La Condesa Chef Rene Ortiz and pastry chef Laura Sawicki serve up the cuisine of Mexico City's Colonia Condesa at this environmentally friendly 2nd Street District anchor, setting a new metric for local Interior Mexican eats. A relatively new denizen in the Austin food scene having opened in 2009, it took home four Chronicle Restaurant Poll honors in its first year of operation: Readers Favorite, Readers Best New Restaurant, Critics Best Octopus Dish, and Critics Best New Cocktails. La Condesa was also nominated for a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in 2010, and on the heels of that announcement, it scored an honorable mention for its green sauce at this year's Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival. No wonder the airy, colorful space is packed wall-to-wall with hungry folks for lunch and dinner. 400-A W. Second, 499-0300. www.lacondesaaustin.com. $$$
Bess Bistro on Pecan Bess is a favorite for good reason. European, Cajun, and Southern dishes are prepared with organic, local, and homegrown ingredients here. The menu is unfussy yet upscale and has brought regulars back to Bess since its opening in 2006. So it wasn't surprising in 2007 when it took home the Chronicle Restaurant Poll honor for Best New Restaurant. A great selection of beer and spirits and a well-thought-out wine list complement the experience. 500 W. Sixth, 477-BESS. www.bessbistro.com. $$$$
Vivo The new Lake Creek location is obviously as popular as its mother ship on Manor Road, which has taken numerous Chronicle Restaurant Poll awards including Best Al Fresco Dining, Best Bathroom, and Best New Restaurant. Try the affordable San Antonio-style Tex-Mex fare with some margaritas at this second location. We hear raves about the puffy tacos. 12233 RR 620 #105, 331-4660. www.vivo-austin.com. $$
Roaring Fork Inspired by the Roaring Fork River in Colorado, the rustic decor of stone, metal, leather, and antlers, as well as hearty Western entrées with robust side dishes will please the meat-eaters in your crowd. Roaring Fork has won numerous Chronicle Restaurant Poll awards in such categories as Most Glamorous Hamburgers and Best Cowboy Cuisine Without the Trail Dust, as well as a 2008 "Best of Austin" award for Best Business Dining. The smoked and roasted long-bone ribs in Dr Pepper barbecue sauce will impress your out-of-state guests. 701 Congress, 583-0000. www.roaringfork.com. $$$
Aquarelle Restaurant FranÇais In a quietly understated and historic home, traditional French service and a commitment to preparations using fresh, local ingredients make this a special-occasion place set apart from casual Austin with china, crystal, and romantic lighting. In a November 2000 review, Rachel Feit lauded its "Old World taste for unrestrained luxury." Since then it has earned too many Chronicle Restaurant Poll awards to list here, so suffice it to say that Aquarelle has appeared in numerous categories every year since 2001. Try the wine bar patio, which has been a welcome addition for more spontaneous gustation with a surprising selection of wines by the glass. 606 Rio Grande, 479-8117. www.aquarellerestaurant.com. $$$$
Pad Thai Thai Cuisine Appropriately, Pad Thai has pad thai on the menu, as well as hot pots and traditional curries. A bright interior, a menu modeled after Thai Passion (another local favorite), and friendly service have impressed restaurant-deprived Mueller and Delwood residents since it opened last year. 1201 Barbara Jordan Blvd. #1220, 469-1778. www.padthaiaustin.com. $$
Buenos Aires Cafe This tiny Argentinean spot was an instant favorite when it opened on South First Street in 2005, and now it feeds the obsessed on East Sixth Street and in the new Galleria complex. It earned an instant Critics Pick for Best Taste Tango in the 2006 Chronicle Restaurant Poll, and Barbara Chisholm called it a Big Night experience in a review the same year, alluding to a more successful version of that film's Paradise Cafe. 1201 E. Sixth, 382-1189. www.buenosairescafe.com. $$
Botticelli's This space near the Continental Club on South Congress should be perfect for an eatery, but for some reason many had tried and failed until the Botticelli brothers started slinging reasonably priced Italian fare in a candlelit space. Soon, it was a Chronicle Restaurant Poll Readers Favorite in 2008, and everyone discovered that a great menu in a great location could exorcise a "jinxed" spot. A huge live oak out back covers an enchanted patio space with live music most evenings, a perfect spot for speck and roasted peaches. 1321 S. Congress, 916-1315. www.botticellissouthcongress.com. $$
Annies Cafe & Bar Innovative chef Mark Schmidt, formerly of Cafe 909 in Marble Falls, came to this spot in a historic hardware-store building on Congress in 2009. Since then, Annie's has become popular not only for working lunches and more leisurely dinners, but for its excellent desserts and baked goods as well. 319 Congress, 472-1884. www.anniescafebar.com. $$
Justine's Brasserie The buzz around this East Fifth newcomer was palpable for Pierre Pelegrin and Justine Gilcrease as they prepared to open in late 2009: For more than a year, cars had been driving by to check on their progress. Since then, the cabaret chairs in the remodeled bungalow have been jammed with regulars and those who've waited an eternity for the fuss to die down. A Chronicle Restaurant Poll honor for romantic dining in 2010 didn't help much. But if your timing is right, the food is worth the melee. If you have a wait, play some pétanque outside and have a killer cocktail. Either way, you can count on a no-frills brasserie that serves authentic Gallic comfort food until 1:30am. 4710 E. Fifth, 385-2900. www.justines1937.com. $$
Estimated meal cost per person:
See full info on these restaurants and thousands of others – reviews, awards, current listings, links to coupons, and more – at the Austin Chronicle Restaurant Guide: austinchronicle.com/restaurant.
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