30 Years of “Best of Austin”

Some of the stories behind 10,484 awards

The cover of our first "Best of Austin" issue, Sept. 28, 1990

There Have Been...

10,484 total "Best of Austin" Awards over 30 years (an average of 349 per year)

6,530 different winners

5,315 Critics Picks Awards (4,763 different winners)

5,169 Readers Poll Awards (2,126 different winners)

1,230 different Readers Poll categories (on average these last 4.2 years)

497 ties (396 of those were from the Readers Poll)

16 different awards for different aspects of Zilker Park

18 awards for bathrooms, evenly split between readers and critics (the Driskill Hotel leads the way with three)

37 dog-related awards (not counting Dog & Duck Pub or Lloyd Doggett)

52 consumer video categories, mostly video stores, game rental, and DVD selection

Most Awards Overall

With number of awards won
*indicates a winner in the inaugural poll in 1990

Barton Springs Pool (66) *

KUT 90.5FM (63) *

Zilker Park (57) *

BookPeople (52)

Austin American-Statesman (47)

KVUE (47)

University of Texas at Austin (45) *

The Austin Chronicle (41) *

Central Market North (41)

Vulcan Video (38) *

Waterloo Records (37) *

Casino el Camino (34)

Austin Motel (33)

KXAN (33)

Mount Bonnell at Covert Park (33) *

The Driskill Hotel (32)

Enchanted Rock (32) *

KGSR 107.1FM (32)

Texas State Capitol (32) *

Alamo Drafthouse (30)

KOOP 91.7FM (30)

Channel Austin (29)

Kerbey Lane Cafe (29)

Zilker Botanical Garden (27)

Barton Creek Greenbelt (26)

Breed & Co. (26) *

Wheatsville Food Co-op (26) *

Bicycle Sport Shop (25)

Austin Books & Comics (24) *

Hotel San José (24)

Paramount Theatre (24) *

Continental Club (23) *

For the full list, see austinchronicle.com/bestofarchive.

Readers and Critics: The Early Years

The "Best of Austin" Awards started strictly as the Readers Poll. There were only four Critics Picks in the first year and nine in the second year. These were unannotated, but represented, essentially, our staff's dissent regarding a few of the readers' choices (sparked, as I recall, by Blockbuster beating Vulcan Video for Best Video Store and Mr. Gatti's winning Best Pizza).

Then, in 1992, we turned that around, as explained in that year's introduction: "We actively solicited nominations from our readers," but had no readers poll, and the "issue was developed and authored by our staff and contributors," including annotations of all the picks. (They were led in that effort by Managing Editor Jennifer Scoville, who later left us to raise a family and start a family business, Home Slice Pizza, which has gone on to win eight BOA Awards in the past 13 years, including Best Pizza in the Readers Poll for six of the past seven years.)

The Readers Poll returned the very next year, and the Critics Picks shifted over to being the quirkier, one-off categories that they've been ever since. The intro to that year's section read: "Finally, the Chronicle may have gotten the 'Best of Austin' issue right" – with "some 214 categories voted on by our readers" and presented in list form, while "Chronicle staff, editors, and writers created and annotated another 221 categories, operating very independently of the ballot. ... Don't think of it as a disagreement, think of it as two separate recommendations."

Still Standing After All These Years

There were 158 "BOA" Awards in the first year, 1990; not counting duplicates, there were 140 winners. Of those, 95 – over two-thirds – are still here 30 years later. These include 25 permanent features of the city – Zilker Park, Mount Bonnell, the state Capitol, Barton Springs, soccer – but also 69 businesses and people who are still oper­at­ing today. Most surprising, perhaps, is the Food category, where 10 of the 17 award-winners are still in business, and Shopping, with 18 of the 27 places still around. Among others still doing business three decades later: Best Psychic Sylvia Murray.

1990 Food winners still operating: Dirty Martin's Place, Forbidden Fruit, Mrs. Johnson's Bakery, Chick-fil-A, Texas French Bread, the Oasis, the Salt Lick, Thundercloud Subs, Travis County Farmers' Market, Wheatsville Food Co-op

1990 Shopping winners still operating: Allens Boots, Anderson's Coffee Co., Austin Books & Comics, Barton Creek Square, Breed & Co., Dan's Liquor Stores, Flashback Vintage, Goodwill, Half Price Books, Lucy in Disguise, Oat Willie's, Planet K, Precision Camera & Video, Strait Music Co., Terra Toys, Toy Joy, University Co-op, Waterloo Records

Waterloo Records is the only business that's won an award in all 29 Readers Polls.

Readers Poll Categories

These have changed over the years, but there are 21 categories that have appeared in all 29 Readers Polls (there was no poll in 1992; see "Readers and Critics").

Only three categories have stayed completely unchanged since the very first poll; 18 others have been in every poll, but with some changes in name or focus:

Best Sportscaster

Best Weatherperson ("Weather Person" from 1990-2000)

Best Jukebox (Casino el Camino every year but one since 1996; Deep Eddy Cabaret book­ended their streak with wins in 1995, 2015)

Best Art Gallery (called Independent Art Gallery 2014-15)

Best Bike Shop/Repair (was separate categor­ies, then only "Repair" for almost 20 years)

Best Bookstore (sometimes Best Local Bookstore or Inde­pendent Book­store; it's been BookPeople every year since 1996)

Best Comics/Fandom (Best Comic Book Store, Best Comics, Best Comics or Specialty Books)

Best Dancer/Choreographer (Best Dance Company, Best Dancer or Dance Company)

Best Garden Store/Nursery (Best Overall Nursery, Best Garden­ing Store, and Best Garden Supply Store)

Best Salon (Hair Salon until 2015)

Best Hotel/Motel (this category was split in two for some years)

Best Laundromat (combined with Dry Cleaners in 2016-17)

Best Movie Theatre (started as Best Movie Theatre Facilities; has also been split into Best Programming and Best Concessions)

Best Performance Space/Theatre (Best Theatre Space, Best Perform­ance Space)

Best Photographer (split into art photos and photojournalism for a few years)

Best Radio Station (split into Talk and Music for a while)

Best Record Store (this started as Chain, Local, and Vinyl, then was Best Record/CD Store for a while)

Best Social Ride (Best Bike Ride, Best Social Bike Ride)

Best Toy Store (originally Best Toy Store for Kids, and Best Toy Store for Grown-ups; was also just Best Toys for 11 years)

Best TV Anchorperson/Reporter (separate at first)

Best Vintage/Consign­ment Clothing (has had six different titles through the years)

Longest Critics Picks Award Title

"Best Place to Just Set and Meditate and Watch the Crosspaths of Ducks, Heart Patients, Food Connoisseurs and State Hospital Patients" (Central Market, 2002)


We started with nine; we now have eight. We added Kids in 1993, then restructured some categories and renamed others starting in 2016. Services and Shopping are the only categories that have remained unchanged throughout the 30 years of BOAs.

Photo by Sandy Carson

All-Timers and Legends

In 2009, we declared seven Best All-Time Winners: Paramount Theatre, Emo's, Central Market, Alan Pogue, Ann Richards, Save Our Springs Alliance, and Bicycle Sport Shop. Still a good list.

One category we only did in the first three polls was Best Austin Legend, won by Willie Nelson in the inaugural poll, Stevie Ray Vaughan in the next two, then discontinued.

Similarly, we had only four Best Austin Icon Awards (2010-2013), and Leslie Cochran won three of them; Willie Nelson won the fourth.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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