide green lawn overlooking Downtown and catching cooling wind from the river. Pure, uncluttered architectural elegance!

Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River, 512/974-3772,

Fairest Flourish for Cold Water
New Deep Eddy Mural

Deep Eddy Pool has been a haven for Austin swimmers and sunbathers for more than a century. The soon-to-be-dedicated Deep Eddy Mural has been a community effort of Austin artists (notably Wanda Montemayor and Lisa Orr), historians, and especially schoolchildren, who have studied the pool's history, reproduced its images, and told its story in the mosaic carefully constructed along the access ramp beside the pool. Designed in the style of hand-painted postcards, the mural re-creates a sense of place in time: like moving and meditating in clear, cool, fresh water.

Deep Eddy Pool, 401 Deep Eddy Ave., 512/472-8546,

Best Comedy Strong Enough for a (Wo)Man
Ladies Are Funny Festival

Five years strong and staffed by a collective of the wittiest women in ATX, Ladies Are Funny Festival has proven true to its name. Packed with a diverse local and national lineup of improv, sketch, and stand-up performers, it's turned out programming that showcases the very best of the best. LAFF has rightfully earned the accolades of Austin’s comedy community, and we can’t wait to see what hilarity it comes up with next.

Ladies Are Funny Festival,

Best Developing Photography Gallery
B. Hollyman Gallery

Stepping in almost seamlessly once the L. Nowlin Gallery closed at the same West Sixth Street location, B. Hollyman is one of the few places in town solely focused on photography. Curating well-balanced shows from artists both local and from across the country, B. Hollyman's exhibits span a range of photographic techniques, from documentary realism to surreal digitally manipulated works. Plus its opening fetes, in tandem with the adjoining Wally Workman Gallery, make for a great start to a Saturday evening.

B. Hollyman Gallery, 1202-A W. Sixth, 512/825-6866,

Best Grand Reopening
ND at 501 Studios

Oh ND, apparently we hardly knew ye. All this time, we thought we were going into you, adorable, dark, cozy, cavernous you, for our magical, glitter-dusted nights of near-Eastside cray-cray. Wasn't that you we've been going to since 2009 for the Texas Burlesque Fest? For QueerBomb? For the Funk Freak Halloween Ball? For Azz Everywhere? For Cher Chez La Femme? We swear we saw DJ Orion there. Agent Ribbons. Mad Classy. Sixteen Deluxe. And then your Grand Opening. Last month? Oh! That was the grand opening for the North Door? Your supersecret spy door in the alley? The door that leads to that awesome li'l intimate bar in the back? The door close to the yummy goodness of Tamale Molly serving some of the best late-night tamales and mother-truckin' queso we've had the pleasure of getting all over ourselves after a night of sheer mayhem in your club? Well, it's about time.

ND Austin, 501 N. I-35, 512/485-3001,

Best Improv Instructor
John Ratliff

John Ratliff is more than just an improviser and improv instructor – he’s a true teacher. He pushes his students to find the most organic, most grounded, most real approach to their play. He pulls at them to be greater than. This mental cultivation is taken with such seriousness and brevity, it’s easy to forget the result is comedy. With the humble heart and fidelity to form befitting his trademark tutelage, the “yes, and” transcends the funny and makes sacred the LOLs.

ColdTowne Theater, 4803-B Airport, 512/814-8696,

Best Lens Crafters
Lakes Were Rivers

If there's one thing we like better than excellent individual artists, it's excellent individual artists working together. (See the Rude Mechanicals, Okay Mountain, Austin Video Bee.) With Lakes Were Rivers, 11 of Austin's sharpest, most industrious artists working in photography and video formed a collective so they could support and critique one another's work – and that wasn't just code for warm baths of unqualified praise. They pushed one another to make better art. And their focus on mutual betterment appears to have succeeded: Five of the 11 were selected to exhibit in this year's Austin Museum of Art "New Art in Austin: 15 To Watch" show, four had photos chosen for the 2011 Texas Biennial, and three were nominated for the Austin Visual Arts Association's Artist of the Year award for photography. And the first book from Lakes Were Rivers? Sold out. Well, with photographers of this caliber, it's not surprising that something clicked.

Lakes Were Rivers,

Best Pas de Deux
Cookie Ruiz and Stephen Mills

Few duets are as delicate as the one danced by an arts company's artistic director and executive director. In the effort to balance aesthetic ambitions and commercial needs, partners too often step all over each other's toes. That's not a problem at Ballet Austin, where Executive Director Cookie Ruiz and Artistic Director Stephen Mills duet with the grace of Nureyev and Fonteyn. The mutual support they provide is striking, and in their decade together, Ballet Austin has built a $10.3 million headquarters Downtown; established a national choreographic competition; toured to the nation's capital, New York City, and Europe; and enjoyed its highest-grossing season ever. Small wonder, then, that the board has extended the pair's contracts through 2021. It also paid tribute to their expert pas de deux by naming a rehearsal space in the company's home the Mills/Ruiz Legacy Studio.

Ballet Austin, 501 W. Third, 512/476-9151,

Best Sculptures From Yesterday's Future
Steve Brudniak

"Don't call him Steampunk" is the usual caution. That's because, while Steve Brudniak's eerie objects of technology from some mad past may radiate a whiff of that largely cosplay-based genre of expression, they're more firmly based in the fine art milieu. Several of the man's obsessively crafted sculptures are also based in lucky venues around town – the East Side Show Room, the Green Muse Cafe – where their brass, glass, metal, and wood provide more dark delight and scientific mystery than a Klein bottle full of Higgs bosons.

Steve Brudniak,

Best Wit With a Stitch
Susan Branch Towne

Any actor armed with a sufficiently snarky wisecrack or a spit take can get a laugh onstage, but a frock? It's the rare garment that can garner a guffaw. But when Edna Turnblad emerged from the plus-sized can of Aqua Net in Zach Theatre's production of Hairspray, her over-the-top, Technicolor, early Sixties gown was what gave folks the giggles. That's because it was crafted by Susan Branch Towne, a costume designer who can do for stagewear what Oscar Wilde did for epigrams: make ’em sharp, witty, and memorable. Her unerring sense of style, color, and texture ensures that her outfits are never less than gorgeous, but when the work calls for comedy – say, The Drowsy Chaperone at Zach, The Bat for Austin Lyric Opera, or Ballet Austin's The Magic Flute – Branch Towne twists those qualities to make fashion funny. She sews the joke right into the clothes and makes the line between style and satire seamless.

Susan Branch Towne,

Best Austin Movie Blog
Slackerwood's Austin Film News Mega-Feed

This irresistibly monickered aggregate website keeps its finger on the pulse of the Austin film scene. The Austin-based megafeed compiles posts from numerous local film blogs, and therefore little that goes on around town passes unnoticed. Additionally, Slackerwood’s in-house writers contribute movie reviews and extensive coverage of Austin’s bustling film-festival scene.

Slackerwood Austin Film News,

Best Barest, Bravest Show Run
Live Nude Improv

Curiosity may have been what brought the first audiences to the Hideout to see Live Nude Improv, but word of mouth and stunningly raw improvised shows are what turned it into an entirely sold-out run. And yes, there was nudity – that was the point, or at least one of them. Director Andy Crouch credits the Rude Mechs' mounting of the breakthrough stage nudie Dionysus in 69, which had its run in 2009, as influence. Performing with a very thin veil between audience and actor allowed Live Nude an interactivity rarely seen in this format – vulnerable and honest, the perfect mix of art and improv.

The Hideout Theatre & Coffeehouse, 617 Congress, 512/443-3688,

Best Chamber Ensemble, Then and Now
Miró Quartet

In the eight years that it's been the string quartet in residence at the University of Texas' Butler School of Music, the Miró Quartet has proven itself an extraordinary addition to Austin's arts scene. The musicmaking and ensemble work among Daniel Ching, Joshua Gindele, John Largess, and Sandy Yamamoto has been stunning in its sophistication, intricacy, and intimacy, and they've been good enough to share it in concerts across the community as well as at the UT and with their student charges, such as the award-winning Aeolus Quartet. An era for the group may have ended with Yamamoto's retirement from Miró in May, but recent concerts with her successor, William Fedkenheuer, on second violin, have shown that the Miró's astonishing virtuosity and musical unity endures. In chamber music, these four are No. 1 – for the past, the present, and, no doubt, the future.

Best Dive Bar Without a Sign

photo by Sandy Carson

Off a busy boulevard, down an unassuming driveway, through a dark parking lot, there is an unmarked door. But don't expect secret knocks or a vintage veneer: The proprietress, simply known as E, will look at you funny. In fact, it's quite amazing that you found your way in. There is no indication from the street; there is no sign, save for the one inside that instructs "Only 2 Sluts Per Stall." The patrons are as likely to arrive on bikes as they are in cars, and the unusual and gender-indeterminate reign. Everyone is welcome. Get radical, down, and dirty in the darkened booths, or just settle in for a friendly after-work beer. Previously Airport Club & Grill, this place is 100% pure Austin dive heaven.

Bernadette's, 2039 Airport,

Best Fag/Fag Hag Bag
Celluloid Handbag

Hey, homo! Have you heard about Celluloid Handbag? It's glittery, glitzy kitsch carried by none other than Austin's own drag dynamo Rebecca Havemeyer. Once a month, Havemeyer drags all the ’mos down to the ’mo, aka the Alamo Drafthouse, for a carefully curated series of cinema adored by the LGBTQIA. Sometimes it's films made by (Female Trouble) and sometimes it's seemingly made for (those handsome beaus in Flash Gordon). And sometimes, it's just a film the queers can all get behind (if ya know what we mean) – the recently sold-out Clue. One thing is certain: Havemeyer will delight with song, dance, video, and her gammy leg before the night is through.

Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz, 320 E. Sixth, 512/861-7020,

Best Guy To Beat the Drum for Percussion
Thomas Burritt

For most of us, "I don't want to work; I just want to bang on the drum all day" is merely a dream from a Todd Rundgren song. But for Thomas Burritt, banging on the drum all day is his work. And his joy, too, from the sound of it. Whether he's leading his Butler School of Music students through a piece like Steve Reich's classic "Drumming," rocking the marimba at the Round Top Festival Institute's Percussion Galore! concerts, jamming with the Golden Hornet Project, providing a backbeat for the choral wonder of Conspirare, or hosting a webisode of his Percussion Axiom TV series, Burritt conveys an infectious enthusiasm for all things you can beat with a stick or a mallet. And while he always masterfully serves the music he's playing, no matter what rhythm he's tapping out when he bangs on the drum (or marimbas or vibraphone or glockenspiel or cymbals), you can't help but hear the beat of his heart.

Best Local Video Game You Can Actually Tell Is Local
'The Gunstringer'

Few video games give players a sense of where they were developed. Not so with The Gunstringer, Twisted Pixel's release that uses the Kinect motion-sensing controller to put players in control of an undead marionette on a revenge mission. The local developers filmed the intro to the game at the Paramount Theatre, filled with volunteer extras. Live-action downloadable content was filmed at Star Hill Ranch west of town and stars a radically coiffed Wiley Wiggins as Future Buddy. It's like recognizing people and places in Friday Night Lights but also being able to shoot things you don't like.

Twisted Pixel Games, 4009 Banister #100,

Best Marching Merrymakers
Minor Mishap Marching Band

photo by Sandy Carson

Nothing compares to the gesamtkunstwerk of a Minor Mishap show, with members parading around like anarchist, psychotic bumblebees on Adderall, blowing music outta variously sized sound holes, standing atop bars, stages, and one another. The vibe is so, so very celebratory, even the crustiest curmudgeon would crack a grin. Make no mistake, this is the best of music nerd-dom. It's what all those high school kids in polyester, double-breasted shame cocoons standing out in the Texas sun and doing their darndest to play terrible translations of BeeGees and ABBA tunes mercilessly foisted upon them wishes they were doing instead. Led by the sweet and frenetic performative conducting of Datri Bean, the band boasts a roster of randy and rowdy goodness: old and young, straight and queer. From QueerBomb to Honk!TX (a national street-band fest) to the recent release of its first CD, this circus of a band ain't going anywhere besides up! Those cool, disaffected indie-rock alterna-youth can suck it, hard. Happy is back.

Best Mobile Samba
Acadêmicos da Ópera

photo by Jana Birchum

This year, we are going to reinvent ourselves as Brazilians. We're going to learn to samba and to drum, and we'll dance and stomp and march in a frenzy of feathers and sequins with more than 100 other revelers. We will wear elaborate headdresses and beautiful costumes and participate in the joy and pageantry of Carnaval. And thanks to Acadêmicos da Ópera samba school, we don't even have to leave Texas. Yeah, this is gonna be a good year.

Acadêmicos da Ópera,

Best Movie Deal
Violet Crown Cinema

photo by Bret Brookshire

In its first year on the Austin scene, the Violet Crown Cinema has shaken up the model for local filmgoing. The fourplex's exclusive dedication to arthouse film programming is just the beginning of what sets it apart. Each auditorium seats only 50 people, but tickets can be purchased online in advance, and there's no surcharge for the convenience. Then, with seat selection guaranteed, patrons can linger in the cafe or comfy lounges until showtime. Plus, four hours of free parking in the attached parking garage Downtown comes with every ticket.

Violet Crown Cinema, 434 W. Second, 512/495-9600,

Best New Live Music Scene Game-Changer
ACL Live at the Moody Theater

A closely guarded (some might say dirty little) secret here in the live music capital is the cutthroat nature of local concert promotions. Behind the scenes, bookers competing for talent have been known to fight in the streets. Yet even they stop to testify about the Moody Theater’s inaugural championship season. Beginning Valentine’s Day, the second of Willie Nelson’s two live christenings, the $40 million new home of Austin City Limits transcended its status as headquarters of American television’s longest-running music series to become a concert venue locals flock to en masse. Austin boasts 2,000-plus-seaters from here to Cedar Park, but between world-class PBS tapings and a steady stream of monster acts, the Moody Theater has staggered the competition. The TV series started with Lone Star space cowboy Steve Miller and continued through the fiery likes of Arcade Fire and Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears with the Relatives, while the theatre side has jetted from West Africa with Youssou N’Dour to Marin County with Santana. And let’s not forget President Barack Obama. Bootsy Collins funked up the joint, Devo stomped it, and come Nov. 15, Aretha Franklin crowns it. Game-changer.

ACL Live at the Moody Theater, 310 W. Willie Nelson Blvd., 512/225-7999,

Best Philanthro-Punk Charity Event
Hargrave Arcade

Trey Baker's brain works in mysterious ways. His monthly house parties combine 20 screens' worth of vintage video games with live music, movie screenings, vegan pasta, and more. What's more, Baker donates all of the money from the door and raffles to charity, not even reimbursing himself for any of the costs associated with such an anarchic soiree. His old-guard Austin swagger even got his abode and mug featured in the Slacker remake. Just look for the near-comatose dude watching several TVs while the Octopus Project plays in his backyard.

Hargrave Arcade, 1185 1/2 Hargrave, 512/949-7364,

Best Reason To Learn the Charleston
Vintage Vivant

photo by John Leach

The last Great Depression has this one licked for fashion. So for those of you with steak-house tastes on a soup-kitchen budget, once a month the retro-chic molls and brunos of Vintage Vivant, lead by mostest hostesses Angeliska (Gadjo Disko) and Amelia (Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School), break out the Dutch caps and fedoras to turn Swan Dive into Austin's finest gin mill. The bluenoses can pipe down – even if you're a cement mixer on the dance floor, this is the finest way to hoof away this trip to the poor house.

Swan Dive, 615 Red River,

Best Rebirth of a Legend
The Sahara Lounge

Austin, don't panic. TC's, the blues bar you knew and loved, may be gone, but you can still swing by the old place and savor a slow beer and some good music at its new incarnation, the Sahara Lounge. Ibrahim Aminou saw it in a dream, and now he and the rest of his family of musicians own one of Austin's most magical corners. Except for some West African flare and a sweet new outdoor area, the bar is the same as ever. The calendar is packed with local bands (welcome back, Monday night blues) and DJs, plus a barbecue trailer is parked out front. It's still the epitome of a classic Texas juke joint, holding its own on the edge of town.

The Sahara Lounge, 1413 Webberville Rd., 512/927-0700,

Best Video-Game Collective Name
Juegos Rancheros

Oh yeah, the group itself is pretty cool, too. Founded by poster boys of the local indie gaming scene Brandon Boyer, Adam Saltsman, and Wiley Wiggins, the group has monthly open meetings at the HighBall bringing game developers from Austin and elsewhere around the globe to share their visions and expertise. Don't expect a tech-laden wonkfest though; Juegos welcomes and accommodates anyone and everyone who wants to see (and often play) the cutting edge of interactive arts. The schmoozing is top-notch, but, more importantly, the gabbing and flesh-pressing is getting results such as the under-construction Texatron indie video-gaming cabinet. Expect that chunk of solid awesome to be staring back at Austin very soon.

Juegos Rancheros,

Best Bacon
Full English

Formerly – and occasionally still – a farmers' market staple, Full English made the transition to brick-and-mortar eatery. Thank the bacon gods it did. Importing its pork from outside the state, this cut is the most British style of bacon found in Austin. Half bacon, half ham, it's thick, juicy, and amazing. Not a better way exists to start a hungover Saturday than with one of Full English's rashers.

Full English, 2000 Southern Oaks, 512/240-2748,

Best Bowling Tribute to the Big You-Know-Who
Lebowski's Grill at Highland Lanes

After a day of bowling, driving around, and the occasional acid flashback, Nihilists, rug pee-ers, fig-eaters, and inner-city children of promise alike eventually need to eat. If you're looking to not shell out too many bones or clams or whatever you call them, the place to go is Highland Lanes, for inside this palace of pins resides Lebowski's Grill. And yes, the menu features a Dude (1/3-pound Angus burger), a Walter (the Dude with double the meat and double the cheese), and a Donny (a bacon-wrapped hot dog). Yes, but what about the toe? Forget about the fµ©king toe! Could you please keep your voices down? This is a family restaurant.

Highland Lanes, 8909 Burnet Rd., 512/458-1215,

Best Breakfast Taco at 3am
La Mexicana Bakery

There are so many good breakfast tacos in this city that The New York Times once did a Top 10 list during South by Southwest. One stands supreme, however, past the witching hour. La Mexicana pumps out the tastiest, freshly made breakfast tacos at 3am. True, at that point, they're more pre-pass-out tacos than breakfast, but semantics aside, there are few tastier late-night egg, bacon, and potato nibblies than this bakery's best.

La Mexicana Bakery, 1924 S. First, 512/443-6369,

Best Cake Fit for a Prez
Ann's Kitchen Cakes

photo by John Anderson

One of our happiest days of the year is Aug. 27. That's when the LBJ Library gives out free cake, some of the most tender crumb and perfectly balanced buttercream to sit atop a fork. For more than two decades, this small bakery has provided the cakes decorated with the presidential seal to celebrate LBJ's b-day. Up in her small shop off Spicewood Springs Road, Ann keeps it fresh with an array of cake sizes for those last-minute walk-ins, as well as rotating flavors of cupcakes (triple chocolate, filled, red velvet, etc.), fresh baked whoopie pies, and our favorite decadent to-go snack, the cake top (the part cut off to make the cake level for icing). Of course, Ann's also takes custom orders. We know from digging through the LBJ Library website that one of the president's favorite desserts was German Chocolate cake, and we bet ol' Lyndon would have gone coconuts for the ones made here.

Ann's Kitchen Cakes, 8650 Spicewood Springs #112, 512/335-4545,

Best Celebration of Cold Caffeine
Chameleon Cold-Brew

As one of Austin's new kids on the coffee block, Chameleon Cold-Brew has quickly made a name for itself among caffeine connoisseurs. Craft-brewed cold from organic, Fair Trade arabica beans and filtered water, this java juice is high on pep and low on acid, making it a smooth, welcome addition to our waterloo mornings. Have it iced or drink it hot; it's make-your-own-happy in a bottle.

Best Ceviche on the Cheap
Taqueria la Playa #2

photo by John Anderson

Where else can you get ceviche tostadas for $3 and change? Or a big bowl of guacamole for a couple of bucks? If you're up for the adventure of munching on some tasty tiny octopuses, try the pulpo ceviche. La Playa feels like old Mexico, the waitresses are sweet as peaches, and it is open late.

Taqueria la Playa #2, 3518 E. Seventh, 512/386-5013

Best Chip Shop Curry Sauce
Bits & Druthers

Poor Americans, putting ketchup on your fries. Let Mike Kelley's food truck with the Union Jack set you straight. For starters, they're called chips, and if you want a little more spice than just salt and vinegar, it has to be the battery-to-the-tongue jolt of proper chip shop curry sauce. London taste, East Austin locale.

Bits & Druthers, 1001 E. Sixth, 361/850-0645,

Best Comeback To Come (in Chocolate)
Roscar Chocolate

Trippin' across Highway 71 East just past Bastrop, en route to all points east, we spied a triptych of tall banners each emblazoned simply with the word "CHOCOLAT." Damn near drove the car off the road. When we finally had the chance to stop and check it out, we almost fell out from what we discovered: a honey caramel sea salt pecan bar! And truffles that come in flavors like spicy Thai peanut, rum and lemon curd, and triple dark pomegranate! So decadent! Bonbons named New Orleans Punch, Cajeta, and "Lost Pines" Pine Nut! Around the world in a bounty of flavors. But friends, the news grows sad. Roscar, the makers of these most ridiculously smooth European crafted confections, burned to the ground in the Bastrop fires. Fortunately, according to a report by Statesman foodie Addie Broyles, owners Frans Hendriks and wife Roselly escaped unharmed with their precious recipe book in hand. Everything else was destroyed. However, the good news, says Broyles, is that "when Hendriks talks about the future of Roscar, he uses the word 'when,' not 'if.'"

Roscar Chocolate, 4501 Hwy. 71 E., Bastrop, 512/303-1500,

Best Eco-ambitious Burger Counter
Wholly Cow Burgers

You know that I-love-America feeling invoked by a visit to a perfect truck-stop diner? That same feeling can be had at Wholly Cow Burgers (but it's an I-love-Austin feeling). Nested inside the Star Grill Food Mart on South Lamar, Wholly Cow does all the Americana basics with an Austin twist: The meat is grass-fed and chem-free, the prices are reasonable, and the local produce topping your patty is impeccable. Owner Jeff Woodard, while not singing opera internationally, serves up guilt-free hangover cures with Southern hospitality. Wholly Cow is sure to be loved by locavores, carnivores, and dodgy-roadside-charm enthusiasts alike.

Wholly Cow Burgers, 3010 S. Lamar, 512/394-8156,

Best Good Thing That Just Got Better
Little Deli

photo by John Anderson

This appropriately named joint was already, and justifiably, a beloved fixture in the Crestview neighborhood for its magnificent sandwiches and soups. But then New Jersey native Tony Villani bought the business and wisely kept everything the same, except for the addition of mind-blowing pizza, with possibly the most perfect crust in Austin. Oh, one other change: He also expanded the hours, so now neighbors can relax under a beautiful oak tree at dusk and thank the stars that they live near this wonderful eatery.

Little Deli & Pizzeria, 7101-A Woodrow, 512/467-7402,

Best Lurid Locavore
Texas French Bread

We were lured in by your obvious sweets and smarts: That butterscotch budino of yours is so tantalizingly dolce that it makes our vita sizzle, and the frosted, twirly points atop your wondrous coconut cake look so much like Einstein's hair that we wonder if that first bite was what he felt like when he first theorized about relativity. But you know, that was just the beginning, you little minx. You had to go and turn the lights down low and promise to take care of us with a luxurious dinner menu that gives winks, nudges, and outright bear hugs to Austin farms and products. Damn you. Then you went in for the kill: such a handsome, preening rooster, your oven-roasted poussin! You let us slip you right off the bone and gobble your tender, oh-so-tender new potatoes and brussels sprouts – not content to merely satisfy our basest cravings, but hearty and healthy like a good-for-you lover, one who is not only hot but safe. You've got us by the tagliatelle. Just promise us you'll never leave us wanting.

Texas French Bread, 2900 Rio Grande, 512/499-0544,

Best Mexican Bakery
Panaderia Chuy

The widest selection of freshly baked, traditional Interior Mexican pastries and the absolute best bolillos we have tasted this side of the Rio Grande; delicious authentic desserts such as flan, gelatinas, and cream cakes that can shatter the will of the most dedicated dieter; house-made gelato in little-known tropical flavors; enormous tortas with all the trimmings; antojitos made with organic blue-corn masa served just like they do in the street markets of Central Mexico; Mexico City-style tacos that taste like they came from a neighborhood taqueria. All of this and more under one roof, with fair prices and courteous service. Not to be confused with the Austin-bred Mexican chain, no other place even comes close.

Mi Tradicion, 801 E. William Cannon #125, 512/445-9128,

Mi Tradicion, 8716 Research #290, 512/374-9910,

Best Neighborhood Gourmet Experience
Foreign & Domestic

With its minimal architecture, countertop service, and informal atmosphere, F&D understates what really lies within. Owners Ned and Jodi Elliott dish out adventurous, intriguing, and delectable food prepared and served with the utmost care and following a strict philosophy of using fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients, including vegetables, fruit, and herbs from Ned's own garden. While many places follow the same welcome locavore trend, F&D has something unique and special going on. Check it out and you'll see: The proof is in the proverbial, and sometimes literal, pudding.

Foreign & Domestic, 306 E. 53rd, 512/459-1010,

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