2015 Readers Poll
2015 Critics Picks
Best Annual Sale

For generations, Oat Willie's has been outfitting new apartments, guest rooms, and dorms with Eastern-influenced color. The small chain, mostly known for "smoking accessories," is the likely answer to any word-association game when folks are asked what's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase "Indian bedspreads." It's the place in town to get them. And what variety! The palette of colors and array of designs have expanded greatly through the years, and everyone knows they also make great wall, doorway, and table coverings as well. The annual sale knocks anywhere from 20-50% off the regular price and always happens at the beginning of the school year. If you are reading this the week this issue comes out, you have a few days left! (Sale ends Sept. 15.)

Oat Willie's
617 W. 29th, 512/482-0630
1931 E. Oltorf, 512/448-3313
9505 Burnet Rd., 512/836-6287

Best Beer Adviser

In this craft ale boom, it’s easy to have a good beer selection in stock. But knowing them all? Knowing what seasonals are coming, what rare brews are hidden gems? That’s hard. Tougher still is knowing not just your market, but each and every regular who comes through the door, what they like, what they love, what you should hold in the back for that one customer who will really appreciate it. That’s what makes Sam Rozani, the genius of the growler and the professor of the pint, the best friend an Austin beer aficionado ever had.

Sunrise Mini Mart
1809 W. Anderson

Best Chocolate Bar Made in Austin

For those who find pleasure in food that is not only delicious, but ethical, SRSLY Chocolate should top lists of local favorites. Married business partners Bob Williamson and Robin Simoneaux-Williamson make their chocolate with Fair Trade cocoa beans sourced from a cooperative of Dominican farmers. Plus, SRSLY Chocolate is vegan, and Bob and Robin are two of the most delightful chocolatiers in town. The Oaxacan Espresso is a must-try. You can find small bars of this local delicacy in the checkout line at Wheatsville Co-op and other stores.

SRSLY Chocolate, Inc.

Best Gluten-Free Mixes

In this day and age of food sensitivities, the list of food choices and labeling can overwhelm: gluten-free, organic, non-GMO…. Thankfully, Bona Dea makes it simple. St. Edward's University alumna Melissa Robinson, Ashley Blake, Joanie Cahill, and Jenni Ferguson make up this team of entrepreneurial women with not only health in mind, but social consciousness as well. Their locally owned enterprise offers delicious bagged mixes for bread, pancakes, muffins, even scones (scooooooooooooones!). If you're not the type to go to H-E-B and pick up a baking mix and whip it up yourself, then next time you're at Hopdoddy or Kerbey Lane Cafe, try their gluten-free bread made with Bona Dea grains.

Bona Dea

Todd V. Wolfson

Best Hey, Are We in Houston?

It's not Bellaire Boulevard, it's North Lamar. Perhaps quaint in comparison to the Chinatowns of other burgs, North Austin's Chinatown Center ably reps Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, and now (why, hello there, Fit, Japanese two-dollar store!) Japanese businesses. Anchored by the MT Supermarket – where herbs and seafood are cut-rate, and in our not-so-humble opinion, the only place in town to shop, really shop, for a rice cooker – and filled out by a bevy of other restaurants, bakeries, foot therapy spas, bubble tea shops, video and music stores, jewelry stores, and nail and hair salons. You could eat and shop and pamper all day. And we do. We do.

Chinatown Center
10901 N. Lamar

Best Insider Hooch

This gem of a liquor store has been an insider secret for decades, nestled in Clarksville on West Sixth Street inside a building over 100 years old. Wiggy’s has an entire room devoted to wine, and not one, but two walk-in humidors. Big deal? Well, considering that Wiggy's is an independent business (owned by a former manager of 25 years) that effortlessly straddles the fence between extremely knowledgeable and friendly (read: unpretentious) service, it’s easy to see why Wiggy’s is a beloved Austin institution. A real neighborhood joint for both the snob and novice.

1104 N. Lamar

Best Little (Huge) Gun Store in Texas

The problem with trying to buy a gun in a big box is that you feel like you’re in a big box, a vast space, surrounded by products without any guidance, often in faraway places like Buda. Look no further than McBride’s Guns just off Lamar & 29th Street, a local landmark in business for over 50 years, boasting "one of the largest firearms inventories in the nation." Friendly and helpful employees promptly greet customers and are happy to offer advice or fulfill specific requests. Plus they employ diligent and knowledgeable gunsmiths on-staff and on-duty during all business hours to maintain those firearms. McBride’s offers reasonable prices, and they buy and trade. No need to get stuck in traffic every time you need bullets.

McBride Guns, Inc.
2915 San Gabriel

Best Nest Egg

Named after a fowl that creates its nest to attract a mate, Bower Bird transforms trash into treasure. Owner Katinka Pinka can be found most days on her workbench inside the store, stringing a chain through a hole in an animal's tooth or wrapping wire around a quartz crystal. Bower Bird is a living I Spy book: "I spy, with my little eye, something … vintage!" You'll have to be more specific than that. Shelves and hangers are lined with vintage clothing and home decor. There are enough knickknacks to keep a person guessing for hours.

Bower Bird Antiques & Curiosities
215 N. Comanche
San Marcos

Best Overlooked Whole Foods Parking Space

You’ve circled and circled the steamy, barbecue-scented netherworld under the Downtown Whole Foods. You finally find a parking spot in the hinterlands of Level 2. You grab your reusable bags and follow a winding route through the hulking SUV hybrids. You’re almost to the sliding glass door and that first frigid blast of grocery store AC when you notice, out of the corner of your eye, a suspiciously empty space. Less than 15 feet from the door. It is neither a handicapped spot nor specially designated in any way. D’oh! Despite the infernal circling, you – and usually lots of other shoppers – missed it. Next time ….

Whole Foods Market Downtown
525 N. Lamar

Best Pluming Thrift

We stumbled on Thrifty Chicks Vintage last year and were smitten by the curatorial sensibilities of the two women who opened the place. When we saw the prices, we were all wallets-open and stone-cold in love. Midcentury end tables bumped up against preppy armchairs and original paintings of sad clowns and The Angel of Leslie (Cochran, we think). Since then, the Chicks have moved and opened an, um, sister store that features vintage women’s clothing in – be still, our hearts – sizes 0-32, as well as a nice batch of men’s apparel. Their collective good eye is apparent in the selection – top-notch throwback clothing, Coach and Louis Vuitton bags, collectible figures, toys for kids – and the prices range from bargainistic to quite-reasonable-for-mint-designer-vintage. Lovers of the high-low will will want to shake a tail feather to both stores.

Todd V. Wolfson

Bret Brookshire

Best Shop for Your Film Fix

Enjoy listening to a record instead of a CD? Sometimes it's just more fun to put down the DSLR (or iPhone) and shoot with film. Holland Photo is the one-stop shop for all your analog needs. Forget the photo gadgets and frills; here, it's all about efficient simplicity. Get creative with Holland's wide range of film options, and get printing with their fantastic photo lab. And with an always informed, always affable staff, you know your snaps are in good hands here.

Holland Photo Imaging
2125 Goodrich

Best Sugar Nostalgia

There's not much you can do with that fiver your grandma gives you on your 30th birthday. Sweet as her note is ("Don't spend it all in one place!"), these days, that Abe Lincoln don't buy much. But at Central Market South, some smart buyer has nudged nostalgic nuggets of old-school candy next to the hi-falutin (and costly) chocolates and caramels. Two paces away from the $7 Vosges bar: the Cow Tales are 2/$1, and the Slo Pokes, Sky Bars, and Sugar Daddies are all under two bucks. Necco Wafers (original, assorted, or chocolate – your choice) are the same price as a Clark Bar ($1.59) and the Haribo Gold-Bears and Roulettes are at least a dollar less than that. So tweet at your grandma (she has Twitter, right?) #thanks and #blessed with a photo of your stash.

Central Market South
4477 S. Lamar

Best Tower of Hydration

Despite the clear downside of landfill overload, bottled water has become seemingly synonymous with certain events, where hydrating is a must: sports events, road trips, outdoor festivals, and long, protracted meetings. Why not mitigate the impact? Texas Rain's triple-filtered, fresh, real Texas rainwater – some of the best-tasting bottled water available, we think – comes in 100% biodegradable bottles. As an added bit of Bevo bonus, the company is also behind the renowned and elegant UT tower water bottles modeled after that fixture of our city skyline. H2Orange is a pretty darned fine souvenir to put in that care package you are mailing to Aunt Mae or any Texas Ex expats.

Texas Rain
125 Kellar Rd. Ste. 1-B

Best Vape Shop Name Pun

Counter to what one might assume about crusty journalists, some of us in the office are completely naive about this vape thing. Some of us were never even smokers. But others puff around this place like the little engine that could, sneaking an inhale here, creating mountains of butts there. Now that there is a non-burning alternative to cigarettes, some staffers are all about that vapor. We even added a vape category in the Readers Poll this year. Also compelling: As with the noble food truck, vape shops name themselves with great puns. And for our Texas currency, nothing gets us more misty than the name of that little shop on East Seventh: Come and Vape It. As if answering the call of those rugged Texians with that cannon: Do you dare?

Come & Vape It
2200 E. Seventh

Todd V. Wolfson

Best Yoo-hoo Alternative

We're happy to report that JuiceLand finally came up with a solution for all that hemp we had lying around. They've gone and concocted some of the best-tasting 14 grams of protein-blasting chocolate milk we've ever guzzled – and it's made out of hemp! More importantly, it's just the right combo of smooth and grit, sweet and snap to satisfy when only chocolate milk will do: right before work, after lunch, post-workout, and during prom. Plus, as a grab & go, it's available in local retail outlets as part of their new line of fresh bottled juices. The best thing? It's missing exactly that ingredient that made many of us give up chocolate milk in the first place: That cow don't moo.

Juiceland Offices
415 E. St. Elmo

Critics: Services
2015 Intro

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