For all of Austin's March visitors -- SXSW participants, rodeo fans, basketball parents, relative newcomers, or just plain curious foodies -- Food Editor Virginia B. Wood gives the lowdown on local dining.

Welcome to Austin

Dear SXSW participant, rodeo fan, basketball parent, relative newcomer, or just plain curious foodie: We want you to have a great time while you're here in River City and encourage you to patronize plenty of local restaurants during your stay. Your all-time favorite joints like Las Manitas (211 Congress, 472-9357), the Magnolia Cafes (2304 Lake Austin Blvd., 478-8645; 1920 S. Congress, 447-7636), Taco X-Press (2529-A S. Lamar, 444-0261), Jo's Hot Coffee (1300 S. Congress), Güero's Taco Bar (1412 S. Congress, 447-7688), Threadgill's (301 W. Riverside, 472-9304; 6416 N. Lamar, 451-5440), and the Iron Works Barbecue (100 Red River, 478-4855) are looking forward to your annual pilgrimage and will greet you warmly. There've been some notable changes since last year. You'll find that restaurant prices are somewhat lower, especially in the casual fine dining outlets we've featured in this issue. Longtime local favorites such as Curra's Grill (614 E. Oltorf, 444-0012; 6801 Burnet Rd., 451-2650) and Hoover's Cooking (2002-C Manor Rd., 479-5006; 6701 Burnet Rd., 453-3002) have added second locations within a block of each other. The hottest new "bar" bar (movie & rock star sightings, etc.) is the Brown Bar (201 W. Eighth, 480-8330) and, based on what little we know, Russell Crowe is partial to Stubb's (801 Red River, 480-8341). Both Gumbo's (710 Colorado, 480-8053) and Cafe Josie (1200-B W. Sixth, 322-9226) have recently added delightful Cajun/Creole and Caribbean Sunday brunches, respectively. If you find yourself in need of spiritual guidance, there are gospel brunches at the Threadgill's downtown (10am-1pm), at Stubb's (seatings at 11am and 1pm), and a bluegrass gospel brunch at the pleasant new Mother Egan's Irish Pub (715 W. Sixth, 478-7747), which usually starts about 1pm. For a great deal on appetizers and cocktails within walking distance of your downtown hotel, mosey on over to Manuel's Downtown (310 Congress, 472-7555) where the stellar appetizer menu is half-price during happy hour every day and they've lowered the prices on their signature margaritas and domestic and imported beers all day on Mondays and Tuesdays. And by the way, Mondays are "hospitality appreciation" days at Manuel's, when all hotel and restaurant workers get 20% off their food bill -- how's that for hospitality? Accustomed to hanging out in Los Angeles and Aspen? Then be advised we now have our own Kenichi (419 Colorado, 320-8883), Roy's (212 Trinity, 391-1500) and a brand-spanking-new Hard Rock Cafe (East Sixth & San Jacinto) decorated with Texas rock memorabilia. Houstonians will be pleased to note we now have our own James Coney Island (609 Congress, 494-0113) and fans of Taylor barbecue will want to check out the new John Mueller's BBQ (1917 Manor Rd., 236-0283). By now you know about our enormous range of Mexican food choices, but we also have a variety of other ethnic delights, including contemporary African cooking at World Beat Cafe (600 W. MLK, 236-0197), Colombian food at Dona Emilia's (1411 E. Seventh, 478-2520), and Brazilian cuisine at SamPaio's (2809 San Jacinto, 469-9988). And just about the coolest news I've got to report is that one of Austin's true musical landmarks, the legendary Victory Grill (1104 E. 11th, 472-8669) is not only reopened but cooking again, so drop in for some soul-satisfying Southern cooking with your after-hours music.

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