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2011CriticsFood

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, www.fullenglishfood.com

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, www.highlandlanes.com

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, www.la-mexicana-bakery.com

Best Cake Fit for a Prez
Ann's Kitchen Cakes

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, www.annskitchen.com

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

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, www.facebook.com

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, www.roscar.com

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, www.whollycowburgers.com

Best Good Thing That Just Got Better
Little Deli

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, www.littledeliandpizza.com

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, www.texasfrenchbread.com

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, www.fb.com/MiTradicionATX

Mi Tradicion, 8716 Research #290, 512/374-9910, www.fb.com/MiTradicionATX

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, www.fndaustin.com

Best New Brewery
Jester King Craft Brewery

Last year we introduced Best Brewery in our Critics Picks (which this year migrated to the Readers Poll as Best Beer). In the 12 months since, Austin's craft beer scene exploded, with at least half a dozen more (it's getting hard to keep track) springing up. It's agonizingly difficult to pick the best newcomer, but we'll go with the daring libations cooked up by Jester King on a scenic Hill Country ranch, especially Black Metal Imperial Stout (brewed while metal music blasts at it) and Wytchmaker Rye India Pale Ale.

Jester King Craft Brewery, 13005 Fitzhugh Rd., Bldg. B, 512/537-5100, www.jesterkingbrewery.com

Best No-Fire S'more
Cupprimo Cupcakery & Coffee Spot

Ah, s'mores, those flaming emblems of youth. Remember the magical camping trips, gorging on the gooey concoctions until you passed out next to the fire, then waking up covered in that wholly unique glaze of dirt, sugar, and the occasional small stick or pebble? Those days of innocence are not lost, friends! Revisit the hypoglycemic comas at Cupprimo; this creative "cupcakery" has brought our old friends marshmallow, chocolate, and graham cracker together with popular new kid cupcake to create the s'more cupcake, an incredibly sticky mash-up of deliciousness. All the childhood fun, none of the burn risk! Also, no bears.

Cupprimo Cupcakery & Coffee Spot, 8650 Spicewood Springs #105, 512/335-7746, www.cupprimo.com

Best Old World Dining
European-Bistro

Pflugerville's downtown square is the perfect setting for this Eastern European restaurant where sisters Anni Zovek and Piroska Althauser prepare Old World recipes smuggled from behind the Iron Curtain. Don't expect fusion anything; the hearty dishes are straight out of a 1950s German-Hungarian cookbook. Like your grandma's house, this space is filled with heartwarming mementos, and if you take time to chat with Zovek, you'll also get a lesson in European history.

European Bistro, 111 E. Main St., Pflugerville, 512/835-1919, www.european-bistro.com

Best Reason To Get Fried
Cutie Pies

Yes, pies probably bring to mind "baked" rather than "fried," but trust us – Cutie Pies, which recently graduated from trailer to brick-and-mortar storefront, does both very well. Discard notions of the packaged fried pies of your youth – these tender, flaky, luscious treasures, freshly fried and piping hot, will melt in your mouth. We recommend the peach. And, fried or baked, don't even consider splitting these individual-sized pies – you'll just end up in a vicious fight over the last bite.

Cutie Pies, 512/552-8319, www.cutiepiewagon.com

Best Trailer Eatery Pun
TIE: Coat & Thai, G'raj Mahal

Austin's trailer eatery culture is established. The quirky, cute metallic food carts are found all over the city, offering quick and delicious Vietnamese, Italian, farm-to-table and more. But the names are the best part. Coat & Thai and G'raj Mahal come across as the clear winners, however. With their playful jokes on the respectability of the trailer park restaurant, they make it impossible to dislike the concept. Props to them for their adorable names and more props for their delicious food.

Best Tres Leches Variation
Chocolate Tres Leches at Mr. Natural

Heaven must have heard our prayers. This sweet, chocolaty, silky, divine dessert is made all-naturally by the talented and clever bakers at Mr. Natural. Could it be true that this much preservative-free, aluminum-free, naturally sweetened vegan is love packed into one fight-for-the-last-bite chocolate tres leches? Yes. Praise the powers that be and have another piece.

Mr. Natural, 1901 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/477-5228, www.mrnatural-austin.com

Mr. Natural, 2414-A S. Lamar, 512/916-9223, www.mrnatural-austin.com

Best Vegan Lasagna
Mother's Cafe & Garden

This layered lasagna with vegan street cred deserves a prize. Mother's spinach-tofu lasagna hides all your greens, nuts, and grains in a wide, hot dish of pure, melty comfort food. Ask the chef to pretty pretty please add vegan cheese on top and make it perfect.

Mother's Cafe & Garden, 4215 Duval St., 512/451-3994, www.motherscafeaustin.com

Holy Mole, Best Tortilla Soup in Town
El Chile Cafe y Cantina

Tortilla soups vary from eatery to eatery, but not by much: The thin broth, the chicken, the various veggies, and bits of tortilla – lordy, even a mediocre take on such soup can pwn other liquid hotties in a best-two-out-of-three-spoonfuls death match. But El Chile's version, as created by Executive Chef Alma Alcocer-Thomas, is something else entirely. Oh, the thick, opaque, spicy sauce of it, almost like a mole; oh, how it's crowded with long chunks of tender chicken and toothsome tortilla strips; oh, the verdant crown of avocado slices, the streaks of sour cream, the jaunty sprig of cilantro …. ¡O Madre de Dios! Yeah: We're impressed.

El Chile Cafe y Cantina, 1816 S. First, 512/457-9900, www.elchilecafe.com

El Chile Cafe y Cantina, 1809 Manor Rd., 512/457-9900, www.elchilecafe.com

Most Charming Brazilian Outpost
Rio's Brazilian Cafe

Since the beginning, when they sold their savory pastries, sauces, and desserts at the farmers' market, Ben Googins and Elias Martins endeared themselves to the community. With their retail business going strong, they now host benefits, throw lively parties, and serve authentic Brazilian food in a charming East Austin space that's as warm as their smiles. Don't miss their feijoada completa the last Saturday of every month; BYO cachaça any day of the week, and they'll make you a killer caipirinha!

Rio's Brazilian Cafe, 408 N. Pleasant Valley, 512/828-6617, www.riosofaustin.com

Most Underrated Breakfast Tacos
Julio's

Most folks know the mouthwatering reputation of any plate that features Julio's tender roasted pollo. But we are here to crow about breakfast tacos. Fat, stuffed, and cheap, Julio's is the way to go when you want it big. And they don't screw around with those overrated two-ingredient breakfast tacos. They one-up the competition: All breakfast tacos come with three ingredients. You may think that there was a mistake and you got a burrito. But you didn't; it's just a bigass taco. Put that $2.50 where your mouth is, and make Julio's your breakfast taco vendor of choice. It gets packed on weekends with those in the know around the neighborhood, but the tacos are worth the wait.

Julio's, 4230 Duval St., 512/452-1040, www.juliosaustin.com

Sweetest Soul Providers
Galloway Sandwich Shop

The Galloways could make you a sandwich, we bet, but that is not what sets this soul-food heaven apart. It's the hot-off-the-line meat-and-two. When Stephen Galloway or his mom, Laverne, ladles some greens into a monkey dish, it's time for you to relax and settle into some quality you-time, because the sustenance you are about to receive will not just fill your belly; it will fill your soul. And that's just the greens – to say nothing of the tender chops, buttery smooth sweet potatoes, and black-eyed peas that will make you cry, or, step back, the best, most fluffiest, creamiest, most bananafied banana pudding that has ever been committed to vanilla wafer. Save room for salvation.

Galloway Sandwich Shop, 1914 E. 12th, 512/482-0757

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