2021 Readers Poll
2021 Critics Picks

photo by Jana Birchum

Best Heroes Fighting Hunger

As the COVID-19 crisis worsens food insecurity for thousands of our neighbors, Central Texas’ largest hunger-relief organization has continually stepped up to meet the community’s unprecedented need – and the numbers show it. In fiscal year 2020, CTFB distributed a record $64.5 million pounds of food, averaging serving nearly 300,000 individuals per month. Safety precautions and skyrocketing demand called for the agency’s shift to drive-through mass distributions. Of course, such efforts wouldn’t be possible without the tens of thousands of volunteers who risked illness and donated more than 100,000 hours last year to help families get food on their tables.

Central Texas Food Bank
6500 Metropolis Dr.

Best Housekeeping Advice

Vanesa Amaro wants you to love the home you live in, and not just because it’s good business. When the pandemic made life messier, Amaro began sharing secrets on TikTok (toilet bowl cleaner erases hard water stains!), drawing in over 3.5 million followers and a steady social media income. She’s now left most of her clients to offer free services to people in need. Amaro rejects that cleaning is “common sense,” constantly going to bat for folks whose mental health, disabilities, or busy lives complicate their cleaning routines. Her funny, kindhearted videos make the COVID era brighter – and better sanitized.

Best Radio Payout

Hometown solar-powered frequency Sun Radio brought their own alternative energy to support the community over the past year. Their Recharge Program launched last spring to help cover electricity bills of Central Texas musicians and even other community radio stations, donating about $100,000 to help over 1,000 neighbors. The program found purpose during the winter storm as well, paying out $50,000 in direct checks to aid the community. With more than a quarter-million dollars raised, Sun Radio is still ensuring Texas artists can keep the lights on and amps plugged in.

Sun Radio
4020 Menchaca Rd.

Best Pet Portraits

A cherub, a sneaker, a mockingbird: Scroll through Austin Taylor's Instagram, and it's instantly clear that he's a master of hyperrealistic tattoos. Yet nothing inspires more oohs and ahhs than his pet portraits, a few inches of black and gray shading that immortalize our beloved best friends. Taylor works quick, and like his colleagues at All Saints, is friendly and professional – there are no exclusive vibes at this Sixth Street shop. First-timers and full-sleevers alike have something to gain from his precision.

Courtesy of All Saints Tattoo

Best No Waste, COVID-Safe Grocery Delivery

When COVID-19 made delivered groceries all the rage this past year, that meant sustainability often went out the window with triple bagged items, a plastic bag specifically for a roll of paper towels, and freezer bags galore. Enter Trashless. The zero-waste startup delivers the freshest sustainable ingredients and makes you feel great about it. They recently expanded their selection to include a wide variety of produce, meats, cheeses, and more. It’s never a bad thing when Planet Earth smiles upon your grocery order.

Most Sustained Support of Austin's Refugee Community

The Multicultural Refugee Coalition offers far-reaching opportunities for refugees living in Austin to earn livable wages, foster meaningful friendships, and develop marketable skills to support themselves and their families. MRC employs individuals at the Open Arms sewing studio and the New Leaf Agriculture regenerative farm, and they offer additional support through their ESL teaching program. Want to support this venerated support network? Spend a Saturday morning getting your hands in the soil at their 20-acre farm in Elgin.

Multicultural Refugee Coalition

New Leaf Team | courtesy of Multicultural Refugee Coalition

courtesy of MW Home Goods

Best Furniture Flipper Gone Viral

Ever spent hours trying to find the perfect piece of furniture, but it’s just a little (read: hundreds of dollars) outside of your price range? Austin’s furniture-flipping TikTok extraordinaire, MW Home Goods, is trying to empower shoppers to DIY those luxury items. Meghan Wheeler’s time-lapsed videos walk users through the steps to transform old, worn out furniture into high-end pieces. In one video, she even turns a $25 piece of furniture into a replica of a $2,825 credenza.

Best Virtual Facial

Not quite an online facial, though Neu Skin's "contactless skin care" will give you a glowing complexion nonetheless. Owner Elizabeth Bentley offers several different holistic services from the comfort of your screen, including skin health consults and virtual Gua Sha (face massage) tutorials for existing clients, or a one-hour session for those who are brand-new to Neu Skin's e-spa. Expect a Zoom recording of your call afterward, as well as a follow-up email addressing your personal skin care needs. Or just skip the Skype and head straight to her online store for an awesome selection of organic products.

Neu Skin

Elizabeth Bentley   coutrtesy of Neu Skin

photo by David Brendan Hall

Best Grassroots PPE Pop-Up

Within the first two weeks of pandemic lockdown, personal protective equipment had already become scarce. To offset shortages, Austinites sprang into action and formed Masks for Docs Austin, one of 100 chapters spread across the globe dedicated to delivering PPE to undersupplied medical professionals by any means available. Headquartered at Native Hostel, our local division devised a team of volunteer 3D printers to produce more than 5,000 face shields for 100 Central Texas health care facilities in a matter of weeks. Doubtless, this heroic grassroots effort helped slow the spread of COVID-19 in Austin and quite possibly saved lives.

Best Self-Care for Your Imagination

By the time you read this, your favorite library branch may be reopened to the public once more. Yet for much of the pandemic, a select handful have offered curbside delivery of choice materials directly to the trunk of your vehicle, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. In the heartbreaking absence of our beloved video rental institutions, APL remains consistent in adding to their vast and seemingly endless network of physical media, a collection which should salve the needs of nearly any bibliophile or cinephile. Your friendly neighborhood librarian is standing by.

photo by Jana Birchum

photo by David Brendan Hall

Best Pet Store Watercooler Talk

Anyone else been caught talking to a tree, stop sign, or the pesky squirrel eating your plants? Yeah, us neither …. For the past year, social interactions have been few and far between. From stories about maskless encounters around town to surviving a near electric grid failure, Prime Pet owner Burton Cleveland and the rest of his family always make the time to talk. Not to mention the shop packs in all the furry friend necessities and is conveniently located in the same building as Paz Veterinary East. As they say, come for the pet stuff and stay for the conversation.

Prime Pet
2400 E. Cesar Chavez #102

Best One-Stop Beauty Collective

The old Northcross Mall was a cruising spot for Eighties Austin teens on the make. Now it's likely where those former teens and their children get bangs shaped, eyebrows plucked, and tired muscles massaged at Gallery of Salons, a labyrinth of independent beauty contractors. True to its name, owner Dana Funicelli keeps the walls of the Gallery covered with local art for sale.

Gallery of Salons
2525 W. Anderson #610

Getty Images

coutesy of Big & Mini

Best Conversation Starter

In the heady early days of the pandemic, Big & Mini’s big idea was first hatched: to ease the social isolation by connecting seniors (the Bigs) and teens (the Minis) for free, teleconferenced chats. Melding a philanthropic spirit with startup hustle, the founders – UT classmates Aditi Merchant and Allen Zhou and Zhou's younger brother Anthony – have expanded their nonprofit operation, garnering national headlines and innovation grants, and matching more than 1,000 young and young-at-heart new friends across 25 countries. Big-ups, y’all.

Critics: Politics & Media
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