Tasting 2002

The year in food

Madam Mam's Noodles and More
Madam Mam's Noodles and More (Photo By John Anderson)

Mick Vann's Top 10 Restaurants

1. Madam Mam's Noodles and More (2514 Guadalupe, 472-8306): My favorite Austin restaurant, and it's right across the street from my job! Thai food that equals or surpasses that found in the home country, large portions for little prices, and many home-style dishes not found on the standard Thai menus (and they've added about a dozen new items lately). Ah-hâhn a-ròy!

2. Sunflower (8557 Research, 339-7860): Best Vietnamese, with the best menu offerings. It's a nose hair in front of Tâm Deli (although they're apples and oranges, because they serve slightly different things). A platter of Shaking Beef and some Bahn Xeo and I'm in heaven. Ditch the lunch special menu, and ask for the dinner menu, where the serious treats are.

3. T&S Seafood (10014 N. Lamar, 339-8434): How fortuitous for us that the best dim sum can be found at the same place as the best Chinese seafood ... straight from the tank to your platter. Lively scene with great service and open late. Love those salt and pepper soft-shell crabs with a side platter of potstickers.

4. R.O.'s Outpost (Hwy. 71 W. at Hazy Hills Dr., 264-1169): These kids knock me over with their superlative chicken-fried steaks and quail, the smokified melt-in-the-mouth pork rib ends, a dazzling array of sides (deep-fried corn on the cob's a must), and Kathy's pies ... ohhhh, Kathy's pies! Mile-high meringue paired with real, old-tech crusts. Believe!

5. Polvo's (2004 S. First, 441-5446): The comfort breakfast that can nudge me out of any kind of funk: a steaming machacado and scrambled egg platter, topped with queso and bathed in chile arbol sauce ... with a plate of poblano rajas and cebollas riding shotgun. Excellent tacos al pastor también. A fix of this and I'm good to go.

6. BackStage Steak House and Garden Bar (21814 Hwy. 71 W. in Spicewood, 264-2223): Aged prime-rib eyes the way they used to be before the lean freaks ruined our meat supply. Grill it medium-rare, nap it with a little ancho chile sauce, and into the pie hole it slithers with gusto. Best salad of the year: spinach leaf with smoked bacon lardons, port-poached pear, and Stilton. Divine.

7. Tie: Wild Ginger (8108 Mesa, 343-8400); Hunan (1940 W. William Cannon, 443-8848): If I'm landscaping at Dr. Turner's house, Wild Ginger is right down the road, with the best hot and sour soup in town and dynamite lunches. If I'm on the way home or doing laundry, it's the killer ma po du fu (spicy pork and tofu) and sumptuous lunch specials at Hunan. Both are first-rate, economical, and on my way.

8. Evita's Botanitas (6400 S. First, 441-2424): The majestic towering basket of chips rising above the nest of superlative salsas below is the perfect prelude to fantastic tilapia mojo de ajo, or go straight comfort-zone with the mega El Rey Combo No.1. Evita's has been around a long time because they've earned it. Great folks, great food.

9. Din Ho Chinese BBQ (8557 Research, 832-8788): Unctuous and meltingly tender roast ducks that you grab and go, usually with a slab of char siu roast pork on the side for good measure. Both are top-notch, and when you get them home, there's an unlimited range of delights they can be made into ... or you can eat them straight, the way that Din Ho intended.

10. Pars Deli (8820 Burnet Rd., 452-4888): They're the relatively new outlet for that ancient, incredible taste treat, the gyro. Pars does them perfectly, and all of their other Middle Eastern items are rock solid and above reproach ... fantastic folks that prepare their food with respect. Up North, they get my nod (also Kismet for Campus, Marakesh Downtown, and Phoenicia down South).

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