Like Upper Crust's signature Marble Cupcake, which nests a dense chocolate cube inside the soft-cream center of a chocolate cupcake, the two winners in this category exemplify the respective strengths of two opposing, yet complementary ideologies: UC's products are rooted in a continental pastry tradition (with a Texas twist, of course), while Sugar Mama's is all effervescent Americana mixing nostalgia (the Frida, the Hemingway, the Churchill) with pop aesthetics (the Marilyn Monroe, the James Brown, the Pineapple Express). Très yum!
It was the Obama fist bump, right? Or maybe the nifty Airstream-in-space expansion? Or pitmaster Aaron Franklin's holding the line (heh) on quality over riches and celebrity? Nah, we know it's the ’cue – the succulent pulled pork, the zippy sausage and ribs, moist turkey, and especially that divine brisket. Franklin was recently on Yahoo Travel's list of 10 restaurants worth the wait, and our discerning readers agree. If Franklin were a fist, you'd bump it again and again.
The returning champion of all things bunned nearly always has lines around the block, but no one should be intimidated: part of what makes Hopdoddy great is their ability to speed people through the burger-ordering process and deliver the goods quickly. And what goods! They offer beef (including local Akaushi), lamb, bison, chicken, turkey, veggie, and even tuna for the pescatarians – a little something to pleasure every palate. The free garage parking at the south location makes this a convenient pit stop, even when SoCo is engorged with tourists.
This native Austin joint is hip, delicious, and – most importantly – cheap. The recently redesigned Torchy's is the perfect place to show off your good taste in tacos (a very attractive feature). And there's plenty of discussion material for you and your date: What's the meaning of the Democrat being on a corn tortilla and the Republican on flour? Does the Fried Avocado prove that vegetarian tacos can ball just as hard? (Answer: Yes.) Be warned, though, the tacos are stuffed pretty well and spill over easily, so try not to be too messy of an eater. Unless she's into that.
This native Austin joint is hip, delicious, and – most importantly – cheap. The recently redesigned Torchy's is the perfect place to show off your good taste in tacos (a very attractive feature). And there's plenty of discussion material for you and your date: What's the political meaning of the Democrat being on a corn tortilla and the Republican on a flour? Does the Fried Avocado prove that vegetarian tacos can ball just as hard? (Answer: Yes.) Be warned, though, the tacos are stuffed pretty well and spill over easily, so try not to be too messy of an eater. Unless she's into that.
When the question is caffeine, the answer is Houndstooth. The locally owned shops are well-stocked with personalized cups and a tasteful selection of roasters to put in them – including Super Sonic Coffee, Counter Culture, and Apollo. Between their pick-your-own-brew-methods, their Maxim-famous Coffee Julep ("The 7 Best Iced Coffees in America"), or their deliciously strong espresso, they’re hands-down Austin's coffee-culture overachievers.
Delivering warm cookies, made from scratch, amidst an ever-expanding circle of business relationships has proven to be the key to success in the world of desserts. Sure, they're open to walk-up customers hankering for a sweet, or families and friends wishing one another well, but many an office dweller trying to lose the holiday pounds knows the enticement of that demon white box with blue logo in the break room.
East Side King keeps developing truly inspired culinary treats (our new favorite is the apt take on roast beef au jus, the "Beef Pho' Boy" at the Cheer Up Charlie's location) and continues its lifelong mission to reform brussels sprout/beet haterz. Each location offers a different facet of the same fusion palate – and check their website for the current/changing location of their POP-UP-ESK trailer. In the haze of the earliest of morning hours, we need spice and rice to ferry us safely into dreamland.
You scream, we all scream for ice cream, especially when our sweet treat is spiked with hooch. It is seriously our lucky day when Guinness, Shiner, and Jameson flavors are on the menu. But don't think that Amy's only caters to the boozehounds; if you're preg-o, for example, they've created Dill-icious – dill pickle-flavored ice cream.
Justine's is very proud of its uniquely appealing and sexy, yet unapologetic, even defiant authenticity. We aren't talking about the "French-itude" of the food or decor (not that either is lacking); no, it is the authenticity of being Justine's Brasserie. Just look at how they embrace their worst Yelp reviews right on their website. It seems clear that shamelessness is part of their raison d'être, and that feature is as delightful as the food. Whether the date comes along for a lovely intimate meal or to be scandalized by a raucous party that might make the Sun King blush, vous n'aurez pas de regrets.
Lucky is the college undergrad who stumbles through Kerbey Lane's doors after a hard night of studying (partying). Bleary-eyed and broken. Even reading a menu presents a challenge. Thankfully, the waitstaff and line-cooks at Kerbey understand this sorry state of affairs, and have the perfect remedy. Say it with us, class: Ker-bey Que-so!
Chef Bryce Gilmore opened Odd Duck as a food trailer in 2009, with a nearly Portlandia-level focus on supporting local sustainable agriculture. The trailer closed to condo development in 2011, and Gilmore turned his full attention to Barley Swine, his first full-service restaurant. The return of Odd Duck, this time as a full restaurant, has been met with unbridled enthusiasm, and his small plates continue the accessible farm-fresh tradition he started five years ago.
Much hay is made over the Michi Ramen vs. Ramen Tatsu-Ya split. Which is the best Ramen-ya? Who best understands the broth principle? Which ajitama egg is the most perfect? Like the Solomonic gluttons they are, our readers refuse to choose. Rip that baby in half; it's not like we only eat once a day. Unfortunate analogy, #sorrynotsorry.
A SoCo staple since its inception, Home Slice has been bringing little-girl-with-a-moustache realness to Austin's pizza-inclined (which we assume could include some actual little girls with moustaches). Founded by previous Chronster and Nineties "Best of Austin" editor Jen Scoville Strickland, the slices here are the product of La Scov's grad-school-level devotion to studying what makes a perfect pie. What could be better than a hot NY-style slice in the early morn after throwing back some cold ones in a nearby watering hole? Yeah, that's what we thought.
Coffee? Snap. Catalan Fritatta? Snap. Sushi Grade Ahi Tuna Nicoise Salad? Snap! Chimichurri Salmon? Oh, snap! Lemongrass Tofu? SNAP! Goat Cheese Cheesecake? S.N.A.P! The trick is not wasting your lunch break entirely on the tough decision of what you'll be taking away.
Architect Michael Hsu's Burnet Road office is an all-white building with a white-on-white light-up sign featuring his Chinese seal. Savvy and playful, Hsu's architectural projects for his clients are cooly sensual in equal measure. For the second year, our readers have alighted on this jewel of Hsu's: The yellow-glazed tilework, the communal tables (so large as to be surprisingly intimate), and hydraulic hangar door are the architectural/design details that make our readers swoon, er, sway, over and over.
The controversial closing of Downtown Austin institution Las Manitas went down in 2008, and it’s been a clashing symbol of old-school, new-school development arguments ever since. Where an art deco Tex-Mex diner once stood, now lives a modern hotel. Local politicians still name-drop it as an example, and dedicated fans of handmade corn tortillas still feel the stinging loss. Legions of locals report still waking up fuzzy-headed and wishing for chilaquiles and tortilla soup. Fast-forward to 2014: Austin let out a collective wail when the famous doors of Tamale House No. 3 shuttered to mourn owner Robert Vasquez in April. They've remained closed in memoriam, save for the fundraiser-turned-outpouring-of-love for the ladies who perfected breakfast tacos and taco-making speed in that sweltering kitchen. Though Tamale House East remains open, we still drive by our Airport Boulevard mainstay with fingers crossed, hoping someday there will be a return of the crispy taco plate that went easy on our wallets and fueled this city for 34 years.
Las Manitas Avenue Cafe, 211 Congress, 512/472-9357
Always packed with veggie lovers and coffee drinkers, this cafe serves up a variety of dishes that have evolved over 14 years into some of the tastiest veggie vittles in town. A full breakfast menu – a moment of silence, please, for the Oven Cake Breakfast with Tofu Scram option – plus tacos, sandwiches, salads, and snacks round out the lighter fare, but the restaurant also offers a number of hot plates that could only be described as Central Texas comfort food. So good!