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2016CriticsFood & Drink

Best Ambassadors of Fungi
Logro Farms

"Beer dirt" and coffee grounds may seem like the unfortunate remnants of a late-night blowout, but in Ryan Sansbury and Jeremy Bastian's hands, they are just the beginning. With a focus on sustainability, the childhood friends grow delicious oyster mushrooms using spent brewer's grains from neighboring Jester King Brewery in their unique formula. If you want in on the festivities, they'll even sell you a 3-D printed home kit. How's that for a garden party?

13005 Fitzhugh, Bldg. C, 512/695-0178, www.logrofarms.com

Best Bar With Heart(s) and Soul
Royal Jelly

Neighborhood bars may not be the first place we would look for skewered chicken hearts, but Royal Jelly isn't your typical neighborhood bar. In addition to that churrasco, served with an electrifying strawberry chimichurri, Royal Jelly expands your pub grub horizons with charred octopus panzanella, sweet potato fettuccine, and merguez sliders. The taps are no slouch either, showcasing local brews that go far beyond the basics. It's no wonder that this charmingly ramshackle drinkery, ahem, gets our blood pumping.

704 W. St. Johns, 512/765-4816, www.royaljellyatx.com

Best Barbecue Without the Wait
Kerlin

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

No one refutes the dominance of Franklin or la Barbecue in the hearts and minds (and tummies) of barbecue lovers both local and nationwide. But what if you need to quench your meat craving and you don't have time for the long lines? The mom-and-pop team at Kerlin (just a hop and a skip away from the big two) has you covered. They may have come from Arizona, but they know a good thing when they see one, and they took to the Central Texas tradition quick. They make superlative sausage and beautifully barked brisket, and you won't want to snooze on their bleu cheese coleslaw and jalapeño dill potato salad.

1700 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/412-5588, www.kerlinbbq.com

Best Beer Can Design
Austin Beerworks Seasonal Series by Helms Workshop

The folks behind Austin Beerworks take a lot of pride in making their limited edition beers distinctive, so when a recent expansion allowed them to can those beers for the first time, it called for something special. Local brand design studio Helms Workshop is no stranger to the craft beer game, having worked with Boulevard Brewing and Fullsteam, but their ABW seasonals electrify the shelf in a new way, wrapped in patterns that pay homage to the style and the name (slices and bowler hats for their Citra hop IPA Bloodwork Orange or vikings and turkey legs for their upcoming Battle Axe, for example). It may be true that you can't judge a book by its cover, but that ain't got nothing to do with beer.

Helms Workshop: 3507 S. First, 512/294-2334, www.helmsworkshop.com

Best Coffee Innovation
Fleet Coffee

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

We all know the coffee shop staples: Americanos, breves, and cappuccinos. But Fleet Coffee co-owners Patrick Pierce and Lorenzo Perkins go well beyond the caffeination ABCs. Here, your morning ritual isn't a burnt latte choked down through a green straw; it's espresso mixed with Fruity Pebbles-infused milk and served with a crispy treat or reimagined with tonic, lime, and simple syrup. Yes, they have the classics too, but Fleet is anything but basic.

2427 Webberville Rd., 512/524-0142, www.fleetcoffee.com

Best Coffee Liqueur for a White Russian
Caffe del Fuego

We can't help but think if the Dude lived in Austin, he would have had much less to abide. Certainly he wouldn't have had to fill his favorite drink with syrupy dreck. When you are being chased by nihilists, you need something more – Austin Roasting Company beans, pure cane sugars, Madagascar vanilla, and filtered spirits aged for sophistication. If you drink it, we can't promise you'll be dreaming about bowling alleys and Julianne Moore, but we guarantee you'll like seeing what condition your condition is in.

www.rfdistillers.com; www.fb.com/caffedelfuego

Best Dessert Science Project
SPUN Ice Cream

So you flunked Chemistry 101 and only recently realized the periodic table wasn't a piece of occasional furniture, but that doesn't mean you have to practice scientific denialism. Made with liquid nitrogen and local seasonal ingredients, SPUN's ice cream uses our favorite scientific method, topping a base of dark chocolate and horchata with mix & match pairings like peanut brittle or handcut sprinkles. We couldn't ask for a better lab partner.

1912 E. Seventh, 512/524-1768, www.spunicecream.com

Best Drink of the Summer ... and Beyond
Austin Eastciders Pineapple

It's an Austin tradition to complain about the dog days of triple-digit weather, but this year we were praying for a few more days of sun. That's because this season gave us "Piney Cides." Refreshing with a pineapple kick, but without the sticky sweetness you might expect, Austin Eastciders' latest variety is the perfect drink to accompany poolside lounging, fireworks watching, or just stripping down to your skivvies after work. "Hot town, summer in the city" indeed.

4007 Commercial Ctr. #700, www.austineastciders.com

Best Gas Station Parking Lot Food
Abo Youssef Mediterranean Food

The bright yellow and red of the Manor Express convenience store may not have the same allure as the tasteful beiges and whites of trendy dining rooms, but that doesn't seem to matter one bit to the folks lining up for Abo Youssef's shawarma and falafel. With an attention to customer care, killer baklava, and a mint lemonade perfect for Austin weather, Abo Youssef proves that our food truck scene is just as essential as ever.

2101 Manor Rd., 512/815-6804, www.fb.com/abo-youssef-1637500513173618

Best Licuados
La Fruta Feliz

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

There are many good things to be had at La Fruta Feliz: the obligatory breakfast tacos, fiery menudo, and some of the best barbacoa in town. But whatever you order, washing it down with a licuado is non-negotiable. Creamy and thick enough to eat with a spoon, they're lushly sweet – the perfect treat to get you through yet another long, hot Austin day. The menu is extensive, but a good place to start is one with everything – papaya, mango, banana, and strawberry – all blended together into a gloriously refreshing mess, guaranteed to give you the most enjoyable sugar rush you've had in years.

3124 Manor Rd., 512/473-0037

Best Local Food Boosters
Austin Food & Wine Alliance

Most people know them for their parties – Live Fire!, Wine & Swine, and Official Drink of Austin – all highlights on our town's culinary calendar and known for their unique ability to attract the best chefs and mixologists from Texas and beyond. But some still don't know the reason why so many pros say yes to the AFWA. It's simple. With their culinary grant program and high school culinary career conferences, the nonprofit is essential to keeping our local foodways strong. And that's a reason for celebration, even when the parties are over.

www.austinfoodwinealliance.org

Best Local IPA
Pinthouse Pizza Electric Jellyfish

Pinthouse Pizza and its renowned IPA program is at the epicenter of Austin's hop-delirium. But the one beer that lords over this brewpub's entire beer board – as well as any other hopped-up contenders city-wide – is their Electric Jellyfish IPA. Bright with juicy, citric, and tropical fruit hops like Equinox, Galaxy, Calypso, and Citra, and very reasonable 6.5% ABV, this IPA is as intricate as it is refreshing.

4236 S. Lamar, 512/502-5808; 4729 Burnet Rd., 512/436-9605, www.pinthousepizza.com

Best Nepalese Morsel
Saffron's Gobi Manchurian

Cauliflower would be the undisputed star of the produce department if more people tried Saffron's Gobi Manchurian. It's a dry version of the Indo-Chinese specialty, but the tomato, garlic, and soy-based sauce is expertly spiced and proportioned to keep it moist and delectable. It's a surefire antidote to this town's parade of boring brassicas. Who knew the path to enlightenment would be found in a shopping center restaurant's fried florets?

3616 Far West Blvd., 512/241-1732, www.saffronaustin.com

Best New Fast Food
Flyrite Chicken

Although we realize that Chick-fil-A has stopped all that nonsense of giving to anti-gay causes, we still prefer to get our chicken fix closer to home. The folks at Flyrite offer us feel-good fast food made with no artificial ingredients, high fructose corn syrup, or antibiotics. And unlike at that fast food giant, you can wash your chickie down with local brews.

2129 E. Seventh, 512/284-8014, www.flyritechicken.com

Best New Instagram Opportunity
Irene's

photo by David Brendan Hall

Yes, yes. Austin loves you so much, and, despite your shortcomings, considers you her butter half. But she might start getting jealous if she sees one more photo of you and Irene. The hedge wall with the pink neon sign in front of the ELM Group's latest restaurant proved to be this summer's can't-skip snap. Bearded dudes, naifs in floppy hats, wandering toddlers, and even hard-drinking grandmas all stopped to strike a pose. How's that for a signature?

506 West Ave, 512/298-0853 www.irenesaustin.com

Best Pick-Me-Up
Om Gai at Dee Dee

You can almost set your clock by it. At around two in the afternoon, we invariably have a sneezing fit due to the gazillion allergens floating around in our town's air. But even after downing a fistful of Allegra, we still need something to break through the fog. Dee Dee's om gai has everything we need – chiles to clear those sinuses, dill to wake up drowsy taste buds, rustic chicken to comfort, and the perfect sticky rice to sop it all up. It's an instant restorative no matter what the pollen count.

1906 E. Cesar Chavez, www.deedeeatx.com, www.fb.com/deedeeatx

Best Place to Dadcore (Two Kid Maximum)
Live Oak Brewing

There is no place better to feel like a seasoned combat veteran of adolescent affairs than at the scopious brewhouse and beer garden of Austin's finest German-style beer maker, Live Oak Brewing. The wide-open plot allows for everyone from helicopter parents to cool dads (and moms), while also not impeding too much on the carefree fun of the non-breeders. The low ABV beers, like their Berliner Weisse and Grodziskie, account for worry-free family revelry (but it goes without saying, always use a DD).

1615 Crozier, Del Valle, 512/385-2299, www.liveoakbrewing.com

Best Place to Embrace Gluten
L'oca d'oro

photo by John Anderson

Some days you just want to drown yourself in a pool of noodles and eat your way out. But after eating the pumpkin tortelli, grilled shrimp rigatoni, and wood-roasted mushroom lasagna at L'oca d'oro, not just any im-pasta will do. L'oca d'oro can satisfy the craziest of carb craving, making your cheat day actually worth it. We salute the golden goose for putting the glee back into gluten.

1900 Simond, 737/212–1876, www.locadoroaustin.com

Best Restaurant Interior Design
Mickie Spencer

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Local diners already know Spencer's eclectic work at East Side Show Room, Hillside Farmacy, and Sawyer & Co., but this year she outdid herself with a pair of stunners. Ah Sing Den replaced the Show Room's metallic steampunk with luscious 18th century velvet and fringe. Eberly somehow manages to transition from midcentury modern to Victorian with nary a stumble. The best restaurant interiors have the power to transport. Spencer is Austin's most capable captain.

Ah Sing Den: 1100 E. Sixth, 512/467-4280, www.ahsingden.com; Eberly: 615 S. Lamar, 512/916-9000, www.eberlyaustin.com

Best So What if It's Not in Austin Brewery
Twisted X Brewing Co.

photo by David Brendan Hall

Austin is lucky that it has a surfeit of breweries in our urban core, but sometimes it's nice to take a day trip. On a crisp autumn day (you know, the two or three autumn days we get before our two weeks of winter), there's nothing that takes the edge off of city living like a trip to Dripping Springs' Twisted X. It's not the most flashy tasting room, but sometimes all you need is a picnic table, a solid beer, and a Hill Country breeze.

23455 W. RR 150, Dripping Springs, 512/829-5323, www.twistedxbrewing.com

Best Sweet Nothing
Fluff Meringues

Fluff's weightless clouds are like your first crush – beautiful and effervescent on the outside, but deep and complex once you get to know them a little better. Like a high school cheerleader smoking a joint between classes, or the bookworm band nerd with the killer abs, these dollops of sugary goodness strike the perfect balance.

512/387-0605, www.fluff-meringues.com

Best Tap Wall (to Enjoy While Waiting for Takeout)
Michi Ramen

We're all about that spontaneous takeout life. Only problem is, you gotta wait 46 minutes drinking mudslides at Chili's while your mozzarella-stuffed lamb bladders crisp to the perfect snap. That's just awful. This is why we almost always defer to Michi Ramen for impromptu dinners, as it boasts the most woke beer wall in Austin with only eight taps. This soup wonderland features oft-rotating, limited distribution, specialty craft treats like Sputnik from Austin Beerworks, Dapper Devil from Blue Owl, and Cucumber Face Mask by Oasis. They also tend to get hard-to-find out-of-towners like Houston's Brash Brewing and San Antonio's Freetail while also curating a fine selection of Japanese beers. It'll make you wish that they'd slow it down a bit back there in the kitchen.

6519 N. Lamar, 512/386-1908; 3005 S. Lamar, 512/394-6350, www.michiramen.com

Best Taste of Italy
Gelateria Gemelli

Initially we were awed by Gemelli's classy interior and pastel display of frozen treats, but then our eyes were drawn to the gelateria's array of amari. We recommend the olive oil gelato (neutral in flavor does not equate to boring) to pair with any number of the aromatic liqueurs. And if you're in need of a pick-me-up, the affogato brings together gelato and espresso – or you could try the Beerfogato, which marries Austin Beerworks' Black Thunder with, say, peanut butter stracciatella. We'll saluté to that.

1009 E. Sixth, www.gelateriagemelli.com, 512/535-2170

Best Taste of Kyoto
Asahi Imports

For nearly five decades, this North Austin institution has brought the classic Japanese konbini store experience to Texas. Now it's doubled in size, and added fresh lunchtime delights in onigiri corner. From katsu sando Monday to ichigo daifuku Thursday, and home-cooked treats all through the weekend, it's a taste of home for Austin's Japanese population, and a delicious alternative to ramen and sushi for everyone else. You'll always have something to enjoy while you're shopping for saké or hunting for the perfect Gudetama blind box. Arigato gozaimasu, Asahi!

6105 Burnet Rd., 512/453-1850, www.asahi-imports.com

Best Tea Party
Tea Haus

It may seem odd to begin a recommendation of a tea house by raving about the coffee, but when that coffee is a tiny miracle of sea salt creme, we have to take a detour – and then swerve a little more to praise their signature basil fried chicken and strawberry brick toast. Whatever you order, Tea Haus is a tiny oasis, perfect for checking emails, meeting a Bumble date, or catching up with an old friend. Did we mention the tea? You're going to want to order that too.

2525 W. Anderson #285, 512/291-6681, www.fb.com/teahaustx

Hottest Restaurant Staff
Emmer & Rye

We don't mean to diminish the artistry behind the small plates on chef Kevin Fink's dim sum carts or the interplay of finishes in architect Kevin Stewart's bright and airy space, but – danggggg – it's difficult to notice anything other than the gorgeous men and women who populate the house. We could rhapsodize about the smoldering eyes of that one line cook or the way that one server fills out his apron, but we'll let you develop your own crush. Trust, there's someone there that you'll want to eat up.

51 Rainey #110, 512/366-5530, www.emmerandrye.com

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