Chronicle Editorial Staffers Name Their Essential Dishes

We've all got our favorites

James Renovitch with a Nada Chicken at ThunderCloud (Photo by Kimberley Jones)

Managing Editor James Renovitch: I'm far from a vegetarian, but dang I love that tasty, fake meat and its surrounding sandwich fixins in ThunderCloud Subs' signature Nada Chicken sandwich. Prepare for some quality small talk with your sandwichmaker and some impatient toe-tapping from those behind you in line while you wait for the patties to cook.

Various locations,

Assistant News Editor Maggie Thompson: I'm one of those people in their 20s who moved here from the West Coast, could not score a place in Austin, and landed last minute in sweet home Cedar Park. I'm glad for it, because of hidden gems like Aleida's Latin Food. The restaurant on Little Elm Trail is very charming and there's always a magnificent cake on display (major abuela vibes), but something about the food truck outside the Chevron at S. Bell Boulevard hits different. The original arepa has literally appeared to me in a dream, crispy and smothered in Aleida's sauce.

Restaurant: 2011 Little Elm Trl., Cedar Park; food truck: 602 S. Bell Blvd., Cedar Park.

Arts and Food Listings Editor / Food Lieutenant Wayne Alan Brenner: I can drive to El Rincon, a funky Tex-Mex joint in Pflugerville, from my house in three minutes. I might drive there anyway if it took an hour. The bustling cantina ambience, the ever-flowing coffee and perfect salsa, and omg, that generous carne guisada plate: precisely what's required to defeat the most hungover morning, any day of the week.

200 E. Pecan, Pflugerville,

Special Screenings and Community Listings Editor Katherine McNevins: The last time I ordered my fave at Vivo, I said this is what I would want for my last meal. Kind of a morbid thought, but it cemented in my mind how good it was, as if I didn't know: shrimp tacos, perfectly spiced and on lightly griddled tortillas with cheese, so it's almost a quesadilla, and complemented by cool chipotle cream sauce, crisp cabbage, and the best chips and salsa in town.

6406 N. I-35 #2343,

Editor-in-Chief Kimberley Jones: I love the salt & pepper tofu at Bun Belly so much I pay Favor's stupid-high $6 fee just to get it delivered to my front door. It's a sinus-clearing salad, heavily dressed in lime, with sautéed jalapeños and radish. The main event is the pillowy tofu, encased in a delicately seasoned tempura that somehow still retains most of its crunch even with the trip across town. Worth every cent.

6929 Airport #132,

Poke-Poke (Photo by John Anderson)

Staff writer Rachel Rascoe: I've phased through lunch fixations on a few poke bowls around town, but Poke-Poke on Hancock has held my focus the longest for its consistent freshness and perfectly simple OG seasoning (soy sauce, sesame oil, onions, and sesame seeds). Specifically, I get the Lil Salmon Poke with white rice, kale, and – if I'm feeling particularly snazzy – macadamia nuts.

2320 Hancock,

Proofreader and Qmmunity Editor James Scott: In all honesty, I could put any dish from Bouldin Creek Cafe as my essential dish: the Swamp Thing hangover cure; the magical pile of beans, vegan cheese, and rice of the Slacker's Banquet; or the vegan-style eggs Benedict, the Renedict, which always makes me think of our Managing Editor James Renovitch. But the potato leek omelette stands above them all, a starchy king covered in black pepper sour cream and stuffed with delicious potatoes and leeks. Breakfast of the champions, I'd say.

1900 S. First,

Bento Picnic (Photo by John Anderson)

Proofreader and News reporter Lina Fisher: The bean burrito at JewBoy Burgers is my guilty working lunch, because it's both practical ($5, filling, and handheld) and indulgent (schmaltz and queso?? c'maaaan). The Garden Bento box at Bento Picnic is ideal for special occasions – something about the everything-bagel-esque seasoning they put on the fresh avocado with the kale salad, the sweet squash, and pickled veggies on the side? Vegetarian deliciousness at its finest.

5111 Airport,; 2600 E. Cesar Chavez,

Food Editor Melanie Haupt: I'm not a big fried chicken consumer, but my family really loves it. So when Tumble 22 comes up in the family takeout night rotation, I'm grateful that there's a salad option available. The full Cobb salad is a huge portion, and it's stuffed with yummy things like avocado and bacon and cheese and deviled eggs. Even without the plump chicken tenders, it's an extremely filling dish. If I'm going to eat fried chicken, I might as well make myself feel better about it by having it on a bed of lettuce.

Various locations,

News Editor Mike Clark-Madison: Orange chicken at 888: I would not order this dish anywhere else (unless I were jonesing for mall Chinese, which sometimes I do), and it's not what most people would order at the Vietnamese-forward Pan-Asian mainstay, but try it – fruity but also spicy and a little astringent, with perfectly flash-fried chicken, and hearty enough for your hungriest moments.

2400 E. Oltorf Ste. 1-A,

Culture Editor Richard Whittaker: A fish dish can be complicated, but the fish itself should be simple. District Kitchen + Cocktail's rainbow trout bridges that seemingly illogical divide by searing the river trout to buttery, flaky perfection, then laying it on golden raisin wild rice that has the look but nothing like the texture of a rocky riverbed. The pesto sauce adds just enough zip against the surprising indulgence of the roasted Brussels sprouts. Pair with the Citrus Old Fashioned.

5900 W. Slaughter Ste. D-500; 7858 Shoal Creek Blvd. Ste. B.;

Proofreader Jasmine Lane: Oh man, those Cuban yucca fries. Something about hanging out on the patio at Kinda Tropical with a cocktail and a crisp, starchy pile of yucca fries really brings the weekend home. And that jalapeño avocado dip? Magic.

3501 E. Seventh,

Plátanos fritos at El Sunzal (Photo by Kevin Curtin)

Music Editor Kevin Curtin: Plátanos fritos con crema y frijol at El Sunzal: Perfectly ripened plantains, sliced vertically and fried, then laid onto the center of a plate and offset with a rich, tangy Salvadoran cream on one side and uncongealed refried pinto beans on the other. Altogether, this $6 dish, which pairs well with à la carte pupusas, presents an image akin to a yin yang symbol. And why not? It's fruit, protein, and dairy in unexpected harmony.

642 Calles

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ThunderCloud Subs, Aleida's Latin Food, El Rincon, Bun Belly, Poke-Poke, Bouldin Creek Cafe, JewBoy Burgers, Bento Picnic, Vivo, Tumble 22, 888 Pan Asian Restaurant, District Kitchen + Cocktails, Kinda Tropical, El Sunzal

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