The 2000 Austin Chronicle Restaurant Poll

If you're thinking it's been a long time since we've run a local restaurant poll, you're right. The last time we polled the Chronicle readership about the opinions concerning the Austin restaurant scene was in the late fall of 1998. When fall 1999 rolled around, we realized running the restaurant poll and the Best of Austin issue within weeks of each other created too much confusion, and the restaurant poll got bumped to the spring. What we didn't count on was the amazing explosion that's taken place in the local restaurant biz in those 18 months. As the last poll went to press, a slew of outstanding new restaurants had just opened (Vespaio, The Clay Pit, Mirabelle, Ella's, Sardine Rouge, Hoover's Cooking, Jo's) and were followed in 1999-2000 by another crop of dynamic new eateries (Liberty Pie, Bistro 88, Cippolina, Ranch 616, North by Northwest, Bellagio, Siena, Cafe Mia). We've seen one of the founders of the casual upscale dining trend, the San Gabriel Restaurant Group's Granite Cafe, undergo a format change, a closure, and a reopening in a matter of months while former San Gabriel chefs, managers, and wine experts are planning new restaurants of their own (Asti, Emilia's) in the very near future. As a matter of fact, the once rather bleak Italian restaurant scene is one of our biggest growth areas, with five new spots (Vespaio, Bellagio, Siena, Cippolina, Cafe Mia) in the past 18 months and two more on the way (Asti, Girasole) pretty quickly. We once wondered if Austin could support more than one French restaurant, and this year three are thriving (Chez Nous, Jean-Luc's French Bistro, Sardine Rouge) and another is on the way (Aquarelle). And the number of great new little Vietnamese and Mexican joints is just too numerous to count!

While all these restaurants have been opening since the last poll, we haven't exactly been sitting on our hands over here at the Chronicle offices. We began a new capsule review column, first called "Automat" (which no one understood) and now known as "Second Helpings" (I'll spare you the gory details of the names we rejected). This new column gives us the opportunity to group tasty tidbits of information about local restaurants together by genre. It's an important component of our newly redesigned Chronicle Restaurant Guide which debuts on the Web with this issue. Chronicle Web genies Karen Rheudasil and Lindsey Simon have been slaving away on the new guide, streamlining its organization and making it much more user-friendly for the hungry Chronicle reader who wants the lowdown on local eateries. Look for a new index of "Second Helpings" columns ( and cruise the new Restaurant Guide (

When the Chronicle food staff (Rebecca Chastenet de Géry, Pableaux Johnson, Mick Vann, Barbara Chisholm, Rachel Feit, Wes Marshall, and myself) met to consider our choices for the year, we were pleased to see so much diversity in the readers poll voting and so many new restaurants represented. We let out a cheer of "All right!!" when we saw that journeyman chef and relatively new restaurateur Hoover Alexander of Hoover's Cooking received his props from the readers as best chef, and we agree; it couldn't happen to a more deserving guy. And in the year when the contribution of local women chefs has become a hot-button issue, we wanted to be sure and recognize the tremendous contribution of Jeffrey's chef de cuisine, Alma Alcocer-Thomas. When it came time to choose the best restaurant to take your kids to, the staff members without kids voted "we'd rather not eat with them anywhere," and the staff members with kids swore they never darken the doors of traditional "kid-friendly" restaurants. We were forced to consult an actual child, occasional Chronicle book and restaurant reviewer Rosalind Faires, on that one. She's partial to Güero's Taco Bar, herself. All in all, we came to the conclusion that this is a great time to be writing about restaurants in Austin, Texas. Mangia, y'all.

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