MM Pack on the 10 Best Austin Neighborhood Stores
1) Whip In (1950 S. I-35, 442-5337): Whip In's motto "keeping it good for our 'hood" aptly captures the spirit of Austin's neighborhood food markets that tailor themselves to the unique character of their milieu. The Whip In, known for its eccentric decor, friendly staff, large wine and beer selections, local products, and specialty coffee, has been seeing to the needs of Travis Heights since 1986, and it may be the only grocery in town with a piano on the premises.
2) P&K Grocery (915 W. Mary, 326-3133): Quirkiness abounds at the P&K Grocery in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood, where art and food morph into a shopping experience unlike any other. In addition to basic groceries, local food products, and tasteful and funky gift and household items, the impossibly hip P&K offers a wide selection of retro candies, cookies, and snacks. There's a made-to-order sandwich menu and house-made takeout items from deviled eggs to pimento cheese. An added bonus is that you can order online and they deliver.
3) Fresh Plus, West Lynn (1221 West Lynn, 477-5574): Good things come in small packages, and Fresh Plus on West Lynn (along with its sibling store on East 43rd) demonstrates how a compact space can still provide a comprehensive full-service grocery store. Still owned by the same family that opened it (and six others) three generations ago, Fresh Plus offers fresh produce, a decent wine selection, an astonishing number of grocery products, a prepared-foods counter, and one of the best butcher shops in town.
4) Farm to Market Grocery (1718 S. Congress, 462-7220): At the sign of the radish on the trendy SoCo strip, Farm to Market is an almost-full-service grocery that specializes in local products from cheeses to greeting cards to gourmet. Somewhat reminiscent of a New York neighborhood deli (although far better decorated) this women-owned business offers fresh fruits and juices, coffees, flowers, snacks, wine, and beer.
5) Avenue B Grocery (4403 Avenue B, 453-3921): Nestled under shade trees in the middle of residential Hyde Park, the tiny, 100-year-old Avenue B Grocery is Austin's oldest extant market. The store's two aisles contain dry goods and household products; sliced meats and cheeses are available along with "novelty" ice creams, pickled okra, and house-made pies by the slice. The made-to-order lunchtime sandwiches are an invitation to step outside to the picnic tables and enjoy them with a cold ICB root beer.
6) Mandola's Italian Market (4700 W. Guadalupe, 419-9700): The Mandola family has been in the grocery, deli, and restaurant business in Houston since 1912; while the new Mandola's market is located in the brand-new Triangle neighborhood, it maintains a flavor of a classic Italian-American grocery experience. It's a destination for imported Italian ingredients and products, house-made and imported fresh and cured sausages, cheeses, wines, and a terrific bakery exploding with Italian breads, cookies, pastries, and gelato. The attached counter-service restaurant offers Southern Italian-style sandwiches and hot dishes to go or eat on the patio.
7) Phoenicia (4701 Burnet Rd., 323-6770; 2912 S. Lamar, 447-4444): While best known as a Middle Eastern deli and bakery, the two Phoenicias north and south of the river are the oldest and largest panethnic groceries in town. While they specialize in bakery items and prepared takeout such as dolmas, sandwiches, wraps, and tabouli, they also sport aisles and freezers full of canned, packaged, and frozen goods from the Middle East (and Europe and Latin America), as well as an excellent olive and condiment bar.
8) Royal Blue Grocery (247 W. Third, 499-3993): New neighborhoods need new neighborhood groceries, and the Royal Blue caters to the booming Downtown 2nd Street District, where high-rise condos sprout up before our eyes. This urbane little market provides not only the basics but upscale snacks, artisanal cheeses, prepared foods, fresh flowers, newspapers and magazines, and a small, quirky wine selection, chilled and ready to go.
9) La Michoacana (1917 E. Seventh, 473-8487): La Michoacana on East Seventh (along with sister stores on Stassney and Cameron) is a full-service market, bakery, and taqueria that caters to Hispanic clientele with a wide variety of imported foods from Mexico, as well as Central and South America. The meat market selections are vast, ranging from cabrito to pigs' ears, and this is the spot for the freshest, most flavorful lard in town.
10) Crestview Minimax IGA (7108 Woodrow, 459-6203): Although it's seen some better days, Minimax maintains a loyal neighborhood customer base and still anchors the bijou Crestview Shopping Center, shared with a pharmacy, barbershop, and the Little Deli. The first (and now last) of Austin's six Minimax groceries that opened in the Fifties, this family-owned store has grown up with the neighborhood. It's the place to stop for a chat, a quart of milk, a birthday card, or a box of canning jars.
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