The 2002 Austin Chronicle Restaurant Poll

Another year has passed, the readers have spoken, the critics have picked, and here is the 2002 Chronicle Restaurant Poll, hot off the press! No one will deny that much of the past year was difficult for our local restaurant industry, what with the residual effects of high tech layoffs and the serious downturn after September 11. But as we approach the midpoint of 2002, the economy is beginning to rebound, and things are looking up. According to Chronicle Special Issues maven Kate Messer, we received a healthy number of ballots this year, after a drop in 2001, and a majority of poll responses were submitted via the Web. We'd like to thank Kate and her intrepid team of helpers -- Verushka Gray, Don Palmer, Anne Harris, Raya Salman, and Elizabeth Morgan -- who are our strong line of defense against ballot stuffing, and who also keep an eye on emerging trends reflected in the voting. One interesting trend we all noticed this year is a younger age demographic among voters, with the largest number coming from a tight-knit age group of 28-31. We took note of this; the folks at Media Audit tell us our average median reader age is 36.5. The poll numbers would seem to indicate that there's a hip, younger crowd out there that take restaurant dining seriously enough to cast a ballot about it, and that looks like good news for the local restaurant economy.

The Chronicle Food staff -- Rebecca Chastenet de Géry, Mick Vann, Rachel Feit, Barbara Chisholm, Wes Marshall, MM Pack, and I -- recently held our annual Critics Picks meeting over coffee and beignets at Crescent City Beignets, and we took note of another emerging local trend. We've been thrilled by the proliferation of small ethnic restaurants around the city in the past two years but are rather frustrated that we've got only one slot, titled "Other Ethnic," in which to recognize them all. For instance, there is now one African cafe, World Beat, on the southern edge of the UT campus, and a good Brazilian eatery, SamPaio, just to the north. There's Taiwanese at Coco's, Moroccan/Lebanese at Marakesh, Cuban at Habana, Persian at Alborz, and Salvadoran at Elsi's and Dona Emilia's. We realized -- too late for the ballot, unfortunately -- that there are once again enough Middle Eastern and Cajun/Creole restaurants around town to justify their own voting categories. The point of all this ethnic discourse is to make sure you understand that while this poll is pretty comprehensive, some of the best little treasures we know of around town aren't necessarily listed below. We encourage those of you with adventurous palates to seek them out.

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